[asa] Re: ID vis a vis id

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Sat May 30 2009 - 23:34:15 EDT


1. You snipped off the part of my message where I went on to say to Terry
Gray that I was not at that point defending ID as an inference, but only
trying to show its compatibility, in principle, with some forms of theistic
evolution, including the form that you have propounded. Thus, by taking my
first few points out of their context, you have shifted the topic of
discussion. I am at the moment raising the question whether anyone here
finds the ID inference persuasive as "science", but whether you and Terry
and George and others would grant me that such an inference, if it *were*
possible, would not be incompatible with theistic evolution.

2. I wouldn't put a long footnote right on the same page as the periodic
table, but I certainly think that science students should be taught how the
periodic table was arrived at. Too often it is just presented as a fact of
the universe, that there is this mysterious periodic table that scientists
just happen to know. And I would say this is generally the case in science
teaching, that students are taught rules and facts and formulas as
disembodied results, with hardly any attention at all to the human and
intellectual activity which established those results. This bookish mode of
teaching falsifies the real nature of science, and also prepares the public
mind for "science" to be used as a set of dogmas by ideologues like Dawkins.

3. I'm certainly not refusing to read Gingerich's book, and I don't
completely disagree with Gingerich's remarks that you present, but I note
that they presume that "science" means "modern science", and that of course
raises questions I've raised before about teleology and so on. It may be
that modern science suffers from a fundamental defect in its rejection of
teleology. More important, I don't like his use of the word "belief" in the
context of the passage given. He writes: "It is a matter of *belief* or
*ideology* how we *choose to think* about the universe". Now I don't want
to over-read this, because I don't know how philosophically conscious
Gingerich is about the way he uses words. At the same time, even the
unconscious adoption of terminology is often revealing. "Ideology",
properly understood, is philosophy contaminated by partisan spirit. No
Greek thinker would let "ideology" anywhere near a philosophy of nature.
But maybe Gingerich isn't being precise; maybe by "ideology" he means
something much looser, a set of ideas about the world or something. So
let's let that go for the moment. How about "choose to think"? No Greek
thinker would have used that kind of existentialist language about thought.
You don't "choose to think" something, Plato or Aristotle would say, as if
reality is a Baskin-Robbins shop and you can pick the flavour you want. The
job of philosophy for a Greek is to co-ordinate the mind with reality, not
to facilitate picking a picture of reality that makes you feel emotionally
comfortable. Gingerich's triad of terms here, belief-ideology-choosing to
think, betrays a very modern spirit in its approach to nature, knowledge,
and truth.

Thus, Gingerich's language here -- and I grant that I am taking a small bit
out of context, so I am mainly using it as illustrative of a general modern
tendency, even if Gingerich himself can be exonerated from blame for the
criticism which follows -- takes, from my point of view, a wrong turn. It
seems to suggest that when confronted by, say, the astronomically low
probability of certain transformations happening by chance, the proper way
of interpreting the numbers is to turn away from reason and to consult one's
"ideology" or "world view", that is, to make one's personal commitments
regarding the existence or nonexistence of God the interpretive key. I find
this sort of thinking typical of the modern schizophrenia between "belief"
and "science", "world views" and "facts", "faith" and "reason", just the
sort of thinking that I (as the self-appointed representative of the Greeks
here) am trying to combat.

I can't speak for ID people or for Christians generally or for anyone but
myself, but speaking for myself, let me say this: I *don't* look at the
massive improbability of a cell's being formed by chance, and then say,
"From a science point of view, it could be luck or it could be God", and
then choose in accord with my belief system. Rather, I look at the
empirical facts rationally, and I conclude from improbabilities on that
order, repeated up and down the breadth of nature, from the cell to the
flagellum through to the constants of physics, that nature itself is trying
to tell me something. My inclination to
see "design" therefore has nothing to do with a desire to interpret the
world theistically. My inclination to see "design" is based (1) on the
facts of nature; (2) on reason; and (3) on the fact the only alternative to
design is found in biological and chemical evolutionary scenarios, and the
ones thus far propounded are either self-contradictory or preposterously
unlikely. Further on the last point, I don't accept "luck" as an
explanation for things of the order of complexity of the cell or the
suspicious upward march of evolution. The appeal to "luck", to my Greek
cast of mind, is either an abandonment of explanation altogether, or a
desperate attempt to pass off a weak theory as an explanation. So whatever
my private "belief", my "world view", my "ideology", my "faith", my
"religious commitment" may be, it has nothing to do with my inferences.

Another way of putting it would be this: the other day Terry (I think) said
that he believed in design because he believed in the designer. That is, he
imputes design to nature not on the strength of the evidence which nature
itself supplies, but because of his prior belief in the God of the Bible.
That is essentially what Gingerich is talking about here. My position is
the opposite. I believe in God -- I don't mean here specifically the God of
the Bible, since I'm dealing with nature not revelation here, but a more
general notion of God -- in part because I infer design from nature. That's
not the whole story, because I also believe that the existence of
conscience, the notion of moral law, etc. points us to God. The point is
that for me, while the specifics of the Christian religion may require a
"leap of faith" (though I intensely dislike that language), belief in the
God of nature and the God of moral law does not require any "leap of faith".
A rational person can believe in God without "leaping", because God has
provided a staircase, or at least, a single flight of stairs going part of
the way up. The kind of God that emerges from such reflection upon nature
and conscience and so on may not be enough to satisfy a Christian. It may
be Aristotle's God or Plato's God or some other sort of God. That does not
falsify the conclusion; it merely proves that nature needs to be
supplemented by revelation. But the main point is that nature, mind, God
etc. are all tied together, not sundered.

It seems to me, again speaking only personally, that the alternate view --
that nature is just this big blank machine that points nowhere and implies
nothing, and in a way, by its sheer silence, cuts us off from God, so that
we need faith to leap over nature to get to God -- is a modern, secularized
form of Manichean dualism. Within the Christian tradition the latter strand
of thought about nature has been found all the way along, and is especially
strong in some corners of Protestantism (and also in Catholic forms like
Jansenism which partake of the same spirit). But also there is the
tradition of Christian rational metaphysics in which nature, the mind and
God are all related in beautiful ways, and that's where I locate myself.

Precisely the fact that I don't feel the need to appeal to "faith" or to a
"world view" to infer design is just the result one would expect if God made
the world and man the way that I believe he made them. A rational agnostic
(e.g., Antony Flew) would incline toward the existence of a designer. For
that reason, I would say that Dawkins and Coyne are irrational in the
deepest sense of the word. And one of my objections to some forms of TE is
that they seem to endorse that irrationalism, by saying that the
interpretation of nature regarding design is entirely a matter of faith and
has nothing whatever to do with reason. That, in my view, gives away too
much to the atheists.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <TDavis@messiah.edu>
To: "ASA" <asa@calvin.edu>; "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2009 9:45 AM
Subject: ID vis a vis id

> 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
> this
> situation, the question whether a given mutation was caused by God or
> chance
> is not really a useful question. It is the overall direction of a series
> of
> 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
> certain
> 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
> specimens
> to our era, so that we had them in front of us at exactly the point at
> which
> 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
> of
> 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.
> Ted
> Ted

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sat May 30 23:35:27 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat May 30 2009 - 23:35:27 EDT