[asa] Rejoinder 3C from Timaeus – Short Responses to Various persons

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 16:33:51 EDT

I think I missed this one, and I don't want it to go out later on in fairness to Timaeus, so here it is.


To all ASA list members:
I tried to reply to everyone at least once, in the first round of rejoinders, but since then several others have joined the conversation, and there are still people whom I’d like to give a second reply to. So I’m behind. Since many of the themes have already been covered in my longer replies, please consult those longer posts for my overall position, definitions, etc. What I’d like to do here is try to catch people that I’ve missed, and give relatively short answers to each. If I miss anyone, either it was unintentional, or your post seemed to be addressing someone else rather than me, or I agreed so much with what you said, that I couldn’t think of anything else to add. So here goes:
Murray Hogg wrote:
“This issue raised its head in the Dover trial, and I am frankly stumped why Behe was so tame on his criticisms of how ID theory is defined in Of Pandas and People.”
In the rest of his post, Murray wrestles with the question why Behe did not disavow the bluntly miraculous claims found in one or spots in Of Pandas and People. I wish I could give a satisfactory answer. I agree with Murray that Behe’s own position does not require any macro-miracles. I think perhaps that Behe was in a bit of a bind, because he thought Pandas was valid insofar as it criticized Darwinism and useful for introducing the non-technical public to the idea of intelligent design (I believe he wrote a short section of it), but he couldn’t have failed to notice the creationist overtones of parts of the book, and the whole Dover trial raised precisely the charge that creationism was the hidden motive behind ID. So how do you defend the Dover school board for choosing Pandas, and then bad-mouth Pandas for being creationist? By unwisely choosing Pandas, and by choosing to make ID “compulsory” to the extent of making students listen to a statement about ID a!
 nd Pandas, the Dover board had essentially put people like Behe in a no-win situation. If Behe didn’t show up in the courtroom to argue that ID was science rather than religion, the Board would almost certainly lose, and that loss might hurt ID in the future; but if Behe did help out, then, whether the Board won or lost, ID critics would still make hay of the alliance between Behe, ID and Panda-creationism, with collateral damage both for Behe personally and for his ID allies. I think this unwinnable political situation goes some way towards explaining Behe’s comments during the trial.
Dennis Venema complained that ID proponents didn’t answer certain questions. In brackets, after his questions, I’ve put my personal answers, and my guess about the answers that would be given by the majority of theory-savvy ID proponents (as distinguished from the majority of church-basement ID proponents, about whose views I have no accurate data):
“This issue in general is part of why I dislike so much of the ID approach.” Endorsing ID" tells you nothing about what that person thinks about” --
“the age of the earth” [Timaeus: 4.5 billion years; Most ID people: 4.5 billion years.]
“common descent”
[Timaeus: seems likely to me. Most ID people: Yes, Probably, or ‘Not Sure, but it doesn’t matter, because even if common descent is true, an element of design must also be present, and ID is about the design part, not the descent part’.]
“when / where / how / if / by whom design was implemented”
[Timaeus: ID doesn’t try to answer that question. It’s an ahistorical science of design detection, not a historical science of past-event detection. Most ID people: ID doesn’t try to answer that question, etc.]
[Also, if I may protest a double standard here, TE doesn’t give us a clue when, where, or how the design in nature was implemented, either. In fact, TE proponents won’t even say unambiguously that there IS design in nature, certainly not in living nature, anyway. The only thing that TE seems clear about is that IF there is design in living nature -- which there probably isn’t, as Darwinian mechanisms can probably explain everything without it -- then by gosh, God must have put it there!]
“what systems are designed, which are not,”
[Timaeus: I think they’re all designed, from top to bottom, with some minor flaws introduced by what Darwinists would call the “chance” or “random” aspects of nature. I think living things are a compromise between design and accident, with design predominating. The only difference between some things and others is that for the more complex, integrated aspects of living things, the design can be “proved” (in a pragmatic sense, anyway) by employing mathematical arguments. Further, the world isn’t divided into natural things and designed things. It’s all designed; “designed” and “natural” are not mutually exclusive. Most ID people: it’s all designed, but in some cases the design MAY have been instituted via supernatural means.]
[Also, on this last question, why do ID people have to answer it, but not TE people? Dawkins-Darwinists are clear: none of the systems are designed. How about TE-Darwinists? If your objection is that a division of the world between designed and non-designed living systems is theoretically untidy, theologically ungainly, or logically untenable, then I presume that you believe that it must be all one way or all the other. So, I’ll bite: are ALL biological systems designed, or NONE of them? If all of them, why not say so more forthrightly, and help us out against Dawkins? If none of them, then what exactly was God hired to do when he was made “Creator” by the writers of the Apostles’ Creed? What is a Creator good for, if not designing things?]
“or how we tell (has Dembski ever even shown an example use of his so-called "explanatory filter" or discussed its reliability? i.e. can it return false positives? If so, how often?)”
[Timaeus: Have you read Dembski’s No Free Lunch? It’s very extensive and detailed, and I believe that he has tried to address all the questions you ask above. I have read it carefully, and understand the main points of each chapter, but I disclaim the mathematical expertise needed to say whether his arguments are valid or invalid. I have no objection to your criticism of his methods -- after all, ID claims to be science and therefore must endure criticism -- but I think you should read it before deciding that he hasn’t answered these questions, or has answered them inadequately. Most ID people: You can detect design formally by methods like Dembski’s, and informally by arguments like Behe’s and Denton’s.]
D. F. Siemens wrote:
“Having read this rejoinder, I am even more convinced that Timaeus doesn't
realize that he is a TE. "Theistic" involves a transcendent Creator whose
involvement with the universe is unlimited. To require less involvement
is to move to Deism.”
I am puzzled how TE can say that theism “involves a transcendent Creator whose involvement with the universe is unlimited”, while recoiling at the thought that this “unlimited involvement” might mean that the Creator actually designed anything. God, we can’t have that! (“But please God, I pray, if you insist on being a designer, promise me that you’re an INDETECTABLE designer.”)
James Patterson, who may have been fortunate enough to see a visiting Doug Flutie quarterbacking in his prime, since he writes from the home town of a very short-lived 1990s Canadian Football League franchise (Shreveport), asks:
“If God's design were clearly evident, would we have free will?”
I answer that: The question of design detection and the question of free will have nothing to do with each other. God could have created us with or without free will, and could have created the world so that its design would be detectable or not-detectable, in any of four possible combinations, without logical contradiction.
I suspect that Mr. Patterson has in the back of his mind the notion that if design is detectable, then belief would be certain, rather than a matter of faith. But even if design were so obvious that a designer’s existence was certain, that would not tell us what the designer was like, and therefore could not generate any religious faith, except perhaps Deism. So people would still be free to reject Christianity in favour of Judaism or Islam or Sikhism or Hinduism, even if they knew there was a God. Religious choice would still be operative. Also, knowledge and will are often disconnected in human beings, so that they do not act on what they know to be true. One might “know” that God exists, but refuse to live in accord with that, i.e., one might still live a life of extreme sin. Free will is not impaired by knowing that God exists. (Eve knew from personal experience that God existed, but still ate the apple. Israel knew from personal experience that God existed!
 , but still kept straying from his commands in the wilderness.)
PvM wrote:
“And yet in 'edge of evolution' Behe seems to be arguing exactly that there
are limits to evolution, in other words, it denies evolution as an
explanation for how life evolved.”
“Evolution as an explanation for how life evolved” is tautological. (This is the sort of verbal confusion that can come from not distinguishing between the fact of evolution and the purported cause of evolution, i.e., Darwinian mechanisms.) Anyhow: No, Behe was not “denying evolution”, but reporting on the limits of the capabilities of the Darwinian mechanism, acting alone. Acting alone, he suggested, the Darwinian mechanism might be able to drive evolution from one species to another, possible even from one genus or family or order to another, but once one gets to the level of “class”, the body plans are so fundamentally different that no “gradualist” approach (i.e., Darwinian approach) would be possible. However, evolution even of new classes and higher levels would be possible if Darwinian processes are somehow receiving an “assist”.
Does this mean that Behe is saying that Darwinian evolution produced all kinds of fish by natural causes, but then, in order to get an amphibian, God had to descend from heaven and do some miraculous tinkering on the fish body plan? No. He doesn’t say that this is how he imagines the process to have occurred. In fact, he doesn’t specify how it occurred. He speculates in the book, and elsewhere, about the possibility that design of new body plans, rather than being a lucky accidental result of Darwinian processes, might have been pre-programmed into the evolutionary process, so that no miracle had to occur. In other words, he offers (as a possibility) a model something like that described by Denton.
This is not a “moving the goalpost” tactic, as PvM later suggests. That implies evasion. It’s not as if Behe feels driven by embarrassment for seeming to believe in miracles, and desperately adopts front-loading in order to gain scientific approval for his “naturalism”. Rather, his Catholic faith allows him either option, and so does the scientific evidence, so he intimates the possibility of both the options to his readers. He doesn’t seem to indicate his own preference, at least, not clearly. Nor does he need to, from the point of view of design theory. Design theory is unaffected by the choice. All that design theory tells us (though that’s not a trivial result) is that if Darwinian forces were the only thing acting in the world, if there were no internally or externally imposed design, evolution wouldn’t produce changes much more interesting than those from a cow to a buffalo or an elk to a moose or a hamster to a mouse. The fact that evolution pr!
 oduces much more sophisticated changes than this suggests that somehow a design element is operating, either integrated into a naturalistic guidance system of some kind, or applied externally at strategic times to interact in creative tension with unruly mutational tendencies.
Randy Isaac wrote:
“Behe has clearly stated that there are biochemical structures that are irreducibly complex
and did not evolve.”
Behe would not likely have said that, but if he did say that, then the context of his overall argument requires that some words be added to get his true meaning:
“... there are biochemical structures that are irreducibly complex, and THEREFORE did not evolve THROUGH GRADUALISTIC, DARWINIAN PROCESSES ALONE.”
Once again, “evolution” cannot be equated with “evolution through purely Darwinian processes”. That is why I am stressing the difference between “theistic evolution”, with which I have no beef, and “theistic Darwinism”, with which I do. Based on the discussion so far, I would guess that many people here (perhaps more than half) understand “theistic evolution” in a way that would be acceptable to me and to many other ID people, but that a good chunk are still holding out for “theistic Darwinism”, i.e., for the complete sufficiency of Darwinian processes as the scientific explanation for evolution.
George Murphy wrote:
“... what does it mean to say that we believe in "impersonal natural explanations?" If we use the traditional model of divine action in which God cooperates with creatures as "instruments" then the instruments may indeed be impersonal but the one who works with & through them isn't. The action of a mechanic tightening a bolt with a wrench isn't "impersonal" just because the wrench is!”
This is quite true, but Rev. Murphy overlooks the other half of the story, which is that wrenches don’t jump up and tighten bolts by themselves. Using his analogy, that’s exactly what classical Darwinism claims. There’s a wrench, but no mechanic. Rev. Murphy’s analogy actually presupposes a designing intelligence, whereas Darwin’s theory was constructed with the express purpose of eliminating any such intelligence from the realm of living nature. If Rev. Murphy takes his own analogy seriously, then he believes in intelligent design.
David Opderbeck wrote:
“Personally, I don't see this as a viable model of divine action. You didn't
comment on my example of the birth of a baby. The Psalmist says God "forms"
and "knits" the baby together in the womb, but what does God "do" that we can
observe apart from the apparently "ordinary" workings of nature?
Another example is Col. 1:17: "He is before all things, and in Him all
things hold together." In what way can observe that Christ holds all things
together? When we peer deep into the universe with the Hubble telescope, we
don't see the actual hands of Christ. When we look deep into the equations
of physics, there's lots and lots of stuff we don't know, but we don't
expect to see a God-shaped hole in the equations.”
Though I didn’t comment specifically on the example of the baby, I did say that I had no objections to the part of your post in which the baby example was contained, so you can take it that I agree with your interpretation. In fact, I responded to someone else about embryology, affirming a naturalistic account of it. Why wouldn’t I? Come to think of it, Steve Matheson got himself all hot and bothered about this same Psalm on Uncommon Descent a few months back. Is this Psalm a bete noire of some kind for TEs? Are there actually fundamentalists who take that Psalm literally? By Zeus’s beard, it’s poetry!
On your last sentence, I don’t expect to see a God-shaped hole in the equations, either. But it’s not “God of the gaps”, and doesn’t deny the completeness of natural causality within its sphere, to say that a building couldn’t have been built without an architect.
To Merv (Sept. 27):
I appreciate your attempt, in your discussion of the relationship between miracles and the regular workings of nature, to provide balance and justice by representing the ID and TE sides as they understand themselves. I have just one comment to add, not against your account, but to drive home one of your points further. You wrote:
“I think one major position regarding "the nature of God" that TEs would
generally hold is that God's action cannot be limited to those events
that we recognize as special or miraculous, (& nor can it be limited to
the front-loading beginning.) David's reference to the psalmist and the
baby are, I think, an important example and one that deserves more
consideration today because it shows that even modern Christians who are
suspicious of science still have within their hermeneutic an
unacknowledged allowance that just because we observe something and
maybe even understand the causality and processes involved, it does not
threaten our faith.”
I don’t think any Christian ID supporter known to me would deny the proposition that “God's action cannot be limited to those events that we recognize as special or miraculous”. People here have accused Casey Luskin, Phil Johnson and others of giving special emphasis to miraculous causes; yet does anyone here suppose that, when Casey and Phil have their Thanksgiving meals, they look around at their families and say: “Well, now, since the harvest we are enjoying tonight came only from natural causes, and not from God, we won’t say grace over the meal tonight; however, will thank God for his son Jesus, because sending Jesus was a supernatural act, and we thank God for those”? There is no doubt in my mind that Casey and Phil regard the harvest as “from God” every bit as much as TEs do, and thank him just as heartily for it as TEs do. ID Christians, too, see God everywhere, in his regular workings as in his supernatural workings. It seems to me that TE peop!
 le, when they imply differently, are setting up a straw man.

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Oct 2 16:34:44 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Oct 02 2008 - 16:34:44 EDT