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

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Sun Jun 28 2009 - 23:41:16 EDT


At the risk of falling into the category of learned evasion, I will
offer the following.

Of the three choices that you have given, #3 is the only view I would
even come close to accepting. #1 seems atheistic, #2, as I've said
before, seems to border on deism. However, I don't like #3, and I
think that you have not delineated all the possible choices. Thus,
it's not a fair question. Hence, I would like to offer a #4 that I
think many on the list here will endorse. I suspect David Campbell
will like my #4 much more than your #1 or your #3. I really can't
imagine him endorsing #1 as you suggest. (Ditto for Collins and

Using your wording:

4. God steered the alterations of the genomes of reptiles until they
became mammals in a way that is indistinguishable from it occurring
via purely stochastic processes.

I object to the phrase *what it otherwise would never have produced*.
(In my view nature doesn't produce anything apart from God's guiding
I believe that all stochastic and deterministic processes are guided
by God. (Thus, your #1 is not possible).
I am not in the slightest degree embarrassed to use the word
"guidance". (However, such guidance may not be detectable or
distinguishable from stochastic processes.)
#1 and #4 are identical with respect to the scientific descriptions--
hence the reason many of us have no problem with "Darwinian
processes". And hence why many of us think the issue IS metaphysical.
The only difference is what is "meta" to the describable process--
God's action or an autonomous nature.

My apologies for the hiatus in our previous discussion, but we seem to
be at the same impasse. You can't seem to imagine a guided process
that looks like a stochastic process. I continue to argue that there
is no such thing as a stochastic process from God's perspective.
Obviously, there are stochastic processes from the creature's
perspective. Just because we arrive at an explanation for something
(chance, necessity, free agency), doesn't mean that God's not involved
(and by involved I mean more than "just" in the sustaining the laws of
nature sort of way--I mean purposeful governance).


On Jun 28, 2009, at 2:02 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.

Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
(o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801

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Received on Sun Jun 28 23:42:26 2009

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