[asa] Rejoinder 4 from Timaeus – What Could Evolution Do if God Were Dead?

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 15:08:42 EDT

And now, for something completely different from Timaeus. I claim the bonus, incidentally (see below), but I'll keep quiet about it so as not to spoil the fun.

Timaeus will recall that, over on UcD, I asked him how he would answer Dick Bube's classic question about "God turning himself off," and we got turned off ourselves before he could get that far. Partly, my own answer to Timaeus is (like Socrates) to ask another question, namely, What would happen to us and the world if God were to "turn himself off"? This comes from Richard Bube, a former editor of the ASA journal, on p. 37 in his wonderful book, "The Human Quest." My own answer is, that nothing would exist--not us, and not the world either. In other words, Timaeus, "none of the above" in terms of your 4 options at the end. I know we aren't allowed to pick something else, under your rules, but please keep in mind that I've thought about this one for 30 years before seeing your story, and IMO that needs to be option 5. In other words, I didn't invent this answer as a cop-out; it's the answer I'd have given you in any such conversation, all along; it predates your scenar!
 io by a long time.

(And yes, Timaeus, I'd like to hear your answer to Bube's question. In return, I'll play along...)

However, I'll play along as if I were Bob Russell. I don't know how Bob would answer Dick's question, but I'll make a guess about how Bob would answer Timaeus. I think Bob would say, some variant of 3. Understanding that this isn't my own answer--I gave that above--I'll now pretend that this is my answer, and it will go like this (substantially rewording Timaeus' option 3):

<If life comes into existence somehow, it'll be a very fortunate event. Still, it might--before his death, God had made it possible for life to appear, in that the conditions of the universe God chose to create were finely tuned for this very purpose. But, since God isn't around to ensure that this purpose is fulfilled, this might not happen at all. God isn't working in the world to bring about God's purposes, and (pace Van Till) God might have withheld a few gifts that had been planned to be presented to the creation at a later time. We will never know, since God is not longer available to answer our questions at some point. If however life does appear, it might be only a happy accident, in which case Gould would have been right about that tape. (This begs the question of whether God had necessarily planned to create humans and only humans as the bearers of God's image, or whether God had planned to fulfill God's purposes by setting up a zillion planets for life and t!
 hen allowing the creation a measure of freedom to produce creatures of various sorts in various places, including various creatures bearing the divine image. For God could have done it like that, but unless we find the blueprints we won't know.) I think it more likely, however, that neither life nor advanced life would exist at all, if God weren't around to determine the outcomes of those "random" processes (a term that we mere creatures use when we're dumb as posts about why some specific event happened) that Darwin claimed were the whole story. And, in that case, Darwin wouldn't be around at all, and we wouldn't be having this exchange. God's actions on the creation are objective in this sense: if God didn't act to cause certain events, they would not have happened at that time and place; however, since there is considerable subtlety to the mind and character of a God who decides (according to those who knew God) to be born in human form in a stable and to be crucifie!
 d with common criminals, a subjective sense of God's actions i!
 s usuall
y (not always) the best that we can hope to have. Some call this faith; others call it stupidity. I call it the truth.>

Now, for Timaeus:


Dear ASA Members:
Thanks for the continuing conversation.
A number of replies suggest to me that I have not been able to get through on one central point, and I don’t think restating it in a prose argument will do any good, so I am going to try to make it in a new way.
I have been trying to say that Darwinian mechanisms (mainly RM + NS, but the neo-Darwinians have tacked on other stuff, like “drift”, which changes nothing from my point of view, since they still all boil down to unguided chance) are inadequate to produce complex organs, systems, and living beings. And I have been trying to say that for this reason, Christians can’t logically say: “God created all the species, but through a process of Darwinian evolution; therefore Darwinism is 100% correct as science, without impairing Christian faith in the slightest.”
Typical responses here have been to reassure me that TEs aren’t atheists, and that they admit that Darwinism isn’t the whole story; or to reassure me that Francis Collins or Ken Miller says that Darwinism isn’t the whole story, etc. But it is absolutely worthless, from my point of view, to hear that Darwinism isn’t the whole story and in the same breath to assert that WITHIN SCIENCE, Darwinism is absolutely true. There is a major blurring going on here, and I’m not sure how to address it, but I’ll try to do so with a literary device.
Allow me to playfully re-write the history of the universe a little. Let’s go back to the “Big Bang”. Let’s say that God started things going in whatever way current science now believes things got going. Let’s say he packed all the matter into a Primal Atom or “singularity” or whatever the current fashionable term is. (Cosmology seems to change about every five years these days, or faster, and I can’t keep up.) Let’s say he established the fundamental forces and constants that we know, and set up in advance the periodic table of elements that we know, etc. Now, imagine yourself as a silent, invisible observer, at the moment where the Big Bang is about to happen.
Now, enter “Dark Timaeus”. Dark Timaeus is my evil counterpart, a believer in anti-creation. Dark Timaeus possesses the most fearsome weapon ever known, or that ever will be known. It is called “the God Gun”. This God Gun is the only weapon capable of killing God. The story of how Dark Timaeus wickedly obtained the God gun from its secret hiding place is fascinating indeed, but need not occupy us here. The point is that he has it. Now, just after God has established all the natural laws and properties that the universe will have, Dark Timaeus (who has the power of becoming invisible, even to God) sneaks up and fires his weapon. God’s divine essence is dissolved, and he no longer exists. Dark Timaeus smiles wickedly.
The Big Bang occurs, and the universe expands in accordance with the laws that God established. (At this point, those of you educated in medieval theology may object: “But wait! What about God’s concurrence? Even regular natural laws require God’s “concurrence”, so if God is dead, won’t the laws stop working? Won’t the universe dissolve? Isn’t this whole story theologically impossible?” The long answer is: One of the special features of the God Gun, a feature which [for deep reasons which would take too long to relate here] was installed in it by God himself, is a switch. The user of the Gun can fire the Gun in two modes: if he is in a nihilistic mood, he can simply destroy God, and the universe with it; or he can activate the switch, which will cause the Gun, in the act of firing, to create a “Divine Concurrence Field”. The Divine Concurrence Field is in effect a copy of the original “spiritual software” by which God’s concurrence wit!
 h natural laws is maintained. If the would-be God-slayer hates only God, but not the universe itself, he can switch on the Field before doing his evil deed. In this way, the laws of nature and the existence of matter and energy will be preserved, even though God himself is dead. That is what Dark Timaeus chose to do. As I said, this is the long answer. The short answer is: This is just an illustrative fiction, you pedantic clod! Play along, will you?)
OK, so the universe expands, galaxies start forming, stars start forming, elements start being baked in the hearts of stars, planetary systems start forming, etc., etc. Anyone who reads popular science books ought to know the basic “Carl Sagan scenario”. So we know that eventually hard planets will form, and some of them will have water, oxygen, the right temperature, etc., in other words, earth-like conditions, to sustain carbon-based, intelligent life. Now arises the important question: can life begin, and march upwards, evolving towards man?
In considering this question, keep in mind what is ruled out. Since Dark Timaeus has slain God, God cannot intervene to produce life by specific acts. So Young Earth Creationism is ruled out, Old Earth Creationism is (I think) ruled out, and so is that version of TE which says that God actually does intervene in the evolutionary process, but does it hidden behind quantum indeterminacy (so we can’t see him doing it or realize it’s anything other than chance). It also rules out any other imaginative way that TEs might have come up with to make God personally but slyly active in the evolutionary process. God is dead. The cosmos is now all that is, or that will ever be. (Bonus points if you recognize the quotation.)
So, if life has to evolve, there would appear to be only two ways in which it can do so. First, IF God has very carefully planned the universe, so that the natural laws will eventually and necessarily produce one or more planets which develop a front-loaded DNA which contains the entire evolutionary program within it, then life and man can and will develop, by wholly naturalistic processes, even though God is dead. (Just as you can set a timer on your oven or your living room lights or your VCR so that they will turn on after you are dead.) Second, if God planned the universe to emerge naturally only up to the creation of watery planets, and was intending to supervise the creation of life and man personally when the time came, then the emergence of life and man is now entirely dependent upon chance. Will the right molecules come together to create amino acids and nucleotides? Will nucleic acids and proteins form? Will they remain stable for the millions of years likely!
  to intervene before chance incorporates them into a cell? And will that cell survive, and reproduce in sufficient numbers to guarantee the continuity of life? And will cells eventually learn to live in colonies? And then to diversify and specialize? And then will the whole thing by chance become rearranged so that colonies become single entities, and reproduce as such, becoming the first multicellular creatures? And will the right accidents (acting in co-operation with natural selection, of course) happen to the earliest creatures to make them more complex? Will the Cambrian Explosion occur? Will there be vertebrates? Will chance create a lungfish, then an amphibian, then reptiles, birds, mammals? Etc.
So, I’ve set up the alternatives. I’m now going to ask you all to enter imaginatively into my little fiction, and ask: What do you think will happen?
Here are your options:
1. Everything will evolve exactly as it did when God existed, because God front-loaded everything, making nature self-sustaining. We will be here, because the laws of nature are implicitly anthropocentric.
2. Everything will evolve just as it did when God existed, because, given billions of years of time, chance mutations plus other chance mechanisms plus natural selection are capable of doing exactly what neo-Darwinism says they are capable of – generating all species, including man. And since exactly the same initial conditions prevail upon the earth in this scenario as prevailed on the real earth, the same results will occur.
3. Life will probably come into existence, and if it does, it will evolve along Darwinian principles, and even complex, intelligent life forms may evolve, but the sequence of events, and many particulars, will be entirely different from what we know to have happened, because, as Gould says, every time you rewind the tape and play it again, the result is different. This is so even when the initial conditions are exactly the same on each occasion. This means that man may evolve, or that there may be intelligent octopuses or intelligent arthropods or intelligent bears instead, or that no beings of higher intelligence may evolve, or that no beings beyond one-celled creatures may come into existence. Just possibly, life may not even form.
4. Things will grind to a halt. There is no way anything as complex as a cell will be formed by chance and natural laws. The universe will sit there forever (or until the Big Crunch), with lifeless planets orbiting lifeless stars.

You must choose one of these four. You may add refinements, qualifications and caveats in your answer, but you must choose one of these four. Whichever you choose, please explain your reasoning.
From the answers to this, I will be able to determine, for each individual respondent, what the respondent understands by “Darwinian mechanisms”, what creative roles the respondent assigns to Darwinian mechanisms and to God in our current world, and to what extent the respondent could agree with an ID perspective. After that, I think I can give a very clear restatement of my own position, and what I take the ID position to be, a restatement that will remove the ambiguities that some of you are sensing in my account.

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Received on Thu, 02 Oct 2008 15:08:42 -0400

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