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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu May 14 2009 - 17:06:06 EDT


I can agree with many of your detailed remarks. Just three points:

1. Regarding the last sentence of your first paragraph: I don't think that ID people generally imagine God directing the detailed operations of nature on the day-to-day level. Indeed, ID people are often criticized by TE people (like Ken Miller) for having too much of a clockwork view of nature, whereby God sets nature in motion and leaves it alone! Once again, ID gets hit from both sides -- people like yourself suggesting here that ID's God is overinvolved in the workings of nature, and people like Miller and others here who suggest that the ID God is too remote and Deistic. How can ID be guilty of both simultaneously? But in any case, those ID people who do believe that God was involved in an active way in creating life, or in the evolutionary process, don't deny that nature generally works in accord with natural laws, and therefore is amenable to scientific investigation. The point is that it doesn't matter whether DNA was created by a series of chemical accidents in a primordial soup, or was directly manufactured by God with tweezers and a microscope; the rules that govern DNA -- involving RNA, proteins, etc. are the same in either case, and are *completely* accessible to "methodologically naturalistic" empirical science. The argument that supernatural action at the point of origin of DNA somehow undermines the scientific study of DNA today is simply a *non sequitur*.

2. Near the end you say that I make an assumption that God will leave scientifically detectable fingerprints. I make no such assumption. I am only objecting to those who, on theological grounds, say that God *wouldn't* leave scientifically detectable fingerprints. They think that they *know* that God is the kind of God who would never leave fingerprints. How do they know this? On the basis of their own personal theology? As far as I am concerned, I am willing to let God be God, and leave the question whether design is detectable an open one: I think we should assume neither that it is detectable nor that it could never be detectable. I think we should explore nature and find out. But a certain interpretation of the phrase "methodological naturalism" rules out one of the two possible explanations (design or non-design) in advance of all empirical investigation, and any principle which rules out a possibly true conclusion in advance of all empirical investigation is not, in my mind, a good scientific principle.

3. I confess to not understanding your objections and remarks in the last paragraph. My point was that if we could (hypothetically speaking) scientifically infer the existence of "some kind of designer" or even "some kind of God", that wouldn't settle any practical question of faith. For example, it wouldn't settle the question whether we should follow Allah or Jesus. It wouldn't settle the question whether God is more like the Vishnu of the Hindus or the YHWH of the Israelites. It wouldn't tell us which revealed books are trustworthy. So it still leaves plenty of room for faith. The believer still has to decide whether the Gospels or the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita teach the saving truth. ID doesn't interfere in the processes of faith, at the practical level, because religious believers aren't concerned with an abstract, unknown designer God -- which is all that ID could ever hope to indicate -- but with a God who is in some sense personal. ID leaves the personal side of God untouched and unexplored. Thus, you can be a convinced supporter of ID and accept any religion at all, except for atheism and those forms of polytheism which presuppose such chaos among the gods that no ordering of nature is possible. ID is thus "neutral ground" for people of various religious traditions. I do not see why this neutrality should be reckoned as something bad.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: dawson wayne
  To: Cameron Wybrow
  Cc: asa
  Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 8:03 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] a creationist on the hiddenness of God


    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.

  OK, it seems like we both agree that scientism should not be preached as science. It is a philosophy masquerading religion. However, your terminology ("fighting materialistic accounts concern[ing] *science*") is a bit in the form of rhetoric. I assume you mean "metaphysical materialist accounts". Otherwise, I must assume that even the gravity that pulls the earth toward the sun is a "materialist account". Of course, even for the gravity, God is in control as it were, and if he choose to "pull the plug" on the laws of this universe, we're done. But since his rain falls on the evil and the good, and his sunshine too, and he provides for the lilies of the fields, surely we can trust that he will also provide us with the gravity we need whether we are evil or good at any particular time. Nevertheless, we don't have to imagine God directing all of these things like a symphony.

  My discussion this time did not go into whether ID could predict a Christian God in nature. I was simply asking for any actual solid irrefutable evidence of design. Of course, to you and me, we understand God has designed this world, but that does not mean that we can reveal this design with the tools we have available to us. Though I have already been persuaded, if I go before the Dawkins, he will ask me for measurements, facts and data. I must present him with a rock solid case that he can find no argument with.

  Though I realize that scientists can be politicians, and it is naive to think that a straight and honest presentation of facts and a coherent connection between those facts would bring a confession of their truth, if we are to do better than Dawkins, we should at least be assured that we think we have assembled such a strong case that is persuasive. In general, we must live with something much less than a rock solid case. So such things usually come down to how we chose to interpret information, what sort of filters we use, personal preference etc. That is why such debates, though in some ways fruitful, rarely result in any real progress.

    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.)

  So basically here, it seems like it is largely our expectations and impressions that are in conflict here.

  I am not saying that I am right. It is possible that God could leave some type of "fingerprint" that would make it easier to argue that a designer exists. It is just that my impression, which has developed over time, is that God often appears to leave such matters ambiguous. I speculate that this is because God wants our faith and leaving something more plain and obvious would encumber that process. He is also teaching about weakness. The atheist. of course, will observe that he/she can go on without ever considering God. He does let his sunshine fall on the evil and the good doesn't he? God can bless the life of an evil man and all the people even go to his funeral like he was a hero. A man worthy of much respect can go on being routinely ignored all his life and go to his grave alone and despised. But still God is in heaven and we know little or nothing of his ways. The one who chooses to believe or not has the choice.

  Of course, in our own minds (as believers), we sense things about the world that persuade us that God did in fact make the world and his invisible hand is plain to see. We have hope that our lives are not in vain. Therefore, it seems reasonable that some things of design should be there to observe. However, when I try to explain these impressions to the non-believer (and particularly the atheist), he/she seems to insist not to see or feel these same things. The atheist and myself look at the exact same world and see different things. I have not found a way past that impasse. It seems that is the work of the Holy Spirit. I finally find that I come back to ignorance and I am without any answers. My suspicion is that ID cannot make a whole lot of progress at finding any of these things either, but again, I could be wrong.

    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.

  Yes, I know people have said that. You already made clear you aren't asking us to believe in a 6000 year old earth and the 6d/24h creation proposal; all balanced on top of a sharpened pencil standing upright on its point. So I have no reason to use such language.

    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).

  Most of us would be happy if the scientism was recognized as such, and that such things should be recognized as religion, which it is. It seems like such "preachers" are free to preach everywhere except in the church and we are accused and watched at every step outside the church.

    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?

  Fine. I think (God willing) that _is_ what I tell both.

    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.

  I think we also run into some difficulties here. I don't say that I have no objections to the way that some people in the scientism camp skip over the details and rush to their favorite refrain.

  However, the basic way we do science is to propose a plausible solution to a problem and test it. So when you see some gap between two species, it is natural to look for a plausible solution. Shouldn't we consider all possibilities to see if there is (or is not) a way for the process to proceed? When we get stuck, we try another stab at it. Of course, to really say what happened, we need a lot of evidence. Certainly in some cases, that evidence is scant. Things much further back in time are the most difficult to know precisely.

  I realize that some people are over confident that they can explain the transitions between different species and the upward direction in complexity that appears to have occurred over the last 3.5 billion years and that the appearance of humanity is almost inevitable. There seems to be an equal overconfidence on your part that they cannot show this.

  The best way to be sure, like everything we do in science, is to show a step by step process. But there also seems to be a point where the fine differentials seem rather unnecessary for connecting the dots. You do admit that microevolution is ok. Good. I'm not saying you are splitting hairs, but it is a problem when people refuse to be satisfied. Sometimes it is right to demand more and more evidence. That is basically what doubters typically do. Sometimes it is right to doubt. Sometimes it is right to stick to a protocol. Things that have been missed really can be found this way. But even if we do find a fully satisfactory way to explain a complex transition, I suspect that if we wear the proper corrective lens of Spiritual Glasses, it should only add to and deepen the wonder of God's magnificent creation, not subtract.

    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.

  I am making the assumption that the true God (the Designer) will be hidden and therefore we are unlikely to observe anything and unlikely to be able to argue with the preachers of scientism that we have scientific evidence of a designer. Therefore, I am erring in that I am also saying how God will act. I know no more than you what God did/does/(or will do) in this world. However, that does not free you of your assumption that this designer will leave those scientifically detectable fingerprints.

  Actually your statement does have a small issue.

  "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."

  It seems to me that most of the miracles of scripture pointed to God when God was involved. The miracle of the origin of life (which even atheist should understand is a miracle) is on par with the Resurrection. If we detect design in the scientific sense, yet that science does not point to God himself, isn't there a serious danger here? If our search comes up ambiguous, Dawkins can go on boasting and crowing that he is a satisfied atheist, but if the search comes up with Zeus, Dawkins would actually right to reject such an observation. Would it not be better that God leave the scientific evidence ambiguous so that we are judged by our faith and are without excuse?

  by Grace we proceed,

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Received on Thu May 14 17:07:53 2009

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