[asa] Rejoinder 1B from Timaeus: to Mike Gene, Jack Syme, et al.

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Wed Sep 24 2008 - 09:48:57 EDT

Hi. I’m back.

I want to reply now to several other people who answered my initial posting.

To Mike Gene:

True, Dawkins and Gould did not entirely agree. Gould brought the contingent element up front (rightly, I think), and Dawkins downplays it. But natural selection, despite Dawkins, can only explain the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. Natural selection can sculpt, but the block of stone that it sculpts has to come from mutations, and given Dawkins’s rejection of God, angels, Demiurges, etc., the mutations cannot be intelligently guided. (We’ll leave aside his curious, ID-like proposal of aliens, heard in the Expelled film!) So chance plays a big part in evolution, no matter what Dawkins says. But you’re right, I never defined orthodox neo-Darwinism. I meant basically that random mutations plus natural selection are, taken together, completely sufficient to explain the rise of all species on earth (beyond the earliest). And the random mutations, in classic neo-Darwinism, are NOT understood as really coming indetectably from the finger of G!
 od (as in some versions of TE). They are understood to be “naturally caused” random events, i.e., a cosmic ray here, a chemical change there, an electric jolt in the right place at a fortuitous time, etc. Nobody’s running the show. For classic neo-Darwinism, if God exists at all, it’s only in Darwin’s sense, as the source of the natural laws; and for Darwin God must NEVER interfere, even a teensy-weensy little bit (as Darwin stated explicitly in the Origin), with the system of natural laws he has set up. That would be a “miracle”, and for Darwin the notion of miracle is something that science must completely disallow. And Coyne, Dawkins, Sagan, Gould, Gross, Scott, etc., are all onside with Darwin on that point.

Thus, to add a designing, intervening intelligence, whether transcendent or immanent, to explain the origin of even one feature of even one creature, is to add a non-natural element to nature, an element the existence of which Darwin and all orthodox neo-Darwinists deny.

However, I agree with you that Darwinian processes need to be supplemented by intelligence. So does Behe. And I agree with you that it is very possible that the intelligence was built into creation from the beginning. Essentially that is the position of Michael Denton. And the advantage of Denton’s position is that it allows for an entirely naturalistic operation of evolution; there are none of the tiny little miracles that Darwin forbade. God does not have to sneak in and do little miracles, hidden behind quantum fluctuations, as some TEs have speculated; he has given to nature the capacity, indeed the destiny, of evolving on its own, to a predetermined end. Further, Denton’s position does not require absurdly low-probability events, in which co-ordinated mutational sequences capable of building complex organs arise by chance; for Denton, those mutational sequences were programmed from the start. So Denton avoids miracles on one hand (and thus is more naturalisti!
 c than either “creationists” or those TEs who believe that God sneaks miracles into nature indetectably), and on the other avoids the ludicrous improbability of the classic “chance” explanations of neo-Darwinism. He is thus superior, from an ID point of view, to neo-Darwinism, and, from the point of view of “methodological naturalism”, he is superior to either creationism or certain forms of TE. In a way, Denton provides a perfect blend of ID and TE. He thinks design is detectable, and he thinks it is programmed from the beginning of creation, to run naturalistically. The only thing he is not clear about in his two books is whether or not God is the cause of all this. It is not clear whether his references to God are figures of speech, and that he is speaking as an agnostic, or whether he believes in God, and if so, what particular God.

It sounds as if your position is close to, if not identical with, Denton’s. Have you any comments on his work, if you’ve read it?

To Jack Syme:

No, ID does not imply supernatural “intervention”, as you put it. It is compatible with such intervention, but does not require it. See my discussion of Michael Denton above. Design is compatible with perfect naturalism. Both Behe and Dembski have stated this on various occasions.

To Christine Smith:

In the strict sense, “design” implies an intelligent designer, but even atheists use “design” when they talk about biological systems, because, in their view, they behave as if they were designed. It’s a handy, practical way of talking, and English is flexible enough to accommodate it. But we always have to keep in mind that “design” for Dawkins and Co. can never be meant literally.

You can’t show “intent” directly, because you can’t get inside the mind of the designer. But you can infer intent from the arrangement of interacting parts of a structure, machine, system, etc. We know that someone intended to make our automobile. We do not of course directly view or perceive the “intent”, which is invisible, as “intelligence” and “mind” are invisible, but we rightly infer intent whenever we see a car, a clock, a sculpture, etc. The argument of ID, of course, is that we can infer intent in the case of living structures as well. And this does not require the belief that God created each species individually. It is compatible with God’s “front-loading” an evolutionary program into creation at the time of the Big Bang, or the first cell, or whenever. The “intent” is still there, but there are no miraculous separate acts of creation. It’s all packed into the one great miracle of creation itself. As I’ve said before, ID !
 as such has no theory of how design is instantiated. It is an inference to the fact of design, based on the results we see in nature, not an inference to a particular mechanism.

To Merv:

You’re right; I didn’t call for mandatory education in ID. Nor does the Discovery Institute. It calls only for a more critical teaching of Darwinian theory. And since, in my view, all science should be taught more critically, I see no objection to that.

We seem to agree that there is a sense in which science must not be the mere handmaid of theology, and another sense in which theology is the more encompassing study, into which science and all other studies somehow must fit. And we agree that more humility in both science and theology is called for.

You asked about books. For the critique of Darwinian mechanism, see Denton’s first book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. There’s not a single religious argument against Darwinism in the book. All the arguments come from standard scientific literature. For Denton’s positive alternative to Darwinism, see his second book, Nature’s Destiny. They are two of the best books on evolution you will ever read. And Denton, while an ID theorist of sorts, belongs to nobody’s party. Highly recommended for all IDs and TEs (who will like much of him), and for all neo-Darwinists (who will hate much of him, but need to hear it).

To D. F. Siemens:

I never argued that difficulties with Darwinism show that we must abjure naturalism. Michael Denton has shown how you can keep evolution (understood as common descent), get rid of the implausible parts of Darwinism, and maintain naturalism. See my remarks above, to the others.

I never said that “I don’t know” is to be replaced by “an intelligence did it”. That would presuppose that we can scientifically know only things that are produced unintelligently, and that we have to jump beyond science to speak of intelligent design. I believe that for a full understanding of life, you have to understand both the non-intelligent causes (natural selection and random mutation) and the intelligent ones (design, whether administered miraculously or naturalistically). You need a designing intelligence not just to explain the bacterial flagellum, but to explain just about everything interesting in living organisms, but that is not at the expense of material and mechanical explanations, which still apply. Intelligent design is not some miraculous principle that undercuts science; it fills out and completes science, not in the sense of filling in “gaps” in mechanical explanation, but in the sense of revealing the supervisory principles which sta!
 nd over mechanical explanations and work with them, as the architect stands over the workmen but does not actually do any of the work. You cannot explain a building without an architect. But architects are not supernatural, and their thinking and planning does not violate any of the laws of bricklaying, wiring, cement pouring, riveting, etc. For more evidence that intelligent design is an absolute prerequisite for the evolution of life, see again Denton’s two books, and of course Behe’s two books.

To George Murphy:

From your various posts, you seem to be very learned in theology and physics. The article to which you point me is clear and well-written. However, it misrepresents ID, and contains some other weaknesses.

ID does not stop scientific research with the answer that “God did it”. ID opens up new areas of scientific research by keeping open the possibility of design. We now know that “junk DNA” is not all junk; it may turn out that almost none of it is junk. It was neo-Darwinism, with its overly-hasty surmise of the accidental accumulation of genetic crud through millions of years of mutations, that caused scientists to think in terms of “junk DNA”. ID would have naturally predicted that some use would be found for most or all DNA. And now some use has been found for some of the “junk”. And if Denton and others are right about front-loading, the huge tracts that seem unused even now have played or will play a vital evolutionary role, since the whole history of life has to be implicitly contained in the DNA. Darwinism, with its insistence on freak mutations and lucky adaptations, was the science stopper regarding junk DNA.

ID has never claimed that the activity of the designer can be observed by science. ID has claimed only that the results of the designer’s activity can be observed; the designing activity itself, and the existence of the designer, are inferred, not observed.

It is not true that traditional doctrines of providence have held that God acts ONLY through natural laws. He can act through natural laws, or through dispensations from them. This is clear from the Bible, and from the writings of every significant Christian theologian in the history of the religion. I do not understand the theological motivation for a revisionist theology which would deny this.

The passage about carbon atoms is not on the point. ID has never denied that intelligence is actualized in the world through natural processes. ID is not threatened by the fact that carbon atoms are formed through mechanical processes which are unintelligent and don’t know what they are doing. In fact, as Denton shows, the utility of the carbon atom is interlocked logically with millions of other “anthropic coincidences”, in an interrelated system of mutual sustenance which is inconceivable on the basis of chance alone. And these anthropic coincidences don’t stop, as Francis Collins believes, with physical/chemical laws. They extend all the way up through biochemistry, to the cell, to embryology, to the structure of the brain, etc. Everything is produced by natural forces, as you say; but at the same time it is choreographed by intelligence. The two realities are complementary. There is no filling in of gaps with miraculous design. Not in my version of ID, a!

I have nothing personally against Luther, but he is less open to natural theology than even Calvin, and Calvin less so than Catholicism, Anglicanism or Orthodoxy. I don’t tell anyone what Christian theology they should have, but it must be recognized that Luther does not speak for Christianity as such. Nor, despite his courage, does Bonhoeffer, on theoretical issues. Nor does Pascal. Nor does Barth. There is a natural theology tradition within Christianity. No one is obliged to make use of it. But it’s there, and it would take great temerity to argue that it is unorthodox or heretical.

To Gregory Arago:

I thank you for your contrast between “visible” and “invisible” theistic evolutionists. It cannot simply be assumed that one position represents “true” Christian theology, and the other position “false” Christian theology.

To Burgy:

Thanks for bringing up Biblical miracles. This topic needs to be dealt with by at least some TEs. Why are no miraculous actions allowed in Genesis – everything having to be turned into evolution via natural processes – whereas New Testament miracles are accepted by most TEs without blinking an eye? What hermeneutical principles allow for this selective reading of the Bible? I am not convinced that TEs have their act together when it comes to Biblical exegesis.
To Dennis Venema:

By “evolution”, I mean simply the transformation of one species into another, by means unspecified. I mean “evolution” as a process, not an explanation.

By “theistic evolution”, I mean the belief that evolution has occurred, but that it is either directed in an ongoing way, or pre-planned in advance, by God. This does not exclude the involvement of natural causes as well.

By “theistic Darwinism”, I mean a form of theistic evolution which asserts both that God directs or pre-plans evolution, and that evolution takes place by Darwinian mechanisms. The problem arises, of course, in that those mechanisms, as understood by Darwin and his later successors, do not allow for God to direct evolution personally. This means that the theistic Darwinist must either fudge on the Darwinism, i.e., say that Darwin was wrong about the adequacy of his mechanism, or abandon direct divine governance of evolution and push God back to the role of a front-loader. But if God is a front-loader, the “chance” aspect of Darwinism must largely vanish; and besides, most TEs hold to a view of God’s interaction with the world which is anathema to the Deistic feel of front-loading. So “theistic Darwinism” is a seriously “conflicted” position, to say the least. But that is what many TEs seem to believe: that both Darwinism and theism are simultaneously !
 completely true. I certainly would like some clarification on how this can be so.

I think I have now answered everyone who responded to me on the first round. I thank all for the conversation, and welcome further comments.

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Received on Wed, 24 Sep 2008 09:48:57 -0400

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