Copy of: NTSE #10

John W. Burgeson (
Sun, 2 Mar 1997 09:42:59 -0500

---------- Forwarded Message ----------

From: John W. Burgeson, 73531,1501
TO: EVOLUTION Reflector,
DATE: 2/28/97 2:54 PM

RE: Copy of: NTSE #10

NTSE #10 --

The weekly stagecoach just passed through Austin -- my copy of PERSPECTIVES
(March 1997) arrived. A couple of comments:

1. Robert O'Conner's presentation at the NTSE is one of the four featured
articles in this issue. He is writing a book on the prospects for
"theological realism," of which this paper will be part. O'Connor is an
assistant professor in philosophy at Wheaton College in Illinois. His
thesis is that "permitting direct reference to divine agency in natural
science severely undermines the quest for truth." O'Conner analyses, in
particular, the claims and arguments made by Moreland's THE CREATION
HYPOTHESIS. Moreland has an article in this same issue; I presume the two
explore similar issues from different directions.

O'Conner's paper is, of course, also on the NTSE web site. For Moreland's,
you'll have to read PERSPECTIVES.

2. Jack Haas's lead editorial in PERSPECTIVES is all about this common
subject. He points to a web site of a Biola conference on similar issues,
which took place prior to the NTSE. Information on that conference is
apparently accessible through the ARN web site at

3. For non-readers of PERSPECTIVES, let me recommend it. Highly.
Subscriptions are $30 per year; ASA membership is $55 per year. Eighteen
book reviews (about ttypical) this issue, including reviews on COSMIC
WITNESS, co-authored by George Murphy and Russell Willis, THEISM, ATHEISM
AND BIG BANG COSMOLOGY, authored by William Lane Craig, BLACK HOLES,
authored by Cliff Pickover, a former IBM colleague of mine, THE ORIGINS
SOLUTION, authored by Dick Fischer, and others. Finally, the recent video,
THE DEEP WATERS OF EVOLUTION, is reviewed by two ASA members, each with
substantial credentials in this subject, each with a different assessment
of the video and the issues.


The focus of this part of the report is on Paul Nelson's paper at the NTSE

By "THE ARGUMENTS" Paul refers to, for instance, Gould's arguments from
imperfection, such as the one he makes about the Panda's thumb. By "THE
RULE," Paul means "Methodological naturalism is a presupposition of real

Paul presents a number of cases where, particularly in student textbooks,
theological arguments are made. "God wouldn't have done it this way." This
occurs also in encyclopaedias and, of course, in "popular" writings on
science by many people.

Paul formalizes the argument (he calls it Gould's argument) as follows:

1. If p is an instance of organic design,
then p was produced either by a wise creator
or by descent with modification (evolution).
2. If p (an instance of organic design) was created by a wise creator,
than p should be perfect (or should exhibit no imperfections).
3. Organic design p is not perfect (or exhibits imperfections).
Therefore: Organic design p was not produced by a wise creator,
but by descent with modification.
Moreover -- some organic designs are evidence of evolution.
Paul notes that premises 1 and 2 are theological. He goes on to analyse the
problems with this sort of argument. That analysis is the body of his
paper and presentation; I found it fascinating. As part of it, he states,
"It is possible that an intelligence created the world, just as it is
possible that...the world contains its springs of order and design wholly
within itself. Whatever philosphy of science we adopt should allow for both
possibilities; methodological naturalism does not; therefore methodological
naturalism is unsound." He concludes as follows:

"Put more simply, if what we want is the truth about how the world and its
creatures came to be, then we may not be able to tell that story in fully
naturalistic terms. Because the truth -- to modern eyes ungainly, even ugly
-- may be otherwise."

It was good for me to see what a "Paul Nelson" looks like, face to face,
hear him speak and, in particular, hear him answer questions from the
floor. He makes the important (and obvious) point that, in some ways,
theists play in the world of science with hobbles. Non-theists can, and do,
make arguments-from-imperfection at many points; we are disqualified (the
MN rule) from doing so ourselves. The fact that the arguments are often
strawmen (how does Gould know what a "perfect" panda would look like) does
not obscure the fact that they are used often and with great force,
particularly in educational situations to minds-still-being-formed.

Much food for thought in this paper.