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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Most honest ID book I have read, December 24, 2007
This review is from: The evolution of the atmosphere as a proof of design and purpose in the creation, and of the existence of a personal God;: A simple and rigorously scientific reply to modern materialistic atheism
This is by far the most honest book on Intelligent Design creationism I have read to date.

Current ID proponents sometimes claim that ID is a new scientific development of the last couple decades. At other times they (inconsistently) acknowledge that the philosophical "argument from design" dates back several thousand years. But never do they properly reference earlier works from the scientific era such as that of Phin, who explicitly used the terms "Intelligent Design" and "Intelligent Designer" long before Dembski, Behe, Johnson and Wells were born. Perhaps this is because, unlike the modern proponents who pretend that the argument from design has nothing to do with religion (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) Phin is forthright in positing his argument as a defense of theism, and explicitly identifies his Intelligent Designer as God. From page 19: "But on the other hand it must be equally obvious that if we find strong and unmistakeable evidence of intelligent and controlling design in the earliest stages of the development of this planet, that evidence applies with equal force to the existence of a designer, or in other words, to the existence of a personal God." Furthermore, Phin entitles one chapter "Adaptation as Evidence of Intelligent Design" and another "Intelligent Design."

Phin states that his argument is a response to those who use the advances of 19th century science to advance atheism, and specifically point to Haeckel and his book, "The Riddle of the Universe." Phin acknowledges what most philosphers from the time of Hume accept, that other "proofs" of God (ontological, coosmological, etc.) have failed, and that the rational case for God's existence stands or falls with the argument from design (p. 18). He reviews the design arguments of Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises, and admits that Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection has defeated Paley's argument (p. 39).

Phin discusses "Creation by Law" vs. "Creation by Fiat" (p. 49). He rejects the simplistic young-earth, literal Genesis approach which has been unequivocally defeated by science, but holds out for a more indirect creation which might be aligned with Deism or theistic evolution today. After some other theological preliminaries, such as a dismissal of Pantheism, Phin moves on to his scientific case.

Phin's basic argument is a fine-tuning argument based on the composition of the atmosphere. Phin points to the current composition of the atmosphere as being ideal for human life, and argues that his Intelligent Designer must have jiggered the inputs aeons ago to make it turn out this way in recent history. He runs through a number of unconvincing Goldilocks arguments about the ideality of the atmosphere, such as boiling point of water being just right. The major part of his argument is the constitution of the gases in the atmosphere, particularly oxygen and carbon dioxide. Phin points out that the atmosphere is not a living thing which is subject to natural selection, so that the atmosphere could not have adapted to it's current state. He reviews then-current scientific knowledge about the constitution of the atmosphere throughout the Earth's history.

Along the way, Phin makes various fallacious probabilistic arguments which will be familiar to any reader of Creationist literature. The "tornado in a junkyard" analogy (p. 165)(Phin uses a tidal wave moving books around), the Gambler's Fallacy (p. 170) that preceding rolls of a die will influence the odds of a new throw and the argument from big numbers (p. 170-175).

Phin's scientific argument does not hold up, not only because it is outdated by new knowledge but because Phin overlooked arguments that could easily have been made with the knowledge of the day. Phin notes that the atmosphere cannot have adapted to life, but the opposite seems not to have occurred to him; that life could have adapted to the changing atmosphere. Phin also noted that the action of life has altered the constitution of the atmosphere in observing that coal and oil deposits (to which could be added limestone) have taken large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere over the history of the planet. It seems not to occur to Phin that the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is likewise a result of the actions of life. The early atmosphere was reducing, and the current level of oxygen is a result of the actions of photosynthetic organism. Since Phin's time, more has become known about the variation of oxygen levels over time, but this is mere icing on the cake, the data of the time were enough to call Phin's conclusions into question.

Believing that he had made his scientific argument, Phin returns to religion for his conclusions. He offers a definition of "Christian" (p. 180), accuses those who disagree with him of blasphemy (p. 184), appeals to the (since greatly diminished) list of scientists who are believers, including Lord Kelvin (whose thermodynamic argument was shot down by the discovery of radioactivity before the publication of Phin's book).
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