The Mere Creation Discussion

Russell Maatman (
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 22:49:43 -0600

To the Groups:

The main reason I'm answering some of these posts a bit tardily is that
I've taken some time to assemble the remarks that have been made. I'd like
to state my position on Behe's examples in one post, rather than give bits
and pieces and then, as has been the case recently, getting answers in bits
and pieces.

1. God does indeed control everything. In my mind, there is no doubt that
God "designs" everything. For me, that is not what we should be discussing
in when we talk about Behe's examples, intelligent design, and evolution.
Paul Arveson, Keith Miller, Jan de Koning, Bill Hamilton, Pattle Pun, Terry
Gray, and Glenn Morton have all expressed--albeit in different ways--that
God is in control. One could take the various expressions they use and
conclude they all accept that at bottom God does indeed design the world.

2. Whether God "interferes" in his creation has come up several times. It
seems to me that everyone rejects this idea--and rightfully so. The matter
of divine interference arises in the consideration of miracles. (D. Mackay,
in a talk I heard, said that picturing God as reaching into his
creation--as it were--and pricking it with a pin to disturb it--is a pagan
teaching.) I've always strongly opposed the idea of interference. Miracles
occurred--but not by interference. (I gave a paper at the national ASA
meeting at Eastern Mennonite College in the summer of 1954--Don De Graaf,
do you remember?--on these matters. It was published in the ASA Journal of
March, 1955 under the title "Science and Biblical Miracles.") Here's what
I've been saying: We discover what God has done and describe it; the body
of humanly-formulated law is "descriptive law." But every part of God's
will is consistent with every other part; the sum of God's will for all of
creation is his "prescriptive law." Prescriptive law is absolute;
descriptive law is fallible.

Paul Arveson had a point when he said: "'...and the Spirit (or wind) of God
was moving over the face of the waters"' and "'The wind blows where it
wills, and your hear the sound of it, but you do not
know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is
born of
the Spirit.'" Paul continued: "We accept this mystery of the relationship
of God to us in the case of our
spiritual rebirth, but why not in the relationship of God to nature

3. Of course, we cannot understand how it is possible that human beings can
have free will even while God is in control of everything. It's my thought
that we would have to be outside of the system to understand something like
that. Surely, being inside of the system, we would be in error if we
thought we _did_ understand it.

4. The argument over design, methodological naturalism, and evolution ought
to be seen as entirely within descriptive law. Furthermore, it is not
justified to assume that every phenomenon will be explainable using our
natural laws. Here, of course, is where the rubber of our current
discussion hits the road.

5. Keith Miller said: >What you appear to be demanding is complete
evolutionary descriptions of
> all biological systems. You seem to want a theory that is demonstrated
> all particulars before you will allow it to act as a scientific paradigm.
> As long as even one unexplained process of structure exists, your
> could still be made. By this approach _no_ scientific theory could ever
> accepted. The explanatory power of scientific theories lies in their
> ability to fruitfully direct research into new areas. They enable vast
> amounts of diverse data and observations to be explained and understood
> part of a larger system or concept. Evolutionary theory in its many
> provides such a foundational system.

Keith, I'm not trying to make as strong a statement as you claim. All I am
saying is that as soon as there is a reasonably high probability that one
biological system did not evolve from simpler systems, then our attention
is called to the fact that it may well be true that at least one system did
not evolve. The blanket, a priori claim that they did so evolve ought not
to be made. So, once again: experimental work indicates that some systems
did evolve from something simpler; other experimental work indicates that
that might not be a universally valid claim. Within our descriptive law:
some biological systems seem to have evolved, but perhaps others did not.
_What_ is wrong with that?

7. What about irreducible complexity and intelligent design? I said to
Allan Harvey :

>Why is it, in an effort to refute Behe's irreducible complexity argument,
>people cite some complex system _not_ mentioned by Behe, and then proceed
>to refute their own example?

Alan answered: "*IF* Behe has a meaningful definition of "irreducible
complexity", then it
is perfectly legitimate to examine other systems *IF* those other systems
meet the definition. A scientist shouldn't restrict up front the ways in
which other scientists are allowed to test his hypotheses. If you only
allow Behe's handpicked systems, that makes the effective definition of
irreducible complexity "these particular systems for which no evolutionary
explanation has been found", at which point the argument becomes circular."

Here a problem arises: We have (1) an experimental result (an opened black
box), leading to the conclusion, _using presently-known scientific laws_,
that the contents of the black box did not evolve from something simpler;
and (2) a definition that attempts to capture all cases like (1). Allan, I
hope you see that even if (1) is valid, that (2), the attempted definition
might not be quite right. And, showing that (2) is flawed is not equivalent
to showing that (1) is wrong.

I'm not claiming that Behe's definition is wrong. But I do want to make
sure that any flaw in his definition is not claimed to invalidate the
black-box examples.

When I said something like this earlier, Glenn Morton replied: "Somehow I
get the feeling that what you ask here is a Herculean task like drinking
the waters of the ocean." Really, I am suggesting only two things: (1)
Show that Behe's examples are wrong--do this so that a refereed journal
will accept it, or, failing this, (2) admit that evolution-from-something
-simpler cannot be assumed in other cases unless a reasonable
gradualistic path has been presented. Is that so radical?

8. Concerning a challenge of mine, Allan Harvey quoted David Campbell who
in turn quoted me:

David Campbell wrote:
>>Russ Maatman has issued the appropriate critical test:
>>"The test will be the response to the challenge I and others make: Get a
>>proposed gradualistic mechanism for one of Behe's systems past the
>>and editors of the Journal of Molecular Evolution, or some other journal,
>>then let all of us take a look."
>>I add a further requirement, that a selective mechanism also be
>>Who's willing to take up the challenge?
>This tests whether anyone thinks up a mechanism, but does not test whether
>one exists. Perhaps we're just not clever enough to figure out how God
>caused the system to evolve. If no explanation is forthcoming, the gap is
>merely filled by philosophical preconceptions, e.g., "It was designed",
>evolved somehow", or "I don't know how God did it". I think the third
>option is the safest assertion.

Alan said:
That last paragraph may be the wisest thing anybody has said on this so
Proving the absence of a mechanism is nearly impossible. Behe and others
may think the evidence strongly support absence of a mechanism, but other
knowledgeable people like Terry Gray (I don't have the knowledge to judge
arguments, nor I suspect do most who have been contributing to this thread)

My (RM's) response: I wonder if I left the impression that failure to find
a gradualistic path is like searching for the universal negative. All we
can say is, "_Up to now_, no gradualistic path has been found." We might
feel very strongly that we've looked hard enough to make a firm conclusion.
(Such as, mass-energy cannot be destroyed, or momentum is not lost, or...)
But it's still only a scientific conclusion.

In the Lord,

Russell Maatman