Guest post: The genetics of Christian redemption

February 28, 2012 • 10:49 am

Sigmund, who is becoming a regular around here, proffers a guest post on BioLogos‘s latest botched attempt to reconcile evolution with faith.

Sigmund enclosed this note along with his post:

By the way, I noticed that BioLogos is starting a series of guest posts with various invited creationist evangelical Christians—including William Dembski!

They claim to be initiating a ‘discussion’ with them, but I can’t help remembering the final lines from Orwell’s Animal Farm:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

_______

BioLogos explains the real meaning of evolution

by Sigmund

BioLogos continues its attempt to shoehorn the Jesus narrative into the theory of evolution with a new video entitled ‘Possibilities and Second Chances,  featuring Dr Rick Colling, a former professor of biology of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Colling, who wrote the book Random Designer: Created From Chaos, To Connect With the Creator’ , which  tried to reconcile Christianity with modern science, resigned from Olivet Nazarene in 2009, two years after he was barred from teaching biology due to his advocacy of theistic evolution.  Unfortunately, from the evidence of the current video, one begins to suspect that the Nazarene administration’s attempt to prevent Colling from instructing students about evolution might not be an unmitigated mistake.

In the video Colling enlightens BioLogos viewers with his take on the true meaning of evolution.

“Evolution is not about the imposition of death and destruction and survival of the fittest.”

Well is it, but not just that. Amongst other things it’s also about differential reproductive success and it’s about neutral genetic drift. That is what he had in mind, isn’t it?

“Rather, it is about second chances.”

Pardon?

“To me, there is tremendous resonance there. When we talk about our God who gives us a redemptive second chance at life when we have no other hope, that evolution actually works that way, because it’s pre-emptive, a preparation for potential problems.”

How Colling plans to turn evolution into a story of redemption is going to take some explaining, so let’s see where he goes with this one.

“Our bodies contain thousands of genes, which duplicate like a computer back-up copy and can serve as raw material. When an organism encounters adverse environmental condition, this raw material can be used to help adapt and survive.”

Well, I guess some gene duplications could function in this way, but the computer back-up is a misleading analogy, suggesting, as it does, that the duplication is planned in case of future emergencies. That is getting perilously close to the idea of ‘preloading’ the genome. [JAC note: we know of no way that genetic variations can be fixed by selection if they’re useful only under conditions that haven’t yet occurred.]

“God is so creative, that he’s actually put into place a mechanism to start doing these gene changes in advance before they’re even needed. And God has given us a second change through the evolutionary process of creating duplicate genes that give rise to new raw material that give rise to new possibilities, and that really more accurately describes the process of evolution. It’s redemption, it’s possibility, and it’s hope.”

So God created the process of gene duplication in order to help evolution along and give us hope during environmental emergencies?

But a gene duplication giving rise to a positive outcome—such as a new gene that aids survival during adverse climate change—is going to be an exceedingly rare event, common, perhaps, over an evolutionary timescale, but not something any one of us can hope to experience during our lives. On the other hand, there is an adverse effect of gene duplication and amplification—one that most of us will experience either directly or among our family or friends: the development of cancer.

Did God put that process in place also? And if He did, then what exactly is the redemptive quality of the process that results in dozens of copies of the oncogene N-MYC in a child with neuroblastoma? Where is the hope in that?

If God really wanted to duplicate some genes that would give us a chance at redemption, why didn’t he give us a few extra copies of a tumor suppressor like the P53 gene?

What Colling is doing is simply cherry-picking aspects of evolutionary theory and ascribing those points to the good intentions of his God.

It’s evolutionary theory put through ‘Google Translate’, with the output set to ‘religious waffle’.

49 thoughts on “Guest post: The genetics of Christian redemption

  1. Even granting him his premises, I think he is confusing potential survival benefit to a species (or sub population) due to variation with the benefit to individuals. It doesn’t benefit me if some small fraction of humanity has a (currently unneeded) allele that will help them survival if a particular environmental change occurs in my lifetime, if I don’t also have that allele.

    1. Yep.
      This part –
      “When an organism encounters adverse environmental condition, this raw material can be used to help adapt and survive.”

      I thought to myself “oh, so not only do populations evolve, individuals do too” but then realized that this is, you know, wrong.
      This is just another example of religious trying to shoehorn a “personal relationship” aspect into the evolution process that doesn’t even consider the individual outside of reproduction.

    2. Yep. Evolution is redemptive and hopeful about the same way playing a packed roulette wheel is redemptive and hopeful: the wheel spins, a number comes up, and most people lose their shirts…but if it makes you feel better, somebody out of that packed crowd will probably win something.

      1. Lol, yeah, really. I almost feel like atheists are the only one’s taking religious apologetics seriously, as neither the intended audience nor the authors themselves seem to fully comprehend what they are saying. It just sounds good on a superficial level.

  2. it seems that the creationists continue to “evolve”. It would be fun to have creationists from a 100 years ago talk with the ones we have today and hear the accusations of heresy between them.

  3. So, tell me: when teaching evolution these days, do you have to teach students what teleology is and then tell them “If your answer ever involves teleology, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG”? And if so, how big a stick do you have to use?

    1. Looks like he (or they) changed his title to “Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral.” (although their comment following the description of his presentation only makes sense if it was refering to the original title).

  4. These guys couldn’t just accept evolution. They couldn’t just refrain from saying that evolution was wrong because it contradicts God’s Word™. No, they had to go and incorporate evolution into their fairy tale-making machine.

  5. “Dr Rick Colling, a former professor of biology of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Colling, who wrote the book Random Designer: Created From Chaos, To Connect With the Creator’ , which tried to reconcile Christianity with modern science, resigned from Olivet Nazarene in 2009, two years after he was barred from teaching biology due to his advocacy of theistic evolution.”

    He’s not orthodox enough! At Olivet Nazarene University the answers are set and everyone must go along, to the last detail. God guiding an evolutionary process is not good enough for them, it’s apparently got to be the instantly-popping-into-existence sort of creationism, or you’re out the door. Keep that in mind the next time you watch “Expelled” or hear some similar argument.

    1. I was wondering about that exact point: so, he was dismissed not for teaching theistic evolution, but for teaching evolution at all, I take it. From Wikipedia:

      “In 2007, President John C. Bowling prohibited ONU alumnus and faculty member Richard G. Colling from teaching the general education biology course and banned Colling’s 2004 book: Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with Creator (Browning Press: ISBN 0975390406), because of “deep concern regarding the teaching of evolutionary theory as a scientifically proven fact.”[21] In 2009, the conclusion of an American Association of University Professors (AAUP) investigation[22] found problems with shared governance at ONU and that Colling’s rights had been violated[23] when Bowling placed the concerns of the more conservative members of its Nazarene constituency higher than its principles of academic freedom.[24]”

      So how does such a school get accredited?

  6. A little reflection will show that the sublime statement ” In the beginning God..” is a logical checkmate.

    Without it free will, epistemology , morality and accountability are incoherent

    1. Even less reflection will show how absurd that fatuous claim is.

      It is, of course, mere question begging. How exactly do you know that “free will, epistemology , morality and accountability” are coherent? You need to make an argument for that claim (although I can make your job 25% easier, as I think “morality” and “accountability” are pretty much the same). Your argument is equivalent to me saying “the sublime statement ‘In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming’ means that I will soon get a pony.” Wishing doesn’t make it so.

      But also, without further information about your god, even if one or more of those concepts are coherent (and you’d have to argue for each), it doesn’t follow that the mere existence of a god would guarantee that. For example, surely an omnipotent being could make it appear that we have free will, without us actually having it, no? How do we know that your god isn’t such a being?

      But more to the point, how do we know anything about your god? You might say you know through revelation, or through the Bible, or the way the world is, or even other means, but of course all of those are subject to precisely the same problem — an omnipotent but malevolent being could make you believe that an omnibenevolent one exists, right? An all-powerful evil god could provide you with exactly the same “evidence” you have now, be that evidence empirical, rational, or direct revelation. Indeed, since such a god wouldn’t worry about making things like free will or epistemology coherent, it would have a much easier time fooling you than the god you seem to actually believe in.

      So explain again how “In the beginning god” is a “checkmate”?

  7. God is so creative, that he’s actually put into place a mechanism to start doing these gene changes in advance before they’re even needed.

    Even if that were true, even if we completely bought the whole “preloading” notion, that still doesn’t mean that evolution isn’t primarily about “the imposition of death and destruction and survival of the fittest.” Preloading does little to address the issue of “natural evil” that evolution forces on the Christian believer.

    1. I was wondering if G-d also sent the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and all the other countless events that led to humans? Unless humans are inevitable? Seems G-d took a pretty strange path from single cells to humans just so we could invent him.

              1. Good point — perhaps god gave the Good Dinosaurs feathers. After all, as Matthew says, “not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” (clearly this passage is to be taken metaphorically to refer to all in the class Aves).

          1. Wow. There must have been some awesome dinosaur parties going on to get them classified as Wicked enough to be wiped out by their own version of the Flood.

  8. Biologos was recently caught following the same pattern endemic to intelligent design: somebody takes a recent scientific paper, proceeds to totally misunderstand it, and then claims that it validates intelligent design (or in this case Biologos-type evolution, whatever that is). See the comments starting with Jon Garvey here:

    http://biologos.org/blog/speciation-and-macroevolution

    Darrel Falk, the president of Biologos, jumps on board. It’s a mess.

    Note especially the (currently) last comment (#68276), where I forward a statement from the first author of the paper in question. It’s a total repudiation.

  9. As a long time atheist (60years) I do not know for sure that there is not a creator God who pressed the start button and since then, did nothing else. No one can rule that out. The traditional religious God certainly does not exist, but the starter button God may, who knows? As a teenager, I gradually rejected all the miracles and superstition until nothing was left. There are many religious folk that are doing exactly that. We must not alienate them with arrogance.

    1. The traditional religious God certainly does not exist, but the starter button God may, who knows?

      And who cares?

      This is nothing but a bait-and-switch: “Deism can’t be ruled out, therefore Jesus.” Actual Deism isn’t a religion, since there is literally nothing for us humans to actually do — we can’t interact with the creator, and he/she/they/it won’t interact with us. Deism is like worshipping Maxwell’s Equations. It is just the physics of the world, which we cannot change or influence, and which has absolutely no interest in us personally.

      So again, who cares about a Deist creator, and what possible relevance does it have to traditional Christian religion?

    2. Those people aren’t the target audience of Biologos. Nobody even mentioned those people. Why bring them into this and then accuse Jerry of arrogance when he’s talking about an entirely different group of people?

  10. [JAC note: we know of no way that genetic variations can be fixed by selection they’re useful only under conditions that haven’t yet happened.]

    Umm… is there a word missing in the above sentence? Maybe: “…fixed by selection so they’re useful…”?

      1. I don’t think so. That would make the sentence say the opposite if I have it right. A semicolon would result in it saying, “genetic variations are useful only under conditions that haven’t happened yet” which would be some sort of temporal anomaly forcing type problem. Maybe if I can get the word “quantum” in there…

        I know, temporal quantum tunnelling of selected genes that are projected back in time to your ancestors. Your ancestors inherit from you; pretty much what the original post says 🙂

  11. Thanks for nudging me to revisit BioLogos–to give them another chance at reason–where I found this admonition, “Let’s not surrender science to the secular world.”

    I give up… but only on BioLogos. If there is life after death, Sir John Templeton must be spinning at warp speed.

  12. I think this might be a more accurate parallel between genetics and religion:

    “Our bodies/civilizations contain thousands of genes/religions. Genes/religions are duplicated and give rise to new raw material/beliefs. When the organism/god-botherer encounters adverse environmental/evidential conditions, the raw material/beliefs can be changed/obfuscated to adapt. While sometimes this process of development, duplication, and change of genes/religions can give rise to something useful, those familiar with biology/reality knows that genes/religions are, by and large, junk.”

  13. Sigmund-

    Careful what you wish for. We know from transgenic mouse studies that an extra copy of the gene encoding p53 accelerates aging (probably from the depletion of stem cells). We also know from a natural human polymorphism that enhanced p53 activity may reduce cancer incidence, but longevity is adversely affected nonetheless.

    Doug

    1. I guess it’s not quite as simple as changing one gene but if there were a God, I’m sure that He could figure out the correct combination.
      The future analysis of different levels of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes in different species is going to give us clues as to the correct direction for this type of research. The idea that a mouse lives a couple of years compared to eighty for a human, elephant or whale, suggests that there may be differential regulation of the genes underlying senescence/aging and cancer that may be exploited in future treatments.

      1. Agreed. This is actually my area of research, but I generally don’t think much outside of mice and humans. The whale presents an interesting problem. With all those cells and a long lifepan the potential for cancer is rather enormous. They must have effective tumor suppressor mechanisms operating. Getting a breeding colony in the lab will present some problems however…

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