Science’s Blind Spot – Part 2

In my previous post about this book, I discussed how the author, Cornelius Hunter, makes the strong case that reliance on naturalism alone in science causes a blind spot. If you restrict your science to only naturalistic processes, you will never be able to know whether or not what you are studying can possibly be the result of a naturalistic process. Instead, you will keep trying to force a naturalistic explanation onto systems and processes that might not be naturalistic in origin.

After establishing this fact, he discusses how it plays out in the biological concept of evolution. Since science is committed to only naturalistic processes, questions such as the origin of life and the origin of the various species must be the result of some natural process, regardless of whether or not the data indicate this. As a result, scientists are continually trying to force the data to indicate evolution, whether or not evolution is a good explanation of the data

For example, Hunter discusses various predictions of evolution and how they either fall very short of the data or represent circular reasoning. As an example of circular reasoning, consider the evolutionary requirement that biological variation occurs naturally. After all, with no variation, there is nothing upon which natural selection can act. Thus, for evolution to occur, biological variation must exist, and since we are considering only naturalistic processes, that biological variation must have been produced by a naturalistic process.

However, we now know how biological variation occurs, and it is the result of complex cellular machinery. Many aspects of this cellular machinery are still beyond our ability to describe, but all of it must exist in order to produce biological variation. As Hunter says:

We now know that the molecular mechanisms that produce genetic variation are incredibly complex. Whereas early evolutionists might have envisioned a simple sort of random perturbing force, we now have discovered a highly intricate Mendelian machine behind variation…Darwinists claim that evolution created this machine. In other words, evolution is supposed to have produced a fine-tuned machine that is, in turn, supposed to be the engine for evolution itself. This is circular, for without variation, natural selection is powerless to work. (p. 76)

Hunter then goes on to inform the reader that it is actually worse than this for evolutionists. He talks about very interesting experiments that show that the genome of an organism seems to be designed to increase variation when it is needed. For example, it is now a well-known fact that mutation rates in bacteria increase when the bacteria are exposed to stress. For example, a population of bacteria that runs out of food starts mutating at an incredibly high rate compared to that same population before the food ran out. In fact, we now know that one version of this effect is the result of a “stress protein” that is produced by individual bacteria under stress. It causes them to make a variation on the enzyme that duplicates DNA, and this variation is actually less “careful” in its copying of DNA than the standard enzyme. As a result, when bacteria are under stress, they copy their DNA less carefully, which promotes mutation, which promotes more biological variation. 1

So not only is the mechanism that produces biological variation incredibly complex, it seems to be designed to increase the rate at which biological variation occurs when it is needed. So, if you want to restrict science to naturalistic processes, you must now explain how such a sophisticated mechanism came to be without a designer. Remember, you can’t use natural selection to explain its production unless you have variation to begin with. Thus, biologists are forced to believe that at one time, some unknown, simple mechanism of biological variation existed. Over time, while that unknown, simple form of variation was producing new organisms, it was also producing new methods of variation that eventually led to the only one we observe today.

Now that might sound reasonable, but there are no known mechanisms of biological variation other than the one that we know today. Even the simplest organisms on the planet have this mechanism of biological variation. Thus, if you are limiting yourself to naturalistic processes, you are forced to believe in a mechanism of biological variation that does not currently exist, and you are forced to believe in untold “modifications” to this system, all of which have no current theoretical standing in order to believe that the current mechanism of biological variation is the result of natural processes. That seems rather far from a scientific belief.

Another serious problem for evolution, which I have pointed out in my talks for years, is the existence of similar structures in similar species. This is called “homology,” and it used to be considered great evidence for evolution. After all, the eye of a dog and the eye of a human are remarkably similar. Such similar traits “must” be the result of the fact that way back when, the dog and the human had a common ancestor with that same basic eye structure. Thus, according to evolutionists, our similar eyes are the result of inheritance from a common ancestor.

While this all sounds really good, the problem is that there are lots and lots of similar structures and processes in biology that evolutionists say cannot possibly be the result of common ancestry. For example, the cephalopod eye is incredibly similar to the human eye. However, no evolutionist on the planet thinks that humans and cephalopods had a common ancestor that had such an eye. Thus, evolutionists are forced to admit that while the cephalopod eye and human eye appear homologous, they are actually not homologous, because evolution cannot accommodate this. As a result, the cephalopod eye and the human eye evolved independently, and it is just a coincidence that they look so similar. In fact, some evolutionists think that the basic design we see in the animal eye evolved independently six different times.2 Others (like Dawkins) think it evolved independently up to 60 different times.3

Hunter doesn’t concentrate on how absurd it is to believe that complex structures like eyes could evolve independently so many different times and still look homologous. Instead, he concentrates on the fact that there is no scientific way to determine whether or not similarity is the result of common ancestry. If the vast majority of apparently homologous structures could be understood in terms of common ancestry, it would be at least scientifically reasonable to assume common ancestry is a good explanation for them. However, there are so many apparently homologous structures that cannot be accommodated as the result of common ancestry that it throws the whole idea into question. However, since someone who is committed to theological naturalism has no choice but to force the data into some sort of evolutionary scenario, he cannot understand how unscientific the process is.

In essence the fervent believer in evolution is forced to say, “Sometimes apparently homologous structures indicate common ancestry, and sometimes they don’t. The only way you can determine whether or not common ancestry is indicated is to first look at the theory. If evolution can accommodate common ancestry, then common ancestry it is, and it is great evidence for evolution. If evolution cannot accommodate it, then the apparent homology is just due to random chance and does not affect the theory of evolution.” This is clearly not scientific at all, but the theological naturalist cannot see that, because to him, it is “obvious” that evolution occurred. Thus, it is “obvious” that homologous structures can be judged as evidence for the evolution, but only after they are first determined to be consistent with evolution.

So what’s the solution? When dealing with data that clearly do not fit into a naturalistic model, what do you do? Do you stay committed to naturalism and simply assume that “eventually” we will have a model that works, regardless of whether or not that actually happens? Do you throw up your hands and say, “I can’t explain it, therefore God did it”? According to Hunter, neither of those alternatives is scientific. Instead, Hunter calls for two things.

First, Hunter calls for “Moderate Empiricism.” He quotes Robert Boyle (the founder of modern chemistry) at length. In the quote, Boyle calls for lots of experiments that produce limited, tentative explanations. In addition, Boyle makes the scientifically sound statement that the more comprehensive the theory, the more experiments upon which it should be based. Obviously, evolution currently does not fit this description. For example, there are so few fossils related to human evolution that every time a new one is found, we hear that it “revolutionizes” our understanding of the process. Clearly, then, there are few data to back up the grand conclusion that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor. If scientists truly want to form a theory for how this might have happened, Boyle would say that there needs to be a LOT more data.

So Moderate Empiricism says that you need not limit science to just the empirical process. You can use the rationalist approach and explain things using science. However, the explanations should be backed up by TONS of empirical data. This makes perfect sense from a scientific point of view. It might be frustrating to those who want “quick explanations” for complex processes, but it is clearly the safest way to do science. Unfortunately, most of today’s evolutionists don’t want to be careful – they just want those of us who promote a careful approach to science to shut up.

Second, Hunter calls for this very reasonable approach to rational inquiry:

But in these cases, where naturalism is questionable, the science alone is insufficient. We cannot judge between unknown extraterrestrials and unknown intermediates merely on the basis of scientific details. There are metaphysical, philosophical, theological, and historical questions to consider. These are rich, multifaceted problems that include reasoning from a variety of disciplines. We cannot understand such problems with narrow appeals to just science, or just philosophy, or just theology, or just history. The full range of knowledge ought to be considered.

This is probably the best description I have ever read of the proper way to rationally investigate any complex problem. It is succinct and to the point. It is simply absurd to think that we can solve questions like the origin of life or the origin of the universe using science alone. All of the facets of human experience should be focused on such tasks. Only then can we truly understand the nature of Creation. We should not be afraid to blend science, philosophy, theology, and history together. They are all different means by which we as human beings understand the world around us. The more complex the question, the more eager we should be to use all the means at our disposal.

Unfortunately, until more people understand science the way Hunter understands it, we will continue to wallow in the mire in which we find ourselves today. For science’s sake, I hope we produce a lot more Cornelius Hunters!


1. Patricia L. Foster, Adaptive mutation: implications for evolution, Bioessays 22:1067-1074 2000
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2. Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan, Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life, University Of Chicago Press, 2006, p. 257
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3. Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, Mariner Books, 2005, p. 588
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