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

From: Christine Smith <>
Date: Wed Oct 01 2008 - 15:10:41 EDT

Hi all,

Ted--sorry for another post, as I know you asked for a pause/slow down; just wanted to draw out/highlight a point or two, which I think, theologically speaking, represent a sticking point least in my mind...

Timeaus wrote:
"If pure Darwinism IS the truth, then, in my judgment, it is an ugly truth...Either we are a pointless accident or we aren’t. A stand must be taken. I’ve taken mine. I say we aren’t a pointless accident, not only for all kinds of positive reasons based on our nature and the nature of the world, but because the main arguments that caused people to think that we ARE a pointless accident came from an allegedly scientific argument (Darwin’s), and that argument is empirically very, very weak. Blind matter simply can’t do what Darwin says it can."

Dennis wrote:
"The notion that something "random" is outside the providence of God is an interesting position to take theologically, to say the least...Is it your position that God cannot use a process that has a random component?


I think this is where I lose your argument.

I have no problem with the idea of questioning Darwinian mechanisms on their scientific basis, and appreciate your boldness in doing so. As a non-biologist, I am more than willing to admit that 1) I have accepted those mechanisms largely on faith in the research that scientists have done and 2) That the theory may be incomplete and/or flawed (though it sounds reasonable enough to me).

However, whether Darwinian mechanisms are true or not, it doesn't bother my faith; whereas it seems to challenge yours. Particularly, you have highlighted the role of randomness/chance in the process, and have postulated that this role, as being one of the two central drivers of (Darwinian) evolution, is incompatible with Christian theology. In the excerpt above, you seem to equate chance/randomness, with purposelessness. That somehow, if RM + NS indeed explains, or mostly explains common descent, that this makes us a "pointless accident", and that in rerolling the tape, we may not have been the end result.

But I think Dennis's question to you gets at the very heart of this issue. Is your faith equally challenged by the seeming randomness of chaos theory and or the probabilities introduced by quantum physics? Would you say that those are outside of God's providence, and thus incompatible with Christian theology because their effects are "pointless accidents"? Perhaps you could clarify how these cases are different than Darwinian mechanisms?

Moreover, why do you equate randomness/chance with purposelessness? Being in this debate for awhile, I'm sure that you have heard the example of purposefull randomness being employed in a coin toss to determine who goes first in a game...could not God use randomness in a purposeful way?

Per my earlier post, I also question how you define the "we" in "we ARE a pointless accident"? Perhaps a few analogies would be helpful, before I make my point/ask my question...

Let's say that there are 2 people which observe a dart board. Both notice that a dart has not hit the bulls eye. One person says that the dart has hit the target, the other argues that the dart has not hit the target. Who is right? They argue back and forth until they realize that they are talking about two different "targets"--one is referring to the dart board itself, the other is referring to the bulls eye.

Again, let's say that a parent has given their child $100, and instructs them to do with it as they please, so long as they save $10 of it and they do not spend any of the rest on video games or CDs. The child then goes out and purchases $90 worth of candy. Has the parent's will been achieved?

Again, let's say that my husband asks me to bring him a drink. Upon asking him what he would like, he shrugs his shoulders and says, "surprise me". I bring him a glass of milk. Does he quench his thirst? Or, let's say I have the opportunity to sneak into the closet to peak at the Christmas presents my parents bought me, but I don't because I want to be surprised. Do I receive greater enjoyment in this way?

Finally, let's look at your example of the architect and construction workers. Suppose your architect hands the construction workers some basic blueprints and a variety of different tools and materials to do the work. The builders go to work, but have to decide--blue paint or white paint for the kitchen? And oops, we cut the wood 6 inches shorter than specified in the door frame...time to make adjustments. When all is said and done, has the house been constructed? Can a family live in it?

My point in all of this, if you haven't caught on by now (you probably have), is that in order to determine if RM + NS = "pointless accident", you have to already have in mind what your desired outcome is (or, conversely, what isn't your desired outcome). Is the target the dart board (as opposed to the wall) or is it specifically the bull's eye? Is the parent's goal to restrict the child from buying candy, or is to teach the child something about financial stewardship and making choices? Is my husband's goal to have juice instead of milk, or to quench his thirst? Is my goal to know what my presents are, or to take joy from unwrapping them as my parents look on with anticipation? Is the goal to have a house with exactly all blue-painted walls and down to the millimeter in measurements, or is it to construct a home that a family can live in?

You have already admitted that you cannot get inside the mind of the Designer...yet here, implicitly, you seem to be seeing that WE (humanity) are the specific goal, and moreover, that humanity in its current form is the specific goal. Am I right in understanding what you are thinking? But on what basis do you claim to know His goals in creation? On the basis of the Bible? If so, let's pull out the Scriptures and start the conversation there. On the basis of your opinion that humanity is the pinnacle of creation? If so, let's start talking about why hold this view and what other views might there be. On the basis of science or what inferred designs and natural theology you have extracted from your studies? If so, then let's start talking about the research and how this leads to your interpretation of the data. Regardless, to say that RM + NS = "pointless accident", you have establish what a "non-pointless accident" is, and how RM + NS would lead to one
 and not the other.

To be clear, I don't necessarily disagree with you if you speculate that we, in our specific form, was the goal (at least one of the goals) of God in creation. But I don't think we can know this for sure, or that if we do know this is a goal, we can't know for sure what all of His other goals might have been. I don't think that, as per my earlier post, we can assume that He wasn't looking for something broader, like "a creature with whom I can establish a relationship with" or "a universe which has an ever increasing diversity of lifeforms in it" or "a world which I can become incarnate within and interact with" or "a galaxy that unfolds before me that I can enjoy, but not necessarily foreknow its exact form and shape." Perhaps it was all of these, or none of these. But I don't think that any of these, if true, make the universe "undesigned", nor do I think that necessarily makes God deistic in character. I don't think that any of these (save perhaps my
 last speculation) would violate God's sovereignty or will, or would be incompatible with Christian theology (please correct me, anyone, if I'm wrong here; I still have much to learn). And therefore I don't think, that a universe in which God uses RM + NS to create species *to achieve His purpose(s)*, is an "ugly truth".

So I guess my bottom line question to you, Timeaus, is why do seemingly view chance/randomness as contrary to God's character within a Christian theological framework, and what do you believe about God's purpose for creation (if you'd want to speculate at all)?

Anyway, my lunch break has run way over, so I best be off.
In Christ,

--- On Mon, 9/29/08, Dennis Venema <> wrote:

> From: Dennis Venema <>
> Subject: Re: [asa] Rejoinder 2D from Timaeus: to Dennis Venema
> To: "Ted Davis" <>, "" <>
> Date: Monday, September 29, 2008, 10:26 PM
> 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.
> I'm glad that Ted also noticed the striking parallel
> between your line of argumentation and the classic
> "operations science / historical science" divide
> promoted by YECs. I agree with Ted that you're walking
> very close to that line, and that you're taking a
> position working scientists (such as myself) reject. The
> ability to make predictions and test hypotheses is not
> limited to the so-called "operational" sciences.
> (snip)
> 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.
> The notion that something "random" is outside the
> providence of God is an interesting position to take
> theologically, to say the least. I would recommend Loren
> Haarsma's chapter in Perspectives on an Evolving
> Creation (Chapter 5) on this issue. Is it your position that
> God cannot use a process that has a random component? What
> about current biological systems that employ randomness
> (chromosome segregation during meiosis or the formation of
> antibodies in mammals come to mind as examples)? These even
> fall under your definition of "operations science"
> - i.e. they are happening now and we can examine them. If
> God seems pleased to use random processes (and indeed, for
> all we can determine, they are random) in biological systems
> today, why not in the past?
> thanks for the ongoing discussion,
> dennis

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Received on Wed Oct 1 15:11:02 2008

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