Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology?

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon May 18 2009 - 17:26:19 EDT

George, thank you for this reply. It does clarify, and therefore is helpful.

It seems that you and Russell and Ted Davis all agree:

(a) that the process of evolution is directed (not necessarily entirely, and not necessarily even most of the time, but at least to some extent) by God;

(b) that the actual events by which evolution is directed are invisible to human observation or scientific instrumentation, because they occur at a level where they cannot be distinguished from the "random" events we expect in accord with the majority interpretation of quantum indeterminacy;

(c) this means that an observer, even if he or she could travel back in time, would in all probability not observe anything "miraculous", any sort of "parting of the Red Sea" event, but only gradual changes in offspring over time;

(d) and that in turn means that a skeptic and a religious believer could have two different interpretations of the same event, and that "science" could not settle the difference.

Now, I have a question and a comment. First, the question. On a web site the other day -- I think it was Coyne's blog site -- Denis Lamoureux posted a note, vehemently denying that he had ever spoken of God's "guidance" of the evolutionary process -- a view which some were imputing to him. Does this mean that Lamoureux's view of God's involvement in evolution is different from yours?

Next, the comment. I'm comparing your view with statements made by both Behe and Dembski. Behe accepts macroevolution, and Dembski is open to it, and neither one of them has any rigid view on *how* God might be involved in the evolutionary process. I think that both would allow that God could just as easily steer the evolutionary process by many small quantum-level "interventions" (which wouldn't appear as interventions to our scientific methods, but just as natural events) as by grand disruptions of nature obvious to all. In fact, I think Dembski has allowed this possibility quite openly. So the question is whether ID of *this* variety is incompatible with TE of the Murphy-Davis-Russell variety.

I don't think it is incompatible. ID has never claimed that particular mutations can be identified as God's work. ID's claim that design can be, or at least may be, detected scientifically is based on long-term patterns of events. So if a meteorite the size of a pea whizzed through the window of a diner and landed in your coffee, splashing it all over you, no ID proponent, any more than a TE proponent, would argue that the meteorite was sent deliberately by God -- though if you'd said something nasty about ID at just the moment before the meteorite hit, the temptation would surely be strong. :-) But if several thousand pea-sized meteorites all landed in your backyard, and the pattern of holes was a copy of the Declaration of Independence, an ID proponent would insist that intelligent design was at work. And I don't you think would you deem the ID proponent unreasonable for doing so. And it's ID's claim that the "pattern of mutations" which would be necessary to explain macroevolutionary change (and I'm speaking of those ID people who accept or at least don't reject macroevolution here) would look a lot more like the Declaration of Independence than a lucky splash in a coffee cup. And from this the design inference proceeds. Whether you would agree with particular design arguments, e.g., about the improbability of generating the flagellum by purely Darwinian means, is secondary here. One could object to particular inferences (e.g., one could see the flagellum as more a coffee-cup case than a Declaration of Independence case) without objecting to the general principles employed by ID proponents. I don't think you would object to the general line of reasoning employed in the meteorite/Declaration of Independence case. Or would you?

If not, then the only remaining dispute would be over whether ID inferences are "scientific inferences", i.e., are conducted entirely within the framework of science, or whether they involve stepping partly outside of science, into philosophy or general reasoning or common sense or something else, in order to clinch the argument. I'm of the view that this question is not terribly important for most purposes, but I won't go into that here. Instead, I'll just wrap this up by asking this question: Setting aside the question whether or not ID inferences can be properly called "scientific" inferences as opposed to philosophical inferences or inferences of some other sort, wouldn't you agree, George, that there is some overlap between the views of some ID proponents and some TE proponents? And doesn't that overlap suggest that there should be some way of building up a more constructive relationship between the two points of view, in which TE proponents don't feel compelled to reject "design" concepts out of hand, and in which ID proponents are open to "quiet" modes of divine guidance?


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: George Murphy
  To: Cameron Wybrow ; asa
  Sent: Sunday, May 17, 2009 5:18 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology?

  OK, let me be more explicit.

  In traditional language, God cooperates with creatures, First Cause with second causes, analogically, worker with tool. That is true of everything that happens in the world, not just biological evolution, & in that sense God is "omnipotent." In that cooperation God acts (at least in the vast majority of cases) in accord with the natural capacities of creatures - which is to say, in accord with the basic mathematical pattern of the world. (That pattern, itself God's creation, is what we approximate by our laws of physics.) I.e., God acts kenotically.

  Chaos & quantum theories say that there is some looseness in the connection between events, so that even within the constraint of kenosis God is not locked into a single course of action. God therefore has some fredom to act in ways that will bring about desired outcomes in such situations and in fact does make use of that freedom to bring about particular results - e.g., to answer prayer or to direct the course of a particular branch of evolutionary history. It is not possible scientifically to discern divine action in these cases because the outcome that is observed is just as consistent with the laws of physics as some other outcomes. If the weather person says there's only a 10% chance of rain & it rains that day because God answered someone's prayer for rain, the person of faith may say "God answered prayer" & the atheist may say "You got lucky." God does not "violate the laws of physics."

  So yes, I think that God does act to direct evolution in particular ways.

  More precise that that I am not going to be at this point because I think there are some technical difficulties, both scientific and theological. I already referred in another post to ambiguities about the idea that God acts as "the determiner of indeterminancies." In addition, the connection between quantum theory & chaos remains obscure. & it's not clear how much special guidance evolution needs to produce humanity. (But reiterating just to be clear - God is active throughout evolution even if no special guidance is needed - e.g., if the eventual appearance of intelligent bipeds were somehow inherent in the process.)

  If IDers want to shake my hand for saying that, great. But I know that some - & some of the more vocal - won't.


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Received on Mon May 18 17:27:10 2009

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