Designed to Renew Your Mind: Guliuzza’s Creation Apologetics

public domain image of a bookbinding machine - did it evolve or was it designed?Yesterday (Saturday 28 September 2013), the creation museum in my area held its yearly “Museum Day.” Though the event ran from 9 AM to 6 PM, with presentations by a range of speakers from Gary Parker to John Morris to Ray Comfort, I only managed to attend a single presentation: Randy Guliuzza’s “Creation Apologetics.” Dr. Guliuzza is both a Medical Doctor (M.D.) and an Engineer (P.E.), and the title “Creation Apologetics” falls short of capturing the full value of his presentation.

One of the Pious Eye site’s topic tags, you might have noticed, is “pious thinking,” which is set in contrast to “impious thinking.” A persisting obsession of mine is the need to make both my own thinking and that of fellow Christians more thoroughly pious, by which I mean “believing rather than doubting” (to borrow Edward Freer Hills‘ stock phrasing), more faith-based, more Scripture-guided. What excited me most about Guliuzza’s presentation was its potential to assist in this task. Guliuzza showed, with a perspicuity and detail rather remarkable for a one hour speech on scientific topics, that interpreting living organisms (and interacting systems of organisms) as intelligently designed (God-designed) fosters (what in our evolution-saturated intellectual climate is) a radical transformation in how one thinks and speaks about those organisms. (Suitable hackneyed expressions here would include: paradigm shift, Copernican revolution.)

Bracketing for a moment the whole issue of natural theology (to which of course presuppositionalists, especially Van Tilians like a recently-reviewed author, object), it is clearly true that we believers must view living organisms as designed, since no other view comports with Scripture’s identification of God as creator of all things. (“Intelligent design,” one might note, is a redundancy, since “unintelligent design” or “chance design” or “designerless design” is oxymoronic. Alas, evolutionism, with its tendency to speak of natural phenomena as though they were intelligent active agents has made the redundancy necessary.) Designed mechanisms and systems call for an “engineering analysis” of how design features of those mechanisms and systems permit adaptation (response) to varying problems or challenges (changing environments, presence and activities of other mechanisms and systems, etc.). They do not call for “mystical, magical” just-so stories about how problems or challenges “cause” or “induce” changes in, and so unintelligently “design,” those mechanisms and systems.

If you sense in this shades of Paley‘s analogy between such human-designed systems as watches and such God-designed systems as nature and all the organisms and interconnected systems making up nature, you may not be far wrong. Early in his presentation, Dr. Guliuzza asserted that Romans 1:18-21 is a “key text linking creation with intelligent design.” “Manifest” in the passage means, said Guliuzza, that the designedness of nature is “evident” or plainly seen, so that “everyone knows there is a God.” (Van Tilians will of course cringe at the “a God” here; “knows God is” might be preferable wording, though confessedly “there is a God” is so prevalent colloquially as to make it about as difficult to oppose as use of “they” and “their” in place of “he or she” and “his or her.”) “Clearly seen” in the passage, Guliuzza added, means that “no special revelation is needed” to analyze God-made things. It also means that the same principles applicable to man-made (human-designed) things should explain God-made (God-designed) things.

Interestingly, Guliuzza did not seem to be making the natural theological argument of Classical Apologetics here, because prior to making these remarks on Romans 1:18-21 he said that if we are going to rightly understand God’s creation we must start with God’s Word, the Bible. He did not attempt to start from a “neutral” position (which Van Tilians would say is impossible); his whole argument was an outworking of what he believes the words of Scripture imply about the creation and our God-given ability to acquire knowledge about that creation. He did seek to contrast the system of knowledge this approach yields with the mystical illusion of knowledge the contrary (evolutionary, naturalistic) approach produces, but this had more the feel of a reduction-to-absurdity of the evolutionary/naturalistic approach than of a step-by-step building up of conclusions from “neutral” premises shared alike by believers and unbelievers. Whatever Guliuzza’s own philosophical commitments, I found it fairly easy to construe his remarks as compatible with a broadly presuppositional apologetic framework. (This isn’t to say that Van Tilian purists would find Guliuzza’s remarks entirely satisfactory; I’m not certain they ever find anyone’s remarks entirely satisfactory.)

At this early point in his presentation, Guliuzza referenced a Scientific American article as both confirmation that God’s power and Godhead really are “clearly seen,” and as illustrative of the unbelieving (unintelligent “design”) perspective: Jesse Bering’s “Creationism Feels Right, but That Doesn’t Make It So: Psychological researchers suggest that evolutionary thinking is unnatural” (posted 19 March 2009, accessed 28 September 2013). The article is an evolutionary lament and attempt to “explain away” what cognitive scientists now confirm is a built-in tendency of human minds to view the systems and organisms in the world around them, and the world around them as a whole, as intelligently designed, as created by a person for a purpose. The article, written while Bering attended a “Belief and Reason” symposium (Trinity College, Cambridge), briefly relates and reflects upon some relevant thinking and research of psychologists Paul Bloom (Yale), Margaret Evans (University of Michigan), Deborah Kelemen (Boston University), and Alison Gopnik (University of California at Berkeley). Though Guliuzza only mentioned the article briefly, it may merit closer analysis.

Bering first summarizes an insight and anecdote from Bloom’s symposium presentation, “Is Religion Natural?”:

As Bloom pointed out, many people believe that one’s acceptance of evolutionary theory boils down to whether that person was indoctrinated as a child by religious parents or educated by science-minded teachers. But it’s not that simple. By her own accounts, even Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind from nineteen months of age, spontaneously pondered, “Who made the sky, the sea, everything?” prior to being taught how to communicate. As a retrospective anecdote, the example should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they say—but if true, it’s quite interesting, since her linguistic isolation meant that Keller hadn’t a culturally transmitted concept of God to revert to but nevertheless intuited ‘someone’ had created the world.
Assuming Keller did not read a later theism back into her earlier reflections (the possibility Bering presumably has in mind when noting that this is “a retrospective anecdote”), her experience suggests that God-as-intelligent-creator is a reality so “clearly seen” (even in the absence of sight and hearing) as to require no verbal communication to produce belief.

Bering next discusses Margaret Evans’ decade-long attempt to figure out “why creationist thinking comes more easily to human minds than does evolutionary thinking,” an attempt that has all along assumed, of course, that evolution is true and creationism is false (as Bering expresses the bias, creationists exhibit “recalcitrance in the face of logical science”). Evans’ empirical studies indicate that, regardless of parental beliefs or religious or irreligious early education, children age 5 to 7 answer origins questions in “either spontaneous generationist (e.g., ‘it got born there’) or creationist (e.g., ‘God made it’)” ways. The “it got born there” response doesn’t actually answer the origin question, of course, just says the equivalent of “it originated,” so one would assume the “God made it” answer is the more cognitively mature. This seems confirmed by Evans’ further findings that 8 to 10 year olds “from both secular and religious backgrounds give exclusively creationist answers.” Only among 10 to 12 year olds (the oldest children Evans studied) does a religious or irreligious environment begin to affect how children answer origins questions.

The bottom line of Evans’ research, as Bering restates her conclusion, is that “thinking like an evolutionist is hard work because, ironically, it works against the grain of evolved human psychology” so that “creationists…[have] a paradoxical ally in the way natural selection has lent itself to our species’ ability to reason about its own origins.” Fascinating in this line of reasoning is how one apparently innate characteristic of the human rational faculty, an inclination to “clearly see” (apprehend, recognize) the God-designedness of created things, is doubted while another, the ability to reason inductively more generally (and so do “logical science”), is trusted with perfect credulity. Is this consistent? (Also: you may be wondering, as I initially did, what precisely it means to say that “natural selection has lent itself to our…ability to reason about…origins.” Evolutionists typically speak of natural selection as shaping or even creating our abilities, not of it lending itself to those abilities. I believe what Bering means is that the rational faculty formed in us by natural selection is now being lent to something other than what that faculty was evolved for, where the “something other” is reasoning about our own origins.)

In any case, Evans, and with her such other psychologists as Deborah Kelemen, think, Bering relates, that a “cognitive glitch…invades our rationalist thought whenever we’re pondering the subject of life’s origins…[namely,] ‘teleo-functional thinking’ (reasoning about the functional purpose of an entity or object…).” (Note how the parenthetical ending my prior paragraph refers to our rational faculty as being “evolved for” some purpose other than reasoning about origins. Though this attitude toward our rational faculty seems to me implicit in Bering’s distrust of our innate tendencies when applying that faculty to origins, that distrust is itself an expression the same innate tendency.) While valid when dealing with items that really are designed with a purpose, meaning in Bering’s perspective only things made intentionally by humans, this sort of thinking misleads when applied to origins of “natural” things like humans themselves, since “Darwin’s mindless machine of natural selection obviates the need for an intelligent designer.” Now, of course, a mindless machine does not “select” anything; and, for that matter, if one sees no designing intelligence behind the operations of nature, one really shouldn’t use the term “machine” either. Even if the Darwinian story were such an effective obviator of the need for an intelligent designer as Bering asserts, plausible-sounding stories do not refute contrary narratives, they only show (if effective) that more than one narrative could be true.

Anyway, in the course of his discussion Bering also talks about the innate human motivation to figure out the purpose of things, to reach conclusions using our teleo-functional thinking. This discussion, based on Alison Gopnik’s work, is crassly sexual (the pleasure of teleo-functional puzzle solving is likened to the pleasure of sex). The bottom line, and one to which believers in Darwin’s “explanation” of origins should attend, “is, Gopnik points out, your explanation doesn’t actually need to be correct to get that burst of pleasure; you’ve just got to believe you’ve solved the problem.”

In brief, then, this Scientific American article (read with Christian understanding) reveals that seeing God-designed things as analogous to human-designed things is natural and automatic for humans. At the same time, the article, based on the assumption that there are no God-designed things (which assumption finds justification in Darwinian storytelling), asserts that this design-sensing “instinct,” unlike other instincts, must be distrusted and opposed. Why one should prefer this attitude, rather than the Christian attitude that sees in this “instinct” confirmation of Romans 1:18-21, is not at all clear. The phrase “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” comes to mind for some reason, as does the statement “they loved darkness rather than light.”

After his brief reference to Bering’s paper, Guliuzza completed unpacking the implications of Romans 1:18-21 for how Christians should structure their thinking about nature and everything in it. What we need to teach (including, one must infer, what we need to teach ourselves as we train our minds to think in a thoroughly faith-consistent manner), he concluded, is that “creatures are 100% intelligently designed.” (Everything created is a “creature,” note, though the special focus of Guliuzza’s presentation was living creatures.) What this implies is that a proper understanding of creatures requires we first determine the purpose for which God designed them. In other words (with due credit to Scientific American), the intelligent-designedness of all creatures mandates that we apply our God-given teleo-functional thinking capacities to those creatures.

Though Guliuzza had earlier suggested that Romans 1:18-21 means that one need not consult special revelation to properly understand God-designed things, he may not entirely believe this, since he now answered the question of creatures’ purpose by appealing to Scripture, specifically to Genesis 1:22-28, as well as to Genesis 1:5,14,22. What he concluded from these verses was the following: (1) creatures’ God-give purpose is to fill the earth, meaning to occupy (“colonize”) all the available environmental niches, a purpose for which they have been given their ability to adapt; (2) the need to adapt in response to environmental challenges did not originate with the fall, since such challenges (a day/night cycle, seasons, other organisms affecting one’s environment) were always present, so that “death and survival” are not properly seen as the God-designed purpose for creatures’ ability to adapt; and (3) conditions (environmental challenges) are “exposures” to which organisms respond (adapt) as enabled by their design; they are not the creators, triggers, or causes of creatures’ adaptations. This way of understanding designed things is drawn, Guliuzza noted, from medicine and engineering, two fields in which Guliuzza (you’ll recall) has credentialed expertise. Whatever one thinks of the Intelligent Design movement or of apologetic approaches that build upon natural theology, it seems to me that we Bible-believing Christians are obligated to adjust how we think about created things in just the way Guliuzza proposes.

The remainder of Guliuzza’s presentation continued to unpack and clarify the implications of this faith-consistent way of looking at nature and to contrast it with the evolutionary (naturalistic) approach. (The hybrid thought system popular among scholars, theistic or non-naturalistic evolutionism, was not discussed in this talk. In this review, therefore, I treat evolutionism and naturalism as synonymous.) Whereas the faith-consistent way of seeing nicely comports with and makes sense of all that we see in nature, the evolutionary approach requires introduction of irrational, “mystical, magical” elements into one’s thinking, thus showing this latter approach does not merit a thinking person’s assent: such is what Guliuzza sought, and to my satisfaction demonstrated, in the remainder of his address.

Though I will not attempt a thorough summary of everything Guliuzza said—this would be impossible, since I never learned shorthand, never acquired a photographic memory, and can’t take notes quickly no matter how much coffee I drink—I will relate a few key points. Throughout his remarks, Guliuzza contrasted the correct approach to understanding designed things, an “engineering analysis,” and the incorrect misunderstanding of them, the evolutionary approach. The evolutionist attempts to understand organisms on the assumption that they do not actively adapt to environmental challenges but are instead passive, with changes in them (and any apparent design in them or their adaptations) resulting from the action of outside forces (environmental challenges plus natural selection). If organisms are indeed designed, this approach obviously leads only to confusion, not understanding. The engineering analysis (creationist) approach, in contrast, seeks to understand organisms as entities designed with self-adjusting internal control mechanisms (adaptive capacities), their God-designed adaptability paralleling the human-designed adaptability of an automobile that automatically shifts gears as required for driving through hilly areas, or of a jet airplane on autopilot that alters its altitude in response to radar information indicating there are mountains ahead.

Guliuzza specially emphasized that a self-adjusting systems must have three components: (1) an input system, which typically (and invariably in the case of organisms) means not just some means of passively receiving and recording information about the environment, but of actively gathering such information (receptors, sensors, detectors); (2) a control system, the designed internal capacity to respond (adapt) to the information acquired; and (3) output, meaning the actual execution of the response (adaptation) that the control system makes possible. With reference to the above-mentioned airplane analogy, the design-aware understanding is that the plane on autopilot is so designed that it can (1) gather radar information on the environment ahead of it (input system), (2) determine from that information when the plane’s altitude requires adjustment and by how much (control system), and (3) actively make the required adjustment (output). An evolutionary reading of this airplane behavior, in contrast, would have to say that mountains ahead “induce” or “trigger” the plane to modify its altitude. Similarly, in those classical movie moments (I believe there were two) where Dirty Hairy asks a “punk,” at whom Harry is pointing a revolver that may or may not have one bullet left, if he “feels lucky” enough to reach for his own gun, the evolutionary understanding requires that a punk who feels lucky, or even the underprivileged background that led the punk to this situation, is the “trigger” that could cause Harry’s gun to fire. The design-informed creationist reading, of course, would be that the actual trigger of the gun is the trigger that could cause the gun to fire.

Describing how creatures are designed by God to fill the various environmental niches of earth, Guliuzza spoke of their ability to “auto-sense” prompting them to “auto-adjust” so that they can “auto-colonize.” An evolutionist will speak of “predator-induced” changes when an organism adapts to differences in the prevalence of predators in its environment. A creationist, in contrast, will speak of the organism as adapting (by design) in response to the change in predatory threat. Admittedly, evolutionists will sometimes speak in language more resembling the creationist latter than the evolutionist former. Guliuzza’s point, however (as I “read between the lines” of his presentation), was that a consistent outworking of evolutionists’ belief (or, as the Van Tilian might emphasize, evolutionists’ professed belief) would have to speak, and in multiple examples Guliuzza quoted do speak, in the former “the punk is the trigger” manner.

Aside: It may be recalled that in my review of Petty’s Science and God I noted, not in these exact words, how adaptation to specific environmental niches can involve a loss of information. How does this figure in to Guliuzza’s insights? The example in mind in that review was where a bacterium, because of chance/accidental loss of (or damage to) an enzyme, becomes resistant to antibiotics that depend on that enzyme. As a result, the bacterium and its descendants prove better suited to the niche where such antibiotics are present, though at the same time less suited to any environment where the antibiotics are absent, since in those other environments undamaged bacteria do much better. In terms of Guliuzza’s design-aware perspective, which we Bible-believers must endeavor to assimilate, I think we might not want to use the term “adaptation” for the unique suitability of damaged organisms to special niches. That organisms should be damaged in this manner, losing some of their God-designed capacities, seems a manifestation of the fall, not of God’s design, except insofar as the design that constitutes God’s providence (his “eternal decree”) includes even the fall and all its consequences. My statements in this aside are tentative and preliminary, but I believe sound.

So, Guliuzza asked (in an exercise meant to ensure listeners could apply their new perspective), when estrogen levels in a female of a certain frog species rise in response to a same-species male’s mating call, what “triggers” that rise in estrogen? If you said, “the male’s mating call,” you may still be thinking like an evolutionist. The correct response is that it is the female’s hearing of the mating call that is the trigger, since it is her sensors’ (her ears’) intake of this sound, joined to her perceptual system’s identification of that sound as a suitable mating call, that prompts expression of her internal control system’s God-designed response to such a call.

The evolutionist’s (design-denying) approach, unlike the creationist’s (design-aware) one, encourages, in fact requires, what Guliuzza (fairly and accurately) called “mystical, magical” (alternatively, one might say “pagan”) thinking. For instance, “selection” is always an act of intelligence, so replacing intelligent divine design with “design” resulting from “natural [unintelligent, mindless] selection” (“Darwin’s mindless machine,” as Bering words it) is fuzzy-headed superstitious thinking on par with ancient pagan mythology and the worst pseudoscience. Yet, training themselves (and your children, if they’re attending government schools) to think in just this reason-deforming manner is something committed evolutions must do. Truly, such stubbornly irrational elevation of created nature over and in place of the Creator (Rom. 1: 21-23) can be nothing but willful suppression of “clearly seen” truth evident to every functioning human mind, and it was with roughly this observation (albeit less confrontationally worded) that Guliuzza concluded his remarks.

After the presentation, I asked Dr. Guliuzza if the insights in his lecture could be found in writing somewhere. They can, he said, and directed me to a series of Acts & Facts papers he wrote under the shared title “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter” (each paper has a different subtitle). I have printed but not yet read those papers. Readers interested in reading them before I do, perhaps with the purpose of showing me how badly I must have missed the point of the above-discussed presentation, may find them by following these links (all four date to 2011):

  1. Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Recognizing Missed Warning Signs

  2. Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Selection Is Given Credit for Design in Nature

  3. Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: The Illusion That Natural Selection Operates on Organisms

  4. Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Natural Selection’s Idolatrous Trap

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