Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Mon Jun 08 2009 - 14:20:21 EDT

Heya all,

Regarding metaphysics, maybe the key point is this: Multiple metaphysics are
compatible with the results and methods of science. You can be an idealist,
multiple kinds of dualist, a physicalist, etc, and it's really not going to
matter a whit to what science is capable of exploring and revealing. If you
believe all matter, down to the smallest particle, is conscious in some way
- hey, great. If that has no bearing on what you expect to see as far as
research and observation goes (and why should it?), it hardly matters.

At the same time, I think there's no way to do science without some
rock-bottom metaphysics. They just happen to be minimal.

On Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 11:38 AM, Alexanian, Moorad <>wrote:

> Hi Cameron,
> Let me say from the outset that I believe God upholds the creation.
> Precisely what that means is hard to understand. However, this upholding of
> the creation by God allows physics to be done in the manner that I have
> indicated. There are actions from God, which we would term as miraculous,
> that would be buried in history and not accessible to the experimental
> sciences but only to personal witnesses.
> I have always struggled with the meaning of efficient and final causes. A
> believe like Malebranche that the only causal power is God. Therefore, I
> consider that efficient causes must be the causes we ascribe to Nature in
> our theories. Schrödinger said that the construction of the real world
> around us is based on our sensations, perceptions, and memories. Of course,
> I would characterize that more precisely by indicating what data do we
> acquire and who acquires it. I make a distinction between purely physical
> devices as detectors and humans as “detectors.” The former deals only with
> the physical aspect of Nature, whereas the latter includes also the
> nonphysical and the supernatural aspects of Nature. I include part of the
> supernatural as aspect of Nature because I believe, as C.S Lewis does, that
> human reasoning is supernatural. Of course, God as Creator is outside
> Nature.
> Cameron the explanations of Nature by physicists are via the mathematical
> models they use to describe the physical aspect of Nature. It gets somewhat
> fuzzy in other fields of science that are not based neither at all on
> mathematics model making nor on physical concepts. There, mere words are
> used as a means of constructing theories of Nature, especially if they
> depart from results established by the experimental sciences.
> I do not know much of medieval Muslim occasionalism but I would think it is
> not Malebranche’s occasionalism. Certainly, modern science was developed in
> Christian nations not Islamic nations.
> I do not consider that life can be reduced to the purely physical.
> Therefore, any element of Nature that is living must be not only physical
> but contain aspects of the nonphysical and the supernatural. I did write a
> letter to PSCF, Can science make the "breath" of God part of its subject
> matter?
>;col1 That would indicate that I believe in God and that He originated life. That
> is why I believe, you may say that is based on my metaphysics, that purely
> physical devices cannot detect “life” but only living entities. Therefore,
> life is outside the purview of science. If a cell is a living entity that
> came into existence then that unique historical event is beyond scientific
> explanation and so must be considered a miraculous event.
> Cameron the term “natural” is quite equivocal. That is the reason why I
> emphasize the notions of physical/nonphysical/supernatural. The notion of
> physical is much easier to define and thus something that is not purely
> physical must be in the realm of the nonphysical and supernatural. Note that
> a precise definition of science, albeit an initial attempt, makes it clear
> when people are being reductionists when they claim that science explains
> everything. To my ears, that always sounded nonsensical if not outright
> foolish.
> In my estimation, the question how the first cell came into being may not
> even be a scientific question and so the answer may be theological. These
> are ontological questions not scientific ones. Newton was not concerned
> about how the solar system came into being he took it as a given. I always
> believed that questions of origins are beyond science and I still do.
> I just want to make a minor correction in my last post: “The existence of a
> Creator is an unavoidable conclusion of serious and honest reasoning.
> However, such a conclusion I do NOT make as a physicist but as a human being
> whereby I am trying to put together not only scientific studies but also the
> totality of the human experience. Moorad”
> Let us all be honest, we do not have any inkling on how the Creator
> interacts with His creation. We can only do unadulterated science is we
> meekly do what we can and behave with humility before this extraordinary
> creation, of which we are part of. Speculations of front-loading are just
> that speculations. Einstein said it best,” "There are two ways to live your
> life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though
> everything is a miracle." I ascribe to the latter.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: [] On Behalf Of
> Cameron Wybrow []
> Sent: Monday, June 08, 2009 3:35 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich
> on TE and ID)
> Moorad:
> 1. I agree with you that we bring the totality of our experience to large
> conclusions such as the existence of God.
> 2. I want to zero in on two of your statements:
> "I do not see any metaphysics in the doings of physicists."
> "Surely, "final cause" in Nature is metaphysics talk, not physics talk."
> I want to understand what you mean here. We have been told over and over
> again, from the time of Bacon forward, by both scientists and historians
> and
> philosophers of science, that modern science deals with efficient causes
> only, not final causes. It is on this ground that Eugenie Scott and
> countless others ban ID from the realm of science, because it does not
> restrict itself to efficient causes and allows for the possibility of final
> causes.
> Now, here you are saying that "final cause" is metaphysics talk, not
> physics
> talk. Well, if that is the case, then "efficient cause" is equally
> metaphysics talk, not physics talk. For that matter, if we want to get
> really tough, "cause" is metaphysics talk, not physics talk. If we take
> your restrictive definition of physics, it would seem that causal
> connections cannot be inferred without leaving physics behind and entering
> the realm of metaphysics. What right has a scientist to say that one event
> is the "cause" of another? From the pure data-gatherer's point of view,
> nature is merely a series of happenings which we can count, measure, etc.,
> but for which we can utter not one word of explanation. Ultimately your
> view would appear to land us in medieval Muslim occasionalism -- there is
> no
> nature at all, only the momentary will of God, which because of its
> apparent
> continuity gives us the illusion of nature. Is this your view? If not,
> when is it legitimate for scientists to say that they have explained the
> natural "cause" of something?
> Perhaps it would help me if you would direct your distinctions toward the
> example we have been discussing -- the formation of the first cell.
> Presumably there was a time on earth when there were no cells. Presumably,
> then, there was a first cell. A cell is not a supernatural but a natural
> entity. Science purports to be able to explain the behaviour of natural
> entities. And in the last two hundred years, science has grown more
> ambitious, and purports to explain also the *origin* of natural entities.
> Thus, many scientists are now actively engaged in trying to explain the
> origin of the first cell. To cut to the chase, the existentially important
> question for the vast majority of human beings is whether this first cell
> came into existence because some intelligence wished it to come into
> existence, and designed it to have the features that it has [the question
> of
> miraculous emergence versus front-loaded naturalistic emergence is
> secondary], or whether this first cell came into existence by a series of
> chemical accidents which were not planned by anyone. Randy Isaac is
> asserting that it is completely outside the bounds of science to
> hypothesize
> that the cell came into existence due to the plan of an intelligent
> designer. He thinks, however, that scientists who are doing research on
> the
> chemical evolution of the cell are doing genuine scientific work -- as long
> as they do not openly characterize the chemical evolution as "unguided"
> (even though they almost to a man personally believe that it is unguided,
> are almost to a man motivated to do the research by the desire to prove
> that
> life could have arisen unguided, and almost to a man tacitly convey to
> their
> readers the impression that the process is unguided). He thinks that the
> design inference is inherently metaphysical (not necessarily false, but
> metaphysical) by its very nature, whereas the chemical evolution inference
> is inherently scientific (not necessarily true, but scientific) by its very
> nature.
> I am puzzled as to where your position would fit into this discussion.
> Based on the minimalist notion of "science" you have given here, I would
> think that your position ought to be that the chemical evolution people are
> just as metaphysical as the design people. But I am not finding the
> application clear. Could you make it directly for me? Do you agree with
> Randy that an intelligent design approach to the origin of the first cell
> is
> inherently metaphysical and cannot be made scientific by any means (amazing
> new levels of complexity discovered, colossal probability numbers against
> chance formation, etc.)? And do you agree with him that the chemical
> evolution people are doing good, metaphysics-free science? Or do you think
> that the chemical evolution people are also resorting to metaphysical
> explanation? And finally, what would you say is the proper approach to the
> question: "How did the first cell come about?" Can that question be
> addressed by science at all?
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
> To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; <>
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 11:17 PM
> Subject: RE: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich
> on TE and ID)
> Hello again, Cameron,
> I want to emphasize what the subject matter of science is, that is, what
> does the physicist, say, plays with. It is not inferences plus data but
> data, which are snapshots of reality. The development of theories is how we
> put together all those snapshots. Newton was able to summarize the main
> data
> or observations of the solar system and terrestrial motion by introducing
> the notion of force and dynamical equations that made predictions. I do not
> think that Newton would say that he was inferring gravity. Remember Newton
> used mathematical description and the verbal description of the force as
> gravity is more incidental than necessary. We know that “action at a
> distance” was eventually supplanted by the notion of fields, which actually
> become measurable entities, witness gravitational waves, electromagnetic
> waves, etc.
> Honestly Cameron I do not see any metaphysics in the doings of physicists.
> Physicists, and all other scientists for that matter, deal only with the
> snapshots of the real thing, metaphysics deals with the real thing using
> the
> snapshots and all else that is available.
> It could be that abhorrence of “action at a distance” based on metaphysical
> presupposition may have hasten field theory earlier than it occurred
> historically. One may say that Einstein was so motivated. However, in many
> instances, physicists may use differing sort of inspirations or instincts
> to
> arrive at better descriptions of Nature.
> Surely, "final cause" in Nature is metaphysics talk, not physics talk. The
> experimental scientist provides the data; the theoretical scientist
> develops
> the theory. The metaphysician may use the data, the theory, plus other
> data,
> which certainly are not snapshots of Nature, and infer what reality truly
> is. As my philosophy professor would say, the real thing is “mobile being,”
> the physicist studies the mobile not the being. The metaphysician deals
> with
> being and thus integrates the mobile with the being.
> The existence of a Creator is an unavoidable conclusion of serious and
> honest reasoning. However, such a conclusion I do make as a physicist but
> as
> a human being whereby I am trying to put together not only scientific
> studies but also the totality of the human experience. Obviously, the
> question of a Creator comes at the very beginning with the simple question,
> How come existence? I cannot separate the notion of a designer from that of
> a Creator.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: [] On Behalf Of
> Cameron Wybrow []
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 10:00 PM
> To:
> Subject: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on
> TE and ID)
> Hello again, Moorad:
> I would never claim that there are physical devices to measure design in
> nature, and I agree that design is an inference from the data, not an
> observation. But isn't most science like that? Newton had no device which
> could directly reveal "gravity"; he inferred the existence of gravity as
> the
> best explanation of a certain set of facts. In contrast, Galileo refused
> to
> accept gravity because to him there were no data pointing to the
> possibility
> of "action at a distance"; he thought such notions implied "occult forces",
> i.e., supernatural explanations, which had no place in science. In other
> words, Galileo was a "methodological naturalist" in his own manner, before
> the invention of the term. He therefore would not make the inference that
> Newton later did, and hence his explanation of the tides, based on the
> assumption that action could be communicated only by direct contact, was
> wrong. Galileo could be seen as more data-driven than Newton on this
> point -- normally action appears to be communicated only by contact -- yet
> everyone agrees that Newton's science was better. This shows two things:
> (1) Science is data plus inference, not mere data; (2) The things inferred
> by science sometimes expand our view of what "nature" is, or what "nature"
> includes.
> So the question arises why, if we can infer an intangible, invisible,
> massless thing like "gravity", without violating "methodological
> naturalism", why can't we infer something intangible, invisible and
> massless
> like "final cause" in nature? I am not arguing that we *should* make the
> inference that final causes operate in nature; I am only asking why such an
> inference is shut out of science *in principle*. If we had accepted
> Galileo's notion of what was to be excluded from science *in principle*,
> the
> progress of modern physics would have been arrested indefinitely. That
> should caution us against deciding, on the basis of some abstract notion of
> "science", that certain realities may not be inferred from the data.
> Of course, nothing I have said above implies that people should just accept
> the design arguments of Behe and Dembski uncritically. Nothing I have said
> even implies that they are well-formulated arguments, or well-founded in
> the
> data. But the point is that many people here want to rule out design
> inferences *in principle*, no matter how tight the argument, no matter how
> good the data, and no matter how astronomical the odds are against a
> non-design explanation. People are unwilling to have their vision of
> nature
> expanded to include an aspect of final causation, just as Galileo was
> unwilling to have his vision of nature expanded to include a universal
> force
> of gravity. Why do we assume that nature cannot surprise us? It appears
> to
> me that just as 19th-century mechanistic physics had to be willing to let
> its view of nature be expanded by relativity and quantum theory, so
> 20th-century mechanistic biology ought to be willing to let its view of
> nature be expanded, in the 21st century, by teleological concepts -- *if*
> the evidence points that way.
> I'm not contending that design in nature has been proved; I'm just noting
> that the scientific establishment is inherently hostile to inferences in
> that direction, and that while the hostility can be justified by
> high-sounding principles such as "methodological naturalism", high-sounding
> principles have led science astray before. My preferred notion of natural
> science is based not on abstract principles of method, but on letting
> nature
> speak; and that means adapting not only our theories, but even our
> sacrosanct principles of interpretation, to the form of nature, rather than
> dictating to nature the form it must take to suit our intellects. Of
> course, in saying this I am aware that I am flying in the face of Descartes
> and Kant. Well, so be it.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
> To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; <>
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 8:01 PM
> Subject: RE: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
> Hi again Cameron,
> Science is based on data gathering and I am inclined to the "gatherer"
> being
> purely physical devices. Therein lies the objectivity of science. It may be
> argued that this limits the subject matter of science but as a first
> attempt, it is better and makes clear what we mean by the word “science.”
> Surely, there are no purely physical devices that can detect design in
> Nature. It would be foolish to think that such a device would exist. It is
> the inferences that human minds make of the data that gives rise to
> theories. Of course, the data is of real things whereas the data itself is
> merely the physical aspect of the real thing. Now it is not inconceivable
> that one can use the data and conclude that the real thing may have been
> designed. I always thought that the issue of design is inexorably connected
> to the issue of existence, which goes beyond the physical data and dwells
> into the metaphysics of reality.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: [] On Behalf Of
> Cameron Wybrow []
> Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 4:12 PM
> To:
> Subject: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
> Hi, Ted!
> I don't doubt that Gingerich's intentions are faithful or that he's a very
> fine person. And I grant that there's a legitimate difference of opinion
> over whether or not design can be recognized scientifically. So let me
> make
> it clear that I am not accusing Gingerich of being a bad Christian or a
> non-Christian for concluding that design detection is not in the province
> of
> science. Nor do I wish to dispute any of Gingerich's other explicit views
> on evolution, science, theology, etc.
> My comment was really aimed at a broader concern, one which I think that
> all
> reconcilers of Christian theology and science -- and not just on the
> question of evolution, but on other questions, such as free will -- need to
> think about. I was concerned that the language Gingerich used -- quite
> unconsciously, I suspect -- gives away too much to a radically subjectivist
> approach to theology and to knowledge in general.
> I doubt very much that Gingerich admires the philosophy of existentialism,
> but his language has an existentialist ring to it -- "choosing to believe",
> for example. It is not surprising Gingerich or any other
> non-existentialist
> would pick up this language; it's all around us. And that's not the only
> case where language which reflects a fundamentally subjectivist account of
> the world is used by conservative people who would see themselves as
> anti-subjectivist. For example, the word "values" is used by conservative
> people all the time. But the language of "values" is not the language of
> classical moral philosophy; it came to us from Nietzsche. It implies that
> good, evil, just, unjust, proper, improper, etc. are not in the nature of
> things, but come from human decision. It's one of the ironies of the
> modern
> age that conservatives use the language of Nietzsche in order to argue for
> a
> return to older moral standards.
> This turn toward the subjective is connected with the modern tendency to
> divide reality between "subjective" and "objective" realms. We tend to
> regard "nature" as part of the "objective" realm, and have assigned the
> understanding of this "objective" realm to a non-teleological science. As
> that non-teleological science has grown in explanatory power by leaps and
> bounds, to the point where it now purports to explain even how the passions
> and the mind work, religion is crowded ever more and more into the
> "subjective" realm, where, it is believed by many, religion will be
> invulnerable to anything science can discover about nature or even human
> nature. So we can choose our religion, and continue to believe in it out
> of
> sheer will, or desire, or preference, and never be in contradiction with
> what the world is really like. In this view, science purportedly describes
> nature "objectively", and atheists and Christians are then free to apply
> their "subjective" religious glosses to the objective reality disclosed by
> science, and make statements which are utterly beyond public verification
> or
> falsification.
> It sounds great, in principle, since it guarantees the protection of
> Christian faith from any imaginable advance in natural science (including
> natural scientific discoveries which might seem to many to destroy the
> possibility of human free will). But this immunity of Christian faith from
> the facts of nature comes at a high cost in terms of public prestige, since
> many people in the modern world, including leading members of its
> intelligentsia, take the "objective" realm to be "real" and the
> "subjective"
> realm to be of dubious status; possibly the subjective realm, including the
> realm of religious feeling and experience, is a mere epiphenomenon of the
> movements of matter which has no real existence. Thus, from the point of
> view of many, Christianity is no more than a particular illusion or
> neurosis
> which helps Christians get through the day. And by adopting a subjectivist
> account of faith, Christians in effect make this charge irrefutable. They
> can personally believe that their free will and their faith and their
> religious experiences and so on are not mere epiphenomena of neural
> activity
> in the brain, but they cannot expect the world to believe the same, because
> the very subjectivism which protects their faith from disproof also rules
> out the possibility of proving that their beliefs have any grounding in
> reality.
> Pre-modern Christian metaphysics and ethics did not use the language of
> "subjectivity" and "objectivity", and the word "real" did not have the
> sense
> that has acquired in modern times. Nor, for that matter, did the word
> "science". The categories that bedevil us are of modern provenance.
> Pre-modern Christian metaphysics did not divide, but sought to harmonize,
> the truth of the world that was known with the reliability of the human
> apparatus that knew it. It therefore seems to me that at least part of the
> blame for the sundering of our knowledge and our world was the break-up of
> the pre-modern metaphysics. One of the main forces responsible for that
> break-up was Protestantism itself. This, I think, is why many Protestants
> have not resisted, and have even promoted, the subjective/objective
> division. For certain Protestants -- those of a fideistic temperament --
> nature, conscience, etc. have no reliable touchpoints with God or Christ,
> and so the "choice" for God or Christ is not in any sense natural or
> rational. The adoption of a religion is thus like a roll of the dice.
> Once again I refer to the Pope's Regensburg speech. The question is
> whether
> Christianity should be interpreted in an Islam-like way, i.e., as at bottom
> radically fideistic, or in a Patristic-Medieval way, i.e., as a theology in
> which elements of faith and reason are interwoven in an inseparable way.
> Clearly I prefer the latter interpretation. The question is where
> Protestantism sits between these two ways. Its language is inconsistent
> and
> wavering, in part because Protestantism is not a tidy unity, but comprises
> a
> broad range of Christian views, some closer to the classical-Christian
> synthesis that I endorse, and others further away. In some Protestant
> statements that are made here, I hear the clear accents of a fideism which
> would make Christianity impervious to any possible result of science, but
> at
> a cost I am unwilling to pay. I would rather have a Christianity that
> could
> be put at risk by at least some imaginable discoveries about the way the
> world is, and therefore boldly asserts something of an essentially public
> nature, than a Christianity which is bullet-proof because it is a pure
> fideism, but threatens no one and changes nothing because it asserts
> nothing
> of public relevance.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Ted Davis" <>
> To: <>; <>
> Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 7:52 PM
> Subject: Re: Gingerich on TE and ID
> > Cameron,
> >
> > I have nothing more to add concerning the approach that Owen Gingerich
> > takes
> > in "God's Universe." I find it both eloquent and faithful, whereas you
> > are
> > not impressed and want to have a stronger role for natural theology here.
> > (I think this is what you are saying and invite correction if not.)
> >
> > That's a basic disagreement, and IMO a fair one. Most TE advocates would
> > say that, if there is a role for natural theology (and Owen thinks there
> > is,
> > devoting an earlier chapter to that topic), it's a modest one with
> limited
> > scope, and primarily in the realm of metaphysics rather than science
> > (though
> > science of course can be used in the arguments). I realize that "Design"
> > as
> > used by ID advocates is not understood by those advocates to be a type of
> > natural theology -- the natural theological step is separate from the
> > design
> > inference (which is scientific, in the opinion of ID advocates).
> Whereas,
> > TEs typically think that "design" inevitably entails theological
> > inferences
> > and goes well beyond science.
> >
> > Have I put this fairly?
> >
> > Ted
> >
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Jun 8 14:20:42 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Jun 08 2009 - 14:20:42 EDT