Genesis One 15

Walton.jpgIn John Walton’s (professor at Wheaton) new book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, we have yet another proposition to discuss:

Current debate about Intelligent Design ultimately concerns purpose.

Walton thinks Genesis 1 is about theology, about design, about purpose, and about function. Everything about creation is about God’s purposes and designs. Nothing, he says, “just happens.”

ID is into “irreducible complexity,” that there are structures that require parts and those parts had to be functional all at once for the structure to exist and work. ID does not offer a theory of origins. It essentially critiques the adequacy of Neo-Darwinianism. But, as Walton has said, teleology is outside science. And ID can only be established “if all naturalistic explanations have been ruled out” (128) and too often ID looks like a “God of the gaps” approach (128-129).



In Walton’s mind, ID is rooted in metaphysics: purpose. Neo-Darwinianism is too: no purpose. Perhaps “meta-Darwinism” is the way forward. The key is to recognize that science is in the quest to progress from its best explanation to the next better explanation. For Walton, the total separation of metaphysics and science is not realistic. They “blend together in life” (131).

Walton thinks ID departs from science when it finds purpose.

  • Linda Nevins

    Where in Genesis does it say Adam Awoke?? If Adam is still sleeping then we are a part of Adams dreams separated from our Spiritual Father
    by our own EGO. We are our thoughts and God gave Adam the powers that he has, therefore, Adam created within a dream a physical world for himself.

  • James

    I wonder, do ID proponents say that ID is about purpose? I think this is a bit of careless, or even perhaps dishonest, strawman argumentation.

  • RJS

    James,
    I thought this proposition – and chapter was a bit troublesome. I don’t think ID deals with purpose as much as it is an attempt to develop a rational argument refuting ontological naturalism – secular materialism.
    I also found Walton’s use of neo-darwinianism a bit troublesome. While some conflate ontological naturalism with neo-darwinianism this is not the point. “Neo-darwinianism,” if the term is used at all, is the description of a mechanism of evolution and in and of itself says nothing about purpose or even design.

  • AHH

    Walton IMO slightly misses the point of the “God of the Gaps” fallacy. He says (128):
    “God of the gaps” says that if there is no known naturalistic explanation of an observable phenomenon, that phenomenon is attributable to God. (emphasis mine)
    I would instead say:
    “God of the gaps” says that if there is a known naturalistic explanation of an observable phenomenon, that phenomenon is not attributable to God.
    Phrasing it that way illustrates the real problem, which is that “gaps” in natural explanations become a theological necessity, forcing people to oppose natural explanations in order to “make room for God”. It amounts to a denial of the traditional doctrine of Providence and God’s sovereignty over nature. And, while at least some of the ID movement avoids this fallacy, “on the ground” it is pretty common, with awful statements like “Christianity isn’t false after all because Phil Johnson is showing that evolution isn’t true after all” (I heard approximately that in a sermon a while ago).
    But I agree with Walton’s next comment that, by either definition, as scientific knowledge grows and more phenomena are explained, the role of God shrinks away. The solution is to recognize God’s hand in all phenomena, not just the ones we can’t explain.

  • RJS

    AHH,
    Excellent point – the fallacy behind much of this discussion is that a natural explanation means no God or that God was not active or that God simply set the process in motion.
    We really need a better theology of God’s interaction with the world. We don’t need to refute natural explanations or to search for gaps for God to fill.

  • AHH

    I agree with RJS about Walton’s use of “neo-Darwinism” in this chapter. To most scientists, that term simply refers to a combination of mechanisms, saying nothing about ultimate purpose or lack thereof.
    Distorting the term to include metaphysical lack of purpose (conflating the science with the metaphysics so it seems like one must oppose or accept both as a single package) is a common rhetorical tool among anti-evolutionists, and some atheist crusaders like Richard Dawkins do it also, but Walton’s perpetuation of the usage is unfortunate. Especially since he spent much of Chapter 13 talking wisely about how evolutionary science is necessarily silent with regard to questions of purpose.

  • John H. Walton

    I well understand that neo-Darwinism refers to mechanisms rather than metaphysics, but at the same time there are often metaphysics bundled with the mechanisms. I was trying to be careful, especially as I used labels like “empirical science” and “metaphysical naturalism” to give further definition to categories. On p.129 where I referred to proponents of N-D, I probably should have qualified that with an adjective (“some”) because it is true that not all proponents of N-D fit into that category. It was an unfortunate generalization–the kind that I sought to weed out through the editing process. There were other places in the book where I offered the important caveats that I hope readers will find more judicious.

  • pds

    peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
    Chalk up another writer who does not seem to understand Intelligent Design and thereby misrepresents it. Sigh.

  • James

    I don’t think Walton is alone in misunderstanding ID. Dinesh does a great job of setting up atheistic argumentation in his book What’s So Great About Christianity?, including lots of references and quotes. In his chapter on ID, he devotes about 2 paragraphs to some questions often heard from ID proponents and then spends the rest of the time talking about why he’s a theistic evolutionist. :p
    I think part of the problem is that ID isn’t a monolithic being. There is a cluster of half dozen or so people that really push the idea in their various fields that only an origin of design (and yes, ultimately froma designer) explains the evidence presented.
    I’m not sure that it’s even safely categorized as an ontological argument, though I think we’re safe in saying that it’s not teleological. At any rate, I despise seeing “intellectuals” engage people in such a way that either avoids (or is ignorant of) taking an argument on by its own terms.

  • pds

    AHH #4
    I think Walton gets the God of the Gaps fallacy pretty well, but he misapplies it to ID (because he misunderstands ID).
    You raise a valid fallacy, but it is not the traditional God of the Gaps fallacy. It is a logical error that an effect cannot have 2 causes. Dopderbeck has commented on that a lot here.
    I don’t think ID, understood properly, suffers from either fallacy.

  • John H. Walton

    8 pds
    I would be interested in how you believe I have misunderstood and misrepresented since I have had communication with the Discovery Institute before and after publication and they don’t seem to feel they were misrepresented.

  • Scot McKnight

    pds, do you think “purpose” or “teleology” are properly scientific conclusions? Isn’t Walton’s point that “purpose” is not scientific?

  • pds

    peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
    James #9,
    I agree. The standard description of ID from the proponents themselves:
    “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”
    http://www.intelligentdesign.org/index.php
    Further arguments about “purpose” get into the philosophical implications of ID, but are not inherent in ID. ID is all about detecting design in nature- can we do it and how.

  • Scot McKnight

    pds, How do you distinguish “design” from “purpose” or “teleology”?

  • AHH

    PDS #13,
    In the definition of ID you quote:
    The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
    Isn’t that an example of the logical fallacy you acknowledge in #10? Why does it have to be either/or, why can’t “intelligent cause” and natural process (undirected as far as science can tell) both be true? If they would drop the last “not” clause from their operating definition, I’d have a lot fewer problems with the ID movement — but with that clause we seem to be back to the fallacy of natural causes and God’s action being mutually exclusive.

  • pds

    JHW #11,
    I am basing my comments on the summary above. (“In Walton’s mind, ID is rooted in metaphysics: purpose.”) If this is not accurate, I take back my comments. I am sure the DI would disagree that the science of ID depends on someone’s metaphysics. ID detects design, but does not comment on the metaphysics of the design.
    Scot #12
    I don’t have a strong opinion on your questions. That gets into one’s philosophy of science and how tightly we draw our categories. Science defined narrowly does not include issues of teleology. But then we have to spend time defining “science” and “teleology.”
    My main point is that Behe, Dembski and others have been careful to limit their definition of ID to what is clearly science: detecting design based on empirical evidence. Science does this all the time in forensics and archeology and other fields.

  • pds

    peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
    Scot #14,
    “Design” can refer to just the evidence of an intelligent cause, planning in the creation of an object.
    “Purpose” and “teleology” suggest the philosophical and religious implications.
    But I’m the first to agree that words have ranges of meanings, and the popular use of these terms can be overlapping. A lot of the battles in this area are over people using terms that have multiple meanings. “Evolution” is example no. 1.

  • pds

    AHH #15,
    They are using the common scientific meaning of “natural selection.” Neither Behe nor I would disagree that “natural selection” is the work of God in some sense. But the design is not scientifically detectable the way that design is in other features of the natural world.
    We are back to definitions of terms. See the definition in this letter from Nobel winning scientists:
    http://media.ljworld.com/pdf/2005/09/15/nobel_letter.pdf

  • pds

    I have read the relevant section of the book now. I stand by my criticism. ID does not require that the designer be identified, and that does not lead to the conclusion that it is not science. It does not require that you move into the area of purpose and teleology.
    It helps explain the natural world, and it helps explain origins. It is based on positive evidence of design and presents a theory of origins.
    Professor Walton, did the Discovery Institute agree with you that ID necessarily requires an exploration of the identity of the designer and his purposes?
    Is the Big Bang theory not science because it does not explain what caused the big bang?

  • AHH

    Issues of defining ID and neo-Darwinism aside, I think the last paragraph of this chapter is quite wise:
    The view of Genesis offered in this book is also teleological but accepts that all of creation is the result of God’s handiwork, whether naturalistic mechanisms are identifiable or not, and whether evolutionary processes took place or not. God has designed all that there is and may have brought some of his designs into existence instantaneously, whereas others he may have chosen to bring into existence through long, complicated processes. Neither procedure would be any less an act of God.
    Failure to adopt this recognition of natural processes as tools of God (not inferior to more interventionist means) drives a significant fraction of popular Christian opposition to evolution and other results of science. If more Evangelicals took Walton’s approach in this paragraph, they would not need to view God and natural processes as competing explanations and many of our problems in this area would be fixed.

  • James

    Right AAH. When we recognize that God is, and God spoke, and God created, then there’s a lot of room to have charity about the how.
    I think so much contentiousness comes from a lack of understanding, and worse, misrepresentation, of other’s views in trying to prop up the one you support.
    Francis Schaeffer wrote a wonderful book, Genesis in Space and Time, where he asks a question we’d all do well to examine more frequently: What is the *least* that Genesis says while still holding the bible to be true and cohesive?

  • #John1453

    The definition of neodarwinism includes the words “undirected” and “random” which by definition exclude purpose and teleology. So it does in fact necessarily make ontological and philosophical commitments. ID proponents, at least of the Discovery Institute, do agree with teleology and purpose being observable (otherwise it wouldn’t be “design”), but it rejects any speculation about the designer.
    Regards,
    #John

  • RJS

    John#1453
    No – some people try to define neodarwinism to include the words “undirected” and “random” but this is imposing a metaphysical assumption. It loads the deck.

  • pds

    RJS #23-
    “Random” as in “random mutation” is a proper part of the definition, right? But “random” is not necessarily metaphysical, just like “design” is not.
    By the way, “purpose” is a rather vague term. The “purpose” of the heart is to pump blood, but that does not tell us whether it was designed or evolved, and it does not take it out of the realm of science.

  • RJS

    pds,
    You are right – random as in random mutations introduced into the gene is a part of the definition.
    But random is usually also attached to the idea that evolution is a highly contingent, unpredictable process – and this I disagree with.

  • http://www.nopearlsB4swine.com Wes

    Interesting discussion… But I think Linda (#1) have watched too many of the Matrix movies…

  • AHH

    RJS #25 and pds #24,
    “Random” is another of those words (like “Darwinism”) whose use is all over the map to the extent it should probably be avoided in these discussions due to the confusion generated.
    Often it gets associated with metaphysical lack of purpose. But I’d define it more like “unpredictable by the methods of science” which does not exclude God. When we say “unpredictable” in these discussions it is perhaps worthwhile to ask “unpredictable by whom?” Just because we can’t predict something or discern a purpose doesn’t mean it is unpredictable to God.
    When people (like scientific atheists but unfortunately also some Christians) try to smuggle in metaphysics for terms like neo-Darwinism by using words like “undirected” and “random”, we should insert the word “apparently” before those adjectives. Lots of things in this world, not just evolution, are apparently undirected, but as Christians we affirm that God is ultimately in charge of them. If, for example, we can affirm that God is ultimately in charge of the weather despite it being apparently undirected, a lack of apparent direction in the evolution of life should not be a theological problem.


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