front loading; was Re: [asa] on miracles

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Sat Mar 14 2009 - 02:39:44 EDT

Response to Dave: Our existence proves the mass extinctions helped or at least didn't significantly hurt our bio-trajectory. Paleontologists have pointed out that the destruction of the big dinosaurs was helpful or necessary for enabling mammal dominance. So it's quite believable that the extinctions worked to our advantage, though we'll probably never know how in any detail.

The part I choke on with this as a front-loading model is that God presumably had to control the Big Bang in such a finely detailed way that everything worked out to lead explicitly to us. I can swallow the physical parts--i.e., formation of galaxies & planets, etc.--as direct consequences of the Big Bang, but to contend the Big Bang controlled biological development seems far-fetched, especially in view of the extinction events.

Response to Jim: I think we agree that the spiritual aspects are more important than the physical, but the reality is that we're physical beings. Because of this our physical origin is of considerable interest if not importance. It is in fact important for my theological views.

Your version of front loading incorporates robustness as key. Robustness for you means that, because the world does a "huge number" of experiments, one of them is likely to succeed. God could have arranged the number of experiments to be large enough to more or less guarantee success.

Actually, if you subtract out any reference to God, this model is identical to that of the atheistic scientist. So I can't object to it on logical or scientific grounds, and I can't say that I have difficulty taking it seriously. My objection remains theological and personal: I think it makes God less personally involved than he actually is.

Is your robustness the same as what Van Till with his RFEP meant by robustness? Somehow I got a different impression.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: D. F. Siemens, Jr.<>
  Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2009 10:39 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] on miracles

  Taking off from your approach rather than Jim's, how do you know that the nova did not produce a cosmic ray that altered a gene to produce a desired end? This is at the "micro" end. Also, could the extinction of the dinosaurs have a beneficial effect in producing us? This is at the "macro" end. I know of no way to exhaust the possible positive and desirable effects of all the various events down through the ages. As things have applied to me, I now recognize that matters that seemed devastating at the time have had distinctly beneficial effects in the long run.
  Dave (ASA)

  On Thu, 12 Mar 2009 07:59:26 -0700 Jim Armstrong <<>> writes:
    [Ooops, I meant to post this. JimA]

    If you think "deal with the amount of detail necessary", then you may have missed something about the front-loading concept. For many "front loaders" at least, the understanding is not that an immense clockwork was put into motion to produce exactly what we are, along with our particular contexts, both intentionally quite specific in form and function. That idea embodies the notion of a single trajectory leading to us, a tad presumptuous and limiting in my view, considering the immensity of Creation.

    Instead, the front-loading understanding is that an immense and dynamic creation was brought into being, with the capacity for huge numbers of potential developmental trajectories, one of which is the trajectory of which we are a part. My particular view is that the immensity of the universe (by our measure) is a reflection of the intent to have an intrinsic robustness (with a nod to Howard Van Til) embodying enormous numbers of such trajectories. That creates a universe that is unimaginably abundantly fruitful and diverse development-wise, ensuring at least in part the occurrence of certain kinds of outcomes which we can perhaps reasonably conclude includes the likes of ourselves, in whatever ways and extents we manifest a desired outcome of this intentional dynamic and evolving (yeh, I know) universe. As a part of its robustness, or relentless developmental character, this outcome could occur perhaps, or probably, more than once, though these outcomes would almost necessarily not be identical in physical attributes, and would occur non-concurrently along their own unique timelines.

    I understand why it is appealing for many reasons to conceptualize a continuously supported/guided creation. At least in the form above, front-loading may leave behind the notion of a certain specificity, a certain uniqueness of purpose and outcome manifest in us, ...or does it?

    But I would question why all this focus on the physicality of Creation and its functioning. Is that aspect of Creation really central to what we are in our place in this Creation, or is the heart of the matter how we live and act, and have the capacity to bring about that which transcends this physical context (at least in part). It seems to me that the existence and functioning of the physical world is merely(!?) a backdrop or ambiance, or reaction vessel or "soil", a host if you will for what might rhe ultimate expectation or hope for and in us as we continue to learn and grow where we seem to have sprouted in this incredibly verdant and blessed garden.

    JimA [Friend of ASA]

    Don Winterstein wrote:
      Thanks for your thoughts.

      You wrote: "...Distinguishing special guidance from front-loading from ordinary providence is not easy."

      As I have such a difficult time taking front-loading seriously, I'd like to ask a question to improve my understanding of how others regard it. Namely, if God did everything through front-loading, would he have included a nearby supernova (Ordovician extinction) or an asteroid impact (K-T extinction) as an integral part of the process from before the Big Bang?

      I suppose to ask the question is to answer it, but at the same time the thing boggles my mind. I really hope God doesn't have to deal with the amount of detail necessary to make something like that happen. If he does, I'm sorry. That's another reason why I prefer ongoing
      "special guidance." It may not be philosophically or scientifically elegant, but it's so much more compatible with what I perceive as reality, so much easier for mortals to deal with.


        ----- Original Message -----
        From: David Campbell<>
        To: asa<>
        Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 2:34 PM
        Subject: Re: [asa] on miracles

> In other words, while I agree with David C. that God is far more concerned
> with spiritual than physical attributes of his creatures--and his
> predestining may well not have included shapes of individual body
> parts--it's hard for me to imagine any form of marine life or invertebrate
> life becoming capable of satisfying God's larger (presumed) requirement.
> (Well, maybe if dolphins had arms and hands with opposable thumbs.... But
> how would they smelt ores under water? We can go into water and air and
> space; marine animals would have great difficulty doing much of anything out
> of water.)

        Just to clarify: I do think that the spiritual aspects are more
        important, but did not mean to take a stand either way as to whether
        the physical attributes are important.

        Theologically, I think all the details were predestined and "what
        might have been" may not be a meaningful question, but as far as I
        know there's no scientific way to assess those points.

        There are various studies that support the idea that only a certain
        range of forms and lifestyles are available, and that almost all of
        them have been taken by organisms, though of course it's hard to prove
        without either a large sample of planets with complex life forms that
        arose independently or else the ability to run an experiment for a
        billion years or so.

        Also, a lot of the features of interest here are very hard to quantify
        and analyze. For example, Gould was quite excited about the fact
        that, whereas almost all known post-Cambrian arthropods (and all known
        post-Paleozoic ones) fit into a few categories based on the number,
        position, and type of appendages (e.g., 0-2 pairs of antennae, which
        segment has which mouthparts, 6 or 8 or more legs), many of the
        Cambrian ones do not fit into these groups. On the other hand, most
        of the Cambrian arthropods are vaguely shrimplike, such that Walcott
        thought that they could fit into the standard groups and only with the
        detailed study of the past four decades or so did the anomalies gain
        attention. In contrast, anyone quickly can tell the differences
        between a butterfly, a beetle, a bee, and a flea, yet they are all
        members of a single major group of insects, the holometabolous orders.
         If the insects had a breathing system that allowed them to get
        bigger, they might have been able to develop large brains.

> And while Gould may have exaggerated the randomness of evolution, from what
> I know of it, and most emphatically in acknowledgement of the effects of
> mass extinctions, it seems very likely that starting evolution at different
> times and places would lead to significantly different outcomes. While
> "changing one electron" should not have a major effect (unless it caused a
> crucial mutation!), even a minor extinction event should have a noticeable
> effect. For example, such extinction is likely to give some species a new
> competitive advantage that in turn may lead it to eliminate still other
> species.
> Many authors have pointed out that more than 99% of all species have gone
> extinct. Chances seem very good that, under conditions of randomness and
> without any special guidance, the species God wanted would not have
> survived.
> Don

        Of course, distinguishing special guidance from front-loading from
        ordinary providence is not easy.

        Although mass extinctions are notoriously "random" in being
        unpredictable and not necessarily sparing apparently successful groups
        (it's hard to think of any organismal feature short of advanced
        technological culture that would help avoid an incoming asteroid, for
        example), often certain characteristics do seem to convey an
        advantage. Conway Morris's work on the topic is probably the most
        extensive available, though of course taking a particular stance
        rather than merely summarizing the pros and cons of all options.

        A rather odd example comes from Dixon's envisioned world without a K/T
        impact. Although he rejects Dale Russell's intelligent human-like
        dinosauroid on ground that evolution is more random than that, a lot
        of the things he does have look a whole lot like actual non-human

        Dr. David Campbell
        425 Scientific Collections
        University of Alabama
        "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"

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Received on Sat Mar 14 02:40:25 2009

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