Re: Fwd: Alvin Plantinga's paper

Ed Brayton (
Mon, 18 Jan 1999 14:22:15 -0500 wrote:

> Could you explain this statement? Why is organized heirarchy difficult to
> explain
> in Darwinian terms?
> >>
> Ed,
> Darwin predicted that phyletic hierarchies would be formed from the bottom up
> (in Linnaean terms). He states this clearly in _Origin of Species_ (Everyman
> Library Edition, pp. 109-122). Varieties and species, being constantly
> modified by natural selection, would eventually form what could be called
> genera, these in turn by further modification would form families, which in
> turn would form orders. He stops at this point. I call this "bottom-up"
> because the process of evolution begins with the lowest categories, according
> to Darwin, and eventually forms the higher taxonomic categories through the
> process of natural selection.
> The fossil record, however, fails to confirm this bottom-up direction.
> Numerous studies indicate that the direction is from the top-down, that higher
> taxonomic categories appear before lower ones in the fossil record. Once the
> phyla became organized in the Cambrian explosion, they began to differentiate
> into ever lower taxonomic categories over geologic time, until today only
> species and varieties are formed.
> This is a very abbreviated account of the difference between the "bottom-up"
> and the "top-down" direction of change in the fossil record. I have given a
> fuller treatment of this subject in an article entitled, "Do Phyletic Lineages
> Evolve from the Bottom-Up, or Develop from the Top-Down?" which appeared in
> the ASA journal, _Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith_, in December,
> 1998. If you would like a copy of the article, and do not have access to the
> journal, send me your postal address and I will mail you a reprint.

I would appreciate that. My address is 309 Pearl St., Vicksburg, MI 49097. This is
an interesting idea that I will have to give more thought to.

> You also quoted what Plantinga wrote:
> > "To return to our original question then: should Creationism be taught in
> the
> > public schools? Should evolution? The answer is in each case the same: no,
> > neither should be taught unconditionally; but yes, each should be taught
> > conditionally.".
> You wrote, "I don't understand what it is he means by this. What is the real
> difference
> between teaching something "conditionally" and "unconditionally"?"
> To get the best answer you would have to ask Plantinga what he means by these
> words. Let me say what he means, as I understand it. Evolution should not be
> taught as a settled, unarguable fact, but rather that it can change as more
> data are collected, and that there are different interpretations of data. Who
> can really say what a new finding will disclose?

This I certainly agree with. I would argue that before any science is taught,
there should be an overview of both the philosophy and history of science. If
students understood the difference between theories and facts, and the history of
how science corrects errors and modifies theories as new evidence comes to light,
it would be implicitly understood that evolution is not a settled, unarguable fact
but is a vibrant and successful theory open to change. I think it is unfortunate
that so many on my side of this argument have inflated their rhetoric in response
to the attacks of creationists rather than presenting a reasoned and accurate

> Moreover, conditionality means that the presuppositions of evolution should be
> clearly laid, that is, that evolution and all of science presupposes that the
> natural world is all that science can study. That is a condition of doing
> science. So science is limited.

Absolutely, and I would again make this a part of the unit on the philosophy and
history of science.

> Some scientists say that the natural world
> is all there is and God is a creation of the human mind. That is a
> presupposition, not a scientific finding.

Actually, that is neither a presuppostion nor a scientific finding. It is an
inference that some people draw from science. I think the public confusion over
the difference is largely owed to popular writers like Richard Dawkins, who argues
that evolution leads logically to atheism without making a distinction between the
theory and the philosophical conclusion he is drawing from that theory. Individual
people may argue that evolution supports their atheistic position, but that does
not mean that atheism is part of the theory. I often use this illustration:
William Lane Craig argues for theism based upon big bang cosmology, while Quentin
Smith argues for atheism based upon big bang cosmology. So is big bang cosmology
theistic or atheistic? Neither, of coure. Smith and Craig are drawing inferences
FROM the theory and those inferences are not part of the theory itself.

> A presupposition of the creational approach is that God exists outside the
> universe, created it and maintains it, and that such a presupposition gives a
> broader view of the world than what the more limited view of science permits.

But an evolutionist can start from the very same presupposition and reach the same
conclusions they do now. I accept that the unverse was created by God and don't
see what that has to do with evolution at all.

> This approach of identifying the basic presuppositions of various views of
> origins of the universe can be followed with any Basic Right of students, as
> Plantinga calls it. Buddhists, Muslim, American Indian, Hindus, all have
> their presuppositions about origins and how change occurs in the world.
> Students can learn that science gives its own view, and that this view is the
> majority view in the Western World, without insisting that students give up
> their basic rights to their own world views. To get on in this world a
> student needs to know what evolution is about. Science is not the only world
> view, and students should learn that other groups in society have their own
> Basic Rights too, and that these rights need to be respected. Students will
> have to integrate their own world views with that of science and other world
> views as best they can, and at least respect these other views. This is what
> should be done in a pluralistic society, it seems to me. I don't know,
> however, if the educational system can help students very much with this
> personal integration.

I guess I would go back to my original question in this thread. Are we going to
take this approach consistently? Before we teach about heliocentricity, must we
tell students that scientists start from the assumption that there is no God
before they reach their conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun, while
geocentrists start from the assumption that God created and sustains the universe?
The same exact argument is used by Gerardus Bouw, that scientists believe in a
heliocentric universe because they start from atheistic assumptions and seek to
deny the word of God. How far are we going to take it?