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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Tue Jun 23 2009 - 03:16:25 EDT

Heya Cameron,

Reading through your latest response to Jon, I have some comments.

First, from my readings of Darwin - no doubt far more shallow than your own
- it seems that Darwin actually gave little thought at all to how any design
(much less God's) could possibly manifest in an evolutionary framework,
aside from artificial selection (which, of course, Darwin admitted certainly
existed.) Here I'm talking in a technical sense: How a gradually developing
nature could be part of design, or how direction and guidance could fit into
a framework with any given perspective, simply did not seem to be something
Darwin gave much thought to. What *did* seem to occupy his thoughts were
perceived cruelties in nature - and specifically, in that letter to Asa Gray
- were objections based on problems of evil, cruelty in nature, and (in
other areas) deep doctrinal disputes with Christianity.

What I'm saying here is that given what Darwin wrote and thought about this
subject, it seems that the very ideas of pondering ways in which his theory
could be compatible with (or even indicative of) design were hardly
considered by Darwin himself - and that, of course, Asa Gray and others were
seeing such compatibility right from the start. What's more, Darwin's chief
objections really seem to be based on things he saw in nature (the habits of
the ichneumon wasp) that would remain a problem even if his theory was
utterly and completely wrong. Whether or not this was a result of gradual
evolution, rapid evolution, or the eternal succession of Plato's forms, the
ichneumon wasp still paralyzes a caterpillar and lays its carnivorous eggs
in the living body. This comes up far less nowadays since ID proponents in
particular have replies to this, and guys like Mike Behe are more than
willing to say "Malaria looks designed. I know it leads to countless deaths
and misery. But an appearance of design is an appearance of design." But
with Darwin, this - not his gradualism, not his appeals to natural
operations - seems key.

With all this in mind, I'd have to disagree with you - and that's if I
understand you correctly - about Darwin knowing that there was no way to
reconcile design with gradual evolution. That honestly seems like a topic
the man hardly gave much thought to, other than to insist that his theory
never be tinged with reference to divine action, intention or guidance no
matter the evidence or rationale - not because these things were
incompatible with fundamental ideas, but frankly because he simply wanted
those excluded from the start. What is clear is that he had deep problems
with Christianity due to other experiences, and saw nature-as-it-is, not
nature-as-it-came-to-be, as his chief argument (or stumbling block, take
your pick) against God's guidance / providence being at work in nature.

As far as TEs go, I still can't help but feel Darwin himself is becoming
irrelevant - valid as evolution is fundamentally in my eyes, and as
near-sainted his status is with New Atheists. I can only grin when reading
Darwin insisting that massive catastrophes cannot be considered to play a
role in the development of species (funny how that claim isn't talked much
about nowadays.) Or upon hearing the insistence that epigenetics and
horizontal gene transfer can be neatly filed under 'neo-darwinism', or even
that Lynn Margulis' views on natural selection and Darwinism, if true, can
be happily absorbed as well. Rather elastic, that category. It strikes me as
akin to calling quantum physics 'Neo-Newtonianism'.

Here's one question I have for you, though. Probably one I've asked in the
past, but the way you tend to put these arguments forces me to ask again.
How would a Darwinist, as you call them, scientifically prove that a given
event was accidental in the sense they need to - namely, unplanned,
unforeseen, unguided in any ultimate way (namely by God)? It honestly seems
to me that this cannot be demonstrated by science - it must be taken as an a
priori commitment, or philosophizing. And what's more, it can be assumed for
practically any given event - even for your sculpture on Mars. I would find
it wildly implausible, but there are naturalists out there willing to bite
such bullets. (I recall a many-worlds proponent talking about how, in some
universe, the moon is a colossal sculpture of his great grandmother.)

That seems to be what some TEs are getting at when they make the distinction
between methodological and metaphysical naturalism (the former of which I'm
on record as having deep problems with now.) What keeps design, guidance,
and intention out of Darwin's view of biology isn't scientific proof (it
would always be inadequate) or scientific theorizing (it's not science if it
can't conceivably be falsified) but a metaphysical commitment. And a
commitment like that can be utterly ignored, leaving behind descriptions and
ideas of mechanisms that can be incorporated into a variety of theological
and philosophical perspectives, from Denton's naturalism to others' front
loading or interventionism and otherwise.

This leads to a problem I have when you imagine scenarios where "science is
able to explain everything without" design. If the TEs you're responding to
are right (and I believe they are) then "science" cannot, even in principle,
do this - because the moment science makes reference to design or its lack
in nature, it is no longer science proper. If I give a complete physical
description of events that unfolded historically, science (rather, a person
engaging in science) cannot say "this took place without design!" and
thereby exclude God or some near-equivalent designer in relation to our
world. Just as the same person cannot look at an event that took place, be
utterly lacking a physical explanation, and declare "this was a miracle!" In
both cases they're running outside of what science is meant for and able to

Now, you complain that this makes theology bulletproof at least with regards
to science. Possibly. But my response is to point out that, for what its
worth, atheists take more or less the exact same tact. Recall Crick's move
when he seemed convinced that the Origin of Life had to come about by
chance. His response was to postulate a designer who wasn't God - "alien
civilization" suited his needs. A more recent response by an atheist
similarly worried about the chances - just postulate more universes to
increase the odds. Both of these were cases of an atheist responding to what
can frankly be considered a powerful design inference (at least in their own
views). That's about as bulletproof as one can get.

Finally, the thing about redundancy in chance v design explanations is that
the redundancy works both ways. You can, if you like, believe that this
entire message was written to you without the operations of a mind being in
play - a housecat walking around on an unattended keyboard, for example.
It's certainly physically possible. Does the chance explanation therefore
make the design explanation redundant? Or does the design explanation make
the chance explanation redundant? I'd submit the latter. Which means that
simply imagining that a chain of events was capable of occuring as a result
of chance or design is not enough. Philosophy, metaphysics and otherwise
have to come into play - and science alone is not going to settle the issue.

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

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Received on Tue Jun 23 03:17:07 2009

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