The Language of God 5

This series is from RJS…
This is the fifth in a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Part Three of this book deals with faith in science and faith in God – reconciling the conflict.
Science purports to explain the natural world. But does the very nature of the world itself provide a convincing argument for the existence of a creator and thus, at least in the minds of many, prove the existence of God? Is there incontrovertible evidence for Intelligent Design?

Before we go further let me point out that all Christians in science, including Dr. Collins, including me, believe that God created the world intelligently, with design and purpose. Intelligent Design as commonly discussed today is something different – and to this we now turn.
The concept of Intelligent Design (ID) developed in large part as a response to three basic propositions: (1) the popular approach to evolution promotes an atheistic world view and thus must be resisted by believers; (2) evolution is fundamentally flawed and cannot account for the complexity of nature; (3) if evolution cannot explain irreducible complexity then there must be an intelligent designer who stepped in at the appropriate times to provide the necessary components.
Professor Michael Behe (Ph. D. Biochemistry, University of Pennsylvania) has suggested that biological systems contain constructs, such as the bacterial flagellum, that are useless until fully assembled and cannot be explained by normal evolutionary mechanisms. Such irreducibly complex natural systems demonstrate the existence of an intelligent designer. Dr. William Dembski, (Ph.D. Mathematics, University of Chicago; Ph.D. Philosophy, University of Illinois, Chicago; MDiv Princeton) has put the description of ID on a more rigorous mathematical footing.
ID is challenged however, on both scientific and theological grounds. First: ID can not be proven, it can only be falsified. Thus it is philosophically interesting, but scientifically useless. Second: statistical and probabilistic arguments are suspect. Historically such arguments have simply highlighted ignorance – indicating that some natural piece of the puzzle was as yet lacking or misunderstood. Third: it seems likely that many examples of irreducible complexity are not irreducibly complex after all. In particular Dr. Collins outlines the cracks that are appearing in the suggestion that the blood clotting cascade, the eye, and the bacterial flagellum provide examples of irreducible complexity. Answers are not currently available for all proposed examples – but do we really want to base our understanding of the world on “gaps” which may, but more likely will not, remain gaps in the future?
This leads to a serious objection to ID – it is a “God of the gaps” theory and such theories have a dismal history. Dr. Collins puts it thus: A “God of the gaps” religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting the faith. We must not repeat this mistake in the current era. Intelligent Design fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise. (p. 193)
Dr. Collins also suggests that ID results in an unsatisfactory view of God as creator – because it denies what he sees as “the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God” in the very nature of our God-given world.
These considerations lead to a couple of questions for conversation.
I am sure that some who read this will disagree with some of the points made, so … Is “Intelligent Design” a useful concept? What flaws might there be in the above argument?
And this leads us back to a very real concern for our world today: How can we as believers, standing in awe of the Creator God, dispel the popular view – a safety net for atheism – that evolution disproves God and proves that the world is in its very being fully and only natural and material? Where should the line be drawn?

  • Duomai

    The argument of the ID proponents is not based on ‘telos’, but on irreducible complexity which is not really irreducibly complex. I am afraid by employing ‘god of the gap’ argument proponents of ID underscore a theological framework which is more or less as weak as that of the Young Earth Creationists who see God as a deceiver, so to speak. In effect, ID is not really helpful.

  • http://www.graysonsinfrance.net Rob G

    I’m really finding this post series useful, so thanks RJS and Scott.
    I used to be of the view that a belief in “literal” creation and a rejection of evolution was key to biblical faith. Much of this belief was founded on some teaching I heard by, ironically, a much-respected British scientist who was also a leading creationist. He taught, very convincingly I felt, that accepting evolution and consequently moving away from the literal Genesis accounts was a kind of “slippery slope” – and that if you accepted that the Genesis accounts weren’t literally true, then you had to also accept that many of the other things we may take more or less at face value in Scripture might not be true as well. Where do you draw the line?
    Many years have gone by and my understanding of God and his intervention in history has, dare I say it, evolved. I’m open to the possibility that evolution is one of the mechanisms God may have used to design and engineer creation. Where I get lost is how to give a defence for this belief to more “fundamentalist” Christians, and how to explain to non-Christians that evolution may in fact not be incompatible with the Biblical accounts.
    For many years I’ve simply put this issue on the shelf of “things I don’t really understand and don’t believe affect my personal faith, salvation or walk with God”. This now seems unsatisfactory, as I realise that for many on the outside of Christian faith, the creation vs. evolution debate is still a key potential stumbling block – and therefore I feel that I should be able if not to answer it, then at least to provide some intelligent information to help people come to a reasoned conclusion.
    Not sure I’m asking anything specific of the Jesus creed community here – just felt I wanted to explain where I am on this and express my thanks.

  • http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com Steve Martin

    Hi RJS,
    First: ID can not be proven, it can only be falsified. Thus it is philosophically interesting, but scientifically useless.
    I’m a little uncomfortable with this statement, and I do not think ID detractors state it this way (or I haven’t seen it). First, when speaking about scientific theories I believe we should talk about the evidence supporting the theory, and not use the language of proof (more of a logical or mathematical concept). So, for example, in the case of ID, the goal of its supporters would be to get to a point where they could say, “The evidence strongly supports ID theory” (Most ID leaders agree that they aren’t anywhere close to this yet – see Phil Johnson’s recent remarks). Second, the hallmark of a scientific theory is that it can be falsified. So if ID can be falsified, it might be scientifically useful. My personal opinion is that ID is NOT science because in fact it can not be falsified. I can not think of any evidence that could ever falsify it. I’m open to suggestions here. Note, this rationale does not imply ID is a false concept; just that it is not a scientific concept. So I think your statement holds. It is not useful scientifically.

  • Rick

    RobG #1-
    Some of your comments brought to mind Tim Keller’s take on the subject of science. Here is Tony Stiff’s review of Keller’s new book and specifically the chapter(s) dealing with science as a stumbling block.
    http://setsnservice.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/tim-kellers-the-reason-for-god-06-07-intermission/
    In regards to what RJS is asking, I think Alister McGrath, in a lecture on Richard Dawkins, described it well:
    “Darwin, I believe, like all good natural scientists, helps us to appreciate the complexity, the beauty and the wonder of nature. And by doing so, he prompts us to ask deeper questions- question of meaning. If Sr Peter Medawar is right, science cannot answer those questions. What is the point of life? And it is here, I think, that we find a real issue of importance. Dawkins seems to assume that, because science does not have an answer to this question, there is no answer. We must therefore make up one for ourselves, or face up to to the bleak reality of things. I take the view that we merely look elsewhere for such answers, respecting the limits of science.”
    This and other helpful McGrath resources can be found here:
    ftp://oucsweb.ox.ac.uk/public_html/lectures.html

  • Scott M

    I want to reemphasize the theological objection to ID. It turns creation into something outside and apart from God. The best image of the ID God is the deist watchmaker. He makes a watch which runs on its own and every once in a while reaches in and corrects the time or adds a new feature. But mostly he stands outside and apart from his creation which can (at least mostly) continue to run without him. This is the central failing of all “God of the gaps” approaches. The way I understand the Christian view of God is that all creation flows from the life of the Trinity and is wholly sustained from moment to moment within that life. God is everywhere present and fills all things. (Isaiah 6 and 11, Habakkuk (forget the chapter at the moment), Colossians, Ephesians, the list goes on.)
    The proper place of the human being, then, is to bear the image of that all-sustaining and ever-present God, reflecting it into the whole of the created order. Without that understanding, we can’t begin to grasp Paul. “When Christ, our only source of life, appears in glory, we will appear in glory with him.”
    So no, I not only think ID is unhelpful, I think it’s actively harmful to Christian faith. The separate god becomes the distant god who quickly becomes the unnecessary god who deconstructs to the absent god or no god at all. And that’s essentially what the ID god is. It’s a god who stands apart and from time to time tinkers with this thing he’s made.
    I’m not sure I grasp the intent of the second question. There have always been many alternatives to belief in our God. He forces belief on none. He simply is and offers life. I’m not sure how we would dispel any of myriad popular views about the nature of god. I think we simply live as the people of the God we proclaim, loving God and loving others and telling others this is what it means to be a human being. Evolution can only ‘disprove’ God to the extent we’ve separated God in the mind of our culture from the instant to instant life of all that is. A God who is everywhere present and fills all things cannot be disproven by evolution or any other scientific discovery.

  • Diane

    Does evolution disprove God? According to Dr. Haught, a Georgetown theologian I’ve interviewed who has written on the subject, evolution and Christian theology are completely compatible as long as one doesn’t take a strictly literalist approach to the Bible. He argues, and I agree, that the gradual unfolding that we see in evolution is completely congruent with the gradual unfolding of revelation we see in the Bible. Further, the Biblical God is the God of creation and creativity and evolution is a creative force.
    I think (along with so many others) that the fundamental problem is the often unquestioned presupposition in our post-Enlightenment culture that science and faith are opposed. If we see nature and faith both as manifestations of God’s presence, as both flowing from the same source, then science and theology work hand in hand.

  • RJS

    Steve (#3),
    That is my paraphrase. The idea is that ID cannot be proven and that it can be falsified, although not in general I admit, rather by falsifying every proposed example. Enough negative examples will undermine the credibility of the entire premise.

  • Paul G

    Your comment “First: ID can not be proven, it can only be falsified. Thus it is philosophically interesting, but scientifically useless.” applies to all scientific theories; in fact some old-school philosophers of science (and many in the popular literature) argue that being falsifiable is what defines something as a scientific hypothesis. This idea originated with philosopher of science Karl Popper. Your statement would then imply that all scientific theories are scientifically useless; I’m sure that’s not what you meant to say.
    Everyone agrees that scientific theories can never be “proven” because no matter how much evidence you have, someone may do an experiment that pushes beyond the limits of the theory (perhaps the most famous example is the superseding of Newtonian Mechanics by General Relativity). Modern philosophy of science recognizes that theories can’t even be falsified, so it’s really just a matter of evidence for and against.
    Thus, from a philosophy of science perspective, ID has exactly the same ontological status as any other scientific theory. This is the position argued by Calvin College professor and philosopher of science Del Ratzch in his book “Nature, Design, and Science”, a book I heartily recommend to clear up the common misunderstandings about the scientific status of ID.
    That being said, I don’t (at the moment) hold to the supernatural intervention posited by ID proponents. With Owen Gingerich (stated in his really good book “God’s Universe”), I have sympathy for what ID is trying to do, but I don’t think biology is where ID will find much traction. With Del Ratzch, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne and others, I think that design is much more evident in cosmology. However, I don’t like how the secular community treats ID proponents, and I support their right to have a seat at the table of science. After all, people like Behe, Meyer, and others have proposed concrete ID-based hypotheses that can be tested empirically. Their hypotheses may turn out to be wrong, but that’s science.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I used to be a very strong ID supporter. As I carefully studied the arguments, however, I also came to the conclusion that the ID debate as it often happens now is not helpful apologetically or theologically. An interesting dynamic here that is often overlooked is the extent to which some vesions of ID are tied to foundationalist epistemology and evidentiary apologetics. I think this is one reason ID is so popular among American evangelicals — it fits right in with the kind of “conservative” paradigm we’ve been discussing in connection with Roger Olson’s book.
    But, at the same time, I don’t think all these demarcation arguments are terribly helpful from either side. Whether ID is “science” or not — who cares, except maybe school boards, cutlure warriors, and Judges. And even people who shy away from “ID” with a capital “I” capital “D” still employ “id” arguments — Collins’ main case for God rests on the moral sense and the anthropic principle, both of which are kinds of design arguments.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I agree on the id rather than ID issue – and was trying to distinguish the two. Argument from design is a powerful apologetic, but I think more on a gut level than a rational level.
    In this post I was trying to separate the question of design in general from the more specific topic of irreducible complexity, which is the heart of the ID controversy.

  • http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org Matthew

    This is interesting, there is certainly a message that is given through creation, but it is unclear, hence the need for special revelation. Paul argues this in Romans 1. But the problem is that nature is double tongued. It proclaims God’s glory, but now after the fall, it also groans in pain. People can see glory or pain in creation.
    http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org

  • Percival

    Many people don’t realize that the theory of evolution was inspired by the study of languages and how they discovered that languages can be grouped into families linked by common descent. Therefore, as a linguist, I feel that I can enter this conversation : )
    I was reading Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct”. Pinker is an MIT linguist and one of the top names in the field. He writes something very interesting on this topic. It seems to give ID it’s proper place – not as a competing theory, but as a way of testing natural selection.
    “Darwin noted that his theory made strong predictions and could easily be falsified.” (He then names 4 ways, and the third is …) “a complex organ that can exists in no useful intermediate form.”
    So I ask, if evolutionists say that irreducible complexity is a way to falsify naturalistic evolutionary theory, don’t scientists of all persuasions have a duty to test and challenge any major theory with any possible evidence to the contrary? That’s how scientific discourse is done, right?
    Ah, but there’s a catch, as Pinker points out,
    “And here is the key point. Natural selection is not just a scientifically respectable alternative to divine creation. It is the only alternative … The reason the choice is so stark- God or natural selection – is that structures that can do what the eye does are extremely low-probability arrangements of matter.”
    He then goes on to discuss how human language might have evolved through a series of intermediate steps but it is essentially an admission of how difficult (impossible?) it is to explain human language arising through natural selection.
    In short, I think that many scientists don’t want to deal with ID is that it is too hard to be conclusive about it. You can hear them say, “Enough is enough already, the theory works! It’s proven! The only ones to challenge it are flat earth types!” Personally, I don’t really care who wins the fight, but I think science is supposed to fight this battle and not just say it’s a “god of the gaps” theory and therefore not legitimate.

  • Percival

    oops, “its proper place” not “it’s proper place”

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    I see the “god of the gaps” problem with ID, but it seems that the naturalistic community has the opposite problem — the science of the gaps. Their answer to things like irreducible complexity is “we’ll understand someday.” That’s an improvement?
    I don’t think ID is science, but I think it is a potentially useful concept that shouldn’t be tossed out. As it currently stands, if the ID community collapses, there really is no one to stand up against purely naturalistic evolution on any grounds other than simply personal belief. Another generation will be taught that science has removed any need for God, so why bother believing. This idea will ruin science and eventually government.
    As it stands, we can’t keep from teaching evolution in schools. We can keep the conversation scientific and not metaphysical — when evolution is described as undirected descent with modification, that line has been crossed. We can also lean on the cosmological and moral arguments more. (I think Dawkins’ attempt to explain morality in his last book was beyond ridiculous.)

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    oops lost a link there
    “and .”

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Sorry, Scot, can you delete that last one?
    and eventually government.

  • RJS

    ChrisB #14
    I think you hit on a key point here – one place where we can draw the line. The presentation of evolution as scientific is not so much the problem and the far too common leap into metaphysical interpretation as also “science.”

  • Percival

    Yes, Theists like you and me can agree that “naturalistic” and “evolution” can be separated, but others will say that all science is by definition naturalistic. Every repeated phenomenon must have a naturalistic explanation. Science is merely the description of natural phenomena. Therefore, while it is legit to discuss irreducible complexity, any formulation of ID is illegitimate as science.

  • RJS

    Let me ask a question in a different fashion.
    Is the Intelligent Design hypothesis of any practical use – either in science or in theology? If so why?

  • Todd

    Exactly RJS (#19).
    Let’s begin with whether or not ID is of practical use in science. If it could be, then we should be able to ask a question, within the ID framework, which has predictive value.
    So, for instance, we have hundrends and thousands of examples of evolutions scientific/predictive value — e.g If the general theory of evolution is correct, we should be able to find “such and such” in nature. And, Collins book is a perfect example of this — genetics within the last few years has unveiled exactly what we would expect to find if the evolution’s general theory of biological progression/development is correct. Therefore, evolution overall has predictive value.
    Now for ID. Does it have predictive value? If an intelligent “force” outside of nature (i.e., a non-natural force) used some super-natural method to develop the natural, how would we test or predict that scientifically (i.e., via nature, which is the ONLY medium that science can operate in, correct?)? You can’t. How can you scientifically/naturally assess the super-natural?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Is the Intelligent Design hypothesis of any practical use?
    I’d say the jury’s still out on this. If ID’s philosophy can produce sustainable scientific theories that could not be produced via naturalism, then it will have shown itself valuable. There are people seeking to do just that — e.g., the folks at Reasons to Believe. Only time will tell how useful ID will turn out to be.

  • Percival

    ID would predict things like irreducibly complex mechanisms IF we assumed that the designer wished to design things that way. However, if the designer was content to make mechanisms that could be reduced and still of benefit, ID would not be a useful predictor. So, no predictive benefit.
    Or, suppose the designer wished to make two developments in two organism simultaneously symbiotic and dependent on each other, ID would allow for that. However, it would still predict nothing. Hmm, RJS. You’ve got me stumped. It seems a Designer could do things any way he or she wanted to, within naturalistic means or by going beyond them.

  • mariam

    Maybe ID is not “God in the gaps” but us in the gaps. It provides “training wheels” so to speak for those for whom theistic evolution (or natural selection) is too great a leap theologically. That it eventually may be disproved is not that important because it will have served it’s purpose. By the time it is disproved those that required it won’t need it anymore. They will be able to ride the road of religion that is compatible with science without falling over.

  • Dan

    As I’ve glanced through this conversation and the one previous to it, there seem to be some recurring themes and some points that come up occasionally, but don’t seem to get the conversation they merit.
    First, what kind of approach do we take to reading Genesis and specifically, God’s description of creation? We could spend a long time debating this, but it seems to me that when one looks at this story and tries to honestly approach it, the sensis literalis, the way it wants to be interpreted is narrative, not much different than later chapters in Genesis, the Pentateuch, or beyond. Does narrative give all the details? No. Does it try to roughly portray history as it was? Yes. Most importantly, it contains the details necessary to understand the theological truths that God needs us to know.
    So if we’re willing to take the story of creation and fall as narrative, what does this say about evolution? Well, evolution doesn’t fit with the theological truths contained therein. Why? Not because God couldn’t choose to use a naturalistic means if he so chose, but because evolution requires millions of years of death to work and one of the most important theological truths in this story is that death is the result of sin. I know some people try to get around this by saying that the death described as punishment in Genesis is simply spiritual death, but this argument doesn’t hold much water. After all, if you look at this narrative, the physical is all over and a spiritualization of the text is inappropriate. Also, one can look at the NT and clearly see that Jesus’ death and resurrection was not meant only as a remedy to spiritual death, but also clearly is about resurrection of the body as well.
    How can you reconcile evolution and Genesis given this fundamental problem? There are many other points that could be argued as well, but this goes to the heart of the issue.
    For me, ID is helpful, but not that upon which I rely. After all, science and reason are to be used ministerially, not magisterially. I love it when science or archeology point out things that support Scripture. What do I do when they seem to disagree with the Scriptures? I wait and let the archaeologists and scientists keep doing their work. I’m not afraid of their discoveries. After all, they can only finally prove that which God declares.
    I love scientists in my church. I love historians in my church. I love talking with them and while some disagree with me on certain points, I have no problem encouraging them to continue their work, even if they want to work with certain suppositions about evolution because they currently feel it “works”. Fine, but just keep your mind open becuase throughout history God has constantly surprised historians and scientists both by what they’ve found in his creation.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I don’t think it’s helpful to get hung up on the “predictive benefit” question. A theory doesn’t have to make affirmative predictions to be useful or true. It’s very useful to present purely “negative” information that does nothing more than show why some other theory or idea is wrong, and lots of ordinary basic science performs this kind of function. So, if ID was able to do nothing more than to show that the theory of evolution as currently framed is untenable, that would in itself be of great practical use.
    ID could also be of practical use if it could in fact show that materialism is false. Wouldn’t we all love to have a clear, empirical indication that the creation couldn’t possibly exist without God? Imagine how the world might change if we found a “God was here” message encoded into our DNA.
    It seems to me that the real question isn’t one of practicality, it’s just whether ID / irreducible complexity makes its case. Most of my friends who are trained scientists, Christian or otherwise, say it doesn’t. So, it seems to me that the biggest problem with ID is the stridency and overconfidence with which many ID advocates promote their cause, and the way in which evangelicals have made it an “Exhibit A” apologetic tool. It just isn’t capable of doing that kind of work.

  • Scott M

    Nice, concise question, RJS. I think ID is actively harmful from a Christian theological perspective. And I can’t see a way for it to add anything to a scientific perspective. Lacking additional information to the contrary then, I would say the ID perspective and science function relate more like skew lines.

  • Scott M

    Dan, I haven’t pursued the idea I raised (which, as with most of what I think are ‘original’ thoughts, actually isn’t either particularly new or original) about the impact of sin operating in a causal, but non-linear manner on creation. I don’t think it either began or ended with Adam (or more accurately, the ‘adam’). I think every sin of every created eikon impacts creation in both observably causal and non-causal ways. With our sin, we bring death and disorder into God’s creation.
    As far as the natural death of an organism goes, that has to be present in the garden and in the rest of the world. Plants are eaten. Soil forms. Plants and insects live and die. And I think it’s reasonable to assume that the natural order of animals operated. The death which entered the world with the adam’s sin, especially in Paul, seems to be the unnatural death of the Eikon. When the adam ate, the adam died at that moment. Now the bodies lived on a while longer. But death entered the Eikon in that moment. And all humanity is born with that seed of death which gives birth to sin.
    This does not “spiritualize” the passage. While the spirit, mind, and body are different aspects of a human being, they are intertwined and inseparable. Thus we remove our spirit from its only source of life and our mind darkens and our body increasingly absorbs physical death. So the focus of death in scripture seems not to be the simple, physical, natural death of living organisms. Rather, it seems to be the death of the eikon sending shockwaves through creation (and I would suggest shockwaves not entirely bounded by the forward only progression of time). Remember, the earth is cursed not by God, but by us. And its curse is not death per se but groanings and chaos.
    So yes, I would tend to say that just as the Eucharist is a moment where the past accomplishment of new creation in the body and blood of Jesus and the future reality and experience of that new creation rush together into the present moment in the bread and wine so our own sin in a present moment participates in the sin of the adam and the cursing of creation. We invite life into our body in and through Jesus of Nazareth. We bring death into our body with every sin. I think here of Paul writing to the Corinthians in particular.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I think some of the hang up on naturalism is not distinguishing between philosophically/theologically naturalism and methodological naturalism. Science does not require the former of scientist (though there are some who would like to) but methodological naturalist is a must.
    If we methodologically allow something other than natural causes to be at work, then when we confront seemingly insoluble problems we just say “God did it.” Any time an experiment doesn’t come out the way we planned we just say, “Hmmm… God must have intervened.” Placing naturalistic limits our investigation is what restricts us from taking flights of fancy. From the perspective of science, there is nothing to be said about that which is not naturally occurring because it is beyond the self-imposed limits of scientific methodology.
    As to predictive value, if I postulate that splitting an atom will have specific impact on certain variables, then I can split an atom and observe the results. If I postulate that species evolved and that this evolution will be evidenced in DNA analysis, then I can examine the DNA and observe the results. But if I postulate that “God did it” with regard to a natural phenomenon, then what experiment do I run to test a predicted outcome? In this sense, there is no demonstration that can be run to test it. Its primary claim to veracity is that by its very nature it can’t be replicated and tested for veracity. I don’t see how this contributes at all to scientific inquiry. If there truly is an element of God having intervened, then I think the most that science (a self-limited way of understanding) can ever reveal is that we have no solution at this time. Because of its limitations, science can’t tell us about intelligent designers. That isn’t criticism of science but only to recognize that is one self-limited way of learning.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Dan (#24) — you raise one of the key concerns about death before the Fall. Here’s one thing to think about: there are billions of bacteria in our guts. We couldn’t function with out them. Every day we kill untold numbers of them just by excreting waste. And that’s just one very small part of the physical world we live in. The world and its intricately related systems simply can’t function without death. So, unless the pre-Fall world was utterly unrecognizable from the one we now inhabit — something not suggested by the text — the “death” Paul speaks of must be something other than what ordinary natural processes produce.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    RJS and others,
    For lay people like myself regarding science, what exactly is the crux of irreducible complexity as it relates to ID?

  • Dan

    Some great points are raised here. In particular, Scott’s point concerning the nonlinear and backward action of the fall in relation to death. Definitely something I continue to think about, and it works well for a Lutheran like myself given the Eucharistic analogy you use. Maybe something could be made of the idea of death prior to the fall as consequence of Adam’s sin.
    At the same time, we do seem to be doing some stretching here. Death is part of this world. We get so used to it that it does start to become somewhat natural to us. We look in our world and see death all the time, whether it’s the bacteria or a human dieing of old age. At the same time, I’d be cautious of making the theological move that God wrote death into the system as a natural and normal part of things as #29 does. It’s hard for us to get our minds around what our world might have looked like without death, but it’s hard for me to jump to the conclusion that this couldn’t have been the case. A natural reading of the text does show a garden with soil, men eating plants, etc. At the same time, God treats death as an invasion on his creation. And when he speaks of recreation, he speaks of no more death. Yet in his recreation he seems to envision a remade world with men, animals, plants, etc all living, but no more death. If we treat death as a natural part of the creation, do we start to place it in his new heaven and new earth as well?
    I’ll admit I’m not sure how to put all the pieces together, but I’m still struck as work through the Scriptures and let them interpret each other how they present a creation without death as part of it. Thanks for the discussion and the great points made by all.

  • Scott M

    Dan, I think the problem is that when we read ‘death’ we first reduce it to physical cessation and then treat all death, from the smallest bacteria to plants to insects to animals, as if it were precisely equivalent. And I think that’s a fairly modern categorical perspective. Moreover, I don’t believe it’s a proper reading of our text. The death which sends shockwaves through creation appears to be the death of the Eikon. And that death occurs at the moment they eat of the fruit. Since they were still walking around and talking and doing stuff for some years after the fact, I don’t think its appropriate to view that death as simply physical.
    In fact, as I read the text as they were barred from the garden and again a few chapters later when the Lord shortened the years of life of man, I get the distinct impression that physical death was an expression of God’s mercy to his corrupted Eikons that they not continue as essentially breathing corpses growing forever in corruption, violence, and death. Thus, as Paul writes, there is a sense of relief for the Christian when our bodies sleep and we are with Christ awaiting new creation, the resurrection of the dead, and renewed bodies freed from the corruption of death and sin.
    Further, if you equate death to the physical process, you seem to make a liar of Jesus. After all, he says a number of times that those of us who place our confidence in him and obey his commands will never die, will never taste death, will never see death. Given the millions whose bodies have since reposed in Christ, he either meant something else by ‘death’ or he was mistaken. And again, this repose seems to me something of a blessing for those of us in Christ. Our struggle against the passions will not continue until the Lord appears unless he appears within our shortened natural lifespan. We will receive respite and relief.

  • Dan

    I agree with you on many of these points. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to equate death with only physical death. I’m just trying to make sure we don’t go to the extreme of making it only about the spiritual. Obviously a word can mean a couple of things. As you note, we have to be careful how we read it and where we read it in certain ways. Again, thanks for the thoughts.

  • Scott M

    John, I’m not an RJS, but from what I understand of ID, irreducible complexity is this idea that there are things which are so complex that they can’t be broken down into smaller pieces and remain functional. In other words, subtract anything from the whole and it ceases entirely to be what it was. Because its complexity is irreducible, it could not have evolved over time into its current state.
    That’s the idea more or less. And it posits a number of things. First, saying it’s irreducible is really just another way of saying we don’t know. And the ‘we don’t knows’ in science are treated as matters for further investigation, not as somehow inherently unknowable. So it’s not helpful there. How can you tell if something is simply not known or unknowable? Second, I’ve seen examples where, because a particular mechanism must have all its components together in their present form, it’s taken as ‘proof’ that the complexity is irreducible. And that’s usually not the case. Very often, the components of the complex system can be broken down into other things that serve other purposes.
    Anyway, I haven’t stated that particularly well, but that may be the general idea. I also sometimes get the sense that many Christians who engage in this discussion equate evolution with the book Darwin wrote in the 19th century. We call it Darwinian evolution in honor of the man who first began pursuing the idea, not because we simply continue to regurgitate the same thoughts. In the same way, we may discuss Einsteinian relativity, even though we haven’t simply stopped where Einstein left off. In biology and genetics, we know now a huge, huge amount more than Darwin ever did. Our work on the theory of evolution has kept pace accordingly. I only note that because I think I’ve seen hints of that same mistake in some of the comments here.
    Disclaimer: My father and aunt are geneticists and researchers. I’m not nor do I play one on TV. (My brother might sometime, though.)

  • RJS

    John,
    Scott M gives a good answer.
    The crux of irreducible complexity is the idea that there are features in biological systems that only work if the entire “machine” is present – the parts alone are functionless. Suggestions for such “machines” include the eye and the blood clotting mechanism. If there are systems that are irreducibly complex it would suggest that the theory of evolution is fundamentally flawed and cannot account for the complexity of nature.
    I have two problems with ID as a useful “theory”.
    First, it is likely that a probable pathway for the evolution of any proposed example of irreducible complexity can eventually be described. Such a proposal wouldn’t prove we had the right pathway, but would eliminate the need for the ID conclusion.
    Second, the scientific response to a true failure of evolutionary theory would be to refine the theory or look for a replacement theory. Even most “replacement” theories in modern science are really refinements as they must account for both the old and the new data. For example quantum theory (for very small things) and relativity (for objects moving very fast) do not really replace Newtonian mechanics; rather they refine and correct it. They both reduce to Newtonian mechanics in the limit of ordinary size objects moving at ordinary speeds in ordinary gravitational fields.
    The theory of evolution has been refined over the last century and a half.
    So – if there are systems that are irreducibly complex the scientific response is look for a better refined theory. Intelligent design is a possibility – but it is a scientific dead end – we go nowhere from it. We are better off looking for other refinements or modifications.
    But – all of this does not mean that God did not design or create the world – it just says that as a Christian, I think that the method of miraculous intervention is the explanation of last resort.

  • RJS

    Let me refine that last a bit – I think that with respect to the creation of the universe, earth, and life in general, the method of supernatural intervention is the explanation of last resort, and one to which we should not resort.
    Miraculous intervention in specific interactions between God and man is another issue altogether.

  • VanSkaamper

    #35: RJS…I have no particular axe to grind as I’m not committed to either side of the ID vs. Evolution debate.
    If I understand the notion of irreducible complexity correctly, it’s suggesting that the random mutation within a purely materialistic universe isn’t an adequate model to explain certain complex biological phenomena…like the dreaded flagellum, like the inner workings of cells, etc.
    I don’t see ID as an argument against any and all aspects or permutations of evolutionary theory (or observed phenomena), but rather as an attack on a purely mechanistic and materialistic version as a theory adequate to explain all we can see. Am I right or wrong about that?
    Second, the tenor of the debate seems very different when you move out of biology and into cosmology. The biological debate comes across as far more strident and bitter than it does when you’re talking cosmology, anthropic principle, etc., and reading Hawking, Polkinghorne, Davies, et. al. Why do you think that is? I have my own ideas, but I’d like to get your take.
    I also don’t understand your comment about we should not resort to a supernatural explanation.
    Should we not willingly go where the evidence leads us, irrespective of whether the answer is a purely naturalistic one or one that points to the necessity of a transcendent component? (as per Antony Flew in his recent book on his migration to a theisitc metaphysic). Your language kind of loads the dice, it seems to me, via its pejorative language.
    Miraculous intervention in specific interactions between God and man is another issue altogether.
    Why? I don’t see a necessary distinction and would be interested in hearing you flesh this out a bit.
    And, do you see science as having a privileged status when compared to other forms of truth claims or do you see it as socially constructed?

  • RJS

    VanSkaamper,
    Too many questions to answer in one comment.
    The ID debate is largely a response to the view that the world is purely mechanistic and natural. I do think that we should counter this view, but ID isn’t the best way to do it.
    I think we shouldn’t resort to explanations of supernatural intervention because, while ID is a possibility – it is a scientific dead end – we go nowhere from it. In our desire to advance understanding of the nature of the world we are better off looking for other refinements or modifications. If they don’t exist (if there is a transcendent component) satisfactory natural explanations won’t be found.
    If we assume an intelligent design explanation where do we go?
    If there is a supernatural intervention we avoid wasting our time. Those making the assumption of a totally natural, material world waste their time.
    If there is no supernatural intervention we stop looking too soon – and someone unwilling to accept supernatural intervention as the explanation finds the solution.
    So how should we approach science?

  • RJS

    And, do you see science as having a privileged status when compared to other forms of truth claims or do you see it as socially constructed?
    Now you want to get me in trouble with postmodern thinking, some of which is interesting, some of which is a necessary corrective on past excesses, and some of which represents excess in its own right.
    I am a total pragmatist on the science and do not see it as socially constructed. It works – beautifully, and in totally unexpected and counterintuitive ways.
    On the other hand some interpretations of the science, some “metaphysical” explanations, some far-reaching claims, are certainly socially constructed.

  • http://www.rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    The problem I see with the “God in the gap” approach of Intelligent Design is that it sets God up for failure. We herald the bacterial flagellum as evidence of an intelligent creator, and then as soon as a scientific explanation for bacterial flagellum surfaces, we’re back at square one again, looking for some other unsolved mystery on which to project our theism.
    This sort of thing happens whenever we try to force God into any social construct, be it science or religion or philosophy. He never fits, because the spaces are too small.
    A really good book about the philosophy of science that has been helpful to me is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Folks who like the more postmodern way of thinking will appreciate his emphasis on “situatedness” and “interpretive communities” and all of that good stuff. Khun concludes that scientific theory doesn’t evolve from the accumulation of facts and knowledge, but from paradigm shifts. (I believe he coined the term.)
    With this in mind, I don’t really rely on science to confirm my notions of God, and I feel better knowing that the current scientific paradigm doesn’t explain ultimate reality either.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye

    ScottM (#34) and RJS (#35 and #36),
    Thank you for explaining irreducible complexity and ID. Let me see if I have it. Some organisms are complex and to reduce any of their complexity is to reduce them to unsurvivability. So, arguing backwards, they could not have “evolved.” In steps ID to say, “See, evolution cannot account for these things, so an intelligent designer of some sort must have created them.” You counter by saying, “Don’t jump the gun to an Intelligent Designer because the jury may be out yet on whether or not these irreduciblle complex things are actually irreducible.” But in saying these things as Jesus-followers, you are not disallowing God as Creator in the ultimate sense. Am I tracking?

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    It seems to me that a bunch of things are getting confused here.
    First — RJS — re: #36 — do you really want to say that you want to avoid supernatural explanations for the creation of the universe as a whole? Theologically, I would argue, along with Thomas Torrance, that the universe is contingent. The universe we live in is not a necessity; God could have chosen to create any sort of universe, but He chose to create this particular universe; and so the universe that exists is contingent on God’s will. This means that at some point, the explanatory power of science probably does end. Before the big bang, or at some point before whatever was before the big bang, there really is a singularity — God’s will acting through the divine Logos(actually the evidence seems pretty strong right now that the singularity really is immediately before the big bang). Science cannot access God’s will, which is the ultimate source of the universe’s existence.
    Re #38 — I don’t see why the “where do we go” argument is so convincing. There really is a point at which science defined as methodolical naturalism ends, isn’t there? Science can’t explain everything. Why is that in principle so hard to swallow? Our entire faith rests on something outside the purview of science — the resurrection of Christ.
    It seems more convincing to me to say that, with respect to biological evolution, there is no compelling reason at this point to suggest any “intervention” in the natural processes of development. And, morever, there are very good pragmatic reasons to keep pressing for natural explanations. But that is very different than saying that it’s impossible to even conceive of ever reaching a point at which natural explanations fail.
    Re: #39 — the statement “science is not socially constructed” is question begging. What do we mean by “science?” If we mean a particular method of investigation, which focuses only on natural causes and emphasizes inferences from empirical observations, then “science” is indeed socially constructed. It’s a method created by humans to investigate the natural world.
    But to say “science” is “socially constructed” isn’t to endorse relativism or to cast any aspersions on science. It’s just to recognize that “science” only investigates a particular stratum of reality. Other strata of reality might not be accessible to the natural sciences, but they are no less real, and the methods used to investigate them are no less valid. Certainly one of those areas is theology, insofar as theology seeks to describe a transcendent God. (If we construe theology under the natural sciences, we usually end up with panentheism, the notion that “god” is not transcendent, but rather that the universe is part of god or that god is a manifestation or emergent property of the natural universe). Personally, I think another such area consists in at least some aspects of “mind” and at least some aspects of “morality.” I am taking here a “critical realist” approach as developed by Roy Bhaskar and as reflected in Alister McGrath’s “Scientific Theology.”
    Re: Rachel (#40) — Khun is a dicey example to cite because Khun’s theory of science turns out to be anti-realist. What Khun ultimately implies is that human beings cannot know anything reliable at all about the real world. Thus, Khun’s view of science is constructivist in a deep sense.
    IMHO, a Christian perspective on science ought to be realist. God created a universe with contingent order and intelligibility — the universe works in the particular ways God designed — and he created us in His image, meaning we have at least some ability to know things about reality with some degree of reliability. This is the “realist” part of critical realism.
    The “critical” part recognizes that human beings only know things about reality incompletely because of the limitations of perception, culture, language, history, etc. — i.e., because we’re human and not God. And a Christian critical realism also recognizes that our perception and judgment is tainted in some degree by sin.
    If it sounds as though I’m endorsing the Intelligent Design agenda, I’m not. Unfortunately, the ID movement has become a shrill culture war tool. It is grossly misused in evangelical circles as an apologetic against evolution — I wonder if some of our popular apologists even know that Mike Behe, the architect of irreducible complexity theory, accepts biological evolution and universal common descent? And ID theory manifestly is not appropriate for a science curriculum, becuase it does not confine itself to the pragmatic tools of “science.” Finally, I find the ID movement’s insistence that the “designer” need not be the Christian God disingenuous at best and theologically dangerous at worst.
    But, at the same time, I don’t see why we should assume the limited methods of science must be able to provide explanations for everything, or why a theological / philosohpical “design” explanation should be a conversation stopper. Reality ultimately is one and all Truth is God’s Truth.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    RJS #35
    “In our desire to advance understanding of the nature of the world we are better off looking for other refinements or modifications. If they don’t exist (if there is a transcendent component) satisfactory natural explanations won’t be found.
    If we assume an intelligent design explanation where do we go? …
    …If there is no supernatural intervention we stop looking too soon – and someone unwilling to accept supernatural intervention as the explanation finds the solution.
    So how should we approach science?”
    Bingo! That is the crux of the issue for me. If no satisfactory natural explanations can be found, then the only thing scientists can say is, “no satisfactory natural explanations can be found.” To attribute things to a creator or to ID moves us to speculation outside of the scientific method.
    Some want to misuse science as a vehicle to advance their personal faith in atheism. They need to be called back into the confines of the self-imposed limitations of science and not speculate on the supernatural in their capacity as scientists. I believe many ID folks have erroneously accepted the legitimacy of arguing for atheism from science. Science itself becomes the IDers antagonist rather than the hubris of the scientists. Too many IDers are trying to correct the overreaching of atheists by trying to insert God (supernatural) into a field that is limited to the study of the natural. Both atheists and IDers end up abusing science as they try to appropriate science for their (a)theistic agendas.
    I think the answer is to recover science for its legitimate ends and protect it for those ends.
    Great series, RJS.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    As someone familiar with the ID position, I want to offer some clarifications:
    First, critics contend that ID is a God-of-the-Gaps, yet the response from ID supporters is often overlooked. God-of-the-Gaps arguments are a negative form of argument: ‘we don’t know how X could have been formed by natural processes, therefore God did it.’ Stated this way, it is a caricature of ID. ID does not base its conclusions on our ignorance; rather, ID is based on what we do in fact know (positive) about how complex specified information gets generated: ‘though we don’t know how X could have been formed by natural processes, X exhibits CSI. In the instances of CSI where we know the causal history, it invariably (and uncontroversially) traces to an intelligent cause or source. Therefore, the best explanation for X is an intelligent cause rather than a natural cause.’ An example: we know from experience that outboard motors are designed by intelligent agents. The pieces do not self-assemble on your speedboat. So, when we find the very intricate outboard motor on a bacterial flagellum, the design inference is *not* based on our ignorance of how outboard motors are formed, but on our knowledge that their creation requires intelligence. This leads to the second clarification I want to make.
    ID relies upon a different distinction than the natural/supernatural one that previous theories such as creationism and (theistic) evolution make. The ID distinction is between undirected causes and intelligent causes (which may or may not be supernatural, but the supernatural is not ruled out a priori). Undirected causes can explain the Grand Canyon. They cannot, however, explain Mount Rushmore, which we would be right to infer was designed even if we didn’t know its causal history, for it bears CSI. So, ID uses this distinction and leaves the question about the supernatural to theologians.
    The point ID makes is that we can (and do) distinguish between undirected causes and intelligent causes, and if the evidence points to a source that is intelligent, we should follow the evidence wherever it leads, not reject it on methodological grounds if the evidence suggests supernatural Intelligence was involved. Besides, as Christians we agree that God has in some sense designed the world. ID simply says that some of that design is empirically detectable. The alternative seems to be that though God has designed the world, precisely none of that design is empirically detectable. This strikes me as a strange conclusion for Christians to advocate in the public square.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    I left a comment, but it appears to have been deleted. I’d like to know why.

  • VanSkaamper

    RJS, thanks for your comments.
    I don’t find the “where do we go” argument all that compelling. I don’t think anyone would expect to be taken seriously if they suggested that we should just assume a supernatural cause or intervention in the origin of life and the appearance of complex organisms. Like Mr Kruse, I think that science should be willing/honest enough to examine the evidence and be able to say that right now, based on what we currently know, we cannot explain biological phenomenon X, and maybe even willing to say that currently a transcendent mind is the best available explanation. It’s their unwillingness to say that and the dogmatic assumption of materialism that I find problematic and make me at least want to listen to the advocates of ID.
    I also don’t see any compelling reason to believe adopting an open and honest attitude like that would inhibit scientific enquiry…given that many of history’s greatest scientific discoveries were made by committed theists who operated with seemingly insatiable curiosity in spite of the fact they believed a God designed the universe…in fact, it’s because of that belief (that the universe obeys laws and is rationally intelligible) that science was born.
    It almost sounds as if you’re saying that, even if it’s wrong, we must assume, a naturalistic metaphysic for the sake of the enterprise.
    You and I are on the same wavelength regarding social construction. I disagree with the statement that social construction doesn’t mean relativism. I think that’s exactly what it means, and I believe that science as a method to explore and explain objectively and independently existing natural phenomena cannot be culturally dependent. True science transcends culture, IMHO, because gravity is what it is in both Bombay and Topeka, irrespective of cultural differences between the two places.
    On another subject, I’m no fan of Kuhn…give me Karl Popper any day…

  • Percival

    Sacred Frenzy,
    Good comments. I think your point is valid. However, I have a question and a comment.
    Question: How do we scientifically distinguish between Mt. Rushmore as an act of intelligence and any other rock formation as not? I mean it is obviously so, but how does one test that scientifically? It may be that science is too limited a discipline to do such things, but is mathematics also too limited? That’s what I wonder about?
    You said:
    “ID simply says that some of that design is empirically detectable. The alternative seems to be that though God has designed the world, precisely none of that design is empirically detectable. This strikes me as a strange conclusion for Christians to advocate in the public square.”
    Comment: I think God is empirically undetectable, but His existence is completely consistent with the universe. It is our existence as self-aware, creative, religious, language speakers that is unexplainable in a mechanistic universe – not the universe itself.

  • http://movedmountains.blogspot.com Andrew

    Hey – Haven’t read all the comments so sorry if this has already been picked up!
    But … I kinda picked up a bit of a flaw in reasoning in the original post.
    “In particular Dr. Collins outlines the cracks that are appearing in the suggestion that the blood clotting cascade, the eye, and the bacterial flagellum provide examples of irreducible complexity. Answers are not currently available for all proposed examples – but do we really want to base our understanding of the world on “gaps” which may, but more likely will not, remain gaps in the future?”
    The God of the gaps idea is a legitimate one but the examples cited can also be turned back on the evolutionary hypothesis. The writer states that “Answers are not currently available for all proposed examples”. I am reading that as meaning “answers from evolution”. Isn’t this just using evolution in a “God of the gaps” kind of way?
    Isn’t it just saying that “we know evolution (which, incidently, isn’t provable either, just falsifiable) is the answer we just don’t yet know how” in the same way an ID theorist might say “we know God is the answer we just don’t yet know how.”?
    One assumes evolution, as a theory, holds all the answers, the other assumes otherwise.
    I think it also needs to be noted that pretty much all the major proponants of ID are scientists, and, at least until they started promoting ID, were very well respected in their fields.

  • http://mysite.verizon.net/resqxbvj/crossroads/ Richard

    From the little I know about Christian Scientists, they seem to approach creation by giving two accounts of it. First there is an intellegent one ( spiritual ) and then there is a cause and effect one ( physical).
    Matter of fact, many who believe in this fashion say that if you would split the atom into smaller pieces over and over again you would find that it was made of nothing.
    This is perhaps just what only I have experienced in their teaching and so I apologize if it is not current nor do I suggest any reading or teaching minus the Holy Spirit.
    I also would have to say that we would all agree that the language of God is Love and those who speak Love might know of, and about, other languages but understand Love.
    If our creator God chose the visible things to show the invisible by cloaking Himself with the expression that everything seen and known is Him ( Guided or missguided Love ), then we understand the foundation that is Christ and therefore understand Love and our purpose as Love.
    Love, because of the high treason, can never be reached by reason or understanding for there is the danger of Love becoming an “it”. Love bathes, Love lifts, Love places… scientists, artists, teachers, janitors and etc.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye

    Andrew,
    You write that ID posits “a God of the gaps” and evolutionary theory posits “an evolution of the gaps.” I think the scientists here in this thread do not want to default to the “God of the gaps” becasue the moment they do, they leave science as science and enter into metaphysics. They are not denying God as Creator. They are leaving the door open to the continued scientific quest. To trump the lack of evidence as “God did it” shuts off the quest.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck and others,
    I don’t think that all “knowledge” and all understanding of the world is scientific knowledge. I do think that the only way to “do science” is under the assumption of methodological naturalism. Other approaches are dead ends. I also think that the only way to live is under the assumption that we are part of God’s creation and God’s story – as related in the Bible.

  • RJS

    Sacred Frenzy,
    So, when we find the very intricate outboard motor on a bacterial flagellum, the design inference is *not* based on our ignorance of how outboard motors are formed.
    No – when we find the very intricate outboard motor on a bacterial flagellum, the design inference is based on our ignorance of how baterial flagella are formed. Living organisms are not inanimate outboard motors, nor are outboard motors living objects.

  • RJS

    regarding my comment #52 – animate and inanimate are not quite the right terms, maybe dynamic vs static are better, although that doesn’t quite convey my meaning either – but there is an important distinction here.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Speaking of love, I’m loving this thread (even though my Dad taught me that you can’t love anything that isn’t able to love you back, you just like it a lot) because of the overall civility of the posters, a rare commodity nowadays.
    Wouldn’t it be a hoot if everything we “know” turns out to be only a tiny fraction of what is, as exemplified in the snow globe in the final episode of St. Elsewhere, in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who, and even in “There were six men of Industan / To learning much inclined / Who went to see an elephant / Though all of them were blind”? (I continue to be baffled by Scot’s aversion to fiction, which is, after all, STORY invented by EIKONS.)
    I heard Norman Grubb say once, “God must have a sense of humor, or He wouldn’t have given us our funny bodies.” Maybe we don’t even begin to grasp God’s sense of humor.
    Don’t know what my point is, except that perhaps we should all lighten up a bit, scientists and YEC crowd alike. I believe that the Bible is not a history textbook, but where it touches on history, it is true; and the Bible is not a science textbook, but where it touches on science, it is true. The rest of you can argue about things until you’re blue in the face if you like.
    I’ll probably feel differently tomorrow.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Van Skaamper (#46) said: I disagree with the statement that social construction doesn’t mean relativism. I think that’s exactly what it means…
    I respond: no, you’re entirely missing the point of the critical realist position. Reality is not socially constructed. We can learn things about reality. Therefore, human knowledge is relative. Some knowledge claims are more accurate than others. This is not relativism at all.
    However, many of the methods by which people acquire knowledge are socially constructed. How could it be otherwise when such methods involve social relationships? The scientific method is an excellent example of this. It didn’t just drop out of the sky. It was developed gradually, and is still developing, by people in particular communities. I think this sort of social construction is exactly part of the cultural mandate God gave to humanity. It is one way in which we exercise the image of the triune God — by creating social structures that didn’t previously exist.
    Moreover, some knowledge is socially constructed. There are “social” facts and “brute” facts, as Searle puts it. “I am standing on American soil” is a social fact — it depends on a uniquely situated set of social relations. Thus, “citizenship” in a nation-state is a social construction. But some knowledge is simply given — the physical creation, for example, is what it is (even though our particular descriptions of it are social constructions).
    This is in contrast to some postmodern epistemologies that are entirely constructivist or that view social construction as prohibiting access to reality altogether (which I think, for example, is where Khun ends up). In critical realism, we can make meaningful knowledge claims, yet our knowledge claims are always subject to revision because we recognize our limitations.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Sorry, in the first paragraph above (#55), that should say “So, human knowledge can be progressive.”

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye

    I love the JESUS CREED community as exemplified in this series and all the comments. I am getting an education in some pretty heady stuff FOR FREE here. This is an outstanding place in the ubiquitous blogosphere…I’d even say a ‘sacred place.’ Thanks, Scot and thanks RJS and all of you. Your pastor friend in the making…
    John

  • VanSkaamper

    #55: dopderbeck, I was actually making my assertion from the perspective of critical realism, and I’m in complete agreement with most of what you wrote, especially your last paragraph.
    There are some places, however, in which I don’t follow you, like here for instance:
    Reality is not socially constructed. We can learn things about reality. Therefore, human knowledge is relative.
    I’m not sure how your conclusion follows from your premises there, or what you really mean by it. If reality isn’t socially constructed (if it is what it is objectively and independent of our experience of it), and if we assert that we can learn (or know) things about said reality, then it would seem to me that you’re laying the ground work necessary to justify non-relative truth claims about said reality. So, I’m not following you here.
    When I use the term, “socially constructed,” I’m using it in the sense that one community’s construction is as valid or true as another’s. Relativism is built into my definition of the term, really, but I think that’s the common usage when we talk postmodern epistemology.
    If there is such a thing as objective reality, and if we regard the scientific method (even if it’s being developed and refined over time) as the most accurate method of exploring and investigating that reality, then it can’t be socially constructed in the sense I meant. There is one correct method, not dozens of culturally based methods that lead to different or contradictory conclusions about objective reality that are equally valid. That’s impossible, IMHO. There is good science, and there is bad science. Saying that science is the product of human endeavor is as true as it is obvious, but not really what I, at least, meant by the term.
    RJS: I agree that science has to proceed with the assumption of methodological naturalism, because that’s just an accurate recognition of the limitations of what science can examine, test, etc. That, to me, is different from ruling out, a priori, the legitimacy of identifying evidence of transcendent causes as such whether we’re talking about design in biology or design that existed prior to the big bang.

  • VanSkaamper

    RJS, I think my question based on your statements is this: IF something like ID were true (i.e., flagellums, DNA, and other biological structures didn’t actually evolve but were designed and created), could science, in your view, “discover” that, or would science, because of it’s assumption of methodological naturalism be doomed to forever bang its head against the wall looking for purely naturalistic explanations that wouldn’t exist? Is it the case that science would plead ignorance and say merely that “we can’t explain what we observe,” (which is what I think Michael Kruse is saying) or could it positively acknowledge evidence for intelligent causality? Does the latter cross the line into metaphysics or can scientific, empirical investigations have something to say as well?

  • ggclarke

    Interesting discussion here, but at this point I think I need some clarification of the difference between some aspects of ID and God-directed evolution.
    If I’m following correctly, RJS seems to be arguing that God has directed evolution along a predetermined trajectory to accomplish His will in creating the variety of biological life we see today, including humans. In this view, God somehow superintends the accumulation/reassortment of genetic material in a way that produces exactly what He wanted. So in contrast to the atheistic view, God-directed evolution is definitely NOT the result of purely random mutation and natural selection.
    In my reading, at least one aspect of the ID argument is that current evolutionary theory – purely random mutation plus natural selection — cannot account for a mechanism of stepwise accumulation of the various pieces of a “machine” or “system” (flagella or whatever) over long periods of time before all the pieces are ready (think about the drag on reproductive fitness, etc.). It seems improbable/impossible statistically. Thus, according to ID, some outside intelligence must have done something to make happen what would naturally (via mutation + natural selection) been impossible.
    So my question is: What is really the difference between these views? God-directed evolution is by definition not a purely natural or random process since God is nudging or tweaking it along the way, and ID is basically saying the same thing: these systems or machines are impossible to account for without some outside intelligence operating on the system.

  • RJS

    VanSkaamper
    Science would say “we can’t explain what we observe – yet.” I am not sure what I would call positive evidence for intelligent causality in nature.
    The evidences that convince me are things like beauty, joy, meaning, purpose, conciousness, creativity, rationality, morality, altruism, transcendence,…
    Science can rationalize these – but not explain them. In fact a “scientific” explanation in many cases is a de facto admission that they are not “real.”

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Andrew #48 and VanSkaamper
    “Isn’t it just saying that “we know evolution (which, incidently, isn’t provable either, just falsifiable) is the answer we just don’t yet know how” in the same way an ID theorist might say “we know God is the answer we just don’t yet know how.”?”
    You have two statements:
    1. We know evolution is the answer. We just don’t yet know how.
    2. We know God is the answer. We just don’t yet know how.
    Your statements include the word “answer.” Let us be clear about the question. Science is self-limited to “how” questions. “Who” questions aren’t relevant to science. I’d alter your statements to bring more clarity:
    1. “We know evolution is the answer to how life came to be. We just don’t yet know how the process worked.”
    2. “We know God is the answer to how life came to be. We just don’t yet know how the person worked.”
    The first one is science and the second is metaphysics. If life was actually designed (not evolution), then if we were there at the moment of design with video cameras and scientific measuring equipment we would be able to observe “how” the designer did it. That is the science question. If it was unobservable, then the most a scientist can say is we don’t know “how” it happened yet.
    ID offers a “who” answer to a “how” question. Science studies “cause and effect” not “causer and effect.” Evolution offers a testable (provable/falsifiable) “how.” ID offers no testable “how.”
    “Who” questions are vitally important. Science can’t answer all questions humans ask and, in particular, can’t answer “who” questions. Therefore, RJS writes in #51
    “I don’t think that all “knowledge” and all understanding of the world is scientific knowledge. I do think that the only way to “do science” is under the assumption of methodological naturalism. Other approaches are dead ends. I also think that the only way to live is under the assumption that we are part of God’s creation and God’s story – as related in the Bible.”
    Distinguishing between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism are absolutely essential here.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Sorry about the formatting glitch in #62 but thought I would also bring a little Dr. Seuss into the discussion and add that scientists are from Howville, not Whoville. :)

  • RJS

    ggclarke (#60)
    On one level you are right – but on another level ID is saying that there is concrete evidence for design – intelligence operating on the system.
    I have a problem with the “concrete” evidence because (1) we do not know enough to state that particular “machines” or “systems” are irreducibly complex and (2) statistical arguments are made in ignorance – again we do not know enough to make accurate estimates of probability.
    So when ID says that these systems or machines are impossible without some outside intelligence operating on the system the point of attack is in the word “impossible.” If a possible mechanism is found the ID hypothesis in that case fails. My gut feeling – based on the history of the last couple of centuries – is that most, perhaps all, of the “impossibilities” we identify will fall by the way-side.

  • http://www.rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    Yes! This blog is amazing! I live in a small town and go to a very traditional church where these sort of things are not discussed. It’s nice to be able to participate in stimulating and civil dialog. Thanks, everyone.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    VanSkaamper — yeah, I think maybe we’re mostly on the same page but talking past each other a little. You said: then it would seem to me that you’re laying the ground work necessary to justify non-relative truth claims about said reality.
    I respond: yes, that’s right. But, I think critical realism nuances “non-relative” here. By “non-relative,” we mean not all truth claims are equally valid. But that doesn’t mean human beings can make truth claims that are “absolute” in the sense of being complete, perfect descriptions of reality without any possibility of revision (with a few possible exceptions, such as pure mathematical statements). All our truth claims are provisional, which is how good science works — a theory is held provisionally until a better theory comes along. But good theories that have strong explanatory power are not held loosely and (appropriately) are not easily overturned. In fact, most theories aren’t overturned but are progressively revised.
    You also said (#58) — If there is such a thing as objective reality, and if we regard the scientific method (even if it’s being developed and refined over time) as the most accurate method of exploring and investigating that reality, then it can’t be socially constructed in the sense I meant.
    I respond — I think it’s a little too reductionist to say the scientific method is the best method of investigating reality. One of the attractions to me of critical realism is that it recognizes that reality is “stratified.” The natural sciences investigate a particular stratum of reality, which is that aspect relating to natural laws and processes. Other sciences / methods — such as philosophy and theology — can investigate other strata of reality using other methods appropriate to those disciplines. This helps avoid the problem of reductionism. For example, we can say that the human mind is tied to neurobiological processes and study those processes with the tools of the natural sciences, but we can also say that the human mind is not reducible to those processes and also requires philosophical / theological explanation.
    As to the “social construction” of the scientific method, I just mean by this the particular assembly of analytical and communicative processes the scientific community currently uses to “do” science. For example, scientific information is communicated in peer reviewed journals, at professional conferences, and in highly specialized graduate school training — none of which has to happen just the way in which it does. We could, say, communicate scientific information in open air dialogues like the Greeks did, or use open accessing / open source publishing methods, and so on. Moreover, the “rules” of analysis — falsifiability and such — are not self-evidently the best way to proceed, and are hotly debated among philosophers of science. We could construct different rules that might work as well or better (e.g., Roy Clouser’s notion of “theistic science”).
    But recognizing that the social processes by which we “do” science are contingent doesn’t mean the results of that investigation are merely social constructs, which I think is your concern. We truly are investigating aspects of a reality that transcends human construction — the creation God spoke into existence.

  • VanSkaamper

    #61: Science would say “we can’t explain what we observe – yet.”
    Do you think this is question begging in any way? It seems to assume that there will always be a naturalistic explanation for what we observe. This is very different, it seems to me, from saying that we should always look for a naturalistic explanation first before we defer to the metaphysicians and let them loose their more speculative theorizing.
    I am not sure what I would call positive evidence for intelligent causality in nature.
    That’s more or less the essence of my question: is science as you understand it capable of detecting such a thing as intelligent design if it had occurred? If it isn’t then it seems to me that some of the more strident and hostile resistance to the idea should cease. Science, it seems to me, can reasonably critique scientific arguments made by ID advocates, but if it’s the case that science could not identify such a thing as positive evidence for ID if it did actually occur, then the scope of its legitimate ability to comment one way or another would be pretty limited.
    Science can rationalize these – but not explain them. In fact a “scientific” explanation in many cases is a de facto admission that they are not “real.”
    By “real” here you mean “transcendent”? If so, yes, I’d agree. If morality could be completely reduced to the interactions of particles, molecules and chemicals, then the word wouldn’t describe a unique property or thing in and of itself, it would be just a synonym for words that described physical, biological processes.

  • VanSkaamper

    #66: I should have qualified my statement about science by adding the word “physical” to “reality.” Any reductionism was inadvertent and due to my lack of precision. ;^)

  • VanSkaamper

    If a possible mechanism is found the ID hypothesis in that case fails.
    It fails as a conclusive, or certain falsification of a purely naturalistic explanation, but does that make the ID hypothesis significantly less probable? If I could describe a possible mechanism, but that mechanism is fabulously improbable (based one current understanding), doesn’t the the ID hypothesis remain more probable unless and until more information comes to light that makes the naturalistic hypothesis more probable?
    Aren’t we inevitably dealing in probabilities when we’re trying to answer certain types of questions?

  • ggclarke

    RJS (Re: #64): OK, I understand the fragility of ID in claiming concrete examples that may later be explained by further investigation. But I’m still struck by the idea that both positions (God-directed evolution and ID) admit that purely random mutation plus natural selection do not produce the biological world as we know it.
    In your science, you may continue to look for the mechanisms God used to bring about this or that system, but at the end of the day, you are saying God’s fingerprints are all over this in the same way that the ID person might. Right? And that perspective is completely different from the “accepted/official” view of evolution being directionless, random, etc. Do I understand your position correctly?

  • VanSkaamper

    But recognizing that the social processes by which we “do” science are contingent doesn’t mean the results of that investigation are merely social constructs, which I think is your concern.
    Yes, exactly. I’m concerned about the epistemic status of science as such rather than the collective means by which it’s developed and refined.

  • VanSkaamper

    #62: Distinguishing between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism are absolutely essential here.
    Indeed…and my problem with much of the ID vs. Naturalism debate is that the two are so often conflated.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    ggclarke (#70) — there’s a problem here with the use of the word “random”. I think most theistic evolution / evolutionary creation people will say that evolution is indeed “random” from the perspective of science. “Random” here means simply “stochastic” (non-deterministic). You can’t predict the course of evolution, but this doesn’t mean it’s “random” in the sense that “just anything can happen.”
    But, theistic evolution / evolutionary creation folks will add, the fact that something is stochastic from a statistical perspective doesn’t mean God is absent. This is often expressed in the classical terms of “primary” and “secondary” causes. If God is sovereign, He remains the primary cause of events even though we can only observe immediate “secondary” causes.
    A good example of this is how we typically speak of the birth of a baby. From a Christian perspective, we assert that each new life is a gift from God, that each person comes into the world with God-given purposes, even that God “knits together” each person in the womb (Ps. 139). Yet, at the same time, we don’t observe or expect to observe any direct, miraculous intervention by God in the conception and birth process. And, although there are some important things about fetal development that the natural sciences don’t yet fully understand, we don’t attribute those “gaps” to direct divine action, Psalm 139 notwithstanding. We see no contradiction in describing the conception and birth of a baby in terms of both natural (secondary) and divine (primary) causation. It is in this sense that many theistic evolution / evolutionary creation advocates understand that evolution can be both “random” and God-directed. Most ID advocates, in contrast, feel that there must be some empirically observable direct action by God in the development of biological life to avoid metaphysical “randomness.” This disconnect, IMHO, fuels much of the animosity between ID and TE / EC advocates.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #73 dopderbeck
    If I may say so, I’ve enjoyed reading all your comments but your baby example in #73 is a real keeper. Thanks for bringing your expertise to the conversation.

  • VanSkaamper

    #73: ditto Michael’s kudos, but one question:
    Most ID advocates, in contrast, feel that there must be some empirically observable direct action by God in the development of biological life to avoid metaphysical “randomness.”
    I don’t get exactly this from the ID literature…or at least not in the way you phrased it. It seems to me that the ID advocates are saying that intelligent design is either necessary or vastly more probable as an explanation to certain observed phenomena where purely random, physical process are highly unlikely to be able to beat the odds of assembling structures and process required.
    Can you elaborate on what you mean by empirically observable direct action? If the process of conception, development and birth is designed to work as a physically programmed process on auto-pilot, as it were, it’s the design of the genetic programming that makes it possible that’s considered miraculous (by naturalistic standards) and some other sort of one off direct intervention or interruption of those processes.

  • VanSkaamper

    Oops…should read “NOT some other sort of one off…” etc.

  • ggclarke

    Re. #73: So now we have the “appearance of randomness” without actual randomness?
    Granted that we can’t empirically observe the direct action of God in these systems, but I hope both TE/EC and ID folks are together in their assertion that life as we know it — opposable thumbs, giraffes, the whole works – was impossible without God.
    More seriously, this nuanced distinction of what “random” means is not always obvious in the typical debates about this issue. More often than not, theistic evolutionists are trotted out as full supporters of the normally-sanctioned versions of neo-Darwinist thought. Highly visible scientists like Collins are held up by the scientific community as examples of “reasonable Christians” who’ve finally gotten with the program and put aside all that silly God-made-everything stuff.
    Here’s my chief concern: The unintended consequence of at least the PUBLIC face of theistic evolution is that it appears to give support to an Evolutionary metanarrative where all of life can be explained in genetic or naturalistic terms, and explicitly without God.
    If God directed the randomness, TE / EC proponents are still creationists, and this is a completely different thing from the “pure chance” position maintained by the AAAS and other bodies.

  • ggclarke

    Oops, that first line was supposed to be followed by…”(laughing)”.. to indicate a lighter moment, hopefully.
    I guess those greater-than/less-than signs mean something else to the text editor.
    Cheers
    –Greg

  • RJS

    Greg,
    Of course you are right. In fact Dr. Collins starts Ch. 8 on creationism in this vein “Taken at face value, the term “creationist” would seem to imply the general perspective of one who argues for the existence of a God who was directly involved in the creation of the universe. In that broad sense, many deists and nearly all theists, including me, would need to count themselves as creationists.“(p. 171)
    Intelligent Design is another loaded term. Nearly all theists (including both Dr. Collins and me) believe in intelligent design – that a God who cares about human beings created the world intelligently and by design but…the term has come to carry a very different sense. And with ID in that technical sense many of us (but not all) disagree.
    Christian Scientist is another term I generally avoid using by the way – it also carries a somewhat distorted meaning.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Re: #77 — ok, I’m guilty of a little oversimplification. There’s a big literature on ID and lots of people who distance themselves from Bill Dembski or Mike Behe still could be classified as “id” people — perhaps even Francis Collins, as he uses the anthropic principle and the moral sense as arguments for the coherence of theism.
    IMHO, though, Dembski and Behe are suggesting there is some sort of “interruption” in ordinary secondary causation, either by the “loading” of complex specified information, or the assembly of irreducibly complex biochemical machines, or both. Some ID folks might say this “interruption” happened at the very start of life on earth — front-loaded evolution. Others, particularly evangelical apologists such as Hugh Ross who promote a “concordist” day-age reading of Gen. 1 and borrow ID arguments, suggest or at least imply that distinct successive acts of special creation reflect this kind of tinkering.
    #77 — I don’t think this is the same as an “appearance of age” argument. Most TE / EC’s agree with “secular” scientists that evolution is stochastic (statistically “random” or unpredictable). Thus, evolution doesn’t only “appear” random. It is random — but you have to be clear about what “random” means.
    TE’s / EC’s who hold a relatively traditional view of God’s sovereignty argue that any assertions of metaphysical randomness are outside the purview of science. Most scientists of all stripes will agree with this — “random” in scientific terms does not mean metaphysically random. Science doesn’t deal with metaphysics. Of course, we all know that some prominent scientists (Exhibit A, Richard Dawkins) regularly step over into metaphysics.
    Here’s another example of something that is stochastic but that the Bible clearly asserts is subject to God’s will: thunderstorms. The Bible repeatedly talks about God and thunderstorms in causative, anthropomorphic terms — e.g., Jeremiah 10:13: “When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, And brings out the wind from His storehouses.” Yet, thunderstorms are stochastic — they are extremely hard to model because their wind patterns are statistically random. So, there is no “appearance” issue here — the thunderstorm really is random from a statistical modeling perspective, but it really is “caused” by God in the sense of being within His sovereign will (primary causation).

  • mariam

    This has been a wonderful, fascinating discussion and has brought up a lot of issues I was previously unaware of. My brain hurts a bit, but it has been worth it. It has never occurred to me to worry about accepting the theory of evolution or to question viewing Genesis as metaphor rather than history, and it still doesn’t, but I understand a little more clearly the theological difficulties people have with finding a way of making natural history accord with what they see as the meta-narrative in the Bible. In particular I hadn’t thought about how we view the geological and natural history of earth conflicting with the notion of a perfect creation which has degraded because of sin. I don’t share that belief but I think I finally understand the concerns of those that do.
    If I felt the need to make science accord with the account in the bible I think I would probably view it in much the same way as Scott – that is that if God is omniscient and omnipresent, he is not constrained by time ( or is this what you were getting at Scott?) He is the Alpha and Omega – there in the beginning and there at the end but he does not exist in a linear time continuum as we do. He exists in all times, simultaneously. In this non-linear experience of time we have already sinned in the beginning of time, before Eden, and we have already been redeemed. So death and imperfection exist throughout our observation of linear time, for us there is no scientifically observable time without death and corruption, because in God’s non-linear time we have already sinned.
    In evolutionary terms we were like the animals, creatures without sin or knowledge of good and evil. So that we might be in a relationship with God God gave us language, reason, sentience and free will. He breathed a soul into us. If we are guided by our reptilian brain these gifts become destructive so God also gave us the gifts of empathy, compassion and love. Our struggle is to overcome our reptilian biological legacy and for this we need to be plugged into the Divine Will. Each time we act from our instinctive selfishness we get unplugged and the result is suffering. Suffering is the outcome of sin but it is also one of the means by which we are sanctified because it creates in us a desire to draw away from sin and back to God. Just as a parent wishes their child did not have to suffer and suffers with them when they are wounded, but nevertheless knows they must learn from their mistakes in order to grow, God allows our suffering so that experiencing the consequences of sin kindles in us a desire to see justice done and reach out to God for redemption. God has known this from the beginning of time and thus the story in Genesis is of God’s timeless omniscience communicated to us through a linear-time metaphor. God experiences our creation, our fall (in evolutionary terms by allowing ourselves to be motivated by our animal self, rather than our God-self) and our eventual redemption. This is not a Calvinist God who hates us and demands blood as payment for our sins, but a loving and all-seeing God with infinite patience and mercy, inexorably drawing us to him by remaining changeless in our sin and suffering, allowing his creation to evolve into what it is meant to be, which is what He wills.

  • Scott M

    Mariam, a couple of caveats on the way you reexpressed my thoughts. First, though I wouldn’t mean it that way and I know you didn’t, I’ve discovered that the ancient language of God existing outside time even as he fully indwells it and experiences his interaction with us tends to evoke an image in many hearers in our context of a distant God who has formed this whole static tapestry called all creation through all time. So I tend to try to find different ways to express it.
    I would also add that the impact of sin is not solely felt from the beginning of time because God transcends time. I would suggest that, since it relates directly to the core of our image-bearing-ness, our sin itself transcends time and space. Yes, there is often a directly observably causal impact on the world immediately around us. But I would suggest that, even when there isn’t, nevertheless that impact is felt within creation. And thus all creation groans as it waits for the eikon to recognize that Jesus is indeed Lord. It’s not just some individual legal status. Living in obedience or disobedience to our Lord and Creator heals or harms the world and all within it.

  • http://deleted mariam

    Agreed Scott, although I wasn’t trying to reexpress your thoughts, exactly, but take something that resonated there with me and run with it. I certainly may have ended far from what you intended. I certainly agree that God is not a distant God but ever-present. An odd thing about people. When someone is always there we tend to take them for granted and forget they are there at all. It is only when they are not there that we realize that they were there all along. So we are a bit like the child who wanders away from our parent in the mall – when our parent finally finds us sobbing and alone we accuse them “Why did you leave me!?” forgetting that it was us who wandered away.
    And thus all creation groans as it waits for the eikon to recognize that Jesus is indeed Lord. It’s not just some individual legal status. Living in obedience or disobedience to our Lord and Creator heals or harms the world and all within it.
    Beautifully said. But obedience is something we must freely choose. It must come from our love, gratitude and free will. And, unfortunately, for Creation, it seems we must experience the consequences of non-obedience before we eventually make that choice. So Creation waits in pain for us to “get it”.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS (and others) — how would you respond to something like the “Explaning Religion” project (http://www.economist.com/daily/news/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10903480&top_story=1) This project is designed to probe the evolutionary bases for religious belief. Does methodological naturalism hold here?

  • ggclarke

    Mariam said (#81): “This is not a Calvinist God who hates us and demands blood as payment for our sins, but a loving and all-seeing God with infinite patience and mercy, inexorably drawing us to him by remaining changeless in our sin and suffering, allowing his creation to evolve into what it is meant to be, which is what He wills.”
    A gentle clarification: I believe the correct idea (Calvinist or otherwise) is that God hates sin, not us. In fact, God hates sin so much – the cosmic and local effects of it – that He steps into time in the person of Jesus to “pay the debt we could not pay,” and to set things right, on a cosmic scale. Mysterious as it may seem to us, this required a sacrifice; it is not an evolutionary process.
    The message of the Bible is that God Himself supplied the sacrifice, Jesus, whose resurrection demonstrated the efficacy of that sacrifice and the ultimate solution to the problem of sin.
    That’s the plain meaning of Easter, IMHO, and needs to be squared with whatever view you may have about God’s work in creation.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    Interesting.
    Such studies of religion pop up, as have evolutionary studies of moral law, altruism, and cognition. It would be surprising if they didn’t – as these questions of religion, morality and such are important puzzles. If one believes that God doesn’t exist there must be an explanation for the development of religions, moral law, and so on. If one believes that God does exist the reason is obvious, but how it is established in mankind is not. If the how is “physical” then there are some scientific questions to address. Or do we have a dualist view – mankind is a mix of soul (not amenable to scientific examination) and flesh?
    It seems to me that science can address the questions of what and how – but the answer to the bigger question of why will always be a leap of faith. If one believes in God the question of why is one we have to address. Why is a question of ultimate meaning and purpose.
    If one holds to ontological naturalism (the world is fully natural in its very being), the bigger question of why is nonsense. It degrades into a variation of the question of how and what. There is an evolutionary advantage for survival of the species; the question why becomes what – identifying the evolutionary advantage – and how as in how did the trait arise given the evolutionary advantage. How, given the absence of meaning and purpose, did we evolve to have a sense of meaning and purpose? How, in a totally natural world, did we evolve to believe in a supernatural realm? What is the survival advantage? But — there is no answer to the bigger question; there is no real why; there is no ultimate meaning, purpose, right, or wrong. What difference does it make if the species survives? Our solar system will not remain forever – neither will conditions amenable to life persist forever in the universe. Two hundred years from now everyone alive today will be dust – some number of years after that the earth will cease to exist.

  • http://www.thedesignmatrix.com Mike Gene

    “This leads to a serious objection to ID – it is a “God of the gaps” theory and such theories have a dismal history. Dr. Collins puts it thus: A “God of the gaps” religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting the faith. We must not repeat this mistake in the current era. Intelligent Design fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise. (p. 193)”
    While I greatly respect Dr. Collins as a scientist and a Christian, I’m not convinced he truly has given the concept of intelligent design much thought. The validity of his objection is dependent on other factors: 1) The person believes that the designer must be God; 2) the person is trying to prove ID; 3) the person is trying to accomplish #2 by finding something that cannot possibly be explained by non-teleological science and 4) the person believes God’s existence should be detectable by science. If one embraces all four points, yes, I think Collins has a very valid concern. If not, he does not.
    The problem is that this is only one particular way to express “ID” and that it happens to fit nicely into apologetics or a social-political agenda is probably no coincidence. There are, however, different ways to think about and approach ID, as I do in my book, The Design Matrix. In essence, Collin’s objection fails in The Matrix.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I’m not so sure the “how / why” distinction works very well when it comes to social structures such as religion. It seems that if such structures can be reduced to evolutionary models, the “how” answers the “why.” “Why” do we have religious impulses? Because they conferred some survival advantages in the past. There is no metaphysical explanation. End of narrative.
    If the conditions that required such advantages no longer obtain, however, why not satisfy the religious impulse in less divisive ways, such as through the arts? Why not encourage the religious impulse to go away altogether — maybe chemically if necessary? It seems really difficult to me, in instances like this, to distinguish “evolution” from “evolutionism.”

  • RJS

    It answers “why” in that sense of course. But the why is local and insignificant and can be reduced to or expressed in terms of how and what.
    Either there is a metaphysical narrative or there isn’t. Metaphysical “why” cannot be reduced to physical how and what.
    I don’t think that asking the physical origin (in atoms and interactions) of religion – the physical how, what, why type questions can never answer or impinge upon the metaphysical question.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    re #89 — what warrant do we have for asserting that the metaphsyical cannot be reduced to the how and what? Is it just a fideistic assertion? If there are material explanations for the way we think, feel and act with regard to religion, is the metaphysical “why” elided by Ockham’s razor? This is indeed, I think, what folks like Dawkins argue. It seems difficult to me to “save” metaphysics if material explanations are indeed so comprehensive.

  • http://www.thedesignmatrix.com/content/front-loading-epithelial-tissue/ Mike Gene

    “These considerations lead to a couple of questions for conversation.
    I am sure that some who read this will disagree with some of the points made, so … Is “Intelligent Design” a useful concept?”
    I have found it to be a very useful concept. Writing in the journal Science in 1977, Nobel Laureate Francois Jacob once offered some truly profound words:
    “To produce a valuable observation, one has first to have an idea of what to observe, a preconception of what is possible. Scientific advances often come from uncovering a hitherto unseen aspect of things as a result, not so much of using new instruments, but rather of looking at objects from a different angle. This look is necessarily guided by a certain idea of what this so-called reality might be. It always involves a certain conception about the unknown, that is, about what lies beyond that which one has logical or experimental reasons to believe.”
    ID gives me the “certain idea of what this so-called reality might be” such that I can look “at objects from a different angle.” For example, mainstream science views evolution as something that just happens. Variations occur for a variety of reasons and those that happen to impart selective advantage are disproportionately passed on. But I think there may indeed be a deeper logic to evolution.
    Rather than view ID as something that is supposed to replace evolution, I think it is more likely that ID facilitates evolution. Consider one the most common mechanisms behind evolution – gene duplication. I wonder how many people truly appreciate how brilliant it is.

  • VanSkaamper

    #90 If there are material explanations for the way we think, feel and act with regard to religion, is the metaphysical “why” elided by Ockham’s razor? This is indeed, I think, what folks like Dawkins argue. It seems difficult to me to “save” metaphysics if material explanations are indeed so comprehensive.
    I’ve been tracking with your last couple posts. The more material explanations there are (whether demonstrated or not), the greater the inclination to believe that anything that transcends the material is unnecessary…and this trajectory pleases Dawkins more than hot bubble bath and a strawberry daquiri while reading Jerry Falwell’s obituary.
    There are, however, still loads of problems with a purely materialist view which aren’t easily swept away. One of which remains the “why” of it all, another is how did this happen against such highly improbable odds (in not just the biology, but the cosmology as well).
    And then there’s the issue of free will and determinism. What happens to reason when it’s reduced to interactions of chemicals, atoms, and quantum mechanics? It seems to me that at this point, reason is an illusion that dissipates, and you’re left with stark reality that both Dawkins and the Christian biologist or physicist or philosopher or whatever that argue against with him are both just believing and speaking things that have been determined by their chemistry, and not by reason as it’s traditionally understood. One could say that if pure materialism and determinism are true, no one could ever claim to really know that in the classical sense of the term. The evolution of our thoughts and opinions isn’t free…we’re not steering a car wherever we feel like it and could have steered otherwise, we are, instead, traveling on train tracks with a certain destination that could not be other than it was. All that’s left for us at that point is to read Dennett’s comforting words to the effect that we shouldn’t let that bother us…unless, of course, we’re determined to be bothered.
    I have a headache now…

  • CE

    “How can we as believers, standing in awe of the Creator God, dispel the popular view – a safety net for atheism – that evolution disproves God and proves that the world is in its very being fully and only natural and material?”
    Careful now. Many atheists do believe that evolution shows us a model of the world completely inconsistent with the teachings of the bible (myself included). But to say atheists think evolution disproves god is a mistake. A claim about the existence of something supernatural cannot be proved or disproved. An atheist claiming that anything is proof that god doesn’t exist doesn’t understand the concept of proof, and neither does a theist who thinks something being non-disprovable somehow makes it any more likely to be true.

  • http://mysite.verizon.net/resqxbvj/crossroads/ Richard

    In reading some of the above blogs I have been brought to the realization how little I know about a lot. At the same time I have been brought this morning to the realization of how much I know about forgiveness.
    I don’t think that I ever can make too much of forgiviness but I’m certain that I can make a lot about nothing.
    There, still for some, is a gulf between the seen and the unseen, as with body and spirit or creator and creation. That gulf has been spaned by the giving of the Life of Christ to us in forgiviness for accepting that gulf. Thus, the new creature in the new creation and Love triumphs knowledge as foundation and the two mingle in the expression as wisdom.

  • Doug Allen

    The knowledge and thoughtfulness expressed here is always impressive; the civility even more so. Although I have graduate credits in biology, my lifelong avocation- birding- is what really helps me “see” evolution. At the same time, the thousands of hours I’ve spent “in the field” birding include most of the “peak experiences” of mystery and transcendence that nourish my spirituality. I like this analogy: You don’t have to be a good observer to experience gravity. It’s a “bare knuckles” intuitive event even though the theory of gravity vexed Newton and is much harder to understand, without advanced math, than evolution. Evolution, on the other hand, is not an intuitive event until the quantity and quality of your observations of flora and/or fauna acquaint you with many, many differences of structure and similarities of adaptation. One of the virtues of science, which IMHO is also a virtue of non-dogmatic religion, is the modesty of its claims. Scot frequently mentions modesty and humility when addressing the contentious divisions of Christian belief. In many ways, civility requires such modesty and humility, doesn’t it? Sadly, as we have all experienced, the most ignorant of a subject- here we’re discussing science, scientific method, and ID- will often have the most dogmatic beliefs. As an aside- the humanist group at our UU church recently asked me to be part of a debate and to argue in favor of ID. After reviewing the literature of ID which I was already pretty familiar with, I decided that I could most effectively argue for what I call the ID “lite” position which is the grand daddy of the contemporary ID position, the argument from design. Although once considered as one of the proofs for the existence of God,it has been shown to be unsatisfactory as a proof. However, it is still a pretty good argument, NOT as science, but as encounter with the mystery, awesomeness, and beauty of the creation. By first asking the participants if they believed in personal responsibility- they all did, of course!- I was able to demonstrate to their satisfaction that they all believed in free will, a concept that is not amenable to scientific study and has no more justification than a belief in God based on the encounter I described above. I could tell by their reaction that this argument from analogy touched (and maybe even modified) the core of their beliefs.
    Doug

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I don’t know – it seems that, on one level anyway, fideism is the correct approach. I do not think that there is any rationally incontrovertible proof for the existence and nature of God. God did not choose to speak in such a way; rather we have a relationship with a “person” (and I don’t want to argue here with exactly what this means).
    As has been abundantly demonstrated – we humans can rationalize away anything we want – if we want to badly enough: honor, duty, guilt, chastity, civility, love, respect, sanctity of life, the uniqueness of human life, the “humanness” of all mankind, our longing for meaning and for God, … . Does this ability to rationalize, individually and collectively, constitute a disproof for the existence of God? It does not really surprise me that scholars can investigate and propose natural “explanations” for religion.

  • http://jonathanbrink.com/2008/03/24/god-in-a-petri-dish/ Anonymous

    God In A Petri Dish « Missio Dei

    [...] Scot McKnight recently discussed the concepts of intelligent design and the arguments for the existence of God. And his post got me thinking what it must feel like, from God’s perspective, to have people argue over His existence. [...]

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    #96 — yes, I agree that our faith is a personal, relational faith, and that “proof” of the validity of Christian faith is impossible. But I don’t think that alone is fideism. I’d still suggest that we have reasons (“warrants”) for entering into a relationship with Jesus. We can talk about the testimony of the gospels and the credibility of the resurrection story, for example — certainly not as “proof,” because the story is controvertible and not even entirely consistent in the different Gospel presentations — but as one aspect in which the decision to trust in Jesus isn’t entirely a blind leap in the dark. Many of us probably also would point to friends or family in whom the life of Jesus was evident in support of the decision to believe. And I think many would point to the unlikely coincidence of life arising in the universe, the uniqueness of human “mind,” and the human moral sense, as broad warrants for belief in a personal God — again, not as “proof,” but as observable things that are consistent with faith in God.
    As I understand “fideism,” it would say that none of the above helps. We believe simply because we believe, period. This can be tied to a strong predestinarian theology — whoever believes does so because of God’s choice. Paradoxically, that can lead in turn back to fundamentalism.
    Personally, I don’t find this satisfying at all. For one thing, if fideism is right, there’s no point in all this discussion about being “missional.” There’s also not much point in trying to find any relation between faith and science — the fideist usually agrees with Tertullian that Jerusalem and Athens have nothing to do with each other.
    So, I’m back to Polanyi, Torrance, McGrath, and some kind of critical realism. “Science” can neither prove nor disprove “faith,” not because faith is just fideism, but because the concerns of faith are not reducible to science (and vice versa). A “scientific” project titled “Explaning Religion,” like the one I linked, is simply absurd, a non-sequitur. Equally absurd would be a scientific project titled “Explaning the Mind” or “Explaning Life.” And this isn’t only at the level of “why,” it’s also at the level of “how” in a sense. Something like “mind” is rooted in biology but is emergent from biology and therefore not reducible to biology. The “how” therefore has to go beyond biology.
    Note, though, that this is not the ID / naive common sense realist move that “science can empirically show the validity of faith.” That move, along with the positivism of the “new atheists,” results from the old Enlightenment reduction of everything to “nature.” The critical realist move, in contrast, allows emergent properties such as “mind” to occupy their own ontological space, part of “reality” but not reducible to “nature.”

  • Scott M

    Hmmm dopderbeck. I think I’ll just have to defer to Jesus on why people will believe our proclamation. I believe he said they would believe because of our sacrificial love for others and because we are one as the Father and Son are one.
    Or something like that.

  • Peggy

    Well, it seems such a shame to leave this teetering at 99…
    …I’m really grateful for this thoughtful conversation…and moving on the the last one now. 8)

  • Andie

    I can hardly believe all the questions this discussion has answered and opened up for me. Thanks for this discussion, and thank you, Scot, for having RJS evaluate this book and lead this discussion.
    I won’t attempt to contribute to the discussion because I’m not qualified to do so, but I am very able to understand the discussion and appreciate the love and civility shared among those who are presenting differing views.
    What a testamony to what can be.
    Andie


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