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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Jun 11 2009 - 03:51:43 EDT


I meant nothing tricky or subtle in saying that natural laws rules out guidance. If a boat sinks in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and Churchill and Stalin are thrown into the ocean, the water doesn't have any "local choice"; it can't decide to not drown Churchill because he was a good man, but to drown Stalin because he was a bad one. Similarly, if a farmer puts up an electric fence, while it may keep the cattle in, it operates blindly and, if a beloved pet or child should touch it (as has sadly often happened), the fence cannot make a local choice not to deliver its deadly charge. Natural laws don't play favourites. This is especially important in biological evolution, since whether or not man will ever evolve may come down to whether a single shrew-like animal is picked off by an eagle. Natural laws can do nothing whatsoever to stop this contingent event from happening, and Darwin did not suppose that there were any other causes to natural events than natural laws. For this reason, he saw no design in the sequence of contingent events that produced the various species.

I don't know what Charles Babbage said or what he may have meant. Certainly natural laws aren't like baseball bats or hammers or sleeping pills, which can be picked up and used by voluntary agents for good or evil on a case-by-case basis. Natural laws operate inexorably, and therefore reliably, but also therefore pitilessly. You can't have the reliability without the pitilessness. That is part of the explanation of "the problem of evil". The only sense in which one might say that natural laws are "guided" is in the sense that God created them and therefore intended them to do what they do. I would call that design rather than guidance, but the terminology isn't important. What's important is that there is no local variability. Therefore, God cannot sustain the laws of gravity *and* save me if I am falling off a cliff. He can either continue to will the laws of gravity, and use them to kill me, or he can miraculously suspend them to save me. Similarly, God cannot will nature to work exclusively by Darwinian processes *and* guarantee that the eagle won't eat the shrewlike ancestor of man. He either has to see the evolution of man cut off by the eagle, or he has to intervene miraculously to save the little mammal. But Darwin spoke contemptuously of miracles, so we can rule out the second option in his case. And that means that for Darwin, man's existence can be nothing but a lucky break -- the outcome of unguided chance.

As for whether you should care about Darwinism -- no reason why you should. I don't, either, because I think Darwinism is false. But bear in mind that I'm not the one claiming that 100% pure Darwinism is compatible with 100% pure Christian theology. It was Ken Miller who said that. And generally speaking, even when Collins and the other TEs have granted that Darwinism is wrong, they have granted that it is wrong only in its "metaphysics", not in its major "scientific" claims. But that's evasive. Either nature works as Darwin says it does, or it doesn't. (If everyone here would just talk about "nature" instead of talking about metaphysics versus science, or methodological versus metaphysical naturalism, we could get farther in these discussions.) The question is, does Darwin correctly or incorrectly describe nature? His description is more or less as follows: nature is run by universal laws which admit of no exceptions; all events that happen are the result of these natural laws plus chance; the natural laws have always been the same from the time of the creation of the earth, so that, in geology and biology, "origins science" cannot be separated from "operational science"; therefore, the origin of species falls under the province of science, not metaphysics or theology; empirical evidence and reasoning from that evidence reveals that species originate due to a combination of variability and natural selection (with a smidgen of sexual selection thrown in); the most complex organs and systems and habits and instincts can all be explained by such combinations -- if there is even one spot in the evolutionary chain where intervention is required, my whole theory is scientifically worthless.

How does TE stand in relation to this description? The answer is: confusedly. When TEs (as they often do) take Behe to mean that Darwinian processes must be supplemented by "miracles", they scream about "God of the gaps" reasoning and agree firmly that nature is run by universal laws, not by ad hoc actions of God; but then they turn around and say that God acts in evolution. Well, how does he act if Darwin's account of the universal laws is correct? Where is there a space where he can act? For Ted Davis and George Murphy, that space is provided by QI; but what about for all the other TEs who have not endorsed the QI explanation? In their case, the argument looks like exactly the special pleading for miracles that they deny to Behe. (Note: Behe does not in fact insist on miracles, and never has, but that's not my point here.)

It is such confusions which guarantee the limited appeal of TE, both to philosophers who demand consistent, rigorous, step-by-step reasoning, and to the general public which likes plain answers to plain questions. Regarding origins, what the general public wants to know is: If I throw a bunch of atoms and simple molecules into a steaming hot ocean, *and if no designing intelligence intervenes*, will I get Man 3 billion years later? Let's look at everyone's answers:

Dawkins says, "YES!"

YEC says, "NO!"

ID says, "NO -- unless the properties of the atoms and the laws of nature are fine-tuned, which implies design."

And TE says -- ?

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Schwarzwald
  Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:02 AM
  Subject: Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)

  Heya Cameron,

  A comment: "natural laws and processes like gravity, magnetism, and so on" don't rule out guidance at all on their own, unless you assert "guidance is ruled out" almost as a brute fact / take that metaphysical stance to begin with. Even Darwin seemed to admit that guidance and intention was possible in his theory - he just thought (in fact, he seemed to go through pains to argue) that evolution was "too evil" a process for that to be true. Either way, the mere existence of artificial selection would be enough to prove him wrong on this point, as would various engineering applications of natural processes and so on. There's nothing about natural laws and processes that make them immune to guidance, or being used and directed towards certain ends - Charles Babbage seemed to realize this earlier than anyone.

  I agree with you entirely when you explain that Darwin's thoughts - the "Original Darwinism" - were directly aimed at excluding God and divine purpose/design from being at all present in the world. I also agree that once you exclude Darwin's viewpoints about the presence of lack of God's intervention, design, purpose, guidance, etc from his science, you're losing the lion's share of "Darwinism", and it isn't the "Original Darwinism" anymore. Still, I don't really see why Dave should alter his view. You say if he excludes metaphysics, there's "grave consequences" for Darwinian theory. But your alternative is to regard Darwinian Theory as incompatible with Christianity and wrong besides. Rather seems like the same result for how Darwinism is viewed/treated - just, the second option opens the door to ID ideas being classed as science.

  Dave and I had some disagreements in this thread, but his view about both "guided and unguided are outside science" mirrors my own, for all practical purposes. If your stance is "That totally guts Darwinism!", my reply is - why in the world should I care if it does?

  On Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 12:15 AM, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:

    Dave Siemens may choose not to read this post, but for others who might be interested, I would point out some problems with his reply to Schwarzwald:

    DS: "You've blown the game by noting "guided and unguided." That's metaphysical. The proper stance is that science cannot speak to the matter. Murray's later post makes the same error. TE does not say that development is unguided, it merely recognizes that the decision is not within the scope of the empirical study of nature."

    Regarding the notion of divine guidance in evolution, TE speaks with many voices, and more often than not very unclearly. However, classical Darwinism is clear, and does say, or imply, that evolutionary development is unguided. The whole point of Darwin's theory was to account for the existence of species in terms of variation and natural selection, which are represented in his argument as unguided, even if he doesn't regularly use the word. Why do I say this? Evolution must be unguided, because it is conceived by Darwin as driven by impersonal natural laws and processes, which, like gravity, magnetism, and so on, have no intentionality, and cannot aim for any end in particular cases. Darwin understood this as a principle required by all truly scientific explanation -- universal laws, not particular volitions or designs, must be used to explain natural events. Mars is not trying to orbit the sun, nor is any angel pushing Mars around the sun. Mars is driven around the sun by a blind natural necessity. Darwin sought explanations of that sort for the origin of species. And such explanations rule out guidance. (They don't rule out God as the author of the laws which make Mars orbit the sun, or which allow species to evolve; but they rule out local guidance by God in particular cases of planetary motion or evolutionary change.)

    Now one might say that TE agrees with Darwin on this point. Yes, but there is a crucial difference. Darwin did not adopt the TE gimmickery of separating "metaphysical naturalism" from "methodological naturalism"; i.e., he did *not* think that "naturalism" (to use the jargon that people here use, though like David Campbell I don't like it much) was merely a heuristic fiction, convenient for the investigation of nature, which made no claims about the way nature "really" operated. He thought that "naturalism" was the right way to approach nature because he thought that nature actually operated exclusively through universal natural laws. He thought that the "nature" uncovered by science (good science, that is) was nature itself.

    So in fact Darwin did hold one "metaphysical" belief -- the belief that nature is in fact driven by universal laws, and was in principle entirely explicable by them. But it was *not* a second "metaphysical" belief on his part that there was no local guidance or design in the evolutionary process. Rather, it was (at least in the context of the 19th-century physics that Darwin knew) a logical implication of the first. Once Laplacian-style laws are in force, no local guidance by the author of those laws -- barring a miraculous suspension of them -- is possible. Darwin was therefore completely logical -- in his day -- to believe that evolution was *in reality* unguided, and driven entirely by a combination of blind necessity and chance. I therefore find that Dawkins and Coyne are completely faithful interpreters of Darwin in their rejection of guidance with regard to the evolutionary process. It is the TEs who are unfaithful to Darwin in claiming that his rejection of guidance is a gratuitous metaphysical addition to the "science" part of his theory, and that Darwinism is compatible with the notion of guidance.

    Of course, today it can be argued that quantum theory and/or chaos theory provide theoretical room, not available to Darwin, for local guidance within a framework of impersonal law. I don't reject that suggestion out of hand, as a possible means for providing for divine guidance within an orderly nature. In fact, it ultimately undermines Darwin's anti-teleological intentions, which is fine with me. And it can easily be harmonized with the possibility of design detection, because there is no difference in the procedures for design detection, whether the patterns in living creatures are caused by the action of a big glowing finger of God that everyone can see, or by invisible quantum shifts. The question is only whether the patterns are of such a nature that the design inference is warranted.

    There is, of course, an easy way for Dave Siemens out of all my objections here. Instead of trying to prove that Darwin's "metaphysics" can be separated from his "science" (which they can't be, without grave consequences for the strength of Darwinian theory), he could simply accept my useful distinction between "evolution" (understood as a neutral name for an inferred *process*, with no assumptions made about whether the process is guided or unguided), and "Darwinism" (which is the view, held by true Darwinists, -- Darwin, Huxley, Simpson, Coyne, Mayr, Gould, Dawkins, etc. -- that evolution is inherently unguided). He could agree with me that "Darwinian evolution" (in its pure, unadulterated form) is incompatible with Christian theology, while insisting that evolution itself, as a process, may involve intelligent input, may be guided (*really* guided, I mean) and therefore may be compatible with Christian theology. Many people in the ID camp would agree with him if he were to say that.

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: dfsiemensjr
      Sent: Monday, June 08, 2009 10:54 PM
      Subject: Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)

      You've blown the game by noting "guided and unguided." That's metaphysical. The proper stance is that science cannot speak to the matter. Murray's later post makes the same error. TE does not say that development is unguided, it merely recognizes that the decision is not within the scope of the empirical study of nature.

      I recall a story that dates to the Piltdown matter. Many pieces of flint discovered in early deposits were claimed to be tools until one of the group brought in a bag of nodules, placed the bag on the floor and jumped on it. Then he showed that the broken pieces were like those touted as tools. Discovering patterns!
      Dave (ASA)

      On Mon, 8 Jun 2009 18:04:20 -0400 Schwarzwald <> writes:
        Heya Dave,

        In defense of Cameron, I don't think he's just "making up" much of anything here. If anything, he's taking metaphysics seriously - and there really is an underlying metaphysical basis to science and the conclusions we draw from it, however restrained and however unspoken. I'd also agree it's very important to recognize the metaphysics that are in play both in terms of the rock-bottom fundamentals (What metaphysical perspectives are needed to do science) and the extraneous (what sort of metaphysical perspectives are often present in science news / education / etc, but are tacked on and are themselves unscientific.)

        While I have criticisms of ID and don't think it itself is scientific, I also agree with some of what Cameron is saying here. Not just about the importance of recognizing the metaphysical roots and debates over "cause" (Not just final causes, mind you, but criticisms like Hume's), but about how the ID people aren't the only ones engaging in some extraneous metaphysics. Why is it a threat to science itself when Behe or Dembski write books speculating about the possibility of design being detected in nature -- but when Stephen Weinberg asserts that science has shown nature to be comprised of 'cold, pitiless indifference', when Victor Stenger writes a book titled "God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist", when countless atheists present evolutionary development as scientific proof that God wasa not involved, etc... well, THAT is just some private individuals presenting their personal opinions. Claim to detect design in nature, and you're quite possibly a malicious person, intentionally trying to destroy science itself. Claim that science shows there is no God, and you're merely opinionated.

        I absolutely endorse being even-handed about 'metaphysics' in science. I do have some disagreements with Cameron, though - unless I have him wrong, he seems to think that examining possibilities of chemical evolution for the first cell takes on an unavoidable metaphysical suggestion of 'this was unguided'. I'd see it differently - if anything it illustrates one way a Creator could have accomplished what He wanted to accomplish. I'd also disagree that science "purports to be able to explain the *origin* of natural entities" - or at least that science properly understood cannot do this. Not without tainting it with a strong dosage of metaphysics.

        In this vein, let me suggest a fun way to think about these questions: If I develop a program that simulates evolutionary development, and I illustrate how by changing certain variables, starting data, etc, I'm capable of influencing and directing how the evolution unfolds (In other words, I'm able to guide and direct the evolution towards certain pathways and goals), would that be evidence of intelligent design? If we manage to create synthetic life in a laboratory from scratch, would that be evidence of intelligent design? If I manage to create a simulation of a universe - no matter how small, no matter how limited - is that evidence of intelligent design? If we find a way to create another universe in a laboratory, would that be evidence of intelligent design? Would "humans will find a way to create life in a laboratory" an ID prediction?

        Either way, this I have great sympathies with what Cameron is saying here - both about the importance (and prevalence) of metaphysics in science, as well as the uneven treatment of ID (or even 'theistic') perspectives compared to others.

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Received on Thu Jun 11 03:52:35 2009

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