[asa] ID vis a vis id

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 09:45:51 EDT

Cameron Wybrow wrote:

1. It's my understanding that at least a couple of people here, namely Ted

Davis and George Murphy, would agree with you
"that an event can be seemingly by chance, yet still be under God's control

and determination". I think they would explain this in terms of quantum
indeterminacy, i.e., that since there is indeterminacy within the laws of
nature, there would be no apparent violation of those laws in the minute
changes by which God might guide evolution. God's interventions would be
indistinguishable from chance events.

2. This might well be the way things work; I have no objection to the
notion that God guides evolution, and if he has to be "snuck in" somewhere

so as to guide evolution without flagrantly upsetting the normal paths of
nature, I suppose "quantum indeterminacy" is as good a way as any.

3. However, I think that in practice, we never are in the position of
witnessing evolutionary "events" as single items. Rather, we look at a
string of fossil finds from which we infer a string of evolutionary events

stretching over thousands or millions or tens of millions of years. In
situation, the question whether a given mutation was caused by God or
is not really a useful question. It is the overall direction of a series
mutations that is important.

4. So for example, let's say science could determine what it is currently

nowhere near able to determine, e.g., that it would take 1,000 mutations to

turn a lizard into a bird, with those mutations having to occur in a
sequence in order for each of the intermediate forms to be viable in terms

of natural selection. And let's say that George and Ted are right in their

claim that, even if we had a time machine and could bring the live
to our era, so that we had them in front of us at exactly the point at
the mutations occurred, science could say nothing about the ultimate cause

of any of those 1,000 individual mutations. We could not therefore tell
whether God or chance was responsible for any of them. Yet the question
still arises: can the *sequence* tell us something that any individual
mutation cannot?

5. Here is where intelligent design comes in. From an ID point of view,
while any single mutation has a relatively large probability, the sequence

as a whole has an extremely small probability. So, while the probability
a mutation affecting the iris or the lung etc. cannot help us to decide
between God and chance, the probability that a certain mutation affecting
the iris would be followed by a certain mutation affecting the lung, and
that these two mutations would be followed by a certain mutation affecting

the brain centres that control the iris and the lung, and that all of these

would be followed by a certain mutation affecting the development of
feathers and then followed by another mutation which enabled the brain to
co-ordinate the proto-feathers with other parts of the organism, etc. --
that combined probability might help us to decide between God or chance.
(If you substitute alien biologists for God, the reasoning is the same, so

one could generalize that to "intelligence or chance". But since we are
usually discussing Christian theology here, I'll use "God".)

I normally like to "snip" most of a message and reply only to a part of it,
but in this case all of the above is what I am responding to.

In his book, "God's Universe," which I recommend highly to Cameron as well
as to all ASA members, Owen Gingerich considers exactly what Cameron
describes above. Asking "whether the forces shaping our universe might be
divine--that is, ordained by a spirt of purpose and intention," Gingerich
notes, "We can look with awe and wonder at an unexpected mutation,
regardless of whether we are religious, and the science will be the same.
Let us be perfectly clear about what I am arguing. Whether the mutations
are anything other than mathematically random is a question without answer
*in a physical or scientific sense.* But my subjective, metaphysical view,
that the universe would make more sense if a divine will operated at this
level to design the universe in a purposeful way, can be neither denied nor
proved by scientific means. It is a matter of belief or ideology how we
choose to think about the universe, and it will make no difference how we do
our science. One can *believe* that some of the evolutionary pathways are
so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of
random chance, but if you do not believe in divine action, then you will
simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the
outcome is there to see." (p. 101)

Earlier, after proclaiming, "I believe in intelligent design, lower case i
and lower case d," he adds, "I have a problem with Intelligent Design,
capital I and capital D. It is being sold increasingly as a political
movement, as if somehow it is an alternative to Darwinian evolution.
Evolution today is an unfinished theory. There are many questions about
details it does not answer, but those are not grounds for dismissing it."
(p. 68f)

I agree with Owen on both points. Cameron has already indicated his wish
to have a lengthy statement about the limits of science promoted in biology
classes, and I don't disagree with the content of that statement. Would
that a similar attitude toward science education be found in every
scientific discipline! However I wonder whether Cameron would want a
similar confession of humility to be placed over the periodic table that one
usually finds in an introductory chemistry book, inside the front cover: we
really don't know what the atom is made of, when it comes right down to it,
and no one is obligated to accept the reality of protons, neutrons, and
electrons. Behind it all, there might be a Great Mind, and nothing learned
in this course will contradict that possibility. Etc. I don't suspect that
Cameron wants to have students taught an alternative theory to atomic
numbers, simply b/c there is more to say about atoms than that? On the
other hand, if Jerry Coyne were making atheism out of molecular orbitals,
then perhaps there'd be more challenges to teaching atomic theory in high
school chemistry.

I do suspect, ultimately, that ID proponents want ID rather than id, b/c
you can't pick up id and use it to batter Coyne over the head: it's a
belief, albeit one that (IMO) makes better sense of the whole picture than
the alternative, but still it's a belief, not a scientifically demonstrable
proposition. This is not to say that ID proponents should not challenge
Coyne to support his own belief in the limitless explanatory efficacy of
blind mechanisms (so it seems), but to go beyond that and to claim that
design is an alternative scientific theory seems quite a stretch to me.



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Received on Thu May 28 09:46:34 2009

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