[asa] Rejoinder 2C from Timaeus: to Allan Harvey

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 14:55:46 EDT

Rejoinder 2C from Timaeus: to Allan Harvey

Continuing on my second round of rejoinders, I would like to reply to Dr. Harvey’s second post. He says of my argument:

In explaining what he [Timaeus] found unsatisfactory about "Darwinian mechanisms" as
explanations for biological evolution, he objected to explanations that did
not allow for "direct divine governance", that did not have room for God to
"direct evolution personally".


But here is what I actually wrote:


        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.


In what I wrote, I was not “objecting to explanations that did not allow for direct divine governance”; that is, I was not stating any preference of my own for direct divine governance. I was making no theological statement of my own view at all. I was analyzing certain suggested combinations of ideas, and trying to show logical inconsistencies in those combinations. I will try to uncompact my tight paragraph. I was saying, in effect:

1. Theistic evolutionists (or some of them, anyway) claim to combine orthodox Christianity with neo-Darwinian evolution, which they deem to be the correct scientific explanation for the origin of species. Such theistic evolutionists should be called, in my view, theistic Darwinists, because they accept not just evolution, but specifically Darwinian evolution. (See my post to Mr. Opderbeck for my operating definitions.)
2. In orthodox Christianity, God is Creator, so God creates everything, including the species.
3. Yet in neo-Darwinism, random mutations plus natural selection create the species.
4. To resolve this apparent contradiction, theistic evolutionists (theistic Darwinists) therefore say something like: God created the species, not directly by discrete divine acts, but through a process of evolution, employing random mutations plus natural selection.
5. There seem to be only two ways God could create species “through” evolution: (1) directly, by intervening in the course of nature, at one or more points throughout the evolutionary process (i.e., by performing spot miracles); or (2) indirectly, by setting up natural laws and establishing the properties of natural substances in advance, in such a way that they would produce all the species, by “unfolding” their implicit properties over time. The latter alternative is often called “front-loading”.
6. Darwin absolutely forbade even the tiniest smidgin of divine intervention within his theory, calling it an appeal to miracles, and unscientific. For him, Nature must be able to produce all the species by random mutations (variation) and natural selection alone. And his successors, the neo-Darwinians (see the long list I gave Mr. Opderbeck for examples), agree with him – in Spades!
7. Therefore, to adopt the view that God directly intervenes in evolution is to say that Darwin was in an important way incorrect, and means that TE does not, despite its claims, agree completely with Darwinian evolution, or accept all of neo-Darwinism.
8. Suppose a TE is unwilling to renounce the complete correctness of Darwin. Then, from what was just said, the TE must adopt the second way of getting species made, i.e., front-loading.
9. But front-loading does not meet the need to keep ALL of Darwin, either, because front-loading cannot work if there is any significant chance element. Front loading has to guarantee what will happen billions of years ahead of time, and it can’t do this if serious mischances could occur after only, say, a thousand years. So if front-loading is true, the amount of “chance” involved in generating mutations must be negligible; the generation of species must proceed by a series of inescapable necessities. But Darwinism in its unadulterated, un-Christianized form requires great gobs of chance. Therefore, front-loading denies an essential aspect of the Darwinian mechanism.
10. Therefore, front-loading, like spot miracles, implies a rejection by TE theorists of part of Darwinian theory. The claim that TE can find complete agreement with Darwinian mechanisms is therefore false.
11. And there is another problem with front-loading, a theological one. (And I don’t mean a problem for me, but for TEs.) Many TEs (e.g., Ken Miller) accuse ID of having a mechanical or Deistic God who does not act in a sufficiently personal way or dialogical way with his creation. They thus imply that they will accept only a dynamic, personalistic God.
12. Yet the God of front-loading is like the Deist God, a virtual absentee God; he throws the loaded dice, then retires. He cannot interact with nature any more, beyond the initial act of creation, or nature will no longer be “law-bound”, and the TE conception of “naturalistic” science will fall by the wayside. TEs should then, out of consistency, reject the front-loading God.
13. But if they do, then they have rejected both of the alternatives given above, meaning that God cannot be creator at all, if Darwinism is true. (And, as I must stress over and over again, I mean “Darwinism” in the pure form I have explained elsewhere, i.e., Darwinian evolution, evolution proceeding by Darwinian mechanisms, not simply “evolution” or “common descent”, neither of which is problematic for creation doctrine, Christianity, or theism.)
14. Therefore, theistic evolution (understood as theistic Darwinism) is, any way you slice it, a theoretical mess.

Can theistic evolution be rescued from this mess? Sure, by doing what I have already said, to David Opderbeck. Drop the grand claims of self-sufficiency for the Darwinian mechanism, to make room for another cause, on another level of causation: intelligent design. (Not “ID”, just lower-case intelligent design.) And now, with the “Darwinism” part weakened, by the denial of the full efficacy of the Darwinian mechanism, the title “theistic evolutionism” will fit perfectly.
And the crucial point here is that THIS type of theistic evolutionism would not be incompatible with ID, at least, not with those types of ID that accept common descent. This type of theistic evolution would include Michael Behe and Michael Denton (if we assume that Denton believes in God as the source of the evolutionary program). Indeed, Denyse O’Leary, whom many think of as the arch-enemy of TE, has said that if theistic evolution were understood in some such way, she could be classed as a theistic evolutionist. It is not “theistic evolutionism”, understood as God creating species through an evolutionary process, that puts ID people off. It is the self-contradictory assertions made by TE people in trying to hold together pure Darwinism with orthodox Christian creation doctrine.

Now, lest Dr. Harvey should say, in shock, “You are asking us essentially to surrender TE and adopt the ID position”, I reply, I am not. Note that what I am suggesting makes NO decision regarding two things:

1. Whether the design is inserted into nature by miraculous, particular acts of God (the “creationist” position), or through purely naturalistic processes (e.g., front-loading);
2. Whether the design is formally detectable within the province of natural science.

These questions can be left aside for further debate. Personally, I am indifferent regarding #1, and I think the answer to #2 is yes, but that doesn’t matter here.

The point is that TE and ID can be brought together, to some extent, if only TEs would turn to the atheist Darwinists (Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, etc.) and say something like this:

“We agree with you atheist Darwinists about the fact of evolution as common descent, from bacteria to man. Many of us would go further, and make it “from molecules to man”. However, regarding the mechanism of evolution, you atheist Darwinists say that natural selection plus random mutation, supplemented by neither pre-planning of the universe to guarantee particular outcomes (front-loaded design), nor by specific events involving the insertion of design at various points during evolution (spot-miracle design), adequately account for the arising of every species that has ever lived on this planet. We disagree. We think that, while random mutations and natural selection have certainly played a role, they are inadequate as a full explanation of evolution, EVEN WITHIN SCIENCE, for the complexity that occurs. Strictly within the limits of science (as opposed to gratuitous speculation) you have provided no evidence that RM + NS can create all the things that you say it !
 has created. You have proved that it can lengthen a finch beak. You have proved it can substitute one or two amino acids to confer immunity to antibiotic immunity upon one-celled creatures. You have proved that it can change the colour of a fruit fly’s eye. In other words, you have proved that it can make trivial changes, below the species level. But you have no observational or experimental proof that the Darwinian mechanism can do much more than this. Darwinian mechanisms are not even 1% of the way towards explaining (in rigorous genetic and developmental detail, not in mere general outline) the evolution of any complex organ, system, or organism. Richard Dawkins’s account of the origin of the eye in The Blind Watchmaker is non-quantified, mechanism-less, imaginative storytelling, not hard experimental or theoretical science. (No math, no model: no science.) Absent any demonstration in detail of vast powers attributed to random mutations and natural selectio!
 n, the most rational conclusion, consistent with the current e!
 is that Darwinian mechanisms must somehow have been supplemented by design. We do not say that the design element was inserted by means of violations of normal natural laws, but we mean that it has somehow been imposed upon or insinuated into living nature. And as Christians, we have a suggestion where the design element came from.”

If any TEs on this list would be willing to say this, or something close to this, many ID people (many of whom are already theistic evolutionists in a broad sense) would join hands with them immediately, would stop doubting the sincerity of their Christianity, and would stop accusing them of selling out to the atheists. But are there any here who would assent to a statement such as this? And if not, where is the sticking point? Is it in the theology? Or the science? I would appreciate it if people would explain why, with specific reference to the text of the statement, they could not accept it, or anything like it.

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Received on Mon Sep 29 14:56:38 2008

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