[asa] Rejoinder 2D from Timaeus: to Dennis Venema

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 15:21:24 EDT

To Dennis Venema:

I find your little parallel quite amusing. Well done. However, it misses the target, because you think I’m arguing something that I’m not arguing. Let me explain.

Let’s start by making a distinction between the question how nature operates now, as we observe it in the field and in the lab, and the question how nature got to be the way it is. The latter cannot be observed; it can at best be inferred; and there is no guarantee that it can be reliably inferred. In some cases, perhaps in most cases, the latter question may fall outside of the province of science altogether. I think that ID has no argument with either TE or atheistic Darwinism about the need to carefully study how nature works now; the arguments seem to arise only when the question is how nature got to be the way it is.

For example, we can observe the motion of the planets, and come up with Kepler’s Laws, and Newton’s Laws, and so on. We say that is the way nature works now. And when we explain planetary motion, we don’t intrude particular acts of God, saying: “The Sun moves around the Galaxy by natural causes, but God pushes the earth around the Sun on a daily basis.” We stick to a notion of natural causes. Similarly, in biology, we notice that certain processes take place in a regular way, which we can call the laws of biology. Breathing, sweating, digesting, etc., all occur according to regular principles which we can determine through natural science. All living things follow these principles or laws, and we don’t introduce God to explain these processes. So we don’t introduce God to explain developmental processes. We assume that cows and chickens and human beings all go through developmental processes in accord with biological laws.

However, to go back to the example of physics, can we give a law-bound explanation of where Newton’s laws came from? If so, how? Either they came into existence by law, or by a miracle of divine creation. But how can a law be brought into existence by another law? And if so, what law? Maybe through some law that prevailed only briefly, during the first millionth of a second after the Big Bang? But that just pushes it back one step. Where did that proto-Newtonian law come from? Ultimately, the buck stops somewhere. In the final analysis, laws can have no naturalistic explanation. Rather, they are the precondition of all naturalistic explanation. Christians and Jews and Muslims say that laws were created or established by God. And there’s nothing “unscientific” about believing that, because “science” only applies to the world in which there are already natural laws; about the world prior to that time, science can say nothing.

The same could apply to embryology. Within the development of any individual embryo, everything is governed by biological law. But what about the whole process of embryological development? Where did that come from? On analogy with the physics case, we would say that the laws of embryological development were created by God, just as the laws of physics were. And if the analogy holds, there would be absolutely no incompatibility between a Christian God and the laws of embryology. And essentially, I believe that’s true. I no more think we should invoke miracles to explain the development of an embryo than to explain the orbital path of a planet. And I don’t think it’s un-Christian to speak of embryology in naturalistic terms.

However, we are not talking about whether Christianity is incompatible with a naturalistic embryology. We are talking about whether Christianity is incompatible with Darwinism, and in particular, with the Darwinian mechanism (since the mere fact of evolution, within the definitions I’ve given, is mechanism-neutral, and therefore can’t speak to the question of causal origin). So we have to ask what is the relationship between Darwinian evolution and the whole process of embryology.
According to Darwinian evolution, the whole process of embryology did not come directly from God, but arose naturalistically through the evolutionary process. There’s no embryology in an amoeba, but there’s embryology in most of the higher creatures. So nature, not God, created the process of embryonic development, and nature created this process naturalistically.

Now here is the question: which is the proper parallel between planetary physics and embryology? Is it this?:
Newton’s Laws:orbit of Mars :: Laws of embryology:Darwin forming in the womb

Or is it this?:
Newton’s Laws:orbit of Mars :: Darwinian mechanisms (RM/NS):embryonic process

If it’s the first parallel, then there is no problem: God created both sets of laws, and Mars and Darwin are just examples of bodies of matter governed by these laws. No problem for Christianity there.

But if it’s the second parallel, there is indeed a problem for Christianity, because if a mechanism involving substantial randomness was responsible for creating creatures with embryos, then they might not have come into being at all. But for the Christian doctrine of creation, there is no possibility of that. Embryos were going to come into being, because God wanted them, and God’s will is not thwarted by chance. So we have an apparent contradiction.

How can we get around it? The first way is to say that God simply steps in, whenever he needs to, and overpowers chance by divine force, to drive evolution in the way he wants it to go. He might do this every moment, or every hour, or only once every billion years or so. But however often he does it, and whether it’s detectable or not, it’s a miracle, and it’s non-naturalistic causation breaking into nature. Darwin says “NO” to that. He says that if that happens, even once, then the theory of evolution is dead. If Darwin can’t have a fully naturalistic theory, he wants none at all. So IF you insist that Darwinism is completely right, then God can’t interact with nature during the evolutionary process. And if Christianity says that he sometimes does, or at least sometimes might, well, too bad for Christianity. When you sign on with Darwin the way Ken Miller has (“100% orthodox Darwinist”, he calls himself), your God can only perform the miracles tha!
 t Darwin will let him perform. And in this case, that’s zero. (But then, Miller contradicts himself, because he toys with the “God hides behind quantum indeterminacy” theory, and thus in effect says that Darwinism might not be 100% right. This is another example of the lack of theoretical discipline among TE writers.)

The second way is for God to “set up” evolution from the start, so that he doesn’t have to intervene. He can set up the laws of nature so that they will produce nucleic acids and amino acids, and set those up so that they will tend to combine in ever more complex combinations, until a cell is formed; and the cell will have in its DNA the potential for all further development that God wants to happen. So from a given starting point, 4 billion years ago or so, life evolves upon the earth necessarily, and the process of embryonic development evolves in due course, when it is needed. But note two problems with this. First, if God did it that way, then Darwinism is wrong about the mechanism of evolution; not chance but necessity rules. Second, if God does it this way, he is out of the picture as far as nature is concerned. He rolls the ball down the hill, and it gathers snow, and he does absolutely nothing but watch as it gets bigger and bigger, until it turns into a !
 snow-Man and ends up in an Arctic Garden of Eden, with his rather frosty (not to say frigid) wife, Arctic Eve. This front-loading God is a distant, Deistic God. If you read the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, with some care, i.e., not blinkered by post-Biblical theologies, you will see that this is nothing like the picture of God there described. In the Hebrew Bible God’s relationship with nature is intimate, connected with the events of time and history, and even quasi-personal. Also, though some Protestant traditions have argued that miracles ceased after the Apostolic era, it’s always been believed by many Christians that miracles are quite frequent occurrences, because God is always interacting with nature, as he always interacts with man. Nature and God have a more fluid, less rigid and distant relationship, in much of the history of Christianity than we are used to thinking about. But since the rise of modern science, the Protestant tradition that !
 miracles have ended has dovetailed very nicely with the wholly!
istic model of nature required by modern science, with the result that a good number of Protestants today view nature as inanimate and disconnected from God. In a sense, at least as far as the God-nature relationship is concerned, the typical modern Protestant is a practical Deist. He is Christian on questions of “spiritual” things, and ethical matters, but regarding nature, he’s essentially a Deist. And, while all of that certainly can’t be blamed on Darwin alone, but is part and parcel of modern science overall, Darwin put the icing on the cake by closing off the biological realm from a Biblical way of thinking about nature, as Descartes and Laplace and Mendeleev and Cavendish and so on had closed off the physical and chemical realms from that lively, Biblical vision of nature.

But I digress. I believe I have answered the question adequately. I don’t believe, and no ID person believes, that we should resort to miracles to interpret nature as it exists currently. But ID does assert that nature wouldn’t have come into existence in its current form, were there not some design lying behind it. There wouldn’t be Newton’s Laws, and there wouldn’t be embryological processes. And if the designer is God, and if God created species, and the embryological process itself, wholly naturalistically, through evolution, that’s for Christian ID people theologically OK; but if God did that, Darwin was wrong about how evolution worked. Bottom line: you can have the Christian God plus evolution, even evolution from molecules to man, and you can even have the Christian God plus evolution plus wholly naturalistic generation of species (if you don’t mind a half-Deistic Christianity, where God interacts only with man, never with nature), but you can’t!
  have the Christian God plus Darwin. Not if you mean the real Darwin, rather than a tamed, effete, Christianized Darwin. It’s that simple. TEs should drop Darwin and neo-Darwinism like a hot potato.

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Received on Mon Sep 29 15:22:08 2008

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