Re: [asa] Re: Coyne vs Collins

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Apr 30 2009 - 08:14:19 EDT

Hi, Schwarzwald:

I've enjoyed many of your posts to this site over the last few months. I find them often sharp in their insight and generally filled with common sense.

It's not surprising that you and others are having some trouble understanding me; I'm new, and my characteristic vocabulary, phrases, literary references, and general positions aren't known yet. Thus, while you can always tell where George Murphy or Dave Siemens or Randy Isaac is "coming from", you can't in my case yet. I understand this and will try to clarify what I meant.

First, on methodological naturalism versus metaphysical naturalism. We know that Eugenie Scott and many TEs make a big deal about the distinction. But they do that largely to fend off attacks from both sides. Eugenie uses it to fend off attacks that Darwinism implies atheism. She wants to look professionally neutral on the subject of religion. The TEs use it to fend off charges that Christians can't do science because they will be using miracles to explain things all the time. In sum, the whole discussion is politically charged. Why would any philosopher or scientist, outside the constitutionally-charged religion-in-the-schools atmosphere of the USA, want to make a distinction between epistemology and ontology ("I'm methodologically naturalist, but not metaphysically naturalist")? As if we should study reality in one way, while knowing that it's really another? So that we're supposed to study nature as if there's no God, or at least no God who has any active part it, while believing in our heart of hearts that God does have an active part in it? This is another example of modern schizophrenia; the ancients did not think about life in such a bizarre way. The ancient atomists, like Lucretius, made their epistemology match their metaphysics. You don't find Lucretius arguing that we should treat the world *as if* everything can be explained by atoms falling through a void, while believing in his heart of hearts that God is behind it all somehow. No; for Lucretius we should look only for mechanical explanations for things, because that's all the universe is: a dead mechanism of colliding atoms. Epistemology matches metaphysics. And this is a sane attitude. (Not the atheism, but the unity of epistemology and metaphysics.)

Now based on statements I've seen, Coyne is ultimately a modern sort of Lucretian, not only in being atheist and materialist, but in believing that epistemology should match metaphysics. So I assume he would say that if you believe in God, you put God into both your epistemology and your metaphysics; and if you don't believe in God, you cut him out of both. Coyne doesn't believe in God, so I think he cuts God out of both, and metaphysics and epistemology becomes one, and the distinction made by Eugenie Scott and TEs is pointless. So MN for Coyne would be a silly term. How else could you examine nature but on naturalistic premises? What other premises could there be, when nature is all there is?

Second, on 90% metaphysics and 10% science. Given his foundations, Coyne would have to work on the assumption that all living organisms have been produced by a combination of general natural laws, chance mutations, and natural selection. And his work in evolutionary biology would then consist in finding probable evolutionary pathways, or in investigating possible new genetic mechanisms, etc. But note that given his premises, and given his conviction, based on the fossil record, that evolution happened, he in one way has quite an easy time of things. He doesn't require, up front, evidence to *prove* that the ensemble of neo-Darwinian mechanisms are capable of doing the job. His certainty that God is out of the picture, and that there is no guiding intelligence of any kind, means that he can be *sure*, *in advance of all confirming evidence*, that chance, natural selection, etc., are up to the job. They *must* be up to the job, or else all that we see could not have come into being -- given that God does not exist to do miracles, secretly guide, or front-load. And when you are sure of something in advance, you don't work very hard to prove it. So Coyne can simply declare that human beings have descended from marine worms, without ever establishing that the means known to us are plausible causes of such a transformation. And he and his colleagues can work on "possible evolutionary pathways" which include very few of the nitty-gritty mechanical details.

If you take away the metaphysical certainty that chance and necessity are adequate, suddenly Darwinian theory has much more work to do. It then has to *prove*, by a combination of empirical research and theory, that complex design features can be arrived at without any designer. In this light, we can see that 90% of the established "science" in evolution is really dependent upon metaphysics -- a metaphysical claim about the sufficiency of necessity and chance to produce complex organic forms. Therefore, ID people are quite right to demand that the Darwinists provide the proofs that they haven't had to provide up to this point. And TE people are quite wrong to let Darwinists off from providing these proofs. Unless we know for sure that there is no God, so that matter/energy is all there is, there is simply no way we can be sure that necessity and chance can explain evolution, short of an immense body of detailed proofs which Darwinism has not provided.

So what I've been trying to say is that, while TE and ID agree that there is an unproved metaphysics behind Coyne's version of neo-Darwinism, they draw different conclusions from this. For TE, all you have to do to fix things up is to subtract the unjustified atheistic *inference* which Coyne makes *on top of the science*, leaving only the pure science, which is conceived to be mostly independent of the metaphysics. For ID, Coyne's atheism is not a gratuitous personal *inference*, which he adds *on top of the science*, but rather an *assumption*, *lying at the base of the science*, i.e. in his a priori conception of the powers of nature, and if you subtract that assumption, most of the "scientific results" of Darwinian theory vanish into thin air. What is left of Darwinian "science" is then (i) a set of mechanisms that have been empirically proved able to lengthen finch beaks, confer antibiotic resistance on one-celled animals, etc., and (ii) the claim (utterly unproved) that such mechanisms can generate major macroevolutionary change.

So, for TEs, "Darwinian evolution" of Coyne's type is really 90% good, neutral science, and 10% unwarranted religious speculation, whereas for IDers, Coyne's "scientific" conclusions are 90% dependent upon metaphysics, and only 10% (if even that) verified by science. The two analyses are almost completely different.
Third, regarding my words, "only care about science", I see your point, and you're right, but I meant something different. What I meant was: Coyne isn't looking for the approval of the theological community, but only for the approval of the scientific community. If Collins endorses Coyne's science, then, since Collins is a scientist, Coyne is glad to take the endorsement. But if the Pope fails to endorse Coyne's religion, Coyne couldn't care less. As long as scientists, Christians or not, keep saying, like a mantra: "Neo-Darwinian mechanisms are true. They are the only explanation consistent with MN. They can build complex organisms without guidance or foresight", Coyne's position is strengthened. But when Behe comes along and says: "There is no evidence that complex organisms can be built by chance and necessity without guidance or foresight", Coyne's position is threatened. And, since Behe is a scientist, and the public is watching, Coyne has two choices: either to respectfully refute Behe by showing him the detailed mechanisms, or try to convince the world that Behe is a fraudulent or incompetent scientist, or religiously motivated. He can't do the first, so he has to resort to the second.

I hope this answers your questions.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Schwarzwald
  Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:44 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Re: Coyne vs Collins

  Heya all. One question, and a bunch of comments to Cameron.

  First, does Collins' new ministry have an online presence at all? I would be tremendously interested in seeing it if so, but I haven't been able to find it as of yet.

  Second, to Cameron, some comments below.

    Nor do I think (any more than you do) that Coyne has the answers to "the big questions". But Coyne surely has a right to protest if, in his view, his own particular thought-system -- classical neo-Darwinism -- is being hijacked to serve ends that are alien to it. And in Coyne's view, that's what most forms of TE do, whether they're called TE, EC, Biologos, or something else. Coyne's view is that a certain notion of chance is built into Darwinian theorizing, and can't be theologized out of it, or theo-morphed into something that's sort of chance and sort of not chance.

  Cameron, I've been enjoying (and agreeing with) a lot of your posts. But I have trouble nailing you down on one particular question.

  You've said before that neo-darwinism is 90% metaphysics, 10% science. I agree. You've said that TEs endorse 'neo-darwinism', but the neo-darwinism they endorse isn't the real deal - it's neo-darwinism with all the original metaphysics stripped out. Again, I agree. I'd even agree, if "neo-darwinism" cannot be made distinct from its metaphysics, then there are abundant reasons (scientific, philosophical, theological) to disregard it, since there are other equal or superior ways to view the 'pure' science and data.

  But right here you seem to be saying that Coyne see neo-darwinism as necessitating certain metaphysical positions, and he's not going to give those up without a fight. But the entire point of methodological naturalism was that it was distinct from metaphysical naturalism. If metaphysics are being imported into the topic, it's no longer purely science, and Coyne is not defending science against the TEs. He's defending his metaphysics. What's more, he seems to be conflating the two. Aren't TEs, and even ID proponents, right to call him on that? Because frankly, that conflation seems to be both the biggest problem in this whole debate, as well as the achilles heel of atheists exploiting science (or rather, passing off metaphysics as science.)


    My argument has always been that the way to take the stuffing out of Coyne is to disavow allegiance to any particular set of mechanisms, and agree only upon "evolution". That leaves the way open for a partial use of Darwinian mechanisms, but also for interventionism (detectable or quantum-undetectable), front-loading, immanent teleology, and whatever other theological options are out there. It leaves room for several, alternate "theologies of evolution".

  I would agree with this myself, but again I'm confused on some particulars. I agree that having 'allegiance to a particular set of mechanisms' is a mistake and not required, just as I'd agree that metaphysical declarations about "unguided" or "chance" are unwarranted and unnecessary as far as the science goes.

    If a Christian scientist says to Coyne, "Look, we agree with you about the age of the earth, and about fossils, and about evolution, but we are not sure that your mechanisms are adequate to explain this mysterious and marvellous process", what can he say? He can't accuse such a person of being a fundamentalist literalist, or anti-science, or mixing in religion with science, or anything of the sort -- unless he can demonstrate that the mechanisms he proposes are sufficient to explain everything -- which he can't. On the other hand, as long as Christians keep saying to Coyne, "We agree with you about evolution, and we agree with you even about the sufficiency of the mechanisms, but we just don't like your theology" -- Coyne will never, never go away. Nor will Dawkins, Myers, etc. Because then you're telling them that their science is entirely right, and it's only their atheistic, extra-scientific theology that's wrong. They are never going to back down, once you've blessed their science, because they only care about science, not about God. So if famous Christian scientists like Collins and Polkinghorne keep telling the world that neo-Darwinism is *entirely sound, as science* -- Coynes and Dawkinses will be with us always.

  This I can't agree with. Or at least, this part baffles me.

  "They only care about science"? Not from what I read. Science is a useful tool towards an end for them - what they too often care about is philosophy which they pass off as science, and ultimately politics.

  More than that, what's really confusing me is... again, you've said neo-darwinism is 10% science, 90% metaphysics. And you've pointed out that TEs endorse "neo-darwinism", but neo-darwinism - metaphysics != neo-darwinism. Now you're saying Coyne and others only care about the science. Which can't be right, because Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris accept all the science - it's the rejection of the metaphysics that is getting Coyne angry.

  Either way, the Dawkinses and Coynes of the world "will always be with us" either way. Maybe you mean that, once neo-darwinism is exposed as being unsupported (either due to the dearth of data/explanation for the evolution of life on this planet, or because it requires unjustified metaphysical presumption to be 'real' neo-darwinism) then Coyne and company won't have a leg to stand on - since it will be realized that their explanations are weak and/or their conclusions about how this relates to 'design' aren't science, but philosophy.

    The *most* Collins's approach can hope to achieve is a draw -- to show that Darwinian science, even if correct, supports Christianity as well as it supports atheism. I agree that this in itself would be a good thing; half a loaf is better than none.

  I think arriving at that point would be vastly more than a draw, but still, agreed.

    But I'm not interested in a draw with Dawkins and Coyne. I want a victory. And the way to victory is to show the world that its greatest evolutionary biologists -- like Coyne himself, and Dawkins -- don't have a clue, on the level of precise detail, how any of the alleged mechanisms produced the alleged effects. Once the world's intelligentsia -- and I mean not just Christian but secular intelligenstia -- starts to believe this, in significant numbers, once the average educated lay person demotes Darwinian theory from the level of scientific certainty to intriguing speculation, it's not just a draw, it's a victory.

    So by all means, let Collins hammer away at Coyne in his own way. Let him fire his ground-level salvos at the atheist fortress. But I hope Collins will keep his lips zipped while ID people are tunnelling *under* the fortress and undermining its very foundations, instead of doing what TE people usually do, which is to shout a warning to the atheists about the mound that's approaching their castle wall. The smart strategy is to let ID people undermine arrogant atheism in their own way, let TE do things its way, and see who gets to Dawkins and Coyne first.

    At the end, when it's all over, if we win, we can take stock and decide whose approach was better, and maybe we can even have an awards ceremony to acknowledge those who contributed the most meritorious service, and maybe Collins and Miller will win the most medals, or maybe Behe and Dembski will. Time will tell. But let's not endanger the victory by fighting with each other.

  Agreed that the TE v ID spat goes on too long, and too needlessly.


    ----- Original Message ----- From: "Ted Davis" <>
    To: <>; <>
    Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 7:01 PM
    Subject: Coyne vs Collins


      You now have your wish. Now, it's Collins' turn to be trashed by Coyne, the
      sancitmonious atheist whose charming views you already know well enough. We
      all knew this would be coming, once Collins stopped working for the federal
      government and started his own religion/science ministry. Coyne continues
      to pretend that not having any answers (when it comes to the big questions,
      he ain't got 'em) is a better answer than having some that he can't stand.
      The spirit of what Collins (and other Christian thinkers, TE or ID or
      otherwise) is doing -- taking the big questions seriously and offering
      answers from a religious perspective -- is ironically much more scientific
      than what Coyne is doing. Or, not doing. Probing for something deeper is
      what science is really all about. Admitting our ignorance and limited
      knowledge in the process -- yes, that's scientific too, but the refusal to
      take those big questions seriously, the constant refrain that nothing really
      means anything, is not in keeping with the scientific spirit.

      When I heard Collins speak last evening, incidentally, I don't recall him
      trashing ID. He briefly noted why he thought it wasn't the right view to
      defend, but his focus for the evening was all positive, about what his plans
      were and why he is so passionate about doing this.


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Received on Thu Apr 30 08:15:02 2009

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