RFEP: response #2 to Will

Howard J. Van Till (110661.1365@compuserve.com)
Tue, 31 Mar 1998 11:02:35 -0500

Dear Will,

We seem to be making good progress in coming to a more clear understanding
of what beliefs we hold in common and how our particular faith commitments
differ in important ways

WP: 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.

HVT: (small point) At the risk of looking like an incurable nitpicker, I
would prefer not to say that the "creation goes on to create the stellar
universe and the animals and plants...." but that the "Creation employs its
capabilities (gifts of being) for self-organization and transformation to
actualize a vast array of its potentialities for physical structures and
life forms." As I noted in earlier posts, I prefer to reserve the verb 'to
create' for its theologically significant meaning of 'to give being,' as
distinguished from other meanings like 'to arrange' or 'to actualize
potentialities' and the like. As I understand it, an essential component of
the Creation to which being has been given is a 'potentiality space' dense
with possible creaturely systems, both animate and inanimate, and a
formational economy rich with the means to actualize them.

I think we understand each other on this point.

WP: 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?

HVT: Will, I think that what you here refer to as "the grinding away of
nature" is something that calls for far, far more appreciative awe than
most people ordinarity give it. I am not looking for a "something else"
(say, some 'intelligent designer' who is covertly manipulating matter into
forms that it was never sufficiently gifted--by that same designer--to
actualize) but I am asking for an astonishing recognition of the remarkable
character of the "something that is."

When I stop to consider all of the capabilities that must be present in the
universe's formational economy, I cannot help but ask, How could such a
remarkable set of capacities for self-organization and transformation come
to be (have being)? Let me here quote from an essay I wrote for the book,
_How Large is God?_ edited by John Marks Templeton (and available from the
Templeton Foundation Press). The context is a critical evaluation of both
Evolutionary Naturalism (as expressed by Daniel Dennett) and Episodic

"Dennett's presentation of "Darwin's dangerous idea" is crafted to give the
appearance of doing away with the need for the prior existence of Mind, but
I must say, in all candor, that I find the rhetoric wholly unconvincing. In
fact, I would argue from his premise (that Special Creationism has been
discredited by the growing credibility of the robust formational economy
principle) to precisely the opposite conclusion. Dennett places much weight
on the explanatory power of an _algorithmic_ process-any material process
whose outcome, no matter how complex in appearance, proceeds from the
actions of basic material units (atoms, molecules, cells) behaving in
accordance with relatively simple rules.

Here, then, is Darwin's dangerous idea: the algorithmic level is the level
that best accounts for the speed of the antelope, the wing of the eagle,
the shape of the orchid, the diversity of species, and all the other
occasions for wonder in the world of nature. ... No matter how impressive
the products of an algorithm, the underlying process always consists of
nothing but a set of individually mindless steps succeeding each other
without the help of any intelligent supervision....(from _Darwin's
Dangerous Idea_, p. 59)

But does the existence a robust economy of algorithmic processes actually
make Mind unnecessary? Not at all. Suppose we were to grant that the
relevant basic material units do in fact possess the capabilities to act
out a set of algorithmic processes, and that the outcome might well be the
self-organization of atoms to form molecules, molecules to form cells,
cells to form organisms, etc. What thereby becomes unnecessary is not the
action of a Mind to intend or plan the elements of this robust formational
economy, but rather the manipulative intervention of a "Hand" to effect an
act of Special Creation. What still requires Mind is the conception of a
sufficiently robust algorithmic economy. In fact, the more robust the
requisite economy of creaturely capabilities, the _more_, not less, a
Creator/Mind becomes absolutely necessary. The correct conclusion of
Dennett's appeal to the existence of a robust economy of algorithmic
processes is not that a Mindful Creator is unnecessary, but rather that the
creativity of that Mind is far more extensive than has ordinarily been
presumed and that the mindfully intended universe to which the Creator has
given being is even more generously gifted with formational capabilities
than we had initially realized." (pp. 129-130)

Enough for now.


Howard Van Till