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

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Tue Jun 16 2009 - 14:41:16 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.

No, there is another option-that the natural laws are describing how
God is working. God can be actively involved in an event that fully
obeys natural laws. Your argument assumes that natural laws are
autonomous. That is the traditional atheistic understanding, all too
often endorsed in antievolutionary rhetoric as well. However, if you
understand natural laws as our best description of how God normally
runs the universe, then God can actively work through laws.

Should I be thankful for the things I have that are explainable by
natural laws (e.g., family, getting well with medical treatment, food,
mollusks to study)? If so, it is because I understand God to be at
work in the natural laws, as well as beyond them.

A rigidly Laplacian universe [with the caveat that the line about not
needing the hypothesis of God comes from a novel, not directly from
Laplace] does not obviously require God as part of the explanation of
its everyday working, but it does not rule Him out, either. The claim
that God is not actively working if something is done fully by natural
law is a god of the gap error.

Of course, if one asserts that God can only work through natural laws,
then one makes an unbiblical restriction on His abilities and in a way
somewhat removes Him. Nevertheless, such a view, though heterodox, is
compatible with the idea that God is actively involved in events,
e.g., in some process-type theologies.

> 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
> events.)

But I doubt that God does have a special involvement in particular
events-rather, He has a special involvement in all events. He does
not appear "on site"- He's always already there. The laws would do
nothing of themselves, any more than the constitution does anything
besides sit in a case. This is my view; there are a range of possible
concepts of the degree of autonomy of things both in terms of whether
a law can do something itself and how tightly God controls the

> (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<

Such a position can have at least two distinct underlying philosophies
a) everything is dictated by natural law, therefore everything can be
explained by natural causes
b) natural causes work pretty well as a physical explanation of a lot
of things, therefore it makes sense to try explaining things with them
and see if it works

> 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,

But he was not all the way there, and did some wavering. Darwin's
position is not the same as that of Dawkins. "Darwinian" is abused as
a catchall term, typically encompassing whatever is not liked by any
particular antievolutionist. As a result, it's not generally a useful

> 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.

The case I mentioned did involve discussion about organ donation (at
least of the ones that weren't too badly damaged) before the person
who fell showed clear tendency towards recovery-fatality is certainly
what would have been expected. Even in the case of a thousand-foot
fall onto jagged rocks, it's conceivable to have just the right wind
breaking the fall-highly improbable, but not necessarily a violation
of natural law. Remember Murphy's law-almost any scenario can have
something go wrong with it.

Not that I think that God can't act without using natural laws in such
a situation, just that it is not absolutely necessary, if He happens
to want to use them. The other big difficulty in such scenarios is
that God might have a reason to stop the fall or to allow it, so
there's no certain a priori expectation.

> 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.

Or if they are predetermined in a front-loading sort of way, or if He
is actively involved already rather than jumping in and intervening.

> 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;<

While I don't believe God did so, one could have a coherent model in
which God left it to "luck", with enough shrews (possibly and other
things) to ensure that one 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.)

It seems unlikely, but there is the example of chaotic systems in the
mathematical sense where the outcome is humanly unpredictable but
fixed based on the precise starting point plus any disturbance.
Omniscience could calculate a result. Maybe it's possible, maybe not.

> And if God didn't front-load it, then how did he protect the shrew?

Either some sort of more intervention-style action, or else simply by
working natural laws as part of the regular running of the universe;
acting in indeterminacies such as quantum events might be a third
option or subsumed under one of those headings.

> 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.<

No more problems than trying to pin down exactly when and how and
intervening ID-type designer intervened.

> Fifth, on Miller, he defines Darwinian evolution exactly as I do. <

Ken Miller certainly does get fuzzy and incoherent at points.
However, he does endorse Biblical miracles (disconcerting a Unitarian
when he spoke here), so he does not hold that everything invariable
works by natural law. He seems to think that God does leave some
things in evolution to luck, but that was a particularly fuzzy point
in his talk.

However, I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "Darwinian" evolution.
 You combine aspects of philosophy and mechanism in what you are
talking about. The physical mechanisms invoked by conventional
evolutionary biology work very well in explaining the physical aspects
of the origin and diversification of life. Most scientists have
little or no grounding in philosophy, and it shows when we try to
address such issues. The philosophical ideas held by Darwin are in no
way necessary to evolution; he changed his philosophical position
after coming up with the basic concepts, and "Vestiges of Creation"
proposed much the same model of evolution by natural selection in a
Christian context a bit before Darwin published.

> 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.

Yes, it doesn't especially matter, just an inclination to pedantic accuracy.

>> 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.

Yes; your answer was that of Denton, but except for endorsing his book
that he doesn't hold to any more, the popular ID doesn't resemble his
position very closely. There's no one ID position, any more than
there is one TE position, but TE seems less inclined to claim to be a
single unified position.

> 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?

My view is that, if God took a hands off approach to some aspect of
the universe, nothing would happen. That's a trick answer, because I
mean that there would be nothing and nothing would occur, not that no
change would occur. I believe God was just as involved in keeping the
boatload of disciples afloat in calm weather as He was in keeping
Peter afloat without the boat.

That position is, of course, theologically based; no scientific
experiment can test it one way or another.

However, I think that God probably was able to achieve the process of
creating humanity physically using the patterns of activity that we
think of as natural law. This reflects the observation that God does
do most things according to the patterns of natural law, the fact that
evolutionary explanations seem to work quite well in my assessment;
the strong tendency for opposition to evolution to incorporate
carelessness about accuracy (also characteristic of Dawkins'
anti-religion rhetoric), and an inclination to be cautious that favors
"it's not absolutely necessary to invoke a miracle here, so best not
to claim one and then get disproven".

As to the exact mechanism, I don't know of any way to test between a
more front-loaded scenario and a more intervene in the indeterminate
details type of scenario. For that matter, I do not rule out an
intervention that would seem to violate natural law; as far as I can
tell, it would not be necessary, and so I do not want to rely on a
claim that it did happen.

> 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.

I don't see the Darwinian explanation as desperate as far as the
science goes. Dawkinsian anti-religion and young earth "science"
alike sound pretty desperate when they throw any argument they find,
regardless of quality, at their target, but Dawkinsian anti-religion
is a badly done add-on to the science. Darwin was motivated in part
by a desire to figure out how things work; his objection to special
divine action is primarily a matter of theodicy rather than directly
relating to evolution, though he saw theodicy issues there, too.
However, theodicy issues are in no way solved by simply invoking a
more ID-type scenario; in fact, it tends to aggravate them by
expecting more intervention.

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

All your suggestions were about TE. Surely you don't think that it's
hopeless to try to get ID to improve its act?

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 Tue Jun 16 14:41:26 2009

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