Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christianity, Evolution and Falsifiability

Intelligent Design and the Demand for Falsifiable Predictions

One of the incessant demands from atheists and Darwinian evolutionists is that intelligent design proponents must provide falsifiable predictions in support of the ID hypothesis. This is a legitimate demand, in my opinion. Unless and until ID proponents come up with formal predictions that can be tested by other researchers, they do not have a leg to stand on.

My Take on the Design vs. Evolution Debate

I am a non-fundamentalist Christian evolutionist as opposed to a Darwinian evolutionist. In my opinion, it is not really evolution that is in dispute. There is no doubt that some form of evolution is happening now and has been happening for millions of years. What is in dispute is exactly how it happened. I disagree with the Darwinian stance regarding the origin of species. I believe that evolution was intelligently directed in the past through genetic engineering. I must add that I am not affiliated with the ID movement.

The way I understand it, most proponents of Darwinian evolution claim that the species originated as a result of random mutations and natural selection through sexual reproduction. They maintain that it happened naturally without intelligent intervention. Of course, as a Christian, I have to disagree with that stance, since it contradicts the Biblical teaching that the original species where created by God. The creation process obviously lasted millions of years (no, I don’t believe that God created the heavens and the earth in six twenty-four-hour days). Thus it is not surprising that the fossil record shows a progression in the sophistication of the species over time. Any creation process is necessarily an evolutionary process. The fact that biological research successfully relies on the evolutionary hypothesis is not surprising either but it is not evidence that evolution was not intelligently directed.

Falsifiability

I have no idea whether or not ID advocates have proposed any experimental test that could potentially falsify the design hypothesis and silence their critics. All I have is my own research based on Biblical metaphors. I take an indirect approach to ID falsifiability. I believe that the Bible contains amazing and revolutionary scientific information hidden in clever metaphors. I believe that the metaphors, once properly deciphered, can be used to make precise scientific predictions that can be tested in the laboratory. It follows that if any of these predictions can withstand falsification, they would lend credibility to Biblical claims regarding the origin of the species.

My critics can always argue that any interpretation of Biblical passages is highly suspect because the Bible can be interpreted to support any point of view and I agree. However, based on my research over the last twenty years, I feel sufficiently confident in my understanding of certain Biblical metaphors to make testable predictions about various characteristics of brain operation and organization. These are precise predictions about aspects of the brain (unknown to science) that I could not possibly have any knowledge of, since I am neither a neurobiologist nor do I have access to a neurobiological research lab. What follows is one such testable prediction about an aspect of the cerebellum that is currently unknown to neurobiologists and brain experts.

Falsifiable Biblical Prediction About the Cerebellum

According to my interpretation of the Biblical texts, the cerebellum is a supervised automaton. It is trained by the motor cortex to take over certain routine motor tasks whenever the basal ganglia and motor cortex are busy reasoning internally or engaging in some other motor activity. My understanding of the metaphorical messages to the church of Pergamum (Broca's area) and Laodicea (cerebellum) in the book of Revelation is that speech is always an attentional or volitional (as opposed to automatic) process that involves corrective feedback from the basal ganglia. The cerebellum is not directly involved in processing speech and language. The indication is that the cerebellum can have motor control over the entire body except the mouth, throat and tongue muscles. This means that activities like eating, chewing and swallowing are also excluded from cerebellar control.

How can this prediction be falsified? In my opinion, it suffices to examine the brain pathways that link the motor cortex with the cerebellum. The prediction is that there are no pathways between the cerebellum and any parts of the motor cortex that controls the mouth, speech, etc… Another way to falsify this prediction would be to use MRI images to observe cerebellar activities when a subject is speaking (in a relaxed position) and engaging in non-speech related activities. I predict that the data will support the claim that the cerebellum cannot produce speech.

Another interesting consequence to this prediction is that serious damage to the cerebellum should be accompanied by a loss of speech capability while the subject is engaged in other motor activities (e.g., walking). The reason is that the subject can no longer rely on the cerebellum for routine tasks (while speaking) and must consciously attend to them. We can only attend to one conscious task at a time. This is why the cerebellum is so important. I suspect that it would take some time for the subject to train him/herself to sit or lay down in order to regain the ability to speak.

More falsifiable predictions to come…

18 comments:

msundman said...

> as a Christian, I have to disagree with
> [NDT], since it contradicts the Biblical
> teaching that the original species where
> created by God. The creation process
> obviously lasted millions of years (no, I
> don’t believe that God created the heavens
> and the earth in six twenty-four days).

The Bible is just as clear about the days of creation being 24h days (or however fast the earth was spinning at the time) as it's about who created the various "kinds" of living things. See e.g. http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/2452.asp

You can't just ignore the parts of the Bible you don't like and still use it as an authority consistently.

Louis Savain said...

Marcus,

As I have said, I am not a fundamentalist Christian. Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is not open to interpretation and should be taken literally. This is nonsense on the face of it since a literal interpretation is still an interpretation. Heck, even words like heavens and earth in Genesis are open to interpretation, let alone day. I won't even mention the obviously metaphorical use of the serpent and the trees of life and of the knowledge of good and evil.

What I find curious about your reaction is that you completely ignore the fact that I just stuck my neck out to make an amazing prediction about a very specific aspect of the brain's internal organization and operation. I say ‘amazing’ because I could not have discovered or inferred this information on my own. I am neither a neurobiologist nor am I that smart. Besides, there is nothing even remotely resembling my cerebellum prediction in the current scientific literature that I could have used as a source, for the simple reason that neurobiologists are not aware of it.

I am making a falsifiable prediction that someone can test in the lab. What I find curious is that you know that I based my prediction on my own interpretation of certain passages in the book of Revelation. It certainly was not a literal interpretation since the word cerebellum is nowhere to be found in the Bible. So why can’t I use my own interpretation of the book of Genesis as well?

The point I am driving at is that it all comes down to making testable, scientific predictions. If the fundamentalists can make scientific predictions from the Bible, I am all ears. By the same token, if the Darwinian evolutionists can use their understanding of evolution to make scientific predictions about the internal organization and operation of the human brain, I will be happy to hear about it. But guess what? I am not holding my breath while waiting. In the end, may the best interpretations and predictions win.

msundman said...

> Fundamentalists believe that the Bible
> is not open to interpretation and should
> be taken literally.

Incorrect. According to fundamentalist christians the Bible should be interpreted plainly. That is, to try to understand the intent of the author and read the text accordingly (history as history, poetry as poetry, metaphors as metaphors etc.). In other words, standard hermeneutics.

> What I find curious about your reaction
> is that you completely ignore the fact
> that I just stuck my neck out to make an
> amazing prediction about a very specific
> aspect of the brain's internal organization
> and operation.

Well, you sticking out your neck and making a prediction is neither illogical nor inconsistent. Your statement about the "creation process" and your adherence to the Bible is.

Louis Savain said...

Marcus,

Well, all the fundamentalist Christians that I know believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. It is obvious to me that part of the book of Genesis is allegorical. Did you know, for example, that Genesis used the expression "the adam" initially and began to use the proper noun "Adam" only later when speaking of a different Adam who was married to a woman named Eve? Did you know that the adam was both male and female and was also two persons in one? Do you know the difference between the heavens (plural) and the heaven (singular)? There is a lot to the first few chapters of Genesis than meet the eye, I can assure you. It's not as plain and simple as most people think.

My problem with a lot of Christians is that they insult God's intelligence. God, on the other hand, does not insult ours.

msundman said...

> all the fundamentalist Christians that I
> know believe in a literal interpretation
> of the Bible.

I think you've misunderstood them. When people say they believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (in its entirety) they really mean they believe in a plain or straightforward interpretation. This can easily be tested, e.g. by asking them if they believe that Psalm 12:2b, "with [...] a double heart they speak", refers to some people somehow speaking by the means of dual hearts. I bet none of your "literally" interpreting fundamentalist acquaintances would answer "yes".

You have to understand that most "normal" people seldom mean what they say and even more seldomly say what they mean. Not because they want to deceive, but e.g. because they don't value preciseness in language more than convenience. (Or they might be using a foreign language, like what I'm writing now. (In fact, English isn't even my second language.))

> Did you know, for example, that Genesis
> used the expression "the adam" initially
> and began to use the proper noun "Adam"
> only later when speaking of a different
> Adam who was married to a woman named Eve?

AFAIK the term "the adam" is only used as "mankind", and later in "the first adam" and "the last adam" (the former of which was "married" to Eve and the latter of which was called the Christ (and no mention of any other adam beside these two)).

> Did you know that the adam was both male
> and female and was also two persons in one?

Now here we have a somewhat far-fetched interpretation. Remember the fact that "adam" means "(hu)man" or "mankind" in hebrew? An IMHO less far-fetched interpretation would be that when God "called them Adam" he simply called our species "(hu)man".

> Do you know the difference between the heavens
> (plural) and the heaven (singular)?

Actually "heaven(s)" have different meanings depending on the context.

> It's not as plain and simple as most people
> think.

Maybe so, but a plain reading doesn't imply that what is read is plain. (Somewhat similarly, Occam's razor can be used for the most complex things.)

chirc62 said...

As a point of Hebrew: adam means person, adamah means earth of ground. Manking is ha-enoshoot. Similarly Eve of khava means farm.

msundman said...

> adam means person

"Person" as human in general, yes. The way I equated "generic human" with "mankind" was a bit stretching the truth. Thanks for correcting me.

> adamah means earth of ground

Sure it doesn't mean "red ground"?

> Similarly Eve of khava means farm.

I don't know what "farm" is in hebrew, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if it was based on chayah ("come to life" or "to live" or somesuch). Eve (Chavvah) should probably be translated as "life" or "breathing" or somesuch.

chirc62 said...

Also as a Christian mustn't we also intrpret Psalm 104:5 plainly : “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.”? That is the earth is not a body spinninng around the sun, but an object with foundations set somewhere in teh greater heavens?

chirc62 said...

Hebrew roots consist of 3 or four letters: Khavah Eve is Khet Vav Hay, Farm is Khet Vav Vav Hey. WhereaslLife/Living soul Khayah is Khet Yod Hey. The similarity is only coincidental. Otherwise with this logic you may as well say the eclipse of the sun is also related Khet Mem Hey, as is prophet Khozeh Khet Vav Zain Hey.

chirc62 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Phillips said...

Regarding creation, you will enjoy The Science of God. It shows that Genesis is not in conflict with science when interpreted at the correct time scale.

msundman said...

> Also as a Christian mustn't we also intrpret
> Psalm 104:5 plainly : “Thou didst fix the
> earth on its foundation so that it never
> can be shaken.”? That is the earth is not
> a body spinninng around the sun, but an
> object with foundations set somewhere in
> teh greater heavens?

First of all it's kinda obvious that psalms are poetry (which may or may not be to be taken literally). Secondly it's not obvious exactly what is fixed onto what. Maybe what's referred to is the crust fixed upon the mantle and core. Or the crust and mantle fixed on the core. Or maybe it's indeed the earth fixed on some aether.

And when it comes to what spins around what; at least in the theory of relativity it doesn't matter what frame of reference you use, so you might as well choose earth's => everything spins around the earth.

> The Science of God [...] shows that Genesis
> is not in conflict with science when
> interpreted at the correct time scale.

The Science of God is a good example of when the Bible is not interpreted plainly, but instead based upon external "knowledge" no matter how badly it fits. Here is some criticism:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2/4355news8-1-2000.asp
http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2/4356news8-2-2000.asp

Louis Savain said...

Interesting comments.

The Science of God is a good example of when the Bible is not interpreted plainly, but instead based upon external "knowledge" no matter how badly it fits.

I think that, as Christians, we must be wary of the idea that the Bible is infallible. That's a dangerous idea because it is a form of idol worship. The object of our worship is God, nothing else. Sure, God's word can be found in the Bible but not everything in the Bible is God's word. The Bible is known to have plenty of errors and contradictions. In my opinion, at least one of the books in the New Testament should be thrown out and some apocryphal Hebrew books thrown in. But so what? Scientific literature, too, is full of errors, contradictions and, at times, outright lies. We get from the Bible what we can get while keeping our reason and focusing on worshipping God. As I have said before, God does not insult our intelligence. We should not insult his.

msundman said...

> The Bible is known to have plenty of errors
> and contradictions.

I've seen some errors/contradictions that are quite obviously copying errors (e.g., one passage saying "800 horses" and another one saying "8000 horses" or somesuch.), but other than that I haven't heard of any errors/contradictions. Have you?

Louis Savain said...

Marcus,

Atheists and other anti-Bible fanatics continually make a big deal out errors and contradictions in the Bible. They get a twisted sort of satisfaction out of pointing them out. Just do a google search and you'll see what I mean. It means nothing though. God is not the Bible. From my perspective, it's just a search tool.

msundman said...

> Atheists and other anti-Bible fanatics
> continually make a big deal out errors
> and contradictions in the Bible.

Every time somebody tells me there are errors and contradictions in the Bible I ask them to tell me where. Yet none of them has ever been able to give me even a single clear-cut non-typo error.

(Usually a person I have this discussion with says: "Site [whatever] lists tons of them, so just pick one." Then I pick one at random and explain to him how it's not an error and then he says: "OK, but pick any other." So I pick another one at random and do the same thing, but then I ask him to pick one since apparently the ones I pick are "bad". Then he says that he's got better things to do and that I should find my own errors if I want them so much.)

Jose said...

I've been reading a lot of the comments posted here, and I think it's pretty sad how divided Christianity is. I believe that this division is further evidence that the Bible is God's infallible word, because without absolutes there can only be confusion.

It reminds me of when Satan tempted Jesus in the holy city on the pinnacle of the temple. Satan quoted a passage out of Psalms saying "If you are the Son of God throw yourself down for it is written: 'He shall give his angels charge over you, and, in thier hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'

Jesus responded by putting Satan's quote back into context with the Bible as a whole, and replied: "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the lord your God.'"

This tells us that yes, in some parts of the bible there are seeming contradictions (which Jesus is obviously aware of in this passage), but as long as you leave it in context with the rest of the Bible, you will AlMOST always find that these seeming contradictions, are not contradictions at all.

Also, calling the Bible infallible is NOT idol worship, it's simply saying that it is God's absolutes in a world that desprately needs them. Without absolutes we couldn't be certain of anything, and why would God leave us without absolutes? To me that would be illogical.

fairplay said...

Can't follow the neurobiological paths, but agree that you are on to something crucial which is poorly understood, and that Jesus warns about 'states of mind'.

I'm familiar with several meditation/yoga techniques, which funnily enough limit the self-conscious control they promise, whereas Autogenic Training works (Schulz/Luthe}.

The key is 'saying' internally a repetitive series of instructions to produce heaviness in the limbs, coolness in the forehead & etc. One must both 'say' and 'listen', otherwise the process degenerates into self-hypnosis (which is not so counter-productive as being hypnotised, but not much better either.)
Perhaps it is effective because it prevents unconscious/random inner emotion/dialogue from controlling the limbic system? It over-rides the system, in the same way that conscious breathing uses different muscles/processes from normal breathing, and is tiring both mentally and physically.
Open Focus (Les Fehmi) is also extremely powerful, but hypnotic and hard to control consciously. Both AT & OF are now debased and consumerised.
People seem to prefer listening to instructions rather than taking personal conscious control, because of the effort involved. But the loss of control gives an unenlighted mechanical result, a soothing 'fix' instead of the rewarding experience of remaining conscious and observing the results of effort.
Did you do more on this subject Louis?