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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Jun 30 2009 - 18:33:09 EDT


I understand you better now.

1. I have nothing against your allowing for more than one of the
possibilities, given your rationale. So you are allowing for #2 and #4.
That's OK, I myself allow for #2 and #3 (which embraces #4 as well).

The problem that many ID people have with TEs is that TE language about
Darwinian processes and wholly naturalistic explanations and so on often
makes it *seem* as if TEs are endorsing #1. But I don't think TE people
*realize* that they sound as if they are endorsing #1 to ID people, which is
why I set up the scenario the way I did, so that some people here can see
more clearly how they sound sometimes to ID people.

Your position sounds similar to George Murphy's to me; you invoke
indeterminism, but don't rule out an element of front-loaded determinism.

2. I don't see how one can avoid speaking of an inherent course of nature.
"Natural science" is the science of nature. If a science of nature, i.e., a
systematic account of nature, is to be possible, nature must have something
regular about it. If there is nothing regular about nature, then in fact
there is no "nature", but merely a sequence of intrinsically disconnected
events, for which "nature" would be an inappropriate label.

The asteroid in question has a "natural course", i.e., a course which
gravity and so on determine (assuming that God steadily wills the same laws
with which we are familiar). If the natural course of the asteroid was such
that it would normally miss the earth by a million miles, but it hit the
earth anyway, I would speak of the asteroid's having been diverted from its
natural course. The question -- and I'm quite willing to call it a
metaphysical rather than a scientific question if you insist -- is whether
the asteroid that allegedly slew the dinosaurs would have struck the earth
exactly where and when it did, as could be predicted by a flawless expert in
celestial mechanics who knew the position of the asteroid 4 billion years
earlier, or whether the asteroid was "steered", in my sense, off-course.

The analogical question in evolutionary theory (again, call it metaphysical
rather than scientific if you like; I'm just trying to establish what people
think) would be whether or not all the mutations necessary to turn a shrew
into a man can be traced back, one by one, for billions of years, through
the normal sequence of efficient causes, or whether there was some diversion
involved. Of course, I understand that you don't want to use the word
"intervention" for indeterminate events, and I understand why. Nonetheless,
as I have argued to George and Ted, while it is true that we might not be
able to *tell* whether certain subatomic events are directed or not, they
might well still be directed. So if you don't like the word "intervention",
use the word "directed". God, then, either "directs" the emission of an
alpha particle or whatever, to produce a certain mutation, or he does not.
Even if science cannot prove this in any particular case, you must have an
opinion over whether God sometimes does this. And if you think that God
never does this, or never needs to do this, it must be because you think
that "the normal course of nature" would produce macroevolutionary change
without needing any special direction by God of this kind.

So again, let me put it to you as a question: Do you believe that the
"normal course of nature" would produce macroevolutionary change without the
special direction of God? (In *my* sense of "special direction".) Or do
you believe that the "normal course of nature" could not do so? Or are you
undecided on the question? (Nothing wrong with being undecided, but I'd
like to hear you say it if that's indeed the case.)

[I am hoping and guessing that you don't need more examples in order to
answer this question, but if you do, here is one: the water cycle does not
need the special direction of God (in my sense of the word "special") in
order to operate. Evaporation, condensation and rain occur without being
specifically directed to do so in each individual case of a thunderstorm.
For thunderstorms to occur, God's normal action of sustaining nature (call
it "concurrence" or some other fancy theological name if you like) is
sufficient. But do major new animal body plans form without the special
direction of God? Are such dramatic changes simply the result of regular
processes analogous to evaporation and condensation? The instinct of the
human race has always been that this cannot be so. Darwin said that the
instinct of the human race was wrong, and that there is no more need to
postulate special direction in evolution than to postulate special direction
to explain where the wind is blowing. More complex forms therefore evolve
just as "naturally" as rainstorms.]

3. I can say nothing about how ID is marketed to the average person in the
pew. My "mission field", so to speak, is not among the pews, but among
educated but secular stockbrokers, professors, bureaucrats, journalists,
accountants and business people that I know, who have been taught and firmly
believe that "science" has established that wholly unguided natural forces
and events can turn a mollusk into a man. (Not mollusk but common ancestor,
I know, but I like the alliteration, so cut me some slack.) What these
people believe is in fact my scenario #1. ID theory says that scenario #1
is false, or at least very far from proved, so far from being proved that it
does not need to be taken into account in forming our "world view". ID says
that one can be a fully modern, scientific, educated, rational human being,
while finding scenario #1 incredible, and rejecting it. And I would say
that the main point of conflict between ID and TE, from ID's point of view,
is that it hasn't come across clearly to ID people that TE people also find
scenario #1 incredible and reject it. What they hear is that TEs think that
scenario #1 is really, really, good science, and that its only fault is that
it is bad metaphysics.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 3:50 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] observational vs. theoretical differences in scenarios; a
direct question

> I don't know where David Campbell sits.

At the moment, back in the mollusk collection room in front of a laptop.

> He seems to think that guidance or steering (as I mean the term) is
> probably not necessary, and that God probably made no special
> interventions (using my sense of the word "special", not David's). So it
> seems that he should be choosing either #1 or #2. <

4 is rather closer to the mark. 1 as phrased was basically deistic or
atheistic. Within the physical course of biological evolution, I
don't see a need for special (in your sense) intervention, as I do not
think of the determining of quantum events or other events that are
indeterminate under natural laws as an intervention.

> But if chooses #1, how does God control the process?<

Not that I do choose it, but one could hold to something like that
while assuming that God either set things up so that a suitable
outcome (evolution of intelligent life) would happen or hoped it
would. It would probably not have a very orthodox concept of God's
sovereignty, however.

> And if he chooses #2, that's fine with me, but then he would be the first
> TE I've known to explicitly embrace #2.<

There are points of similarity, but the wording of 2 tends to downplay
God's role in bringing about everything that happens via natural law.
I would also be fairly agnostic on the relative roles of front-loading
versus undetectable but not pre-programmable action (e.g., determining
inherently indeterminate quantum events, assuming that our current
models are correct in holding that certain quantum events are
inherently indeterminate).

> Part of the problem is that David and I are using "steering" and
> "guidance" differently; by steering or guidance I am talking about willed,
> specific, local interventions which divert the course of nature; his
> asteroid example appears to me to be an example not of steering or
> guidance but of front-loading. The asteroid is just following the path
> which the laws of nature, operative since the Big Bang, dictate.<

I would instead define steering and guidance as willed, specific
action that determines the course of nature; saying that it diverts
the course of nature assumes that nature has an inherent course.

Another problem in interpreting my position is that I often try to
note a range of viable possibilities, rather than specifically my

> I mention this to indicate that it is not only on the TE front that I am
> working; I'm also trying to get ID people not to introduce unnecessary
> areas of conflict by employing language that implies that ID is "against
> evolution". <

Hooray!!! Regrettably, however, that's exactly how ID is marketed to
the average person in the pew -as the Christian alternative to
evolution. Never mind that not all prominent ID advocates are
Christian, nor that folks like Behe and Denton accept quite a lot of
evolution. This is especially the line taken by what may be
characterized as the secondary line of advocates-people who have heard
something they like from the Discovery Institute or the like and
market it as part of their own apologetics, though some with the DI
are quite willing to assert that ID is against evolution.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Jun 30 18:34:15 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jun 30 2009 - 18:34:15 EDT