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Monday, 19 February 2007

Faith Symposium - evolution and intelligent design

The lecture on Wednesday evening was given by Edmund Nash, a PhD student at the Molecular Evolution laboratory at the Department of Biochemistry in Cambridge University. Edmund is a recently married Catholic and a very active pro-lifer. The first part of his lecture was a critical evaluation of Intelligent Design theory. For those not familiar with this debate, I should make it clear that he was referring particularly to the work of Michael Behe; Edmund, along with all of us, believes that the universe was intelligently designed.

He took issue with the idea that certain organelles (for example the bacterial flagellum) are examples of "irreducible complexity" - that is to say that they cannot be produced by gradual evolution because the precursor would be non-functional. He outlined how in fact the individual parts of the flagellum do in fact have other functions. He also examined the old saw "evolution is a theory, not a fact."

The second part of the lecture took us through an overview of the study of evolution as it is carried on today, especially in his own field which involves the analysis of genetic sequence data. He particularly focussed on genetic polymorphisms - small changes in genes between individuals of same species which can have major implications for the organism. Although the lecture was a model of lucidity and good presentation, it was quite challenging and perhaps beyond those who had not studied the natural sciences at advanced level.

Overall, it reinforced the essential importance of genuine scientific research for the Christian. The modern study of the natural sciences grew naturally from a Christian world view and the foundation of the universities in the Christian middle ages. My own worry is that our post-Christian society will move away from the study of science as an objective discipline as our culture loses sight of the fundamental importance of rationality in its view of the world.

For further reading, Edmund recommended Ken Miller's Evolution page
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