Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

From: Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
Date: Mon Jun 01 2009 - 17:50:15 EDT

Heya Mike,

I understand the distinction you're making. The problem I'm having is that,
in any given experiment where selection takes place, there's no way to tell
whether what we're seeing is natural selection or artificial selection - at
least when we're considering the possibility of a Designer(s) above or
behind nature. Which happens to be precisely the kind of Designer(s) Darwin,
Dawkins and the rest have an eye on.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, so I'll try to spell out where I'm coming from.
The issue isn't whether natural selection itself refers to some entity with
a mind - if that was the case, then artificial selection would be considered
just as blind and purposeless as natural selection. What makes selection
"natural" in this context is the lack of any agent guiding / foreseeing the
processes towards a goal in any way.

To give a very loose example: There was a selection process that resulted in
the modern schipperke dog breed. If the dogs that were selected 'just
happened' to be selected - there were no breeders guiding and overseeing
these choices whatsoever - then what took place was natural selection. But
if breeders were involved - if the dogs selected were selected owing to a
plan orchestrated by breeders - then what went on was artificial selection.
The only difference between the two is the presence or lack of intention /
mind / purpose above or behind the selection.

But there's no way for science to test for those things in the case of
either God, or Designer(s) in particular positions related to us. And that's
where my problem comes in.

You mention that natural selection and chance have "been used to guide and
produce countless scientific studies". My response is that I can accept the
scientific results of every single one of those studies even if I regard all
selection as ultimately artificial (Foreseen and intended by a Designer(s))
and all talk of chance as nothing more than a statement about the limits of
my knowledge (As in, there is no actual "chance" in play - there's simply a
border to my, not all, knowledge). And if that's the case, then as far as
science is concerned these are distinctions without a difference - and
should be set aside.

I want to stress that I'm not arguing here that 'natural selection' or
'random mutation' are wrong - and I'm certainly not rejecting any of those
"countless scientific studies". I'm saying that questions over the
nature/directedness of both selection and mutation are frankly metaphysical
ones, and that science will be no worse for wear when those limits are
recognized and respected. I'm open to being corrected about this - but at
the same time, I think it's wrong to just regard these things as 'default
views' which don't need to be justified, and the entire burden should be
placed on people who are skeptical of the way they are viewed. I also don't
think we should simply 'grandfather in' those views on the grounds that,
even if they're largely inert or metaphysics-tinged claims, they've been a
part of biology's lexicon for over a hundred years so let's not cause a
fuss.

So if I were to rewrite that summary, it would go like this:

"The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: a process of
temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by selection,
historical contingencies and changing environments."

That seems to capture both the snapshot of the scientific theory and retains
the limits of what science is capable of exploring at the same time.

>
> But the point of dispute was whether natural selection is a mindless
> process and not whether natural history is void of a guiding mind, purpose,
> vision, or foresight. Here is what Dawkins is saying:
>
>
>
> Natural selection is a mindless process.
>
> Chance and natural selection account for every aspect of evolution and
> biology.
>
> Therefore, there is absolutely no guiding mind, purpose, vision, or
> foresight involved in natural history at all.
>
>
>
> I don’t think there is any good reason to question the first claim as it
> follows from an understanding of how it works. The problem comes from the
> second claim, as Dawkins has leapt to this conclusion because of his
> metaphysics and would need super-strong, earth-shattering evidence to get
> him to open his mind about something that would threaten his conclusion.
>
>
>
> “So there's another question I'd like to throw at you, Mike. You've
> described Intelligent Design in the past as not being science, but being a
> nascent protoscience. I can entirely get on board with that description. But
> couldn't you (from my perspective, shouldn't you) regard the unIntelligent
> Design of Richard Dawkins and company as a nascent protoscience as well?”
>
>
>
> Natural selection, as a mindless process, is science. It, along with
> chance, as mechanisms of evolution, have been used to guide and produce
> countless scientific studies. It becomes more tricky when it comes to the
> insistence that “there is absolutely no guiding mind, purpose, vision, or
> foresight involved in natural history at all.” Back in the late 90s, the
> NABT proposed a definition that went like this:
>
>
>
> “The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: an
> unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal
> descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection,
> historical contingencies and changing environments.”
>
>
>
> They eventually backed off this definition, recognizing that the adjectives
> “unsupervised” and “impersonal” were metaphysical. Massimo Pigliucci was
> originally outraged with the NABT for dropping this claim, but eventually
> realized he was wrong, as he came to embrace the distinction between
> methodological naturalism (MN) and philosophical naturalism (PN).
>
>
>
> So I would say yes, if Dawkins is proposing PN as science, he is wrong. And
> since he is proposing PN as science, he is wrong.
>
>
>
> Mike
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
> *To:* asa@calvin.edu
> *Sent:* Sunday, May 31, 2009 1:49 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?
>
> Heya Mike,
>
> Yes and no. Dawkins' description is fine as a model in a metaphysical or
> philosophical perspective - "I can imagine that all things in nature coming
> about totally blind, unguided, and by chance" - in which case there's no
> reason to doubt his description, though there's plenty of reason to doubt
> whether it truly exists in reality. Something similar to his description
> would be fine as a scientific model - say "Darwin discovered that we can
> investigate nature and biological development without needing to speculate
> about the existence or non-existence of a designer."
>
> But Dawkins is saying* a lot more here: He's saying that natural selection
> is the explanation, and there is absolutely no guiding mind, purpose,
> vision, or foresight involved in natural history at all. The watchmaker is
> blind, etc. The problem is the science in no way supports what Dawkins is
> saying here (I'm not talking about the utility/role of "natural" selection
> in evolution, but the lack of mind, foresight, etc) - it doesn't even
> directly suggest it. Dawkins' and Darwin's claim on this front is not
> falsifiable. It's entirely possible for every instance of "natural"
> selection to be "artificial" selection. Just as it's entirely possible for
> every instance of "random" mutation to be "guided" mutation. And as you've
> said in the past, neither of these claims have to be as strong as that to
> wreak havoc on a non-teleological perspective: If only some, perhaps even a
> small part, of selection was artificial rather than natural - or if some
> mutations were guided rather than random - then the game is over. Some form
> of ID is truly correct. All forms of 'utterly unguided, purposeless'
> speculation are incorrect.
>
> Still, keeping to the point: What I'm saying is that what Dawkins claims
> right there - that the watchmaker is blind - is an extra-scientific claim.
> It's an assumption he and Darwin walk into the discussion with, a
> metaphysical claim that the science doesn't (and really, cannot) justify. At
> most it's a claim which can be compatible with the science - but since
> science (supposedly) expressly avoids philosophical issues anyway, that bar
> is shockingly, dramatically low.
>
> So there's another question I'd like to throw at you, Mike. You've
> described Intelligent Design in the past as not being science, but being a
> nascent protoscience. I can entirely get on board with that description. But
> couldn't you (from my perspective, shouldn't you) regard the unIntelligent
> Design of Richard Dawkins and company as a nascent protoscience as well?
>
> [* I use "saying" loosely, since Dawkins has a habit of making bold claims
> about nature and philosophy, then utterly retreating when called upon them
> by philosophers like Midgley. But in this case I think he'd defend his claim
> to the hilt - because giving it up would wreak havoc on his position.]
>
>

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Received on Mon Jun 1 17:50:30 2009

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