Re: Apologetics, Genesis, and C S Lewis

David Campbell (bivalve@mailserv0.isis.unc.edu)
Fri, 11 Dec 1998 12:55:54 -0400

Moorad Alexanian replied to my post,
>It is in principle impossible to predict which atom will decay next in a
>radioactive sample. But such questions fall outside the scope of the
>underlying quantum mechanics that describes such processes. You mean to say
>that it lies outside the scope of evolutionary theory to predict the
>existence of man? As I have indicated many times, evolutionary theory is
>forensic science and no definite statement can be made there either.

As far as we know, predicting the existance of man is outside the scope of
evolutionary theory. It is debated whether the existence of intelligent
life is predictable by evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory can
predict that, if some form of life were to develop intelligence, it would
probably be fairly successful, but without observing the fossil record and
seeing what organisms have large brains, there is little to go on in
determining what kinds of organisms might plausibly develop it. We can
guess that a variable environment might be conducive to developing
intelligence, and a certain size is probably necessary, but as far as we
know evolution is at least chaotic, probably multifractal, and possibly
indeterminate.

>>"Macroevolution" is used by many of the young-earth or intelligent design
>>camps to refer to aspects of common descent that they reject (e.g., common
>>ancestry of phyla). In paleontological usage, it refers to the belief that
>>something different happens in evolution above the species level than at
>>and below the species level. I believe Behe believes in macroevolution in
>>both of these senses. I am not sure how you are using the word.
>
>The statement that man descends from lower forms of life, e.g. apes, is
>macroevolution. That is to say, there is a change in kind not merely in degree.
>

Clearly being made in God's image is a qualitative change, but for the
physical aspects the difference is not enormous. (Some people do
exaggerate the degree of similarity, however.) I believe Behe accepts
common descent of all organisms, including us.

>>Almost anything could be called a scientific centerpiece, since it is not a
>>technically defined term. Evolution by natural selection and other factors
>>and common descent do provide a unifying concept that explains observations
>>from all parts of biology, though in many specific studies the importance
>>of that aspect is either minor or else almost common sense (in particular,
>>the belief that there is probably a reason for most features or behaviors
>>of an organism). For medicine, common descent explains why certain animals
>>are better models for the human system than others. The realization that
>>many natural medicinal substances are produced as a defence to improve the
>>probability of survival can help direct the search for likely new drugs.
>>Similar considerations can provide useful insights into other fields of
>>biology, also not directly evolutionary.
>
>The reason certain animals are better models for the human system is
>experimentation. Witness the cosmetic industry and experiments, I believe,
>with dogs. It is at the molecular level that more exact comparisons can be
>made and that has nothing to do with common descent. You can invoke common
>descent as often as you want, but in most cases, common descent has nothing
>whatsoever to do with the underlying science which is being studied.

Common descent explains why the molecular similarities exist. It is not
necessary to think about common descent in order to do the biochemistry,
but it does explain why the biochemistry shows the similarities between
species that it does. Common descent also explains why Old World monkeys
would probably be a bit better as models for humans than New World monkeys,
why they are more similar to us than rodents, why rodents are more similar
to us than opossums, etc.

>>More importantly at a general level, evolution is widely misunderstood by
>>scientists and non-scientists alike. A presentation of the scientific
>>evidence and the lack of significant philosophical content (i.e., why the
>>whole "evolution- creation debate" is based on "god of the gaps"
>>presuppositions that are not Biblical nor accepted in various other
>>religions) would help a lot in promoting truth.
>>
>>David C.
>
>The notion of "God of the gaps" intrigues me. It is often said, in a
>positive fashion, that people meet God when they find themselves in
>desperate situations when all other sorts of help have failed--e.g. the rich
>person who becomes destitute and then turns to God and his life is radically
>changed. Now if in this instance such a need for God is praised, why is the
>same situation--when it arises in the attempt of explaining the physical
>universe--characterized in the negative fashion of "God of the gaps?"

That image is quite good for understanding the problems of "God of the
gaps". Someone who thinks he only needs God in the desperate situations
and relies on himself the rest of the time has an unbiblical, limited view
of God and overly high view of himself. An example is the episode from
Twain's Roughing It, when he and two friends get disoriented in a blizzard
and each swears off a bad habit. Upon discovering that they were right
outside the house, the habits return in about fifteen minutes. Such a view
of creation, in which God has only a role in the unexplained parts, is both
unbiblical and a weak view of God, in which every time a phenomenon is
explained, God's role is diminished. It is popular with those who want to
attack God, because our increased understanding of nature over time has
explained many things. It has probably raised as many questions as it has
answered, but this aspect gets ignored. On the other hand, a similar view
of creation is all too common among Christians, who then try to defend the
god of the gaps by attacking scientific evidence instead of recognizing the
bad theology inherent in such a view. Both the mysteries and the known
aspects of creation should be cause for wonder and praise. However, I know
of no theological reason to assign any of the physical aspects of creation
to "mystery" or "known". Instead, these are determined by our present
state of scientific knowledge and by the underlying pattern by which God
runs that particular aspect of creation.

David C.