By Eric Chabot, Director of Ratio Christi at The Ohio State University
As the director of a Ratio Christi chapter which is an apologetics ministry at The Ohio State University, last Fall was one to be remembered. Our chapter has had the privilege of having top apologetics speakers such as William Lane Craig, Frank Turek and Michael Brown on the campus. But last year, we took a risk and had our first ever Intelligent Design event on the campus. We had Dr. Paul Nelson come do a lecture on the topic “Can We Detect God In The Natural Sciences?”
As predicted, I knew there would be lots of pushback on the event. I have been on the campus for a number of years and have noticed Intelligent Design doesn’t even get a hearing. And if it does het a hearing, it is viewed as “pseudo-science” and “creationism in disguise.” Furthermore, from my own experience almost no student has ever read an Intelligent Design book from cover to cover. And of course, if you question a blind, unguided, naturalistic process like evolution (never mind that it never gets defined correctly), you are a pre-modern ignorant fool.
Promoting the event was even more interesting in that students would look at me and say “Is the speaker a creationist?” or, “Does he believe in evolution?” I recall that one student looked at our poster for the event and yelled “You must have failed science class.”
Anyway, why do I bring this all up? When I was asked to review Ilustra Media’s FLIGHT: The Genius of Birds I was more than happy to do so. After all, I am big advocate of Intelligent Design and I think Illustra Media is doing some very good work in their production of DVD’s on these types of documentaries.
Flight is a high quality documentary in that it is visually compelling and highly informative. It is not overly technical and can be understood by the layman. The attention to the beauty of nature is no doubt one of the strengths of the film. Seeing baby birds hatching and watching hummingbirds in action is always a sure way to grow in appreciation of the natural world.
The question of the film is whether the biological systems we observe in birds are the result of an unguided, blind naturalistic process, or the result of intelligent design? Both Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick admit that while the world shows every indication that features of nature are designed and have purpose, they add one qualification; it only looks that way. In other words, while the design is evident, it can be explained without resorting to any Designer. But when it comes to birds, is this correct?
The film utilizes a team of people to ask this question. Some of the people they enlist are Thomas Emmel, Ann Gauger, Carsten Egevang, Paul Nelson, Timothy Standish, and Dylan Winter. As I said, we had Paul Nelson on our campus last year. While Nelson is more than qualified to speak to these topcis, one concern was that he is a Young Earth Creationist which equates to intellectual suicide on the campus. Fortunately, the documentary did not appeal to any Bible verses or any school of thought pertaining to creationism such as YEC or OEC. In other words, the film just sticks with science, evidence, and facts.
The Biological Features of a Hummingbird
As I watched the evidence for extraordinary biological features of the hummingbird I was in awe. The attention to detail and the features of this bird are incredible. Of course I have always looked at a hummingbird and asked “How does it do that? ”
A hummingbird has a rapid wing-beat (50-80 beats per second) can fly backwards and sideways, and fly at speeds of more than 90 kilometers an hour (55 miles per hour). As we have probably observed, when a hummingbird arrives at a flower it stops and hovers in front of it. But what is amazing is how the hummingbird does this! The hummingbird tilts its body at a specific angle (45 degrees). The wing-beat goes back and forth instead of up and down. What is really interesting is that for birds the up-stroke of the wing is just a recovery stroke to get the wing back into position for the next down-stroke. However, what we see with the hummingbird is that it has been given the power in both strokes, up and down, and when hovering, back and forth. This is rather impressive.
Also, we need to keep in mind that all the hummingbird’s biological features shows signs of anticipatory complexity. It is clear a plan is in place that allows for a hummingbird to have survived. The only way for it to survive would require the long bill we observe, the special tongue and a unique rapid wing-beat. These things need to be in place for the hummingbird to gather its highly efficient energy food. Also, the migratory behavior of hummingbirds (i.e.,the energy storage, flight endurance and long distance navigation) must have been in place from the beginning. It is not something that could of evolved through indirect evolution over a long period of time.
Comparing a Boeing 747 and Nano Air Vehicle with Flying Systems of Birds
As I watched the comparison of the flying systems of birds and the fight systeems of a Boeing 747 or the Nano Air Vehicle which is an experimental surveillance drone), I was reminded of the principle of uniformity.
The principle of uniformity derives its name from the uniform experience on which it is base. So convinced are we by previous repeated experience that only intelligence produces these kinds of effects that when we see even a single event that resembles one of these kinds of effects we invariably posit an intelligible cause for it. So there are some causes that are always going to be natural, while others will always be intelligent.
The film illustrates the fact that the flying systems of birds are more advanced than the Boeing 747 or the Nano. So if we apply the principle of uniformity and know it takes an intelligent cause for 747s or Nano Air Vehicle, why do we only posit a natural explanation for explanation for birds? After all, don’t we want to be consistent?
Even though the film featured no Bible quotes, as I concluded watching it, I could not help but think of one that Paul penned in Romans.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”-Romans 1: 18-21
Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature).
When we observe the effects in the world, we can infer there are two kinds of causes—natural and intelligent. In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). I think that Flight does a fine job of showing there is both intention and intelligence to what we observe in the natural world.
As I watched Flight I was also reminded of the diffeence between mechanism and agency. If some (such as Dawkins and others) could at least admit that nature is a mechanism that is used by an Agent (e.g., an Intelligent Designer), to accomplish His purposes, they would begin to make some sense. However, the debate is whether science can be divorced from philosophy. Metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” Methodological naturalism (as currently discussed and advocated by Dawkins, some atheists, etc.) is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.
I think that Flight is a fine contribution to the ID debate. This DVD can be used in campus settings and elsewhere. I highly recommend it!
Note: To see a small clip from the DVD, click here: