Re: NTSE #15 1/2

Stephen Jones (
Wed, 19 Mar 97 21:44:27 +0800


The following is my two-part interaction with the issues summarised
in NTSE bulletin #15 by the Conference Organizer Prof. Robert C.
Koons. Each part is over 300 lines long so if you don't like long
posts please ignore both! Thanks. Steve Jones

On Tue, 11 Mar 1997 18:36:18 -0500, John W. Burgeson wrote:


Thanks to Burgy for his NTSE bulletins and especially this #15 from
the Conference Organizer Prof. Robert C. Koons:

JWB>The NTSE Conference at the University of Texas brought together
>120 scientists, scholars and students from North America and Europe
>to discuss the relationship between methodological naturalism,
>theistic hypotheses and explanations, and the practice of science.
>The keynote speakers included Phillip Johnson (UC-Berkeley), Alvin
>Plantinga (University of Notre Dame), Michael Ruse (University of
>Guelph), and Frederick Grinnell (UT Southwestern Medical Center).
>Thirty-nine papers were read by specialists in the philosophy of
>science, history, geology, biology, physics, computer science,
>rhetoric, and the social sciences. The discussions and questions
>took place at a very high level and were characterized throughout by
>friendliness and mutual respect. Real progress was made, with all
>sides enriched by the encounter, and a convergence of views
>developed on a number of centrally important issues.

This "convergence" is most pleasing, although perhaps one should not
read too much into it. The gulf that divides atheists and theists is
still wide. One can only hope that theism will be taken seriously, or
at least not ruled out of court without a fair hearing.

That this conference took place at all was remarkable, and is a
credit to the imagination and energy of the "emerging upper tier of
creationists" that Del Ratzsch writes about. That it was
*creationists* and not theistic evolutionists who organised the
conference must say something about TE's weak apologetic status.

JWB>Philosophy does in fact make progress...the philosophers,
>scientists and scholars who met together at the NTSE conference made
>substantial progress together on the very important question: Is
>methodological naturalism an essential part of science?

This question presents metaphysical naturalists with a dilemm:

1. If they say `no', then they have no right to exclude the
extra-natural from science.

2. But if they say `yes', then either they must say that :

a. the natural world is all there is, and so methodological
naturalism is equivalent to metaphysical naturalism; or

b. the natural world may not be all there is, and therefore science
is inherently self-limited in scope to the natural world.

On 1. theists could assert the right to develop and present a
theistic science as an alternative to naturalistic science. On 2a.
naturalists would have to show how they know that "the natural world
is all there is". On 2b., theists could insist that atheistic
pronouncements in the name of science are inconsistent
and illegitimate.

JWB>In the course of the conference we moved together toward several
>shared conclusions:
>We cannot make a priori pronouncements about what kind of theory or
>what kind of explanation can properly be made in the course of
>scientific inquiry. In principle, there is nothing to exclude
>reference to superhuman, or even extra-cosmic, intelligence.

Great. This seems to be option 1. A theistic science is not an

JWB>Good science consists in working within research programs that
>are progressive in the following senses: (1) they generate
>empirically testable, novel predictions, (2) they generate
>explanations of a wide range of phenomena on the basis of a simple,
>spare system of postulated entities and relationships, (3) they deal
>with anomalies and predictive failures without resorting to ad hoc
>repairs or epicycles. The inspiration for a scientific research
>program can come from anywhere, including religious conviction, but
>the evaluation of an existing program must be rigorously empirical.

I wonder how prebiological evolution and Darwinist macroevolution
would fare if these tests were applied rigorously to it.

JWB>If theistic science or intelligent design theory is to become a
>progressive research program, it must do more than poke holes in the
>evidence for Darwinism: it must acquire auxiliary hypotheses about the
>intentions and preferences of the designer from which we can generate
>specific, testable predictions and informative explanations.

Agreed, but since leading Darwinist theorists like Dawkins and
Dennet claim that the Darwinist `blind watchmaker' mechanism of
variation plus cumulative natural selection, is the only naturalistic
mechanism that can, even in principle, explain biological design,
"poking holes in the evidence for Darwinism" is an important part of
the argument for design.

JWB>We should not expect intelligent design theory to offer much, if
>anything, in the way of support to Christian theology, which, in any
>case, does not stand in need of any such support.

Disagree. It is unrealitic to think that "Christian theology...does
not stand in need of any such support". "Christian theology" has
only a minority position in the world of intellectual discourse. The
apparent defeat of Paley by Darwin has been had a devastating impact
on "Christian theology", from which it has never fully recovered.

Besides, Christianity is connected to the real world and if it design
can be successfully explained without reference to a Designer, then
atheists arguably would not be "without excuse" (Rom 1:20), and
some theists (like me) might think it would be intellectually more
honest to become an atheist. In short, it underestimates Darwin's
universal acid:

"Little did I realize that in a few years I would encounter an idea-
Darwin's idea-bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: it
eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its
wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks
still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways. Darwin's idea
had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened
to leak out, offering answers welcome or not-to questions in
cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the
other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process
of evolution, why couldn't that whole process itself be the product of
evolution, and so forth, all the way down? And if mindless evolution
could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere,
how could the products of our own "real" minds be exempt from an
evolutionary explanation? Darwin's idea thus also threatened to
spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship,
our own divine spark of creativity and understanding." (Dennett
D.C., "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", 1995, p63)

JWB>Instead, if we are to pursue theistic research programs, it must
>be for the sake of doing science and doing it well, not for the sake
>of religion.

I don't buy this "science" - "religion" dichotomy. That is Gould's

"Some contemporary thinkers would place both religion and morality in
the category of subjective value, as distinguished from objective
scientific knowledge. This was the position taken by the famous
evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, for example, when he
reviewed my book Darwin on Trial Science and religion are separate
realms of equal dignity and importance, wrote Gould, "because science
treats factual reality, while religion struggles with human
morality." (Johnson P.E., "Reason in the Balance", 1995, p31)

Either God is real or He is a figment of our imagination. If He is
real then "science" and theistic "religion" should interact and
mutally complement each other.

JWB>The cosmic designer investigated in science may be identified,
>on philosophical or theological grounds, with the God of Scriptures,
>but science itself cannot make this identification.

Agreed, but as Hugh Ross has pointed out, the God of the Bible is
the only one left who is consistent with modern science. But this
would not differentiate between Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

JWB>These four theses became so widely shared at the end of the
>conference that I think we could call them the Canonical View of the
>NTSE conference. This convergence was especially remarkable in
>light of the wide diversity of views with which we began, including
>non-believers and adherents of all the major branches of
>Christendom, and both people sympathetic to and initially quite
>hostile toward the published works of Phillip Johnson.

Fantastic! Did this include dyed-in-the-wool TE/ECs?

JWB>I should mention at least one other point upon which we reached a
>firm consensus: that the time has come to conduct the debate on
>methodological naturalism and theistic science on the merits
>(indeed, on the scientific merits) of the case, and we should no
>longer tolerate ad hominen attacks on Prof. Johnson, with attendant
>name-calling, bullying and intimidation ("he's just a lawyer... he
>doesn't understand how science works...", etc.).

This kind of comment about Johnson being "just a lawyer" has been
said by some TEs on this Reflector. It will be interesting to see if
they change their ways re Johnson. As for "name-calling, bullying
and intimidation", are you listening guys?

JWB>The project of launching theistic paradigms in science is now
>much larger than a one-man crusade and would go forward even if, per
>impossibile, it were possible to silence or discredit Johnson.

That this is even necessary to be said is an indictment on those
evolutionists (including TE/ECs) who have tried to "silence or
discredit Johnson".

JWB>A growing number of young scientists, scholars and philosophers
>of science are staking their careers on the prospects of an emerging
>design paradigm, including Dembski at Notre Dame, Nelson at Chicago,
>Meyer at Whitworth, and Corey at the Union Institute, to name a few.

It is interesting that by they are "staking their careers" on "an
emerging design paradigm". They could be just about anything else
(Marxists, nihilists, atheists, etc, etc), except theistic realists,
and they would not be "staking their careers".

JWB>Most participants would also agree that the emerging design
>paradigm needs to be given adequate time to mature and develop
>before a definitive verdict can be rendered. The core idea of
>intelligent design must be supplemented with auxiliary hypotheses
>and generalizations about the structure of the design and about at
>what points the design makes contact with the natural world. We are
>at a stage analogous to Copernican astronomy before the discovery of
>Kepler's laws (to say nothing of Newton's).

I am a little bit impatient with this. I think ID should not be
afraid but plunge in and be prepared to make mistakes and
self-correct. That's how non-theistic science does it. Besides,
there is a *huge* amount of theistic science out there. The British
writer R.E.D. Clark was developing the irreducible complexity
argument nearly 50 years ago:

"This difficulty, recognised by Darwin, makes it difficult to
entertain the view that an undirected evolution can progressively
make simple things more complex. It was confidently hoped in the
nineteenth century that further progress would throw light upon the
matter. It has certainly done so-but not in the sense that the
Darwinians had hoped. to say evidence is accumulating that the
difficulty is universal and it has been found to confront us even in
the simplest imaginable instances where the complexities and
alternative explanations that have in the past been suggested as ways
of evasion do not enter the picture. The evidence provided by modern
studies in genetics is here of peculiar interest. The mould
Neurospora (commonly used in such experiments) manufactures the
amino-acid arginine and it is known that at least seven stages are
involved in the synthesis of this substance. Each of these stages is
dependent upon the presence of an enzyme and each enzyme in turn
depends upon the presence of a particular gene in the hereditary
substance of the mould. Now some at least, if not all, of the
intermediate stages involve the production of products, such as
ornithine and citrulline, which are believed to be quite useless to
the mould-they are not know to serve a useful purpose in any other
living organism and they are not essential building bricks in the
manufacture of proteins. Thus all the details are known of a long
many-staged synthesis each step of which requires the presence of a
particular elaborately organised enzyme molecule which can carry out
a particular reaction." (Clark R.E.D. "The Universe: Plan or
Accident?", 1961, p124)

JWB>Another important point of agreement, participants agreed that
>science is a reliable way of seeking objective truth, and that the
>greatest threat to scientific progress today comes from the camp of
>post-modernists and social constructionists, who try to reduce
>scientific inquiry to a merely political struggle for dominance.

Agreed. Theists and scientists are allies in that both believe the
natural world is real and rational, and man's mind can understand it.

JWB>Of course, there were a number of big issues which did not get
>resolved at the conference. There was no consensus on the question
>of whether the prospects for a successful theistic science are good:
>some feel there are strong, although not dispositive, reasons for
>doubting whether such a project can be successful, and others feel
>that the chances of successfully justify the investment of their
time and energies.

I have my doubts. The real arena for "theistic science" is probably
in the area of *origins*. That is the area where naturalism fails
dismally and theism shines. We have no Biblical warrant for supposing
that God does not work through natural processes in the normal
day-to-day operations of the cosmos.

JWB>Fortunately, this is the sort of disagreement that is commonplace
>in science and that need lead only to friendly competition, not
>internecine warfare. No one supposes that neo-Darwinian research
>should be abandoned, or even drastically cut back.

This is a bit naive. If there is a limited pool of taxpayers dollars
that is currently being spent on "neo-Darwinian research", a newly
legitimised theistic science could claim a piece of the cake. If the
cake is not made bigger, this will inevitably mean less money for
"neo-Darwinian research" and effectively will be a "cut back".

JWB>There is a wide range of questions for which Darwinian modes of
>explanation have been and in all likelihood will continue to be very
>successful in answering.

Agreed. But after 135 years it's probably in an area of diminishing

JWB>The only issue in dispute is whether there are some questions,
>such as biogenesis and phylogeny, for which alternative strategies
>should be pursued in parallel.

Agreed that "biogenesis" could be *very* fruitful. IMHO, "theistic
science" should work from the top down, ie. the origin of the
cosmos, the origin of life, the origin of the celll, the origin of
life's major groups, etc. Each higher level mutually reinforces the
next one down.


God bless.


| Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\ |
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