The Mathematical View of Origins

@vjtorley I’d appreciate some comment from you on this too. I was very impressed that you, as a philosopher, was able to pick up on this immediately when I first made the argument several years ago. How were you able to do that? Why do you think it has it been difficult for others?

Hi Joshua,

I should say by way of explanation that I’ve been interested in the creation-evolution controversy since 1973, when I was in junior high school. My opinions have see-sawed back and forth over the years. I was raised in a creationist household, but not rigidly so: I was brought up Catholic, but my grandfather (who died when I was six) was a Presbyterian, and I often perused his Scofield Reference Bible, which espoused the gap theory. H. G. Wells’ 1926 Outline of History (which also belonged to my grandfather) was on our family bookshelves, too, so I imbibed his outlook as well. Over the next few years, I devoured everything I could get hold of on the creation-evolution controversy, ranging from Did Man Get Here By Creation Or By Evolution (published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1967) to The Emergence of Man. As a result, I came to accept not only the evolution of living things, but also human evolution - a subject in which I was avidly interested.

When I went to university, I came across the work of young-earth creationist Melvin A. Cook, as well as Douglas Dewar’s book-length debate with H. B. Shelton, titled, Is Evolution True? (1947, edited by Arnold Lunn). That reawakened my interest in the creation-evolution controversy. At the time, I was studying for a science degree, but biology was not one of my subjects. However, geology was, and I asked the head of the geology department at the Australian National University, Dr. Campbell, what he thought of Cook’s arguments. Dr. Campbell was kind enough to read a summary of the arguments and comment on them. What he said persuaded me that my anxieties regarding the reliability of radiometric dating were groundless.

A few years after completing my science degree, I moved down to Melbourne. By now I was finishing off a couple of other degrees. In the meantime, I came across Science and Earth History (Prometheus Books, 1987), and I was highly impressed by its cogent and detailed refutation of creationist arguments. I came to regard scientific creationism as a pseudo-science.

My views changed about a decade later, when I came across Mike Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press, 1996). That convinced me that a solid scientific case could be made for intelligent design. However, Behe accepted common descent, and on this point, I saw no reason to change my opinions. I showed Behe’s book to a few friends of mine. Not all were equally impressed, and over the next few years, I came across criticisms of his arguments on the Internet, which made me question his views.

Around 2006, however, I came across botanist Alex Williams’ article, Astonishing DNA complexity demolishes neo-Darwinism, which had a huge impact on my views. The following passage struck me, since I had previously spent ten years working as a computer programmer, from 1989-1999:

“DNA information is overlapping-multi-layered and multi-dimensional; it reads both backwards and forwards; and the ‘junk’ is far more functional than the protein code, so there is no fossilized history of evolution. No human engineer has ever even imagined, let alone designed an information storage device anything like it. Moreover, the vast majority of its content is metainformation—information about how to use information. Meta-information cannot arise by chance because it only makes sense in context of the information it relates to.”

That article persuaded me anew that the genetic code was intelligently designed. Later on, when I came across the work of Douglas Axe, my certainty was reinforced.

Even at the time when I read Alex Williams’ article, I demurred from his young-earth creationism (based on Haldane’s dilemma), but I mentally divorced it from his case for Intelligent Design. Many years later, I found that he was wrong about junk DNA, and I gradually came to realize that Dr. Axe’s mathematical arguments for proteins having been designed were flawed.

Another finding that influenced my views on origins for a while was the discovery of de novo genes - in particular, a 2011 paper by the Croatian biochemist Dr. Branko Kozulic, titled, Proteins and Genes, Singletons and Species, which argues that the presence of not one but literally hundreds of chemically unique proteins in each species was an event beyond the reach of chance, and that each species therefore had to have been intelligently designed. I was much taken with these arguments, until it gradually dawned on me that the math underlying them was faulty.

So in answer to your question, Joshua, although I’m a non-scientist, I am broadly familiar with the arguments put forward on both sides from many decades of reading, and I am used to changing my views as new information comes to light. That makes me intellectually flexible, you might say. If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s this: always pay attention to the mathematics which is used to support an argument, whether for or against evolution.

I might add that my long-standing interest in human evolution and my background reading on the subject helps me to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

I hope that answers your question. Cheers.


I totally agree. This ultimately what was missing from so many of the arguments for and against evolution. With the genomic revolution, it becomes possible to make sense of this in a quantitative way. Moreover, careful study of arguments can also reveal where they make their errors.

For me, it was understanding the mathematical theory of evolution (common descent), and seeing how it made sense of genomes, that was most convincing to me.

“I came to regard scientific creationism as a pseudo-science.”

Was ‘creationism’ ever ‘scientific’ in the first place? It would appear the duo ‘scientific creationism’ remains as a contradiction of terms. No need then to call it pseudo-science when it has already been put in place.

if it can be test why not? on the other hand: can evolution be test? im not sure about that…

There are many things we can test that are not scientific. There are many things we cannot test that are scientific. Evolution, also, has been tested, and we’ve already gone over this several times @scd.

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