Re: Faith, Evolution, and Tax Dollars?

From: Robert Schneider <>
Date: Mon Apr 05 2004 - 11:13:00 EDT

Re: Faith, Evolution, and Tax Dollars?In his response to Ted Davis' critique of my critique of the ID advocates use of the term "design," Howard Van Till has said pretty much what I would have said to Ted in reply, and I thank Howard for his analysis.

Bob Schneider
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Howard J. Van Till
  To: Ted Davis
  Sent: Monday, April 05, 2004 10:09 AM
  Subject: Re: Faith, Evolution, and Tax Dollars?

  On 4/5/04 8:03 AM, "Ted Davis" <> wrote:

>>>> "Robert Schneider" <> 04/03/04 07:19PM >>>writes:
> The same could be asked regarding the word "design." It is interesting to
> note that some in the ID crowd have hopped on the "anthropic coincidences"
> bandwagon recently (Ross sooner than later); some write of it as if it
> were
> their discovery, though the notion has been around for nearly 20 years.
> But, in fact, the ID proponents are using "design" equivocally. To speak
> of
> a finally tuned universe as evidence of "design" is one thing; to speak of
> the hands-on (a la Howard's last paragraph below) intervention to create
> an
> "irreducibly complex" organism or part thereof as evidence of "design" is
> another.
> Ted replies:
> I don't see Bob's points. First, ID people rightly make much of anthropic
> coincidences, it doesn't matter who discovered them.

  The point, Ted, is not whether or not ID employs references to "anthropic coincidences" in its argumentation. The point is whether or not they have a right to imply that they deserve credit for them, as if it were the Intelligent Design program that led to their discovery.

> Indeed, one could just
> as well argue that the "discovery" of the anthropic coincidences goes back
> at least to Lawrence Henderson (ca. 1913), who is today seen as the
> originator of the "anthropic principle", or else even to William Whewell,
> whose Bridgewater treatise (1830s) makes many of the same points Henderson
> made and upon which Henderson drew extensively.

  Right. Anthropic coincidences were not discovered by scientific research sponsored by the Discovery Institute.

> The point they rightly make
> is, that when we view the physical universe we really are confronted with a
> choice: the obvious explanation is that an Infinite Someone rigged the game;
> the alternative is to invoke a more Greekish kind of Infinity, namely
> infinite time and infinite materials (the multiverse hypothesis). One is
> IMO more scientific than the other, since it does not postulate unobserved
> and unobservable universes other than our own. I applaud the ID folks for
> pushing this, they have genuine science on their side.

  If the rest of the ID program were in fact consistent with this approach you would have a point. But note carefully something that I have pointed out on this list and in print. The so-called "anthropic coincidences" have significance only in the context of accepting the RFEP.

  The "coincidences" are of the following nature: the formational economy of the universe, especially as it is manifest in the particular numerical values of all of the fundamental cosmic parameters, is (coincidently) precisely what is necessary to make possible the evolutionary formational history of the universe.
> To get this fine tuning without infinite (or at least, unlimited) time and
> matter, one really needs to invoke unlimited force, ie "intervention."

  You need to define "intervention" here or the rest of this conversation will be hopelessly muddled. To "intervene" is ordinarily to "come between" A & B, to enter into a chain of events or processes already under way so as to change the outcome. In the context of that usual leaning, the ex nihilo giving of being to a fine-tuned universe must be placed in an entirely different category. There was no extant chain of events or processes into which God could enter. The giving of being to something ex nihilo requires no overpowering of what was already there.

> Unless God did in fact exercise omnipotence to determine the nature of
> nature, then we are right back to infinite time and matter. Take your
> choice.

  Fine, but the fundamental distinction between a) "intervention" (entering into an extant chain of events/processes), and b) "exnihilation" (giving being to that which had no being) MUST be respected.

> Whewell saw this very well, in responding to Charles Lyell's
> principle of uniformity in its original Lyellian form (which called for a
> steady state universe, a necessary consequence of his Unitarian view of God
> as having been bound to make the best of all possible worlds). As Whewell
> saw it, the uniformitarian appeal to unlimited time was no more scientific
> than the catastrophist appeal to unlimited force. Either way, we need an
> infinite agent, whether personal or impersonal.

  But the question that is most relevant to this evaluation of ID's use of anthropic coincidences is this: what is the character of the action taken by this agent? Intervention or exnihilation?

> In principle, I don't see any difference if ID folk then want to invoke
> "intervention" to account for "irreducible complexity." It's just as
> legitimate a philosophical move, in my view.

  No, it is not. There is a huge inconsistency in ID's strategy here. ID's appeal to the "irreducible complexity" of certain biotic systems or structures (Bill Dembski argues that this is but one form of his broader category, "specified complexity") is an appeal to the need for intervention (breaking into a chain of events or processes already in place) to compensate for the fact that the universe to which the Intelligent Designer gave being DOES NOT satisfy the RFEP. In effect, they are saying: If the universe DOES NOT satisfy the RFEP, then ID must be true. On the other hand, in ID's appeal to anthropic coincidences in the arena of cosmology they adopt exactly the opposite strategy by saying, in effect: If the universe DOES satisfy the RFEP (as manifest in the anthropic coincidences) then ID must be true. HEADS, I WIN; TAILS, YOU LOSE.

> And in this case, we have a
> much better idea of just how limited time is--not more than 4.6 billion
> years, and probably several hundred million years less than that.
> The difficulty here, of course, is that we don't yet have (IMO) a clear
> enough idea of what "irreducible complexity" is, when it comes to biological
> organisms.

  To be more forceful, I would say it this way: Having examined Dembski's case carefully, I find that there is simply no conclusive scientific case that any intervention is even necessary.

> We do seem to have a strong handle on physical laws and the
> nature of matter, strong enough at least to remain deeply puzzled how it all
> could have assembled itself in such a startingly precise way so as to lead
> to the production of the building blocks for that "irreducibly complex"
> life.

  We all have every right to marvel that the universe has a formational economy sufficiently robust as to make life of any sort possible. But no appeal to irreducible complexity is required for that. I prefer to marvel at what the universe IS capable of doing. I have no need to find gaps in the universe's formational economy so that I can then marvel at the need for interventions to compensate for what the universe was NOT equipped to do.

> My sense is, that the biochemical side isn't nearly as well shown, so
> that this move is philosophically riskier though not different in kind from
> the move involving the anthropic principle.

  As explained above, I find these moves to be very different in kind. Bob Schneider is fully warranted, I believe, in saying that " ID proponents are using "design" equivocally."

> If they want to define "design" at least implicitly, as *sometimes*
> involving supernatural agency to achieve a specific purpose, I'm fine with
> that. My problems with the ID movement lie elsewhere.

  I find these glaring inconsistencies in ID strategy highly significant.

Received on Mon Apr 5 11:14:19 2004

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