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July 16, 2012 2:55 pm

The Mirage of “Scientific” Atheism

avatar by Moshe Averick

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The battle between atheist activists and believers continues to escalate in our society. Any doubt about the truth of this assertion should quickly dissipate with a quick sampling of recent headlines that appeared on a conservative website, The Blaze, in the six weeks between the end of May-July 9, 2012:

Edwina Rogers, former D.C. lobbyist, is the Executive Director of Secular Coaltion of America

  • Atheist Billboard in TX Quotes JFK’s “Absolute” Separation of Church & State’ Speech
  • VA High School Agrees to Remove 10 Commandments in Settlement With ACLU
  • Federal Judge in New York Rules With Religious Groups for Access to Public School Space
  • Police Chaplains Banned From Praying in Jesus’ Name at Public Events
  • Atheists Appeal to Obama Admin, Calling Faith-Based Birth Control Exemptions ‘Gov’t Endorsement of Religion’
  • CNN Panel Debates Why America’s Youth Are Allegedly Beginning to Doubt God’s Existence
  • Atheist Victory? Supreme Court Refuses to Hear War Memorial Cross Case
  • Atheist Group Demands Removal of Select Military Bibles & Calls Them a ‘Threat to National Security’
  • Blaze Exclusive: Atheist Activist Answers Your Questions About ‘Repulsive’ Bible Scriptures & the 10 Commandments
  • Atheist Family Loses Lawsuit to Have ‘Under God’ Removed From the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Atheists Praise Latest Victory: 60-Year Nativity and Religious Display Tradition Banned in Santa Monica
  • Atheists Begin Organizing High School Campus Clubs for Teens
  • Meet the New Atheist Group That Promises to ‘Amplify the…Influence of Non-Religious Women’
  • Atheist Lobbyists Launch Massive Effort to Organize for Political Power in All 50 States

The particulars of these stories or the principles of constitutional law that are involved in the legal challenges are beside the point. What is clear is that we are surrounded on all sides by a profound ideological conflict; in our courtrooms, in our classrooms, and among leading intellectuals. At stake are the hearts and minds of the American people and with them the soul of our nation. There is an enormous spiritual gulf between a nation that views human life as reflecting a transcendent, sacred reality, that cherishes the concept that all men are created equal and have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights and one that believes that homo sapiens are essentially highly developed bacteria or chimpanzees that evolved through an unguided, purposeless process. It is one or the other; there is no middle ground here.

There is an ideological battle raging in American society today

The trump card that is consistently and triumphantly played by most modern “militant” atheists is Science. They claim that it is the non-believer who stands on solid rational and scientific ground, while the believer is mired in the quicksand of superstition, wishful thinking, and leaps of faith.

The foundation stone upon which rests the entire edifice of a science-based atheistic world view is the truth of Darwinian evolution. Before Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1856 the Argument from Design which focused on the wonders of the living world – an argument which was masterfully articulated by the Reverend William Paley in his famous watchmaker analogy and by other theologians/philosophers – was the undeniable evidence for the existence of a Creator of life. This point is openly acknowledged by the leading proponent of atheism in the 21st century, Professor Richard Dawkins. In his best-selling treatise about evolution, The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes the following (page 5):

“Paley’s argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed with the best biological scholarship of his day…one thing I will not do is belittle the wonder of the living “watches” that so inspired Paley…when it comes to feeling awe over living “watches” I yield to nobody. I feel more in common with the Reverend William Paley than I do with the distinguished modern philosopher, a well known atheist, with whom I once discussed the matter at dinner. I said I could not imagine being an atheist before 1856 when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published…Paley knew [the organized complexity of the living world] needed a special explanation; Darwin knew it, and I suspect that in his heart of hearts, my philosophical companion knew it too.” [emphasis mine]

Dawkins is doing nothing more than stating the obvious. The awe inspiring complexity of every aspect of the living world is, at first glance, a glorious testimony to a Creator. This is not in dispute. The atheist simply claims that while living organisms may appear to be products of design and designer, modern biology has discovered that what we are actually seeing is an illusion of design. This illusion is the result of Darwinian evolution. Elsewhere Dawkins writes, “Charles Darwin discovered a way in which the unaided laws of physics could, in the fullness of geological time, come to mimic deliberate design.“ [emphasis mine] Ergo: The Blind Watchmaker.

In fact, a careful examination of scientific realities will reveal that not only is Darwinian evolution totally irrelevant to the question of the existence of  God the Creator – even if we concede it’s truth for arguments sake – but that the Argument from Design has yet to be challenged in any serious manner by modern science. The argument is still as compelling today as it was in the first decade of the 19th century when presented by Paley or as it was 2000 years ago when presented in a different form by the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva, in his response to a challenge by a Roman skeptic. Ironically, it is the great scientific breakthroughs achieved by 20th century researchers that have shattered the myth of the evolutionary basis for scientific atheism.

Reverend William Paley (1743-1805); His book, Natural Theology, published in 1802, contained his famous watchmaker analogy.

Darwinian evolution is based on the accumulation – over millions, tens of millions, and hundreds of millions of years – of beneficial random mutations in the replication of DNA, starting with the simplest living organisms known to have ever existed: microscopic bacteria measured in the millionths of a meter. The crucial point for our discussion is that the evolutionary process requires a pre-existing living organism with a fully functioning DNA-based, digital-information storage, translation, and self-replication system. This system is, in the words of Dawkins himself (River Out of Eden), the “universal system for all life on the planet,” is “uncannily computer-like,” can “rival anything modern engineers can do,” and is “digital to the core.”

Evolution is only operative and relevant from this point forward. It is an undisputed scientific fact that Darwinian evolution does not in any way address the question of how the original bacteria came to be in the first place. That question is the domain of a fundamentally and conceptually separate area of science called Origin of Life research. Generally speaking, evolution falls in the category of biology, which is the study of living things. The essential scientific discipline required for Origin of Life research is chemistry; in other words, how did the original non-living, non-organic chemicals coalesce and form the first bacterium and its genetic code.

The gulf between naturally forming organic material (such as amino acids) and a living bacterium is enormous. Let us imagine that the bacterium is a mud hut with a straw roof in a clearing in a jungle. Mud, straw, and rocks are available everywhere. The task of Origin of Life researchers would then be to figure out the purely naturalistic, unguided process that transformed mud, rocks, and straw into a habitable mud hut. Even this grossly understated analogy brings into focus the stupendous problem that these researchers face. A more accurate portrayal would be the following: naturally forming organic chemicals might bear some resemblance to bricks; a bacterium resembles the palace at Versailles in its full splendor. In the words of the late Dr. Robert Shapiro, renowned Origin of Life expert, and Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at NYU, “A mixture of simple chemicals, even one enriched in a few amino acids, no more resembles a bacterium than a small pile of real and nonsense words, each written on an individual scrap of paper, resembles the complete works of Shakespeare.” So what do Origin of Life researchers have to say about how all this happened? What they tell us is, in my opinion, exactly what one would expect to be the result of an investigation into how a highly complex piece of machinery could have emerged through an unguided process. In the words of Origin of Life expert, Dr. Paul Davies: “We haven’t a clue.”

The Palace of Versailles

It is clear then that Darwinian evolution (again, even conceding its truth), is not a testimony to what can result from unguided natural processes. It is a testimony to the unimaginable capabilities and potential contained in the first living cell and its genetic code. As the distinguished (non-believing), professor of philosophy at NYU, Thomas Nagel, wrote in his review of Dawkins’ atheistic magnum opus, The God Delusion, “The entire apparatus of evolutionary explanation therefore depends on the prior existence of genetic material with these remarkable properties…we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back a step: how did such a thing come into existence?” Quite a good question as far as I’m concerned.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us right back in 1855, the year before Darwin’s book was published. We find ourselves facing a fully functional, highly sophisticated, living molecular machine with a digitally controlled self-replicating system that is functionally complex at a level beyond anything modern technology can produce…and no idea at all where it came from. However one chooses to interpret these facts one thing is clear; the vision of some impregnable atheistic/scientific fortress looming large on the horizon is truly a mirage. 

If in American society today a battle regarding the existence of God the Creator is unavoidable, then by all means, let the games begin. However, let the discussion be an honest one with a level playing field.

Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi, a regular columnist for the Algemeiner Journal, and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. If you wish to be informed when new articles appear, send an email to moe.david@hotmail.com with the email address and the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.

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