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

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Tue Oct 07 2008 - 10:39:00 EDT

Timaeus wrote: "the motor, the driving force in Darwin, is the implicit rejection of design." 
How do you 'know' this? Though it was my last post to this thread before, since one of the most significant points therein was not addressed by Timaeus, I would like to ask him to define this term: 'design-centrism.' What would that potentially entail? (Don't fret, fellow Greek, I would ask the same of TE/ECs, though they are not now on the hot plate!) :)

If he can do this, it would help to set a boundary or limit on ID's (whether the IDMs or people like Mike Gene's) message. Is Timaeus guilty of 'design-centrism' in his vision, hearing and feeling of the universe, including the scientific, philosophical and theological realms?
E.g. power-centrism: 'Look everywhere for power, you will find it.' - Michel Foucault
Look everywhere for design...will you find it?
"It looks designed because it is [truth]." - Behe
This is weak (ontology-centric) philosophy, folks!
[Philosophy drums fade into relief...]
Gregory Arago

--- On Tue, 10/7/08, Ted Davis <> wrote:

From: Ted Davis <>
Subject: [asa] Rejoinder 5A from Timaeus: Response to Ted Davis re Gingerich
Received: Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 5:13 PM

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

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 10:39:39 2008

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