Re: [asa] Re: Coyne vs Collins

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Thu Apr 30 2009 - 12:45:50 EDT

> 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" --

Rejecting the sufficiency of the mechanisms is more than saying that
we are not sure that the mechanisms are adequate. It is saying that
we are sure that the mechanisms are inadequate. It is also saying
that fine-tuning is incorrect.

At present, there are no good arguments showing that the mechanisms
are insufficient. Proving that the ordinary evolutionary mechanisms
typically invoked by biology completely explain every aspect of the
physical origins of organisms is impossible, at least without time
travel and infinite sampling and analytical capacity, but there is no
obvious need to invoke other mechanisms when the generally accepted
ones are doing a good job.

>  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.

I see it exactly opposite: ID and YEC advocates support the
science-invoking atheists by saying that they are correct to infer
atheism from evolution, randomness, an old earth, or whatever, whereas
TE more often focuses on the real error-the claim that such things
tell us anything about whether God is involved. Bad arguments for
atheism do not require bad theistic arguments for inspiration, so I
don't think that the Dawkins-type arguments will entirely go away no
matter what, but I cannot envision the combination of bad theology and
bad science promoted by popular ID and YEC as doing any good. If God
is omniscient and omnipotent, then He can use ordinary means of
evolution or not use them to whatever extent He wants, and no
conclusions one way or the other can be drawn from biological or
paleontological evidence.

> 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.

This is not exactly a draw, as it directly contradicts the claim of
Dawkins et al. that science supports atheism.

> 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.

But one way to failure is to falsely claim that evidence supports your
view. In fact we have quite a lot of detail about how ordinary
evolutionary processes produce a wide range of evolutionary effects.
Of course, Dawkins falsely claims that scientific and social evidence
supports his view.

Science simply is not very good at addressing metaphysical questions
of serious interest. (It can address superstitions like horoscopes or
psychics.) Both the atheists and the antievolutionists put too much
faith in science as the authoritative source of information and
therefore try to pass off their philosophical views and erroneous
claims as science.

The preoccupation with victory can easily mislead. What we need to be
preoccupied with is truth. If the evidence doesn't support what we
want, maybe we're looking at the wrong evidence, maybe we're not
interpreting it correctly, maybe we were wrong, but we can't simply
reject the evidence because we don't like it.

> 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.

Dawkins and Johnson love to quote each other. They are agreeing about
the theology and disagreeing about the science. Dawkins has a
reasonably strong science background.

> But let's not endanger the victory by fighting with each other.
ID and YEC do spend a lot of time attacking TE. If there are serious
problems with the methods or arguments being promoted by one group,
that does need to be addressed.

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 Thu Apr 30 12:46:38 2009

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