Re: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Jan 23 2009 - 16:39:43 EST

Heya Jon,

Some comments below.

I think the struggle to find some way that TE could be falsified is elusive,
> because TEs themselves (I expect) would claim that it wasn't meant to be
> falsified. I grant that this is reasonable, if it's just a theological
> belief. In fact it seems to me that the TE position is trying to take the
> non-overlapping magisterial (NOMA) approach. It is said that the TE
> position is strictly theological and thus doesn't make any claims on
> scientific concerns, while their science is strictly limited to natural
> cause and effect. But this is the very claim that I am challenging. If
> God's providence is a necessary component to explain the origin of natural
> things, then it's not strictly a theological pursuit. It's not
> non-overlapping with scientific (i.e. natural) concerns, unless origins are
> excluded ad hoc from scientific investigation.

I think this may be a mistaken way of looking at the situation.

Whether or not God's providence is a necessary component to explain origins
isn't an issue science can hope to settle. If someone claims that it was
God's providence that led to the creation of the rabbit, and someone else
claims that the rabbit was just the result of unguided, purposeless forces,
neither is making a claim that science can judge - no matter what is known.
If God operates in the world, then He (with one great exception) does so
from the outside looking in - in a way analogous to a programmer affecting a
program. The alternative is that the program itself contains everything - it
codes itself, it operates itself, and it doesn't need to take into account
programmers or hardware. The former claim can look at any instance of the
program and view either everything or some things in terms of intentional
code - maybe everything is rolling out according to plan, and maybe just the
outcomes of these otherwise unpredictable events were guided. The latter
claim would be that everything is ultimately blind, but by chance happens to
be working out - and no matter how providential some things (or all things)
may seem, we're just unaware of certain code operations, or we got lucky.

What makes this more confusing is the unspoken idea that, if the YECs were
correct - or even if the RTB model were correct - it would amount to
scientific proof of God. I suggest that that is entirely untrue. Imagine
that science never took the turns it did over the past few centuries, and
that all evidence indicated the world were roundabout ten thousand years
old, and every existing species seemed to have popped into existence fully
formed. Would that prove God? Despite assurances to the contrary (I notice a
modern tendency to argue that what would decisively prove God tends to be
what is believed to be clearly falsified already), I argue no. In fact, I
believe the debates could and likely would be shockingly similar to how they
are now, with options ranging from the greater machinations of chance
(perhaps universes are popping into existence constantly with different
variables that lead to different beginnings, perhaps we are mistaken in our
interpretation of the data, perhaps the God was some lesser being than we
imagine, etc) to the theological.

Now, let's look at Lenski's research on E. coli. He took bacteria, grew
> them on purpose in the lab to observe mutations and adaptations, and
> eventually verified that new function spontaneously arose through
> (presumably) natural mutation and selection. Score one for those who say
> that increased complexity or improved function can come about on its own.
> Theoretically this research could be continued indefinitely, until they
> grow
> enough variants of E. coli to prove that there are different species,
> biological structures, etc. Question: if God's providence is actively
> upholding and guiding all of creation, did God *will* for those particular
> biological adaptations to come about? It seems that the strong form of TE
> is very existentialist -- whatever happened must be what was *supposed to*
> happen, and thus "providence" is infinitely flexible to explain anything.
> On the other hand, the weaker form would say, yes this was God's will,
> because he created life to be flexible and adaptable to various
> environments, so though this strain of E. coli wasn't explicitly God's
> will,
> the capabilities of life were within His will. In that case, how do you
> prove that rational humankind (another specific branch of the biological
> tree) was any more the specific intent of God's purposes than was the E.
> coli that humans created in the lab? It seems that as TE tries to explain
> everything in general, it risks explaining nothing in particular.

The former view seems to me to be close to the most traditional theological
view - what's the alternative? That things happen which God does not will or
permit to happen?

And the distinction between the former and the latter view seems tricky to
me. There's no way to scientifically tell the difference between an event
God willed in particular (the specific mutation of that specific E. coli in
that specific time), an event God didn't will in particular in accordance
with a process He willed (evolutionary processes are willed, not all
evolutionary outcomes are), and an utter lack of will (everything, processes
and outcomes alike, happen blindly but luckily.) All three can explain
everything, and thus 'explain nothing in particular'.

Either way, I think this highlights the problem of viewing TE (or any view
of God's existence, theistic or atheistic) being intended as a falsifiable
offering. Even an act which seems at once miraculous and providential
doesn't necessarily work - it can be the result of technology (within or
'outside' of our universe), or in the most extreme case, yet more chance
(keep on increasing the number of universes, etc.) Or if needed, both.

Another potential challenge: some TEs (I believe) balk at the idea that
> human consciousness, morals, etc. are purely "natural" phenomena. Others,
> though, are suggesting that even these things may have arisen through
> "purely natural" means, as emergent properties, etc. What if our
> technology
> gets to the point that we can build robots that not only think and reason,
> but feel emotion, and can spontaneously develop consciousness? In other
> words, what if technology can one day prove that even robots can be built
> which demonstrate that conscience, morals, even religion, can spontaneously
> erupt in man-made things? Would that be a challenge to the Theistic aspect
> of TE, by challenging our assertion that there must exist a divine aspect
> somewhere that caused these things to emerge in humankind? (Or, why would
> God will for human-built robots to develop human-like consciousness and
> capability of religious worship -- again, the danger of existentialism.)

A couple of comments here. What 'purely natural' comprises seems tricky -
the common description seems to be 'anything we can imagine some kind of
explanation for', and one of the more common complaints about strong
emergence is that it doesn't seem to be completely 'natural'. Chalmers, when
talking about consciousness, discusses options ranging from substance and
property dualism to panpsychism to otherwise - and he seems to believe that
every option is natural. Further, the difficulty of figuring out whether
robots truly are conscious - and therefore have morals, conscience,
religion, etc - is considerable. Reference the problem of other minds - we
don't 'prove' other people have what we subjectively 'know' we have. We
infer it.

Second, consider the opposite possibility. What if, as technology increases,
we achieve the ability to simulate aspects of the natural world - the events
of the Big Bang onward, evolution from an origin of life, etc - with greater
and greater detail, even predictability? Would the demonstration that mind -
even our own - is capable of creating, predicting, and guiding natural
events to greater and greater detail cast doubt on the prospect of such
things happening sans guidance?

Again, I think what's being realized here are the limits of science, the
uselessness of regarding one event or another as 'purely natural', etc.

> The areas where TE could potentially be challenged, I believe, are so far
> beyond our current technological ability that they are essentially
> unfalsifiable, and the theory could potentially be stretched further once
> we
> were to reach that point. Or so it seems to me. I would welcome any
> thoughts on this.

The problem, I believe, doesn't lie with the TE concept, but with the
limitations that come naturally with rational life. No matter what
conclusion someone ultimately reaches on these subjects, there is a faith
component - now and forever.

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Received on Fri Jan 23 16:40:23 2009

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