Re: [asa] a creationist on the hiddenness of God

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Mon May 11 2009 - 00:35:03 EDT

Hello, Wayne.

Sorry for not replying to your points right away, but I've been out of town for a few days.

I agree with some of your points here, but not with your emphasis in all cases.

1. I want to clear up a misunderstanding in your first paragraph:

You wrote:

"It wasn't but a week ago that you were passionately preaching that we were a sluggish lot who should pick up our swords and slaughtering the materialists, yet we putter around. Yet when I press you to lay down some rock solid science on the table, you say "ID proponents [don't] depend on finding God's fingerprints in some rigorous scientific way". Fine, but you cannot have it both ways."

The point I was making about fighting materialistic accounts concerned *science*; when I made the remarks about God's fingerprints (I was replying to George, and the phrase was his), I was talking about *natural theology*. On the latter point, I was saying that even if one could find evidence of design in nature, one could not draw Christian theological conclusions from that. One could at best draw theistic or deistic theological conclusions from that. ID proponents have never claimed to find a proof for the existence of the Christian God in nature. And I agree with them that one cannot. So did Thomas Aquinas, and so did the classic Lutheran theologian that George quoted the other day. Natural theology, without the aid of revelation, can come up with only a skeletal idea of God.

But saying that one cannot prove the Christian idea of God in a scientific way does not mean that one cannot establish design in a scientific way. Design is established in a scientific way in all kinds of fields, archaeology, cryptography, criminology, etc. The disputed area is whether design can be established in cases where the designer could not have been human. I would argue that it can be. (Not that it has been, for certain, but that it can be.)

2. Next point: I accept that you never called ID "creationism in a cheap tuxedo". But many have. And the phrase doesn't matter. My point was that one can't accuse ID of being too Biblical and not Biblical enough at the same time. And maybe you didn't. But the TE rhetoric as a whole often tends this way.

3. Next point: I'm not advocating putting ID in the schools; I'd be happy if Darwinism were taught more critically. My point was merely that one can't argue that it shouldn't be taught in schools on the grounds that it's too Biblical, and then argue a moment later that the biggest problem with ID is that its theology depends on reason (which is legal in the schools) rather than the Bible (which isn't).

4. Here is one big point where we seem to disagree:

"The thing that doesn't really impress scientists that much is that the easiest thing to do when you don't have an immediate answer is wait. Usually one will come up, and at least some did. If the problem is really that intractable, then you will eventually see, but experience tells us that that is unlikely. Scientists learn to be cautious, even if they do push the envelop. Maybe especially in those cases. Moreover, biologists are trained to think of the problems as having lots of possibilities. So the eye, for example, is very impressive, but is it really impossible for it to form (at least in smaller spurts)? No one really can say with confidence.... I have read various reports (some in Science) claiming to have solved some of Behe's conundrums. At any rate, even I have that inclination to wait and see. Too many times, "impossible" was the downfall of a big investment."

I agree that one should not use the word "impossible" prematurely. (And Behe grants this, in *Darwin's Black Box*.) I also agree with you that often the best approach in science is not to force an answer but to wait. However, you're not being consistent unless you apply this to neo-Darwinian evolution as well. Neo-Darwinians have no idea (other than vague, purely qualitative suggestions based on analogies), how the eye could have evolved by chance + natural laws. Yet they assert for a certainty that it did. *They* aren't tentative about this. They teach it as fact in science textbooks. And the case is identical for all *major* macroevolutionary changes, none of which have been explained with anything like scientific precision. So, using your suggestion of scientific humility, *both* Behe *and* Dawkins should be told that we simply don't know enough to say *either* that it must have been design, *or* that chance + natural laws are adequate to explain the formation of the eye. The question should be left open, and the example of the eye (and of all major macroevolutionary changes) should be pulled from the high school textbooks. What should be taught as proved (with regard to the mechanisms, I mean) is microevolution (finch beaks, moth colours, antibiotic resistance, etc.) On the other hand, students should be taught that the evolution of major new body plans has stumped the world's greatest biologists, and that it has not been proved that chance plus natural laws alone can account for these body plans. But that is not the impression transmitted by the Darwin lobby.

So yes, the ID theorists may sometimes be shouting "impossible" prematurely; but they are responding to evolutionary biologists who are saying "proved" prematurely. Why not tell both sides to stop offering speculations as proved facts, instead of just the ID guys?

My model in these matters is David Berlinski. He's highly critical of Darwinism but doesn't embrace ID. He says that he is content to remain agnostic, to admit that he simply doesn't know where life came from or how it branched out into all those forms. I think his approach is the one biologists should take. I think they should be spending 99% of the their time learning much, more more about embryology, genetics, the apparently unused portions of DNA, physiology, environmental factors in survival rates, etc. I think that there should be a virtual moratorium on macroevolutionary speculation until biologists can explain much more about how life works today. Is there a biologist on this list who can give a detailed, step-by-step account of exactly how the body of a frog is formed, from the fertilized ovum on up? Is there a biologist on this list who can specify what every gene does, what other genes it works in concert with, and map every phenotypical characteristic of a blue jay to corresponding genomic and developmental facts? Until we understand how *observable* living machines tick, on a level which is that detailed, how can we reliably speculate upon hypothetical genetic and developmental activity in unknown ancient species, or in known ancient species for which we have no DNA?

So yes, let's be humble. Let's admit that we have no clue how life began, and very little knowledge of how macroevolutionary change works. Let's admit that most of our thoughts in these areas -- including thoughts about intelligent design -- are speculative. And let's let the students know the difference between "science" of the kind that Richard Dawkins does and "science" of the kind embodied in Kepler's laws, Boyle's law, engineering physics, etc. Let's not imbue evolutionary biology with an aura of certainty that it has not earned.
  
5. You also wrote:

"Finally, like it or not, the existence of a designer (if it could be proved) is making a statement on "ultimate reality" whether the intelligent agent is God, gods, or aliens. Once this is known and undisputed, the next question would have to be "who?". If we could show a designer really was at work, we would also be able to figure out the character of that designer by the tracks he/she/it left (or leaves) behind. If we could grasp the character of that designer, then we would be able to reason out who that character is. If it was gods like Greek gods, then we surely could tell. Most likely, aliens would be just as prone to sin as humans, so that we could also tell. Remember, a design being "provable" means that we can persuade the atheists that the 10^-150 (or whatever) cutoff is a sufficient condition for stating that the eye (or whatever) was designed. Covering every plausible possibility known and unknown seems difficult to achieve, but I just say "given it is so". So no matter what, it is making a proposition about ultimate reality."

Wayne, I think your reasoning is flawed here. The next question (after detecting design) would indeed be "Who?" But after that, you reasoning goes off course. First of all, one could not necessarily figure out anything of the character of the designer by the tracks left behind. A complex mathematical proof, for example, would look exactly the same whether it was produced by a man, an alien, an angel, the Devil, or God. The only thing we could be sure about was that the proof came from an intelligent agent. Similarly, it is possible that life on earth was "seeded" by aliens billions of years ago, with cells which they intelligently designed, and it is also possible that God intelligently designed the first cells on earth. How could we tell the difference? Super-intelligent aliens, with an understanding of biochemistry far beyond ours, might as well be God as far we can tell, at our level of science and technology. We would have no way of reasoning from the intricacy of the design to the character of the designer. And even if we could reason that the designer had to be God, not aliens or angels, then which God? Allah? Brahma? The Deist God? The Triune God? We simply cannot get to the character of the designer using the means suggested by ID people for detecting design. Nor have they ever said that we could do so, or should even try to do so. They have said that "the character of the designer", beyond what is implied in the design itself, e.g., intelligence, is off-limits to design detection.

Suppose that a coroner rules that a person was killed by a bullet fired at a 45 degree angle, from a certain point on a catwalk above the victim. Can we reason back to the character of the killer from the design inference made by the coroner? No, we cannot. All we can know for certain is that the person desired to kill the victim, and chose that vantage point from which to fire the gun. We don't know from the design inference that the killer was a jilted lover, a hired hit-man, a disgruntled employee, a foreign agent, etc. Your argument suggests that ID implicitly claims to be able to do the equivalent of this, i.e., to make grand statements about the character or intentions of the designer, and it doesn't.
  
The mistake you are (I believe) making is one commonly made by critics of ID. You accuse ID of making metaphysical propositions because, in *your* mind, the detection of design implies those propositions. But not everyone agrees with your inferences. I certainly don't. And in any case, to talk about implications is to put the cart before the horse. The question is: is there design here, or not? If there is no design, then discussion of the implications (e.g., of the character of the designer) is pointless. ID proponents would rather that people focused on the question of fact first, and on the question of implications later. But for some reason TEs are obsessed with possible theological implications, while, regarding the facts, they give neo-Darwinism an uncritical pass.

Cameron.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: dawson wayne
  To: Cameron Wybrow
  Cc: asa
  Sent: Friday, May 08, 2009 3:04 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] a creationist on the hiddenness of God

  Cameron

  <<<I doubt that the religious faith of ID proponents depends on finding God's fingerprints in some rigorous scientific way. >>>

  It wasn't but a week ago that you were passionately preaching that we were a sluggish lot who should pick up our swords and slaughtering the materialists, yet we putter around. Yet when I press you to lay down some rock solid science on the table, you say "ID proponents [don't] depend on finding God's fingerprints in some rigorous scientific way". Fine, but you cannot have it both ways. Do you expect to win a rugby match by arguing on the rational possibility of your ability to beat the opposing team? Even if you do set up a match, you can count on getting creamed and then getting the tar beat out of you. It's utterly mad.

  I don't care that much on the issue of ID being in schools. But without rigorous proofs or reproducible and testable observations or even a model, it is not science; it is only speculation.

  I never called ID "creationism in a cheap tuxedo". Creationism is an inverted pyramid. I have no idea how they can keep that thing up straight.

  <<< And what do you mean, science cannot test these kinds of questions about "ultimate reality"? Where does *Darwin's Black Box* rest its argument on any claim about "ultimate reality", or claim to have proved anything about "ultimate reality"? As far as I can tell, it tried to make the argument that certain biochemical and physiological systems could not have arisen by purely stochastic processes, and it made its argument entirely on empirical and logical grounds, not metaphysical or religious ones. Maybe the argument was faulty, but that doesn't make it an argument about "ultimate reality". It's not making a statement about "ultimate reality" to say that Mt. Rushmore couldn't have been carved out by ten million years of rain and and wind erosion. It's making a statement about the habits and abilities of known natural forces and substances -- they just don't act that way. So why is it making a statement about "ultimate reality" to make a similar inference about the origin of biological systems? "There appears to have been design involved somehow" is not a very grand statement about ultimate reality. >>>

  Yes I read Behe's book. If I recall correctly, one of my former pastors translated that book into Japanese (though I might be mistaken there). That was in the days when "condensed matter" meant semiconductors, magnetism and superconductivity to me. Currently I work on protein/RNA folding, protein-protein binding issues and quantum chemistry. I have learned a load of biology, molecular evolution and read an enormous amount of material on a wide range of subjects (though never even a tiny fraction of enough it seems).

  Yes, Behe took a stab at it and it seemed persuasive at the time with my knowledge where it was. The thing that doesn't really impress scientists that much is that the easiest thing to do when you don't have an immediate answer is wait. Usually one will come up, and at least some did. If the problem is really that intractable, then you will eventually see, but experience tells us that that is unlikely. Scientists learn to be cautious, even if they do push the envelop. Maybe especially in those cases. Moreover, biologists are trained to think of the problems as having lots of possibilities. So the eye, for example, is very impressive, but is it really impossible for it to form (at least in smaller spurts)? No one really can say with confidence. Finally, although Behe criticizes the scientific establishment, he offers no alternative model. It is risky to argue that things simply cannot happen; particularly without a competitive model. Even if the probability satisfies the cutoff (which itself can be questioned), without a testable alternative model, there is no way to see the alternative. So Darwin's Black Box may be a book of mysteries or puzzles, but making a scientific case for a designer is difficult. That is the rub, you can get students to see that y = gt^2, you can teach them the binomial theorem, but short of a little probability theory, it doesn't fit to teach ID as a science. There is not even a model (like f=ma) to teach, let alone a testable model. I have read various reports (some in Science) claiming to have solved some of Behe's conundrums. At any rate, even I have that inclination to wait and see. Too many times, "impossible" was the downfall of a big investment.

  Finally, like it or not, the existence of a designer (if it could be proved) is making a statement on "ultimate reality" whether the intelligent agent is God, gods, or aliens. Once this is known and undisputed, the next question would have to be "who?". If we could show a designer really was at work, we would also be able to figure out the character of that designer by the tracks he/she/it left (or leaves) behind. If we could grasp the character of that designer, then we would be able to reason out who that character is. If it was gods like Greek gods, then we surely could tell. Most likely, aliens would be just as prone to sin as humans, so that we could also tell. Remember, a design being "provable" means that we can persuade the atheists that the 10^-150 (or whatever) cutoff is a sufficient condition for stating that the eye (or whatever) was designed. Covering every plausible possibility known and unknown seems difficult to achieve, but I just say "given it is so". So no matter what, it is making a proposition about ultimate reality.

  by Grace we proceed,
  Wayne

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Received on Mon May 11 00:35:52 2009

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