Re: What does ID mean?

David Campbell (
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 17:42:24 -0400

>Can you specify some observational consequences which follow from
>"anthropic principles" uniquely? [Meaning that a scientist who
>rejected anthropic principles -- I'm not sure what those are,
>exactly -- couldn't explain the observations.] Otherwise I can't
>answer this question.

Einstein's quote of "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is
that it is comprehensible" comes to mind.

>Allan also asked:
>>2) Is the presence of these "marks" just a hypothesis advanced in the
>>hope of doing better science, or is it a theological necessity? In
>>other words, if it turns out that there are no scientifically
>>detectable marks (for example, if the scientific theory of evolution
>>[stripped of its philosophical extrapolations] is correct), would that
>>negate Christianity? Or is Christian theology still sound if God
>>created through evolutionary processes that left no "marks"? This
>>question, which gets to the biggest concern many of us have about the
>>ID movement, is what I was trying (with little success) to get Phil
>>Johnson and/or Paul Nelson to answer a few weeks ago.
>I think you and I understand "evolution" differently.
>God does whatever He pleases. But as I have been taught evolution, and
>as the theory is presented in textbooks and the scientific literature,
>it is *grounded in* methodological naturalism. Thus the theory's
>philosophical implications are not, in fact, "extrapolations," but are
>embedded in its very foundation.

Has a clear definition of methodological naturalism been established yet in
this discussion?

If it is a working assumption, used in the process of a scientific
investigation, that God has run the system under consideration by natural
laws, then there is no philosophy involved except the belief that miracles
are rare in nature. This belief is true of both the Biblical account and
more recent observations. To extrapolate total absence of miracles, as
Hume, is to commit a logical fallacy of the sort recently discussed in
Science, by which one set of letter writers concluded that the pope is an
alien. In this context, it is worth noting that evolution by natural
selection was proposed before Darwin as a way God had created life.
Darwin, and more flagrantly Huxley, had rejected Christianity prior to
adopting an evolutionary viewpoint, so it's not surprising that their
philosophies colored their presentation.

>Further, methodological naturalism as a method of inquiry and
>explanation does not stop politely at the church door. Take a look at
>E.O. Wilson's latest book, for instance. If you cheat on your wife,
>you're not sinning. There is no such thing as "sin." You're obeying a
>genetic imperative, which may or may not be adaptive, depending on the

This is philosophical naturalism. Methodological naturalism cannot say
whether methodological naturalism applies to a given situation, if it is a
method-this requires philosophical input.

>I've had close variants of this conversation with many evolutionary
>biologists. Not one who assured me that evolution and Christianity were
>compatible was himself a Christian.

You've not talked with the right people if you have not found any.

>Isn't it telling that many of the
>prominent scientists and educators who assure Christians that
>they need not choose between "evolution" and their faith are not
>themselves Christians, or even theists, but philosophical naturalists?

It tells me that the many verses on the frequent conflict between worldly
wisdom and faith are true. Christians are not currently prominent in much
of academia, so a paucity in evolutionary biology is not especially

>Allan, I guess I'd need to know from you why E.O. Wilson should not
>try to explain the origin of morality, and indeed religious behavior
>itself, by natural selection. Because, right now, that is what he and
>thousands of other scientists are doing. And they see no difference
>between such investigations and determining the gene frequencies of
>fruit flies.
Morality is not a scientifically testable quantity. Only after you
make the metaphysical (philosophical or religious) statement "Scientific
evidence of this sort has this moral implication" can science have any
bearing on moral issues. The philosophical assumption that all human
behavior can be explained by natural selection and other evolutionary
processes is where the conflict with faith arises. It would be possible to
study the relationship between natural selection and moral issues from a
Christian point of view, seeking a better understanding of moral strengths
and weaknesses that involve our evolutionary heritage. For example, the
importance of reproduction to evolutionary success, in combination with our
fallen nature, means that sexual sin is likely to be strongly tempting.
Many scientists and non-scientists alike try to excuse immoral
behavior or rejection of God "because of evolution". This sort of
"evolutionary" morality consists of selective use of garbled bits of
evolutionary ideas and is not a true application of the moral standard
"Everyone should seek to promote his own evolutionary fitness". Communism,
Nazism, and social Darwinism are examples of such purportedly
"evolutionary" systems that do not fit modern evolutionary theory.
However, there are actual studies of the question "Does this
particular moral standard make sense in the context of natural selection?"
Even some of these are questionable, starting from the premise that it has
to have an evolutionary explanation rather than testing it in any way. For
example, if kin selection allows a quarreling primitive tribe to split by
degree of relationship when they do not have words distinguishing the
relevant degrees of relationship, yet also (by mistake) causes caring for
pets, kin selection is being used as an evolutionary panacea. One more
rigorous study of this sort examined the incidence of rape. Rapists are
generally males unlikely to attract a wife; rape victims are generally
women in prime childbearing years. Thus, it is plausible that rape is
influenced by the evolutionary goal of passing on one's genes.
Such studies cannot asses whether evolutionary considerations are
adequate for constructing a moral system. As the example of rape shows,
few people would be satisfied with an actual standard of "Anything that
promotes one's evolutionary fitness goes." "Anything that promotes my
evolutionary fitness goes" is more popular in practice, but is generally
recognized as bad in theory.
Based on his presuppositions, perhaps Wilson "should" try to
explain all human behavior evolutionarily, but not all of it actually is
amenable to such an explanation. Also, the lack of justifiable moral
standards that results from such a worldview is not truly accepted by
anyone. "I can do as I please" is always popular, but when what pleases
someone else displeases you, absolutes quickly reappear.

David C.