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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Jun 23 2009 - 00:39:33 EDT


Thanks for your engaged response.

Let me take a few of your points as they occur to me, and run with them:

1. You wrote:

>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 would not call the remarks in question part of Darwin's "theoretical writing". His *theoretical* view, i.e., his considered scientific opinion about how nature actually works, is that natural causes are enough to account for all species (beyond a few original forms), without recourse to planning or design. When he says he cannot bring himself to believe that everything is the result of blind chance, he appears (to me, anyway), to be making not a theoretical but a personal comment, i.e., to be agonizing over the possible implications of his theory for religion. Elsewhere he says defensively to a correspondent (it may have been Gray), "I had no intention of writing atheistically" or words to that effect, but the context is one of vexation; his point is that he can very well understand how his views could be taken atheistically, and is troubled by that aspect of his thought.

At no point in any of his correspondence (known to me, anyway) does he clearly say: "People have misunderstood my thought. It is not atheistic because of X and Y and Z ... it can easily be reconciled with traditional theism by means of A and B and C... I am 100% Darwinian and 100% Church of England." :-) Always in his personal meditations, he leaves the reader with the strong sense that his thought *does* pose a problem for traditional religion, and that, even though he intends no malice to traditional religion, the concern is real, and he does not know how to resolve it. Notice how different that position is from the position of modern theistic evolutionists, many of whom seem to think that merely by waving the magic wand of the distinction between "methodological naturalism" and "metaphysical naturalism", the strain will go away. If it were that easy, why did Darwin not find it so easy? Especially given that he had the support of a number of high-ranking, liberal Church of England clergy, who were quite willing to read the Bible in a way that left room for evolution. Why did he not take comfort in their support? What was he troubled about?

2. You also wrote:

>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.

Yes, I know that this point has continually been made here. The question is whether Darwin would have agreed with the way in which many people here separate scientific conclusions from religious implications.

Of course he would have agreed that theology teaches of us a supernatural designer. But he does *not* appear to agree with the crucial point implicit in many of the replies to me here, i.e., that the theology of a supernatural designer is essentially bullet-proof in relation to the results of science, that nothing science has ever discovered or ever could discover could harm theology, because theology is on another plane, so to speak, from that of science, i.e., the realm of metaphysics, which science cannot touch. If he believed that, he certainly expressed it in a very strange way in all his letters and his autobiography, which appear to show that he felt a great tension between his *scientific* conclusions and traditional religious beliefs. According to modern TE, no one ever needs to feel that tension, because science has nothing to say about chance, design, etc. -- the things Darwin worried about. So was Darwin just a confused thinker, who didn't see as clearly as modern TEs the necessary distinction between metaphysical and methodological naturalism? I find this highly unlikely. Darwin began his studies in theology, and though he did not complete them, he finished with a B.A. (He obtained no degree in any natural science.) He certainly had read some theology and some philosophy -- likely more than most modern TEs. Yet he still felt there was a problem. I do not feel that all TEs have wrestled enough with this. I do not feel that they have studied Darwin carefully and tried to think his thoughts after him.

3. Regarding ID, you ask me what is ID's view of God's grand plan or how divine action works. I answer: I part company with some ID theorists (but not all) in saying that ID is not about God's grand plan or how divine action works. ID is about design detection. ID is -- when it understands itself properly -- not a historical theory at all, not an "origins" theory in the traditional sense at all. It is concerned with "origins" only in the sense that a design requires intelligence, and therefore in the sense that intelligence must have at some point been input into nature. In that sense, it is the negative counterpart to what I am calling Darwinism -- the view that living forms can be explained entirely without reference to intelligence. The difference is this: Darwinism *must* provide a detailed historical account of origins in order to establish its case; ID only has to demonstrate the presence of design -- not give an account of how the design got there -- in order to establish its case. (If we found an alien sculpture on Mars, we would not need to know the exact technology which produced the sculpture, or the date the sculpture was carved, or any other "origin" sort of information, to know that the sculpture was designed, and not the product of erosion.)

This is where TE differs from ID. TE needs to give an account of divine action if it is going to insist simultaneously (as Ken Miller does, and as Francis Collins apparently does) that Darwin's account of nature is true *and* that the Christian understanding of creation is true. This is because, as Darwin saw, Darwinism at least on the surface appears to exclude any possibility of the sort of guiding intelligence that Christianity has traditionally postulated. So some "room" must be made for God's action. Some TEs try to do that with quantum theory. Others just say it is a divine mystery and we cannot know how Darwinian science and Christian theology go together, but can still safely assert that they do. The latter approach strikes me as evasive, the tactic of someone caught in a contradiction who does not know how to resolve it. "Mystery" is always a handy religious escape for such situations.

Since ID's goal is more limited than TE's, it is happy if it can refute Darwinism (the teaching that design can be fully simulated by chance and natural laws). It then leaves the question of divine action open. Thus, some ID people can happily accept evolution -- God uses evolution to create everything -- once evolution is freed from Darwinian strictures. Then the door is open to any speculations theologians can come up with regarding the "how" God's design is realized through evolution. That's why Behe is quite relaxed and open-minded about how God is involved in evolution. He hasn't ruled out front-loading, quantum indeterminacy, blunt miracles, etc. From the point of view of ID theory, all are possible, and it is just a question of which suggestions fit in best with the empirical evidence or seem most plausible on rational grounds or seem most orthodox on theological grounds.

I add that I would certainly grant TE the same speculative latitude that I grant ID on such questions, were it not that many TEs make such a fetish about the correctness of Darwin's main claims. And among Darwin's main claims, I maintain, is that natural laws account so sufficiently for the forms of life and their origin that there is no need to postulate either guidance or design. I could be a TE myself, but not if evolution is understood in that fashion -- not even if I am graciously allowed by other TEs to privately fantasize that "metaphysically" there is guidance even though science can explain everything without it. I can't accept a belief in guidance or design that is either against the evidence or totally redundant in the face of the evidence.

4. Keep in mind also that I have never insisted that ID be called "science". I have questioned dogmatic statements that design detection can never, in principle, be scientific, but I have stopped short of saying that ID is "science" in the normal modern sense of the word. What I do believe is that ID is *consistent* with the best available observational and laboratory science, and that it is at least based on that science, not on revelation or theology. And if it should turn out that ID goes a bit beyond what science in the narrow sense can prove, and requires a philosophical inference from the scientific data, well, so be it. Philosophical inferences can be rational and strong, if they have a substantial basis in the facts of nature. The case for design may not be ironclad, but it is strong.

----- Original Message -----
  From: Jon Tandy
  Sent: Monday, June 22, 2009 4:30 PM
  Subject: RE: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)



  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 expounded.


  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

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Received on Tue Jun 23 00:40:36 2009

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