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

From: dfsiemensjr <>
Date: Mon Jun 08 2009 - 16:35:50 EDT

You're right, but don't go far enough. Cameron makes up metaphysics to
suit his position. At its root, "efficient cause" merely notes that there
is a constant connection, that is, an observably tested necessary and
sufficient condition in a temporal direction. It would be the same for a
solipsist with his presumed self-production of observations and for a
materialist who argues that what is observed is all there is. That's why
the doing of science, especially the physical sciences, is the same
whatever religion or lack thereof one professes. Moorad's belief that the
laws of nature are determined by God does not make his scientific work
different from that of any atheist or any adherent to process theology,
whose deity can only persuade. Cameron can't see this because he is
obsessed with ID, with its pattern imposed on everything.

I no longer read Cameron's posts, but I skim responses to them.
Dave (ASA)

On Mon, 8 Jun 2009 14:20:21 -0400 Schwarzwald <>
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 <>

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?
ent;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
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.

From: [] On Behalf
Of Cameron Wybrow []

Sent: Monday, June 08, 2009 3:35 AM
Subject: Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re:
Gingerich on TE and ID)


1. I agree with you that we bring the totality of our experience to
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
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

Now, here you are saying that "final cause" is metaphysics talk, not
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
the realm of metaphysics. What right has a scientist to say that one
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,
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
nature at all, only the momentary will of God, which because of its
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.
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
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
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
that the cell came into existence due to the plan of an intelligent
designer. He thinks, however, that scientists who are doing research on
chemical evolution of the cell are doing genuine scientific work -- as
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
life could have arisen unguided, and almost to a man tacitly convey to
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
is inherently scientific (not necessarily true, but scientific) by its

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
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
inherently metaphysical and cannot be made scientific by any means
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
that the chemical evolution people are also resorting to metaphysical
explanation? And finally, what would you say is the proper approach to
question: "How did the first cell come about?" Can that question be
addressed by science at all?


----- 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:
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
put together all those snapshots. Newton was able to summarize the main
or observations of the solar system and terrestrial motion by introducing
the notion of force and dynamical equations that made predictions. I do
think that Newton would say that he was inferring gravity. Remember
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
become measurable entities, witness gravitational waves, electromagnetic
waves, etc.

Honestly Cameron I do not see any metaphysics in the doings of
Physicists, and all other scientists for that matter, deal only with the
snapshots of the real thing, metaphysics deals with the real thing using
snapshots and all else that is available.

It could be that abhorrence of “action at a distance” based on
presupposition may have hasten field theory earlier than it occurred
historically. One may say that Einstein was so motivated. However, in
instances, physicists may use differing sort of inspirations or instincts
arrive at better descriptions of Nature.

Surely, "final cause" in Nature is metaphysics talk, not physics talk.
experimental scientist provides the data; the theoretical scientist
the theory. The metaphysician may use the data, the theory, plus other
which certainly are not snapshots of Nature, and infer what reality truly
is. As my philosophy professor would say, the real thing is “mobile
the physicist studies the mobile not the being. The metaphysician deals
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
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
How come existence? I cannot separate the notion of a designer from that
a Creator.

From: [] On Behalf
Cameron Wybrow []
Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 10:00 PM
Subject: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich
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
could directly reveal "gravity"; he inferred the existence of gravity as
best explanation of a certain set of facts. In contrast, Galileo refused
accept gravity because to him there were no data pointing to the
of "action at a distance"; he thought such notions implied "occult
i.e., supernatural explanations, which had no place in science. In other
words, Galileo was a "methodological naturalist" in his own manner,
the invention of the term. He therefore would not make the inference
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 --
everyone agrees that Newton's science was better. This shows two things:
(1) Science is data plus inference, not mere data; (2) The things
by science sometimes expand our view of what "nature" is, or what

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
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
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*,
progress of modern physics would have been arrested indefinitely. That
should caution us against deciding, on the basis of some abstract notion
"science", that certain realities may not be inferred from the data.

Of course, nothing I have said above implies that people should just
the design arguments of Behe and Dembski uncritically. Nothing I have
even implies that they are well-formulated arguments, or well-founded in
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
good the data, and no matter how astronomical the odds are against a
non-design explanation. People are unwilling to have their vision of
expanded to include an aspect of final causation, just as Galileo was
unwilling to have his vision of nature expanded to include a universal
of gravity. Why do we assume that nature cannot surprise us? It appears
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",
principles have led science astray before. My preferred notion of
science is based not on abstract principles of method, but on letting
speak; and that means adapting not only our theories, but even our
sacrosanct principles of interpretation, to the form of nature, rather
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
and Kant. Well, so be it.


----- 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"
purely physical devices. Therein lies the objectivity of science. It may
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
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
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
to the issue of existence, which goes beyond the physical data and dwells
into the metaphysics of reality.

From: [] On Behalf
Cameron Wybrow []
Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 4:12 PM
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
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
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
science. Nor do I wish to dispute any of Gingerich's other explicit
on evolution, science, theology, etc.

My comment was really aimed at a broader concern, one which I think that
reconcilers of Christian theology and science -- and not just on the
question of evolution, but on other questions, such as free will -- need
think about. I was concerned that the language Gingerich used -- quite
unconsciously, I suspect -- gives away too much to a radically
approach to theology and to knowledge in general.

I doubt very much that Gingerich admires the philosophy of
but his language has an existentialist ring to it -- "choosing to
for example. It is not surprising Gingerich or any other
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
the world is used by conservative people who would see themselves as
anti-subjectivist. For example, the word "values" is used by
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
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
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.
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
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
sheer will, or desire, or preference, and never be in contradiction with
what the world is really like. In this view, science purportedly
nature "objectively", and atheists and Christians are then free to apply
their "subjective" religious glosses to the objective reality disclosed
science, and make statements which are utterly beyond public verification

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
the facts of nature comes at a high cost in terms of public prestige,
many people in the modern world, including leading members of its
intelligentsia, take the "objective" realm to be "real" and the
realm to be of dubious status; possibly the subjective realm, including
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
which helps Christians get through the day. And by adopting a
account of faith, Christians in effect make this charge irrefutable.
can personally believe that their free will and their faith and their
religious experiences and so on are not mere epiphenomena of neural
in the brain, but they cannot expect the world to believe the same,
the very subjectivism which protects their faith from disproof also rules
out the possibility of proving that their beliefs have any grounding in

Pre-modern Christian metaphysics and ethics did not use the language of
"subjectivity" and "objectivity", and the word "real" did not have the
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
blame for the sundering of our knowledge and our world was the break-up
the pre-modern metaphysics. One of the main forces responsible for that
break-up was Protestantism itself. This, I think, is why many
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
Christianity should be interpreted in an Islam-like way, i.e., as at
radically fideistic, or in a Patristic-Medieval way, i.e., as a theology
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
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
would make Christianity impervious to any possible result of science, but
a cost I am unwilling to pay. I would rather have a Christianity that
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
of public relevance.


----- 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
> (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
> say that, if there is a role for natural theology (and Owen thinks
> is,
> devoting an earlier chapter to that topic), it's a modest one with
> scope, and primarily in the realm of metaphysics rather than science
> (though
> science of course can be used in the arguments). I realize that
> as
> used by ID advocates is not understood by those advocates to be a type
> natural theology -- the natural theological step is separate from the
> design
> inference (which is scientific, in the opinion of ID advocates).
> 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.
Make the most out of every dollar. Click here to find websites and services to help invest wisely.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Jun 8 16:41:45 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Jun 08 2009 - 16:41:45 EDT