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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Jun 29 2009 - 07:56:39 EDT


1. I *can* imagine a guided process that looks like a stochastic process.
You can consider it a sub-type of #3 if you wish, or you can call it #4 if
you want, but your #4 is really just a special version of #3 -- #3 with the
specification that it must be a #3 that looks like a #1. (I was trying to
keep it simple, and guided is guided, whether it looks guided or not, just
as a foreign agent is a foreign agent, whether he appears to be a loyal
citizen or not.)

In fact, I have said repeatedly that this (your #4, my #3) seems to be the
position of Ted Davis, George Murphy, and Robert Russell, and I've said that
this position is at least potentially compatible with ID. After all,
neither Behe nor Dembski demands that the individual mutations be knowable
as divine special actions; it is only the overall pattern of mutations where
they expect or hope to find a detectable pattern. If your position is close
to that of the above-named TE gentlemen, then your view is potentially
harmonizable with some versions of ID as well. (I say potentially, because
there are other considerations.)

2. The point is that Darwin did not envision your special
#3-that-looks-like-#1. When he said #1, he meant it, with no ifs, ands, or
buts. That is why his letters about God and chance and so on reveal tension
as he wrestles with the implications of #1 for religion.

I of course agree with you that #1 seems atheistic, or at best deistic.
That is my whole point -- that Darwinism (as opposed to simply "evolution"),
being inherently either atheistic or deistic -- read Darwin if you doubt
it -- cannot be compatible with orthodox theology. That is what ID people
have been trying to say to certain TEs for years now, and it isn't getting
through. TEs insist on sanitizing Darwinism for Christian use, while
retaining the name Darwinism as if nothing important had been altered. (See
John West's comparison with "Christian Marxism", which is a perfect analogy.
"Christian Marxism" is nonsense, though "Christian socialism" is not.
Similarly, "Theistic Darwinism" is nonsense, though "theistic evolution" is

3. You say that Collins and Lamoureux would deny #1. Well, Lamoureux
recently in a letter to Coyne indignantly denied that he had ever spoken of
"guidance" and scorned the notion as "tinkering" (or words to that effect).
He did not specify that the tinkering was OK if it was done below the
quantum level so that evolution would merely *look* stochastic. He rejected
guidance as tinkering, period, without qualification. I am sure he has his
reasons, and I hope that in his books he will explain his position. But as
far as I can tell, he agrees with #1, while somehow maintaining that it does
not imply atheism or deism.

As for Collins, I tried to find an explicit statement regarding guidance in
his book, and couldn't find one. If he indicated that he believe that God
was guiding the process, he did it very ambiguously, and in such a qualified
way that it was hard to tell if he meant yes or no. I would certainly deny
the propriety of using the word "guidance", if it does not refer to an
action of God that actually makes a difference to the outcome. If
"guidance" is just a pious theological gloss meaning nothing more than that
God is ultimately responsible for everything, it is a meaningless word and
should not be used in the context I am discussing. I had the strong
impression that "guidance", if Collins ever even uses the word, is just such
an empty theological gloss, explanatorily redundant because Darwinian
mechanisms are fully adequate.

Miller denies guidance on even days, and asserts it in some vague way on odd
days. In his Darwinian moods, he asserts #1 without qualification. (He
said he was 100% Darwinist and 100% Catholic simultaneously, remember.)

Ayala is simply vague, a bad theologian (must have gone to a crumby Catholic
seminary), but from his statements the only reasonable inference is #1.

4. Your objection here:

> 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
> hand.)

-- is continually made by people here, and is most irritating, as it shows
an apparent failure to acknowledge a very basic distinction held by both
Catholic and Protestant theology, regarding the difference between God's
normal action and God's special action. Aquinas and Calvin would agree with
you that God sustains all, including the laws of nature which give us sun
and rain and life with great regularity. But they would *also* agree that
God sometimes acts extraordinarily. The point is that God does not have to
act extraordinarily to make the sun rise every morning -- his normal action
is enough. But if God wants to make the sun stop for a few hours (just for
fun, taking the Joshua passage literally, though it was probably meant to be
a poetic overstatement), he can do so by an extraordinary action.

There is nothing complicated about this, but for some reason TEs like to
make it more complicated, I think so that they can avoid the direct question
about evolution, a direct question which everyone on earth -- except TEs --
fully understands. The direct question is *whether God needs to do anything
beyond the ordinary action by which he sustains nature (gravity, friction,
the laws of chemistry, etc.) in order to make the macroevolutionary process
happen*. I hear some TEs saying a firm yes, some TEs saying a firm no, and
others saying a firm maybe. Normally, I cannot tell, without intense and
exhaustive probing, if the answer is yes, no, or maybe, which says something
about TEs' communications skills in comparison with those of atheist
Darwinists and ID people, both of whom I understand easily and instantly.
That is why I set up the scenario, to force a clear answer, though I knew
that some would try to question the question and thus would not give a
satisfying answer.

The question is, I repeat: *Does God need to do anything other than his
ordinary divine action (which sustains nature) in order for macroevolution
to occur?* If your answer is "No", you should be picking #1 or #2. If your
answer is "Yes", you should be picking #3. I think you are answering "Yes",
because you have picked #3 (or #4 if you will), but I am not sure. So maybe
in addition to saying #4, you could also answer the above question for me.

5. I agree with you that there is no such thing as a stochastic process
from God's perspective. But if you follow through on the logic of that, you
will see that it makes no sense for God to "use" a Darwinian process to
create species, including man, because the whole point of Darwinism is to be
stochastic. If God has arranged the chains of causation so that the result
which we observe is inevitable, then he has in effect front-loaded
evolution, and then Denton's description of nature is correct and Darwin's
description of nature is wrong, and TEs should not pussyfoot around trying
to salvage Darwin, but should say that he was in error in a fundamental way.
If "Darwinian process" is to mean anything other than a verbal deception, it
means an open-ended process, which can guarantee no result. (See Gould's
famous remark about rewinding the tape.) If God wanted to gamble on whether
or not man would appear, he would have used a purely Darwinian process. If
God wasn't in the mood to gamble, he never would have used a (purely)
Darwinian process. He would have simply created what he wanted directly, or
used a front-loaded evolutionary process, or would have interfered
frequently with a Darwinian process, thus rendering it no longer a pure
Darwinian process. So, did God want to gamble? No need to speculate: the
Bible and the tradition tell us no. Therefore, he would not have used a
pure Darwinian process. The logic seems to me inescapable.

6. My primary interest here is in *what TEs think is really happening in
nature*, not in the epistemological question about how #1 could be
distinguished from #3-that-looks-like-#1, which is why I bracketed that
question out in my preamble. I don't deny that that question must be dealt
with, but past experience has shown that trying to deal with that first
generates only conflict between ID and TE. The only way that I can see of
overcoming *unnecessary* conflict between ID and TE is for both sides to
drop all the academic caveats and feints and anticipatory moves, and simply
and directly say what they actually think is happening in nature. Not "what
science can determine" but "what is actually happening". Verbal fencing
about how or whether we can scientifically distinguish #1 from
#3-which-looks-like-#1 can come later. For now I just want to know whether
TEs think the reality of nature is #3 or #1.

If both ID and TE people in fact believe that evolution is a *guided*
process, and that it would not happen under the "ordinary" action of God,
without some extraordinary prompting, then it is important to establish
that. Once that area of agreement is established, areas of disagreement can
be dealt with later, for example, whether or not design can be detected, and
if so, how. If there were a consensus regarding guidance, such
disagreements could be conducted amicably. But TEs seem to want to prevent
the common ground from being found first. They seem to want to tackle the
differences first. The result is that many ID people have come to the
conclusion that TEs do not believe that God guides evolution. If they
believed that God guides evolution, why on earth would they make such
difficulty when ID people ask about it? Why would they go into detailed
tricky arguments about scientific epistemology, when all the ID people are
asking is whether they believe that God steered the process?

Suppose that someone asked you if you believed in God. Would you go into a
long disquisition about how it is scientifically impossible to distinguish
between a universe created by God and a universe which arose by unguided
chance and natural laws, and that the question of God is a question of
metaphysics not science, yada yada yada, and leave the person wondering
whether or not you believed in God? I don't think you would. I think you
would say: "I believe in God." Yet when ID people ask TEs whether or not
they believe that God guides the evolutionary process, TEs give exactly this
sort of roundabout, evasive answer, and they leave ID people unsure whether
TE people actually believe that evolution is divinely guided. So never mind
the epistemology of it; do you believe that God guides evolution, i.e.,
actually *makes a difference* in what happens by doing something *above and
beyond* his normal sustenance of natural laws? So that if he did *not* do
this extra bit of guidance (whatever it is, however it is conceived,
detectable or indetectable, hidden in quantum this or chaos that or
whatever), *man would not be here*, and we might well have just crude life
forms swimming around in the seas, or possibly no life at all? Or do you
believe that God created nature with sufficient creative tendencies that no
special intervention on his part was necessary? (If so, you should have
picked #1 or #2).

I constructed the questionnaire to give TEs the opportunity to state what
they believe in their hearts, without all the defensive academic and
theological apparatus that has accumulated in these debates. If they could
drop their defenses and do that, they might be surprised at how many ID
people would suddenly warm up to them. The cautious defensiveness, the
withholding of one's ultimate position, has caused ID people to distrust TE
people, to be unsure of their theological beliefs or motives. I distrusted
George Murphy until he finally said that he personally believed that some
special guidance was involved. Prior to that, I heard what seemed to me to
be mostly debating tactics, the words of a theologian circling his foe,
looking for points of weakness while guarding his own vulnerable flank.
After that, I felt I was hearing a person.

I think that TEs are so afraid that what they say will be misused by ID or
YEC people that they have developed the habit of showing only the tip of the
iceberg, and keeping the rest well below water. But this very strategy
backfires, because now neither ID nor YEC people trust TEs, and, based on
Jerry Coyne's latest attacks, neither do the atheist Darwinists. I think
TEs now have to reverse strategy, raise the entire iceberg above water, and
practice self-disclosure, complete self-disclosure, regarding the adequacy
of the Darwinian mechanisms, the role of God, etc. And they need to speak
without fear of being ridiculed by their fellow scientists if they happen to
believe -- as I think some of them do -- that Darwinian mechanisms are not
enough, and need to be "topped up" by special divine action. It would not
be a betrayal of science to believe this. And it would not destroy the
fabric of American science education for a professor to *say* that he
believed this. It would merely offend the hard-core ultra-naturalists. Big


----- Original Message -----
From: "Terry M. Gray" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Sunday, June 28, 2009 11:41 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] observational vs. theoretical differences in scenarios; a
direct question

> Cameron,
> 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 Lamoureux.)
> 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
> hand.)
> 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).
> TG
> 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.
> ________________
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> Chemistry Department
> Colorado State University
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Received on Mon Jun 29 07:57:38 2009

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