[asa] Re: On the Barr-West exchange and ID/TE

From: Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
Date: Mon Nov 16 2009 - 16:47:48 EST

Heya Ted,

In regards to your second point, I can't help but feel that it evades or at
least downplays what is a strong, supported, and - if accurate - very
damning accusation coming from John West. John's claim goes beyond
suggesting that contemporary evolutionary biologists merely insist that
"randomness" (this being the apparent randomness of Stephen Barr) plays a
role in evolution. His claim is that "unguided and without purpose" is a key
commitment of Darwin's theory, and a commitment included by contemporary
biologists as part of the scientific description. West would apparently
agree with you that it isn't "incoherent to hold a "Darwinian" view of the
mechanisms that operate in evolution while also holding a non-Darwinian,
theistic view of divine governance and purpose" - the key being that
Darwinian is put in quotes. Similar to talking about how diet soda has
"sugar" in it.

Questions of whether humans are utterly unique in the universe, whether
God's purposes vis a vis the "image of God" could have been accomplished
with a different physical appearance, etc are distinct from the core
question of guidance. If God really is acting "everywhere, at all times, in
the universe, guiding and directing the history of nature", then by West's
argument the evolution believed in is Darwinism no more.

As for your third point, I have two problems. First, this demand that ID
proponents shrink their big tent: Take a definite stance on the age of the
earth (Despite, in my memory, never seeing a post at UD (everyone's favorite
ID example) arguing for an old earth. Maybe there's been one, but if so it's
been swamped out by other posts) and endorse common descent. Merely making a
place for people who believe in an old earth, or evolution, or common
descent is insufficient: A statement must be made. Do this, and Christian
scientists will be vastly less critical of the ID movement.

Well, I may be outside the ID movement, but I can imagine one response. ID
is very critical of the aid and comfort they see some Christians giving to
atheists by means of their endorsement of "Darwinian" evolution,
particularly via their associated with the NCSE and other groups. But I can
imagine one way to put ID proponents, even YECs, at much greater ease. Have
the NCSE and other groups (the AAAS, perhaps the NAS, etc) expressly state
the following: "Science has nothing to say about the presence or lack of
guidance, or teleology, in evolutionary theory. It is entirely possible for
evolution to have been guided by God, or man to have been one intended
outcome of evolution. But discerning guidance or design in evolution, or its
lack, is entirely outside of science."

Should be easy, shouldn't it? After all, nothing in that statement is
controversial according to my understanding: "Unguided and without purpose"
is an unscientific addition to evolutionary theory. Ergo, it's entirely
possible - as far as science is concerned - for evolution to be guided and
purposeful. So let's see those public declarations! Until then, ID
proponents and those sympathetic have every reason to distrust the NCSE and
other groups on this subject. (And before anyone tries: Asserting that "God
can still exist and evolution can be true" is an evasion, because God can
still exist and evolution can be unguided and without purpose.)

Second, you take issue with ID supposedly "creating doubt about the
confidence that ordinary people ought to place in the conclusions of
scientists, including the conclusions that scientists have drawn on matters
such as these." Well, Ted, I think this question is one hell of a hornet's
nest. I won't say much on it here, since far too much would need to be said.
But I have to say: I think you clearly believe there is a certain scope to a
scientist's conclusions, and scientists have gone beyond this scope and
abused their scientific authority. It's the typical example, one of many,
but I'll reach for it now: Eugenics.

As to your final point, my own views here are complicated. I personally have
less interest in trying to "prove design in nature", rather than in
approaching nature - particularly evolution and biology - with an eye for
and perspective of design already in place. Again, another, larger topic, so
I'll just leave it aside.

On Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 10:43 AM, Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu> wrote:

> The great irony in this particular conversation here on the ASA list
> concerning the exchange involving Steve Barr and John West, is that many
> Christian thinkers are very pleased about the appearance of some genuine
> "randomness" in the scientific picture of the universe, including in the
> history of living things. I talk about this, relative to Arthur Compton and
> the larger context into which his ideas fit, in the second part of my
> biographical study, in the Sept issue of PSCF. Many Christian thinkers
> since Compton's day, especially since the late 1950s, have welcomed the
> dissolution of the strict determinism that classical physics imposed on
> humans and God prior to the advent of the "new" quantum mechanics (i.e., the
> indeterministic kind) in the late 1920s. One needs to articulate one's view
> on this very carefully, more carefully than this quick post will be able to.
> Nevertheless, for my part, I believe that this is presently the best route
> for finding an ontological space in which God and humans can escape complete
> determinism. It might do a better job for God (who can govern "random"
> events as he pleases) than for us (it might be simply that our minds are
> irreducibly free, whether or not quantum events are related to this); either
> way, it provides a darn good obituary to Laplace's divine calculator. And,
> that's a very good thing.
> Ken Miller alludes to this type of thing in "Finding Darwin's God," Steve
> Barr has discussed it "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith" and in "First
> Things," Bob Russell and John Polkinghorne have gone very deeply into it for
> many years, and Mike Behe specifically says that it is "perfectly possible
> to me" in his contribution to "Debating Design."
> Let me make four comments about this, which I hope might be constructive.
> First, this area of divine action and governance of the universe, which IMO
> is just beneath the surface in ID (which officially declines to get into
> theological matters, while skirting around them all the time) and has always
> been central to various forms of TE, might perhaps be the source of a rich,
> fruitful, and helpful conversation among advocates of both ID and TE. Of
> course, in order to have that conversation, ID -- or at least some of its
> prominent advocates -- would need to talk explicitly about theology in
> relation to ID, and that might not be acceptable to them. Presently, it's
> possible IMO for ID advocates simply to take shots at various theological
> views held by various proponents of TE, without having to offer alternative
> views for those they do not like, since ID "isn't about theology" according
> to its proponents. My sense however is that there could potentially be more
> agreement here than meets the eye, and it might tone down the larger
> conversation a bit to have this particular conversation.
> Can that be done, given the reluctance of ID advocates to talk
> theologically and the reluctance of TE advocates to grant any legitimacy to
> claims of ID?
> Second, I agree with John West that most contemporary evolutionary
> biologists believe, as Darwin did, that it's randomness all the way down.
> To go beyond such a perspective, IMO, requires not an attack on Darwinian
> evolution as a biological mechanism, but a clear differentiation between
> randomness at the level of natural mechanisms (such as thermodynamics,
> genetics, and quantum events, where it might mean something different in
> each case) and randomness at the level of divine governance and ultimate
> purposes. Here I agree with Steve Barr, who has always stressed the
> significance of this type of distinction. Thus, speaking here only for
> myself, I do not believe that it is incoherent to hold a "Darwinian" view of
> the mechanisms that operate in evolution while also holding a non-Darwinian,
> theistic view of divine governance and ultimate purpose. Simon Conway
> Morris would be one example of a prominent biologist who takes just such a
> view, as far as I can tell. He would disagree with Gould about re-running
> that tape of natural history; so would I. At the same time, I see nothing
> obligating God to create human beings, per se; perhaps God specifically
> wanted humans (as vs porpoises or frogs or ETs from Andromeda) to have the
> "image of God" and to be in communion with God, or perhaps it wasn't
> particularly important to God which creatures it would be that bear that
> image. It does seem however that God created the universe partly in order
> to create a place for creatures who bear that image. We are just such
> creatures as those, whether or not we are unique in that respect in the
> universe (I regard that as an open question both scientifically and
> theologically). Theologian Robert Russell, who understand these matters IMO
> better than almost anyone else today, including West and Barr and me, would
> be a good example of someone who can claim coherently that "Darwinian"
> evolution accounts for biological diversity, insofar as it employs
> apparently "random" events, but that in fact God is acting everywhere, at
> all times, in the universe, guiding and directing the history of nature
> (including the history of non-biological nature). Russell understands that
> such a claim involves more than reason alone, but that it is reasonable and
> fully consistent with what science tells us about nature.
> Third, speaking (again) only for myself, I would not be surprised if the
> irritation that Steve Barr and many other Christian scientists seem to
> harbor concerning ID -- I mention this as an impression of the exchange
> between Barr and West, an impression that West apparently shares -- derives
> at least in part from two aspects of ID that also annoy me greatly. I speak
> only for myself here, but I would be surprised if no one else agreed with
> the view I am about to express. ID quite carefully declines officially to
> endorse any particular view of natural history, relative to the gerat age of
> the earth & universe and "evolution" in the general sense of common
> biological descent for humans and other organisms (leaving aside the
> contested issue of "Darwinian" mechanisms that I have already mentioned).
> This leaves many Christian scientists breathless: if those things aren't
> strongly supported by scientific evidence, then in what sense is ID
> "scientific" rather than simply a form of anti-evolutionism? I have often
> said this, and I have often said what comes next. If the Discovery
> Institute were to state expressly that it opposes only the view that
> evolution is random only in a metaphysical and/or religious sense, and that
> it agrees that strong evidence supports an "old" earth & universe and common
> descent (by whatever mechanisms), then I doubt that there would be nearly as
> much exasperation on the part of many Christian scientists. There would
> still be intense opposition from Dawkins and company, but that's another
> story entirely: Dawkins has no more love for the views of Francis Collins or
> any other advocate of TE than he does for ID. But I sense that ID is about
> much more than this; it seems to me, that ID is substantially about creating
> doubt about the confidence that ordinary people ought to place in the
> conclusions of scientists, including the conclusions that scientists have
> drawn on matters such as these. If this analysis is correct, then I don't
> see why ID should not be regarded as a type of anti-evolutionism. It isn't
> "scientific creationism," to be sure, but it would still be something that
> most Christian scientists would not want to embrace, since it would be
> opposed to the main force of the geological, cosmological, and genetic
> evidence that bears on these specific matters. It is for reasons such as
> these, that I have myself been unable to identify myself as an ID advocate,
> even though I certainly believe that one can make design inferences about
> the universe, and that God has designed the creation and its contents with
> great intelligence.
> Finally, I agree with Steve Barr that the most effective design inferences,
> presently, are not those involving the designs of particular biological
> contrivances. The most effective inferences, presently, are cosmological
> and philosophical, not biological. I understand why John West thinks this
> "diminishes" traditional views of design, and I would say myself that these
> newer types of design arguments are probably not as compelling as the older
> forms of argument, heavily based on particular biological contrivances. Asa
> Gray saw that in 1880, John Polkinghorne sees this today, and even John
> Lennox agrees that other types of design arguments are probably safer to
> use, overall, though he doesn't disown arguments from the complexity of life
> itself (nor do I). Many Christian scholars and scientists find the more
> modest attitude of Polkinghorne, Gray, and others more helpful and more
> accurate to our historical situation than the older, Paleyan-style natural
> theology. ID advocates, on the other hand, want to keep Paley on the front
> burner. This is a difference of opinion -- a fair and reasonable difference
> of opinion -- but it can lead to unhelpful and inaccurate statements, both
> ways, about what is going on and who is saying what. On the one hand, it
> can lead TE advocates to distance themselves too far from ID advocates, who
> mainly agree with the kinds of arguments that many TE advocates want to
> make, outside of biology. It can also lead some TE advocates to deny that
> God left any evidence of God's existence within the creation, when in fact
> most TE advocates do believe that reasons can be given for belief in God,
> including reasons involving nature and its deep rationality. On the other
> hand, it can lead ID advocates to deny in general that TE advocates believe
> the biblical view that God is evident in the creation, when in fact many TE
> advocates believe that some forms of natural theology are helpful and
> useful. Perhaps politics and the culture wars are driving this; perhaps ID
> advocates feel that only the old-style natural theology will really do the
> job they want to do, of denying Dawkins and restoring theism as fully
> rational in a modern age. I've often wondered about that.
> That's my twenty-five cents on this. I've blindly copied both Steve Barr
> and John West, and I do invite each of them to join this conversation here
> if they wish.
> Ted

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Received on Mon Nov 16 16:48:24 2009

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