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

From: Christine Smith <>
Date: Fri Sep 26 2008 - 13:40:47 EDT

Hi Timaeus,

Thanks for the interesting replies, both to me and to others. There's a lot of material here to dig into...let me start with your direct reply to me a couple of days ago, and then move on to a few of your other remarks :)

You reply to me:
"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."

CHRISTINE: It seems we're agreed on this point then :)

You write:
"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. . . .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."

CHRISTINE: I'm confused here...

First, a clarification--when you say that you have no theory of how design is "instantiated", is this really the word you wanted to use? I looked it up (new word for me!) here:, and this would seem to conflict with the fact that ID has given very specific examples of what they interpret as irreducible complexity. Did you mean to say, rather, that you have no theory as to how God instituted "design" into the universe in a spiritual sense (still maintaining that you can infer it in specific examples)?

Second...on the topic of seems to me that what ID is trying to do is to transform the inference of intent (based on particular patterns/order observed in nature) into the "fact" of design, yes? Assuming principle, this is not unprecedented in science. Indeed, in science, this would be tantamount to the interpretation/conclusion step of the process, in which the individual overlays their subjective understanding onto the evidence at hand as a means of making sense of the data. Others may agree or disagree, and that inference may or may not be promoted to the status of "fact" later on, depending on what other evidence says and whether or not a consensus exists. So far, so good.

However, you note that we cannot get inside the mind of the designer, thus we can only identify intent by inference...While this may be true in a strict sense, I contend that this is not true in a broader sense. In a strict sense, we cannot be there for the mental "play-by-play" thought-processes of the designer in the moment in which they design...however, as humans, and more broadly, as organisms/animals, we can know what kinds of questions we ask, what kinds of needs we have, what kinds of things we want, based upon a common experience of life and of this world. In this broad sense, we can get inside the mind of the designer, and THIS allows us to recognize intent even when it is manifested in a multitude of different forms across time, space, and cultures. HOWEVER, where even this broad sense is not true, then on what basis do we infer intent? On what basis do we understand the kinds of questions, needs or wants that God, or aliens, etc. would have
 which would inspire them to generate designs, or to know what methodologies they would use, or to know what constraints they would have? For aliens at least, presuming that they are part of our universe, our time & space, we could perhaps make a few guesses, based on our COMMON EXPERIENCE of living within the universe. But God, who (at least in the monotheistic faiths) is understood as transcending our universe, our time & space in a way that we can never fully grasp, on what basis do we even approach the identification of God's intent? If we look back to the virtues contained in the Bible, and speculate that God's motivation is X, Y, Z, then I would contend you have left the realm of ID as a science...instead of using science as a lens to see God/Designer (as it seems to me ID wants to do), you are using faith as a lens to understand science (which seems to me to be more in line with TE).

You write:
"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 stand 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."

CHRISTINE: Yes and no...drawing on your analogy...someone who came along later could analyze the house, take apart the house, analyze the materials, the foundation, the property, etc., and indeed understand everything there was to know about building that house, without reference to the architect or his/her management style. Knowing the supervisory principles that you refer to, which speak to the purpose of the house, which speak to the character of the architect, and which gives you a greater, richer depth of appreciation of the completed building, are optional I think...a better option, but an option nonetheless. Likewise, an Atheist can understand all of science, can understand all he/she needs to know about the basic workings and mechanics of the world, without ever referring to God. But in so doing, they will be spiritually poorer, and as you say, will be lacking the supervisory principles which fill out and complete science--the purpose, the
 appreciation, the reflection of the Designer.

You write:
"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."

CHRISTINE: I'm no expert on hermeneutical principles, but I'd say it has a lot to do with differences in genre and known history. For example, it is not clear that in the early chapters of Genesis the stories were intended to be histories; the historic nature/intention of the accounts in the New Testament are much more clear. Likewise, it is largely a matter of speculation whether a historic Adam and Eve figure existed--there's no archaeological evidence (Dick Fischer would probably say otherwise), certainly no one was dying for that belief...yet in the New Testament, we have much more extensive historical/archaeological records which testify to the existence of Christ and to the fact that a group of dedicated followers established a whole new world religion based on His life and His teachings, and that they died to defend their beliefs. Thus, not only are the genres different, but so is the level of credibility. Genesis is invested with authority in my
 view not because of what it is, in and of itself, but because I believe in the authority of Christ and the witness of the New Testament; an authority and witness which states that I should also consider Genesis to be "profitable". Therefore, I place greater faith in the miracles of the New Testament than on any of the other miracles included in the Bible, though I don't discount those other miracles either.

You write:
"Assuming I have been clear about definitions and that everyone can follow me, I am going to state my position. My position is that someone can believe in the fact of evolution, even to the point of believing that a bacterium was his or her great-great-great-...grandparent, and STILL believe that the Darwinian explanation for evolution (RM + NS) is ludicrously wrong, or at best woefully incomplete."

and later on you write:
"Thus, “Darwinism”, or “Darwinian evolution”, as its authoritative practitioners understand it, is the doctrine that random mutations plus natural selection are exhaustively competent to produce all the species that we see. It is the doctrine that God was not involved in the creation of species, not even a tiny bit, unless by “involvement” you mean establishing the general laws of nature within which evolution takes place. It is the doctrine that God (if he exists) may have created nature, but nature created the species completely out of its own resources. Darwinism, in this strict, proper sense, is not by definition atheistic, but it is compatible only with forms of theism that tend towards Deism, and perhaps also with pantheism. It is almost certainly incompatible with any recognizably orthodox form of historical Christianity."

CHRISTINE: You have stated that you can believe in evolution of species, in common descent, while arguing that the mechanisms of natural selection and random mutations are "woefully inadequate" to explain them. How are they inadequate? You earlier wrote that ID fills out and completes science by providing supervisory principles which enrich our scientific understanding, but "not at the expense of material and mechanical explanations, which still apply." Why do RM & NS not qualify as the material and mechanical explanations here? By my definition of evolution, you cannot have common descent or evolution of species without these mechanisms. But if you are arguing that you can, what other options would you/ID postulate? Direct, miraculous divine intervention? But no, you have said that you do not subscribe to a "gaps" or "miraculous" understanding of ID. But if it not RM + NS, and it is not miraculous gaps caused by divine design processes, what else is
 there? What other naturalistic mechanisms that somehow involve God directly but do not qualify as miraculous, are you arguing for?

Also, I don't follow the logic of your conclusion that "It is the doctrine that God (if he exists) may have created nature, but nature created the species completely out of its own resources. Darwinism, in this strict, proper sense, is not by definition atheistic, but it is compatible only with forms of theism that tend towards Deism, and perhaps also with pantheism. It is almost certainly incompatible with any recognizably orthodox form of historical Christianity."

If we are to say that the designed reflects the Designer, then isn't it a property of God to be a Creator, and couldn't He build creative capabilities into the designed, such that nature was endowed with the capacity to create species?

Moreover, as far as I know, apart from a literalistic reading of Genesis (which as I understand, was not necessarily the "orthodox" view of it), there is nothing within the orthodox form of historical Christianity which specified anything more than "I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." There is nothing that says that RM + NS couldn't have been His tools, or that He needed to be directly involved for the millions of years following the initial creation of the universe. The history of miracles and God's divine, direct action/interaction with the world seems to me to coincide with the advent of modern humanity, not the history of the world/universe. Not to say that God couldn't have performed miracles prior to human history, only to say that I don't think the Bible provides strong support one way or the other. This does not tend toward Deism, in my view, this just states that God's miraculous actions
 have been concentrated in time due to His concern and plan for the redemption of humanity.

You write:
"If I may raise a more general question to everybody here: Why it is so important for TE supporters to hear ID shout loudly that it is solidly behind common descent? Since ID is focused on whether or not there is design in nature and whether or not it can be detected by scientific methods, and is formally indifferent to the question whether the design was instantiated in six days or through an evolutionary process lasting billions of years, why do TE people care what ID people think on this point? What would irritate at TE person if an ID person did NOT believe in common descent? And would the irritation be for scientific or theological reasons?"

CHRISTINE: Per my earlier response, I think the reason is is that we equate common descent with RM & NS...I don't recall any TE or any evolution-supporter in general, who makes the distinction you are drawing here where you could have the result without the evolutionary mechanisms.

You write:
"So a theistic evolutionist, in my view, would accept common descent, would accept that life is suffused with intelligent design, and would subordinate natural selection and chance events to the wider plan set forth by the intelligent design. Within that general framework, the theistic evolutionist would have the option of asserting an active or “Biblical” hands-on God, who occasionally intervenes in nature, or a more remote “Deistic” God who sets nature rolling and sits back as it does its thing. But either way, God’s plans are completely carried out and cannot be thwarted, not even by “chance” events or by “quantum indeterminacy”. The Biblical God, and any later mainstream version of the Christian God (Catholic, Calvinist, etc.), always gets the results that he wants, in the long run, anyway. “Chance” has no more ability to alter what evolution produces, in the long run, than Jonah has of NOT going to Nineveh. Chance can
 delay things and give local colour, but it cannot alter the outcomes which in God’s mind are the most important ones. Man’s creation, for example, was for Gould by no means certain; if the tape were re-rolled, there might still be only dinosaurs. And Gould’s position must be true for any consistent neo-Darwinism. For a theist, on the other hand, man’s creation was certain."

CHRISTINE: I generally have no problem with your proposed TE view, except to reiterate that the TE view would not characterize God as Deistic merely because He "front-loaded" creation or He allowed nature to take its course apart from any miraculous interventions. A Deistic God would entail that once created, He never involved Himself in creation again; TEs would assert that He became involved when the time was right, to establish a relationship with humanity and to achieve humanity's redemption, as reflected in the Bible. A pause (so to speak) in involvement is not the same thing as leaving the room altogether (so to speak). Indeed, I would speculate that such a "pause" in involvement to just "sit back" and observe creation evolve might have been in accordance with God's will, in that He could enjoy His Sabbath rest and just take joy from watching it unfold before Him.

A few comments on the role of "chance" however. You note that chance can "delay things and give local color" so long as God achieves His objectives in the end. I agree. I see the mechanisms of RM + NS as providing that type of constrained diversity, or undirected direction, so to speak. However, you note at the end that "For a theist, on the other hand, man’s creation was certain." I would qualify that statement. Here, the underlying assumption is that modern day humans, in their current form, were originally intended by God and therefore certain. But, suppose we did "reroll" the tape, and dinosaurs were still around rather than humans. But in this scenario, RM + NS continued the evolution of dinosaurs such that eventually, the dinosaurs obtained the same rational, emotional, and spiritual capacities as we have today--just in a different biological form. Would God's purpose have been achieved? I think it might have been, because I suspect God was more
 concerned with instituting a relationship with His creation than in what particular physical form those creatures took when they received Him.

Okay, I think I've gone on long enough. Looking forward to continuing the conversation!

In Christ,
Christine (ASA member)

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Received on Fri Sep 26 13:41:44 2008

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