Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Tue Apr 28 2009 - 11:00:43 EDT

I am not at all sure, Cameron, why you keep pushing the "chance" thing, particularly when you say this:

<The combination popular on this list, i.e., to accept the "science" of Dawkins and Gould (separated from their "atheist metaphysics"), and then Christianize it with theistic metaphysics, does not in my view work. It produces metaphysical hash, because the "science" of Dawkins and Gould is inseparable from their metaphysics. In fact, evolutionary theory of their type is 90% metaphysics (bad metaphysics in my opinion) and 10% science.

Put crudely, any form of theistic evolution that accepts 100% of Dawkins/Gould must say:

"God guides evolution by making use of a process the fundamental nature of which is logically incompatible with guidance".

This notion violates basic logic, and I reject it. (There is a possible rescue, which I'll consider later, though only to confirm my rejection.)

Now I know that George and Ted have suggested that perhaps God guides things under the cover of quantum indeterminacy, but this does not solve the contradiction mentioned. Suppose that God does this. Then, from the point of view of the human observer, evolution looks like a chancy, random affair, but from a God's-eye view, it is controlled to produce exactly what God wants. This would preserve "methodological naturalism" -- there's no way of telling an intervention from a quantum freak event -- but it would still concede that ultimately the events aren't "random" -- metaphysically, I mean. So while I grant George and Ted that if God intervenes in the evolutionary process, he could do so unobserved (perhaps) under quantum indeterminacy, the metaphysical question can't be avoided: is the course of evolution guided, or not? Ultimately, George and Ted are saying: yes, it is, though science can't prove it.

A Gould/Dawkins answer, topped up with Christian theology, would be different from Ted and George's answer.>


I have two main comments, Cameron, by way of reply.

First, I think you have understood my own view, though I can't speak for George Murphy. As you say, this view does not collapse into the Gould/Dawkins view -- it is not a form of atheism. You seem to think that this then leads to a contradiction, but I simply do not agree with you on this. We really have no idea how God interacts with matter -- or with us, apart from the "ordinary" human interactions associated with the "extraordinary" events of the life of the incarnate God. As Boyle put it long before we knew about QM, in a dialogue on "Things Transcending Reason," where an interlocutor says, "I can as little explain by any thing in Nature, how God, who is an immaterial Substance, can move Matter, as how he can create it..." We are really no closer to answering this mystery today, than we were in his day. The quantum thing above is nothing more than one poor human model to try to make some sense out of the unfathomable mystery of divine action. Perhaps you can do be!
 tter, Cameron, but I doubt it.

The point of this model is really about us, about our knowledge, not about God and how God achieves God's plans. The point, as several scientists and theologians have realized, is to say that our own determinist models of divine action (which you seem to prefer, Cameron, unless I misread your intonation), inspired by determinist models of nature, cannot actually be imposed on God b/c they can't be imposed on nature. Down deep, things happen that we cannot predict, that we can never fully know. If David Bohm is right, then all of this is wrong, obviously; but if you take that route, Cameron, or some other deterministic route, then it seems to be that we're right back in the Enlightenment pickle of making God into the Divine Calculator instead of the maker of heaven and earth whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. To my way of thinking, a model based on the usual view of QM (namely, that we won't discover hidden variables), is much to be prefe!

Also, I should point out that Mike Behe has no problem with such a view. In his contribution to "Debating Design," he quotes Ken Miller's summary of this view (in "Finding Darwin's God," p. 241), and then says "Miller doesn't think that guidance is necessary in evolution, but if it were (as I believe), then a route would be open for a subtle God to design life without overriding natural law. ... As a theist like Miller, that seems perfectly possible to me. I would add, however, that such a process would amount to Intelligent Design, not Darwinian evolution. Further, while we might not be able to detect quantum manipulations, we may nevertheless be able to conclude confidently that the final structure was designed."

(Dembski also has favorable things to say about a quantum picture of divine action is his new book, but I won't quote that since it isn't out yet.)

My sense, Cameron, is that Behe captures the point you state in the excerpt I quoted from you post, above. Am I reading you correctly?

I find it odd, personally, that Behe says that something undetectable counts as ID, but perhaps I really am missing something very important about ID that you can help me see. I think this is i.d., not I.D., but (again) maybe I am mistaken. You seem, Cameron, not to like the subtlety of the quantum view, and maybe you share my puzzlement with what Behe says here?

Second, Cameron, if (as Behe says and I think you are also saying) the QM view is not Darwinian evolution, then so what? It might well look "Darwinian" (unguided), but this is only to say that we just don't know the ultimate causes here and we are confessing scientific ignorance of them. What's the big deal here? Is the problem simply that the QM view doesn't give the theist a big club to apply to the head of Dawkins or Gould? It certainly leaves more than plenty of room for faith to interpret events as divinely caused and planned--at least it seems to do me. What's the problem here? I'm not bothered if my faith is not scientific; Dawkins' faith isn't scientific, either; and my faith can answer a lot of questions that his is forced to ignore or even deny the legitimacy of. I'll take that any day.

In terms of science, however, these things are as Owen Gingerich says, "Questions without Answers." I quote from my review of Owen's book, "God's Universe," as follows:

<Gingerich has plenty of courage, but he treads much more cautiously. Although evolution is incomplete and many questions remain unanswered, he admits, “those are not grounds for dismissing it.” Outlining a middle way, he goes on to question whether the mathematically random mutations upon which evolution depends are also random in a larger, metaphysical sense. His suggestion here reminds me of yet another Harvard scientist: the botanist Asa Gray, the first American Darwinian and also an important early proponent of what is often called “theistic evolution.” Gray acknowledged the presence and power of natural selection, but he also believed that “variation has been led along certain beneficial lines” by the Creator to produce the grand scheme of living things.
The development of quantum physics in the twentieth century has led some to propose that God might govern the universe partly at the atomic or molecular level. Such activity would be real but scientifically invisible, since it would be masked by the inherent uncertainties of quantum phenomena; faith would perceive what science lacks the ability to confirm or to deny. The late William Pollard, a physicist at Oak Ridge who was also an Episcopalian priest, is often associated with this view. Contemporary champions include at least two more ordained physicists, John Polkinghorne and Robert John Russell, and Gingerich makes a similar claim. If God does not act at this level “to design the universe in a purposeful way,” he says, then “random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see.”>

I fail to see the problem here, Cameron, unless you just reject the view that God can do things without God being "seen" doing them. The outcome can be seen, but not the actions themselves. That seems compatible with both TE and ID, wouldn't you say?

So, Cameron, what's really your beef here?


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Received on Tue Apr 28 11:01:31 2009

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