No Soup for You!

I recently finished reading The Case for the Creator and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. Lee Strobel does a great job making the scientific evidence for God understandable and interesting. I’m a bit late for a book review since it was published five years ago, but I’ll recount my favorite parts.

Strobel dismantles the icons of evolution presented in high school biology books, the very same images and “information” that led him and many others into atheism. First was the Miller-Ulrey experiment, in which a container of gases was zapped with electricity and “poof!”—life appeared. Actually, the reproduced early atmosphere was inaccurate: instead of being hydrogen-rich, scientists have determined there was very little hydrogen. And the molecules that were produced were still far from assembling life. In fact, toxic molecules like cyanide formed.

Then there’s Darwin’s tree of life, which I just ran across a drawing of at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. But the fossil record, which Darwin knew didn’t exist “yet” when he drew the tree, never materialized. Instead the record shows a “Cambrian explosion” where lots of new and different forms of life appeared in a very short span of time, which is exactly the opposite of evolution!

Next he talked about Haeckel’s embryos, drawings that showed similarities between the embryos of different species. However, the drawings don’t match photographs. Haeckel purposely fudged the drawings to make them appear more similar than they really are. He was accused of fraud when he published in the 1860s, but science books today still contain this misinformation. He also selectively chose examples of species that happened to be more similar, while ignoring those that didn’t suit his agenda. And he omitted the early stages and starts at the midpoint, the time when the embryos of various species look most alike in the process called the “hourglass of development.”

And what about the prebiotic (primordial) soup? Sorry, no soup for you! There’s simply no evidence for the ancient chemical ocean that most origin-of-life theories presuppose. There was not enough nitrogen in the early atmosphere (0.015%) to compose the nitrogenous amino acids which are essential to life. And the earliest sediments on earth do not contain nitrogen-rich minerals. Even if such a soup did exist, there would have been serious problems with amino acids reacting with other chemical to produce substances that are threatening to life.

I found the kalam argument fascinating. It states: everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. William Lane Craig’s arguments prove the first two statements true, so it follows that the conclusion is valid. First, he shows that, though the ancient Greeks believed in an eternal universe, science, math, and philosophy all show that the universe began at some point in time. No scientists really argue otherwise today. Craig even demonstrates that the universe requires a personal creator, because there are two explanations for every effect: the scientific/physical explanation, or the personal/volitional reason. He uses the examples of, “Why is that water boiling?” You can answer by explaining the physics of water molecules being heated to their boiling point, or you can explain that you wanted to make a cup of tea. But before the universe began to exist there were no physical laws, because there was nothing physical to be governed by them.

Strobel also covers the “anthropic fine-tuning” which refers to the incredibly precise values involved in the physics necessary for the universe to support life. One common example is earth’s distance from the sun. If we were further or closer, it would be too hot or cold for life, and there would be no water. If gravity were just a hair stronger, humans would be crushed. The cosmological constant—the energy density of empty space—is surprisingly small and inconceivably precise. And the difference in mass between neutrons and protons, if changed a tiny bit, would make nuclear fusion impossible for stars, and thus there would be no energy source for life. In summary, the size, location, gravity, composition, structure, atmosphere, temperature, internal dynamics, plate tectonics, and many other factors about Earth uniquely support life.

The sun uniquely supports life with its size, the colors it emits, its long life-span, and the stability of its light output, which only varies 0.1% in eleven years. Earth’s orbit is just right, and other planets and the moon shield us from asteroids and comets (consider the moon’s pocked surface).In addition to the unbelievable precision that makes life possible in the universe, many other factors suggest that the universe was “designed for discovery.” Apparently earth has a singularly good vantage point for seeing and studying the universe. The clarity of the atmosphere is rare, and earth has a rare view of eclipses. The book refers to the “convergence of habitability and measurability,” or the idea that it’s not only very unique and unlikely that Earth supports human life, but also that the universe and life are governed by such precise laws and principles which we have the capacity to discover.

Strobel interviewed Behe about irreducible complexity, and his argument that cell couldn’t have evolved to their current state because they can’t function with any less complexity held up under Strobel’s interrogation.

The Case for the Creator also contains the familiar vast mathematical improbability that random chemicals formed specific proteins that compose precise amino acids, which order themselves into long specific sequences to create DNA. And there’s much more to life than just DNA. It’s like throwing a bunch of Scrabble pieces down and hoping to write Hamlet—impossible.

The final chapter touches on the interesting topic of consciousness. We all sense that the brain and mind are not synonymous, that there is a part of us that is not determined purely by the physical. J.P. Moreland describes consciousness as sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, beliefs, and free choices that make us alive and aware. If humans are only physical then consciousness doesn’t exist and there can be no first person point of view; there is no such thing as free will, and therefore no responsibility; and there is disembodied intermediate state, as described by people who had near-death and out-of-body experiences. Experiments have shown that there is no part of the brain where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide. Other studies have shown that the mind has a causal power independent of the brain’s activities. The private nature of introspection, REM and dreaming, and our experience of the soul also provide reason to believe in human consciousness.