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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Jun 15 2009 - 20:18:59 EDT


First, a rigid Laplacian universe *does* remove God from the picture, in a
very important sense. If God chooses to work *only* through laws (which I
take it is what you mean by "rigid"), then God is *not* actively involved in
the day-to-day events of the universe. You can say he is "involved" only in
two senses:

1. He is the originator of the laws, and therefore whatever they do is
ultimately caused by him.
2. He "concurs" with the laws, i.e., sustains them, gives them his blessing
to continue.

Note that in neither of these meanings does God have a *special involvement*
in particular events. He does not appear "on site" to do anything that the
laws would not do of themselves. (Nothing you have said about the
Westminister Confession etc. alters this in the slightest. We are speaking
here about a rigid Laplacian universe, not about the traditional Christian
understanding of the universe, which in no way requires or demands a rigid
Laplacianism. And I hope it is clear that I am not endorsing rigid
Laplacianism, but merely indicating what role it gives to God in natural

In a "rigid Laplacean" view of the universe, you can of course have special
actions of God as exceptions to the normal rule of law. But then you have
to speak of God as "breaking" the laws of nature, or "suspending" them, etc.
In other words, you supplement the notion of "law" with a notion of
"miracle" in order to squeeze in certain events in the history of Israel,
and perhaps even for things like miraculous healings now and then. Many
traditional Christians for the last few hundred years have been content with
some such notion of "law plus miracles".

In the 20th century, however, many Christian theologians have been
dissatisfied with this account of things. They have sought an account of
nature in which law can be combined with divine special involvement, without
the language of "breaking" natural laws. Indeed, that is why the quantum
indeterminacy argument is so important. It is precisely because quantum
indeterminacy seems to mean that nature is to some extent "open" (I believe
that is the word that George Murphy used), that one can imagine not just
God's *general* action (concurrence, blessing and sustaining the laws), but
also God's *special* action (his local influence on particular events in
human or cosmic history) as part of the explanation for what happens in the
world, without subtracting anything from the law-bound character of nature.

In any case, Darwin knew nothing of quantum indeterminacy. His notion of
nature was a typical 19th-century one, influenced by Newton, Descartes,
Kant, Laplace, etc. He thought that laws more or less accurately described
how nature worked, and that science's job was to find such laws, and that
applied to biology as well.

Second, Darwin's mention of the Creator in the passage you mention, was not
in the earlier editions of the work; and by all accounts, he became more
agnostic as his life went on. This raises the question how sincere he was
in speaking of the Creator so suddenly, when he had not found it necessary
to do so before. And yes, he does grant that the first few life forms were
a given, as part of creation (in this he was still like Boyle); but (a) that
ill accords with the conception of science he espouses in the work, which
ought to try to find natural causes even for those original forms; and (b)
he mentions the possibility of a chemical origin of life in a private
letter, which shows that he was anticipating the completion of this thought
as "molecules to man" which would be made in the 20th century by Sagan etc.
In other words, Darwin was more than half-way along the path from Boyle's
position to Sagan's position when he wrote the Origin, and he would have
been intensely sympathetic with 20th-century developments which extended his
position all the way back to the origin of life itself.

Third, in the case of falling off a cliff, you are cheating by introducing
water at the bottom. I did not specify, but obviously my example implied
that I was speaking of a fall that would, without a suspension of the laws
of nature, be fatal. Imagine a thousand-foot cliff with jagged rocks at the
bottom, if you must.

Fourth, on the eagle and the shrew, I grant that there are many
contingencies that could prevent the shrew from being eaten, but they are
just that -- contingencies. God cannot *guarantee* that the shrew will not
be eaten, unless he *at some point* intervenes in one or more of those
contingencies. For Dawkins this is not a problem; it's just dumb luck that
we are here. For Christians it is a problem, because Christianity asserts
that we were *intended* ("Let us make man..."). God's intentions cannot be
thwarted, according to traditional belief, so presumably God did not leave
it to "luck" to determine whether or not the shrew would live; so how did
God *guarantee* that the shrew did not get eaten? Did he "front-load" its
survival? (Can even "front-loading" guarantee *events*, as opposed to
genetic makeups? It seems unlikely.) And if God didn't front-load it, then
how did he protect the shrew? Did he put a Mark of Cain on it, so that
other animals would avoid it? This is where "Christian Darwinism" runs into
endless problems, and rather than try to rescue it, I think Christians
should just cut the Gordian knot, and stop even trying to harmonize
Christian theology with Darwinism.

Fifth, on Miller, he defines Darwinian evolution exactly as I do. I very
closely read Ken Miller's *Finding Darwin's God* book just after very
closely reading *The Origin of Species* and *The Blind Watchmaker*, and both
Miller and Dawkins are orthodox interpreters of Darwin's thought. They know
what he said, and they know what he meant. Of course they correct Darwin's
errors regarding genetics and so on, but their overall account is pure
Darwinism. The difficulty Miller has, of course, and that Dawkins does not
have, is that he has to square his Darwinism with his Catholicism. It is
precisely where Miller starts to do that that his book becomes fuzzy and
incoherent. Dawkins's book, on the other hand, is coherent all the way
through. (Wrong, but coherent.)

Sixth, I said 3 billion rather than 4 billion because I was given to
understand that evidence regarding the older life forms was regarded by many
paleontologists as debatable. I don't really care, because the difference
isn't even an order of magnitude, and it would take an earth many orders of
magnitude older before I would find Darwinian explanations credible.

Seventh, regarding this exchange:

> 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.


I already covered your point about Denton in my statement, when I qualified
the NO answer with an "unless". Denton only says "Yes" because he is a
non-Darwinian and accounts for evolution via front-loading. Denton makes it
clear in both his books that if *only* Darwinian processes were operating,
his answer would be NO. And that is true of *all* ID people who are
front-loaders. As for all the non-front-loading ID people, the answer is
clearly NO.

The point is that most TE people are very evasive about how much they think
that Darwinian processes could accomplish *if God did nothing beyond sustain
the laws of nature*. What do you think, David? If God kept "hands off"
after the Big Bang, just keeping the universal constants in place and the
laws of charge and gravity and so on running, would man have evolved on
earth just as he did? Or do you prefer, with most TEs, to remain safely
non-committal on the question?

And just so as not to accuse you of ducking the answer while ducking the
answer myself, my answer is the ID answer given above. I think that
fine-tuning/front-loading is possible, hence the "unless". Otherwise, I
think that the Darwinian explanation is desperate, and would only be engaged
in by someone who was determined to keep special divine action out of the
origins picture at all costs -- which was exactly Darwin's motive, as is
clear from his writings.

You ask at the end how to get the best aspects of TE and ID more in line. I
have several suggestions:

More defenders of TE should actually read Darwin -- not read about Darwin,
but read Darwin.

More defenders of TE should read the early reactions to Darwin, especially
in Britain and on the Continent, from 1859-1930. (They might be surprised
by how many scientific critics thought Darwinism was bad *science*!)

More defenders of TE should actually read Behe, Dembski, etc. -- entire
books -- before criticizing their ideas on hearsay. For example, they
should read Stephen Meyer's new book before reading the negative reviews by
Coyne, Miller, etc. (which will automatically be published in The New York
Times and The New Republic and on Panda's Thumb) and accepting the opinion
of the critics on hearsay.

More defenders of TE should read both of Michael Denton's books.

More defenders of TE should read Richard Sternberg's discussion of
evolutionary theory on his web site.

More defenders of TE should stop reacting to violently to YEC, and put their
fundamentalist pasts (which are often enough the cause of the anger) behind
them. Anger clouds theoretical thinking.

More defenders of TE should actually state directly that they think God
guided evolution (if that's what they believe) or front-loaded evolution (if
that's what they believe), instead of leaving readers wondering what they
actually believe.

More generally, more defenders of TE should state *how* they think God is
involved in evolution, rather than continue to rest in the sort of safe
generalities about God's involvement which they typically offer.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 4:12 PM
Subject: Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich
on TE and ID)

> 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

>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 20:19:39 2009

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