I was surprised to learn that there’s an advocate of Intelligent Design (ID) teaching evolutionary biology in Britain: one Dr. Richard Buggs, Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University in London. Heretofore I hadn’t heard of an ID advocate in a respectable British University.
Apparently Buggs (I’ll refrain from puns) has been pushing ID for some time, viz., in the Guardian article below from 2007. That was already two years after the Dover v. Kitzmiller case, in which a Republican judge ruled that ID was “not science”. The judge saw through the religious nature of ID, which really is a form of creationism because it posits a supernatural designer to get around what are seen by IDers as impossible evolutionary pathways. And, in fact, every advocate of ID or creationism I know of has religious motivations, with the possible exception of the haughty David Berlinski. Buggs is no exception: he’s a diehard Christian. If ID wasn’t religious in nature, how come every one of its advocates is religious?
I won’t reiterate the 14-year-old article below except to say that Bugg’s claim that ID is a science is wrong. Despite promises of the Discovery Institute, ID has failed as a scientific program, as there is real no way to test it: the discipline consists of pointing out phenomena and then saying, “See, naturalistic evolution couldn’t have done that!” And since we’ll never understand everything, we can always say that God is hiding in the corners.
Two quotes from Buggs:
If Darwin had known what we now know about molecular biology – gigabytes of coded information in DNA, cells rife with tiny machines, the highly specific structures of certain proteins – would he have found his own theory convincing? Randerson thinks that natural selection works fine to explain the origin of molecular machines. But the fact is that we are still unable even to guess Darwinian pathways for the origin of most complex biological structures.
This is the Argument from Ignorance (for God). Yet because Buggs refuses to tell us who the designer is (he thinks it’s the Christian God, of course), he think that makes the ID enterprise scientific:
When a religious person advocates teaching ID in science without identification of the designer, there is no dishonesty or “Trojan horse”, just realism about the limitations of the scientific method.
That’s still the Argument from Ignorance, and comes down to the invocation of a supernatural designer when we don’t understand something. That is a tactic that not only doesn’t advance our understanding, but isn’t itself science. But let’s move on.
Ten years later, at BioLogos (article above), an organization dedicated to selling evolution to evangelical Christians (it’s failed at that), geneticist Dennis Venema took Buggs to task for insisting that the genetic data we have is compatible with the idea that a single breeding pair could be the literal ancestors of all of humanity. (Now where did Buggs get that idea?) Buggs is wrong because, as Venema shows at length, conservative estimates of mutation rates still show us that our species harbors far more genetic variation than would occur if our species went through a bottleneck of two people within the last 10,000 years. In fact, the size of the bottleneck was probably 10,000 to 15,000 individuals, which is NOT TWO (i.e., not Adam and Eve).
But I’ve written about that before, too, so let’s move on.
Dr. Buggs has a new 20-minute video (it came out three days go), and he’s still pushing Christianity and dissing atheism and Darwinism at the same time. His thesis: “Darwinian evolution is simply not sufficient to explain the world and its complexity to an great enough extent to preclude the existence of God.”
He begins by showing that there’s a correlation between intelligence and the level of complexity of a structure, using a snowman he saw (Paley used a watch). Since the human body is infinitely more complex than a snowman, doesn’t that show that there’s intelligence behind it? Well, no, because natural selection acting in Darwinian evolution can create complexity. It is this theory that, said Richard Dawkins (whom Buggs bashes throughout the video), knocked out the props under the only rational explanation for biological complexity: God. By dispelling the need for a supernatural force, said Dawkins, natural selection made it “intellectually respectable to be an atheist.” And Dawkins was right, for there are no other knockdown arguments for theism, and there’s a knockdown argument against it (the existence of natural evil, which can’t be explained by an omnipotent and loving God).
In fact, Buggs explains how natural selection works pretty well using a child’s wooden railroad track, but then gets into his real counterargument ten minutes in. Taking up arguments from Michael Behe, Buggs says that there are features of the biological world that cannot be explained by natural selection, but require enormous amounts of luck. He also asserts that there are adaptations that can’t be built up in a step-by-step fashion, with each step increasing the fitness of the possessor. That was Behe’s argument as well, but at least Behe used biological examples—all of which have been demolished. In contrast, Buggs does not cite a single example of an adaptation or feature that requires us to invoke a supernatural designer. He simply asserts that there are some biochemical features that require maladaptive steps, and “several of them in a row.” I don’t know of any, nor does Buggs cite any.
Now it’s true, as Buggs maintains, that sometimes genetic drift can outweigh natural selection in a population that is sufficiently small, and that can “dismantle” an adaptation in a way that might allow another adaptation to arise that couldn’t have been attained otherwise. But although we have plenty of examples of genetic drift on the molecular level, I know of not a single adaptation that requires the existence of genetic drift to come into being. I may have missed one or two, but they’re certainly not pervasive enough to dismantle Darwinism, Dawkinsism, and to require us to invoke God and Jesus.
Finally, and I won’t go into detail here, Buggs says that the origin of life was extremely improbable, requiring, according to his thesis, TOO MUCH LUCK (ergo, God). But that’s not credible, either. On a planet like ours, life arose within a billion years of its current 4.5-billion-year tenure, showing that when conditions are right, it doesn’t take forever to get life. You could also say, as Dawkins does, that there are gazillions of planets where conditions were right for the origin of life, and we happen to have evolved on one of them. That seems reasonable, but Buggs doesn’t like that argument because it also involves a form of “luck” (18:13) and further, he claims, the Universe isn’t infinitely old and doesn’t have an infinite number of planets, giving Dawkins “a low level of probabilistic resources” to explain the origin of life. This is nonsense. How many suitable planets are there in our Universe, which has been in existence for nearly 14 billion years? Enough to allow, I suspect, lots of life to evolve. “Luck”, taken as a small probability of life evolving, becomes a certainty when there are enough opportunities.
In the end, Buggs argues that Darwin didn’t really make evolution that much more credible, because we still need “huge doses of luck to make all of this work.” Buggs concludes that we need more than evolution, and more than Darwinism, to make atheism credible. We need, I suspect, God and Jesus. Hallelujah!
One gets an impression—not just from this video, but from Buggs’s history of pushing creationism—that he’s not being pushed towards ID by the facts, because a “designer” confirms his pre-existing Christianity. What we see here, I think, is a massive example of confirmation bias.
I’m not calling for Buggs to be fired, of course, because he can say whatever he wants on his own time. But I hope he doesn’t push these arguments in his biology classes. That would be a matter that Queen Mary would have to confront.