[asa] Response to Timaeus-- on two truths

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Wed Oct 01 2008 - 14:08:48 EDT

Timaeus wrote the following very blunt passage that I will respond to now:

<The idea that something could be metaphysically true and scientifically false, or vice versa, is typical of the soul-destroying, culture-destroying dualisms that have plagued the modern world since Descartes. There is only one world, not two; there is only one “nature”, not two; there is only one “human nature”, not two. If evolution shows us that we IN FACT arose by accident, REAL accident, then we have a conflict. Unless you are willing to use the word “truth” in two entirely different senses in the two fields, the teaching that we arose by accident can’t be a truth in science, but a falsehood in theology. Yet at times Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott (not that she cares at all about religion, except for PR purposes) have said exactly this: that design might be the true picture of nature, yet still be inappropriate for science class, where the only valid mode of explanation excludes design. This, of course, is supposed to make Christian students and parent!
 s feel better about having Darwinism taught as unchallenged orthodoxy in science class. But in fact this phoney dualism is just an excuse for making sure that the students never hear the arguments of Bergson, Denton, Behe, Dembski, von Sternberg, Antony Flew, Berlinski, etc., because Miller and Scott deftly, slyly, and basely equate questions about “design” with questions about “higher purpose or meaning in life” or “proof of supernatural beings” or the like.
Frankly (and again, I’m not sure this is what you meant, and probably you didn’t, but I think some other TEs may well believe this), I think that the “two truth” position is based on fear. It’s an attempt to shield the truths of theology from the truths of science, to make sure they can never conflict. (I think it’s no accident that those who use language that sounds vaguely like “two truths” are generally against even the possibility of design detection, because design, if detectable, would join the two worlds – the world of truths known about God exclusively through faith, and truths known about the world exclusively through science -- that they have spent many years learning how to keep asunder.) To me, this is every bit as reprehensible as the position of those YECs who – also out of fear – won’t honestly face the evidence of radioactive dating or geology. Personally, I prefer people who are intellectually fearless. I prefer people who can st!
 are truth in the face…>

Well, Timaeus, I would say that Owen Gingerich is intellectually fearless. As you may know, for decades he’s been giving a talk called “Dare a Scientist Believe in Design?” on university campuses all across the nation, and b/c his answer is “Yes,” he gets pounded by many on the atheist side of the argument. (And, I note, his activities never seem to be noticed by Denyse O’Leary over on UcD. Denyse likes to repeat a mantra about TEs never having the guts to take on the “Darwinists,” and since she equates “Darwinism” with atheism, this collapses into the claim that TE’s are scared to challenge atheism. She did grant once, with considerable reluctance, that Francis Collins’ debate with Richard Dawkins in the pages of “Time” magazine actually counted, but thus far this seems to function for her as the exception that proves the rule. This type of cavalier disregard for the facts is one of the reasons why many TEs find it so difficult to separate I!
 D ideas from the ID movement.)

Gingerich counts. His activities have counted for at least 30 years, and his recent book, “God’s Universe,” lectures delivered in the mouth of the shark (Harvard’s own campus, the campus of Pinker and Wilson and formerly of Gould), is just one more piece of evidence that he’s intellectually fearless. But, unless I’m mistaken, Timaeus, Gingerich endorses the “two truths” view of evolution. Or, does he? Let’s take a careful look at what he says on pp. 100-102, in the midst of a chapter revealingly called “Questions Without Answers.” Owen speaks:

<Earlier I asked whether the forces shaping our universe might be divine—that is, ordained by a spirit of purpose and intention. With the openness that physics has revealed at the most fundamental levels of the universe, such forces, lying outside the gates of science, could well be present. Whether they exist might be another of the those fundamental questions without answers, and as the physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne has written, “physics—or science generally—constrains metaphysics, but it does not determine it, just as the foundations of a house constrain what can be built on them, but they do not determine the actual form of the edifice.” We can look with awe and wonder at an unexpected mutation, regardless of whether we are religious, and the science will be the same. Let us be perfectly clear about what I am arguing. Whether the mutations are anything other than mathematically random is a question without an answer *in a physical or scientifi!
 c sense*. But my subjective, metaphysical view, that the universe would make more sense if a divine will operated at this level to design the universe in a purposeful way, can be neither denied nor proved by scientific means. It is a matter of belief or ideology how we choose to think about the universe, and it will make no difference how we do our science. One can *believe* that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance, but if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as will his atheistic colleague across the hall. And probably both will approach some of the astonishing adaptations in nature with a sense of surprise, wonder, and mystery.>

IMO, Timaeus, here Owen has rather eloquently set down one of the most basic differences of opinion between an ID approach and a TE approach to the question of design or purpose. For IDs, this is a scientific question, pure and simple; for most TEs, it’s a metaphysical and theological question, but not pure and simple, insofar as scientific knowledge helps to draw the inference. That seems a pretty subtle difference, but apparently it’s very important to all concerned. IMO, failure openly to acknowledge this as a legitimate difference of opinion about the nature of the inference is one of the factors driving someone like O’Leary to claim that TE’s are just wimps who won’t take on the “Darwinist” establishment. Which just isn’t true, not at all—but the message doesn’t seem to be getting across.

Timaeus, would you say that Owen endorses the “two truths” in this passage? It’s your term, and you’ve undoubtedly thought more about it than I have, but my sense is that he doesn’t exactly do it here. You said this: “If evolution shows us that we IN FACT arose by accident, REAL accident, then we have a conflict. Unless you are willing to use the word “truth” in two entirely different senses in the two fields, the teaching that we arose by accident can’t be a truth in science, but a falsehood in theology.” Since Owen believes (as I do) that science just can’t answer the question of whether or not mutations are truly accidental, then apparently there is no conflict and no appeal to two truths. But, I’d like your opinion.

Thank you,

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Received on Wed Oct 1 14:09:31 2008

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