[asa] Rejoinder 4C from Timaeus – Response to Ted Davis

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 16:15:33 EDT

This will be the final post from Timaeus that I will forward this week. I think we all need some time to digest the exchanges thus far, and I'm first on that list of qualifiers.

Here Timaeus very clearly responds to some of my points about ID and the ID movement. His comments about recent developments in the ID movement are highly interesting, and I am in general quite satisfied with this response, and will add just 3 comments to reply here.

(1) I doubt that many (if any) members of the ASA (which is a different, partly overlapping set with members of the ASA list) have deep doubts about the entire set of miracles in the Bible, taken as a whole. Most of us probably hesitate to take at face value some of them. We might see individual stories as non-miraculous events that actually happened (a few of the healings or exorcisms might fit here), and a few others as confused reports or legends (e.g., non-ASA member John Polkinghorne doubts the story of the graves opening after the crucifixion, with dead bodies walking all over the place). But I cannot name a current ASA member who does not believe in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus -- and that is of course hardly a "minimal" statement itself, and most or all of us believe in many more genuine miracles than those supreme miracles. Lots of TE's, however, almost certainly do not believe in the resurrection. A prime example is Jack Haught. I've known for ma!
 ny years that Jack doesn't believe in it, from private conversation, and he made it public at the Dover trial. ASA members are, generally speaking, a more theologically conservative group than TEs generally--indeed, a significant percentage of our members are OECs or IDs rather than TEs. This list would fool you, in that respect.

(2) Your points about the historical sciences are reasonable, Timaeus. Yes, my overriding concern with that line of thought has to do with the YECs, who simply deny the validity of the historical sciences per se. On UcD I voiced this concern in terms of the reference to this in the definition of ID that was imported from John Calvert's group in Kansas--where, I will maintain unless Mr Calvert directly denies this--it was put into the definition of ID as a sop to the YECs, who use it to reject pretty much anything they want to that goes against their pet interpretation of Genesis. I still say that a working definition of ID ought to jettison that language, for the reasons I've already given.

The larger question here is a legitimate one: what (if any) are the differences between historical and experimental sciences? We've sometimes spouted off views about this on this list, where we have some experts in relevant disciplines (geology, astrophysics). How different (if at all) are the actual methods employed? Should we have any less confidence in the conclusions? I've formally suggested to several friends that a great academic conference could be devoted to this topic; and, if so, I hope that some ID advocates would be part of the mix.

As for cosmology, I have more confidence in that than you do, Timaeus. Yes, the age of the universe has fluctuated a good bit, though not by more than a factor of 3 or 4, since the 1950s. But, it's very hard to deny the weight of the evidence for the "fact" of the big bang, at some point many billions of years ago. The "fact" is better established than the "date," and I suspect you would agree.

(3) The QM/TE view is advanced especially by Bob Russell, whose views I keep bringing up--and whose view, as far as I know, you haven't yet read for yourself. Thomas Tracy and some others have helped to formulate that position, which makes some sense to me. Nothing, frankly, makes too much sense to me when it comes to understanding God's governance of the universe, but I would challenge you, Timaeus, to improve on any given attempt at such an explanation. Theologically, Russell's view has the advantage of denying both deism and too much supernaturalism, as I pointed out in an earlier post. It's no less attractive IMO than a classical approach to divine action, and is in fact classical to a significant degree (e.g., by affirming the constant, ongoing interaction of God with the creation). I realize that IDs will not like it, since most of God's actions are "invisible" to science; but, let's be honest, Timaeus--most answers to prayer, most healings, and most providential !
 historical acts are "invisible" to science, regardless of whether there ever was a man called Charles Darwin. This gets at one of the points I most want to get across to ID proponents, when involved in exchanges about this: TE, whatever it is, is definitely heavily theological. The approaches that TEs take to evolution will be similar to the approaches that TEs take toward other things that have nothing to do with evolution. Thus, if someone is convinced on other grounds that God acts all the time, but only very rarely in spectacular ways that are "visible" to science, then it's no mystery that they would be attracted to something like a QM view of divine action. If you convey anything at all to your friends in ID as a result of this conversation, Timaeus, please do convey the point that those TEs who find a QM approach attractive do not do this b/c they are afraid of censure by the evolutionary establishment. Rather, they find it attractive b/c it affirms a lot of wha!
 t they already believe about divine action, independently of e!
--namely, that it is ongoing and usually very subtle. One might disagree with this or find it inadequate (again: accept the challenge to do better), but one cannot fairly say that it is designed to duck under the radar. (It is against such an approach that ID can appear more deistic, to some; this is incorrect, as you know, but at least perhaps you can see the point of comparison.)

Now, the post from Timaeus to which I just responded:


Ted Davis has given me two thoughtful responses, and I would like to address one of them here.
In his Sept. 29 post, Ted made a number of important points.
A. The first observation he makes is that ID is an organized movement, whereas TE is not. Because ID is an organized movement, it has organs of communication among its members, organs for dissemination of its ideas to the public, an inner circle of leaders who establish the contents of the theory and the political aspects of the movement, etc. It therefore can do things to bring its members into line with a received orthodoxy, and to punish them when they wander off the straight and narrow path. TE, on the other hand, is a loose association of people, mostly (entirely?) Christians, who have in common a general belief in evolution (not narrowly specified), and Christian faith (of a wide range of persuasions), but no administrative or theological centre which can force them into any dogma or any form of political behaviour. I accept Ted’s description as roughly accurate, but I would like to add some qualifications.

First, as Mike Gene has pointed out, ID has grown beyond the hard centre Ted talks about. While its original core and hard centre may have been people tending towards young-earth creationism, and a few scientists and philosophers hanging out at the Discovery Institute, it has broadened, partly due to the internet. Anyone can now declare himself an ID supporter and start up his or her own web site. Neither Discovery nor Bill Dembski nor Denyse O’Leary can do anything to prevent this. And, as Mike Gene has pointed out, many of the blogs and other features on these web sites indicate that the membership of the ID “movement” is broadening. Many of these new bloggers have no connection, in terms of personal friendship or acquaintance, with the Discovery Institute. They say what they think, and they criticize ID supporters as freely as they criticize Darwinists. And many of them are very secular people, who come to “design theory” out of an intellectual curiosity,!
  not as a way of shoring up Christianity against Dawkins or Dennett. They are frequently undergraduate or graduate students in things like engineering, physics, math, or computer science; sometimes they are in the life sciences. They have not come from Jehovah’s Witness or Baptist homes in small towns, but from secular homes in suburbia, and therefore, most of them accept evolution, understood as common descent, as given. They also take the ancient earth and ancient universe as given. (These are people who have grown up with Star Trek: The Next Generation, for Pete’s sake!) They are not inclined in the least towards YEC, and they usually have little interest in the old Bible battles which still spark anger between some ID and some TE proponents. They are technically-minded, occasionally also philosophically minded, and they are interested in discussing, not the problem of evil or Biblical literalism or miracles or things of that nature, but things such as mathemat!
 ical code in DNA, irreducible complexity, evolutionary pathway!
 s, compu
ter modelling of evolutionary processes, the mathematics of randomness, and front-loading hypotheses and how they might be confirmed in the genome. You see some of this interest, lots of it actually, on Uncommon Descent, but even more in places like Telic Thoughts.

So what is my point? My point is that the older stereotype of ID is already breaking down. More and more, as time goes on, common descent will be less and less of an issue for ID theorists. But you will see, within an acceptance of common descent, lots of criticisms of Darwinism, because a generation that has grown up, not with a literally-read Bible, but with an engineering, computer-programming, statistical, mathematical-modelling mindset is less and less impressed with the merely qualitative descriptions of Darwinism, and with Darwinism’s reliance upon chance as the source of beneficial mutations.

Second, even within the hard core of ID, to which Ted refers, there are differences. One of the key administrators at UD is openly agnostic, and tries to discourage writers on UD from writing as if ID is automatically committed to Christianity or theism. He takes seriously ID’s claim to be science, not theology, and doesn’t like it when ID becomes theological apologetics. And there is an agnostic constituency in ID (even one on UD, I believe, though more numerous elsewhere) that emphasizes science rather than conservative, Biblical Christianity. This constituency is represented even within Discovery, by Fellow David Berlinski. Then, even among those ID supporters who are theists, we have Muslims (especially in Turkey, but there are Muslim ID supporters in the USA), and orthodox Jews (one of whom is a Discovery fellow, David Klinghoffer). Further, some leading ID voices are hardly Protestant, literalist conservatives, but Catholics: Denyse O’Leary in Canada, and !
 Mike Behe in the USA. Neither of these is anywhere near a young-earth creationist. Behe declares on his blog that he used to be a theistic evolutionist, and he’s now clearly supporting common descent. O’Leary has written that she could be a theistic evolutionist if it didn’t involve commitment to Darwinian mechanisms, which she regards (rightly or wrongly) as implicitly atheistic.
Third, from my personal e-mail contacts with ID supporters of the most active kind – the kind who write letters to school boards and blog posts and get involved in the public debate in various ways – I have “met” YECs, OECs, Protestants of all denominations, and many Catholics. While there is undoubtedly a large constituency of people who tend towards Biblical literalism, I would say that they are a plurality rather than a majority. Whether my experience is reflective of the grass-roots support for ID among church-going Christians, I cannot say. But my impression of the intelligentsia of ID is that it is preponderantly non-YEC, and that the proportion of non-YEC supporters grows as time goes on, for the reasons I’ve already given.
What I am saying is that Ted’s description, though historically true and in part sociologically true even now, will be increasingly out of date as time goes on. ID will become less and less of an orthodoxy or a movement, and more and more a loose collection of people with a common interest in discussing the notion of design. Therefore, if TE people are going to attack ID as a body of THOUGHT, they had better make sure they keep up with what the newest, freshest, youngest ID voices are saying, instead of focusing on what Phillip Johnson said 13 years ago, or what the “Wedge Document” said 10 years ago, or what some barely literate fundamentalist parent said at school board hearing in Kansas 3 years ago. They should be keeping their eye on the wider world of ID theory, which is outgrowing the Protestant Biblicist ethos which surrounded it in its infancy. The list of major players now includes non-Americans like Denton, and outriders who have much in common with ID, l!
 ike Mike Gene, neither of whom, to my knowledge, has any present connection with Biblicist Christianity. One must not forget, also, that of the 250,000 people who bought copies of Darwin’s Black Box, there must be tens of thousands, at a minimum, who are not conservative Christians, do not write posts for UD, and pay no attention to the Discovery Institute. Some of these people are now ID supporters, but they are under the radar, and how their intellectual support plays out in terms of ID theory has yet to be determined. And one also must not forget the hundreds of yet-to-become-well-known biologists and medical scientists, who are mostly not particularly religious, but are absorbing and applying engineering concepts, which are design concepts, to the study of the life of the cell and the body, and hence will be more and more predisposed to thinking of life as designed. In the long run, this will advance the scientific status of ID. If TE proponents do not keep thei!
 r view of ID current, TE critiques of ID will grow stale and i!
t. They will begin to smell of old intra-Christian battles over “liberal” versus “conservative” theology, and will seem to more and more people to shed no light upon science at all.

B. Ted’s next point is that I am just going to have to live with the frustrating fact that there is no single TE position, and therefore no single target that ID can take aim at. Well, I accept this now. But, nonetheless, if there isn’t a single TE orthodoxy, there are trends among TEs, positions which large numbers of TE proponents defend. Surely I have the right to criticize those, as long as I specify them.

Let me restate one such position, which I have mentioned, I believe, at least twice now, and no one has taken up. More than one TE has made the argument that God DOES, or at least MAY, intervene in the evolutionary process, but does it invisibly, under the cover of “quantum indeterminacy”. Miller employs this argument, and Polkinghorne reports it in summary form, apparently regarding it as a credible way of relating evolution to Christianity. I have seen it elsewhere, but I can’t remember where. Anyhow, I believe that many people here have heard this argument from TEs. I want to hear what they think of it. Do they defend it? No one so far will say. I believe Ted would be capable of expositing and defending the argument, but I want to learn from others as well. Will someone, other than Ted, take up this subject, and give me some idea how common this argument is among TEs, and what they think of it personally?

C. One of Ted’s most important points is this:
“One thing on which TE’s generally do agree, however, is this. TE’s typically see all of the sciences as on the same level, including sciences dealing with origins. ID’s, as I am coming increasingly to see (with considerable dismay), do seem to be embracing more and more, at least implicitly if not explicitly, the old YEC distinction between “operations” science and “historical” science. Timaeus used this idea, IMO, in one of the replies (I don’t recall precisely which one right now) earlier today. The harder this idea is pushed, IMO, the more ID would resemble the YEC view that it is so eager not to be identified with. I’ve cautioned some ID friends about this, only to be rebuffed. If anyone is still listening, I repeat the caution more loudly: be very careful where you step, on this particular issue, if you don’t want to collapse into a truly unscientific position that will have no credibility with most Christians who actually work in the scienc!
 es. With good reason.”

I want to take this point up. I think Ted is referring to the distinction between those sciences which can directly verify results predicted by theory in the lab (typically, chemistry and physics, though also some parts of biology and other sciences), and those sciences which come to conclusions about the past on largely inferential grounds which can never be verified directly by human senses or instruments (typically, geology, evolutionary biology, and cosmology). Now some YEC types used to absolutize this distinction, so that conclusions in the latter areas could not be called “science” at all, and therefore could be discounted in theological discussions of science and religion. Ted is saying that this is wrong. I agree.

However, there is a germ of truth in the position Ted is rejecting. There is a difference between extrapolating from known and well-understood natural processes to infer the existence of objects or the occurrence of events far back in time, and extrapolating from ill-understood or undocumented natural processes to infer the existence of unobservable events generated by unknown mechanisms in the past. Let me give examples.
Radioactive dating is based on our understanding of radioactivity, which, while not perfect, is pretty good. We understand what kinds of particles are given off by unstable elements, we have some idea why, and we know the rates at which the particles are given off. Assuming the uniformity of nature throughout the ages (a fundamental assumption of science which I accept), we can legitimately use this knowledge of radioactivity to determine the age of rocks, bones, etc. It is true that we cannot travel back in time and confirm our dates observationally, but this does not make the use of radioactive dating unscientific. It is scientific because it uses reliable mathematics and is based on known physical properties of radioactive substances. So I reject, and have always rejected, the fundamentalist argument that radioactive dating is “unscientific” because geology belongs to the “historical” rather than the “experimental” sciences.

Cosmology, however, is another matter. I used to follow it with great gusto, but in recent years have fallen behind. However, one thing strikes me as obvious. Every few years, a major new discovery or major new re-interpretation is announced. First it was “dark matter”, the discovery of which was said to have altered our understanding of everything. Then the amount of “dark matter” was disputed, and new calculations of the amount threatened, at one point, the whole Big Bang cosmology. Then there was “dark energy”. Then there were renewed speculations about a repulsive force pushing galaxies apart. Etc. Now I can’t do the advanced math, but it is obvious to me that if any ONE of these discoveries is overturned, replaced, modified, etc., then all the figures relating to the age of the universe etc. will have to be modified. If the age of the universe was originally calculated at 12 billion years (on the assumption that no repulsive force, but only the o!
 riginal force of the Big Bang, drove the galaxies apart), then proof of a repulsive force would mean that the age of 12 billion was wrong, and that the universe would in fact be much younger. Similarly, if the choice between eternal expansion and “Big Crunch” depends crucially on a certain amount of “dark matter”, and that amount is revised, then the conclusions must change. Or if “dark energy” plays a role, in addition to “dark matter”, the conclusions may also have to be changed. Thus, I have grown very skeptical when any cosmological statement at all is publically announced. You can’t extrapolate to the past ages of the universe reliably when you don’t even know all the entities that are out there, and the ones you do know about, you can’t quantify. For this reason, cosmology, a “historical” science, i.e, a science which extrapolates back in time based on present knowledge, IS weaker and less reliable than “lab sciences”, in which any l!
 ab, at any time, anywhere in the world, can test a result by d!
ng if it can be reproduced. We know Newton’s laws and Ohm’s law and the germ theory of disease with much greater certainty than we know the early state of the universe or its subsequent course.

Now to Darwinian evolution. The species-changing powers of the Darwinian mechanism have been “proved” only for very small changes. But Darwinian theory assumes that very small changes are additive, so that you can extrapolate backwards to get big changes. So if you can make a finch beak significantly longer or a moth significantly darker in 50 years, then if you have 50 million years, you can have a million times as many genetic changes, and that’s enough to turn a mouse-sized reptile into a water buffalo. But this is crude arithmetical reasoning, not empirical biology. Evolution is not simply a question of adding up a million small changes to turn a worm into a woman. It is not simply like adding a thousandth of an inch to a giraffe’s neck, ten thousand times, so that the giraffe’s neck becomes ten inches longer. The changes required to be explained by Darwinism are in the vast majority of cases not linear changes of simple quantities (adding a bit of neck !
 length here, a darkening of colour there, a thickening of skin here, shortening a toe there), but complex, integrated changes of entire bodily systems, as Behe and Denton and many others have tried to point out. We have no evidence that mutations can produce such complex, integrated changes. We have never observed it in nature. We have never observed it in the lab. It is therefore not obvious that we can extend our experience of longer finch beaks back in time, to explain how lungs evolved from bladders (a colossal qualitative difference), or how bacteria acquired their flagella.

So am I agreeing with the fundamentalists here that evolution is wrong because it is “historical” science rather than lab science? Not at all. I have nothing against historical science. That’s why I accept the 4.5 billion-year age of the earth. What I am against is overconfident extrapolation based on insufficient understanding of the phenomena we are extrapolating from (as in the case of cosmology), or illegitimate inference of the existence of complex mutational sequences built out of extrapolations from simple single mutations (as in evolutionary biology). Darwinism is questionable not because evolutionary biology is a “historical” science; it’s questionable because its mechanisms have not been shown capable of performing the complex tasks claimed for it.

D. Ted then goes on to talk about Deism. In a very fine paragraph, he sketches out a historical understanding which I agree with, and he is very fair in that he points out that liberal theologians are just as guilty of Deism in their own way as ID people are in theirs. And to this I would add one point: I have heard ID supporters, many times, accuse TE supporters of being basically liberal theologians. I am not saying it is true. But I know that some of my ID allies believe it. They think that many TE supporters support “naturalism” in science (and therefore Darwinism), not out of any concern for good science, but as part and parcel of their rejection of miracles and of the plain sense of the Bible, including the New Testament. Again, I don’t know if this is true, but I do agree that most “liberal” theologians have strong Deist tendencies, and so the question then becomes, for individual TEs, “Does the shoe fit?” And I think it is very important, that!
  if there are any TEs who DO deny miracles, that they admit it; otherwise they are every bit as guilty as the ID people who (according to them) “hide” their conservative theological doctrines (as someone here recently accused ID people of doing). A Christian who rules out miracles a priori is going to have biases on the subject of evolution, and these biases should be put up front, not hidden behind sneers at “fundamentalists”. When both sides – liberal as well as fundamentalist – have religious motivations, the pot should not call the kettle black.

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Received on Thu Oct 2 16:16:43 2008

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