In this episode, Kurt interviews Dr. Fazale Rana at the monthly meeting of Reasons To Believe – Chicago Chapter, on how studying science led to his faith in God.
Kurt: Well Good day to you, and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here again. This is episode 65 and I have the distinct and great pleasure of not being in our studio again like last week. Last week we were at the Moody Church interviewing Dr. Clay Jones and the episode was on the problem of evil and suffering so if you haven’t had a chance to listen to that episode, I want to encourage you to go back to the website or if you download the podcast on iTunes or Google Play, go back to the episode list and listen to that. Today I’m joined by none other than Fazale Rana or Fuz as his friends call him. He is the vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons To Believe which is a science-based apologetic ministry organization in Southern California. Fuz. Thanks for joining me on the show today.
Fuz: Thanks for having me, Kurt.
Kurt: It’s good to see you. I know it’s been a few years since we’ve seen each other.
Fuz: Yeah. It has.
Kurt: I’m very pleased to have you here and I want to thank the local RTB chapter and then Ginger Creek Veritas for sponsoring this event. We are Ginger Creek Community Church and if I were to turn the camera around, you’d see there are about 30 or so people here in this wonderful nice little gathering room as they call it. It’s different than the other classrooms that Bob Clapper has had. So today, we’re going to be talking about how we can integrate science with our faith and the two are not mutually exclusive notions as much as some atheists might like to suggest, but before we get into some of the scientific aspects to that, tell me a little bit more about yourself and your family background and what got you interested in science.
Fuz: Sure. I have somewhat of an unusual family background. My father was born in India. He was a Muslim and he was born prior to India winning its independence from Great Britain. As a Muslim when that happened, he was forced along with his family to immigrate to Palestine. He was a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. He died a few years ago now, but came to the U.S. via Canada and he met and married my Mom who was from a Catholic background. She was a non-practicing Catholic. Typically when a Muslim marries a non-Muslim, they are supposed to convert, but my father was more progressive in his views and so he didn’t expect that of my mother, but she was really rather non-religious, so I grew up in a home where my father was a practicing Muslim, deeply committed to Islam, and that what I was exposed to growing up, a home where my Mom was a science and math teacher and so a lot of science and education was very much important and Islam was the religious system that I was exposed to. That’s where I come from and didn’t have much interest in science as a young man. It was basically, sports, rock music, and girls. That’s what I was interested in growing up, but I was a really good student and my father being a domineering Indian father expected me to go to school and to become a medical doctor so I enrolled in a pre-med program out of high school and my first course in biology is what hooked me. The first day of class we talked about the question, “What is life?” and I learned that biologists can’t define what life is. We can describe it, but we can’t define it. Right from there we went to a discussion of the molecular systems that constitute life. And at that point I was like, “I’m hooked. Biochemistry is the coolest thing in the world”, and suddenly I had this real love for science and its persisted since that day.
Kurt: Is that how even just gaining that expourse to science, is that how science played a role in your faith journey? What brought you over to belief in God?
Fuz: By the time I had graduated from high school going into college I was an agnostic. I didn’t know if God existed or not and I didn’t care. Becoming enamored with biochemistry, my focus was doing everything I could to prepare myself to go to graduate school to get a Ph.D. in biochemistry, so I was thoroughly entrenched as a science nerd from that point on. I embraced the evolutionary paradigm. Professors that I admired deeply and still do to this day basically taught that life’s origin and history and design comes from the work of evolutionary mechanisms and I accepted those ideas more so on the authority of my professors rather than on a critical evaluation of the evidence. I meet a lot of college students that embrace the evolutionary paradigm for that very reason. It’s not that they’ve drawn that conclusion themselves, that this is what the evidence supports, but rather, it’s really a quasi indoctrination. Of course, if we’re going to be scientists and if we’re going to be appear to be educated, then we embrace evolution, because that’s the mainstream view and it was really in graduate school where that idea that life could originate through evolution was challenged for me.
Kurt: What scientific evidence played a role in bringing you to belief in God?
Fuz: Well, it was just the sheer beauty and elegance and sophistication of biochemical systems. These systems are clearly complex, but to me the complexity wasn’t what was so fascinating. It was that the systems displayed an ingenuity. They’re just so cleverly put together and it was not uncommon as a graduate student to talk to other graduate students that were working on their Ph.D.s in biochemistry. We would sit around just talking about how cool and how amazing biochemical systems are and its day after day after day where you’re learning something new about the cell’s chemistry or even playing a role in discovering something new that would never appear in textbooks until years and years later if at all, but as these discoveries were happening, it’s like, “How on Earth do scientists really explain where these systems come from?” That’s the origin of life question. I remember as a graduate student on my own digging into the literature trying to understand how to explain the origin of life and when I saw the explanations that were being offered, to me I felt like those explanations fell far short, and so now you’ve got 1 + 1, where you’ve got design and you’ve got an inability to account for that design through mechanism. The only conclusion is there’s got to be a mind that somehow initiated life’s origin.
Kurt: But that wouldn’t bring you to Christianity. Tell us about your journey into embracing the Christian faith and why Islam being part of your family heritage wasn’t an option for you.
Fuz: When I was a teenager before graduating from high school, I spent a couple of years actually exploring Islam under my father’s tutelage and I partly was motivated in doing that, it was just to try to connect a little bit with my roots, my family roots, my family history, try to connect a little bit with my father, and so I began to read the Koran and I learned how to pray, and I would spend about a year and a half everyday praying in a dedicated manner as a Muslim would prayer. Prayer is very different in Islam than it is in Christianity. In Christianity, prayer is an opportunity to be in the presence of God and to commune with God and to communicate with God. In Islam, prayer is an obligation. It’s something that you’re doing in order to earn Allah’s pleasure and Allah’s approval, and you’re never quite certain if what you’re doing is pleasing to Allah, but that’s the motivation. It’s an obligation. As a young man, that became tedious. This is just another thing that I have to do. Trying to read from the Koran wasn’t very helpful either. It just seemed to me to be rather esoteric as I read from it and there wasn’t a lot of reading. By the time I left high school I was again an agnostic, but I was pretty much certain that Islam wasn’t going to be the way to go. Interestingly enough, I was going down a path of universalism. I kind of reasoned, “Well why couldn’t God have revealed Himself to different people at different times in different ways,” and that idea is actually very Islamic believe it or not, because Muslims view Noah and Moses and David and Jesus as being prophets to specific people at specific times and Muhammad is the last of the true prophets and so this idea of kind of a religious pluralism is kind of intertwined in Islamic theology and so being exposed to that made sense to me that I would go down that path of universalism and I reasoned, “Well look at the world’s religions all teach the same thing more or less from a moral standpoint.” The woman that I was engaged to that became my wife, that was key in getting me to seriously entertain Christianity. She grew up in a Christian home, drifted away from her faith, and then rededicated her life to Christ at an Easter service and she began to share with me and I remember my first reaction was like, “Hey. If you want to be a Christian, that’s perfectly fine with me. I don’t have any interest in that.” But the pastor in her church was going to marry us and she was concerned going through a Bible study that she would be unequally yoked and so she was really going through a crisis and so this little tiny Pentecostal church in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. I don’t even know the name of the church to this day. I just remember calling it Johnny and Sherry’s church because they were the pastors. That church began to pray for me, so I was the prayer project, so the whole church and so I remember meeting with Johnny and to his credit, he didn’t press. He just said, “Look. How do you know that Christianity is not true? Have you ever read the Bible?” “No. I’ve never read the Bible.” “Well, why don’t you read the Bible?” and so I read through the Gospel of Matthew and what was interesting to me was “Wow. Here’s the Christmas story.” Growing up as a non-Christian with an Islamic background I didn’t know where the Christmas story came from, so that’s what intrigued me and kept me reading and then I hit the Sermon on the Mount and that was the point where I recognized that Jesus must be who Christians claim to be. I would argue that I had a religious experience at that point reading through that passage of Scripture and so it was a real encounter with the person of Christ. I don’t share this often, but it was as if there was a person in the room with me as I was reading the Sermon on the Mount just as real as you’re sitting across from me right now. I’ve never had that feeling prior to that. I’ve never had that feeling since then, but it was that presence and this overwhelming conviction that this is true that led me to then pick up a little booklet that Johnny had given me on how to become a Christian and going through this. God revealed through the record of nature and an encounter with the person of Christ in a very real way through reading Scripture.
Kurt: And so not only for you did you have this spiritual presence that you perceived, but when you read the Scripture itself, you thought, “Hey. This reflects who I am. This reflects reality.”
Fuz: It’s interesting because the person of Jesus is extremely attractive.
Kurt: Everyone likes Him.
Fuz: When I’m reading the Sermon on the Mount, what He’s teaching here is true. This is how I want to live, but at the same time, He was condemning me. So here was this odd situation where I’m attracted to Jesus, but I’m feeling condemned by what He’s teaching. That’s a really very powerful experience.
Kurt: That provides a sort of background into where you came from, your family, and what led you to faith in Christ. Then you decided you’re going to go make a lot of money and you worked for a Fortune 500 company. What did you do, how long did you do it for, and then why did you decide you didn’t want to make money anymore so you went into apologetics ministry?
Fuz: You speak so much truth there. It’s interesting. I always envisioned myself taking a post at a university doing research in a university setting and those doors were just not opened to me, which was very frustrating and so I accepted a job at the Proctor & Gamble company and was actually delighted that it was a really fun and very interesting place to work, but I see this now in retrospect as a training ground because I learned something really valuable that translates to what I do now at Reasons to Believe and that was science is cool, but if it doesn’t have practical utility in the company context, then we’re not really interested. I learned very quickly that what I had to pursue in science had to have practical utility for the company and I learned how to begin to communicate scientific ideas to non-scientists and I had a great time working at Proctor & Gamble but I felt God calling me basically into ministry and it was partly encountering Creator and the Cosmos written by Hugh Ross that was part of that motivation. My father dying as a Muslim, that was another part of that motivation where I realized evangelism is really important, but it was exposure to what Hugh Ross was doing at Reasons to Believe that gave me a reason for how as a scientist I could serve in ministry and so became a volunteer with Reasons to Believe and then contacted Hugh about the possibility of joining and to my delight, Hugh was interested and that’s how I got involved in apologetics ministry.
Kurt: Great. You’re now the author of a number of different books. Tell us about those books and if you see a sort of common theme that’s woven between them.
Fuz: Three books are actually somewhat of a trilogy of sorts. Origins of Life, The Cell’s Design, and Creating Life in the Lab and these are all dealing with the evidence that I saw over thirty years ago as a graduate student that convinced me there had to be a creator and so what I look at in these books is trying to take that intuition of design and really formalize into a comprehensive case for design at a molecular level. Origins of Life is really critiquing the evolutionary models for chemical evolution and that book was published in 2004 and I’ve gone back recently and reviewed it and it’s still, the content is still relevant to the origin of life question. The Cell’s Design is taking those elegant features of the cell’s chemistry and trying to articulate into a formal case for design and what I do there is kind of following William Paley’s footsteps, looking at reinvigorating the watchmaker argument, and then the third book Creating Life In The Lab is dealing with the idea that we now are at the point where we’re trying to create artificial cells and reengineer life and what does that tell us about the case for design? There are really three prongs to a design argument that when you put them together as a weight of evidence you have basically the appearance of design, the inability to explain that design, and then what does it take to create that design in the laboratory and all three point very powerfully to the work of an intelligent agent and then I another book I’ve written is Who Was Adam? which is on the other extreme of biology looking at the question of human origins. I’m not trained in anthropology formally, but over the years I’ve taught myself anthropology and to me there’s no more fascinating and important question than the origin of humanity. With the time that I began working on the book, it was evident to me that many Christian apologists were just simply side-stepping that question because anthropology is really complex, and you’re looking through the glass dimly scientifically, you’re lookin through the glass dimly when you look at Scripture, and so we felt that this was really an important area that somebody needed to go in and begin to wrestle with. Can we produce a scientific argument for the traditional Biblical understanding of human origins? It’s messy and there are times where it’s more challenging than I would like and so we either have the courage or stupidity to take on that question. I understand why a lot of people shy away from that question, because it’s so complex, but to me I felt like that was a really important topic that needed to be addressed. To me, I think there’s value in doing apologetics even if at the end of the day the argument isn’t buttoned down and nice and neat. I think it’s very important for apologists to step into the messy issues with courage because if we don’t, then it communicates to non-believers that we’re afraid, but if we really are confident that our faith is true, then we should step into those messy areas and really wrestle with those questions. Sometimes, it doesn’t always go well.
Kurt: I know even in
my life the past few months, I’ve had situations where I’ve had to step in and
sadly I think a lot of Christians are afraid to step into those messy areas
whether it’s in an apologetics discussion or a more academic setting, writing
books and getting involved with those issues, or just engaging society.
Christians have been a bit fearful, but I’ve found when folks do that, when
they get involved in those messy areas, it encourages people because they
realize, “No. We can defend our faith. We can have good reasons. We have
good reasons to believe what we believe.” It can be very encouraging and
edifying for Christians when we do that. That’s a great point. What role did
design arguments play in deepening your faith?
Fuz: To me, as I mentioned, I was just absolutely intrigued with the ingenuity of biochemical systems, but this was again over thirty years ago and the more and more and more that we’re learning about biochemistry, just the more incredibly elegant the case for a creator becomes from that design argument. Something that I find absolutely fascinating and this is just a recent insight within the last decade is that the enzymatic machinery in the cell that manipulates DNA during replication or transmission or DNA repair is literally functioning like a computer system at its basic level. You literally have these things called Turing Machines that are involved in the process of DNA metabolism. It was a computer scientist that recognized this and the symmetry’s so astounding that he launched an entire new area of nanotechnology called DNA computing. Right? This is like taking the watchmaker argument to the next level and the next level and the next level. Right? Because it’s one thing to say, “There’s a similarity between a watch and a living organism,” but to say there’s a similarity between the core operations of a cell and a computer system, so much so that we can literally build computer systems from DNA and enzymes is astounding and in fact, those computer systems are more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer system and they’re found in these little…[NP1] tiny test tubes, and there are problems that you can solve only with DNA computing that you can’t solve with traditional, so when you think about that, and the thing is these ideas of Turing machines, these are abstract machines that Alan Turing as a mathematician conceived to create the theoretical framework to build the first computer systems so these are not even analogies between actual machines and human designs. These are analogies between an abstract human machine and what we see in biochemistry so to me it’s mind-boggling. Right? It’s absolutely mind-boggling, but that’s the type of thing that we continue to discover is that that level of depth to the design.
Kurt: That’s great. So you’ve had the opportunity to travel in your vow of poverty in the apologetics field. You’ve been over to the Middle East and you’ve been able to present to Muslims. What was that like and what was the reception that you received?
Fuz: This is something that to me is one of those doors that God opened that I could never even imagine happening, but a couple of years ago out of the blue on Facebook through the message function, I got an invitation from a Muslim to come to Turkey, to Istanbul, to take part in a conference where they were going to present a case for creation and challenges to evolution and so I wrote back to them and I said, because my name is an Islamic name. Fazale is a good Muslim name. I wrote back to them. I said, “You understand that I’m a Christian. Right? I’m not a Muslim.” They had read some of my books and they said, “Yeah. We know that you’re a Christian. In fact, some of our best friends are Christians.”
Fuz: I’m like, “Okay.” I wrestled with should I do this and I finally said, “I’m just going to take the step”, so not only me but Jeff Zweerink and A.J. Roberts from Reasons to Believe went and we did this conference where we spoke in front of a Muslim audience presenting a Christian perspective on the case for a creator and challenges to evolution and we’ve gone back a second time and we’re actually building a friendship with these Islamic creationists where the common ground that we’re finding is our commitment to the notion that there is a creator and challenges to atheistic ideologies and this is a wonderful platform to build friendships that open up opportunities for us to explain to Muslims not only the people that we’re building friendships with but to audiences at large what Christianity is and what it isn’t. There’s a lot of misunderstanding among Muslims and we’re learning a lot about what Islam is about and to me what’s really encouraging is we hear so much about fundamentalist Islam today, but there’s a large group of Muslims throughout the world that are moderate, that are progressive, that are looking at bringing Islam into a modern context, that want to be in good relationships with Jews and Christians. They see them as allies in the larger cultural context and so to me I think, science is a powerful tool to build a bridge into the Islamic world in a way that we have points of agreement that then allow us to talk about our differences, but talk about our differences from the standpoint of friendships rather than from a position of animosity and mistrust and so it’s an exciting opportunity that is hard to believe.
Kurt: That’s great. Just two weeks ago I believe we did an episode on Islam. We had Dr. Andy Bannister on and we were learning that it’s really good for us to engage in dialogue, constructive dialogue with our Muslim neighbors, and they like to talk about religion and some of them might be interested in science. There’s a history of scientific thought and even philosophical theology and Islamic history and so some of them have that interest and you’re right, we shouldn’t be afraid to go and talk to them about these issues. Some of them might like it and gain a further respect because they know that we’re religious people and if they’re religious people…
Fuz: One of the things that’s surprising to me, but in retrospect it shouldn’t be, is again Christianity has a really black eye in the Islamic world and so Muslims are surprised to find that there are Christians that are devout, that are people of high morality because the claim is the United States is a Christian nation. Look at the media that we produce! Look at what comes out of Hollywood. Look what’s on TV. Look at the things that are happening in our culture that are being broadcast around the world and so if you say the United States is a Christian nation but this is what Christianity’s about, there’s a real misunderstanding of what Christianity really entails and so just to be able to correct that is shocking to people as Muslims.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. I am here with Dr. Fuz Rana and we’re talking about the integration of science with our faith and before we get back into our discussion, I didn’t tell you this but this is part of the fun. After every break we do a segment of the show called Rapid Questions.
Kurt: I’m going to be asking you questions just sort of sporadic about fun, nonsensical things sometimes. Things you like to do. Favorite things. Those sort of questions. We’re going to put one minute on the game clock here and you have to answer as many questions as you can. Are you ready?
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Fuz: Southern California.
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Fuz: Probably Christmas.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Fuz: Oh, goodness. It would be the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kurt: What is your favorite movie?
Fuz: I love the Imitation Game by Alan Turing.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Fuz: Diet Dr. Pepper.
Kurt: Okay. That’s alright. Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Fuz: Not on purpose.
Kurt: What’s the one thing that you’d be sure to keep with you if you’re on a stranded island?
Fuz: I’d love to have a Bible.
Kurt: A Bible. Alright. Which celebrity are you most like?
Kurt: Alright. Dr. Fuz Rana. Thank you for playing a round of Rapid Questions.
Kurt: That can be a hard one, the celebrity question. It throws people off. Oh! Wait! I need to think of another person! Thank you so much. I’m glad we got to know you a little bit more there too. The Bible answer’s always a safe question about the desert island.
Fuz: Yeah. Always Jesus or the Bible. Right?
Kurt: Yeah. That’s right, but then again, if you had like a phone with a solar panel on the back, then you could have your Bible app, plus games and it would power itself. Alright. Before we kick back into the discussion today, just a couple announcements here. I know today I won’t be answering some of your listener questions. If you want to submit a question and have it answered on the show, there are a couple ways you can do that. You can text me. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888. Just text VERACITY to 555-888 and you’ll sign up for our free list and you can text me that way. You can also email me. Kurt@veracityhill.com. I’ll be answering, this past week there were a couple of submissions. I’ll be answering those on next week’s show which will, I presume, be back in our studio. That said, Fuz. We were talking about your background, your upbringing, your interest in science and how science has deepened your faith and so you’ve had the opportunity to travel. You’ve gone to Muslim countries and spoken on that. What has been your reception, how have your published works been received in the scientific academic community?
Fuz: That’s a good question. One of the things that I find is that there is so much animosity within the scientific community towards the idea of intelligent design that often times I think that spills over in terms of actually evaluating the work from Christian apologists who are building a case for design whether its people that are part of the ID movement or Old-Earth creationists such as myself, but what’s interesting is that in spite of those kind of negative brush-offs that often times are received, where often times I feel like people are critiquing the work, but they’ve actually not really engaged it. It’s more of a caricature of what we’ve presented. We have been able to take our ideas and actually get a hearing for them in the scientific arena. For example, in the book Origins of Life, we took one of the chapters in that book where we critique the evolutionary models for the origin of cell membranes and I worked with another chemist and we turned that chapter into a critical review that was published in Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres which is a leading journal in origin of life research, so the ideas that were in that book, at least some of those ideas were actually submitted for peer review evaluation and were considered to be significant enough that the origin of life community was willing to publish that critique. The content in Creating Life in the Lab and the idea that intelligent agency’s required to create protocells or even to carry out prebiotic chemistry reactions is an idea that I find to be actually very well received when I’ve engaged origin of life researchers on one-on-one conversations where they almost invariably admit that that’s an incredibly good point. In public, there’s a lot of times a dismissal of the work. What I find is that there are places where when the work actually gets a fair hearing, there’s generally a positive response to what we’re doing there.
Kurt: That’s great. On Thursday you were just at a college campus. How do college students receive your talks?
Fuz: It’s interesting. Generally, pretty well. Again, we see the same polarization that we see in our culture, you see on the college campus and so a lot of times if I’m doing a debate, there will be a group of students that are from the atheist groups on the campus that you’re not going to ever persuade them, at least publicly they’re not gonna acknowledge that.
Kurt: You hope at least they go home and google Fuz Rana.
Fuz: You hope they think about it. A lot of times, my goal, like in a debate is not so much to win the debate but to actually make sure that the ideas that I hold to are presented in a clear enough way that people can engage them. I remember a number of years ago doing a debate in Vancouver. It was actually a series of debates with atheists that were minor celebrities in the Vancouver area so they attracted the atheist groups out, and after the last debate, we’re packing everything up and this older lady came up to me very grandmotherly and just the sweetest lady in the world, but she was an atheist and she said to me, “You know, I can’t believe that you’re a Christian because you’re just so intelligent.” Then she gave me a big hug and walked away and to me, I take that as being success because I put a big rock in her shoe to use Greg Koukl’s words, that I blasted out of the water the stereotype she had of Christians and the fact that there’s not a scientific case that can be presented for the Christian faith. I may not have convinced her, but I made it uncomfortable with her to hold this position that atheism is the intellectually superior viewpoint and so that’s what I try to do in debates and I think there are students that recognize that and again, there are other students that are just entrenched in their framework and they’re not going to budge, but hopefully you can at least again challenge a stereotype.
Kurt: Now part of your work has been to challenge and I’m not a super science buff so you have to forgive me here if I’m using some technical terms, has been to challenge the Neo-Darwinian naturalistic evolutionary framework. What do you think are some of the common arguments that we should use and employ in disputing that framework?
Fuz: To me, one of the things I think we have to be careful about as Christian apologists is to get so overwhelmed with the evolutionary paradigm that that’s our soul focus of our apologetic is to attack the evoluionary paradigm. To me, I prefer making the positive case for design and then sprinkle that positive case with just enough critique of the evolutionary paradigm to raise suspicion or skepticism that the evolutionary paradigm is sufficient to explain the origin and the history and the design of life. To me, I’m circumspect about where I go after the evolutionary paradigm and I try to find places where I know that there are evolutionary biologists that have expressed skepticism about the evolutionary paradigm’s capacity to account for a particular transition, so I love to go to the origin of life because almost everybody universally agrees that we don’t have an explanation for the origin of life. We’re not disputing that deficiency in the evolutionary paradigm, but there are major transitions in the history of life that evolution can’t account for. The origin of eukaryotic cells. There’s a model that people have as the mainstream model, but that model is deficient and you can find evolutionary biologists decrying that deficiency or the origins of body plans, the origin of consciousness. These are places where we can go where the critique is non-controversial and that’s a great place to go because then at that point what you’re able to do is argue that look, the evolutionary paradigm isn’t the grand unifying theory in biology as the claim is is that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution because you’ve got these major transitions in life’s history that we can’t account for and so that to me is a great way to critique and when you’re coupling that critique with again a positive case, you’ve got a very powerful weight of evidence that at minimum design should be considered as a viable way to explain biology.
Kurt: You’ve also made it a point to say that Christians shouldn’t chiefly or solely focus on critiquing that framework, that we should get involved in other areas. Perhaps you could explain why.
Fuz: Often times what I see Christian apologists slipping into, and when you point it out I think that they recognize it and they don’t want to go down that path, because the spectre of Darwinism is so influentical and so much a challenge to, I think, a Christian worldview, there’s a tendency to focus on trying to undermine that. What you end up doing is making largely a negative argument where you’re saying that, “If we can’t explain evolution, then it must be design.” It leaves you vulnerable if you’re not careful how you frame that argument to a God-of-the-Gaps critique on the part of atheists and so they’re going to dismiss what you have to say. I think it’s important that we do critique evolution because of the blind watchmaker claim,but we don’t just solely want to critique the argument, or sorry, the evolutionary paradigm. We want to construct a broader argument.
Kurt: Because if we focus so much on the objections to it without offering an alternative, it comes across as “Well, I don’t know, therefore it must be God”, which is God-of-the-Gaps, versus, “Hey. Let’s look at this awesome system. It’s so intelligently designed even we humans, we boast when we create an intelligent design and here we’ve got this thing. Oh my gosh! This is evidence. This is God’s handiwork. That’s His signature in creation, so we can’t ignore that.” Right. That’s a very good point. You’ve brought up William Paley’s watchmaker argument. You’re an advocate for it. I know it’s been given a rough shake through the decades. Tell us why you like that argument.
Fuz: Number one, I like the argument because it’s a positive argument and it’s predicated on analogical reasoning….
Kurt: Maybe we should first quickly explain what the Watchmaker argument is.
Fuz: Sure. This is an argument that traces back to the late 1700’s where Paley said, “Look. A watch has certain properties that reflect the work of a mind. It’s made up of parts that are precisely interacting, that are framed together to accomplish a purpose. You remove one part and that system doesn’t work. He said that this is a hallmark of human designs and yet when we look at biological systems, we see those same properties. By analogy, if a watch requires a watchmaker, life must require a divine watchmaker.” The claim is, Darwinism is the blind watchmaker and that David Hume undermined the logic of the watchmaker argument. David Hume didn’t undermine the logic of the watchmaker argument. He just simply said, “Look. If you’re comparing things in an analogy, the more similar they are, the more certain the conclusion. The less similar, the less certain the conclusion.” He tried to argue that a watch isn’t the same thing as a living organism and so therefore the watchmaker argument doesn’t carry thrust with it, but this is where biochemistry now revitalizes the watchmaker argument because we can show, just going to the origin of life, that when it comes to explaining biochemical systems, that’s the origin of life problem, the blind watchmaker doesn’t seem to work and we now have so many examples of biochemical systems that are so much like human designs, these molecular machines, that are eerie in terms of their similarity to human designs. I mentioned the computer systems that reside at the heart of the cell. There’s so many things where these systems literally are identical to human designs and in fact, in certain areas in nanotechnology, there are scientists that are trying to basically harvest the machines from the cell and interface them into nanomachines that they’re building which is really illustrating that these actually are machines in every sense of the word. I think it’s a powerful argument that is rejuvenated by advances in biochemistry, but I find it to be pretty accessible to laypeople, because we’re accustomed to thinking in analogical terms. That’s how we think all the time. We make most of the decisions analogically and for laypeople, when you can show them a protein complex that’s identical to a motor or you can show people that this is functioning like a computer system, I think people can grasp that argument so it’s an argument that I think laypeople can grasp fairly easy and it’s intuitive to people.
Kurt: Great. So one of the objections against the Intelligent Design arguments is that there is what’s called bad evolution. Could you explain what is bad evolution and how would you respond to that objection?
Fuz: That to me, if there’s an argument….
Kurt: I meant to say bad design. I’m sorry I said bad evolution. Bad design.
Fuz: Yeah. Bad evolution. To me, if there is a legitimate challenge to the design argument, it’s what appear to be flawed designs in nature and in fact, I devote an entire chapter in The Cell’s Design to responding to that, and often times what I find is those examples of so-called bad design turn out to be very complex systems that are not well understood and you have that declaration of a bad design being made on the authority of a skeptic.
Kurt: Could you give us an example? What would be one example of a bad design?
Fuz: One example that’s the quintessential example would be so-called junk DNA in the human genome. Right? This is non-functional DNA that reflects this unguided evolutionary history, presumably that humanity underwent with regard to our origins, but as we learn more about this so-called junk DNA, we’re finding that the junk DNA sequences are functional and they’re part of an incredibly sophisticated regulatory network that is necessary to turn the information in the genome into a living organism.
Kurt: So we’re discovering that if we continue observing we will learn and so in this case, the people that have objected to the bad design, they’re the ones that have given up on science almost because they’ve stopped doing science.
Fuz: Exactly, and in other instances, what people declared to be bad designs are really an example where the system is facing a trade-off and if anybody’s an engineer they know that trade-offs are part of designing complex systems, and so it’s not a bad design, but it’s an example of a trade-off and when you examine the nature of the trade-off, again you see this elegance and this ingenuity and so I’ve never seen any instance of a bad design actually withstand ongoing scrutiny so that to me is again a legitimate challenge, but I think there are ways to respond to that.
Kurt: What do you think are some of the positive and negative arguments for design? Just basically pros and cons.
Fuz: Yeah. To me , I’m not quite sure…
Kurt: If you had to give someone say, a sixty-second…here are three good arguments for design, here are the responses, and maybe why those are…..
Fuz: Gotcha. To me, I would say that, again, just the elegance of biological systems. The fact that biological systems can inspire new engineering, new designs, new technologies, this is an area called biomimetics and bioinspiration. I think this is a very powerful new area that apologists are just beginning to explore that I think has a lot of fruit associated with it. I would also argue that, those would be the two main thrusts. The appearance of design and the fact that that design can inspire new designs, and to me the challenge would be the origin of life problem and the fact that the critiques of the design argument at the end of the day are primarily theological in nature. They’re actually not scientific.
Kurt: So what are some common objections that you might hear if you’re engaging? What would be the sort of top or two three objections?
Fuz: To me, that one objection that shows up all the time is that design isn’t science. Right? Of course, you can easily show that there are disciplines in science that employ intelligent design, but what’s going there is this, is that is if we can label something as non-scientific, then somehow the case for the truth of that claim is illegitimate because science is the only legitimate way of knowing, but that’s a common objection where people try to sidestep it. Another objection would be “We’ve got an explanation for this”, so there’s a difference between having a scientific model and that model actually being valid but for many skeptics, they feel as if they can come to the table with a model. The fact that they can even conceive of a plausible naturalistic explanation somehow means that that must be the explanation and they can dismiss the case for design.
Kurt: Would you say that the problem is in recognizing that you’ve got a how for the model, but you don’t have a why for the model.
Fuz: Yes. Exactly. A lot of times the complaints are not really scientific, but there’s other things that are going on there.
Kurt: Philosophical or theological assumptions. Just a couple more questions for you here. How have you used the arguments for design in conversations with non-believers?
Fuz: I guess I have the advantage of working for Reasons to Believe and so when people ask me like on an airplane, where are you going? I’m going to Chicago. For business or pleasure?
Fuz: I’m speaking at a university and I’m giving this talk. It’s a great way just to open up and a lot of times people are intrigued because they have the common narrative is that science and faith don’t belong together. Sometimes people are really intrigued and that just leads to great conversations, and then just to be able to use the watchmaker type of analogies, talking about computer systems or….
Kurt: Cause some of the science might be over their head, but everyone knows that a watch is an intricately designed item.
Fuz: Yeah. This is why I love the watchmaker argument. It’s great in everyday conversation.
Kurt: Last question. What is the most fascinating discovery in biology that you have encountered that supports the God of the Bible?
Fuz: To me, I would say it’s the design of the genetic code and the genetic code is a set of rules that define the information in the cell and when I was in graduate school, the perception was that the genetic code was a frozen accident, and this is based on the work of Francis Crick who wrote a famous paper called On The Origin of the Genetic Code in the 1960’s where he argued that the genetic code has to be a frozen accident because a code like that can’t evolve, because if you start evolving the code you basically are going to impact every protein in the cell. By changing those coding rules you’re going to render essentially all the proteins non-functional. It’s lethal to have code evolution. And yet we discovered in the last decade and a half that the genetic code has actually got a very elegant set of rules that don’t look like they are frozen accidents, but are exquisitely designed to actually minimize error in data transmission, and it’s so extreme that it’s impossible to envision how you would have the resources to find that genetic code in nature, but on top of that, scientists have also discovered that the genetic code is optimally designed to harbor overlapping codes, so it’s not just coding information that allows DNA to produce proteins, but there are codes for histone binding which is helping to organize the DNA in the chromosomes. There’s a splicing code. There’s a transcription binding factor code. There’s an epigenetic code. There are all these multiple codes stacked on the genetic code and the fact that the code can do that and then at the same time is optimal for that to me is just mind-blowing and so to me if there’s one piece of evidence that really indicates it’s got to be a designer, that evolution can’t account for life, it would be the genetic code.
Kurt: And perhaps it’s the case that for the designer, I think what I like about design arguments is that it shows us that God is not just transcendent, but He’s imminent. He’s acting in creation. He’s working here and so that’s a notion at least for western religions, that’s an important aspect. I guess in Islam, Allah is not so imminent. He’s very transcendent, but He’s not here with us.
Fuz: Another thing that I like about design arguments and I think the watchmaker argument specifically is it’s easy to connect it to Christian theology, because it’s so provocative to think that the designs that we produce as human designers have these remarkable analogs in the cell and these systems trace back to the very beginning of life on Earth, well before we even existed. If we think about the fact that we’re made in God’s image and that when we create that somehow that image of God is manifested, it’s not really surprising then that our designs would mimic the designs that we see in nature if they come from a mind. What I like about the watchmaker argument, it’s easy to build a bridge to the idea of the image of God and the fact that somehow there is a resonance between our mind and that divine mind so…..
Kurt: That’s great. Awesome. Dr. Fuz Rana. Thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Fuz: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Kurt: That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the support of our patrons. Those are people that just chip in five or ten dollars a month to help this show move along and for the partnerships that I have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Thank you to our guests today, Dr. Fuz Rana, and for listening and I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.