Re: Open letter to rescind NABT revision

Jon Hartley (
Sat, 07 Feb 1998 04:31:19 -0800

Some comments on this open letter from a layman, which of course will
perpetuate the never-ending impasse between creationists and evolutionists.

> As to the two points deliberated by the final NABT Board meeting, let us
> analyze them in some more detail. The words "unsupervised" and
> "impersonal" were taken as miscommunicating the nature of science. Not
> really. Science is based on a fundamental assumption: that the world can
> be explained by recurring only to natural, mechanistic forces.

I believe that many scientists would disagree about that fundamental
assumption. Perhaps it is better to say that the world can be explained
in certain processes by forces that are observed to be constant. I feel
the old NABT statement about a lack of supervision cannot be proven, and
was really needless, except perhaps to make an implicit point that one can't
believe in God and be scientific.

> Johnson is quite right in affirming that this is a philosophical position. He
> is wrong when he suggests that it is an unreasonable and unproven one. In
> fact, every single experiment conducted by any laboratory in any place
> on Earth represents a daily test of that assumption. The day in which
> scientists will be unable to explain natural phenomena without recurring
> to divine intervention, we will have a major paradigm shift - of
> cataclysmic proportions.

But, as Johnson himself says, this does not prove that the natural is all that
there is. In terms of evolution, it does it explain how life came to be in the
first place.

> The second point of the Boardās deliberation is that dropping the
> contentious words does not affect the accuracy of the portrayal of
> evolution to the American public. Really? The NABT leaves open the
> possibility that evolution is in fact supervised in a personal manner.

Correct. And I feel this is an honest concession regarding our lack of
knowledge concerning ultimate origins - that we do NOT know that evolution
is guided or unguided. Many scientists and intellectuals are Christians and
believe that there is a medium between creationism and evolution. It cannot
be scientifically proven that a transcendant force did not create the universe
or doesn't guide evolution. One can only adopt a philosophical viewpoint on
the matter, but not one that is irrefutable.

> This is a prospect that every evolutionary biologist would vigorously
> and positively deny. All we know so far about the evolutionary process
> tells us that there is no supervision except for the action of natural
> selection (which, by definition, is not teleonomic). Furthermore, a
> personal involvement would imply some "person" who would take care of
> directing the evolutionary process one way or the other. The fossil
> record, as well as the importance of random events such as catastrophes,
> mass extinctions, and genetic drift, assure us that such a personal
> involvement has not happened. Unless, of course, the person in question
> is supervising evolution in a way to perfectly mimic an unsupervised,
> impersonal process.

But, this does not assure us of any such thing. This position seems to
characterize divine action upon the universe in a very narrow and
paradigm-serving fashion. Randomness within evolution, if randomness
really does exist ultimately, does NOT disprove God. Perhaps God doesn't
give a hoot about how organisms develop. Perhaps God is DIRECTING the
forces which in turn direct evolution - thus meaning God directs evolution
in the same way I direct the front wheels of my car through the steering
mechanism. If God were not transcendant of the universe, he would not be
God. ...then there's the argument that everything only APPEARS to have design.

> Furthermore, the wording following the indicted terms, "unpredictable"
> and "natural" seems to us to convey the same feeling to which Johnson
> was objecting to. If something is unpredictable it hardly is supervised,
> and if it is natural, it hardly is divine.

This seems the essence of what I don't understand about this argument. First
it is said that the world is explained in recurring to natural forces that are
predictable, and this rules out the divine - but now it is said that the world
is unpredictable, so it is not supervised. So, which is it? Is the world
predictable or not? But, all things have a measure of unpredictability somewhere.
This does not mean they are unsupervised. Perhaps it depends upon what you look
at, or perhaps where you are looking from. As far as naturality and divinity
go, Christianity is not pantheistic.

> In conclusion, we reiterate that evolution indeed is, to the best of our
> knowledge, an impersonal and unsupervised process. Scientists are always
> open to revise their positions if new compelling evidence surfaces, so
> that Mr. Johnson can be reassured that the incriminated words will be
> dropped if demonstrated to be inconsistent with reality. Until then,
> please leave the job to scientists and educators, not to lawyers,
> theologians, and politicians.

It is said here "to the best of our knowledge..." Well, this revision reflects
that sentiment, and it means there is plenty of room for further development,
without the implicit assumption that God doesn't play a role.

To me, this last sentence evinces a latent antitheistic bias: "Until then,
please leave the job to scientists and educators, not to lawyers, theologians,
and politicians." The implication is that all scientists reject the theistic
worldview, and 2) that only two alternative worldviews exist.