[asa] Rejoinder 5A from Timaeus: Response to Ted Davis re Gingerich

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Oct 07 2008 - 09:13:02 EDT

Ted Davis has delivered an impassioned defense of Owen Gingerich and his approach to Darwinism.

Lest things get muddy due to any perception of a personal attack, let me say right away that I was not attacking Owen Gingerich’s person, or his entire body of work, or even an entire essay. I was responding to a very brief quotation, and analyzing the position for its implications. And some of the other comments that I made about the TE position were of a general nature, and were not intended to target Gingerich specifically. I see now that I blurred my comments on Gingerich and my comments on TE together in a hurried way, and I see now the consequences of my literary and argumentative sloppiness. So let me say this: I do not deny that Dr. Gingerich has defended Christianity or attacked certain Darwinians, or defended notions of design. I gladly applaud him for all of these actions. And if Ted will do me the honour of reading to the end of this post, I will show him where I think that Gingerich’s suggestion is actually quite compatible with the position of many I!
 D supporters, and is therefore no more cowardly or wimpy than those ID supporters are.

Much defends on what we define as “Darwinism”. Obviously many definitions are possible. The view I have been calling “Darwinism” is based on Darwin’s own writings, plus the writings of some of his most famous defenders, including Richard Dawkins.

Ted speaks of accepting Darwinian science but rejecting Darwinian metaphysics and theology. He gives parallel examples of Newton and Einstein. I am no expert on either Newton or Einstein, but I don’t think the parallels hold. However much Newton or Einstein’s philosophical and theological views may have stimulated their thinking and thus, biographically speaking, contributed to their scientific achievement, I would argue that their scientific achievement is ultimately separable from those views. Thus, Newton’s system of the planets does not imply the truth of Arianism, and Einstein’s theory of relativity does not imply the truth of his view of God (whether that was pantheism or something else). However, I would argue that Darwin’s science, or rather a significant part of it, is inseparable from his metaphysics, and indeed is grounded in it, so that if one rejects his metaphysical axioms, much of his science is called into question. But I need to explain this.

True, much of the basic argument in the Origin, regarding animal-breeding, variation, natural selection, biogeographical distribution, etc., can be separated from Darwin’s metaphysical position. And as I have said, I admire Darwin as a writer and empirical biologist and I admire those parts of the Origin. But the motor, the driving force in Darwin, is the implicit rejection of design. It is not as if (though Darwin sometimes represents it that way) he rejected design as a conclusion of his researches; it is not as if neutral investigation showed him that design was not possible. Rather, as he indicates at various points, he associates the notion of design with the notion of an intervening God who performs miracles, special acts of creation in which the laws of nature are suspended or violated. And he regards “science” as a pursuit which takes for granted that laws of nature are not violated in this way. So the notion of design, being associated with the notion of!
  miracles and the violation of natural laws, is precluded by Darwin’s very understanding of “science”. (And note that this is the same argument employed by the NCSE against ID – science must be “methodologically naturalistic”, meaning, excluding supernatural causes, but – since the NCSE makes the same link Darwin does between design and miraculous causation – that means excluding design.) So, while throughout the Origin Darwin does present arguments that “design” has been falsified because such-and-such an observation does not fit with it (for example, the resemblance of life forms on islands to nearby continental land masses), he also implies an a priori exclusion of design. We who sympathize with ID recognize this pattern again in the NCSE. Intelligent design is said to have been falsified (by, e.g., Ken Miller’s weak argument regarding the bacterial flagellum), but it is also said to be unfalsifiable and not science at all (by the very fact that!
  it appeals to design, which is a “non-naturalistic cause”!
 ). The
NCSE, in its attack on ID, follows along in the tradition of Darwin’s double-barrelled attack on design: design is simultaneously both false as a scientific hypothesis (because it has been disproved by empirical evidence) and inadmissible as a scientific hypothesis. This is hardly a fair or even logical argument.

Part of the argument that ID has to make, and in my opinion has not made nearly clearly enough, is that “design” and “supernatural causation” must be conceptually separated. The causes for this failure on ID’s part no doubt stem in part from the wide variety of views held within the ID camp about how design finds its way into nature. A number of ID supporters are of the view that it finds its way into nature miraculously, by a series of ruptures in the chain of causation. But that need not be the only way in which design can find its way into nature; nature may have been pre-programmed to produce life. To be sure, both Dembski and Behe have made this distinction that I am calling for, but it hasn’t got out to the public very clearly yet. ID is still being successfully misrepresented by Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, Jerry Coyne, Francis Collins, etc., as an appeal to miracles, to explain the “gaps” which Darwinism has not yet explained.

Once these two things, “design” and “miracles” are theoretically separated, then the double-barrelled attack of Darwin and the NCSE must be split into two. Darwin’s presupposition that “miracles” cannot be used in scientific explanation would then properly pertain to those ID theorists who supplement natural causes with miracles. That would be a metaphysical or theological argument, such as Ted is talking about. But then, once you make that separation, once you remove Darwin’s metaphysical strictures and leave only his “science”, as Ted suggests, you have a problem. Once the “science” has to stand on its own, without the veto on “design”, Darwinism must not only account for those features of nature which can be explained well in terms of chance and natural selection, but also those features which look pretty darned designed. And design, as an explanation for those features, can’t be ruled out a priori without the metaphysical assumption th!
 at Ted and Owen Gingerich want to strip. So I say, with Ted and Owen, all right, let’s strip away that metaphysics from Darwin, and see how much of a scientific theory is left.

My answer is, not a very strong one, certainly not one which lives up to the Darwinians’ boast that the strength of Darwinism is as great as the strength of the germ theory of disease, the atomic theory of matter, or Newtonian physics. Once you strip away the metaphysical requirement, i.e., “No design explanations allowed”, Darwinism can no longer assume (as evolutionary biologists do assume) that all evolutionary change can be explained without reference to design, so that it is just a question of trying out various hypothetical evolutionary pathways. The question then has to be seriously raised: “How do we know, in advance of all investigation, that Darwinian explanations will be able to explain the origin of all species, systems, organs, structures, etc.?” Without the metaphysics, which Ted and Owen say are dispensable and not part of Darwinism proper, Darwinian theory bears the huge responsibility of showing, if not literally in every case, at least in a la!
 rge number of cases, that Darwinian theory can account for the observed complex and integrated phenomena of life. And this raises the question of how well Darwinism has actually done in practice in the last 150 years.

Darwin confessed that the eye made him “shudder”, and his method of dealing with this was to give himself a little pep talk based on the fine gradations in types of eyes observable in different species in nature. But a pep talk is not a mechanism. A mechanism requires showing how the camera eye could have evolved, without design. It means detailed studies in genetics, developmental biology, physiology, ecology, etc., all co-ordinated. Darwinians have had 150 years to do this, and 50 since the discovery of DNA. Will someone on the ASA list tell me where is the book which shows the detailed causal steps in the evolution of the camera eye?

It may be replied that it is not fair to insist on any single organ. Fine. Pick your organ or system. The cardiovascular system. The avian lung. The foot from the fin. The bacterial flagellum. (Miller’s argument gives you one step out of the fifty or a hundred you will need.) If you strip Darwinism of its hidden metaphysical axiom, i.e., “No design allowed”, it has to prove that it can account for at least SOME of these structures and systems in DETAIL. Where has it done this? Several of you here have science Ph.D.’s. If books have been written showing these steps, name me the book titles. I will gladly look them up.

So, as things stand at the moment, I can’t agree with Ted that stripping Darwinism of its metaphysical bias leaves Darwinian science completely valid, or virtually intact. Or, put another way, if it does leave Darwinian science intact, what it leaves intact is antibiotic resistance, finch beaks, and moth colours. This is the theory whose explanatory reach is said to rival Newton’s? This is a theory which is allegedly the necessary basis of modern biology? I have far more respect for most modern biologists than that. I admire the empirical achievements of the major branches of modern lab and field biology (genetics, physiology, developmental biology, ecology, etc.), which have added greatly to the stock of useful human knowledge. They are far greater than the paltry and dubious results of the highly speculative field of evolutionary biology, which for the most part is useless to the really important biological research of our day, as Phillip Skell and Michael Egnor !
 have discussed at length.

But back to Gingerich. Because Darwin was committed to naturalistic explanation, he COULD NOT have allowed Gingerich’s suggestion EVEN IF THE EVIDENCE POINTED THAT WAY. Nor can Dawkins; nor can Coyne; etc. Yes, Ted is quite right that Darwin said that the origin of the variations is unknown, and that “Darwinism” doesn’t commit one to any particular hypothesis about the origin of variation, but Ted also knows that Darwin did not suppose that they were sly acts of God, and that Coyne, Dawkins, Gould, Gaylord Simpson, Mayr, etc., did not suppose that, either. I will come back to this point in a minute, when I discuss mutations.

Ted writes:

“I can't tell you how all variations are produced, and the role of quantum events in producing them; but I can tell you that an important cause of variations is radiation, and radiation results from quantum events. It is not a "dodge" of any sort, to think that quantum uncertainty has something to do with a lot of the variations that are the raw material upon which NS relies. It's simply the truth.”

I have never denied that mutations can be caused by radiation. And I have never denied that the emission of radiation (so far, anyway) cannot be predicted (except as a statistical generalization). Thus, it is true that we cannot know when an individual alpha particle will be emitted, for example. I will not get into a huge argument over what this implies about lawlike explanation in nature. I gather from listening to discussions that the majority of physicists have despaired of ever bringing these events into a lawlike pattern. I am not a physicist, so I cannot argue with them. I can only say that if I were a physicist, I would be looking for an unknown, lawlike pattern, i.e., I would be in the minority (which is not an unusual position for me, regarding modern academia). But in any case, let me grant that there is no lawlike cause for radioactive emission. Before carrying on, I’d like us to look at the possible causes in a visual way:

        Natural Causes Chance “Causes” Supernatural Causes
        | | | |
Lawlike Unlawlike Chance God

So modern physics (against my protests, but apparently with Ted’s and Owen’s approval) has ruled out “lawlike natural causes” for individual emissions. That leaves “unlawlike natural causes”, “chance” (by which I mean not apparent chance, but radical acausality, sheer absurd spontaneity, sheer happenstance, without rhyme or reason), and God.

If someone can explain to me what an “unlawlike natural cause” is, please do. I have no idea what it would mean. I can imagine a natural cause which is unknown and might LOOK unlawlike, but I cannot imagine a natural cause which is fundamentally unlawlike. To me, that is oxymoronic, given the historical meaning of “nature”.

So, what remains is radical, absurd chance, and God. But from a Christian point of view, there can be no radical, absurd chance, because all that happens is governed by the will of God. Reality cannot surprise God by taking a turn he could not have predicted.

So this means that, for a Christian, the cause of the timing of radioactive emissions would have to be God. If that’s the case, then God is controlling the outcome of evolution by controlling the timing of the individual emissions. He is, from Darwin’s point of view, doing little miracles. Invisible little miracles, but little miracles. This is not what Darwin, Coyne, Dawkins, etc. mean by “naturalistic causation”.

However, some ID proponents would go for Gingerich’s suggestion. They might well argue that, during the Cambrian explosion, God did a whole bunch of little miracles through radiation, creating new forms. And they might agree that a scientist living at the time would not have detected the hand of God operating. Does such an agreement with ID sound surprising? It shouldn’t. What many TEs do not understand is that ID does NOT involve the claim that God’s specific creative ACTIONS can be observed by scientific instruments, or isolated by scientific methods. Rather, ID argues that the RESULTS of God’s actions are the design that we see, and that the DESIGN can be detected by science.

I think this point has to be made forcefully, because in some of the things that Ted has said, here and elsewhere, and in many statements made by TEs, I have the impression that TEs think that ID claims to be able to point a finger and say: “See! Right there! God has just created the mollusc body plan! I saw him bombard that guanine-cytosine base pair with an alpha particle, and alter the DNA sequence by doing so.” ID has never made any such claim. What ID has said is that the mollusc body plan shows design, i.e., did not arise primarily by accident, even if it contains a small number of accidental features. ID does not claim to be able to detect the chain of efficient causes through which the design became part of living nature. Nor could it, since ID proponents cannot travel back in time 500 million years and observe individual alpha particle emissions striking DNA molecules in a proto-mollusc and observe their effect. Nor, even if they could, would observatio!
 n of any individual mutation event prove anything. It is only the overall pattern of mutation events which can establish design. And that can be observed from the results (i.e., from the fossil record of the Cambrian explosion), without having to know the history of each molecular-level or atomic-level event that fed into the overall design.

I would go further, and say that Gingerich’s account is quite compatible with a good dose (within the general framework of common descent) of what most people would call “creationism”, i.e., the doctrine that God performs specific creative acts. It is not of course compatible with a narrow, literalistic interpretation of Genesis, but it is compatible with elements of creationist thinking. Gingerich’s account leaves open the possibility that God may have “intervened” in the evolutionary process frequently; indeed, that he may be “intervening” in it constantly. Or, put in another way, without the language of “intervention”, which may put off some TEs, God may be directing the evolutionary process frequently, or constantly. But one thing is certain: this is far from the mind-set of Darwin, or of his most celebrated disciples (Huxley, Gaylord Simpson, Mayr, Dawkins, Gould, Coyne, Gross, etc.). That is why I don’t like to call this sort of thing “Dar!
 winism”. It would be like calling Swedish socialism, which has dropped the crucial Marxist insight regarding the nature of historical change, “Marxism”. Things which are fundamentally different in spirit or character should be called by different names.

I didn’t say that “it's dodgy or wimpy to accept QM as a valid scientific theory while not accepting a specific metaphysical framework in which to understand it.” I didn’t really say anything about QM as such. One of the problems in these discussions is that people use terms like “quantum mechanics”, “quantum indeterminacy”, “indeterminacy principle”, etc., in unclear ways, so that I can never tell what they mean. When I studied quantum chemistry, I learned (from a specialist in quantum chemistry) that Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle originally concerned the impossibility of locating the electron and knowing its energy level simultaneously. One could determine one or the other, but not both at once. And sometimes, when writers like Ken Miller refer to “quantum indeterminacy”, they seem to be referring (though it’s hard to tell) to indeterminacy in that sense. So all along I’ve been assuming that, by “quantum indeterminacy”, Ted an!
 d others have meant that God subtly alters the location or energy level of an electron in an atom! And I’ve been left scratching my head, wondering how that could possibly affect a DNA sequence. (Will the electron bind any differently in interaction with other atoms? If not, the biochemistry of DNA will be unaffected. If so, an explanation is needed.) Now Ted tells me that what he has in mind is the giving off of heavy-duty radiation. Well I admit that a high-energy alpha particle could do some big-time damage to a molecular configuration. But up to this point I had no idea that this was what Ted meant. May I suggest to TEs that, in the future, when they employ terms like “quantum”, and “indeterminacy” and so on, they give a brief summary of the precise natural phenomena they have in mind, so that people will know what they are talking about? So that when someone in the future tries to ground free will in “quantum indeterminacy”, I know whether they a!
 re talking about the emission of alpha particles, the location!
  of the
electron in an atom, or something else? And so that I can visualize where the opportunity for free will is being actualized? (In a neuron somewhere in the brain? In the outer electron shell of an atom within that neuron?) Is that level of detail too much to ask for? To me, when someone starts offering speculative hypotheses tying together religion, philosophy, and physics, it is not unreasonable for a reader to ask for the alleged causal chains or physical circumstances to be spelled out a little more clearly. Simply saying the word “quantum”, does not clarify how free will or evolution works, any more than saying that lightning is “an electrical phenomenon”, clarifies exactly how lightning works.

Finally, Ted wrote:

“Owen and I would rather do things the old fashioned way: when scientists make unwarranted extrapolations of good science into questionable metaphysics (such as Dawkins or Atkins or Wilson), we'll call their metaphysical bluff and play from our hands.”

ID proponents have absolutely nothing against criticizing scientists for making “unwarranted extrapolations of good science into questionable metaphysics”. We are 100% behind TE proponents when they do that. But IN ADDITION to what TE does on that front, we wish TE proponents would realize that in the case of Darwinian evolution, EVEN THE SCIENCE is questionable. And we believe that, in the long run, simply ceding the scientific discussion entirely to the neo-Darwinists, and arguing with them only about the religious or metaphysical or ethical implications of science, will not get to the heart of the matter. We believe that it has to be pointed out that neo-Darwinism, employing the sum total of all “naturalistic” causes identified so far (random mutation, “drift”, natural selection, etc.), has not been able to “explain away” the appearance of design in nature, and has not even come close to doing so. And we do not understand why TEs have not noticed this!
  huge gap between Darwinism’s claims and its achievements. We do not know why they are so impressed by Darwinism.

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Received on Tue Oct 7 09:14:07 2008

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