[asa] Rejoinder 2E from Timaeus: to Randy Isaac

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 15:14:23 EDT

Rejoinder 2E from Timaeus: to Randy Isaac

In reply to Randy Isaac from Sept 23:

I think that some of your questions, regarding how ID fits in with common descent, I’ve clarified in later replies to the others, so I won’t repeat it all, and will ask you to read my various posts to Mr. Opderbeck, Dr. Harvey, etc. But I’ll add some new thoughts here.

I want to admit the degree of certainty I have about these matters. I am not saying that I have a 100% clear picture in my own mind of how to put the two (ID and common descent) together. The writer who has done this the most persuasively is Michael Denton, and I’m not even sure about the viability of his presentation of the notion. It seems to me that his position can be attacked on some fronts. But it also seems to me that, even if his approach is finally flawed, something like it must be asserted, IF you want a wholly naturalistic account of the origin of species, while retaining both evolution (understood as common descent) and design. (For this reason I want to read Mike Gene’s book, because I think that it may meet all these requirements; perhaps he can account for things that Denton cannot.)

Of course, ID is also compatible with two other positions: (1) blunt creationism, in which it’s simply asserted that God created the species separately (provided it allows for some microevolution and an old earth); (2) a compromise between evolutionary naturalism and creationist non-naturalism, whereby you have Darwinian or other naturalistic processes chugging along, modifying basic types such as carnivores or rodents or whatever, into new families, genera and species, with occasional discontinuities introduced miraculously, e.g., when it’s necessary to create one or more new body plans (as in the Cambrian Explosion, for example; one could also postulate a special “rupture event” for the creation of man). Neither one of these options appeals to me, and I know that they don’t appeal to most TEs; I’m including them, however, because they, like the front-loading option, are compatible with the design inference.

You see, I start from the phenomena, not from theology (as many TEs seem to do), or from some abstract alleged requirement of scientific theorizing (as Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, Jerry Coyne, Michael Ruse, etc. do, when they insist on “methodological naturalism”). I start from what nature seems to be like when we employ our five senses and our reason to perceive and understand it. This is, of course a Greek rather than a Christian or secular atheist approach. Using this approach, I find that there is design. Further, I find that it cannot be explained away as only “apparent design”. I find that no proposed Darwinian mechanisms are even plausible for things like the circulatory system, the brain, the inner life of the cell, the vertebrate eye, the DNA-protein interactions, etc. I find the idea that these things arose by chance (even aided by natural selection) preposterous. I find the “hypothetical evolutionary pathways” by which Darwinians try to explain t!
 hese things to be (a) woefully incomplete on every level of detail, incomplete to such an extent that they would never be accepted as causal explanations in fields like physics and chemistry; and (b) utterly untestable. I have no reason to put faith in any of them. It seems to me that, whatever role natural selection and chance mutations have played (and I grant they have played a role), they are an incomplete explanation for what my senses and reason reveal to me.

Does this mean that I supplement Darwinism with intelligent design, as a miraculous gap-filler? Not at all. The two explanations are on a different level.

Both an architect and a work crew are responsible for putting up a skyscraper. The architect does none of the physical work whatsoever. If you watched the skyscraper go up, you would see only physical, material causes: two-legged, two-armed arrangements of flesh and sinew manipulating concrete, iron, wire, glass, etc., in complete accord with the laws of physics. You could explain the entire construction activity without once using the word “intelligence”, or the word “design”, just by recounting the series of physical events which brought the building to completion. Yet would anyone say that this fully explains the building? Of course it doesn’t. One can’t understand how the building came to be, even if one had a fully naturalistic account of its construction, without reference to the architect’s plan. The architect is the intelligent designer. But he doesn’t intervene. He doesn’t miraculously create new steel girders out of thin air, or miraculo!
 usly materialize lunches for the work crew. He does nothing, as far as we can see, but sit there and watch. But he’s the ultimate cause, or one of the ultimate causes, of the existence of the building.

I see the relation between intelligent design and common descent along these lines. The organic activities of mutation and natural selection (and whatever other non-Darwinian natural causes might exist that we don’t yet know about) are the workmen who put up the building; the intelligent designer, who for most ID people is God, is the architect. And here is the problem with Darwinism. In Darwinism, there’s no guarantee that the building will be built properly, or even be built at all, because the workers aren’t bound to follow the plan. In fact, in Darwinism, in its pure, un-Christianized form, there isn’t any plan, and there can’t be any plan. The whole point of Darwin’s writing the Origin was to provide an account of the origin of species in which there was no plan. Variations happen, and depending on the time and place, they are useful or harmful. If they are harmful, the line is terminated. If they are useful, the line carries on, in large numbers, an!
 d becomes a base for further variation. But the variations have natural (if unknown) causes. And the variations aren’t “trying” to achieve anything. They are entirely unaware of whether they will be harmful or helpful in the local situation. Thus, Darwin’s view of nature is radically chance-driven. And workers who work by chance make a lousy work crew if you are trying to ensure that a given building will be up and inhabitable a certain number of years from now. You can’t be sure, once you hire those workers. They may go on strike. They may be incompetent. They may sabotage it. You don’t know whether you are going to get a really good building, done on time, or a mediocre building, done on time, or a good building, done late, or an unsafe building, or a church instead of a skyscraper, or even no building at all. Once you hire the Chuck U. Darwin Construction Co., it’s out of your hands. And my two objection to this are: (1) The Biblical and Christ!
 ian view of the world makes it crystal-clear that God has cont!
 rol over
 what is going to happen; nothing, or at least nothing crucial, depends on chance; (2) I cannot believe that workers so erratic and unreliable as those described by Darwinism could build anything complex that works very well, and, despite the flaws in living things, they are still incredibly integrated, complex systems that, on the whole, work very well.

So there’s design in nature. There are also flaws. But the design overcomes the flaws, for the most part, because the workers aren’t Darwinian workers. They are workers who don’t go on strike, who don’t sabotage, and who try to follow the plan to the last detail. They can do this, because, unlike the “workers” conceived of neo-Darwinism (atoms and molecules that have no natural propensity towards order, and only come into complex organic combinations with the aid of a lot of luck), they are designed for order from the beginning, designed to fall into certain patterns. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t see the nice upward progression from simple sub-cellular quasi-organisms all the way to us. Life isn’t a lucky break that happened by a cosmic freak (as it must be, if extended Darwinism, a la Sagan, is the correct account of nature); the cosmos was designed to produce it. That’s Denton’s argument, anyway.

But let’s say that Denton’s wrong. Let’s say there’s no natural propensity of atoms and molecules to combine and evolve towards man. Let’s say that the design of future biological forms can’t be front-loaded into the first DNA. Well, design is still here. Design, or at least apparent design, is an inescapable datum of nature. So I’d then have two choices: real design plus miracles, and apparent design plus dumb luck. In that case, I’d pick miracles. Miracles suggest an ordering Mind, which rules the universe; and I’m a Greek, by Zeus! I can’t give up Mind. And I wouldn’t require many miracles, just the ones mentioned in compact form in Genesis 1. After that, everything could proceed entirely naturalistically. Science would remain untouched and unchallenged (except when it speculated about origins in terms of dumb luck), and could proceed full steam ahead to unravel all the mysteries of DNA, embryonic development, physiology, ecology, etc. B!
 ut I’m getting ahead of myself, because front-loading hasn’t been disproved yet.

Regarding your design detection challenge, see my post #160 to Ted Davis, in the “AAAS Response to Expelled” thread on Uncommon Descent, where I invent the “Martian Mt. Rushmore” example. I’ll only discuss design detection with someone who’s willing to grasp that bull by the horns. The link is:

="http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/aaas-response-to-expelled/"MACROBUTTONHtmlResAnchorhttp://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/aaas-response-to-expelled/

As for your remark about “asymptotic limit”, that’s too weak a claim, because I think ID and TE don’t just approach each other, but actually overlap, if only for a small area. Imagine a Venn diagram, with the following circles: (1) acceptance of common descent; (2) acceptance of design; (3) doubt of the full powers claimed for Darwinian mechanisms, implying a non-Darwinian or at least more-than-Darwinian model of living nature; (4) orthodox Christian understanding of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, providence, etc.; (5) acceptance of naturalistic causation only. The area where those five circles overlap, ID and TE can share. And if you drop requirement (5) – which some TEs have said in this conversation they might, since they have admitted to believing in miracles and that it’s wrong to say what God might or might not have done – then the overlap area would be larger, because that would allow for many more supporters of ID to come aboard. In other words,!
  I see the possibility of a 10%, 25%, or maybe even higher overlap between TEs and those ID people who self-identify as Christian. It really depends on (3). TEs, or at least some of them, must come to doubt the omnicompetence of the Darwinian mechanism. They don’t have to deny the existence of mutations or natural selection as we can observe them in the field and lab. They don’t have to doubt that mutations can confer antibiotic resistance. What they have to come to doubt is that Darwinian evolutionary biology can explain all adaptations and all novel complex structures without reference to design.

I have no idea how to instill that doubt in people that don’t have it, but if I may make a Pauline-style confessional here: I used to accept neo-Darwinism as virtually my personal religion. I thought that everything happened by chance and natural laws. I practically worshipped Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Jastrow. I read their writings over and over again, like a beloved catechism. I went to university on a science scholarship, to follow in their footsteps. But somehow, somewhere, I started doubting. It had nothing to do with religion. It was intellectual doubt, intellectual skepticism. The mathematics against the chance creation of complexity, and a whole bunch of things. Finally, I started reading Plato. From that point on, I was tremendously impressed by the rationality and order of the world, and also became devoted to the Socratic, philosophical view of life, which means the critical view of life, criticism of all dogmatic truths, not just religious!
  dogmas but anti-religious dogmas as well. And much of Darwinism, certainly of its public relations, was anti-religious dogma. Much of the science in evolutionary books was not proved, but just assumed, since it was the science that had to be true if materialism was true (and popular Darwinism was committed to materialism). And so I demanded that Darwinism prove itself to me. I’ve demanded that for 20-30 years now. And Darwinism has been a no-show. Only four years ago did I read Michael Behe, for non-religious reasons. Behe confirmed what I had been suspecting for years, that the Emperor has no clothes. I became involved in ID because of Behe. I had no interest in defending a literal reading of Genesis. I believed that the earth was 4.5 billion years old, that Henry Morris was a nut, and that the Flood was a moral tale. I was interested only in finding out how much of Darwinism was fact, as opposed to conjecture and speculation. So I read Dembski and Behe and !
 Meyer and Wells and Berlinski and Granville Sewell, and this y!
 ear, Den
ton. To make sure I wasn’t hearing only one side, I read Darwin, Dawkins and Miller with extreme care. (I loved reading Darwin, by the way. I really wanted to believe him, just because he was such a superb writer, thinker, observational biologist, and civilized gentleman. And the Origin is one of the finest pieces of scientific reasoning ever, its only drawback being that its major conclusion is false.) And I read Collins. And Ayala. And all the expert witness reports and testimony of the Darwinist experts at the Dover Trial. And lots of the blather on Eugenie Scott’s NCSE site. And every negative review of Behe’s second book by the Darwinist big guns, and all his rejoinders. And having now contemplated both sides, I remain convinced that Darwinism, as mechanism, is mostly bluff and speculation. And if Darwin was wrong, then the explanation that he consciously rejected, and expressly sought to eliminate, i.e., design, can in principle make a comeback.

So that’s where I am. And you, too, can become a Darwin-doubter. All you have to do is use your mind, be skeptical, and challenge the evolutionary biologists prove their claims. And when you discover that they can’t, the liberation this will provide for your Christian thinking will be immense. “Nature”, formerly constrained in your mind within the narrow confines of 19th-century materialism, will seem a much deeper, richer, bigger place than you thought. You’ll gain a much fuller speculative scope for the theological task of thinking about God and nature than Darwinism will ever allow you.

Dump Darwin. You’ll be glad you did.

(Excuse me; I had to step out for a moment, and it appears that some coffee-house-evangelical orator took control of my keyboard for the last two paragraphs. I’ll see that it doesn’t happen again. J )

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Received on Mon Sep 29 15:15:09 2008

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