RE: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Mon Jun 22 2009 - 16:30:58 EDT



Thank you for your detailed and substantive response. First of all, let me
make most clear that I have no interest in defending Darwin as a scientist
and certainly not his theological point of view; I am interested most of all
in the truth. I most certainly won't claim to be a scholar of Darwin, to
understand his mind, or even to have had the time yet to read his works. So
in many ways, this discussion is a microcosm of many of our important
discussions of weighty issues. I am doing what most of us do to the extent
we have time and interest -- reading a smattering of original source
material and considering the scholarly opinions of those who have done
substantial research, and trying to weigh the matters to see what seems to
make plausible sense and reflect accurate conclusions.


That said, I can't say that you're wrong about Darwin or his views. But I
would like to point out where I believe your analysis doesn't do justice to
the problems involved or the source material (e.g. Darwin's own expressed
views), places where it lacks in consistency, and even where I think you
have contradicted yourself.


You say that a person's beliefs are better expressed in their operative work
than in their reflection and correspondence outside of their work. This is
a huge theoretical assumption which I will leave largely unanswered, except
as it relates to the subject under consideration. In general I might even
grant the truth of it in many respects, but I think it is subject
potentially to large category errors and other fallacies. However, I don't
have the time to debate the abstract philosophical point.


In this case, we are dealing with (1) your first category, Darwin's belief
(or lack thereof) in theological considerations, when expressed as you say
"at leisure, in letters to friends, relatives, etc.", and (2) your second
category, with Darwin's operative day-to-day work in the geological and
biological details of his scientific work. In so doing, you have defined
"Darwinism" to include the "rigorous and consistent" part of Darwin's detail
work, but excluded his theological musings and metaphysical speculations.
Yet, when you have been presenting Darwinism on this list, you have been
presenting it as the complete methodological and metaphysical sum of what
Darwin believed. This is inconsistent.


It is further inconsistent because of the very subject of the discussion.
Darwin himself, in one of the quotations given earlier, said "My theology is
a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind
chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design
of any kind, in the details." Darwin's "rigorous and consistent" work in
scientific endeavors was primarily "in the details" of biology, where he
could not bring himself to conceive of any design. In other words, to use
his words from later in the quotation, Darwin couldn't bring himself to
believe that God ordained "the spot on which each drop of rain falls". If
Darwin had known about genetics and DNA, he would have said the same about
that - he would have been unable to conceive that God manipulates every gene
duplication error or every DNA variation that leads to extinction or
positive adaptation of species. He was unable to conceive that God
miraculously stepped in to create new species out of nothing, when the
evidence said to him that species develop through apparently random
adaptation and reproduction.


How about you, Cameron? Can you conceive of God as a manipulator of every
raindrop in the world and every chemical base in every living organism? Or
do you believe that God lets most raindrops and most genetic transcriptions
happen "on their own," with only occasional intervention when God needs to
inject some intelligent design? And how would you propose to detect the
difference between them, scientifically? This was and is the problem for
Darwin and for his followers, including modern Theistic Evolutionists. It
didn't make sense to him to distinguish "supernatural" mutations from
"natural" mutations, so he was at least consistent in putting them all in
one category. Yet, his theoretical writing (which you have disallowed as
being part of Darwinism) couldn't admit that everything was merely the
result of "blind chance." You have consistently stated that "Darwinism"
requires blind chance, because you have left out part of what Darwin
actually believed (or felt) about nature.


I suspect you don't have a problem conceiving of God manipulating some, or
even all, of these (raindrops, DNA), or of front-loading the events so that
they appear natural-acting. You don't have a problem, theoretically,
allowing the possibility that God could supernaturally create every species,
although you don't necessarily believe that this is what happened. I don't
have a problem conceiving of some of the above possibilities either, because
I have a theistic viewpoint, but that is an extra-scientific philosophy.
This is the point that has continually been made in response to your
questions here. It is theology, not science, that leads us to postulate a
supernatural designer and gives us a reason to expect that there is one.


Darwin's practical work looked at the biological details, and he expounded
the power of natural forces acting on biological organisms. He also had a
theoretical, philosophical view that couldn't accept blind chance, though he
also couldn't accept a truly theistic God in the common sense. Take someone
like Ken Miller by contrast. His practical work looks at the biological
details, and he continues to expound the power of natural forces. Yet he
has a theoretical, philosophical view that doesn't accept blind chance, and
(unlike Darwin) he IS able to accept a Theistic God as the ground of his
faith and the ultimate First Cause. Why do you have a problem seeing that
the Ken Millers of the world can consistently hold "Darwinian science" and
"theism" simultaneously, whereas Darwin apparently held "Darwinian science"
and some rough approximation of Deism simultaneously?



Just a few more comments, and then I must get back to work. There are also
a few revealing statements in the quotations you provided from Darwin.


"We must, under present knowledge, assume the creation of one or of a few
forms in the same manner as philosophers assume the existence of a power of
attraction without any explanation."

"how that parent appeared we know not"


You state that Darwin's grudging admission of lack of understanding grants
the possibility that future naturalistic explanations might be discovered.
Why, then, do these statements (in keeping with other speculations of
Darwin) not grant the possibility that "wholly naturalistic means" might be
ruled out by future scientific discovery? Either way, Darwin left it open
to future discovery, and the real truth still depends on future unknowns.
The trajectory doesn't necessarily lead to Carl Sagan or Dawkins, because
science has still not discovered how to create "first life" or a lot of
other unanswered questions. You might as well have said that the trajectory
from Darwin through Asa Grey was Ken Miller, because Grey (like Miller) were
just as ardent believers in the scientific "detail" portions that Darwin


You complain that "if there is design, it would have to be in the grand
plan, yet Darwin never outlines what that grand design might be, and even if
in his metaphysical moods he entertains a vague idea of such a design, it
never comes into his actual theorizing about the origin of species." I
would have to ask, does Behe outline what the grand design is and how it has
worked through biological history, or does he just advocate the notion that
there is a grand plan? Does he have any scientific answers for specifically
how God has clearly acted in designing specific species or structures? By
"scientific answers," I mean the sort of answers that you have probed TEs
for - specifically how did God produce or design (was it de novo,
manipulation of quantum probabilities, front-loading, etc.); what did God
design vs. leaving as the product of random factors; and so on. I think you
are asking TEs for a level of detail that the ID scientists have yet to
produce, when they are the ones who are demanding that their enterprise be
deemed scientific.




Jon Tandy

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Jun 22 16:31:53 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Jun 22 2009 - 16:31:53 EDT