His opening premise, if I understand him correctly, is superficially similar to that of Francis Collins' and John Polkinghorne's in that God has created a self-sustaining world. His approach to the evidence, however, is very different from theirs. He covers much of the same ground early that Hugh Ross did in his book The Fingerprint of God, and presents a good deal of evidence for the fine tunedness or "tweaking" that the universe. He writes:
As a scientist trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology I was convinced I had the information to exclude Him—or is it Her?—from the grand scheme of life. But with each step forward in the unfolding mystery of the cosmos, a subtle yet pervading ingenuity, a contingency kept shining through, a contingency that joins all aspects of existence into a coherent unity. While this coherence does not prove the existence of a designer, it does call out for interpretation. (p. 25)He does, however, unlike Ross, invoke a potential problem in such a "tweaked universe" scenario: that such an argument is effectively argument from personal incredulity. As I argued with my wife last night, and as he puts it:
The design in nature's move toward life might be pure chance. Perhaps we are here because good fortune smiled and produced by chance the multitude of events needed to coax life from the chaos of the big bang. It would be something like winning a lottery for which a million people—even a billion—had purchased tickets. A miracle? Not really—someone had to win and you were the lucky person. (p. 26)It is an argument he doesn't believe, however, because Paradoxically he then argues that modern physics and nature are based on the idea that the very, very, very unlikely never happens. This is difficult to square with any definition of nature and science that I have ever heard.
Schroeder takes a very different view of the debate between those who argue for a six-literal day creation and those who argue for an old-earth creation (4.5 billion year old earth). Here, he delves in relativity, arguing that it does not make sense to argue either of these perspectives because they are both correct. He writes:
CBR is the clock of the cosmos. Its wave frequency is the rate which the cosmic clock ticks. "the directly measurable coordinate along the line of sight (into space) is not time, but redshift (z)"—the ratio of CBR frequencies observed today. Just after the big bang, when the universe was vastly more compact, all the radiation spread throught today's huge universe was pressed within a small primordial space. the immense concentration of energy resulted in CBR temperatures and wave frequencies million upon million times greater than that of the frigid 2.73° of space today. The cosmic clock then "ticked" much more rapidly than it does today. (p. 61-62).Using this logic, every creation day on earth took less and less time until all of the six days took up all of the fifteen billion years that the universe and the earth have existed. This means that the earth, created on day 3, is between 3.5 and 4.5 billion years old. In such a concordist view, the dispute over how old the universe is. There is now plenty of time for both views.
When it gets down to discussing biological life and evolution, Schroeder is comfortably in the intelligent design camp. Here, he invokes the "latent library" model of origins which posits that all early life had in it latent blocks of information waiting to be switched on at the right time. By his own admission, this flies in the face of the standard notion of accumulation of beneficial mutations to account for species change. In support of this model, he uses examples of morphological constraint and the formation of similar structures in different organisms, arguing that it would be almost impossible for these structures to have arisen independently through mutation. Here, his understanding of evolution seems to break down.
Like Michael Behe, he demands that all of the evolutionary change happen at once. This is a peculiar error that is common to these two and to William Dembski, who has posited this misconception of evolution several times. Consequently, his calculations show that when you multiply all of the probabilities of these evolutionary events occurring, the probabilities are astronomically small. Falling back on the familiar "random sequence of letters" example, he argues:
The only way random letter generation ha a prayer of producing meaningful sentences is if the programmer instructs the computer how to recognize meaningfulness and how to preserve it. The same may be said for random mutations in the genome producing useful strings of amino acids (proteins) and their preservation. But this supposes that nature knows what is good for it. (p. 103)Such a scenario fails to account for the fact that rarely do beneficial traits arise all at once. This is similar to the METHINKSITISLIKEAWEASEL program of Richard Dawkins. Although flawed in its expression, Dawkins wanted to demonstrate that over time, given the fixation of beneficial mutations (correct letters), random changes in letters will produce meaningful output. Dawkins understood that this was a teleological scenario (he knew the outcome). As H. Allen Orr put it:
Start with a random sequence as before but i) randomly change each character that doesn't match the target sequence; ii) if a resulting character matches the target keep it and in the next round change only those characters that don't match. So, if we start with SATHINKS, at the next step we'll randomly change only the first two letters; and if those changes yield MQTHINKS, then at the next step we'll randomly change only the second letter. This two-step evolutionary algorithm of mutation plus selection arrives at the phrase METHINKS… with surprising speedSchroeder argues that the compound eyes of different organisms could not possible have all arisen independently by chance through evolution but that they were guided in their formation. In truth, it is quite possible that each eye arose independently through the accumulation of beneficial mutations in similar environments. Evolutionary history is replete with examples of convergent evolution, from the New and Old World monkeys to the marsupial forms that are found in Wallacea. In both cases, you have a fossil record that records the evolutionary steps that led to the convergence. Where there is an ecological niche, adaptive radiation takes over.
His understanding of biology is also a bit peculiar. He writes:
Nature strives toward complexity because complexity carries with it survivability through intelligent adaptability. The simplest form of life, bacteria, lacks this feature. Though as a group bacteria have been on earth longer than any other form of life, as individuals they are not a success story.Nature does not strive toward complexity, it strives toward adaptability. Many organisms have changed little in millions of years. Contrary to what he writes, these are success stories. Each one is marvelously adapted to its environment. Complexity is a byproduct of changing adaptation to changing environments. If the environment doesn't change, or changes little, organisms do not change.
Although he mentions the fossil record, much of it is glossed over. For example, he writes about the appearance of Neandertals and their overlap with modern humans but gives little notice to the myriad human fossil forms that precede Neandertals and the wealth of transitional forms encountered. This would present a set of evidence that would need to be explained. There are many other such sequences in the fossil record that go unmentioned as well.
The last half of the book deals with the creation of humans and Adam and Eve and weaves Talmudic and biblical passages together in an attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. A persistent problem for the biblical interpretation that Adam and Eve were the first people is the evidence that humans have been on this planet in one shape or another for around 5 million years. Modern humans have been around for around 150,000 years. However, for the first two chapters of Genesis, there are a total of four people mentioned. Add the puzzling passages where the Bible clearly states that Cain knew his wife (who was that?) and then went and built a city. If there are no people around to build a city, who did he build it for?
Here, Schroeder invokes the Talmudic interpretation that, between the death of Abel and the birth of Seth, Adam and Eve split up for 130 years, during which time, Adam had relations with other women that did not have the spirit of God on them. These would have been the other humans on the planet, the "Cro-Magnons" that were present on the landscape. From this, we are to understand that all of human civilization up until the birth of Adam six thousand years ago was without the benefit of the Spirit of God—human animals, in Schroeder's words. One of the big problems, of course, in this reading is that it is selective in providing a beginning for the human soul in Adam (despite there being a large number of "humans" around that were God-created but which had no more importance than the animals) but failing to account for the flood story a scant two chapters later. Modern human occupation around Adam and Eve has been continuous in the Old World from 150,000 years ago and in the New World from 20,000 years ago. At no point in this occupation is there evidence for a world-wide flood. It seems odd for Schroeder to take such great pains to formulate a model putting Adam and Eve in relation to other humans only to not mention the story in which they get annihilated.
Ultimately, the book succeeds where Schroeder can stick to physics and he provides a truly unique perspective in the creation of the universe and the use of time dilation. Had he stopped there, the book would have been a highly engaging work which would have gotten an unqualified recommendation. As it is, like so many who espouse intelligent design, evolution is just too tempting a target to stay away from and, because he does not have a background in biology, he makes a hash of it.
Ironically, given his understanding of Adam's place in nature and his relationship to the "soulless" humans around him, Schroeder need not have even addressed evolution at all. He appears to include this section to bolster an argument that the history of life was teleologically driven toward humans. He has, however, failed to understand that there is nothing inherent in evolutionary theory that posits randomness. It is certainly true that there is a stochastic nature to mutation but that is true in the modern world as well as the prehistoric one.
Where evolution is not random is in the action of selection, gene flow and genetic drift. Those processes are what drive evolutionary change. Like so many other intelligent design promoters, Schroeder fails to see this.
Now playing: Tal Wilkenfeld - The River of Life