Re: RFEP: response to Will

William B. Provine (
Tue, 31 Mar 1998 01:06:46 +0100

Dear Howard,

Many thanks for your recent email. You have clarified the situation very much.
For the benefit of everyone, I will indicate clearly where we agree, and give
the remaining question.

> On the matter of "how physical structures and life forms evolve over time"
> we may be fairly close in agreement, if by this phrase you mean some sort
> of chronicle of what happened when, and by what physical/material
> processes. We both have a measure of confidence that the natural sciences
> are on the right track in their reconstructions of the formational history
> of the universe.

Here we are surely in agreement.

> What can astrophysicists contribute? The reconstruction of a portion of
> that formational history, nothing more. Taking the word 'creation' to mean
> 'the giving of being,' neither astrophysics nor any of the other natural
> sciences have the competence to say how being might have come from
> non-being. As scientists we are able to say a great deal about how the
> extant universe acts, including its formational history, but we
> have--within the limited conceptual vocabulary of the natural
> sciences--nothing to contribute regarding the ultimate origin of the
> universe's being. For that discussion we will have to go elsewhere, whether
> to theology, metaphysics, revelation, or ....

Here we agree. I contribute ignorance, you contribute assurance that the
Christian God originated the universe.

> > But there is far more that Naturalism must yet explain. Naturalism must
> > account for the existence not merely of a nondescript something in place of
> > nothing, but rather of a SOMETHING as remarkable as a universe that
> > contains us! In other words, Naturalism must accept the challenge of
> > explaining the existence of a universe that is equipped with a formational
> > economy sufficiently robust to account for the formation of the elements,
> > of space, of galaxies, of stars, of planets, of plants, of animals, and of
> > human beings. How does the "haphazard, unmotivated action" of nothingness
> > do that?

I have already confessed igorance of the origin (not beginning, since
astrophysicists work a lot on that problem) of the universe. So from the origin
of the universe on, God's original creation goes on to create the stellar
universe and the animals and plants here and life elsewhere, if it exists. That
makes good sense to me--but we disagree about the origin.

What I still do not understand is why the existence of plants and animals, etc.
requires anything other than the grinding away of nature, which you and I can
investigate and come out with the same conclusions using the same methods. But
you would know that something else was working (not from the evidence alone,
but from other source) that somehow would make evolution different than I see
it? From the evidence alone, I cannot detect the God. On organic evolution, you
agree with Keith Miller. And you will understand why I think your God is a
paper-tiger in evolution, and indeed since the origin of the universe.

How do you rationalize the miracles of the Bible if they look naturalistic to
me, and should to you, also. Or does the usual continuity of nature step aside
for once? (You don't have to answer this.)

> What I said in the paragraphs you quoted would rightly be rejected by a
> professional scientific journal as commenatry on matters far beyond the
> competence of the natural sciences to judge.

Only with regard to the origin of the universe. After that, of course the
universe could produce stellar evolution and biological evolution. Anything you
might say about those aspects of science (all of it!) would be perfectly
appropriate for scientific journals. Probably some of the most published
scientists think that the very origin of the universe was divine; they only
work on its evolution after that event.

And one comment for Keith Miller: I am a historian of science and would never
argue that belief in Christianity or Islam or Shintoism prevented one from
doing great science, even if belief in the argument from design were part of
it. The only problem is when the scientist stops, says this problem is too
complex. and argues that God did it. That is the end of science. I think you,
Howard, and I agree with this, and our conclusion differs from that of Phil
Johnson and Michael Behe.

Howard, this interchange is lovely for me. I understand you better now, though
still I am probably wrong. Help me one more time, and I will have it.

Warm wishes, Will