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

From: David Campbell <pleuronaia@gmail.com>
Date: Mon Jun 15 2009 - 16:12:38 EDT

> I meant nothing tricky or subtle in saying that natural laws rules out guidance.<

No, but as Ted pointed out, this is an endorsement of philosophical
naturalism, not a valid inference from the action of natural laws
themselves. The flaw is highlighted by the way that "scientific"
atheism tries to claim that a rigid Laplacian universe removes God
from the picture and that "random" events remove God from the picture
(usually in separate contexts).

Traditional Christian understanding asserts that God is intimately
involved in all events, whether or not they take place via natural
laws. Front loading, undetectable intervention in indeterminacies
such as quantum events, or (at least in theory if anyone happened to
be watching) detectable intervention such as miracles would be
possible methods of guidance, though obviously this entails an
exception to the natural laws. This also gets into the question of
how precise an outcome is determined by God, along the lines of the
Calvinist-Arminian spectrum. E,g,, one could hold that God set up the
laws of nature, knowing that intelligent life would eventually evolve
in some form, though such a view would require much work to have a
fully orthodox understanding of the Incarnation, etc.

> Darwin did not suppose that there were any other causes to natural events than natural laws.<

Not entirely; there is the attribution of the origin of cells to God
in the 6th and later editions of the Origin, for example. Darwin held
relatively orthodox Christian views when he was first thinking about
evolution; issues of theodicy led him to end up agnostic, but he
varied a good deal in how he felt at any particular time. Thus, the
views of Dawkins et al. are not properly "Darwinian".

> 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.

No, this disregards the traditional Christian understanding of God's
guidance of all things. Again, there is variation within Christianity
on the degree to which things are thought to be determinate, but the
principle that God is at work in all events, no matter what the
immediate means, is agreed upon. Westminster Confession of Faith ch.
V is one example; there are also numerous passages such as Jer. 14:22,
Ezk. 21:21, Pr. 16:33 (for that matter, the general use of the lot in
Israel), Acts 14:17; often more subtly there is the general assumption
that the events of history are guided by God.

> 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.<

In the case of a college student at church here, He can save by having
you land in cold water and having one of you fellow campers having
appropriate medical training, among other factors.

>  Similarly, God cannot will nature to work exclusively by Darwinian processes *and* guarantee that the eagle won't eat the shrewlike ancestor of man.<

This depends on the definition of Darwinian, but there are certainly
plenty of contingencies that could interfere with the eagle catching
the shrew without violating any natural laws. Of course, that doesn't
prove that natural laws were never violated; it merely suggests that
it would not be necessary.

> 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.<

Although I can't say I think Ken Miller has a particularly coherent
theological message, I rather suspect that he doesn't define
"Darwinism" as you do.

> 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.<

No; it is also quite possible for nature to usually or often work in
one way but sometimes in another.

More to the point, as a whole the process of biological evolution, as
best as we can tell, works pretty much as Darwin envisioned. His
guesses about genetics were off on certain important points, and there
are any number of other adjustments, but the basic principle of
evolution of new types of organism from others through selection
acting on the range of natural variation holds up well.

> 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.

Again, Darwin was not consistently and rigidly commited to all of the
points above; unlike, e.g., Dawkins, Darwin was neither especially
anxious to promote a philosophical agenda (of course, he is not free
of philosophical agenda, but that was not his focus) nor especially
confident of the value of his own philosophical and religious views to
the general public.

> 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.)

TE does include a range. However, the fact that God does, indeed,
generally run things by the use of natural laws (as evidenced by
everyday experience, by the relative paucity of miracles in the Bible,
etc.) does suggest that we ought to be cautious about expecting
miracles. Objecting to a god of the gaps does not require a
commitment to strict universality of natural laws. The real problems
with a god of the gaps are the assumption that God is especially
present in the gap and, more significantly, the assumption that He is
absent outside the gap. This is what "scientific" atheism is
predicated on, and YEC and ID often give strong endorsement by
claiming that natural law explanations for certain events remove God
from the picture. (Most of the big-name ID folks can be found making
assertions going both ways as to whether a lack of gaps implies a lack
of God). To be truly theistic evolution, as opposed to deistic,
probably TE involves some sort of concept of God working in all
events-even extreme process theology holds that.

> 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.

Yes, but much of the confusion is on the part of the audience. YEC
and atheistic evolution are very fond of simplifying things by means
of false dichotomies (one reason why much of the public doesn't know
the difference between YEC and ID, much less thinks carefully about
the issues). In reality, simple answers are rarely fully correct and
often wrong.

>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!"

[as a paleontologist I would note that it took closer to 4 billion years]

Atheistic evolution has a range of views on the determinacy of
evolution; e,g, Gould would claim that it probably will require a vast
number of replicates to get man.

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

ID does not have a single answer. Wells and Johnson say NO; not even
new species can evolve from other species (never mind that they are
observed to do so all the time). This is generally the version of ID
as marketed to the average person in the pew. Denton says YES.

> And TE says -- ?

The definition of "intervene" is an issue. I do not see any
scientific nor theological reason to suppose that the physical process
of creating organisms had to have some sort of miraculous
intervention. Humans have a spiritual as well as physical component;
I don't know of any way to decide between a more "evolutionary" (e.g.,
organisms become more spiritual with increasing mental capacity, or
organisms that reach a threshold of mental capacity automatically [not
independent of God but analagous to His role in events that happen by
natural law] become spiritual) versus "interventionist" model of its
origins.

>Of course, there is as yet no evidence that fine-tuning can accomplish such an evolutionary feat. Fine-tuning at the evolutionary level essentially requires that the earliest DNA has the plan for the whole march of life implicit in it<

Not necessarily-there's natural selection, too. The information in
DNA (or precursors such as RNA) simply mirrors the information in the
environment; if the match is close enough, it can survive and
reproduce. Another area where fine-tuning could exist is in the
details of the environment. E.g., fine tuning of the distribution of
matter in the Big Bang resulting in the star XJG-2983734 producing a
cosmic ray at the exact moment to cause a particular mutation when it
reaches Earth. A real example of this is the asteroid collision in
the Ordovician that set one good-sized chunk on course to hit Yucatan
at the end of the Cretaceous, though whether the whole subsequent
history of the universe could be built in in the Big Bang is certainly
open to question, just as the idea that the whole genome could be
there from the start and maintain what would be needed in the future
(as Behe sometimes suggests) is very questionable.

>I never said that intelligently guided evolution was "scientific" in the sense of a formal scientific hypothesis, but I certainly believe that it is compatible with the best scientific data -- more compatible, in fact, than pure Darwinism is.<

"Compatible" is perhaps not the best term. More plausible, based on
extra-scientific consideration, but "compatibility" would include
"only if a large number of extremely improbable events all happen"

> Once again, I think that TE, when it is not afraid to say directly and without ambiguity that God controlled the evolutionary process to produce certain specific results, is in tune with some versions of ID.<

Yes; but not with the popularly marketed versions of ID. Is there a
way to get that more in line with the more academic versions of ID and
less in line with the irresponsible excesses of YEC, pro-industry
"science", and similar bad associations?

-- 
Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Mon Jun 15 16:13:05 2009

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