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Rosenhouse’s Blunder: Another Nonsensical Mathematical Argument Against Intelligent Design

Photo credit: Gerwin Sturm, via Flickr (cropped).

Darwinist mathematician Jason Rosenhouse is back. He has a recently published book from Cambridge University Press, The Failures of Mathematical Anti-Evolutionism, and an article in Skeptical Inquirer in which he claims to debunk mathematical arguments that point to intelligent design in biology. A core argument for ID is that living things contain molecules, cells, tissues, organs, and physiological processes displaying complex and specified information, which rules out the possibility that they “evolved” via unintelligent processes. The presence of a language code in DNA, the astonishing nanotechnology underlying every cellular process, the elegant integration of cellular activity into tissues and organs, and the orchestration of these countless highly specified processes into a living organism is so far beyond the capacity of dumb “chance and necessity” that it is fair to call Darwinian explanations ludicrous fairytales posing as science. Intelligence is undeniable — it permeates living things. 

Despite this massive evidence for design, Darwinists like Rosenhouse cling to their ideological myth — atheism’s creation myth — rather than acknowledge the irrefutable scientific evidence of design in nature and particularly the evidence for design that permeates all life. 

Self-Refuting Arguments

The Darwinist arguments against design are all self-refuting, because all arguments against design in biology depend on formal and teleological (i.e., designed) causes in life. Darwinists necessarily invoke highly specific physical laws (e.g., quantum mechanics) and undeniable purposes (e.g., a purpose of DNA is to encode protein structure), and the only known source of a specific law or purpose is a mind. In other words, Darwinist arguments against intelligent design always invoke design — there are no Darwinist arguments from mere chaos and there cannot be such arguments (because even chaos presupposes order against which chaos is defined). 

ID scientists point out that the specified complexity of protein structure necessary for life precludes spontaneous “evolution” without intelligent agency. Proteins may be hundreds of amino acids long, and the correct and precise placement of amino acids (not to mention the as-yet unexplained precision of protein-folding, the organization of innumerable proteins into complex enzymatic pathways, etc.) is inexplicable except as a consequence of a guiding Intelligence. 

No Intelligence Needed?

Rosenhouse denies that intelligence is needed to explain the remarkably precise and specific structure of proteins — he asserts that the Darwinian process of mindless random heritable mutations and survival of survivors (i.e., “natural selection”) explains it all. He uses the analogy of a coin toss to defend the Darwinian explanation:

However, this [design] argument is premised on the notion that genes and proteins evolve through a process analogous to tossing a coin multiple times. This is untrue because there is nothing analogous to natural selection when you are tossing coins. Natural selection is a non-random process, and this fundamentally affects the probability of evolving a particular gene.

To see why, suppose we toss 100 coins in the hopes of obtaining 100 heads. One approach is to throw all 100 coins at once, repeatedly, until all 100 happen to land heads at the same time. Of course, this is exceedingly unlikely to occur. An alternative approach is to flip all 100 coins, leave the ones that landed heads as they are, and then toss again only those that landed tails. We continue in this manner until all 100 coins show heads, which, under this procedure, will happen before too long. The creationist argument assumes that evolution must proceed in a manner comparable to the first approach, when really it has far more in common with the second.

Everything in Rosenhouse’s coin-toss analogy to natural selection manifests intelligent design. The coin is intelligently designed, the person who tosses the coin is intelligent, and the choice by the coin-tosser to re-toss only the coins that land on tails is intelligent selection.  

For Rosenhouse’s analogy to point to unintelligent causes — to Darwinian natural selection — he would have to invoke the analogy that we leave a block of silver on a table by itself and wait for it to (by erosion and wind) sculpt itself into 100 coins, each of which would then spontaneously fall off the table, and the coins that landed tails up would then spontaneously (perhaps by earthquakes!) jump back up onto the table and spontaneously fall again, with this mindless but amazingly specific cycle repeating itself until all 100 coins lay heads-up on the floor (and the floor would first have to assemble itself!). This is a fine model of Darwinian natural selection — i.e., a preposterous fairytale.  

A Deeper Design in Nature

And of course, Rosenhouse misses the even deeper design in nature that forms the framework for the coin-toss analogy. The physical constants and forces that make silver and coins and gravity and space and time all point to intelligent agency (cf. Aquinas’ Fifth Way). Even Darwinian jumping coins need the law of gravitation and laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics and innumerable finely tuned physical constants to self-construct and spontaneously jump off the table and self-sort. Design is everywhere in nature.

Darwinian “chance” and “natural selection” exist in an ocean of design — from space-time to physical laws and fine-tuned constants to complex specified biochemical and physiological processes to intelligent observers who flip coins and make hypotheses about evolution. Rosenhouse’s risible analogy of coin-tossing is akin to Berra’s Blunder — a similarly self-refuting analogy proposed by Darwinist biologist Tim Berra, who explained that mindless Darwinian evolution is like designs in automobiles that change with time (notwithstanding that cars are intelligently designed). 

Even Darwinist arguments for natural selection in biology depend on intelligent design. All scientific evidence in cosmology, physics, and biology points to a Mind as the source and the continuing basis of the natural world.  

H/t Jerry Coyne.