Re: [asa] observational vs. theoretical differences in scenarios; a direct question

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sun Jun 28 2009 - 19:37:40 EDT

Heya Cameron,

Unfortunately, I'd have to answer "#2 or #3", since I have no hard and
decisive views either way, other than #1 is a tremendously weak position to
be in - and on the surface, it seems that elements of #2 and #3 could both
occur at once. As Mike Gene once said [A rough paraphrase, and perhaps my
spin on it, follows] "Teleology can endure an awful lot of chance, apparent
or actual. Ateleology can hardly suffer a drop of guidance." I won't get
into my rationales or nitpicking about some of what you've said here,
though, since it's clear you're after outright answers alone.

On Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 4:02 PM, Cameron Wybrow <>wrote:

> In trying to elicit the opinion of various people here regarding the
> capability of Darwinian processes, I have frequently run into the objection
> that it is impossible to tell the difference observationally between
> Darwinian processes, front-loaded processes, and guided processes, and that
> therefore this is a "metaphysical" rather than a scientific question. I
> would like to address this in a couple of ways.
> First, "metaphysical" doesn't follow from "can't tell the difference
> observationally". For example, in examining a body, a coroner may be trying
> to determine whether or not a person died from natural causes (chance,
> natural laws) or was murdered (design). He may be unable to tell the
> difference in some cases, e.g., a certain kind of poison may become
> undetectable in the body more than X hours after death, and its symptoms may
> look like those of a heart attack. It does not follow that the question
> whether or not the person was murdered is a "metaphysical" rather than a
> "scientific" question. Rather, it remains a perfectly scientific question,
> but one without (given current forensic technology) an available scientific
> answer. A year down the road, someone may find a new, perhaps indirect, way
> of detecting the existence or non-existence of the poison in the body, and a
> scientific answer (regarding the role of design or chance in the person's
> death) would then be forthcoming.
> By analogy, something similar may apply to intelligent design, chance, and
> front-loaded scenarios in evolutionary speculation. It may well be that
> information or techniques will become available, for example, which could
> establish design, or rule out purely Darwinian explanations.
> Second, and more important, macroevolution is not an observed phenomenon
> but an inferred one. We do not see it happening. And given the time scale
> of macroevolution, we never will. So the scientist is never in the position
> to be able to say: "I see this horse turning into a zebra, but I can't tell
> whether the molecular changes involved are Darwinian, front-loaded, or
> guided." For an evolutionary biologist to pretend to be in the position of
> the cool observational scientist, resolved not to resort to design or chance
> explanations because he doesn't have scientific data to settle
> the question, is comical. In evolutionary biology, not only is speculation
> unavoidable; it is the essential scientific activity of the whole
> enterprise. Evolutionary biologists speculate about what happened in the
> past, and they assign causes to past hypothetical events. So, for example,
> they speculate that a single wolf-like mammal eventually became the
> whole order of whales (past hypothetical event), and they invoke random
> mutations, drift, natural selection, etc. to explain this past hypothetical
> event.
> Let us take a look at three broad speculative explanations (note that I
> deliberately avoid the word "scientific") for the reptile-mammal transition:
> 1. Reptiles became mammals by purely stochastic processes; there was no
> design in the appearance of any mutation, and God did not lift a pinky
> (other than to sustain the laws of nature) during the whole process.
> 2. Reptiles became mammals by a deterministic, front-loaded process; there
> was inbuilt design regarding at least the main thrust of the process, but
> beyond inserting that inbuilt design (at the beginning of life, or perhaps
> even at the beginning of the universe), God did not lift a pinky (other than
> to sustain the laws of nature) during the whole process.
> 3. God (or space aliens, if you prefer) steered the alterations of the
> genomes of reptiles until they became mammals, actually causing nature to
> produce *what it otherwise would never have produced*. (Note that this
> answer does not entirely exclude elements of stochastic and deterministic
> processes, but subordinates them to, or coordinates them with, a guiding
> hand, and is not in the slightest degree embarrassed to use the word
> "guidance".)
> Darwin affirmed #1.
> Dawkins, Coyne, Gould and most of the other famous evolutionary
> biologists have affirmed #1.
> Denton affirms #2.
> ID people are split, some affirming #2 and some affirming #3.
> Now I am going to ask people here (as many as are willing to participate,
> anyway) to answer: which of the three scenarios above is the one that -- in
> your own personal view -- *actually happened*?
> In order to avoid a repetition of earlier debates, let me emphasize what I
> am looking for. I am *not* asking for an epistemological or methodological
> discussion about how science could or could not tell the difference between
> these scenarios if they were to occur in front of our eyes. And I am *not*
> asking people to speak specifically *as scientists* (as opposed to
> philosophers, theologians, simple believers, or just sensible individuals).
> I am asking what each person here, thinking as a non-schizophrenic "whole
> person", with a single intellectual conclusion (however arrived at, whether
> by science, philosophy, faith, or some combination thereof), *What, in your
> view, actually happened?* - #1, #2, or #3. Not *what could have happened*,
> but what you think *did in fact happen*.
> Here is my *perception* of what various people who call themselves TEs (or
> are classed as TEs by others) have said or would say:
> David Campbell has (I think) affirmed #1, but with some shufflings and
> hesitations.
> George Murphy has affirmed #3 as his personal view, though he doesn't rule
> out #1 as a possibility.
> Ted Davis has an overall attitude similar to George Murphy's. I don't know
> if he has said (as directly as George said to me) that he thinks the process
> was in fact guided, but I will put him down for a #3 as well.
> That's the sum total of my knowledge of the positions of TE people here
> regarding *what actually happened*.
> Now, for other TEs:
> Robert Russell goes for #3. (Of course he makes clear that the guidance is
> quantum-concealed and observationally indetectable, but he unambiguously
> affirms #3.)
> I am told privately, but have not confirmed by personal inquiry, that Owen
> Gingerich and Loren Haarsma and possibly John Polkinghorne would endorse
> #3.
> Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Francisco Ayala and Denis Lamoureux (as far as
> I can tell based on their public comments, which are not always clear to me)
> all have directly stated or strongly implied #1, though in the case of at
> least Miller and Collins, obfuscatory qualifications are sometimes added
> which make it hard to tell whether they are trying to build in an "escape
> clause" from #1, for theological reasons.
> Now it wouldn't be fair for me to ask people this question without stating
> my own view, so here it is:
> My own position is clear. I don't believe that #1 is scientifically
> credible, and even if it were scientifically credible, I don't think it
> could be squared with any orthodox Jewish, Christian or Muslim theology. So
> (a) I don't think it happened that way, and (b) if I did think that it
> happened that way, I would cease to believe in any traditional theistic
> religion. (Reasons given in my discussion with Mike Gene.) I opt for #2 or
> #3. Number 2 is of course the tidiest and the most "naturalistic", but the
> evidence for it is as yet quite sketchy; also its compatibility with
> traditional religion still needs to be explored. Number 3 does not require
> the acceptance of the staggeringly complex front-loading that is required by
> Number 2, and is clearly compatible with any major theistic religion.
> Why do I want to know what people think about what actually happened?
> Because my goal is to find out how much common ground there is between ID
> people and TE people. If TE insists on #1, no rapprochement will be
> possible, because ID's whole raison d'etre is to oppose #1, just as
> Darwinism's whole raison d'etre is to affirm #1. But TEs who endorse #2 or
> #3 could be closer to an ID position than they think.
> It is interesting, however, that no TE known to me has endorsed position
> #2, despite the fact that it is both wholly evolutionary and wholly
> naturalistic, two things which very much seem to matter to TEs. Does anyone
> here have any idea why #2, which would seem to have so much going for it
> from a TE point of view, just draws blank stares from TEs, and no response
> of any kind?
> In any case, I expect that the greatest hope for rapprochement will be
> built around #3. But I am prepared to be surprised.
> Any answers will be gratefully accepted. But methodological disquisitions
> that avoid answering the question: "What do you personally think actually
> happened?" are not pertinent, and should be held back for another occasion.
> I'd rather receive 7 clear answers than 25 learned evasions.
> Cameron.

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Received on Sun Jun 28 19:38:22 2009

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