[asa] Rejoinder 3D from Timaeus: Reply to Christine

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Oct 07 2008 - 09:34:38 EDT

It seems that Timaeus' seemingly inexhaustible energy is not quite inexhaustible. But, it's close.



I owe Christine Smith two replies, and I’m combining them into one. After this, I can’t promise any more replies to individuals, as time is a factor for me now. But I will try to reply to any further questions or objections that are made.
1. Sorry you didn’t like my word “instantiated”. I’ve seen it used elsewhere in discussions of design. I think Dembski may have used it. If you don’t like it, use “embodied”, “inserted”, “injected”, “expressed”, “displayed”, “manifested”, or any other word which conveys for you the notion of taking an abstract idea, design, plan, or form and causing it to actually exist in a concrete biological case, e.g., the avian lung. So the design of the avian lung is “embodied” in a natural form, or “inserted” into nature, or “expressed” in bird species.
2. You wrote: “it seems to me that what ID is trying to do is to transform the inference of intent (based on particular patterns/order observed in nature) into the "fact" of design, yes?”
No. Just the opposite. Of course, we may be using the words “intent” and “design” differently, in which case your statement may translate into the equivalent of mine. I’m using “intent” to refer to the subjective side of design, i.e., to the thoughts of the designer, and I use “design” to refer to the objective side, i.e., the results.
From the facts of the case we infer design, and from design we can move to “intent”, though only to a limited degree. For example, if I find a machine on Mars, I first have to determine, based on its structure, composition, function, etc., whether it is in fact a machine, or some sort of accidental composition of the forces of nature. Once I’ve determined that it is in fact a machine, that is, a contrivance, I have obviously also determined, simultaneously, that it is designed.
But I did not have to know anything about the designer’s “intent” to prove that the object was designed. Let’s say, for example, that it was some sort of timepiece, with gears and coils. At first, I might not even have realized that it was a timepiece. But I could tell, from the fit and interplay of the gears and coils, that whatever this thing was, it was designed.
I then infer that whoever designed this machine “intended” for it to be made, and if I happen to be able to figure out what it does, e.g., tell the time, then I infer that the designer intended to be able to tell the time. But about any of the designer’s wider intentions, desires, goals, e.g., that he hoped that the invention would bring about universal Martian peace, or that he was chronically late for work on Jupiter and wanted the timepiece to make sure he blasted off on time every morning, I have no knowledge whatsoever.
What this shows is that design inferences cannot safely get far into the “intent” of the designer, beyond the obvious “intent” implied in the design itself. So ID theorists, even those who identify the designer with God, don’t talk about God’s ultimate wishes or purposes in making a snail or a swan or a tse-tse fly. The only “intent” that can be inferred is that God wanted this sort of creature to exist.
3. Regarding the architect: I did not speak of inferring the “character” of the architect, nor of inferring the architect’s “management style”. (In fact, architects don’t manage a construction site; foremen do.) I spoke only about inferring the existence of the architect’s design, without which there would be no building. And if people took apart the building, as you say, and by analysis of the parts reconstructed the architect’s design, so that they could build another one just like it, without ever seeing the architect’s original plan, that would just prove my point. Those people obviously don’t believe that bricks and boards just come together by chance to form a building; otherwise, why would they try to reconstruct an original design? Yet in the sphere of living nature, that’s what pure Darwinism claims, that unintelligent, unguided matter, simply by following natural laws (with a heaping helping of chance on the side), can arrange itself in!
 to ever more complex forms. And that’s what all pre-modern philosophers, except for the atomists, denied, and what all pre-Darwinian Christian theologians (had the idea been put to them) would have found blasphemous; yet some TE people appear to endorse it, or at least to remain silent when given the chance to speak against it.
4. You wrote:
“You have stated that you can believe in evolution of species, in common descent, while arguing that the mechanisms of natural selection and random mutations are "woefully inadequate" to explain them. How are they inadequate? You earlier wrote that ID fills out and completes science by providing supervisory principles which enrich our scientific understanding, but "not at the expense of material and mechanical explanations, which still apply." Why do RM & NS not qualify as the material and mechanical explanations here? By my definition of evolution, you cannot have common descent or evolution of species without these mechanisms. But if you are arguing that you can, what other options would you/ID postulate? Direct, miraculous divine intervention? But no, you have said that you do not subscribe to a "gaps" or "miraculous" understanding of ID. But if it not RM + NS, and it is not miraculous gaps caused by divine design processes, what else is there? What other naturalistic m!
 echanisms that somehow involve God directly but do not qualify as miraculous, are you arguing for?”
This is a fair question. If you have been following the other threads, you will know that the answer I tentatively lean to is “front-loading”, i.e., all that extra DNA (the bulk of DNA which serves no known purpose, and has been dismissed by Darwinists as “junk” until recently) may contain the super-program for the entire evolution of life. There’s no hard evidence for it yet, but it’s compatible with all the same evidence that’s used to support pure Darwinism, AND it explains “punctuated equilibrium” better than Darwinism can. (See Denton’s second book for the details.) It also frees evolution from reliance on chance, and is compatible with the omnipotence and providence of God (at least, regarding the creation of the organic world).
As for RM + NS, I do in fact count them as contributing material and mechanical explanations, but by themselves they are not nearly adequate, for both empirical reasons (they have only been shown to be good at tiny tasks like lengthening finch beaks) and for theoretical reasons (the math makes the reliance on RM so implausible as to be practically impossible). Yet Darwinism suggests that these, supplemented by perhaps some other anemic mechanisms, like “drift”, all of which ultimately boil down to chance, are sufficient to build eyes and nervous systems, without any analogue of the architect’s plan.
5. You wrote:
“If we are to say that the designed reflects the Designer, then isn't it a property of God to be a Creator, and couldn't He build creative capabilities into the designed, such that nature was endowed with the capacity to create species?”
Sure, the Creator could have. But orthodox Christianity tells that this Creator is omnipotent and omniscient and providential. So whatever creative capacities God may have given to nature, nature’s subsequent activity is restrained by those theological assertions. So, for example, for a Christian, evolution would have been given orders from Head Office to create man; it wouldn’t have been given the freedom to say “Maybe I’ll create man and maybe I won’t”. The fossil forms studied by Louis Leakey wouldn’t have had the creative freedom to say: “I don’t dig this bipedal posture; it’s too hard on the back; I think I’ll let my descendants de-evolve into baboons so they can walk comfortably on all fours again.” Yet, metaphorically speaking, in Darwinism creatures do have this “creative freedom” if you can call it that. Darwinian evolution can (where the circumstances of natural selection allow) go anywhere, create anything, and refrain from creat!
 ing anything. Further, Darwinian evolution follows no timetable. Head Office would not be able to rely upon it to deliver the plants, animals, and Adam and Eve on time, or to deliver them at all.
Darwinism fits in well with a process theology, where God himself is liberated from the orthodox categories, and where the universe isn’t on a schedule, but just plays it by ear and revels in its capacity for self-creation. Darwinism is not suitable to traditional Christianity, where God is sovereign and has all future events in the palm of his hand.
Anyhow, from the Biblical point of view, your question has already been answered. Mankind is made in the image of God, and is the only creature made in the image of God. It is not surprising, then, that human beings are “creative” and “free” in the sense you are talking about. So yes, God could create a creative being, and has. The Bible shows no awareness, however, that non-human creatures have any creative powers of the sort that we have.
6. You wrote:
“Here, the underlying assumption is that modern day humans, in their current form, were originally intended by God and therefore certain. But, suppose we did "reroll" the tape, and dinosaurs were still around rather than humans. But in this scenario, RM + NS continued the evolution of dinosaurs such that eventually, the dinosaurs obtained the same rational, emotional, and spiritual capacities as we have today--just in a different biological form. Would God's purpose have been achieved? I think it might have been, because I suspect God was more
 concerned with instituting a relationship with His creation than in what particular physical form those creatures took when they received Him.”
I don’t deny that God could have created spiritual dinosaurs, had he wanted to; in fact, I rather like dinosaurs and find your idea appealing. I think I’d like to have been a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus. However, if God had wanted spiritual dinosaurs, he probably would have had to establish different fundamental laws of nature than the ones we know. Why do I say this? I say this because, given the laws of nature that we have, there are technical biological reasons for thinking that any being of higher capacities would not have been reptilian, but mammalian, and in fact almost certainly primate-like (see Denton’s second book for an elaborate discussion of the details). So it looks as if the evolutionary process had to produce human beings, or something very like them, if God’s purposes were to be achieved.
But your main point, I think, was to show that Darwinian evolution’s freedom, which might have caused it to produce intelligent dinosaurs rather than us, is compatible with Christian teaching, as long as the dinosaurs have a spiritual nature. Well, I don’t find any religious problem with spiritual dinosaurs. I do find that the implication -- that God left it to chance to determine which creature would get the spiritual nature -- is in conflict with the overwhelming sense of omnipotence, omniscience, and providence in the Bible. The Biblical God doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of guy who would tell a waiter in a restaurant, “Surprise me!” or who says he’ll take whatever nature throws up. And what if nature decided to throw up nothing for him? What if no spiritual beings evolve? What if he only gets amoebas or slugs? Then there’d be no spiritual being for him to have a “relationship” with. If you go with Darwinism, you can’t deny nature that possi!
 bility. Real freedom means the real possibility of thwarting God’s long-term will. That just isn’t part of the Biblical program.
7. You wrote (in a later post):
“However, whether Darwinian mechanisms are true or not, it doesn't bother my faith; whereas it seems to challenge yours.”
Whether or not they bother my personal faith is completely irrelevant to my argument. I am not arguing out of personal distress; I am arguing, as a philosophical analyst, that they are logically incompatible with the metaphysical implications of the Christian faith. Since I happen to believe that the Darwinian mechanisms are a highly improbable cause of evolution, I don’t have to face this logical problem. TEs, or at least, those TEs who insist that Darwinism is fully competent, do. Of course, for a TE who merely accepts evolution, and regards Darwinism as merely an interesting provisional speculation regarding the mechanism, required by neither science nor theology, there is no real danger, since once the logical conflict appears, she or he can simply dump Darwinism as the major set of mechanisms.
8. You wrote:
“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?”
Again, my faith is not at issue. I examine all alleged claims of compatibility between religious and scientific doctrines for rationality, coherence, and truth, not for whether or not they fulfill my personal hopes. I look at things like chaos theory (about which I know very little), and quantum theory (about which I know more, but still almost nothing at a serious theoretical level), and, if I have enough understanding of the theories (which I don’t), I analyze them for philosophical implications. I wouldn’t even begin to address the question whether they fit in with Christianity until I understood what they were saying, and could decide whether they were probable enough descriptions of reality that there might be some possibility of conflict. Since I am not really competent to say much about chaos or quantum theory, I have never had the chance to compare them with Christianity so see if there is any conflict. The only thing I would say about them is that IF they i!
 mply that there is anything outside of God’s providence, then they would be unorthodox.
Darwinism, however, I understand quite well. It’s not a subtle, complex idea. It’s a crude, 19th-century idea, mechanistic and clunky. It’s true that some of the journal articles by modern neo-Darwinists are fearsomely technical and leave me behind in the dust because of the in-house jargon, but the basic propositions of Darwin are graspable by any generally educated person. And any generally educated person can also see the fundamental conflict: Darwinism, as originally intended, affirmed an open-ended process of evolution that had no inherent teleology, whereas traditional Christian theology has always postulated a world built primarily (but not solely, it must be added; see Job) for human needs and in which human beings could realize their destiny. The Bible is, in a sense, radically anthropocentric, whereas Darwinism is not. For Darwinism, we are an accident; for the Bible, we, and the world which sustains us, are designed. Thus, whether Darwinism makes me !
 unhappy is irrelevant; my point is that it describes nature non-teleologically, and therefore is a misfit for an anthropocentric religion like Christianity.
9. You wrote:
 “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?”
Here’s what your argument boils down to: not everything has to be perfectly accomplished according to a design to be functional. I never denied this. I never said that everything was designed down to the last detail. Even Denton doesn’t go that far. But I think that design is preponderant over chance in nature. I differ from Darwin because he says there is no design at all. Your workers and their blue walls and their badly-cut door are the random chance element, but they alone could never have built the house. They needed the blueprint. In terms of nature, Darwin says that they didn’t need the blueprint. Dawkins says they didn’t need the blueprint. Francis Collins says they didn’t need the blueprint. Francisco Ayala says the same. So does Ken Miller. So does Eugenie Scott. Do you agree with these people?
10. “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 ot!
It’s Michael Denton’s view that the universe is radically anthropocentric. I don’t know if he’s right. He makes a good case for it. He doesn’t do it by getting inside the mind of the Designer. (Nor do I.) He doesn’t do it by appealing to the Bible. (Nor do I, though it turns out the Bible largely agrees with him.) He does it by looking at what the Designer did. He infers the design from the facts of nature. To see how he does it, you’ll have to read his second book.
If you don’t like “pointless accident”, say “utterly unguided”. That’s how Darwinism says living nature operates. Any Christian who thinks that Darwin meant that evolution was guided, or even could be guided, needs to pick up The Origin of Species and read it slowly and carefully, from cover to cover. Dawkins knows exactly what Darwin meant. The only difference between Darwin and Dawkins is that Dawkins takes design out of non-living nature as well. For Darwin, God exists, but he had nothing to do with what happened in the evolution of life. For Dawkins, God just not does not exist. Dawkins’s God Delusion is worthless rubbish, but you should read The Blind Watchmaker, which sets forth the position of ultra-orthodox Darwinism at its finest.
11. “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".”
I don’t speculate about God’s goals in creation, or about God’s intentions generally. Some TEs seem to. Ken Miller and John Haught fill their books with such speculation.
I didn’t say that a universe in which God uses evolution would be an ugly truth. I said it would be an ugly truth if Dawkins & Co. were right about RM + NS.
12. “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)?”
I don’t speculate about God’s purposes for creation. Nor does one have to know what God’s purposes are, to see that chance, in the sense of radically free, uncontrolled happenstance, is incompatible with God’s omnipotence and/or omniscience and/or providence. So a Christian who believes in chance as an ultimate reality, plus divine omnipotence and providence, is asserting A and not-A at the same time. The moment you assert that God intended the giant anteater to exist and to have the character it has now, you are also asserting – whether you intend to or not – that God made sure that the evolutionary process would produce the giant anteater. So God overruled, nullified the effects of anything that might be called “chance” which could have taken evolution on another path and caused it to bypass the anteater. And if God made sure that the evolutionary process would produce even one thing, then Darwinism is wrong. In Darwinism, there is no evolutionary res!
 ult which can be guaranteed in advance. Open-endedness is the very heart and soul of Darwinism, whereas certainty about the final outcome (allowing for minor delays and vagaries, e.g., the case of Jonah) is at the heart of the Biblical understanding of God.
Some will of course say that God might foresee a chance event and use it to accomplish his plan. But in Darwinism, if chance events are taken up into a plan, that would be proof that biological nature was “rigged”, which is something that Darwin and all strict Darwinians deny.
Anyone who reads Darwin’s letters or autobiography cannot fail to be struck by the fact that Darwin held exactly the account of the matter that I’m portraying here. Constantly we see him agonizing over the apparent conflict between the heartlessness and chaos of nature red in tooth and claw, and the religious assertion that God has it all planned out. He is unable to reconcile his account of nature with any form of traditional revealed religion. And this is not surprising, because the metaphysical assumption he made at the outset, i.e., that the origin of species must be explained by solely naturalistic causes, where “natural” is understood to mean “excluding design”, would lead him to a conflict with Biblical religion.
Of course, once one realizes that there is another sense of interpreting “natural”, one that does not exclude “design”, i.e., the sense in which Denton and other front-loading theorists mean “natural”, then it becomes possible to reconcile naturalistic evolution with design. But Darwin never got that far. He wanted completely naturalistic explanation, but couldn’t see how that could ever be compatible with design. He saw his position, and Paley’s, as either/or alternatives. Front-loaders say that it’s not “either/or” between naturalism and design; it’s “both/and”. And if it’s both/and, then of course belief in God can be combined with evolution. The problem is not with evolution, but with some of its Darwinian baggage. The problem is not that Christians embrace evolution, it is that they torture themselves with mental gymnastics to reconcile the Biblical God, who is suited to create law-driven processes, with Darwinism, which sees life as!
  the result of a fundamentally chance-driven process. They just need to reconceptualize evolution so that chance is no longer central to the whole process. And that means dumping Darwin. Not every sentence of Darwin. Not every argument of Darwin. Not every observation of Darwin. Not every causal factor identified by Darwin. But it means dumping the built-in anti-design bias of Darwin.

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue, 07 Oct 2008 09:34:38 -0400

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Oct 07 2008 - 09:36:08 EDT