[Fwd: Re: A new subscriber]

Ed Brayton (cynic@net-link.net)
Sat, 04 Apr 1998 00:36:07 -0500

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Sorry, I meant to send this to both Stephen and to the list.


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Message-ID: <352521EF.1289@net-link.net>
Date: Fri, 03 Apr 1998 12:52:47 -0500
From: Ed Brayton <cynic@net-link.net>
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To: Stephen Jones <sejones@ibm.net>
Subject: Re: A new subscriber
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Stephen Jones wrote:

> Welcome to the Reflector, from one `amateur' to another!

Thank you. I appreciate the welcome.

> EB>A quick and basic introduction to my position on the subject at hand: I
> >am a staunch advocate of the theory of evolution (I prefer Plantinga's
> >phrase "Theory of Common Ancestry (TCA)", and a deist.
> Which "theory of evolution" in particular are you a "staunch advocate
> of"?

Geez, you start peppering the new guy with questions right away! <G>

If you are referring to the rhetorical battle between Punctuated
Equilibrium and "phyletic gradualism", I am of the opinion that the
difference is mostly rhetoric and differences of scale. I agree with
both Dawkins and Gould in saying that PE lies well within the modern
Darwinian synthesis and I think that both ideas are likely true when
looking at different levels of evidence.

> And why do you assume the "Theory of Common Ancestry" necessarily
> entails a "theory of evolution"? As Denton points out, common
> ancestry is compatible with "almost any philosophy of nature",
> including "creationist":
> "It is true that both genuine homologous resemblance, that is, here
> the phenomenon has a clear genetic and embryological basis (which as
> we have seen above is far less common than is often presumed), and
> the hierarchic patterns of class relationships are suggestive of some
> kind of theory of descent. But neither tell us anything about how
> the descent or evolution might have occurred, as to whether the
> process was gradual or sudden, or as to whether the causal mechanism
> was Darwinian, Lamarckian, vitalistic or even creationist. Such a
> theory of descent is therefore devoid of any significant meaning and
> equally compatible with almost any philosophy of nature." (Denton
> M., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis", 1985, pp154-155)

I would suggest that Denton has not supported his claim. He says that
common ancestry is compatible with a "creationist" framework, but he
doesn't say why or how. I would guess that they are only compatible if
you narrow the term "creationist" to mean only "one who believes in
god"; since I see no contradiction between evolution and the existence
of god, by that definition, I'M a creationist. I have a difficult time
conceiving of a creationist TCA (as opposed to a "theistic evolutionist"
TCA, which I can not only conceive of but have little problem with). The
TCA clearly requires that new taxa derive from old taxa, which requires
an evolutionary framework. It is true that that framework could,
hypothetically, be Lamarckian, but since no one seriously argues for a
Lamarckian framework anymore, it is reasonable to define the TCA (at
least for the purposes of this discussion and this listserv) as a
Darwinian theory. At any rate, MY position is in favor of a TCA driven
by Darwinian mechanisms.

> And as for being "a deist", could you please expand on this.
> Traditionally deists rule out supernatural revelation and divine
> intervention. Do you?

I do not rule it out a priori, but I find no compelling evidence that
the creator either has, or would, intervene in human history or deliver
a revelation to mankind.

> EB>I do not accept the atheistic interpretation of evolution
> >advocated by Dawkins and Dennett, nor do I think that evolution has
> >any bearing on the question of the existence of god (though perhaps
> >God is another matter depending on your specific conception
> >thereof).
> OK. But do you "accept" the *facts* "of evolution advocated by
> Dawkins and Dennett"?

Provisionally, yes (though the word "fact" might need to be defined

> EB> I think the TCA is entirely seperable from abiogenesis theories
> >and would not be a bit surprised to find out that the first life
> >forms were placed on earth by a creator, though I personally tend
> >toward an even weaker version of the anthropic principle that that
> >suggests.
> If you would "not be a bit surprised to find out that the first life
> forms were placed on earth by a creator", would be surprised if
> that self-same Creator also `genetically engineered' the appearance
> of new designs by modifying existing designs, and `seelctively bred'
> the results?

Hmmmm. Would I be surprised? No, because what you are suggesting here is
indistinguishable from evolutionary theory. I would say, however, that
this idea is untestable and unfalsifiable by the methods of science and
amounts to a form of theistic evolution. Again, I have little problem
with this idea in the abstract, though I have a hard time conceiving of
how such an idea might be tested.

Ed Brayton