Looking for the gifts

Sun, 10 Oct 1999 15:47:52 EDT

Howard Van Til wrote in reply to me:

>In the context of that commitment, the focus of my concern has always been
>the Christian community. It has always been my desire to provide something
>of value to my fellow Christians. In that context I have been candid in my
>critical evaluation of episodic creationism (both the young-Earth variety
>and the Intelligent Design variety) for a number of reasons, including
>these: (1) its anti-evolution strategy is based on a rarely examined
>assumption that in order to "make a difference" God's creative work must
>include episides of form-imposing divine intervention. Proponents are free,
>of course, to build their case against evolution on that platform, but I
>think it deserves explicit warranting. (2) it (especially the ID version)
>fails to distinguish "design" (as thoughtful conceptualization for the
>accomplishment of a purpose, an act of Mind) from "extranatural assembly"
>(the form-imposing action of an extranatural agent, the action of a

I like your distinction between the mind and the hands. But I see this
as a distinction between conceptualization and actualization. Without
either, you have no design. Now, correct me if I am wrong, your views
differ from those of the ID community in terms of actualization (and
not conceptualization). Whereas the ID community sees design
as that which is actualized by the intervention of an intelligent agent
(such that the "design" in question would not exist without such
intervention), you view the "laws of Nature" (for lack of a better term)
as the means by which God actualizes his design. The problem, as
I see it, is that there should be some connection between the
and actualization. What I would thus expect from your perspective is
that the actualization carried out by Nature should in some way *reflect*
the conceptualization of the Mind behind Nature.

One possible way to detect these reflections of conceptualizations is
to identify the actual gifts given to the "fully gifted creation." Let's
consider the protein hemoglobin. Was hemoglobin directly given to
creation? It doesn't appear so, as the evidence for hemoglobin's evolution
is persuasive. The standard story involves an original myoglobin-like
oxygen binding protein that is duplicated to give rise to the original
alpha/beta protein which later was duplicated to diverge into the alpha
and beta chains of hemoglobin. This story is supported by the fact that
the alpha and beta globin genes are found as part of a gene family cluster
including pseudogenes, clearly suggesting unequal crossing-over as
the mechanism behind the origin of hemoglobin.

Thus, in this sense, the design of hemoglobin was actualized by the
physical events that are part of creation and did not require intelligent
intervention. However, the origin of the original myoglobin-like molecule
is not addressed in any way by this scenario. In fact, none of the
evidence for the evolution of hemoglobin translates as evidence for
the evolution of the original myoglobin-like molecule. It is thus
possible that one of the gifts given to creation was an original myoglobin-
like molecule. By endowing creation with this gift, the likelihood that
something like hemoglobin would evolve was greatly increased.
After all, hemoglobin is essentially "souped-up" myoglobin.

Perhaps it is at this point where the typical versions of theistic evolution
and intelligent design can be altered and merged to exist in a symbiotic
union. An understanding of evolution takes us back to the primordial
gift (as the globin-fold is very ancient, being found in bacteria). Something
like Dembski's filter might be helpful it corroborating something as
a gift (after all, the globin fold is an example of complex, specified
information). However, one thing is clear. The evidence that
hemoglobin evolved through standard evolutionary mechanisms
is quite plausible, yet the evidence for myoglobin's evolution is
essentially non-existent. I thus see no basis whatsoever for ruling
out some form of actualized design behind the origin of myoglobin,
a gift to be exploited by evolution.

Consider another way of applying this fully-gifted view - perhaps by
identifying the events in natural history that do indeed boil down to pure
chance vs. chance that hints at conceptualization. Any time an origin
event boils down to pure chance vs. something other than pure chance,
the choice is essentially metaphysical. Take a simple example,
the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria. Here is a fairly well-established
evolutionary event. Natural selection might explain why the event was
maintained, propagated, and built upon, but it does not explain the event
And what's more, it was a very rare event, given that mitochondria are
monophyletic. If it was a common event, we might expect mitochondria to be
polyphyletic. But there is more. Single-celled eukaryotes don't need
So here's where the fully-gifted view comes into play. The endosymbiotic
event was a very important event from the perspective of evolving humans.
Humans could not simply exist without mitochondria. Thus, an event
which was not initially essential to any organism turned out to be
an essential step in the evolution of human kind. This anthropic view
of evolution may indeed appeal to some caught between TE and ID. It is not a
view that is anti-evolution as it is a view *about* evolution. Thus, you have
part of a story. People like Dawkins would look at the endosymbiotic
origin of mitochondria and chalk it up to pure chance (the actual engulfment
event, that is). A fully-gifted view might look at the same event and
see conceptualization behind all the dynamics. And in the end, it
boils down to the same basic choice - was Mind in some way
involved or not.

I suppose my main point is that there is plenty of space between the
anti-evolution views that make room for Mind and the evolutionary
views that leave no room for Mind. The creativity on one side looks
for ways to jettison the standard evolutionary account. The creativity
on the other side looks for ways to embrace the standard evolutionary
account. Yet the standard evolutionary account is not the only way
to think about evolution. Of course, I suppose one could always
return to all the posturing that comes with arguing whether explanations
about origins must conform to rules of methodological naturalism,
but that is just boring. I find it more stimulating to explore what
explanations are plausible and what evidence exists to support them
rather than look for ways to squeeze all the data into a pre-set conclusion.