The impossibility of ontological chance

I want, again, to critique the notion that “God uses chance” in evolution, off the back of my last piece, whose main burden was that admitting such chance into the picture utterly destroys the already dubious ability of the laws of nature to achieve divine aims, such as the evolution of mankind. Now I want to consider “randomness” from the viewpoint of divine being. Consider, for a moment, what it means for us to exist, given the truth of Christianity – as far as we can consider what is a rather deeper matter than we are used to assuming it to be.

One of the disagreements I’ve had with BioLogos in the past has been their apparent limitation of the divine role in nature to that of sustaining it and its laws in existence (here  and here), but despite my problems with that “mere conservation” position, it is quite sufficient for my purpose here. We can agree with nearly all Christians, then, that we exist moment by moment only because God sustains us in being by his power. If God, per impossibile, should cease to exist, his whole creation likewise would disappear. Presumably he could also, by choice, if not in accordance with his faithfulness, voluntarily cease to sustain our existence, and we would no longer be.

Now, there is a human analogy to this, I think, and that is the concept of an idea. Not, I should add, the concept of an idea as a preparation for putting it into some kind of practice in the external world, but the idea itself, as a real “thing,” in our minds. The idea could be an invention, such as a poem or a better mousetrap; or it could be the realisation of some truth, such as how relativity makes sense; or it could be something like the intention to mow the grass if it stops raining.

In every case, the idea is a real idea, even if it corresponds to nothing in the external world. If I cease to exist, then that idea also ceases to exist. Likewise if I forget it permanently, just as in the case of something that God has created by his will and power.

But wait a moment, someone will say, that analogy won’t fly, because physical reality is more than simply being an idea in the mind of God. Well, there are clearly both qualitative and quantitative differences. You and I can’t think up truly free beings, or a whole universe of interacting entities. But otherwise, the comparison isn’t as far-fetched as one might think. God conceives our existence, and brings it to pass by his word of power – yet it remains dependant on him each moment (on Christ, actually, for Christ “upholds all things by the word of his power” -Heb 1:3).

Also, we are told that “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (1 Cor 17:28). To us, physical reality is easily conceived as external to ourselves, to be distinguished from the inner world of ideas (at least according to current metaphysics: pre-modern thinking saw our minds as truly extending out into the world, an idea that has returned, uneasily, with quantum physics). But any talk of “outside” and “inside” God is problematic, since he has no body or brain and is omnipresent. So what difference does it make for reality to be “within” or “outside” God’s mind, if our “reality” is in any case dependant on his keeping our existence in mind?

Where I’m getting to is that the definition of “reality” must be something that is maintained in true existence (whatever that is!) by the mind and will of God.

Classical theists might even say that whatever is in the mind of God constitutes such reality, for being “simple” in his nature he does not deliberate within himself what to create, but from his perfect knowledge of himself as Creator conceives only what is true, and hence real. As the Presbyterian Robert Shaw, commenting on the Westminster Confession, puts it:

It may be remarked, that God knows things, not by reasoning or deduction, nor by succession of ideas, but by a single intuitive glance; and he knows them comprehensively and infallibly.

This understanding has the rather comforting consequence that our existence is an idea in the mind of God which is as unchanging as he is, unlike our own ideas that come and go like the wind. It corresponds, too, to the biblical concept of the “word of power” of God, or dabar, which when spoken (for example by a true prophet) actually brings into existence what it deals with. And it also goes with the Thomistic concept of God as “pure act”: God is not potentially anything, but he is just what he is. And likewise his thoughts, and hence his creation, are just what he does.

The Molinist, of course, like the Open Theist, would disagree with this formulation, for his God does deliberate on the “middle knowledge” of infinite possibilities from which he makes one actualisation. More on Molinism and chance here, but we don’t need to exclude it in this discussion, because all that matters to my central argument is the universe that God actually created (ie, that which is in his mind and labelled “reality”, which he sustains in existence.)

Now here’s the thing: ontological randomness has to do, definitionally, with possibilities that God does not determine, but leaves open to… chance. They are not realities, but only potentialities, and therefore cannot logically exist as “real” ideas in the mind of God. And therefore they cannot be sustained in existence by him. And therefore they cannot exist in the first place.

To understand this better, return to our analogy of human ideas. You might have an idea that unicorns exist. Or you might have an idea that they don’t. You could even, not being God, be agnostic about whether they do or not, pending further evidence from the world outside, and have a corresponding idea that they may or may not exist. But remember, it’s the reality of the idea, as an idea, that concerns us here, and not what happens in the outside world. And you simply can’t, logically, have an idea that runs: “Maybe I have an idea that unicorns exist, or maybe I don’t. It’s undetermined.” You either have a real idea of some such proposition, or you don’t have an idea: you can’t have a provisional idea (and still less put such a non-idea into practice).

So if reality is, or follows from, a set of ideas in the mind of God, they cannot be non-ideas without also being non-reality. It’s not a question of God’s having not yet made up his mind, either, because ontological randomness is about God’s not (ever) determining the event, but its coming about causelessly. Which would seem to mean something like the idea popping into God’s mind as an unbidden intuition, which, according to classical theism, is the way all his ideas come to him – except that in such cases of “chance” the idea had its origin somewhere outside God, rather than in his simple, infinite, being.

In other words, ontological randomness would consist of irrational chance forming God’s mind on something and thereby lurching itself into physical reality. Does anybody really want to go there? You know where even humans who get irrational voices in their heads end up.

I’ve just seen a quote by C S Lewis that applies here:

It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God. (The Problem of Pain)

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, Philosophy, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to The impossibility of ontological chance

  1. GD GD says:

    Jon,

    The notion of ideas and knowledge of God has been discussed, and will be discussed for longer that I care to imagine. For what its worth, I am incline to begin by differentiating knowledge as human (and not divine), and thus our own conceptualisation of what is real and not-real. It is within this context that we may contemplate things as correct (ideas?) and incorrect, which causes us to believe and doubt, and from this we are confronted with possibilities and chance. So broadly speaking I would agree with your comment(s) on human ideas etc.

    Theologically I am becoming increasingly interested in the simplicity of God and the eternal existence as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This suggests to me that we cannot consider things as within, and outside, God (while privation is part of our theology). We end up with silence within prayer, as our “knowledge” in that context.

    I am intrigued by the notion that God sustains His creation through His energies as conceptually the realisation of the power of His Word – there is some debate on this, as God is simple and we cannot consider anything else as parts (energies may be seen as distinctive). However the phenomenological view is that all is active, in a dynamic state, and the creation shows us as a realisation of divine power and energy).

    A large area for discussion, but one I feel we may need to consider if we are ever to remove ourselves from “evolution is chance and random vs God can handle such chance and randomness, because, so there” (haha).

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi GD

      Agreement , as usual, on your additions. One of the things influencing this post below the surface was some new reading on the slippery nature of “reality” even considered scientifically at the quantum level. Wherever you look, the distinctions between mind and matter, between “reality out there” and “experience in here” look fuzzier the closer you look.

      Add to that the fact of God’s eternal creative mind and word (speaking anologically in the context of divine simplicity), and one has to conclude that we can never do much more to understand “reality” than move the pieces around in our limited sphere of human experience in order to best “save the appearances.”

      Yet such considerations, it seems to me, do make the whole concept of natural law, and creating thereby, an unfruitful mixing of metaphor and reality. Doubly so with “chance”, which isn’t even a proper metaphor.

  2. Mark Mark says:

    I have a caution on this one. Have you heard of Dr. Peter Jones of the TruthXChange? He has talked about how all religions are either “oneism” and “twoism” and how Christianity is “twoist”.

    http://www.logosapologia.org/only-two-religions-oneism-or-twoism-where-do-you-stand/

    It seems to me your idea puts us back into a subset of “oneism” and raises certain problems with “God being the author of sin” rather than the author of choice and what we do with it is sin.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      It may be a danger, but not an entailment: what I’m suggesting is that the distinctions are more subtle the more one thinks through the detail.

      The opposite end of the scale is that propounded by Moltmann, and all too common in some of the kenoticist TE literature, that God can only create by vacating some area of existence he formerly occupied, hence becoming less – all very self-giving love, but neither suggested in Scripture nor, it seems to me, recognising the difference between space-time existence and God’s being.

      • Mark Mark says:

        I think the gospel, and theology properly done should always start there, is the story of God entering His creation in a way he had not before.

        So I don’t look at theology in opposition to evolution, I look at it in harmony with the gospel. This creation has a longing to unity with the Creator, but for now it is subjected to futility according to Romans. Christ performed the Magnificent Act which allows transfer out of futility.

        I only oppose naturalistic evolution where the text does, and so far that seems to be more than the TEs would like and much less than many Special Creationists would like.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Mark

          Sounds about right to me.

          Of course, one needs to have some idea of what shape that “longing” takes, beyond the rational longing of sinful mankind. I don’t think any of us here are into panpsychism, and yet I suspect some of us are a lot more comfortable with the older idea of the universe as a “being” than the materialist idea of it as a mere collection of inert parts.

          Animals, at least, interact meaningfully with people, so how much more with their maker (that’s one reason I don’t go with the “laws of nature left to do their thing” picture of the world). Aquinas attributes each the ends to which they strive – and the greatest good of all creatures must be God.

          And in that sense, I think the cornerstone of my understanding of the Bible’s overall story is about the drama of God’s new entering of the creation, in Genesis 2, being (apparently, and temporarily) stymied by sin. The delay in the whole creation being filled with the glory of God is as potent a cause for any frustration/vanity/futility of which it is capable.

          In fact, between the ideas of a “longing universe” and “an evolving universe” I prefer the former any day, even if evolution is an integral part of the old creation.

          • Mark Mark says:

            Jon,

            I am glad you see it that way. It is a mystical viewpoint but scripture repeatedly describes creation itself as having preferences and a voice. It may or may not be a “being” as we would think of one, but my GPS isn’t a being either and it talks me through stuff on a regular basis. Who is to say that creation can’t do the same, for someone with the right access? The plainest way to look at Genesis One under the “Tablet Theory” is that it is the account of creation itself. Perhaps with heaven and earth having different lines or voices in the account.

            • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

              I admit I’m influenced by the Gen 1 concept of creation as a temple.

              That could mean the world being “re-purposed” with the advent of man, and rational worship.

              But overall it makes more sense to think of creation, even in those distant hundred of millions of years, as worshipping God even in its natural functioning… beyond that, perhaps we’ll only know when it’s not groaning in anticipation but spiritually-empowerd and imperishable.

  3. swamidass says:

    Isn’t this all resolved fairly easily? We can just affirm that God providentially governs all things, including things that appear to us as chance. That means that we also believe that God can use things that appear like chance to us to accomplish his purposes. Evolution does not require or assert ontological randomness, just that from certain viewpoints mutations appear random (with respect to function) to human observers. If God providentially governs the casting of lots, He also governs mutations in DNA. Of course, we do not know how He governs these mutations any more than we know how he governs lots.

    • GD GD says:

      The fundamental difference is that evolution as proposed insists that chance and variations are such that the outcomes are unpredictable – as a scientific fact. If this is proposed, than no-one can govern such a process. Adding some vague suggestion that God still can govern such things in an unknowable manner simply makes it all rather odd.

      • swamidass says:

        Those that claim that science presumes ontological chance have no idea how science works and/or have no idea what ontological chance is. GD, your claim about what ‘evolution’ insists, is incorrect with out the critical qualifier, “from a human point of view.” Everything in science is “from a human point of view” and does not consider God. That is why evolution does not make any claims about ontological chance.

        The problem is not evolution, but ignorant people claiming absurd things in theology and philosophy. I insist that our response not be claiming absurd things in science. Such retaliation is the standard response, and further digs the pit for us all.

        It is totally absurd to me that we have all been arguing about this for 4 decades (or more?) at this point. It a non-existent conflict.

        • GD GD says:

          I do not have a problem with any version of evolution as the current paradigm of biology Joshua; and yes, any theory of science is a human construct, and we are prone to error, and that is where these type of discussions should end. I am happy to acknowledge limitations and assumptions in chemistry, and I also insist that evolution does not have relevance other areas, as for example, to quantum molecular modelling that we chemists pursue. This understanding is surely self-evident.

          I am less inclined to simply say others are ignorant of the philosophical and theological dimensions of this discussion. I think many are fully aware of these and yet continue to pursue error that spills over into the teachings of the Christian faith. On this, I reject error and I stick to orthodox doctrine.

          • swamidass says:

            In that you are probably correct. Some are fully aware of these distinctions, and are not honest about what science does and does not say.

      • Richard Wright says:

        Hello GD,

        For one, there is much more to evolution than chance mutations and natural selection, as has been noted in several columns in BL over the past couple of years.

        Two, saying that mutations arrive from, “chance” is a philosophical position, and one that most TEs, “on the street” would not agree with, at least not in the sense of, “ontological randomness”.

        Finally, Jon said in his last article that God’s guiding of evolution is logically undetectable. So, in fact, God can, “govern such things in an unknowable manner”. Our stances on how exactly God does that, and Jon did list some great options, come from mostly theological considerations, and therefore, in my mind anyway, debatable.

        • GD GD says:

          Hi Richard,

          I have acknowledged that evolution deals with perhaps the most complex areas of the natural sciences, and I have tried to stay away from debates that are properly the concern of biologists. Having said that, the complexity and debateable things, in my outlook, should not spill over and redefine or restate Christian doctrine.

          I understand that others, such as for example, Joshua and Jon, are keen to find some middle ground within a culture war amongst evangelicals and various denominations. I cannot say that I fully understand this war, and so I try to emphasise the firm grounding in orthodox Christian doctrine, and encourage others to leave the debates on evolution to biologists..

          So yes, there is much to discuss and debate to evolution, but I think there is little theological significance to it (though EC/ID/YEC/TE/OEC may disagree).

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Richard

          I’m glad the re-registration process got sorted – welcome back.

          I’m not sure where I said that “guiding of evolution is logically undetectable” – what I have said in the past, and believe, is that design is formally indistinguishable from chance, meaning ontological chance, if one believes that both are capable of producing organised effects.

          Hence the Resurrection could be interpreted as a one-off chance event – after all, the appearance of life, once in history, is often interpreted that way. The question is whether, outside the limits of science, such atribution to chance is a more satisfying explanation than that God raised Jesus by design.

          That means that, when one cannot find a specific scientific cause for a contingent phenomenon, one ought to stop doing science equally in the form of attributing it to chance as to design, unless one is happy to admit philosophical extensions to science, in which case either is as valid a claim, and the verdict is to be made on non-scientific human judgement.

          In practice, there is only a sociological demarcation between philosophy and science (which is only natural philosophy rebranded, after all). Joshua says below, correctly, that science is a human activity – and if true, that alerts us to the artificiality of such barriers (historically very contingent, as Eddie rightly replies), but also to the fact that this truth means that elevating its findings to that of objective truth loses sight of its humanness. Science is either a view from nowhere, bypassing human limitations, or it shares all the human provisionality of other knowledge, such as revealed theology.

          But if it is human, then foundational matters of ontology – the abilities of chance v the appearance of design – will always in practice inform its conclusions.

          Or to put it another way – it’s not that science cannot reveal divine purpose and design – it reveals a choice between divine purpose and chance, which must be made on other grounds or overtly avoided as agnosticism. Science cannot demonstrate chance as a cause if it cannot demonstrate design – and only ontological chance, not mere epistemological chance, could conceivably be a real cause at all, in the absence (as I’ve argued here) of God. And remember, since both ontological randomness and divine choice cannot be causes within nature, then we can know that anything we don’t, ultimately, attribute to laws known or unknown to us must have its cause beyond nature: either explanation is “supernatural”.

          • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

            Richard

            I realise that since this post is on ontological randomness I didn’t address the position you posited at BioLogos, which doesn’t include ontological chance, but does hold that evolution, including the planned origin of humanity, is entirely explicable in terms of laws of nature.

            If that view is true, of course it simply pushes the metaphysical choice between two “supernatural” causes back a stage or two: either laws arising from ontological chance can organise what we see, or the laws were necessarily designed to produce such outcomes.

            Though science cannot decide the matter (both causes being from outside nature) there is strong evidence that one must be true, and the arguments for the organising power of sheer chance is both logically and empirically weak.

            I would simply add that there is overwhelming evidence in nature for one of those two views, thus demanding we make a choice between them – whereas the evidence that laws of nature alone are sufficient is, at best, full of epistemological holes – as evidenced by your hesitation in attributing human consciousness to them.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Joshua

      GD is right – the whole atheist objection to divine guidance is that things show signs of being accidental, and a good number of TEs have gone the same way, basing their theodicy on God’s non-guidance of nasty creatures or faulty designs, and their theology on a concept of creaturely freedom, spontaneity etc.

      But if we once realise that “chance” must be defined in relation to who is ignorant, then consider three cases of mutation (as a simple example standing for the whole order of nature).

      (1) People don’t know whether the mutation will be beneficial or not. So what? All we have said is that we don’t know, yet or even perhaps in principle, how things work in detail. We must then say, “We (as scientists) do not know what governs mutations,” rather than “They are random.”

      (2) Organisms/molecules don’t “know” whether the mutation will be beneficial or not. (a) No surprise there, in the absence of their having volitional will, (b) How do we know it’s so, when we’ve already admitted our ignorance of causation in (1) – perhaps James Shapiro is right and they are having a decent go to improve their lot, just as the carnivore may aim at a meal, yet with uncertainty of success. (c) All we have shown is that there are causes beyond the organism, or nature, itself, which was the whole argument of design in its broadest sense.

      (3) God doesn’t know whether the mutation will be beneficial or not. This is my “ontological chance,” and it seems as if some are saying that God is so clever that he uses his ignorance to govern creation – and that is as incoherent for God as for an organism, a molecule or a man.

      (4) God knows, and disposes, mutations to be what they are providentially, or perhaps as part of a more supernatural act of creation – the precise boundary between special providence and supernatural act is, in the end, another area of ignorance for us. In this case, we can confidently say that as scientists, we cannot discern the causes of mutations, but that as Christians, we are utterly confident that God’s providence governs it all, rather than chance. Now that is a very simple thing to affirm, and to write into (say) a BioLogos FAQ… adding a suitable proof text about God as the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth.

      Where does that leave “evidence of design” in this simple case of mutations? I would argue that all sides agree that the outcomes (ie the biosphere) are highly functional, or beautiful, or wonderful or whatever. We have a straight choice, then, between recognising that organisation as due to (a) Epicurean (ontological) chance or (b) divine providence (or, minimally, intelligent design), acting at the level either of general or special providence.

      That choice is not scientific, but a matter of metaphysics – can randomness ever produce order without guidance? If you say not, then you believe in design through observation of outcomes, and in intelligent design by excluding Epicureanism on rational philosophical grounds.

      This, as you rightly say, resolves things very easily. Granted, it falls short of explaining special providence (cue for articles on concurrence, occasionalism et al), but it clearly affirms it, places ones evolutionary creation right in the histporical theological mainstream, and heals the breach with ID. It’s what I advocated even before I came to BioLogos in 2010!

  4. swamidass says:

    This has been my position from the beginning. I can confidently, and sadly, report that this does not heal the breach with ID at all. Because we are making this move outside of science (and therefore outside of science classrooms), there is no agreement here. I think the argument for “design” you present here is a type of science-engaged theology or science-engaged philosophy, and I affirm it. It is, frankly, stunning that all this arose by chance, so maybe that chance was not ontological chance. That is a reasonable question, and design is a reasonable conclusion. However, that conclusion is outside science, even though we agree it is correct. The fact that it is irrecoverably outside of science is where the divide with ID is right now.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Joshua:

      Whether or not design detection is outside of science depends completely on how science is defined. Historians of science (and that was part of my scholarly training) know that what counts as “science” is a social construct (here the field called “sociology of knowledge” is relevant) — Greek science is not medieval science is not Renaissance science is not Victorian science etc. For that matter, some scientists in areas of current theoretical physics and cosmology affirm things (multiverses, strings) that cannot be tested empirically today and in some cases probably never will be empirically testable (so much for the vaunted empiricism of modern vs. Greek science!); they ask the world to accept these notions on the basis of “mathematical elegance” or “inner coherence” or the like, even though they cannot be substantiated by the humble methods of the laboratory scientist.

      Of course, most modern biologists have a very definite and narrow conception of what counts as science, one which rules out design inferences as a matter of principle. Darwin himself didn’t do that, but considered design as a hypothesis which was conceivably correct, and then spent a whole book (the *Origin*) trying to show that it wasn’t — for empirical reasons, not because of any methodological rule which banned design arguments.

      There are some good essays on methodological naturalism in the new Crossway book. I don’t endorse all the essays on the Bible and theology in the Crossway book, as I don’t (with some of those authors) read Genesis in a literal-historical frame of mind, but several of the essays in the philosophical section are of value. The two essays on methodological naturalism are more sophisticated (from the point of view of philosophy of science and history of science) than anything on that subject written by Venema, Applegate, Falk, Giberson, Collins, etc. But that’s not surprising, as the three authors of those two essays have doctoral training from Cambridge, Chicago, etc. in the history/philosophy of science. They have read more, and better, academic sources than Applegate, Falk, etc. have read on the nature of scientific inquiry and its epistemological foundations.

      Of course, it is legitimate make *empirical* objections to ID arguments, and I have never objected to criticisms of ID of that kind. Those criticisms should be handled on a case-by-case basis, and let the chips fall where they may. The objections to ID that I reject are those which would rule out the possibility of design inferences by appeal to a methodological rule — a rule pushed by Descartes and Bacon, canonized by Kant, and part of the catechism of modern biologists, but which Aristotle, Aquinas, Newton, Boyle, and several modern philosophers of science did not or do not recognize as an unchallengeable rule.

      Of course, part of the problem is that many prominent EC leaders, both in the ASA and at BioLogos, keep confusing inferences to design with claims to be able to identity particular moments in time when God performs a miracle — which is not what ID purports to do. This error obscures the general question raised by ID regarding the epistemology of science. The general question is whether it is at least possible, in principle, that scientific methods could allow for inferences of design.

      Obviously if a scientist plants his feet and says that science cannot allow design inferences ever, under any circumstances, then all discussion is at an end. At that point the scientist who admits teleological thinking into science simply has to shrug and go on doing what he is doing, regardless of official disapproval. There is no reason why we should tailor our accounts of nature to satisfy a method, rather than craft our methods to do justice to what we find in nature.

      There is no better illustration of this than the case of Galileo. I taught Galileo’s work on the world-systems for a couple of years, and I, and all the students, witnessed with our own eyes how he laid down the a priori dictum that the notion of “force acting at a distance” was not part of legitimate science, but was occult quackery that must be kept out of science. All motion, thought Galileo, had to be communicated by touch. (On that point Galileo followed Aristotle.) We now say that Galileo was wrong and that his ban of “action at a distance” from the realm of science was stultifying to scientific research. We say that Galileo should have expanded his notion of “nature” to include action at a distance, rather than dictating what nature could not do based on his particular notion of what counted as “science.”

      It doesn’t seem to occur to the more doctrinaire modern biologists that they are doing exactly what Galileo did, when they rule that design can’t possibly be discovered by any scientific investigation, on the basis of their own conception of the limits of “science.”

      It is one thing to say: “That particular argument for biological design is unconvincing”; it is another to say: “No possible argument for biological design could be convincing, because biology cannot allow design as part of its conceptual framework.” The latter tilts the playing field toward a certain limited type of explanation, at the possible cost of misleading us about how nature works. And nowhere is this possible cost more apparent than in our reflections on origins.

  5. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    Jon, I like this:

    “The opposite end of the scale is that propounded by Moltmann, and all too common in some of the kenoticist TE literature, that God can only create by vacating some area of existence he formerly occupied, hence becoming less – all very self-giving love, but neither suggested in Scripture nor, it seems to me, recognising the difference between space-time existence and God’s being.”

    Your points linked by “neither” and “nor” are both good ones.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Fortunately, Eddie, we are frequently assured now that no true Scotsman would believe this, so all the reading in TE literature from which I learned it must have been some delusional effect of the Devon water.

      Either that, or it’s possible for God to determine everything by laws of nature, or by manipulating chance, and still allow nature freedom to create itself in ways not determined by him. A mystery indeed.

  6. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    I enjoyed your example of Galileo and his views about science being restricted to events involving one thing touching another.

    I think Joshua and I would find your stance on I.D. much easier to grasp if there was a very concrete you could offer that demonstrates a natural event that *does* leave evidence of God’s involvement? I ask for an “event” rather than a “design”… because I’m not convinced the usual discussions of “design is evident” have much traction. If they did, I wouldn’t still be wondering.

    What do you think is the perfect exemplar of what you think I.D. is discussing?

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Glad you liked my Galileo example, George. It’s one I’ve raised many times on BioLogos. Never have Falk, Giberson, Applegate, Haarsma, Venema, etc. responded to it.

      I can’t give an answer of the type you want, George, because for me ID isn’t about proving that particular events were caused by the direct action of God; it’s about showing that a pattern of many events wouldn’t occur without design. (It’s important to say “design” and not “God” because ID’s tools are inadequate to detect God; they can detect only design.)

      We know that the pattern of events connected with the Great Pyramid (the assembling of great stones from many miles away) wouldn’t have occurred without design. ID claims to show that the pattern of events connected with the rise of the first cell, or the Cambrian explosion, etc., wouldn’t have occurred without design. And just as I don’t have to specify exactly which slave dragged which stone to the current site of the Pyramid to be sure that the Pyramid was the product of design rather than chance (earthquakes, sandstorms, freak heat waves, etc.), so the ID folks shouldn’t have to specify which mutations or environmental factors were directly manipulated by God in order to show that unplanned or unguided chance wouldn’t produce a living cell or the pattern of living creatures that we observe.

      Do you think that chance jumblings of hydrogen, ammonia, methane, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc. in the early earth oceans could have produced the first cell *by accident*? Even if we suppose a series of intermediate stages (nucleotides and amino acids formed by accident, followed by RNA formed by accident, followed by cell wall ingredients formed by accident, etc.)? If not, then your instincts are ID instincts. On the other hand, if you find it perfectly plausible and likely that this is how life began, then you will feel no attraction to ID and will find BioLogos-EC perfectly amenable to your intellectual leanings.

  7. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    Thank you for the clear explanation of your thoughts on I.D. and evidence. You write:
    “I can’t give an answer of the type you want, George, because for me ID isn’t about proving that particular events were caused by the direct action of God; it’s about showing that a pattern of many events wouldn’t occur without design. (It’s important to say “design” and not “God” because ID’s tools are inadequate to detect God; they can detect only design.)”

    I think most of us that reject I.D. theorizing do so just because of the limits you describe. The anti-I.D. factions say exactly the same thing you say – – with one difference: the pattern of apparent design is not a scientifically measurable factor, and thus does not affect scientific methodology.

    I’ll let you and Patrick (the notorious Athiest Errant) “have at it” on this point. You will say it is sufficient to prove something, and he will say it isn’t sufficient to prove anything. In the meantime, the Christian supporter for Evolutionary theory will continue, on faith alone, to see God’s hand in all creation, without needing to turn to Science as part of the justification.

    At last, has Lord Chamberlain’s prediction finally come true: “… World Peace in our time!”

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      George:

      Your rejection of “I.D. theorizing” would be more credible if you had actually read any of the substantial ID writings, as opposed to hostile summaries of ID on Wikipedia, BioLogos, and elsewhere.

      By the way, it is not “on faith alone” that we see God’s hand in all creation: Psalm 19, Romans 1, and many other places.

      I note that you did not answer my question about the origin of life. Do you believe that life arose by accident? This is, after all, a discussion about “chance” that Jon is presiding over.

  8. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    My apologies for forgetting about the “origin of life” comment (as distinct from the evolution of life once it has appeared). This is the one thing I think works out well for BioLogos when they spend more time speaking to God’s involvement. There is certainly far more speculation on the appearance of life, compared to the Evolution of life. I don’t know too many BioLogos supporters who know what to do with the Origin of Life other than to recline in the certitude that God did it. I certainly can’t do anything better than that.

    As for your implication that I don’t know enough about I.D. to have an opinion on it, I beg to differ. I’m sure I don’t know as much as you know on the subject. But the problems I have with I.D. is not in the tiny details… it is with the big sweep of things. Your description is a good example. You come right out and say that you have no examples based on natural events or processes…. and that you refer to the fact that life seems so incontestably designed.

    One or two books should be more than enough to let me know that this is not enough for me to care what the I.D. folks are doing … until such time as they can come up with something more than “there must be a designer for all this design”! Yes. There must be. And BioLogos acknowledges this. But the usual I.D. proponent tries to use I.D. as a way of foiling evolutionary science. This triggers in me a “guffaw”. How can the conclusion that there must be a designer foil the idea of evolution?… especially if the designer uses evolution?

    I personally reject the I.D. camp because of the shenanigans involved in trying to deconstruct Evolution “because of a designer”. This only works if I was an atheist. I am not. And the Atheists that still try to strike up conversations at BioLogos are quickly reminded (usually by me) that they have come to a Theist site to discuss Evolution… not to discuss replacing Theism with “just evolution”.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      George:

      You originally asked me for specific *events* that can be attributed directly to God. I explained that ID doesn’t traffic in such explanations. But it does offer many examples of things that wouldn’t exist without design.

      If you want examples of things that wouldn’t happen without design, read Denton’s *Nature’s Destiny*. There are scores of examples throughout the book, from the fine-tuning of the elements, through the properties of water, through the various systems in living things, up to the brains and abilities of man. And all in an evolutionary context! But the folks at BioLogos, despite Denton’s affirmation of evolution, still snort at his name — and refuse to read him.

      On your other point, about opposing ID to evolution, I’ve said many times that the two aren’t opposed, and you can even find statements on the Discovery site that ID isn’t in principle opposed to common descent. But I grant there are ID proponents who are anti-evolution. But so what? There are Republicans who are racists, but it doesn’t follow that all Republicans are racists; there are Democrats who are atheists, but it doesn’t follow that all Democrats are atheists. If you want to know what the Republican Party or Democratic Party stands for, the notions of racism and atheism won’t get you very far. Similarly, if you want to know what ID stands for, knowing what creationists stand for won’t get you very far. You have to know the particular things that distinguish ID, and they have to do with design detection, not creationism or anti-evolution.

      You still haven’t directly answered my question about the first life. I didn’t ask for BioLogos’s opinion, but your opinion. Did it arise by accident, in your view? Or by design?

  9. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    You write: “On your other point, about opposing ID to evolution, I’ve said many times that the two aren’t opposed, and you can even find statements on the Discovery site that ID isn’t in principle opposed to common descent. ”

    And I believe I have said that am, technically speaking, an I.D. proponent. So I have no problem with your general statement.

    Unfortunately, it is after this general statement that your rhetoric starts to interfere with your specific confession of beliefs. You defend I.D. proponents who clearly use I.D. to veil their opposition to Evoluton. There is one female professor that you and I have discussed… she is not a Protestant (I believe)… and she is aggressively pro-I.D. … and yet it is like pulling teeth to get her to admit that speciation is a significant part of the emergence of humanity. And she’s one of the few I.D. folks the BioLogos audience appears to enjoy reading (relatively speaking).

    The main-stream I.D. proponents are not so popular for the very reason that behind the I.D. front, they are rigidly opposed to speciation as an important part of the rise of humans from the Primate branch of the animal kingdom.

    Solve **that** problem, Eddie – – and then, at last, there will be World Peace in our time!

  10. Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

    George, some points:

    “I have said that am, technically speaking, an I.D. proponent.”

    Since the “I.D.” we are discussing is not some general notion of design in nature, but a specific modern enterprise, i.e., of detecting design in nature, then you are only an ID proponent if you hold that it is possible (at least in principle, even if it hasn’t been done in practice) to demonstrate design in nature, without any reference to revealed religion or without possessing any religious faith at all. I don’t think this is your position. From everything you have said, I infer that you think design in nature can only be perceived through the eyes of faith, and that a demonstration of design will never and can never be made. If that’s you’re view, you are not an ID proponent in the accepted current sense of the term.

    Ann Gauger is a Catholic, as she has said explicitly on BioLogos. She has explicitly endorsed an old earth, as envisioned by the majority of modern scientists. She has not denied that “speciation” can occur, or has occurred, but speciation is small potatoes; what you are looking for from her is a confession of evolutionary orthodoxy, a statement that she adheres to “molecules to man” (or at least “bacteria to man”), and you’re frustrated that you’re not getting it.

    In fact, until a few years ago, she solidly supported “bacterium to man”, and what changed her mind was not any religious teaching (since the Catholic Church allows macroevolution as a permitted view), but scientific evidence which poses problems for universal common descent. And even then, she did not say on BioLogos that common descent was false; she said she was uncertain about it. She’s simply stating her honest opinion as a trained biologist (and she’s equally as well-trained as Venema, Falk, or Applegate, and with more publications than any of them).

    Does she not have the right to express doubt about the truth of the majority view? Or is that heresy, in your books, which should ban her from the Temple of Science? The way Judith Curry should (in BioLogos’s view, it seems) be banned from the Temple of Science for differing with the majority on AGW? Is that what Science with a capital S has become — the enforcement of the prevailing majority view as sacrosanct orthodoxy? If that’s the case, then science is a dead enterprise, not an intellectually vibrant endeavor in which major surprises could be just around the corner.

    I find Ann Gauger’s non-dogmatic approach to questions about evolution (both about mechanisms and about universal common descent) refreshing, in comparison with the toe-the-line, don’t-rock-the-boat conception of “consensus science” fanatically defended by leaders of BioLogos such as Giberson.

    I don’t know all the reasons which cause Ann Gauger to doubt common descent, and so I don’t say she’s right (or wrong). I continue to endorse common descent as the most reasonable hypothesis at the moment, but I totally support her right to dissent from it if she has genuine empirical reasons for doubting it. That makes me different from the dogmatists at BioLogos, who think the case is closed and that any scientist who doesn’t go along with the majority (on common descent, anthropocentric global warming, or anything else that BioLogos types support) should be professionally punished.

    Being a skeptic in the healthy sense of the word, my natural intellectual stance toward “received truths” (whether in science, theology, politics, or anything else) is dialogical rather than doctrinaire, whereas in many areas of science the prevailing tendency is for the doctrinaire approach to squash the dialogical one. It is to Ann’s credit that she stood up firmly (but politely) as a model of the dialogical approach, on a site where so many are committed to the doctrinaire one. Even many BioLogos folks sensed something noble about her, as their personal comments showed. Only a few people behaved toward her as Inquisitors. So she improved the level of discussion on BioLogos just by being there. A difficult achievement for anyone from the ID camp, given the reflexive hostility to ID proponents there! My hat’s off to her.

  11. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    You just can’t help yourself, can you? You write: “Since the “I.D.” we are discussing is not some general notion of design in nature, but a specific modern enterprise, i.e., of detecting design in nature, then you are only an ID proponent if you hold that it is possible (at least in principle, even if it hasn’t been done in practice) to demonstrate design in nature, without any reference to revealed religion or without possessing any religious faith at all.”

    And hence you preserve the boundary over which you pitch bloody rhetorical warfare. If the boundary were to be less vivid … it would make it more difficult for you to argue.every.single.point.ID.folks.want.to.argue.about. Very convenient.

    I will now use i.d. in the lowercase sense. I accept that God is the designer. And he designed humanity. And that’s all I need to do to void your attempt to characterize me as opposing God as designer.

    I will entertain a different phrase instead of i.d. However, I think lowercase “i.d.” will suite me for now.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      George:

      I never said that you opposed God as a designer. I said that you did not seem to be an ID proponent as that term is used in these discussions. I was merely trying make sure I had your position down right. Now you have clarified matters. You accept intelligent design but not Intelligent Design — which is what I thought.

      To bring back the conversation to Jon’s topic (which was not ID, Ann Gauger, etc., so let’s drop that discussion), I’m still waiting for your personal view on the origin of life. Do you think that “ontological chance” (what I called “accident”) could have produced the first life? Venema and many other BioLogos types seem to think that it could have. And that was what I was taught in every popular presentation of origins I read in popular science books in the 1960s and 1970s. But of course, those books were written almost exclusively by atheists and near-atheists; what is new in modern EC is that this view is now being held by some Christians. So we have the traditional Christian view that chance couldn’t have done it, the atheist view that chance could have done it, and the up-to-date BioLogos Christian view that chance could have done it. Perhaps you could supply us with the Unitarian view, or at least, with your own view.

  12. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    You write: “To bring back the conversation to Jon’s topic (which was not ID, Ann Gauger, etc., so let’s drop that discussion), I’m still waiting for your personal view on the origin of life. ”

    I think you mistook the vagueness of my answer for a lack of an answer.

    I have no idea what to do with Origin of Life questions. The movie Prometheus? All God, with very little to speak of due to “natural” (rather than supernatural) law? I don’t have an answer.

    “But God did it one way or another, directly or indirectly” is all I can offer.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      I see. I think you conceived that I was asking you for a theological account. I wasn’t. I spoke not of God, supernatural causes, etc., but of “design” and “accident”.

      I was asking, in effect, whether you think the account that I was taught (and probably that you were taught) by writers such as Sagan, Asimov and the like (i.e., that life emerged by accident as simple molecules sloshed around in the primeval earth ocean) is probable from a scientific point of view. That is, does chance have the power to search all the combinations and come up with the microscopically small number of combinations that could produce a first cell, or does it look to you as a designing intelligence would have been necessary?

      To give you the *form* of the answer I have in mind (which does not dictate the *contents* of your own answer), I will give my own answer:

      I am unconvinced that simple molecules, sloshing around in the primeval ocean for *any* length of time, would have formed the first cell by accident. I have not been shown convincing mechanisms by which such a thing could have happened. I therefore infer that some design was necessary, beyond whatever chance interactions might have been involved.

      Notice that my answer makes no reference to God, miracles, etc. I’m just stating what I consider to be possible or probable given known natural mechanisms.

      Within that sort of answer framework, would your answer be the same as mine, or different?

  13. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    Okay, let’s use your “form”; you said this would be your answer:
    “I am unconvinced that simple molecules, sloshing around in the primeval ocean for *any* length of time, would have formed the first cell by accident. I have not been shown convincing mechanisms by which such a thing could have happened. I therefore infer that some design was necessary, beyond whatever chance interactions might have been involved.”

    Gee…. somehow it sounds like you are using the word “designed” as a verb parallel to “specially created”. Maybe I’m wrong. I thought I would bring up the possibility. Using your “form”, my own answer would be:

    “The first one-celled examples of life (containing some kind of genetic molecules) appeared on Earth either through God’s Special Creation, or by God guiding the sloshing around of specific molecules in a primeval ocean. I have not been shown convincing mechanisms that such a thing could have happened without God. But even if I had been shown such mechanisms, I believe God was still the designer of the outcome.”

    Eddie, thanks for coming up with a clever way to extract my thoughts – – but still structured in a way that (I think) answers your question.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Good answer, George — just the sort of thing I was looking for.

      Based on your answer, I would say that you are halfway to becoming an ID (capital letters) proponent. 🙂

      Regarding “even if I had been shown such mechanisms” — Michael Denton would say that even a naturalistic origin of the first cell would require fine-tuning of atoms and molecules at the creation, so that they would have the properties necessary for chance tossings to arrange them into a living form.

      So your main statement is compatible with Steve Meyer ID, and your qualifier is compatible with Mike Denton ID.

      If you take the next step — and reason that the evolutionary process after the first cell would also require some guidance or fine-tuning — then you would be entirely onside with ID. 🙂

  14. GBrooks12 says:

    Jon,

    You write: “I want, again, to critique the notion that “God uses chance” in evolution, off the back of my last piece, whose main burden was that admitting such chance into the picture utterly destroys the already dubious ability of the laws of nature to achieve divine aims, such as the evolution of mankind. ”

    With the understanding that I’m just an active participant at BioLogos…. I get the feeling that the BioLogos “folks” are coming around …. and trying to disentangle themselves from this business of “God using chance” (aka “God doesn’t impose his will on the specific outcomes of nature”).

    Perhaps they used to worry about being called Calvinists? Perhaps it was someone else’s very forceful insistence that God couldn’t specify the outcomes. In any case, I think there are a few more who have become comfortable with the idea that God can specify whatever he darn-well **wants** to specify!

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      George

      Deb and Loren Haarsma (the latter wrote the recent piece on “God using chance”) are Reformed in tradition – which is why I was impressed with the first edition of their book, but mystified that (to use a banking friend’s saying) “words and figures didn’t match” as far as the articles at BioLogos were concerned..

      I’m really not sure what is going on at BL – there was a nice recent piece on “my favourite part of creation”, which seems a universe away from the “God wouldn’t make viruses and cats that worry mice” stuff I was hearing a while ago. And yet nobody has actually said, “Viruses are part of God’s world too, though it may be hard to see why…” so people who continue to attribute such ideas to BL are hardly to be blamed. Still, the truth will gradually out, I guess.

      On that kind of theme, a friend today was telling me how gut parasites suppress the immune system, and therefore, since we evolved with them, literally, may prevent the autoimmune bowel diseases that are so intractable in our “clean” society. It’s very tempting to put tapeworms up in a comment as my favourite part of God’s creation, and see whether I get a response (hint – I haven’t on previous occasions down the years!).

      Just to be clear – the Hump has not changed its position since it started, and before – just developed within it. That’s probably why we get the same criticisms when we get them!

  15. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    No, I don’t think you have the definition right. You write: “If you take the next step — and reason that the evolutionary process after the first cell would also require some guidance or fine-tuning — then you would be entirely onside with ID. ”

    I have already taken that step with my (no upper case) i.d.: God designs the whole thing. God fine-tunes the whole thing. There is no area of the universe that God doesn’t design and fine-tune.

    To be Onside with (Upper Case) Intelligent Design, I have to say that this is detectable by scientific means. I reject that notion.

    Do you know any Intelligent Design proponent who rejects the notion that God’s role is detectable?

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      George

      As I said in my post, it seems to me that if the difference between ID and TE were just, “I think I can detect design” and “Nah – I don’t see it,” they might as well join forces. After all, is it not far a bigger difference to say, “God directs evolution,” and “God would be a puppet-master to direct evolution”?

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      “To be Onside with (Upper Case) Intelligent Design, I have to say that this is detectable by scientific means.”

      Not quite. All you have to do is be *open to the possibility* that design could be detected by scientific means. You don’t have to affirm that the ID people have yet produced a demonstration.

      “Do you know any Intelligent Design proponent who rejects the notion that God’s role is detectable?”

      No ID proponent, speaking as an ID proponent (as opposed to speaking as a creationist, a Christian, etc.) says that “God’s role” is detectable; ID proponents say only that design is detectable. Their tools can’t detect God, but only design.

      That the designer is God may in some cases be inferred by other types of argument, but those are not design arguments. ID purports to detect design, and then theologians and philosophers can argue about whether the designer in any particular case must be God. In the case of the Great Pyramid, it’s unlikely the designer was God; in the case of the first life on earth, it might have been alien biochemists doing a science experiment, but more probably was God; in the case of the fine-tuning of the universe, it would seem that God is by far the most likely, and perhaps the only, candidate. But again, the latter conclusion is not reached by ID methods, but by more general philosophical or theological reasoning.

  16. GBrooks12 says:

    Jon,

    You write: “As I said in my post, it seems to me that if the difference between ID and TE were just, “I think I can detect design” and “Nah – I don’t see it,” they might as well join forces. After all, is it not far a bigger difference to say, “God directs evolution,” and “God would be a puppet-master to direct evolution”?

    But we know that’s not really the **only** difference. Eddie may write glibly about how close I am to being in the Intelligent Design camp, but you and I know that I would be given the bum’s rush as soon as I entered their parlor!

    Why? Because I am not attempting to use Intelligent Design to “foil” the evidence for Evolution. This is what I.D. is really about. And the folks who don’t agree… they drift to BioLogos, because it is the only game in town for those who are, technically speaking, proponents of i.d. (< all lower case!).

    This is why I challenge the two professors who are so demure about their I.D. stance. They talk a good game… but when I specifically challenge them to tell me that humans emerged from a God-guided/tuned speciation out of the Primate branch of the animal kingdom… what I get is a lot of hems and haws!

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      “I am not attempting to use Intelligent Design to “foil” the evidence for Evolution. This is what I.D. is really about.”

      Not true, George. *Some* ID proponents use ID against evolution. Not all do. The decisive, killer argument against your claim is that Discovery has now published three books by the pro-evolutionary Michael Denton, and promoted them aggressively. If ID were *inherently* anti-evolution, they would never publish anything by Denton (or have him as a Senior Fellow in their Science and Culture division). And of course, while Discovery did not publish Behe’s books (which found their own trade publisher), they have promoted his thought all along with articles, interviews, videos, etc., which they would never do if ID were all about trying to foil “evolution.”

      If you had asked Behe or Denton about the primate origins of man, they would have given you a clear positive answer. You are broad-brushing in your characterization of ID, and thus being unfair to many of its leaders and followers.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Why? Because I am not attempting to use Intelligent Design to “foil” the evidence for Evolution. This is what I.D. is really about.

      George – see Eddie’s response. It simply isn’t true that ID rejects evolution – though it is true that it rejects the Darwinian paradigm that, in practice, so often defines evolution in terms of ateleology, “natural causes” – of which more in a bit.

      My reading of certain people like Steve Meyer (perhaps a mainstream example of a Darwin doubting IDist) is that, once one is no longer committed to the naturalistic, undirected, model, the attraction of the mechanisms themselves becomes less intuitive. one starts asking if the fossil record really shows what the scientific theory predicts, if the genes and the morphology are as congruent as they should be, etc. At that point, providential or creative input becomes a possible explanation that might work better than its alternative – ontological chance, and nothing in theology or philsophy of science seems to contradict that.

      You write below:

      If this is true, then we have completed the process. I reject the sentence that “design” is detectable. I would say that it may be aesthetically perceived, but I can’t think of any way of “detecting” design (by God or by aliens).

      The distinction between perception, even “aesthetic perception”, and detection is a rather fine one, I think. To “detect,” my dictionary says, is to “find out or discover,” and to “perceive” is to “understand or apprehend through one of the senses.” is the difference observational, objective, mental or what?

      A good majority of scientific theories are preferred because of their “beauty” compared to more cumbersome ones. Darwinism is a classic case in point – once you twig variation and natural selection, it’s aethetically obvious, to the extent that it’s hard to see any devil in the detail. The whole damned universe is bound to evolve, planning or no, and who needs more complicated ideas like laws of form or inheritance of acquired characters?

      But let’s play a thought experiment: two Christian scientists manage to use a time machine and supreme luck to visit a muddy pond that contains the very first cell that could conceivably survive, and evolve. They check out the pond a day further back, and there’s only a soup of non-living chemicals. Unfortunately, they can’t fine-tune the machine to see the actual process of formation, but they can go forward and see reproduction, and evolution, proceeding from this one cell.

      The first scientist, Bloggs, is a (small) i.d. person, and says, “This looks like a divine creative act to me – no processes going on in yesterday’s pond seem sufficient to produce this beautiful LUCA.”

      Venables, the second scientist, says, “I disagree – it’s a huge fluke, I grant you, but it may well have happened through natural causes, and so we can’t conclude divine design.”

      A nice argument ensues about which explanation fits the evidence better, but I’d like to ask Venables what he actually means by “natural causes.” He can’t mean “regular patterns of nature” because it’s a unique event in the history of the world, possibly the universe. He can’t mean “independent of God” if he believes that all creation is sustained by God in being.

      Does he mean “chance,” perhaps? Epistemological chance would just be a restatement of his ignorance of a lawlike explanation. Ontological chance would be a denial of God as sole Creator (as per the OP and the previous OP).

      By definition, a creative act of God would not be a process, but an event – indeed,the lack of natural process would be its main defining feature, and in accordance with what they observed. To me, in such circumstances, to say design was only an aethetic perception by Bloggs, whereas Venables was correct in not detecting design, would say more about human psychology than science.

      A parallel case to consider: If a non-believing scientist were convinced by the historical evidence of the Resurrection of Christ, would he be intellectually justified in preferring an explanation by natural causes to one of divine intent?

  17. GBrooks12 says:

    Typo: Last sentence in 3rd paragraph – should have read: “… because it is the only game in town for those [left out!>] pro-Evolution folks [<left out!] who are, technically speaking, proponents of i.d. … "

  18. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    You write: “No ID proponent, speaking as an ID proponent (as opposed to speaking as a creationist, a Christian, etc.) says that “God’s role” is detectable; ID proponents say only that design is detectable. Their tools can’t detect God, but only design.”

    If this is true, then we have completed the process. I reject the sentence that “design” is detectable. I would say that it may be aesthetically perceived, but I can’t think of any way of “detecting” design (by God or by aliens).

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      “I can’t think of any way of “detecting” design.”

      I can. I detected design regularly when my students handed in essays that matched the text of printed books, almost word for word. I applied Dembski’s Explanatory Filter (though I’d never heard of Dembski then, or ID, or Explanatory Filters) and determined that not chance but cheating was the cause.

      Archaeologists detect design when they find stones laid out in patterns like Stonehenge.

      Whenever one comes across across an arrangement of parts (words, stones, molecular machines in cells, etc.) that seems to be inexplicable on the basis of chance plus known natural laws, one is justified in inferring design as (tentatively, anyway) the best explanation. You may disagree with that, and if so, we can’t get further here. (Which is just as well, as the topic here is “ontological chance” rather than the merits of ID as a scientific theory — though ID’s approach is based on skepticism about the creative powers of “ontological chance”, so it’s not entirely irrelevant.)

  19. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie, you write:
    “… Discovery has now published three books by the pro-evolutionary Michael Denton, and promoted them aggressively.”

    What is Denton’s evolutionary scenario? He accepts that humans speciated out from the Primate branch of the animal kingdom? In his scenario, does God manipulate both chromosomes and environment?

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      “He accepts that humans speciated out from the Primate branch of the animal kingdom?”

      Yes, as does Behe. I already said that.

      “In his scenario, does God manipulate both chromosomes and environment?”

      No, not at all. His scenario is entirely naturalistic. God is involved in providentially front-loading the necessary properties of matter so that intelligent life can eventually emerge. The properties of the elements are established in such a way that water, oxygen, iron, carbon dioxide, etc. will all have the right functions for the needs of life, and especially for higher primates like us. Once the front-loading is done, Denton’s world is as fully naturalistic as Venema or anyone at BioLogos could want.

      In fact, Denton is more frank in his naturalism than they are, because the BioLogos folks, out of the need to appear traditionally pious for the evangelical audience they are trying to win over, say that God *could* have intervened (but generally believe he didn’t), whereas Denton says outright that God didn’t intervene and didn’t need to, because natural causes are sufficient (on the understanding that God has smuggled information into the system by front-loading the universe). Denton can be blunter and more consistent in his naturalism, because, not being evangelical or even Christian, he has no culture-war concerns about evangelicals rejecting science that necessitate ambiguous language as a sales tactic. He couldn’t care less whether or not evangelicals accept evolution (which he takes as a given), and he couldn’t care less whether or not evangelicals agree with his rather Deistic notion of God, so he doesn’t have to write even the slightest bit politically. That’s why his books are like a refreshing drink of clear, cool ice-water after all the indirectness and delicacy and self-protective caution that one finds in BioLogos writing.

      Regarding the biological side of evolution, Denton endorses all the ingredients that the BioLogos scientists demand: ancient earth, macroevolution including man, and natural causes only; but still they can’t stand him, because he infers design, and inferred design is biological blasphemy to their by-the-book orthodoxy. It’s the same with Behe. Behe has an even better claim to be an EC than Denton, because whereas Denton is more or less a Deist, Behe is an explicit Christian, while still accepting an old earth and macroevolution. But the BioLogos folks can’t stand Behe, either, because he infers design and because he bad-mouths Darwinian theory (not evolution, just the Darwinian mechanism). The population geneticists at BioLogos and in the ASA will never accept either Behe or Denton — or anyone else who questions the sufficiency of neo-Darwinian thinking — as friends or allies. It’s not merely “God created through evolution” that they demand as a condition of respect; it’s “God created through a neo-Darwinian mechanism of evolution” that they insist upon. Question the creative powers of random mutations, of natural selection, or both, and you are beyond the EC pale. Allow design as a real cause (as opposed to a private religious interpretation), and you are beyond the EC pale. Behe and Denton couldn’t buy an EC membership card even if they wanted to. The door is slammed in their faces.

  20. GBrooks12 says:

    Eddie,

    I don’t think “detecting copying” has the same dynamic as “detecting design”. Are the I.D. folks “done” with the idea of Irreducible Complexity? That would be thing to measure I would have thought.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      “I don’t think “detecting copying” has the same dynamic as “detecting design”.

      Sure it does. Essays are purposeful arrangements of words. Two people aren’t going to produce the same purposeful arrangement of words by “randomness” or “chance”. If the two texts compared are long enough, and close enough to each other in detail, one can legitimately infer copying. And ultimately all design inferences work by the elimination of the hypothesis of chance (or chance combined with natural law). You need to read Dembski’s books, where he explains design inferences in great detail, with all kinds of examples (texts, lotteries, mechanical devices, organisms) and with intellectual thoroughness. You’ll find nothing like Dembski’s level of academic rigor in the various BioLogos columns on “randomness”.

Leave a Reply