Some other Cambridge observations

I’ve reported back on what I consider the “big thing” at this weekend’s Tyndale Fellowship conference “Design in Nature?” Here’s just a miscellany of small points that gained my attention in the context of the bigger question of Christian responses to origins questions.

Bear in mind the conference’s milieu. The organisers were a small group of Evangelical philosophers of religion (rarer here than in the US). There was some support from the UK’s Centre for Intelligent Design (again much smaller and less political than its US counterpart), and it had two “big name” ID speakers, of whom Steve Fuller stands slightly apart from that movement. The other two speakers were Christians, but not ID proponents. The audience was a mixed bag of philosophers, theologians, other Christians interested in design in nature, and a few authors or enthusiasts who were there because they thought it was an ID conference. In other words it was an uneven cross-section of mainly British educated Christians.

I should add that scientists may have been under-represented because Christians in Science had a 4 day residential conference going simultaneously at which most other British names of interest to this issue were speaking – Alister McGrath, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris and John Polkinghorne to name a few. A shame I didn’t know about it because one of the speakers, Pete Harris, who founded the A Rocha environmentalist project, was a good friend at Cambridge.

First, then, a few more bullet points from Steve Fuller’s presentation, which to me was the most thought-provoking.

(1) Commenting on Lyell and the contrast between rival catastrophism theories and uniformitarian theories in the nineteenth century, Fuller pointed out that both were propounded by Christians. The former, emphasising God’s direct action, are short of scientific  explanations. Conversely, uniformitarian theories give explanations, but tend to displace God from the picture in time, as what was proposed as God’s means then becomes regarded as self-sufficient. Fuller put this forward as a danger inherent in any success Design Theory might have as science. And that’s true – for example, is the evidence of teleology in James Shapiro’s work going to be taken as a wonder of God’s creativity, or merely a natural feature of life with an explanation in undirected evolution? But it’s also absolutely clear in the prevailing “statistical deism” model of theistic evolution, with people like Dennis Venema turning somersaults to show how God is not involved in design, whilst retaining him as a detached prime mover.

(2) Fuller was interested most in design at the macro-level (God designs not just flagellae, but the world system in which they beat). Developing his assertion that it is the assumption of humanity as created in God’s image that underpins science, he made this statement, very suitable for prolonged meditation: “Unified theories of science presuppose belief in design.”

(3) Linked to that, Fuller’s discussion of theodicy began by saying how it became a significant area of theological pursuit around the beginning of the scientific era. Firstly, this confirms my claims here that talk of “Augustinian theodicy” or “Irenaean theodicy” is, to a great extent, anachronistic. Fuller seemed to hint that part of what is required of the ID movement may be to move away from the speculative modern theodicies which try to justify God’s actions in detail, and return to the older and simpler idea that, in this area, God’s good aims are simply higher than our limited conceptions of design. But I may have read this into what he said!

(4) He definitely did say, though, that it was modern theodicies that paved the way to systems approaches in sciences like economics, though these later became secularised. The macro-design picture, then, of “why the world is as it is”, is closely linked to theodicy, which is another reason it must concern IDists.

OK, that’s Fuller specifically. Here are a few more general impressions.

(a) None of the speakers (even the two non-IDists), nor commenters from the floor, had any reservations about using the word “design”. The claims by many TEs that “design” reduces God to some kind of celestial mechanic doesn’t seem to have much traction amongst philophers of religion over here. I conclude it’s more anti-ID rhetoric than anything.

(b) Theistic evolution in the BioLogos mould seemed to be viewed by speakers and audience alike as a compromise, and maybe compromised, position. In particular TE’s reticience about acknowledging God’s role as designer provoked several questions. A suggestion from the floor that TE’s might wish to keep face with secular scientists produced a confirmatory quotation from Fuller, if I remember aright. But he also suggested an inability to counter the theodical skepticism of secular scientists as a reason. This was another reason why ID should grapple with the theodicy issue more competently.

(c) Methodological naturalism was stated by a number of speakers to be philosophically untenable, and this view was not opposed by any of the philophers in the audience. Why, then, is it so staunchly defended at BioLogos?

(d) Many-worlds Multiverse as the alternative to divine design in cosmic fine tuning – a complete philosophical non starter. Stephen Clark was excellent on this. If the Multiverse is true, it may explain statistically impossible things like fine-tuning or DNA replication but would require a preponderence of other statistically impossible things, like lecture notes turning into doves. This, naturally, completely destroys science as a source of understanding: everything happens because, statistically, it’s bound to in one Universe or another. End of research. Clark also pointed out that there must be at least one Universe in which a Supreme Being has control of everything, and takes an overseeing interest in all the other Universes…

(e) David Glass’s subject was a philosophical calculus about whether naturalistic explanations in science had the power also to exclude design inferences. His conclusion was they did not, with reference both to cosmic fine-tuning and evolution. The case in the former was maybe somewhat stronger, but not dramatically so. Again, TE’s aversion to design in biology is therefore highly questionable.

Lastly, one insight from a personal conversation I had with a philosopher from Liverpoool University. We were talking about the change in the acceptability of theism in philosophy since my University days. He said that there were now many theistic philosophers in the US, but far fewer in Britain. Nevertheless, though a worldwide majority in the field are atheists and materialists, there is respect for non-materialist and even dualist approaches to reality. Indeed, my informant said, there’s hardly a philosopher in the world who doesn’t accept that materialism (not naturalism, mind) faces enormous if not insurmountable problems.

This is interesting because of the philosophically Christian Materialist slant so prevalent at BioLogos, often presented as if it were a given more or less beyond rational dispute. But if an actual philosopher is to be believed, that position is simply naive. I’ve always thought there are too many natural scientists at BioLogos and not enough polymaths. And that takes us back to Fuller’s radical ideas on the democratisation of science – but that’s for another post.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Some other Cambridge observations

  1. Ted Davis says:

    Jon,

    Concerning the reluctance of many TEs to use the word, “design,” which you mention here, I have two things to say, other than simply to note the accuracy of the observation. (TE’s much prefer the more theological word, “purpose”.)

    First, the problem with using the word “design” in the contemporary conversation is one of association, not actual meaning. When one mentions “design,” it’s hard for listeners/readers not to associate one right away with opposition to the most basic aspect of evolution, namely common ancestry. To be sure, opposition to common ancestry is not part and parcel of ID, per se, but for many (probably most) ID authors it’s either a central part of their view or else just right below the surface. One cannot read Phillip Johnson or Jonathan Wells or Cornelius Hunter and draw any other conclusion. Those Christian scientists who believe in “design” without opposing common ancestry have to devote considerable space to explaining their view in order to be understood, and in many cases they just bypass the word for that reason. A nice example: the chapter, “Dare a Scientist Believe in Design?” in Owen Gingerich’s lovely little book, “God’s Universe.” For more on this specifically, see http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/04/300-all-things-bright-and-beautiful-36

    More coming…

  2. Ted Davis says:

    The other main reason why many TEs try to avoid the word “design,” at least in biological rather than cosmological contexts (where they are less reluctant to use it), is well expressed by John Polkinghorne, in “Belief in God in an Age of Science,” on pages 10-11:

    “The new natural theology differs from the old-style natural theology of Anselm and Aquinas by refraining from talking about ‘proofs’ of God’s existence and by being content with the more modest role of offering theistic belief as an insightful account of what is going on. It differs from the old-style natural theology of William Paley and others by basing its arguments not upon particular occurrences (the coming-to-be of the eye or of life itself), but on the character of the physical fabric of the world, which is the necessary ground for the possibility of any occurrence… This shift of focus has two important consequences. The first is that the new-style natural theology in no way seeks to be a rival to scientific explanation but rather it aims to complement that explanation by setting it within a wider and more profound context of understanding. Science rejoices in the rational accessibility of the physical world and uses the laws of nature to explain particular occurrences in cosmic and terrestrial history, but it is incapable of itself to offer any reason why these laws take the particular (anthropically fruitful) form that they do, or why we can discover them through mathematical insight. The second consequence of this shift from design through making to design built into the rational potentiality of the universe is that it answers a criticism of the old-style natural theology made so trenchantly by David Hume. He had asserted the unsatisfactoriness of treating God’s creative activity as the unseen analogue of visible human craft. The new natural theology is invulnerable to this charge of naïve anthropocentrism, for the endowment of matter with anthropic potentiality has no human analogy. It is a creative act of a specially divine character.”

    Polkinghorne’s points here are not trivial. Whether or not one agrees with him (I do), he’s accurately assessing (IMO) why TEs tend to prefer the word “purpose” to the word “design.” Both words of course imply a rational agent, but one presently (for political reasons) does not carry Paleyan overtones, which Polkinghorne and many other TEs are trying to avoid.

  3. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Ted – quick response as I have to leave for a band rehearsal imminently. I see your point, though can’t say I’ve noticed “purpose” being more popular than “design” with TEs – maybe it’s associated with some other evil.

    I conversed about this vocabulary business recently with Gregory – I felt that avoiding words that become linked to certain positions has several disadvantages: (a) you’re then more suspect if you do drop your guard and use the word – a closet creationist/atheist etc (b) conversation and understanding between different positions becomes harder (“You say homoousios and I say homoiousios – let’s call the whole thing off”) and (c) Enemies can manipulate your language by pushing you away from plain speaking (eg “fundamentalism” as a theological position becomes “a theological swear word” by Jim Packer’s time and “stupid sumbitch” by Alvin Plantinga’s and “suicide bomber” by ours).

    Speak in plain English and use the buzzwords and everyone suspects you, which is maybe the best place to be!

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Ted – will reply to your subsequent post when possible

    Jon

  5. Ted Davis says:

    Finally, Jon, I’ll respond to this of yours:

    “Methodological naturalism was stated by a number of speakers to be philosophically untenable, and this view was not opposed by any of the philophers in the audience. Why, then, is it so staunchly defended at BioLogos?”

    My own answer, Jon, is this:

    Because MN is a darn good idea, as long as the word “methodological” is neither ignored nor downplayed–which is what typically happens (at least in my experience) when the author or speaker is either a scientific atheist or a ID advocate.

    I had an exchange with Phil Johnson about MN many years ago, available at http://ncse.com/rncse/19/4
    As readers will see, I don’t view MN as equivalent to “methodological atheism,” b/c I see it raising larger metaphysical questions that science itself simply cannot answer, but theism can. Furthermore, even though the term MN itself is of relatively recent origin, the idea is far older, dating to at least the High Middle Ages if not earlier. Robert Boyle–the greatest ID advocate of his time–fully accepted MN as the proper principle in natural philosophy (he simply did not think that it ruled out “design”). So did Kepler, another great advocate of design, who nevertheless believed that one should push natural causes as far as they can be taken (which is what MN is really about).

  6. Gregory says:

    Sorry, Ted, but you’re completely out of your league here and it is sad for me to write in response to your misguided certainty as I am about to do. This is a neutral place (wrt BioLogos and UD) and I leave it to Jon to mediate or iron out the wrinkled parts, since he was the one who above raised (c), saying MN is “philosophically untenable” according to the views of people at the Cambridge event.

    You write: “MN is a darn good idea.”

    Charlie Brown endearingly said: ARRRGGGGHHH!!!!

    I respond, with due respect: “MN is a philosophy of science made for morons.”

    Please note, Ted, MN is a ‘philosophy of science,’ it is not a ‘history of science’ (more on this below). That is why I say you are out of your league, since you are a historian, not a philosopher of science. We’ve had at this for a few years, Ted, and this is a major obstacle in our mostly respectful communicative misunderstanding of each other. Please try to see a ‘reverse perspective’ on your ‘darn good’ yarn; that is what I am offering to you with an olive branch intended here.

    Since this thread is about Steve Fuller and others at Cambridge, let me back up this MN-is-for-Morons position that I promote with the words of Steve Fuller:

    MN is: “the most paranoid appeal to a scientific consensus to defend against an impending Dark Age”

    “‘Methodological naturalism’, despite its philosophical sounding name, has no clear meaning outside of attempts to demonstrate that creationism and ID are non-scientific. Professional philosophers, not least those who hold no brief for creationism, have squirmed at the apparent manufacture of a pseudo-doctrine customised to restrict the ranks of scientists. This so-called principle conflates two 20th-century pro-science movements: ‘logical positivism’, which defined science in purely procedural terms as a method for testing theories, and ‘metaphysical naturalism’, which defined science as a world view that admits only causes like the ones already observed in nature.

    “The bigotry lurking beneath methodological naturalism is ultimately fuelled by a paranoia regrettably familiar from the annals of US political history – except that now the ideological tables have been turned, with the left persecuting the right in the one arena where the left’s dominance remains more or less assured despite eight years of George W. Bush: academia.

    “ID’s challenge to the reigning scientific orthodoxy – so-called methodological naturalism – is very much like Protestantism’s challenge to the primacy of papal authority.”

    This should be enough to indicate how the idea you call ‘darn good,’ Ted, is actually hotly contested and even rejected out of hand by others. And I consider Steve Fuller one of the best positioned in the world to speak on this topic.

    I’m curious: do you know Paul de Vries, the man who coined the term ‘methodological naturalism,’ Ted? He is an evangelical Christian administrator and philosopher of ethics. Have you met him and spoken with him about MN? Have you asked him why, given his lack of training in philosophy of science, he pretended to coin a demarcation LAW for philosophy of science? Did his Christian conscience not bother him in making this obvious (to anyone actually trained in philosophy of science) fatuous fabrication?

    Not long ago, after a heated discussion about MN, I encouraged people at UD to contact him. I even dug up his e-mail address and posted it on their site. One person that I am aware of contacted him and they reportedly had several polite messages back and forth with each other. This person stressed to me how polite, pleasant and kind de Vries was in the correspondence, that he is a gentleman. Yet at the same time how blatantly incapable the man is of defending his meaning of MN.

    Does this mean his idea is still ‘darn good’ as you put it, Ted? Does this mean you should continue to indulge in it as if it makes sense, is good philosophy, and helps people properly to demarcate science from non-science?

    Unfortunately, imo ‘methodological naturalism’ (MN) is one of the most obviously pathetic and damaging ideas of ‘weak American philosophy’ currently on display today. That you’ve openly and uncompromisingly embraced it (along with many atheists) says more about the impoverished state of philosophy of science in the USA than is generally known. Ask any German, Russian or Chinese about this, heck, ask J.D. Bernal 60 years ago, and nothing like MN could ever be swallowed whole as a demarcator of ‘what science is.’ This MN is an ideology like ‘scientific materialism’ was in the Soviet period, Ted, and if you think I don’t say that sincerely or can’t back it up, then bring your best here, and let’s have it out. Because your view of TE, in so far as it is predicated on MN, is as flimsy a view as I’ve seen in my young life, Ted.

    MN is an ideology of the lowest grade possible, it is dirty oil, it is garbage in a rose garden, it is kids robbing pennies from their grandmother. That should be enough, Ted, for you to potentially stop and rethink your pseudo-pragmatic propaganda for an ethicist from Wheaton College’s views of ‘philosophy of science.’

    I’m sorry to put this so bluntly and starkly, Ted (and sorry to Jon, who is the host!), because I do believe in your heart of hearts you’re a nice guy. MN is simply not an idea worth committing yourself and your Christian worldview to any longer. Please forgive, but your expression ‘darn good,’ spoken in distinctly American language, was a straw too heavy on this camel’s back.

    “even though the term MN itself is of relatively recent origin, the idea is far older, dating to at least the High Middle Ages if not earlier.”
    No, this is self-congratulatory anachronistic triumphalism. I’ve heard this many times before and it was wrong each and every time. This is revisionism of the most deperate (evolutionistic – meaning, we are higher, smarter and more beautiful now than they were) sort. In many ways I respect you, Ted Davis. Your view of MN is a glaring black spot on that reputation. May I be forgiven for this frank and honest rebuke.

  7. James says:

    Ted:

    Good to hear from you on this second thread on the topic.

    I fully support Polkinghorne when he speaks of design in the broader, cosmic sense and the “new” natural theology that is connected with that. So do most ID proponents. You will often hear them speaking of the fundamental laws and constants of nature, and how they appear to be fine-tuned to make a universe filled with living beings possible.

    However, I don’t see why agreeing with Polkinghorne excludes supporting a Paleyan approach — appropriately modified — to specific matters such as the eye, or the origin of life. A Paleyan approach, understood broadly, doesn’t require that God manually stitched together the first eye. It’s compatible with an evolutionary process that has a built-in tendency to produce eyes, for example. In that sense, both the eye, and the process which produced the eye, can be seen as designed. So I don’t see why parts of the “old” natural theology can’t survive alongside the “new” natural theology. (The problem with neo-Darwinian evolution, of course, is that it has no tendency to produce anything, which is why it falls afoul of *any* natural theology, old or new.)

    I second Jon’s observations that many TE/EC people — certainly those on BioLogos — don’t like to use “purpose” any more than “design.” As recorded recently on UD, Falk and Venema were given a chance to speak not as scientists, but as theologians, about God’s purposes in evolution, yet would not affirm than any result of the evolutionary process was purposed by God ahead of time. They avoided — willfully and consciously — employing every word or phrase suggesting purpose — teleology, design, God guaranteeing an outcome, God directing a process, etc. So it is not just the term “design” that troubles them. It’s something else. They don’t like the idea of a God who lays down future events which nature is then required to produce.

    It thus appears that “design” means for some TE/EC people something much more than the question of parts working well together (because someone smart has thought about the parts and the whole ahead of time); the word seems to trigger a whole bunch of Pavlovian reactions regarding “freedom” “predestination” “Calvinism” etc. In other words, part of the resistance toward “design” comes from something beyond common descent or biological theory generally; it’s a theological repugnance against the kind of omnipotent God that most Christians have taken for granted since New Testament times. That theological repugnance needs to be made more explicit. The world needs to know whether TE/EC is recommending a major change in the Christian understanding of creation, omnipotence, omniscience, providence, governance, etc. But with one or two exceptions, getting a TE/EC proponent to speak openly and frankly about the theology of creation is like pulling teeth.

  8. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Ted

    Re your 2nd post – I’ll do MN separately to avoid long chapters! Polkinghorne’s words sound irenic and sane and do contain much truth. But there are several complications in reality. The first is the practical impossibility of insulating science from its prevailing metaphysical assumptions. As Steve Fuller pointed out, attempts to show God’s “how” though science have historically ended up as showing that God is not needed as an explanation, leading to the concept of the God of the Gaps – and I don’t think theistic evolutionists have countered that one whit. In fact, they’ve denigrated those suggesting God’s agency in “God of the Gaps” terms, rather than affirming clearly that God has been at work even where science can speak.

    But the difference in approach in physics and biology needs comment. Are they so different that God’s agency is worth discussing in fine-tuning but not in biology? Not, in my view, if one is looking at design, particularly at the macro scale. Fine tuning is, in the end, about improbable specified/functinal (etc) information instantiated in the cosmos, and so also is the biological design inference/discourse. One is no more insisting on crude intervention by positing that organisms hold together because of designed genetic information than one is by suggesting that planets hold together because of designed fundamental constants. Or no less – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But as a zoologist originally I’m more interested in the greater glory of living things.

    The recourse to Hume’s objections, taken literally, were addressed in Cambridge by more than one speaker: I believe his objection was the lack of evidence that the analogy between organisms and machines holds. But in ID the comparison is fundamentally between examples of design, not the physical manifestions of that design. And Fuller’s point (and my own, previously) is that there is a non-analogical continuity between God’s design and ours to the extent that this reflects his image in us. That is evidenced by the universal inference of design, which has to be deconstructed by atheists as “appearance of design”, and then further manipulated by TE’s as “only appearing to be designed, but actually God’s workmanship though not designed.” That just gets silly.

  9. Gregory says:

    “I don’t think theistic evolutionists have countered that one whit. In fact, they’ve denigrated those suggesting God’s agency in “God of the Gaps” terms, rather than affirming clearly that God has been at work even where science can speak.” – Jon

    Correct me if I’m wrong, Jon, but you just confirmed a few days ago that you consider yourself as a ‘theistic evolutionist’ (TE). It is not ‘they,’ then but ‘we,’ that you seem to be expressing opposition towards. Thus, your continued railing against TEs is confusing.

    It would be helpful if you would either add a qualifier, such as ‘Jon-TE’ or ‘non-BioLogos-TE’ or ‘evangelical-TE’ or ‘interventionist-TE’ or ‘God-goverened-TE’ or whatever you prefer at the appropriate moment of distinction or disagreement. Otherwise, what I keep hearing is ‘All Arsenal fans eat slugs,’ at the same time that you say ‘I’m an Arsenal fan, but I don’t eat slugs.’ Being against TE and for TE at the same time muddies the conversation.

    Thanks,
    Gregory

  10. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Methodological naturalism. I was in this thtread, remember, relaying my impression from a conference of a philosophy group rather than my own opinion, because MN has been tossed back and forth both on BioLogos and UD, and by significant figures like Fuller and Alvin Plantinga recently.

    Fuller has written extensively on Robert Boyle of course and is a big fan of his. That doesn’t make him right (I’d be the first to say he often isn’t), but does show that he has formed his opinion in full knowledge of, and appreciation of, Boyle’s contribution to scientific method. I guess that’s a reading exercise for me if I want to form my own opinion on Boyle. Which on reflection I do, because I’m intrigued that his take on MN does not rule out design, which is almost unheard of today.

    Yet whatever the philophical objections to MN, my own position is that its absence would not change science one whit, except for the better. The simple answer to a lazy worker saying “Miracle occurs here” is to show the enzyme that produces the miracle. Red-faced theist rightly loses reputation. Job’s a goodun’ (as my son says).

    Because MN is a darn good idea, as long as the word “methodological” is neither ignored nor downplayed–which is what typically happens (at least in my experience) when the author or speaker is either a scientific atheist or a ID advocate.

    My point made for me! Typically atheists (a big majority in life sciences) abuse the term, and ID people abuse the term. I’d just add that TEs abuse the term as well – a classic example is the discussion between Stephen Meyer and TE Keith Fox in which the latter said that maybe there was no explanation for origin of life and that it was a lucky fluke, but that would not mean there was anything supernatural about it. Darrel Falk showed the same attitude in his response to Signature in the Cell – it was wrong to suggest design because a natural explanation might be found in the indefinite future. A non-existent natural explanation is to be preferred to an actual divine one. Would Boyle say that taking a natural explanation as far as one could means adopting it on indefinitely long term credit terms?

    Similarly, I note how in Joshua Moritz’s BL thread on the image of God, a relational image was preferred because it allows a materialist explanation of human exceptionalism, despite its huge philosophical problems, and excludes discussion of philsophically respectable non-materialist or dualist approaches. Here MN not only channels the science, but dictates the theology.

    A term that is abused by everyone except John Polkinghorne and his peers has, surely, outlived its usefulness.

  11. Gregory says:

    “Here MN not only channels the science, but dictates the theology. / A term that is abused by everyone except John Polkinghorne and his peers has, surely, outlived its usefulness.” – Jon

    Again, sorry, I’m having trouble reading statements clearly.

    Are you saying ‘methodological naturalism’ has “outlived its uselfulness”? I.e. that it is not (now or perhaps ever was) a ‘useful’ ideology for people to speak in support of today? Iow, ‘get rid of MN’ as an ideology, stop talking about it, etc.?

  12. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Blimey – it was a lot easier doing this blog when there were only two readers in America! Post one and there’s three waiting!

    “Stopping talking” about MN would be a bit like burning books, wouldn’t it? And since people will speak in support of it whilst they’re convinced about it, it will still have to be argued over.

    Life being what it is, no doubt there will be a need to remind simple folk that some branches of science work by looking at networks of cause and effect in material systems, and that “God did it” should not be used as an excuse for incomplete work.

    But folks that simple won’t make sense of a term like “methodological naturalism” anyway. And the rest of us don’t need it, or we misuse it, so if it were quietly forgotten we would not suffer any loss.

  13. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    It would help if these comments had numbers – I didn’t notice your previous comment Gregory. You’ll be used to my imprecision of language by now. Maybe I should coin a term like “WTE” (Warfieldian TE) to cover TEs like myself who openly affirm God’s direct governance of an evolutionary process, since I seriously believe there is as profound a theological difference between that and some other forms of TE as there is between Orthodoxy and Deism.

    But I’d be the only one using the abbreviation and would have to spell it out every time. In the meantime, the rule of thumb is that if I say something nice about TE, it’s my views I’m discussing, but if I say something nasty, it’s about them others ;-).

  14. Ted Davis says:

    Well, Gregory, it’s hard to know how to respond to you claim that I’m out of my league. If you looked into it, you would know that there are two comprehensive articles about the history of naturalism in recent (past 20 years) published literature. The most recent, by Ron Numbers, is in this: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/W/bo3635190.html

    The other one, by philosopher of science Robin Collins and me, is in this: http://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/ecom/MasterServlet/GetItemDetailsHandler?iN=9780801870385&qty=1&viewMode=3&loggedIN=false&JavaScript=y (I hope this URL comes through).

    So, perhaps my opinion on MN is wrong–it wouldn’t be a first. But, at least it would be wrong, instead of “not even wrong,” as Wolfgang Pauli put it. Whereas, Gregory, if you’ve ever published anything about MN, I haven’t seen it and would appreciate having a reference.

  15. Ted Davis says:

    Now, Gregory, as to this of yours, which begins with a quotation from my comments to Jon here:

    “even though the term MN itself is of relatively recent origin, the idea is far older, dating to at least the High Middle Ages if not earlier.” No, this is self-congratulatory anachronistic triumphalism. I’ve heard this many times before and it was wrong each and every time.

    Again, Gregory, it’s hard to know what to say. If there is a league forming somewhere, I don’t think you’re in it. I’m reminded of the time on the old ASA list when you kept insisting that the term “theistic evolution” had originated only quite recently. You kept insisting on that, despite the fact that I study the history of such things and you don’t. Although it’s much older than the 1920s (as I’ll discuss next month in my BioLogos columns on the TE view), it was sufficient simply to quote chapter and verse from William Jennings Bryan to answer your ungrounded claim.

    It looks as though we’re in the same boat once again, Gregory. I’ll reply further below.

  16. Ted Davis says:

    Since I named Boyle as an example, I’ll fill in the reference. (Yes, I know he’s not medieval, but he’ll do in this case what Bryan did in the other case.) The following passage comes from Boyle’s “Defence Against Linus” (1662), and the context was whether or not the space above the meniscus in a barometer is actually empty of all matter. Here’s the relevant paragraph, on p. 45 in the first edition:

    Two Arguments indeed there are which our Adversary offers as proofs of what he teaches. The first is, That they commonly teach in Schools, that at least divinitus [i.e., by divine intervention] (as he speakes) such a thing as is pleaded for may be done, and that consequently it is not repugnant to the nature of a body. But, though they that either know me, or have read what I have written about matters Theological, will, I hope, readily believe, that none is more willing to acknowledge and venerate Divine Omnipotence; yet in some famous Schools they teach, that it is contrary to the nature of the thing. And that men who think so, and consequently look not upon it as an object of Divine Omnipotence, may (whatever he here say) without impiety be of a differing mind from him about the possibility of such a Rarefaction as he would here have, our Author may perchance think fit to grant, if he remember that he himself sayes a few Pages after, Cum tempus sit Ens essentialiter successivum, ita ut ne divinitus quidem possint duæ ejus partes simul existere, &c. [Seeing time is a being essentially successive, so that neither by divine power can two of its parts exist together.] But, not now to dispute of a power that I am more willing to adore then question, I say, that our Controversie is not what God can do , but about what can be done by Natural Agents, not elevated above the sphere of Nature. For though God can both create and annihilate, yet Nature can do neither: and in the judgment of true Philosophers I suppose our Hypothesis would need no other advantage to make it be preferred before our Adversaries, then that in ours things are explicated by the ordinary course of Nature, whereas in the other recourse must be had to miracles.

  17. Ted Davis says:

    Jon,

    If Steve Fuller has “written extensively on Robert Boyle,” I’m not aware of what he’s done and would appreciate having citations that can be added to the on-line bibliography of scholarly work about Boyle–the one maintained by Michael Hunter at Birkbeck College. Here’s the section on authors whose names begin with “F”
    http://www.bbk.ac.uk/boyle/researchers/boyle_bibliography.htm#f

    Do you know where he’s actually studied Boyle, as vs simply commented on or cited secondary literature by others about Boyle?

  18. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Ted,

    I overstated my case, I think – no attempt to deceive as I’m well aware that you’re the source for all things Boyle. My meaning was that Fuller cited Boyle, together with other believing (though sometimes heterodox) early scientists like Priestley and Lavoisier with approbation in his presentation, and I’d already read his mention of the debate between Hobbes and Boyle in Dissent on Descent.

    Finding he’d also dealt with Boyle in his article on Science in “Encyclopedia of Social Theory”, in “Philosophy, Rhetoric and the End of Knowledge” and a review of Steven Shapin’s “Never Pure – Historical Studies of Science” I used the word “extensive”, but it seems likely that he’s reliant on secondary sources to inform his main interest, social epistemology of science. So don’t read “intensive” there.

    I merely wanted to show in passing that Fuller is likely to have informed himself particularly of Boyle’s contributions to epistemology in the form of MN.

  19. Gregory says:

    We’re in the same boat on the things that matter most, Ted, which is more important than league talk. However, please do forgive if I respectfully stick with my assessment that, as good as you are on history of science, you are not a go-to-guy for me on philosophy of science, and in this case in particular, you are promoting an idea as ‘darn good,’ which I think is actually ‘darn silly.’ If Robin Collins supports your thinking on this, then I believe there are blind spots in his philosophy of science (PoS) to consider also and would be glad to raise them with him too.

    Take note, please, that why I have the nerve to say this to a fine scholar of religion and science and also to a tenured philosophy professor who graduated from Notre Dame University is because my training and education in PoS comes from a different source. Imho, ‘western’ PoS is much weaker (and atomistic) than the stronger (more holistic) ‘eastern’ PoS. Since I am educated about PoS in an eastern higher education system, I have gained insights into PoS that Collins and yourself, Ted, most likely have not gained access to. Can that point be acknowledged up front, at least in so far as it might be true; your education is ‘western’ and draws on western PoS and it is possible that eastern PoS might have advantages and more powerful insights, e.g. on the topic of naturalism?

    Thus, when I suggest to you that MN is a PoS for morons, that it is silly, I am doing so from a specific perspective and claim to knowledge that does not isolate ‘nature’ or atomise it the same way as you do. Nevertheless, one need not be trained in eastern higher education system to see or understand this. This is obvious from Steve Fuller’s comments on MN, since he sees it as folly just as clearly as I do and is thus able to challenge it directly.

    There are some people who think, like Richard Feynman, that “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” But I don’t perceive you to be like that, Ted, especially given your expressed support for more teaching of PoS in USA universities and classrooms. The problem is that now that you’ve got someone ready, capable and engaged in trying to educate (while you are the pedant at your BioLogos series) you about PoS, you instead appear to me to be closing the door and digging in your heels, in order to stay with immature and impoverished PoS, such as displayed in MN.

    From the text you suggested: “Scientific naturalism is the conjunction of naturalism – the claim that nature is all there is and, hence, that there is no supernatural order above nature – with the claim that all objects, processes, truths, and facts about nature fall within the scope of the scientific method.” – Edward Davis and Robin Collins (Science and Religion, Gary B. Ferngren ed. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002: 322) [Note: it is partially available on google.books, but not enough to get a deep sense of the essay – please send it to me by e-mail if you are willing.]

    One of the major contributions of PoS (and I would add, of ‘Science Studies,’ originally called naukovedeniye, generally) is that there is more than one ‘scientific method,’ there are ‘multiple scientific methods’ that depend on the scientific field, the scientist who is working, the problem or challenge to be solved, etc. Thus, speaking of ‘the scientific method’ is outdated speech, which it will take time to correct as more people become aware of PoS and adjust their language and the way they communicate accordingly. Do you accept that there is not a ‘single’ entity called ‘the scientific method’ and that there are instead ‘multiple’ entities better called ‘scientific methods,’ Ted?

    Also, your typical short definition of ‘naturalism’ can be misleading because there are other definitional features of ‘naturalism’ that are as important as, or even more important than the ‘all there is’ common phrase. Iow, by putting natural *only* against supernatural, your definition leaves out all of the other terms that can and in various ways and places are opposed to ‘natural.’ You don’t rightly recognize those ‘other’ ways based on your definition of ‘naturalism.’ The ideological geography of your position is therefore narrowed, in much the same way as making a discourse *only* about science and religion, while leaving out the integrative and interpretive powers of philosophy in joining them.

    The reason I highlight this is because often definitions given of ‘the scientific method’ focus only on ‘natural’ things, i.e. on the study of ‘nature-only.’ As Jon knows well from previous discussions, I reject this ‘naturalistic’ definition of ‘science’ because I accept that ‘science’ can also study ‘non-natural’ things, such as technology and other ‘artificial’ products of human-making, which are likewise not ‘supernatural.’ Is this a way of understanding that you could potentially entertain?

    Those who claim ‘technology is natural’ are basing their views on just such an impoverished PoS as those who contend that ‘MN is a darn good idea,’ when in fact it is silly to suggest that cars, TVs and computers are ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ in the same way that animals, trees, rivers and rocks are. One need no more than appeal to common sense to ‘prove’ this. But in some peoples’ theologies, they have drawn a parallel analogy between primary and secondary causes, otoh, and natural and supernatural otoh. Personally, I find that view unnecessarily constraining, though of course that doesn’t mean the entire systematic theology of Aquinas is under threat because of this A-T-M approach.

    To answer your question, no, I haven’t (yet) published anything on ‘methodological naturalism,’ per se, but I have published articles addressing ‘naturalism,’ which is the master category. The ‘methodological’ qualifier (noting that you and Robin split up naturalism with a wide-variety of qualifiers) does not trump the master category. Here are links to two papers, one published and the other unpublished in which I address ‘naturalism’: http://vestnik.mstu.edu.ru/v11_4_n33/articles/01_sands.pdf and http://vpu.academia.edu/GregorySandstrom/Papers/168006/Review_-_The_New_Sociological_Imagination_by_Steve_Fuller

    I’ve concentrated more recently on the ideology of scientism, which it is good to see being addressed at BioLogos.

    Please excuse that there is not more already, though, Ted, as I’m a young scholar who has hopefully more years ahead, and who is active in publishing in the realm of science, philosophy and religion discourse (obviously just not [yet] on your radar). The collections you link to look interesting. I would hope that more recently than 2003, new approaches to naturalism have also been written in the Anglo-American tradition. It didn’t look like Numbers’ book focused on ‘THE history of naturalism’ from the titles of the chapters. But again, I am open to being corrected if that’s what he aimed the book to be about; it is certainly not evident from the book’s title.

    In regard to our previous conversations about TE at ASA listserve, here they are: http://www2.asa3.org/archive/asa/200812/0557.html For those interested, that thread broke off from the parent one here: http://www2.asa3.org/archive/asa/200812/ – “Appeasing TE?”

    You said above here: “you [Gregory] kept insisting that the term ‘theistic evolution’ had originated only quite recently.” Please check the written record to correct your memory. If ‘kept insisting’ is accurate to describe one response, which make the same point I’m making now about modern ‘currency,’ and which you didn’t answer there, then I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    Then again, Ted, you didn’t bother to respond to me at BioLogos, when I corrected you about Darrel Falk’s desire to defend or represent ‘evolutionary creation’ rather than ‘theistic evolution.’ So it is not like concessions are always made by honest participants in public discussions. I’ve always tried to treat you with respect and ask the same from you toward me.

    As far as the topic of this thread and the event that Jon attended which inspired it goes, Ted, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about Steve Fuller and his contribution to this discourse. Have you read Fuller? If you don’t take my rejection of MN seriously, at least do you accept the responsibility of challenging Fuller’s rejection of MN?

    I’m not expecting the scales to fall from your eyes immediately, Ted, but at least we can perhaps find some common ground and both recognise that we’ve got scales that we’re dealing with, each in our own way. Your PoS re: MN is, I believe, a blind spot to you; this surely means I have many blind spots of my own too.

    Gregory

    p.s. Ted, will you answer the question about Paul de Vries – do you know, have you met him who coined ‘methodological naturalism’ according to R. Numbers? The following was published at PSCF, affiliated with ASA, so I suspect it might be possible: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2007/PSCF9-07Poe.pdf.

    p.p.s. Jon, sorry, no more time today, but yes, WTE (Warfieldian TE) would be a most helpful contribution to the conversation, for the TE vs. TE communicative reasons given above.

    “He [Darwin] had no right at all, in logic, to compare his account of how he believed Natural Selection worked with the many human attempts at selective breeding, because the latter was an intentional activity whereas the former was, by his own definition unintentional.” – Don Cruse

    “The man who cannot occasionally imagine events and conditions of existence that are contrary to the causal principle as he knows it will never enrich his science by the addition of a new idea.” – Max Planck

  20. Ted Davis says:

    Gregory,

    On TE vs EC as terms and my columns for BioLogos, I’ll take this up when we get to TE next month. For each position, I discuss the term itself at the beginning. This will happen for TE, and I’ll mention EC as an alternative favored by some important players. I’m doing a sort of online “course,” remember, and I like to hold certain topics for later, according to a “syllabus” that I’m using. As I said at the start of my series, I am using the term TE, b/c historically it’s been the main term and it goes back at least to the 1870s, if not (perhaps) even earlier. I’m an historian, I’m writing the columns as an historian, and in my columns it’s TE, not EC. One would be mistaken to read more into this than I have just said; I am making no judgements, neither explicit nor implicit, about the value of the term EC vs TE. The only implicit judgement you can make, is that BioLogos gives me the freedom to handle the topic in my way. Bully for them!

    Our exchange about the history of term TE on the ASA list was longer than one post apiece, and what I was bothered by was your repeated claim that the term TE had been “retrodicted,” i.e., invented later on and injected back into earlier conversations (when it did not exist) in order to legitimize a more modern view. The facts, however, contradict the claim that it was retrodicted.

    I cannot recall ever meeting Paul de Vries, let alone speaking with him. Incidentally, I spoke to Ron Numbers recently, and he now knows that de Vries was not the first to use the term MN. I still think he may have been the first to use it in such a way that others picked up on it. I don’t have the details, unfortunately; if Ron provided them, I don’t remember them. It’s often hard to be sure who used a term first, even with what google provides at our fingertips.

    Finally, Gregory, you quote the opening sentence of my article (with Collins) on “Scientific Naturalism,” a title that was assigned to us by the editors of the original encyclopedia, from which the Johns Hopkins book was derived: http://www.amazon.com/History-Science-Religion-Western-Tradition/dp/0815316569/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1342628941&sr=8-5&keywords=gary+ferngren

    Let me quote the opening section more fully, as follows:

    “Scientific Naturalism — the conjunction of naturalism, the claim that nature is all that there is and hence that there is no supernatural order above nature, along with the claim that all objects, processes, truths, and facts about nature fall within the scope of the scientific method. This ontological naturalism implies weaker forms of naturalism, such as the belief that humans are wholly a part of nature (anthropological naturalism); the belief that nothing can be known of any entities other than nature (epistemological naturalism); and the belief that science should explain phenomena only in terms of entities and properties that fall within the category of the natural, such as by natural laws acting either through known causes or by chance (methodological naturalism).”

    Whatever one may think of the definition we give there at the end, I’d like readers to have it in full. The definition provided in the short quote Gregory used is for “scientific naturalism,” not for MN per se.

  21. James says:

    Many of Gregory’s distinctions have value. It is certainly true that there are different “sciences” with different procedures. It is certainly true that the distinction between natural and supernatural is different from the distinction between the natural and the artificial. However, I would point out that one hardly needs “philosophy of science” in the modern academic sense to make such distinctions. Any reader of Aristotle understands the distinctions between the various sciences, and between the natural and the artificial; any reader of C. S. Lewis understands the difference between the natural and the supernatural. If Lakatos, Popper, etc. had never lived, these distinctions would be available to thoughtful, informed people.

    Regarding natural science and social science, it is quite true that they are both “science,” and both legitimate. However, that does not seem relevant to the topics we are discussing. Darwinism, ID, and TE all, via different approaches, discuss natural science, not social science. They are all concerned with the study of nature, with the laws or principles that govern natural events, and with the question whether those laws or principles are sufficient to explain the origin of certain natural things, e.g., life, species, man. Social science does not come into these investigations.

    If one wants to know whether a bacterial flagellum could have evolved via random mutations plus natural selection, it is no use asking Max Weber. If one wants to know whether information theory shows that the RNA world scenario is impossible, it is no use asking Emile Durkheim. It is not as if the ID, TE and atheist Darwinians have a vendetta against social science, or demean or undervalue social science; it is that social scientists have no knowledge relevant to answering the questions that are being asked. Gregory would not ask Richard Dawkins or Michael Behe or Darrel Falk for their help in understanding the sociological characteristics of the former Soviet regime; he would say they don’t have any training relevant to that subject matter. Similarly, Dawkins, Behe and Falk don’t seek the opinions of Gregory (or of any other sociologist) in order to determine whether or not a bacterial flagellum could have evolved by chance.

    This is why I am puzzled by Gregory’s constant interjection of social science questions into these discussions. It is not that I am against social science; on the contrary, I think social science is important in its proper arena. I just don’t see what relevance it has to theories about physical and biological origins.

    Social science can of course study the behavior of the people who are arguing about physical and biological origins; and there is nothing wrong with that. But studying the behavior of the people who are arguing about origins is not the same as studying the origins themselves. Behe, Dawkins, Falk, etc. are making claims, not about the behavior or motives of people, but about origins. Those claims must be assessed by the methods of physical science (where possible), and, where physical science cannot settle the issue, by the methods of philosophy or theology. Social science is simply not relevant.

    As a final point, regarding modes of discussion on the internet, I find that claims about who knows more than whom, or who has more qualifications than whom, are rarely profitable, and I would prefer that people stick to the arguments rather than try to “pull rank” on others based on their own estimation of their knowledge in relation to that of their dialogue partners. And it’s a further observation of mine, nothing scientific, but an observation based on my experience of what used to be called “men and manners,” that generally speaking, those of great accomplishment, whether in the history of science or in other fields, do not appreciate being talked to as if they were students, and that older people do not enjoy being talked to as if they did not know the score by others much younger than they are. When people are spoken to in such ways, their hackles are raised, and they are more likely to respond defensively or indignantly, and listen less rather than more to the points the speaker is making. So I wonder if we could reduce or eliminate references to how well-trained the speaker or writer is and how poorly trained the addressee is, and concentrate on providing scientific data, textual evidence, and coherent arguments in defense of our positions.

  22. James says:

    Ted Davis:

    I wonder if you and Steve Fuller are not understanding something different by “methodological naturalism.” Fuller has a discussion of MN on pp. 34-39 of Dissent over Descent. It is a sketchy discussion, needing much more documentation and elaboration, but it is not an uninformed discussion, and I think it indicates that he means by it something a bit different from what you do.

    I doubt that Steve Fuller would argue that, when studying the motion of the planets, scientists should contemplate the view that pixies are doing it. I doubt that Steve Fuller would argue that, when a plague strikes an African village, scientists should give “equal time” to the theory that the plague has no bacterial or viral origin, but is an expression of the anger of the tribal gods at the conversion of some tribesmen to Christianity. I think that he would say, as you would, that natural science presupposes such a thing as nature, and therefore that natural causes are what natural scientists try to seek out.

    I think that Fuller’s complaint is not that natural scientists seek natural causes, but that the phrase “methodological naturalism” is in current social-political contexts, especially the ID/Darwinist war, being used in a theoretically impure way, as a social weapon by which to win a policy war regarding science education. I think he is saying that Eugenie Scott and the NCSE don’t give a hoot about the deeper issues of epistemology and methodology in science — if they did, they would spend much more time than they do studying Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Kant, Comte, Popper, Feyerabend, etc. — but are simply seizing upon MN as a handy club, easily intelligible to non-science-trained federal court judges, with which to beat down the ID challenge.

    When we look at what happened at Dover, it’s hard to disagree with Fuller. The expert witnesses and the lawyers, invoking the phrase, managed to convince the judge that “design” means “miraculous intervention” and therefore was a religious rather than a scientific notion. But of course “design” is compatible with “naturalistic” causation, as the views of Denton show. Yet the NCSE was not interested in letting the judge know about such refinements. It wanted a crude polarization: ID/miracles/supernatural vs. Darwinism/science/natural causes. That’s what MN is in fact used for in the American debate; not to make things clearer, but to obfuscate.

    An approach aimed at clarity would distinguish between two questions:

    (a) whether or not a system or organism is designed;

    (b) whether the delivery system of the design (i) made use of only natural causes, or (ii) also involved supernatural input.

    Regarding question (b), natural science is powerless to answer the second possibility, and that is where “methodological naturalism” comes in; but that does not mean that natural science has nothing to say about (a). But the ACLU, the NCSE, the lawyers for the plaintiff, and the expert witnesses all colluded to conceal this fact. And it was by extending “methodological naturalism” beyond its proper bounds — to cover assertions of design as well as assertions of miracles — that they succeeded with this strategem. The misuse of MN may not have been fully conscious — I suspect that some of the people I have named are simply not philosophically acute enough to draw, or even understand, the distinction I have made above. But consciously or not, they misused MN for political purposes.

    I am not claiming that Fuller would endorse all my discussion here. But I think that something like what I am talking about is part of what Fuller has in mind. Neither Fuller nor I want the world to abandon natural causality and go back to consulting witch doctors. But we do want intellectual honesty about the limited application of catch phrases like “methodological naturalism.”

    The mantra of MN cannot be used to show that there is no design in nature, or even that science has no relevance to that question. Even if we take the minimalist view that ID inferences are not scientific inferences, but philosophical inferences informed by science, that still has nothing to do with miracles or supernatural causes and therefore nothing to do with “methodological naturalism.”

  23. Gregory says:

    “As I said at the start of my series, I am using the term TE, b/c historically it’s been the main term and it goes back at least to the 1870s, if not (perhaps) even earlier.” – Ted

    Yes, this understandable and I accept it as your mission there too. It is good that you are offering an alternative viewpoint from what has been expressed in the past and I support your participation at BioLogos. My point was simply regarding what you said about Darrel Falk and TE, when it should have been Darrel Falk and EC, nothing more. Nevertheless, I do hope to read more about it and the distinctions you make in your online ‘course.’ The tougher sections in the course are of course still to come.

    According to R. Numbers, as suggested by Ted, but as yet without reference, “de Vries was not the first to use the term MN.” That would not surprise me. Can you ask Ron about it again? I’d be curious to hear about previous use(s). My searches have come up empty so far.

    Yes, I quoted the opening line from the paper that you referred us to here at The Hump, Ted. It was about ‘scientific naturalism,’ which of course is not the same as ‘methodological naturalism.’ But I couldn’t read enough from the article to see if you and Robin have established a clear difference between them or if your ‘science’ is as naturalistic as most PoS in USAmerica.

    The question about ‘the scientific method’ vs. ‘scientific methods’ should be easy to answer, Ted. Your article spoke in the singular. Do you not now recognize the plural of ‘scientific methods’?

    Also, I don’t see why it would be difficult or uncomfortable to answer the question: “is it not possible that eastern PoS might have advantages and more powerful insights, e.g. on the topic of naturalism?”

    The other questions I asked that you didn’t answer are understandable, given that they would require lengthy tracts to give an adequate treatment. However, these two questions require one-word answers. Likewise, I’m curious of a third question if you’ve read any works/books by Steve Fuller: yes or no? As such, I’d appreciate it as a sign of communicative respect if you would answer them here.

    Thanks,
    Gregory

    p.s. accepted correction regarding ‘retrodiction’; still waiting to hear more about your suggestion that MN is not ‘retrodicted’ to the 17th or 18th century.

  24. Ted Davis says:

    I respond to this, from James, whose comments are clearly stated (which I always appreciate).

    [The mantra of MN cannot be used to show that there is no design in nature, or even that science has no relevance to that question. Even if we take the minimalist view that ID inferences are not scientific inferences, but philosophical inferences informed by science, that still has nothing to do with miracles or supernatural causes and therefore nothing to do with “methodological naturalism.”]

    I hold what you call the “minimalist” view, namely that design inferences (which I do not hesitate to make when I find them appropriate) are not scientific, even when scientific information is used in making the inference. This is partly (please note the presence of this word), ironically, b/c I follow Boyle in holding that “Nature” is incapable of doing anything at all; there is no such being as “Nature,” with conscious purposes and awareness. There are only the properties and powers given by God to matter, and Godself. (Boyle developed this position at length in http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item1153539/?site_locale=en_GB). Since God transcends the natural, MN does indeed (for me) imply that a design inference is not scientific, but philosophical/theological. It may be very well grounded, but it is not scientific.

    Let me comment also on this:
    An approach aimed at clarity would distinguish between two questions:

    (a) whether or not a system or organism is designed;

    (b) whether the delivery system of the design (i) made use of only natural causes, or (ii) also involved supernatural input.

    During the 1990s (mainly), protracted debates took place involving Howard Van Till vs Phillip Johnson and some other ID proponents. Van Till kept asking his dialogue opponents, over and over again, to state whether the implementation of design required supernatural input in at least some instances. It is impossible for me to summarize all of that here. Van Till and some of his readers (myself included) came to the conclusion that it was not possible entirely to separate the “natural” from the “supernatural,” relative to at least some examples of design that were offered for consideration. Let me add that I do not fully embrace Van Till’s approach to God and nature (at the time), which he captured under the term, “Robust Formational Economy Principle,” but I do think he made some valid points as part of his analysis. The distinction you point out in (b) is one that occurred more readily to Van Till than to his opponents.

  25. Ted Davis says:

    This will probably be my final contribution to this thread. I will comment on James’ claim here (pretty far up above):

    [In other words, part of the resistance toward “design” comes from something beyond common descent or biological theory generally; it’s a theological repugnance against the kind of omnipotent God that most Christians have taken for granted since New Testament times. That theological repugnance needs to be made more explicit. The world needs to know whether TE/EC is recommending a major change in the Christian understanding of creation, omnipotence, omniscience, providence, governance, etc. But with one or two exceptions, getting a TE/EC proponent to speak openly and frankly about the theology of creation is like pulling teeth.]

    The final sentence here may indicate frustration with BioLogos, but also a rather limited familiarity with TE/EC literature. Speaking about theology of creation in some detail is a major component of the TE/EC position, and nearly all of the leading proponents of TE/EC give significant space to this in their writings. This is one of the sharp differences (IMO) between a TE/EC view, on the one hand, and an ID view on the other hand. Those who develop various types of TE cannot do so without cognizance of the theological problems that must be addressed, whereas those who develop types of ID can leave such problems entirely unaddressed, if they wish. Indeed, this is partly why Van Till found that protracted conversation so frustrating: the theological assumptions were implicit rather than explicit, making a full discussion of the meaning(s) of “naturalism” very difficult.

    When I refer to those who develop TE views, I mean authors such as Ian Barbour (who knows as much about theology of creation as anyone alive), Robert Russell, the late Arthur Peacocke, Christopher Southgate, John Polkinghorne, George Murphy, Denis Lamoureux, or John Haught, to name just some of the most obvious names. They are theologians, several of them also with doctorates in one of the sciences, and it is they (for the most part) who actually develop TE views. Nearly all TE books read by the general public, including (in my experience) most proponents of ID whose works I have read, are popularizations rather than rigorous theological works; many, perhaps most, are written by scientists entirely lacking of formal training in theology or biblical hermeneutics and often lacking much training in philosophy either. They may have read some more serious works with understanding; they may discuss some relevant theological topics. But, they rarely articulate highly developed theologies of creation, in such a way as to satisfy those critics who are really calling for just that.

    The authors I have named all do this, in one place or another. Some of them do indeed advocate highly non-classical views of “creation, omnipotence, omniscience, providence, governance,” I cannot generalize without doing violence to every one of them I have named. Many Christians would probably say that *every single one* of them is unorthodox, simply b/c none of them believes in the separate creation of a first human pair, regardless of what an author might hold on any of the other issues. But, anyone who has read them should know that a very wide gulf separates (say) Polkinghore from Barbour, Peacocke and Haught, when it comes to creation, omnipotence, providence, and governance (on omniscience their views are closer but not always identical). Anyone who has read them should know that Polkinghorne and Russell differ on omniscience (Russell is not an open theist, but Polkinghorne is). Etc.

    It is certainly not true that Russell, Polkinghorne, Murphy, and many others (I can hardly name them all) view the biblical picture of God with “repugnance.” Such a conclusion would be completely unwarranted. However, all of them would probably say that “the kind of omnipotent God that most Christians have taken for granted since New Testament times” should not be taken for granted. Most Christians (IMO) do not take seriously enough the problems posed by biblical text itself; they do not couple their understanding of “inerrancy,” however it is worded, with a robust understanding of accommodation–without which IMO “inerrancy” collapses into something virtually indistinguishable from the Islamic view of the Q’uran as the literal words of God, unmediated by any human vessels. Hardly any Christian authors say they believe in the “dictation” theory of inspiration, but this means only that hardly any will admit it. Getting them to spell out significant differences can be, as James puts it, like pulling teeth.

    My best to you, James.

  26. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Ted

    On your first post (hijacking James’ precedence!). I’d want to study Boyle’s position on nature as a non-agent. It seems to me to give quite a lot of leeway if, as a more modern approach to science seems to require, one moves away from a strictly “machine-like” interpretation of nature. But in Boyle’s terms as you describe them, the ability to design would seem quite beyond what “nature” could achieve, or what a mechanistic nature could be created to achieve. I doubt he would have warmed tot the idea of a machine that designed and built self-replicating machines automatically.

    My understanding is that if a design infence is non-scientific, it is because it is conceived as an activity of “Godself”. If so, the science and religion arguments about natural or supernatural instantiation are surely of only secondary importance. If nature has to hand over the design credits to God, then it’s clear he instantiated it somehow. The “how” is of both theological and scientific interest (since Boyle’s scheme straddles both areas), but a purely naturalistic explanation is out of the frame, because although a natural mechanism might (and to some extent must) explain the physical manifestation, it cannot explain the design itself.

  27. James says:

    Hi, Ted.

    Regarding your first post: I have not read much ID stuff from the very early days. My impression from snippets I’ve seen quoted is that in the early days, Johnson, Dembski and others had not yet come to the clarity that ID later came to. This is shown in their conflation of “design” and “supernatural intervention.” The question whether supernatural intervention is necessary for there to be design should be treated separately from the question whether design exists. And proving that a biological system is designed is all that is necessary to refute Dawkins etc. It is not necessary to also show that God popped down and did a miracle. Design arguments shouldn’t be confused with the assertion of particular forms of Christian theology.

  28. Gregory says:

    “I follow Boyle in holding that ‘Nature’ is incapable of doing anything at all; there is no such being as ‘Nature,’ with conscious purposes and awareness.” – Ted

    I wonder who you follow then on the topic of ‘human nature,’ Ted, if we (human beings) are “capable of doing anything at all.” Some people believe reading their Bible is sufficient to understand all the features of humanity necessary for living an abundant life, so they neglect fields such as anthropology, psychology, sociology and culturology. Others think that by studying human nature closely and directly, we can “Think God’s thoughts after Him” and discover our calling in community more clearly.

    The notion of ‘natural selection’ is oftentimes confusing because people attribute to it “purpose and awareness,” in the sense that ‘selecting’ is normally understood as a choice-based activity. But in the natural scientific meaning of ‘natural selection,’ it is not choice-based, but rather chance-based or statistics-based.

    “Since God transcends the natural, MN does indeed (for me) imply that a design inference is not scientific, but philosophical/theological. It may be very well grounded, but it is not scientific.” – Ted

    If and since Ted believes in an immortal soul, which human beings possess or live with, it should be obvious that ‘human designs’ also ‘transcend the natural.’ Here the MN-PoS position requires any other possible alternative to ‘natural’ to be ‘supernatural.’

    James is right to speak about how MN is used, which is problematic. What MN is said to be, however, is also problematic in that is proffers a definition of ‘science’ that is highly narrow, indeed, it involves ‘nature-only,’ it is ‘naturalistic.’ Reading about the so-called ‘Science Wars’ of the 1990s helps to clarify this, but it is still too recent history to expect many people to have studied them and to hold knowledge about the ‘demarcation games’ played in the name of scientism. MN plays right into the hands of scientism by ignoring ‘human reflexivity,’ hermeneutics and topics of consequence that are non-natural-but-not-supernatural.

    Can there be firmer ground than natural scientific ground when it comes to human lives? Yes, I believe there can be. If so, in such a case describing perceptions of ‘design’ as ‘not scientific’ would actually be a distinct compliment.

    You are of course under no obligation, Ted, to give one-word answers to the three simple questions above. Hearing your response would be appreciated.

    “whether the implementation of design required supernatural input in at least some instances.” – Ted

    By opening-up the discussion to involve human designers, we can speak of ‘extra-natural’ input. MN doesn’t allow this; that is partly why it is such a flimsy PoS. Then again, IDM-ID does not allow this either, because it is busy “taking human intelligence as a guide to intelligence in things we had nothing to do with creating.” The so-called ‘supernatural intelligence’ is thus conceived to be an extension of human intelligence, instead of vice versa. Some people find this approach highly problematic from a theological perspective, while others embrace it.

    “Speaking about theology of creation in some detail is a major component of the TE/EC position, and nearly all of the leading proponents of TE/EC give significant space to this in their writings.” – Ted

    Yes, Ted, I agree with this re: TE/EC theologies of creation and have read all but one of the eight names you mention. If James is not very familiar with TE/EC literature, obviously this will colour his understanding of TE/EC. On the other hand, sometimes a viewpoint can be grasped easily and quickly and reading some, but not more of it can be a sign that one doesn’t want to spend more time reading a view that they consider to be, ideologically speaking, a dead end. That is what I have come to realise about both ‘intelligent design-ism’ and TEism; limited doses please.

    The notion of ‘evolutionary creation’ makes sense as a paradox. Accepting a limited meaning of biological or natural evolution is likewise not a problem. Elevating evolution and intertwining it with one’s worldview, with one’s theology, even turning it into the ideology ‘evolutionism,’ however, can be and usually is highly problematic. Howard van Till seems to be a good example of this danger, proving the point. But perhaps, Ted, you’ll be able to tell us that van Till is still (or once again) a Christian, even if he has accepted most features of Darwinian evolution, since Darwin himself refused to speak publically about religion in his later years.

    In any case, I’m glad to see you participating here at Jon’s blog and look forward to the rest of your series at BioLogos. You can look forward to my comments and constructively-intended criticisms there when you write about TE, EC and ID. ;)

  29. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Ted

    “Many Christians would probably say that *every single one* of them is unorthodox, simply b/c none of them believes in the separate creation of a first human pair, regardless of what an author might hold on any of the other issues.”

    “But, anyone who has read them should know that a very wide gulf separates (say) Polkinghore from Barbour, Peacocke and Haught…”

    “However, all of them would probably say that “the kind of omnipotent God that most Christians have taken for granted since New Testament times” should not be taken for granted.”

    I lack full knowledge of the science and faith writers’s opinions, but there are some interesting inferences to be drawn from these quotes. I acknowledge that new theological insights can arise even after 2000 years, but it should ring warning bells when a discipline redefines the very nature of God held by most since New Testament times: that is rather close to saying it denies the apostolic doctrine taught through the Holy Spirit and held by all true Christians, or however ones particular statement of catholicity states the matter.

    When one further hears that there are wide gulfs on the matter within this discipline, the natural conclusion is that there is no good reason to take their conclusions seriously – or rather that they have reached no conclusions, but only made mutually contradictory cases.

    The only firm conclusion (maybe) is that there was no separate creation of a first human pair. From what I’ve read, it’s science that underpins that conclusion, rather than the shortcomings of traditional theology. But stripped of naturalistic metaphysical presuppositions what are the arguments?

    There seems to be an assumption that “man” in evolutionary biological terms is exactly what Hebrew adam in Genesis denotes. Yet biology uses man indiscriminately for genus Homo, for Homo sapiens, for the latter plus any hybrid species like H. neanderthalis or Denisova man. Genesis, obviously, has no idea of any of those usages: it looks at its widest at man as known in the ANE and, quite possibly, in some more restricted racial, covenantal or spiritually relational sense.

    There seems to be a blanket acceptance that mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam rule out common ancestry after that time, which is a (common) misunderstanding of the genetic implications. There is a failure to examine whether naturalistic presuppositions might colour the usual anthropological account (cf the new book by Axe and Gauger). There is a failure to engage with arguments like that of Sober that, since science cannot comment on divine action generally, it cannot possibly comment on a particular divine action like the special creation of man.

    Still less can it comment on valid interpretations of Genesis that deal with endowment of hominids with spiritual capacities, or that define man in terms of relationship with God, and so on.

    It seems to me that these objections are only overcome when one says, “Ah, but we must have a naturalistic account of man’s origins.” If that’s the case, rejection of a non-natural origin for mankind is hardly earth-shattering.

    Worst of all (IMHO) are those views that take the A&E account as describing something real, but totally implausible for an ANE writer, such as describing the evolutionary origin of universal sin, or being an Everyman allegory millennia before such a genere existed.

  30. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    An interesting 2002 response of Bill Dembski to Howard van Till is here: http://www.theism.net/article/32

    It seems to address van Till’s objections about supernaturalism by a critique of naturalism itself, as assumed by van Till.

  31. Gregory says:

    “There is a failure to examine whether naturalistic presuppositions might colour the usual anthropological account.” – Jon

    Yes, that’s a danger in evolutionary biology, although the Catholic Church has avoided falling into evolutionism by protecting and asserting the direct creation of human spirit. So, even if much could have evolved through (normal) natural processes (as evolutionary creation says), not the direct creation of the human spirit, which J. Moritz confirms in the recent BioLogos thread. He danced a bit to my question, but answered directly enough that creation (divine election) of the human spirit is an example where ‘evolution’ is not the correct term.

  32. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    I didn’t read Moritz’s reply to you quite so generously as you, Gregory. Firstly, are you sure he equated his “divine election”, which he had set out in purely relational (or maybe even political) terms, with “creation”? Secondly, did he even mention “human spirit” expressly in connection with with that electiom, or indeed at all?

    Your question was put rather obliquely, and Morits’z answer seemed to be equally oblique. Given his parallel of human election with the election of Israel, the Church etc, ie in terms of verbal revelation, I couldn’t see any clear evidence that he envisages any human ontological principle other than naturalistic evolution.

Comments are closed.