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                         On truth and betrayals [Intelligent Design] - AC Grayling

                                                                 The Guardian, April 2006

E M Forster's motto was "only connect". Responding to this injunction by putting together three items of the week's news is an instructive exercise.

The first is the description in the journal Science of the process by which evolution produces new molecular machinery in biological systems by incrementally adapting existing structures to new purposes.

The second is a report in the science journal Nature of several well-preserved 375 million year old fossils of a species intermediate between water and land-dwelling creatures.

The third is the announcement of a parchment found in the Egyptian desert containing part of a second century Gnostic document, described as "the Gospel of Judas", in which the legendary betrayer is exonerated and indeed placed in a theologically privileged position because - so the document says - he was asked by Jesus to deliver him to the authorities in completion of his mission.

Which of these three items of news is the odd one out? If you think this is a no-brainer, remember the respondent in the quiz show who said that the synonym for "blessed" occurring before the words "thy name" in the Lord's Prayer is "Howard". Perhaps this might count as news too, to all those wishing
to know the name of God.

There is a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University in the United States called Michael J Behe, darling of the creationists, who says that biological structures are "irreducibly complex" and their existence can therefore only be explained by invoking a divine designer. This absurd argument, which alleges a mystery (the existence of complex biological structures) and claims to solve it by introducing an arbitrary and even greater mystery (the existence of a deity), has exactly the logical force of saying
that the shapes of clouds are designed by Fred. Who or what is Fred? Pick a legend to explain.

As Karl Popper pointed out, a theory which explains everything (and all the religions, otherwise in fierce competition with one another over the Truth, do that) explains nothing. Unless a theory specifies what counter-evidence would refute it, it is worthless. Good science invites rigorous questioning and testing; almost all religions, at least at some time in their history, have killed those who have questioned them. No wars have been fought over theories in botany or meteorology; most wars and conflicts in the world's history owe themselves directly or indirectly to religion. By their fruits, we are told, we
shall know them.

A simple test of the relative merits of science and religion is to compare lighting your house at night by prayer or electricity.

The molecular evolution research focuses on hormone receptors. Hormones and their receptors are protein molecules that fit one another like keys in locks. By comparing specific hormone receptors in lampreys and hagfish, primitive species of jawless fish, with more evolved versions in skate, Professor Joseph Thornton and his laboratory co-workers at the University of Oregon have been able to reconstruct the genetic evolution of the molecules in question, tracing it (the evolution) to a common ancestral gene 456 million years ago. They found a receptor molecule that predated the existence of the hormone for which it now serves. This offers evidence of how changes in a system exploit existing structures for new purposes, and therefore how greater biological complexity arises incrementally from less complexity.

Professor Behe, believer in supernatural agencies - a class that includes fairies, demons, unicorns, cthonic gods, angels and ghosts - whose alleged existence is inexplicable and untestable, and credence in which rests on ancient writings embodying the superstitions of mankind's early ignorances,
calls Professor Thornton's work "piddling". That is not an expression, presumably, that he would use to describe the - earth-shattering? - discovery of the Gospel of Judas in Egypt's desert sands - but then he is that sort of person.

Language, truth and logic section

In some London buses there is a sign instructing passengers as follows: "Do not speak to or obstruct the driver's vision." This interesting injunction is reminiscent of the notice - really, a sign of its times - that once told bus passengers, "Smokers are requested to occupy only seats in the rear half of the
bus." That meant you could not sit on the floor, or stand, if you were smoking at the back of the bus.

The likes of Professor Behe doubtless understand what it means to "speak to someone's vision". Which church is running London's buses? (Would it be surprising, in the Reverend Blair's Britain where churches are running ever more of our schools, to find that this is not a rhetorical



A C Grayling is a Philosophy professor at the University of London and Oxford -  and a first rate contemporary philosopher, writer and thinker. He has a personal web site at http://www.acgrayling.com


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