Theology After Darwin 3 (RJS)

I am slowly working through a series looking at the impact that the evidence for evolution has on our theology. This series is based on a book of essays, Theology After Darwin (available from amazon UK or, as pointed out by a commenter, a search of Abebooks.com on author = Berry and title = Theology After Darwin will yield a USA-based source for a new copy of the book at a reasonable price (HT PB)). David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh contributed a chapter to this book entitled Darwin and Providence. In this chapter he outlines what he sees as the four major theological challenges raised by a Darwinian or evolutionary view of creation and discusses how they were dealt with in the latter half of the nineteenth century making connection with our debates and questions today. In this post I would like to outline and consider his comments on these four issues.

1. God as remote from Cosmos. Much of the scientific development of the last several hundred years has found explanations for things that were previously inexplicable. These explanations – it is suggested – remove the need for the God hypothesis. All of the media hype over Stephen Hawking’s new book The Grand Design is centered on the claim that a natural or rational explanation removes God from the picture. Since the time of Newton, and perhaps before, there has been a stream of Christian thought that has maintained that this is the wrong approach to both God’s action in the world and the integration of developing knowledge. An increase in the understanding of the world is, quite simply, an increase in our understanding of God and his creative process. The stock response is a variant of:  “If evolution is how states of greater complexity emerge in the history of the cosmos, then it is open to the theologian to claim that this is how God does it.” (p. 76) Fergusson notes instances of this type of response within a few decades of the publication of Origin of the Species.

We do not need to seek gaps in scientific knowledge in which to interject the agency of God. By allowing these spaces to be filled by subsequent scientific research, we can concede this domain of explanation to the natural sciences.  At the same time, the theologian can insist that God has endowed the creation with the capacity to evolve increasingly complex patterns of life forms. To appeal to divine intrusion at the point when the latest scientific explanation falters is to give hostages to fortune. As science progresses so the gap is closed. In any case, such defensive strategies fail to recognize the different and complementary levels at which physical and theological explanations operate. (p. 77)

This path, however, can lead down the path toward deism. Is not the suggestion that God started the process and stepped aside?  Fergusson makes several comments in response to this charge.   First, while this view of creation is consistent with deism, it is not a one-to-one mapping. That is – other theologies, thoroughly personal theistic views of God and creation, are also consistent with this view of creation. Secondly Fergusson suggests that deism is not a monolithic view – deist should not be used as a pejorative label. Some so-called deist views retained a strong sense of providence, ethics, and eschatology. Finally, there are other forms of God’s interaction, sustenance, and involvement with creation. To say that God endowed creation with the power to create itself – to flower and grow – is not to say that he stepped away and then let nature take its course. As we flower and grow to maturity in relationship with God, so creation flowers and grows in relationship with the creator. Fergusson also brings in the trinitarian shape of Christian theology:

Those actions such as creation and preservation that are appropriated to the Father do not exclude the assignation of other actions such as incarnation, remaking, and indwelling to the Son and the Spirit, described by Irenaeus as the ‘two hands of God’. (p. 78)

2. The Role of Chance and the Loss of Providential Control. One of the big arguments against evolutionary process hinges on the idea of the providence of God. Charles Hodge at Princeton argued against Darwin’s theory of evolution on this ground.  Here is an important point:

Hodge could concede that a process of evolution was consistent with theism. However, the particular account offered by Darwin with its stress on natural selection led him to believe that it was metaphysically inconsistent with the teleological principle that belonged both to revealed and natural theology. If God were no longer in control of the course of life on earth, then it could not be perceived as proceeding towards an appointed end. (p. 79)

But evolution – even by “random” change and natural selection – need not be view as without purpose or direction. Certainly some today claim just this, especially some secular biologists defending the realm of science, but this tacks a metaphysical claim on top of the scientific observables. Steven Jay Gould made famous reference to the tape of life, suggesting that if the tape were rewound and replayed we would see a very different world around us, perhaps no intelligent life at all. But other views of the scientific observations can give a very different prediction. Evolution is a process constrained by a realm of possibility and some outcomes are, in fact, inevitable.  Simon Conway Morris makes this argument in his book Life’s Solution, but I have heard thoroughly secular colleagues make the same claim.

There is another important point that has been raised in considering the providence of God in relationship with evolutionary creation.  In fact there is a positive theological gain – evolutionary creation brings home the important reality of a God who is deeply involved in both nature and history. He doesn’t simply step in to intervene at isolated points in time and space, but is always involved. God can be seen as a sustaining, creative, guiding presence. In fleshing this out a bit more Fergusson turns to Peacock and Polkinghorne. Free action, both ours and God’s, is an important concept in this discussion.

One standard criticism [of Polkinghorne's view]  is that it is another God-of-the-gaps account. Polkinghorne’s response to this is to argue that all rational agency requires an openness in physical processes when viewed in terms of lower-level description. The openness is not a function of ignorance so much as an inherent feature of the world as we experience it. (pp. 82-83)

But there is a place where we must simply take a step of faith so to speak. We lack a fully coherent account of God’s action and of our action, but this is no reason for abandoning our theological convictions or our intuitions about human freedom and responsibility.

3. The Intensification of the Problem of Evil. The view of evolution as requiring a perpetual warfare between species leads to questions about pain and suffering in creation. Why would God create a less than perfect world?  Part of the problem here is mere choice of words and perspective – evolution is going on around us today as it has in the past. It was no more bloody and violent than the world we see today. Predation, prey, parasite and pathogen played a role, but with an intensity common to our every day life. Mutation is not a perversion of God’s plan, but part of the process – and some mutations will cause individual human and animals much suffering.  Nonetheless an image of a fight to the death between warring species overstates the case.

The problem of evil is old, and perhaps the best response is to turn to the book of Job. The response to the suggestion that evolution intensifies the problem of evil, as some theologians soon realized, is a chastened humility.

The theologian has no business reading off the details of divine design from the pages of natural history.  The only index to providence is that of faith in Christ – more speculative and comprehensive accounts should be eschewed. At the same time Darwinism may also helpfully save the theologian from embracing too narrow an anthr0pocentrism. Given the relatively late emergence of human beings and the extent to which animal life has evolved for much of the time with no reference to ourselves,  we cannot assume that God’s plans are solely directed  toward our species. God must have more in mind than the evolution of humankind. (p. 84)

But that is a problem in its own right and brings us to Fergusson’s fourth theological issue raised by evolution.

4. The Threat to Human Significance. If mankind is not the pinnacle and purpose of all creation, what are we? If we evolved in continuity with the animals what makes humans distinctive creatures? This issue will be discussed in more detail in the next post – a post that centers on the chapter by Francisco Ayala “Being Human After Darwin.”

Some comments and impressions on these issues. We’ve discussed the first three of these issues from various facets over the last couple of years. Theologians and Christian thinkers have pondered them for 150 in the context of Darwin’s theory of evolution. While an evolutionary view of creation can contribute to a view of God as remote from the cosmos, a loss of providence and purpose, and an impression that evil is an insurmountable problem in our understanding of God, I don’t think that these problems are anything new. In a more positive light our increased understanding of the nature of the world helps us wrestle with these issues and a better understanding of the nature of God is the inevitable result. God reveals himself both through relationship in special revelation and in the general revelation of our world.

A better understanding of natural process forces us to think about and understand the nature of God and of his interaction with his creation. God is not simply the answer to puzzles, the explanation for the unknown. Rather – he is in all and sustains all, the so-called natural process is not independent of the work of God.   Denis Alexander made this same point in his chapter on intelligent design. Darwin’s theory – and all that has come later – forces us into  a deeper and more profound understanding of the personal God revealed in scripture and incarnate in Christ Jesus.  John tells us “In the beginning was the Word,…  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”  Paul tells us “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” This is our center and our understanding.

The role of chance in evolutionary creation is over-rated. I think this is a non issue, no more a problem with evolutionary creation than with quantum theory. And no more a problem than with incorporation of free-will in a more deterministic direct action view of creation. The problem of evil is much bigger than the problem of evolution – and we would profit by looking at the nature of the world God created as we try to wrestle with the nature of a good God and providential natural evil. We cannot tie all to the fall and guilt of mankind. The book of Job makes this point in profound literary form.

Do you find any of these four issues significant as you think about the possibility of evolutionary creation?

How are developments in science, as seen in these four points, drawing us to think in fresh ways about God and God’s action in creation?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • phil_style

    The helio-centric argument is/was assumed to defeat the notion of human significance also. However, what modern commentators seem to forget is that placing the “earth” (or human bound existence) was to locate humans in a place of less value, not of more value., because it was assumed that the closer to the centre (or rather, the bottom) you got, the more base/evil it was. Earth was considered to be only a couple of places above the “bottom”. And humans were therefore not in a particularly high/special place.

    So does Darwin challenge the view that humans are special? That depends on what basis you place your specialness, doesn’t it? The Hebrews seem to have no problem with thinking of humanity as pretty un-special. There are numerous Hebrew reflections on the apparent futility, earthiness, temporariness (is that a word?) of the human existential condition.

    We may not be special but are we loved? Isn’t that a more important question?

  • gingoro

    Of the issues you mentioned the biggest one for me is with regard to chance. However, I have come to the conclusion that Darwin and his modern supporters like Dawkins, Hitchens or Coyne have misrepresented and hijacked the thinking to support their religious commitments. As the Bible says God controls the outcome of things that appear to mankind as occurring by chance.

    At this point my biggest issues with evolution from a religious standpoint have to do with the origin of evil, the fall and Adam.
    Dave W

  • Tim

    I think the biggest challenge a comprehensive understanding of evolution and related anthropological findings is in relation to “original sin” and the “fall.”

    I have not yet EVER seen an explanation of these two doctrinal constructs that has sufficiently dealt with the full implications of what science has to tell us about our origins as a species.

    …also, I would take issue with this statement from the post:

    “[evolution] was no more bloody and violent than the world we see today.”

    If we are speaking about other animals, sure. If we are speaking about the human species, it was far more bloody and painful – to an extreme extent.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS,

    The first point is an issue: if God made a world with awesome potentialities and set it in motion, then the deistic theory of God deserves attention. But it seems to me that #2 actually pushes against the Uninvolved god into the Involved God. If we take our world as it is, one would have to account for the anthropic principles/phenomena. I read providence and the hand of God all over a universe that is fit in amazing ways for the likes of us.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    You said,

    “But evolution – even by “random” change and natural selection – need not be view as without purpose or direction.”

    This is what most of the debate is about. Are Darwinian processes sufficient to explain everything without any need for design?

    Is your position that design was unnecessary, but God directed it anyway? Is it your position that God directed it, but there is no evidence of this in nature?

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Many of these questions are big issues only if you insist that Darwinian processes adequately explain all of biological history. I think the best explanation of all the scientific evidence is that they do not. They explain some of biological history, but not all of it. Because of this, I see the theological impact to be minimal.

  • Percival

    Significance of the four points?
    #1-What Scott said.
    #2-loss of providential control- is a challenge to traditional theology. However, Openness theology sees to be one way to answer this. It says that God could control but chooses not to although he does control the things he wishes to control. I’m not committed to Openness Theology but it seems to address the issue.
    #3 – Yes, it is an issue for me. BUT suffering and pain should not be equated with evil. They are different issues. For me, the issue is the story of a fallen creation that is to be one day restored. Now we are left with (endless?) development. It’s a different meta-narrative.
    #4 – Non-issue for me. Significance is found in what Christ did for us, not in the means of creation.

    Good post, RJS.

  • BradK

    pds,

    Other than the explanation provided by “Darwinian processes”, what else adequately explains biological history? Of course evolutionary theory does not explain everything. But its explanations are far better than anything else we have for biological explanations. In fact, there are really no other biological explanations, are there?

    The issue of design is a different one from what evolution addresses. The question of design is a philosophical and/or theological one.

  • AHH

    The “human significance” one (#4) should be a non-issue I think.
    We are significant because God has elected us to be his images, not because of anything special about our physical nature or development.

    And “natural evil” as a problem for theology is equally serious whether or not one adopts an evolutionary creation perspective.

    The one out of those 4 that does give some tension for me is that of chance and providence and deism. Christian doctrine implies that God has intentionally brought about the creation, not just set it in motion and stepped back. Yet the processes of creation (even without biological evolution, just consider formation of stars and mountains) don’t show God’s direct involvement. Maybe we avoid deism by saying that God’s involvement in salvation history is of a different character than in natural history. Maybe concepts of “kenosis” are helpful. Maybe we shrug at the mystery of the providence of a God whose ways are higher than our ways.
    But this problem is not unique to natural history; we all struggle (at least I do) with affirming God’s presence and activity when in so much of our lives and experience God seems to be absent. Why should the area of creation be immune to this problem?

  • Tim

    RJS,

    Your 4 points above are very metaphysical and abstract. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope you can appreciate you can have 20 different people in a room and come up with 20 different answers to these questions.

    What I really would like to see is someone tackle the problem head on of how original sin/the fall could possibly make sense in light of modern scientific discovery. This includes evolution, of course, but is not limited to it. Anthropological investigations that reveal the behavior of humans 30,000 years ago also have bearing.

    The question I have, and I really hope someone will take a stab at this, is how one reconciles the idea that humans descended from lustful, aggressive, and yes social and care-taking hominid ancestors with the doctrine of original sin/the fall. Furthermore, genetic analysis of the human species does not point to a primordial pair of humans, but an entire population of humans who eventually speciated away from their hominid ancestors. Where would this fall have been? Also, we have evidence of “spiritual” behavior involving elaborate burials of fellow humans dating back 29,000 years, yet the Genesis account was likely authored late in the 2nd millennium BC! So again, I would really like someone to take a stab at this.

  • AHH

    Tim #10,

    A variety of Christians have taken a stab at the issues you raise of original sin and the Fall as we have come to know more of the story of human evolution.

    There is substantial discussion in Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution: Do we Have to Choose?. He favors a “federal headship” position similar to that advocated by John Stott many years ago.
    A good article by George Murphy can be found here:
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2006/PSCF6-06Murphy.pdf
    The latest issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith has an excellent article titled “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science” by Daniel Harlow of Calvin College:
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10Harlow.pdf

    Other books that I think have takes on the topic would include Denis Lamoureux’s Evolutionary Creation and I’m sure John Polkinghorne must discuss it in some of his many books.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    BradK #8,

    “Other than the explanation provided by “Darwinian processes”, what else adequately explains biological history? Of course evolutionary theory does not explain everything. But its explanations are far better than anything else we have for biological explanations. In fact, there are really no other biological explanations, are there?”

    You seem to embrace rigid categories like Michael Kruse does. Which do you prefer, the best naturalistic explanation or the best explanation? I want to know the truth, pure and simple.

    Design could have a natural or supernatural cause. Directed panspermia proposes a natural designer of sorts. Is that scientific? Have you ruled out that option? Why?

    Scientists study and detect design all the time. Forensics, archeology, etc.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim #10,

    I have not heard good answers to your questions either. Hopefully someone will respond.

    You said,

    “Furthermore, genetic analysis of the human species does not point to a primordial pair of humans, but an entire population of humans who eventually speciated away from their hominid ancestors.”

    You can only have confidence the conclusions drawn from extrapolating back thousands of years, if you assume that God did not intervene in the genetic code or in the makeup of the human population at all in that time. Is that an assumption that you are making? Is there a Biblical basis for such Deistic dogmatism?

  • Tim

    AHH,

    I read your article from George Murphy, and in it he discusses a very different conceptualization of “original sin” from any I have heard in the past.

    For instance, he explicitly denies any pre-existing state of original righteousness/perfection. So there is no fall from a perfect state. The first sinful act and “fall” in his eyes is of our ancient ancestors choosing the wrong religious path (which apparently he feels God must have somehow, if even ever so faintly, offered them a more correct one). The actings out of lust and aggression in this capacity would not be seen as “original sin”, though they would still be considered sin of course – with such tendencies inherited through our hominid ancestors.

    So, if one wants to conceptualize original sin in this manner, then I see nothing wrong with it beyond, perhaps, quite a lot of speculation on what God must have done with respect to our ancestors at least 30,000 years ago.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think this is how most people on this forum would view original sin, but who knows. I wonder what Scot & RJSs views on this would be.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    When I think about this issue, I tend to open the playing field a bit more. I assume, for instance, that evolution here means that there is a reasonable probability that there is life somewhere else and beings that can be much like us in that other place. As far as we know, the laws of nature are not unique to our part of the universe. Will human like beings with language and reason from another galaxy be in the image of god? I say yes.

    Also, it brings to mind that beyond there being prior incarnations of man there is also going to be future incarnations of man that presumably would be better than the current version in, at least, materialistic ways. Is that version going to be closer/farther from god’s image? Does this mean that god’s image is something we had…….when? When seems to be critical all of a sudden.

    These thoughts really call into light number 4 for me. I also think animals will be the next women/blacks/gays. And if not the animals, what about earlier humans, or “humans” that evolve elsewhere?

    From a personal standpoint I really like the direction that an evolutionary view starts to take us. The concept has to move from exclusionary to inclusionary, and that is manifestly Christian.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    “You can only have confidence the conclusions drawn from extrapolating back thousands of years, if you assume that God did not intervene in the genetic code or in the makeup of the human population at all in that time. Is that an assumption that you are making? ”

    I am not making this assumption. At least, not anymore than you are making the assumption that aliens didn’t intervene in the building of the pyramids. I only see no reason for positing such an intervention on God’s part, and it certainly has no Biblical basis. The “you can’t prove God didn’t do such and such” card isn’t one I find helpful or appropriate in most situations.

  • http://scienceandtheology.wordpress.com Justin Topp

    Great post RJS and good stuff to ponder. #4 is probably good for us, and I think the appreciation that we share a common history (and atoms for that matter) can give us humility in the sight of the rest of God’s Creation.

    #1 is a problem to me no matter what your theology because it seems like it’s fairly easy to drift into Deism “practically” if we’re honest with ourselves.

    #2 is fascinating to me as a scientist and I actually think that the #3 goes the other way. A world with freedom to evolve and be seems to me to let God a bit off the hook for many evils, with the obvious caveat that this affects our notion of omnipotence.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim #16,

    If you want to rely on your extrapolations, you have to make that assumption.

    When you extrapolate back in time using genetic evidence, you are doing history. The God I love is one who is engaged and active in history. He heals diseases, including genetic diseases. I am not playing any “card.”

  • BradK

    pds,

    “You seem to embrace rigid categories like Michael Kruse does. Which do you prefer, the best naturalistic explanation or the best explanation? I want to know the truth, pure and simple.”

    I’m not sure that distinguishing between science and non-science is embracing rigid categories if that is what you mean. Personally I don’t make a distinction between “naturalistic” explanations and “best” explanations. I just prefer explanations that actually have explanatory power. I don’t find “God (or Designer if one prefers) wanted it that way” to be a very satisfying explanation. And I don’t mind accepting the answers that science gives us when dealing with the kinds of questions science can answer. Likewise, I don’t mind ignoring science on questions for which it has little capability to address. This is no different than using a hammer to drive a nail as opposed to using a sander to smooth a wood surface. I see no reason for scientific explanations to cause much difficulty for Christian beliefs. For example, none of the four issues cited by RJS above cause me any concern.

    “Design could have a natural or supernatural cause. Directed panspermia proposes a natural designer of sorts. Is that scientific? Have you ruled out that option? Why?”

    Frankly, I see no reason to give much credence to directed panspermia. It is a hypothesis with little or no evidence to support it, right? Do you really think it has explanatory power comparable to the modern synthesis of evolution?

  • rjs

    Tim (#3, #10, and #14),

    I’ve been busy today and have not had much time to read and comment. I don’t think that these three questions are too abstract. Deism, evil, and providence are significant issues. Many have pondered them extensively. I think they are significant in pds’s thinking for example (but perhaps he’ll tell us I’ve missed the point a bit).

    But, with respect to human evolution, original sin and the fall … The next two chapters in the book deal with these issues, so I will frame posts addressing them specifically. The next post will focus on human evolution, including things like the “spiritual” evidence connected with behavior in Neaderthal settlements as well as ‘modern’ human settlements. The post after will focus on sin and the fall. We should be able to generate some good and interesting conversation – which will help think through the issues.

  • Tim

    PDS (#18),

    OK PDS. I make that assumption just like I make the assumption that aliens weren’t involved in the building of the pyramids, or that the universe didn’t just begin 5 minutes ago with the illusion of age & memory, or that there isn’t a celestial teapot orbiting Mercury. I make all those assumptions. However, if you want to argue that one of these assumptions is unreasonable, perhaps the assumption you object to that God didn’t tinker with our genetic code to expand our genetic diversity to fall more in line with our evolutionary timeline, then that’s fine to. Just make your case. But if you don’t make a case, then I see no reason why I need to consider your claim as more credible than any of the others I just listed.

  • Tim

    Thanks RJS!

    I didn’t assert that the points in your post were too abstract in general, just abstract in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious test to evaluate many types of answers for validity, and I see no horizon where we’ll all start to converge on the same sort of answers the way we do on other areas of Biblical doctrine. But I look forward to your treatment of original sin & the fall in your upcoming post :)

  • Rapha

    @BradK (19)

    “I’m not sure that distinguishing between science and non-science is embracing rigid categories if that is what you mean. Personally I don’t make a distinction between “naturalistic” explanations and “best” explanations. I just prefer explanations that actually have explanatory power. I don’t find “God (or Designer if one prefers) wanted it that way” to be a very satisfying explanation … ”

    I think you’re missing the point pds is trying to raise, which is simply that naturalism /= science in the same way that republican /= politician. Just because one believes that there is some reality in the universe that is non-empirical in nature doesn’t mean that science can’t be applied to what *is* empirically verifiable.

    Darwinism may be the best naturalistic explanation of the cosmos, but once the naturalism requirement is lifted, even very traditional, conservative young-earth-six-twenty-four-hour-period theories are largely consistent with the verifiable empirical evidence we have so far.

    In addition, the truly scientific (empirically measurable, verifiable through testing) evidence for Darwinism if far from compelling; Personally I wish orthodox Christians would be a little more skeptical and a little less defensive in light of this fact. I don’t believe we are at the point (or even very close to it) where the scientific evidence is so overwhelming that we need to re-examine our theology.

    Finally BradK– I apologize if you feel ganged up on … you just hit a personal soapbox of mine so it’s almost painful to not reply. :P

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim #21,

    “However, if you want to argue that one of these assumptions is unreasonable, perhaps the assumption you object to that God didn’t tinker with our genetic code to expand our genetic diversity to fall more in line with our evolutionary timeline, then that’s fine to.”

    That is not what I am suggesting. Did God heal anyone in the last 5,000 years? Did he heal anyone of a genetic disease? If he did, it could have had a side effect of changing the person’s genetic code. If he did it a few more times, that would throw off any scientific extrapolations into deep history. God would not be trying to fool us. We would be fooling ourselves with our limited view of what God might have done for reasons that we can hardly imagine.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    BradK #19,

    “Frankly, I see no reason to give much credence to directed panspermia. It is a hypothesis with little or no evidence to support it, right? Do you really think it has explanatory power comparable to the modern synthesis of evolution?”

    Yes, it is far more plausible in explaining the origin of life than other theories. That is why Francis Crick proposed it. The “modern synthesis of evolution” doesn’t begin to explain the origin of life.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    That argument’s a little strained don’t you think? The argument itself that healing of disease would have had an impact on the genetics of an individual itself is highly speculative. Combine that with the fact that you would require an immense number of such healings to dramatically effect the overall gene pool of homo sapiens (otherwise it just dilutes across the population), and you have a specious argument indeed. Could it have happened? Sure. Where’s your evidence?

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim,

    No, I don’t think it is strained at all. It is just one possibility. You are perhaps missing the point: we don’t know what happened and how God may have acted and why and what side effects. We need to know to extrapolate with confidence.

    We cannot presume that God acted in history in order to make it possible for population geneticists to make dogmatic claims about deep history.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    I’m sorry, but claims about “possibilities” get you nowhere. It is probabilities that best informs us of the nature of the world around us. It just kills me when people invoke an omnipotent God as a potential answer to any question. The logic is, if God is omnipotent, he can do anything – including whatever it is you are looking at. It’s the ultimate trump card in some people’s minds for precisely this reason. Personally, if we invoked the God card as an explanation every time we investigated nature, you and I wouldn’t be typing on computers right now.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim,

    You are twisting my position and not getting my point.

    BTW, there are significant scientific reasons for some skepticism of historical claims based on genetic evidence. It has yielded conflicting results. See here:

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/uprooting-the-tree-of-life/

  • Tim

    PDS,

    If I am twisting your position (and if so, this would not be intentional), please point out how exactly. Blanket assertions such as you just posted doesn’t help in furthering the conversation. And as far as your link, that addresses abiogenesis. Not evolution, not genetic diversity in humans, but abiogenesis. Science doesn’t have much of a clue into how abiogenesis may or may not have worked. It’s a little past our biological event horizon in a way, just like whatever happened beyond the background cosmic microwave radiation is in terms of cosmology. We can speculate in such opaque areas. But that is all it is. Speculation. I’ve made no truth claims relating to abiogenesis, and am unlikely to do much in the way of that in the future.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    Ignore my previous comments on abiogenesis relating to your link. That was based on a superficial reading while I had my baby girl on my lap. The author is speaking about what happened in the very early stages of evolution, specifically relating to lateral gene transfer among bacteria, archaea and
    unicellular eukaryotes. I recall reading about this before. It’s a big deal in biology and has opened up entire new models and realms of research. I will comment more on this later this evening, but after my initial (albeit superficial) reading, I fail to see how this presents any problems for evolution.

  • BradK

    pds,

    “Yes, it [directed panspermia] is far more plausible in explaining the origin of life than other theories. That is why Francis Crick proposed it. The “modern synthesis of evolution” doesn’t begin to explain the origin of life.”

    When did we start discussing the origin of life? Evolution does not really deal with the origin of life. And this is not a problem, is it? As I mentioned in my original response to you “evolutionary theory does not explain everything.” We were discussing biological history, which includes far, far more than just the origin of life.

    But even so, how does directed panspermia offer any explanation for the origin of life? All it does is push that origin off to “somewhere else” right? There is not even a mechanism proposed for it, is there? How is it any better than suggesting that life was created a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away by an invisible pink unicorn?

  • BradK

    rapha,

    “I think you’re missing the point pds is trying to raise, which is simply that naturalism /= science in the same way that republican /= politician. Just because one believes that there is some reality in the universe that is non-empirical in nature doesn’t mean that science can’t be applied to what *is* empirically verifiable.”

    I understand that naturalism =/= science. I’m not sure what I said that would cause you to think otherwise. This is what I was referring to with the analogy about different tools. It’s not about natural vs. supernatural.

    “Darwinism may be the best naturalistic explanation of the cosmos, but once the naturalism requirement is lifted, even very traditional, conservative young-earth-six-twenty-four-hour-period theories are largely consistent with the verifiable empirical evidence we have so far.”

    I don’t even draw a distinction between natural and supernatural. How do we know it isn’t all natural? Or all supernatural? Rather than drawing a distinction between natural and supernatural in determining which explanations are better, we need to look at what type of questions are being asked. For all of the “how” questions, even the “how” questions that are often phrased as “why” questions, science seems to offer the best explanations. Nothing else is really answering those questions is it? For the why questions, we have philosophy/theology.

    Btw,

    “In addition, the truly scientific (empirically measurable, verifiable through testing) evidence for Darwinism if far from compelling; Personally I wish orthodox Christians would be a little more skeptical and a little less defensive in light of this fact. I don’t believe we are at the point (or even very close to it) where the scientific evidence is so overwhelming that we need to re-examine our theology.”

    Our theology may or may not need to be re-examined as a result of evolutionary evidence. That depends on which theology is under discussion. If you’re talking about “traditional, conservative young-earth-six-twenty-four-hour-period theories” you mention above, the evidence against those is beyond compelling and certainly is overwhelming. It’s simply not true that those theories are largely consistent with the verifiable empirical evidence we have so far. Also, the evidence for Darwinism (again depending on what you mean by that term) overall actually is also overwhelming.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    my brief and snarky critique of Hawking’s pronouncement

    For general science issues I recommend Science Against Evolution, which focuses only on evolution and discusses the many ways in which the observed facts undermine it. (Yeah, low-maintenance site, but not everybody has time to make things pretty. But the content is first rate.)

  • rjs

    Paula,

    The hype over Hawking’s book says a bit more than Hawking actually says – but the idea that this removes God from the picture simply misses the point of who/what God is. God is not the explanation for that not otherwise explicable.

    I just went and took a look at your recommended site and read a couple of the articles (in areas related to my specialty no less). Let me put this bluntly – it is not only unconvincing, it is a mass of misdirection and avoidance of the real issues and statements. The content is not close to first rate.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    I second rjs’s comments. There is a difference between saying that there is a creationist website (or several) online that claim to have observed facts that undermine evolution, and alternatively saying that there are in fact observed facts that undermine evolution. Have you fact checked this website? Have you validated that it is presenting the science accurately? Do you even know how you would go about doing this? I’m not assuming you don’t – just asking.

    However, one reason I do ask is is there are multiple red flags that come up in the articles in the link you provided. For instance, in Danny Defends Argon Dating, the author of the article, with a wave of the hand, completely dismisses the value of peer-review in vetting scientific research. Another example is the level of misinformation on radiometric dating. Nowhere in those articles does it explain the cross-validation techniques scientists use to anchor their radiometric dates. Rather, they just ridicule radiometric dating as circular, with scientists just throwing out dates until they get the one they want. Anyone who understands how geologists date layers (and how expensive this is) understands that the science just doesn’t work that way (and furthermore, the budgets aren’t anywhere near large enough to pay for all that re-dating if it did). Also, what’s up with the Carbon 14 dating focus? No one uses that for dating anything but the most super-recent fossils, as it just doesn’t work for an evolutionary time scale. Big in archeology, but not paleontology.

  • rjs

    Thanks Tim, That is a better answer than I gave. Mine was a bit too abrupt.

    The article on bioluminescence tries to show that evolution is assumed (yes, that is the working hypothesis in biology, so this is no surprise) – and then that it is a poor assumption. But in attempting the latter the web site article doesn’t do justice to the scientific arguments and thinking about bioluminescence, and presents no argument any stronger (when broken down) than “there are still unanswered questions”. This is not evidence against evolution.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    OK, now that I’ve (finally) had a chance to thoroughly read through your article, I have the following comments:

    First off, the website, The Design Spectrum, that posted the article issued a statement that will likely mislead most lay readers:

    “By the mid-1980s there was great optimism that molecular techniques would finally reveal the universal tree of life in all its glory. Ironically, the opposite happened.”

    This is potentially very misleading. The tree of life as most lay persons conceptualize it consists of the plant and animal life we see today. I think the lay public understands that unicellular life such as bacteria are a part of this tree, but not much attention or thought is really given to that. However, the reality is that unicellular life actually represents the vast majority of life on this planet. So what the lay public perceives as one small part of the tree of life, the biologists perceive as the majority of it. Only when that reality is understood does the above quote from that website make sense – as that plant and animal portion we are most familiar with has been dramatically confirmed by genetic evidence to follow the same evolutionary tree previous evolutionary scientists had previously sketched out. This was actually a big win for science.

    Now, the big discovery that changed everything is something called “horizontal gene transfer.” It has had its greatest impact on unicellular life, hence the explanation above. However, there has been some impact on multicellular life as well, but not anywhere near to the same extent, and that will be discussed at the end of this post.

    So on the unicellular end, we now know bacteria can laterally transfer genes amongst themselves, and there is plenty of genetic evidence that they had done this in the past with archaea and unicellular eukaryotes. This to a large extent blurs considerably any tree-like branching pattern. So much so that the metaphor of a tree at this point is probably no longer warranted.

    Now, in multicellular life, such as we visibly see in the world around us every day, horizontal gene transfer depends largely on the relics of viral infections. These are called ERVs, and while the vast majority of past ERV infections are functionless, some have been co-opted by the organism to improve fitness. However, the effect, at least in relation to the overall evolutionary timeline, barely hardly blurs the “tree of life” pattern at all. We can still, with a very high degree of precision, genetically map out a multicellular tree of life and have that match those same trees constructing before the advent of modern DNA sequencing with breathtaking concordance.

    As a final note, hybridization also is coming into play in the science, but this occurs only at the very tips of the evolutionary tree. As in the mating of a grisly bear with a polar bear. They of course are still bears, and very closely related at that (otherwise they couldn’t produce viable offspring). So again, no real problem there.

    To conclude, I would say that there is a difference between speculative science (as in assuming gradual processes when we had no good data, or assuming linear genetic transfer when we hadn’t yet really understand genetic processes that well), and well supported scientific conclusions (as in common ancestry between the great apes and humans).

    I trust this fully addresses your point PDS. I look forward to your reply.

  • Tim

    Thanks RJS – it seems we walked away with similar impressions of that website’s content then :)

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Those of you who dismiss the site I linked to, would you be willing to debate the site owner? I would very much like to see an exchange between you and him. I think your responses are as shallow and dismissive as you allege the site content is, but my opinion means nothing. I would benefit most from watching you debate the guy.

  • rjs

    Paula,

    Structured debates are combative and seldom, if ever, productive. This is not an issue that can be easily “won” with a few points scored. I am trying to slowly present a discussion of many of these issues on this blog. Scot is kind enough to allow it over the long haul.

    My background is as a Christian, (and a woman by the way), scientist, researcher, professor. I teach graduate level classes and supervise Ph.D. students in chemistry and physics. You don’t have to believe me, or what I say – but it doesn’t come from a desire to choose authority, or from a shallow dismissal of arguments against.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    I gave you specific criticisms, not just a broad “dismissal.” The main question I had for you, however, was whether or not you engaged in a critical process of evaluating the scientific evidence and understood the scientific landscape behind modern evolutionary theory. I notice that you elected not to answer this question, and instead would like to see RJS and myself debate the website owner. However, without any answer on your part that would demonstrate an understanding of the science behind evolution and a critical process that could differentiate solid scientific fact from falsehood, conjecture, or misrepresentation, how are we to have any confidence that you would be able to benefit from being on the sidelines of such a debate? How would you determine who’s arguments are the best supported? How would you fact check? How would you validate our points? These are questions that relate to your ability to differentiate scientific fact from fiction. The conversation should begin with you, and not passed on to someone else.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim #38,

    “We can still, with a very high degree of precision, genetically map out a multicellular tree of life and have that match those same trees constructing before the advent of modern DNA sequencing with breathtaking concordance.”

    This is flat out contradicted by the article. Did you read the whole thing?

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/uprooting-the-tree-of-life/

    Darwinian theory predicts a single, consistent tree of life. The genetic evidence gives us multiple inconsistent trees, which are also inconsistent with morphological trees.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    I am starting a new series on my blog if anyone is interested:

    “Fact-Checking Biologos: Francis Collins’ False and Misleading History of Intelligent Design”

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/fact-checking-biologos-francis-collins-false-and-misleading-history-of-intelligent-design-part-1/

    Comments welcome.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    Yes, I read the whole article. No, the article does not contradict this with respect to advanced multi-cellular life (which is the only area I asserted this in). It’s called a phylogenetic tree. Look it up. If you feel I’m wrong, please point out how specifically (with emphasis on the “specifically”).

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim,

    I know whether something makes sense to me or not, but I also know that anyone can be convincing as long as they’re not cross-examined. That is the purpose of any debate.

    Regardless of whether you feel I know nothing of science, I do know something of logic and debate, and would benefit from watching the two sides, in spite of your lack of confidence in me. I find your attitude condescending and arrogant, but would still like to see this debate.

    And by your own logic: if I am incapable of fact checking, then what reason could you possibly give to convince me I should think you know anything about science? Your credentials are shared by YEC scientists, so that can’t be a factor.

  • rjs

    Paula,

    Debate (of this sort) is not rooted in logic. Debate over this particular topic (age of earth and/or evolution) is seldom if ever profitable because all of the issues are deep and involved, touching on many different areas.

    Conversation with back and forth adding some time to gather arguments and ideas, listening and responding, – this has some chance of being rooted in logic and has some chance to get to the truth of the ideas. Stick around and we will continue on this path.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim #45,

    pp. 38-39 of the PDF of the article. See also the box “Natural Born Chimeras” on p. 39.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    Despite your impressions to the contrary, most even fairly logical and intelligent people do not have the pre-existing skill sets and background knowledge to understand the intricacies of how science works and why. Also, I am not blindly asserting that you don’t know how to interpret science correctly, I merely asked you to demonstrate that you have this type of skill set and knowledge that the vast majority of lay people have not yet developed (as science is a relatively unique and specialized discipline).

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    rjs,

    Every debate is (or should be) rooted in logic. Without logic, no scientist could examine data and reach a sound conclusion. Poor logic is why so many people jump to wild conclusions even when presented with confirmed facts. Regardless of the simplicity or complexity of a given topic, it is worthless without the principles of sound reasoning.

    For example, suppose we have the following syllogism:
    P1 – The fossil record shows simple marine organisms below complex reptilian organisms.
    P2 – Evolution states that the simple evolves into the complex.
    C – The fossil record proves evolution.

    Many would say that this is an airtight argument, and nobody disputes either premise. But there are at least two fallacies (reasoning errors) in it:

    1- Non-sequitur: the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises, since there is not enough information presented to make it inevitable.

    2- Excluded middle: P2 is an assertion of what a theory proposes, and ignores other possible interpretations of the fossil record.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim,

    Do the debate and then you can judge from my conclusions whether I have the ability to tell which of two scientists has a better argument. I’ll happily point out the fallacies made by either side.

    But since that doesn’t appear likely to happen, I leave you with one more link:
    http://theology.fether.net/_private/OddsOfEvo.html

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    PS: I am not the author of that article I just linked to.

  • BradK

    Paula, if you feel like you would benefit from watching someone debate the owner of the site you linked, here is a link to the website of someone who has done something like that:

    http://all-too-common-dissent.blogspot.com/2006/02/where-is-scienceagainstevolutionorg.html

    I haven’t read them all, but this guy is probably not a Christian so expect some of the comments to be unkind. Still, it may be useful to you.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    I read through pp. 38-39 again, and see nothing there to support your point. By the way, as the article is 6 pages long, you just referenced 25% of it. Please be more specific.

    Also, in relation to the “Natural Born Chimera” bos, that discusses how sea squirts are likely a hybridization of two different yet related species. I already discussed hybridization in my above post, and see no reason why it fundamentally threatens a “tree of life” depiction of most multicellular plant and animal life.

    As I acknowledged before, there can be some blurring of the tree of life through hybridization, but this is only minor. The overall structure of the tree as pertaining to multicellular animal and plant life has been dramatically confirmed via phylogentic analysis (outside certain hybridization examples such as the sea squirt – which fuse two branches of the tree).

  • Tim

    …to add to the last parenthetical, I would include horizontal gene transfer from ERVs as well as some bacterial and potentially even other animal genetic code for minor “blurring.”

  • Tim

    …and would add that the author’s conclusion parallel my own in this respect:

    “nobody is arguing – yet – that the the tree concept has outlived its usefulness in animals and plants. While vertical descent is no longer the only game in town, it is still the best way of explaining how multicellular organisms are related to one another.”

  • Tim

    Paula,

    After reading your post #50, it is clear you have no idea how scientists actually form their arguments supporting the Theory of Evolution. No professional scientist worth their salt would formulate such a naive and sketchy claim as you just laid out in #50. At this point, I have no reason to expect that you would benefit from sitting on the sidelines of any debate between this favored website owner of yours and anyone else. The knowledge I think your require is far more fundamental than this. Please read up on evolution (I know this is an assumption I’m making, that you haven’t, but what else am I to think after post #50?). I recommend Why Evolution is True by Dr. Jerry Coyne. Then, come back and demonstrate that you understand the scientific landscape behind evolutionary theory and we’ll talk further.

  • rjs

    Paula,

    What is the purpose of the link you provided for Tim? To demonstrate that you can evaluate sound logic by endorsing this article?

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim,

    I checked your link to the page from four years ago and clicked on the first claimed rebuttal. It is essentially an exercise in straw-man burning, as the writer seems to have misunderstood or twisted the majority of Pogge’s points.

    But two websites posting articles independently is hardly a debate, and you still seem to proceed from the assumption that I have not ever seen such “rebuttals” before. I also find it curious that you would offer material written by a third party after all you’ve said about wanting my own thoughts instead of someone else’s.

    But I’ll try and check back here periodically to see if you change your mind about debating Pogge directly and formally. As a scientist I’m sure you know the value of such things.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    rjs,

    The link’s purpose is to show the errors in typical evolutionary dogma in layman’s terms.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    What on Earth are you talking about? I posted no link.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim #54,

    You said the article was not about multi-cellular life. I showed that it was.

    HGT and hybridization are theories to explain why there is not one clear, consistent tree of life, as the theory predicts. Evolution constantly needs new sub-theories to explain away evidence that does not support it on its face.

    HGT and hybridization also throw doubt into any attempt to extrapolate back in time based on genetic evidence, right?

  • rjs

    Tim,

    BradK (#53) posted the link Paula (#59) is referring to.

    Paula,

    I rather thought that was your purpose.

    The problem is that those “errors” are not foundational for the evolutionary theory – and the statements in the document either misinterpret or overstate the situation. Many of the premises are like your first premise in #50 – statements of fact without enough context to prove or disprove the hypothesis of evolution by natural selection.

    The paragraph ridiculing Dawkins (with such literary gems as “speaking of that clueless heathen, Tricky Dicky Dawkins“) and his computer model doesn’t actually understand what the model was supposed to show – or where more recent thinking and simulation has gone.

    More importantly though – the language used in the document should tip us off and make us wary of the conclusions. This isn’t a logical argument – it is facts and falsehood mixed together, sprinkled with ridicule and designed to win a debate of reader opinion not to promote truth.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    No. I absolutely did not say that. I said the article’s evidence most powerfully applied to unicellular life. I noted in multiple areas where the articles content applied to multicellular life. I mentioned hybridization and ERVs for example in my initial response to your article.

    As far as HGT and hyrbridization throwing “doubt” back into the tree of life? Not I think in the way you take it. If you are looking for a “perfect” tree, then sure. But if you are talking about the sort of tree that shows common descent between, say, humans and the great apes, and whales with land mammals, then no.

  • BradK

    Paula, I posted the link you attributed to Tim in #59. I’m sorry you didn’t find it helpful.

    As RJS pointed out earlier, the site owner at the site you referenced simply does not appear to have a very firm grasp on evolution. For example, the “Seventy-five Theses” that he proposes on his site have some pretty obvious errors. One example:

    # “Abiogenesis” is the belief that life can originate from non-living substances through purely natural processes.
    # The theory of evolution depends upon abiogenesis as the starting point.
    # If the theory of abiogenesis is false, then the theory of evolution is false.

    As far as I am aware this is completely wrong. Evolution does not depend on abiogenesis at all.

    I know you wanted to see someone debate this guy, but let me *strongly* encourage you instead to do a lot of reading on evolution that is written by scientists who accept it, work in the field, and understand it. You will be much more likely to understand it then, even if you still don’t believe in it, than by reading sites that merely attempt to undermine it via misinformation as part of their agenda.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    rjs, thanks for the correction. Sorry about the mixup, Tim. But certainly if BradK’s link is acceptable though less than polite, I would have thought the one I gave was no worse in that regard.

    BradK,

    The point about abiogenesis is that evos claim they don’t have to address it, but the whole premise of evo is to show that the supernatural is unnecessary to account for what is observed. And since what is observed is that life exists, then the origin of that life must be accounted for as well. I fully understand why evos would want to evade that question, however. But this hardly means they can ignore it.

    I have done years and years of reading on evo, and as a public school student I had it rammed down my throat (college too). I had no choice but to learn it. I have read evo “from the horse’s mouth”, and reject it as being unscientific and religious at its core.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    This statement you just made to BradK is incorrect:

    “whole premise of evo is to show that the supernatural is unnecessary to account for what is observed”

    Please, learn what it is that the science actually says before you try to define it to others. It seems that what you have an understanding of is not evolution itself, but some warped caricature of it presented (I suspect) by creationist sources.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim,

    Evo is premised solely upon naturalism, such that any and all evidence that could as easily point to intelligent design is simply dismissed or reinterpreted to fit the theory. This is philosophy, not science; naturalism is no more provable than supernaturalism, because both are axioms and not provable facts.

    Since it is indisputable that evo requires naturalistic interpretations, it is by definition presuming the absence of the supernatural.

    Please, learn what philosophy is and why evo is based on it every bit as much as any other theory. Science, by definition, must confine itself to the observable, yet molecules-to-man macroevolution is not observed. And it is logically fallacious to try and make so-called microevolution proof of macro.

    It is evo that tries to warp and distort the meaning of science, and fails to recognize where true, empirical science leaves off and philosophy begins.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    This is a misleading statement:

    “Evo is premised solely upon naturalism, such that any and all evidence that could as easily point to intelligent design is simply dismissed or reinterpreted to fit the theory.”

    Evolution isn’t so much “based” on naturalism. Rather, evolution is both a theory (in the more comprehensive sense) as well as a fact (in a more narrow sense) of something we observe in nature using the tools of scientific investigation.

    Science can only examine the goings on in nature. We have no viable way to investigate the supernatural directly (except in so far as some claim the supernatural effects the natural world, such as in faith healing). So it isn’t really a fair criticism to say that evolution insists that only natural causes can account for all life a priori. In fact, many evolutionists are “theistic” evolutionists and would take umbrage at that statement. Rather, evolution simply deals with what we have already observed in nature and posits natural explanations, and then tests those explanations. By no means does evolution ever demand that the natural explanations it investigates are the ENTIRE piece of the pie. It can never rule out the supernatural.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Rather, evolution is both a theory (in the more comprehensive sense) as well as a fact (in a more narrow sense) of something we observe in nature using the tools of scientific investigation.
    Here’s a good, short look at the difference between a theory, a fact, and a law: (link). The only thing we’ve observed is that fruit flies are still fruit flies no matter how many times they mutate.

    Rather, evolution simply deals with what we have already observed in nature and posits natural explanations

    Exactly. It MUST posit ONLY natural explanations and cannot allow the supernatural as a possibility, even if it’s equally viable as an explanation. The only way it can call an observed phenomenon purely natural is after it has eliminated any other possible explanation.

    Part of the problem here is also that the terms are not defined precisely enough; what exactly is “the theory of evolution”? Ask 50 scientists and you’ll get 50 different answers with 50 different boundaries.

    Again, “what we have observed” is science, but “what it means” or “how did it get here” are philosophy.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    “The only thing we’ve observed is that fruit flies are still fruit flies no matter how many times they mutate.”

    Yes, that’s all we observe. We don’t observe beneficial mutations in bacteria. We don’t observe ERVs and Pseudogenes shared with Humans and Chimpanzees, in the exact same locations, with many of the same mutations. We don’t observe transitional fossils. We don’t observe patterns of fossil deposition that are only explainable in evolutionary terms. We don’t observe manifestations during embryonic development that are only explainable in evolutionary terms. We don’t observe biogeographic distribution of life that is only explainable in evolutionary terms. We don’t “observe” any of these things at all do we?

    Like I said, Paula, do some reading on the evidence for evolution (as opposed to just ridiculing of it by creationist sources) and then come back and discuss.

    As far as the limits of positing ONLY naturalistic explanations for science, how we deal with that limitation is by TESTING them. If the explanation doesn’t hold up, we discard it. If something truly is supernatural and not therefore investigatable by science, the effect you’ll see is conclusive evidence will continually remain elusive for the proposed “natural” cause. However, at least in so far as determining THAT evolution happened (as opposed to precisely how – there are still gaps in understanding there), the conclusive evidence is not elusive. We have it in spades.

  • Rapha

    Allow me to try to give a little focus, because I believe this is what this discussion (and the larger “evo vs creation” debate/discussion) largely ignores/trivializes in each party’s passionate attempts to uphold their views.

    Evolution (I’m using evolution to mean “macro-evolution,” a species/population evolving into a different/new species/population over time) functions, and functions quite well, as a premise. As a working theory that interprets the empirical world leading to valid/strong arguments. However, until a) the invention of time travel or b) a population is empirically observed developing into something different/new, it will never be a conclusion or able to make any argument true/cogent/sound.

    Creationism (I’m using creationism to mean all known life being created out of nothing in six twenty-four hour periods) functions, and functions quite well, as a premise. As a working theory that interprets the empirical world leading to valid/strong arguments. However, until the invention of time travel, it will never be a conclusion or able to make any argument true/cogent/sound.

    (I will exclude supernatural revelation as something that could prove Creationism as a conclusion, since that is a whole ‘nother hermeneutical can of beans, and to keep this little statement grounded in science (as in the empirically verifiable and testable.))

    Arguments (such as the one cited about bioluminescence which I confess I didn’t read) claiming that Evolution is a weaker premise than popularly believed, is valid. Claiming that it is therefore DIS-proven or untenable, is not.

    Arguments claiming that Creationism is a weaker premise than believed, is valid. Claiming that it is therefore DIS-proven or untenable, is not.

    Getting all the way back to the original question, which axiom you choose to base the history of life on has theological implications that must be dealt with. Which is why I originally stated that I don’t see a compelling reason to adopt the Evolutionary model since, in my semi-educated opinion, it forces a more convoluted theology/reading of Scripture– and the traditional Creationist model stands, as a premise, just as capably as the Evolutionary model (in my semi-educated opinion).

    Flame away.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim,

    In your first paragraph you have unwittingly conceded the point that evolutionary theory cannot be observed, and is therefore unfalsifiable. If evos do in fact agree with your paragraph, then they have admitted that evo is not science but philosophy, i.e. their opinion.

    Like I said, Tim, do some thinking about the limits of empirical science and the realm of philosophy.

    In your third paragraph you again admit that evo is unfalsifiable because there are no tests that can prove all other theories impossible. Macroevolution is simply not a scientific theory but a philosophy.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    You do realize I was being facetious in my first paragraph right?

    And in my third paragraph I explicitly stated that explanations can be tested and falsified. What can’t be falsified is scientism, which asserts that the only causes and entities that exist are natural in nature. I don’t ascribe to scientism, and an acceptance of evolution does not require scientism.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim, give me YOUR definition of the theory of evolution, the one you believe in. Tell me exactly what you believe falsifiable science has shown by experiment that qualifies as evolution by your definition.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    Biological evolution is, simply put, descent with modification. This encompasses small-scale evolution (changes in gene frequency in a population from one generation to the next) and large-scale evolution (the descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations).

    Common ancestry has been confirmed between organisms such as humans and the great apes beyond any reasonable doubt. Going further back to early microbial life, the evidence is certainly present but not as iron clad.

    One piece of evidence for you to chew on would be HERV-K ERVs in orthogonal locations across chimpanzee and human genomes. You could also try our fusion on chromosome 2 which confirms the reduction of 24 ancestral chromosomal pairs (which is currently still found in the great apes) to the 23 present in modern humans. Or you could look into the pseudogene GULO, and how it was deactivated as a working gene that ancestrally produced vitamin C and what other close relative we share the same defective psuedogene with (including many of the same mutations). Or you peruse the plethora of transitional hominid fossils including Homo heidelbergensis, Homo ergaster, Homo georgicus, Homo habilis, as well as the transitional Australopithecus fossils of Australopithecus sediba, Australopithecus africanus, and Australopithecus afarensis. Or you could go with the whale transitional fossils, or the fish transitional fossils, or the reptile transitional fossils. I don’t have time to list them all.

    Better yet, you could read Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne, and perhaps Relics of Eden by Daniel Fairbanks for the genetic evidence.

  • Tim

    …oh, but the way. What would have falsified evolution (per your request)? A mammal in the Cambrian. Our NOT having shared any ERVs with the great apes. Our NOT having shared any psuedogenes with the great apes. The lack of a chromosomal fusion in our genome. The list is actually pretty extensive. Any number of anomalies significantly out of place (as opposed to just extending the envelope of an evolutionary timeline) would do it.

  • rjs

    Tim,

    Many possible observations could falsify evolution – but don’t throw lack of chromosomal fusion in there. While the chromosomal fusion is strong evidence for evolution, the absence of fusion is not evidence against (after all most chromosomes did not fuse).

  • Frank

    Tim –

    your reference to the 24 ‘ancestral’ chromosomes to 23 is certainly not evidence of something ‘evolving’ upward, but in fact – decay. And when such fusion occurs in the observable world it results in disease. All the ‘evidence’ for evolution is based on the assumption of evolution and not a shred of empirical evidence.

    The common ancestry assumption can also be interpreted, and with less secondary assumptions, as coming from one designer creating all living things.

    Try Why Evolution is False – look it up at http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org to read it http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v13i8f.htm – the link I provide is to part 2.

    The host of the site occasionally offers himself as a representative to debate why molecules to man evolution fails, in formal debate in California, but no takers. He is a retired rocket scientist.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    Tim, it appears the evolution you believe in is identical to the evolution atheists believe in. I wasn’t sure from prior comments, as you seemed to think I had insulted theistic evos by lumping their evo beliefs with those of atheists. Also, if evo “can never rule out the supernatural” as you said earlier, then I presume you would define a theistic evo as someone who just says “God started it” but then left no evidence that He did.

    Now for your comment 76:

    Where is MACRO evolutionary evidence?

    What is evidence of “common ancestry” that cannot also be explained by common design from a single designer?

    When it comes to genes, surely you know that it’s not the similarities but the differences that matter most. After all, we share something like 50% of our genes with bananas. Even the percentage-du-jour of genes we are told we share with apes, regardless of how high it may be, ignores that critical difference. But for some reason nobody ever stops to ask why evo only ever came up with genes instead of a multiplicity of building-blocks.

    You speak of transitional hominids with great confidence but forget the abysmal track record of such claims, as history has taken one specimen after the other off the “transitional” chart. And then you need to ask how anything can be positively identified as TRANSITIONAL, meaning “moving” from one form to another, as opposed to a created form.

    Re. your alleged list of ways to falsify evo, surely you know that a global flood explains the same “sorting” of lifeforms in the geologic strata. In fact, everything you’ve offered so far is based upon a pile of assumptions, the “just so” stories that is the real “god of the gaps” (or “transitions”). So what are you going to come up with to actually falsify evo? What experiement would you perform? Remember, falsification must be an observable and repeatable experiment, or it isn’t a scientific theory. And as we’ve seen in recent years, not even the discovery of blood cells in dino bone marrow is taken as falsification, so why would I think evo won’t come up with excuses should we find “a mammal in the Cambrian”?

    So while we agree on the observed facts about genes, we disagree on how they got that way. We agree that there are many similarities but disagree on why such similarities exist. And all our disagreements depend completely on the starting assumptions we make… which is not science but philosophy, the point I’ve been making all along, and the point I cannot find any new ways to get across. So I will leave you with these two competing philosophies to ponder. And I hope you will.

  • Tim

    RJS,

    “Many possible observations could falsify evolution – but don’t throw lack of chromosomal fusion in there. While the chromosomal fusion is strong evidence for evolution, the absence of fusion is not evidence against (after all most chromosomes did not fuse).”

    Why do you say this?

    I thought it has been commonly asserted that the dropping of a whole chromosomal pair would result in an organism either dead or woefully impaired. Is this not correct? I also was under the impression that the length of time between the divergence between humans and the great apes is not sufficient, alternatively, for the great apes to have evolved a brand new, well diversified chromosomal pair. Is this not correct? I understand this is your field, so I don’t want to sound presumptuous. If I am mistaken (which perhaps I am), how so exactly?

  • AHH

    If I might drop a comment into what is now close to a 2-person conversation, I think we are seeing the common phenomenon where people talk past each other because they use the word “evolution” to mean different things. That word can be used in many ways (Tim implies some of this in distinguishing between the “fact” and “theory”) and failing to make proper distinctions can mean bad communication.

    A possibly helpful attempt to delineate the different meanings of “evolution” can be found here as part of a broader science/faith course from a Christian perspective:
    http://steamdoc.s5.com/sci-nature/Chapter5.pdf

    And I also have to pick up on Paula’s comment #80:
    Tim, it appears the evolution you believe in is identical to the evolution atheists believe in.
    Suppose we substitute some different science:
    it appears the GRAVITY you believe in is identical to the GRAVITY atheists believe in.
    Well, of course it is, in terms of science.
    But in another sense it isn’t, as I suspect that Tim (like me but unlike atheists) sees gravity and evolution (and everything else in nature) as God’s ways of working in God’s world, under God’s sovereign authority. Same science as the atheists (like in any field of science), but different metaphysical meaning.

  • Tim

    Frank,

    “your reference to the 24 ‘ancestral’ chromosomes to 23 is certainly not evidence of something ‘evolving’ upward, but in fact – decay.”

    No, it is evidence for evolution as such a fusion (or similar genetic reconciliation) was predicted prior to our even being able to measure it as evolutionary genetic mechanisms have no way of dropping an entire chromosome pair without serious destructive consequences to the organism. It is the fact that the evolutionary model predicted such a find which qualifies it as evidence. The ERVs, however, are much stronger evidence. I suggest you take a look at those.

  • Tim

    Paula,

    I don’t even know where to start. Your latest post is so full of mischaracterizations and faulty claims.

    First of all, the Evolution I believe in is the same evolution that 99.85% of life scientists understand to be true. I can guarantee you that nowhere close to 99.85% of life scientists are atheists. There are literally thousands that believe in God (as do I). The only real difference between atheistic evolution and theistic evolution is the insistence that God had a hand in guiding it vs. not. Quite a few theistic evolutionists see God’s gentle hand through the process from beginning to end, not some sort of deistic first step and then a backing away. The problem is we have no way of measuring God’s hand in guiding evolution that we know of. If we find a way, I’ll let you know.

    As far as the downplaying of the evidence I presented, I think you have no idea just how robust it is. You dismiss it with broad categorizations such as similarities and differences, with percentage points noted for the banana. You also overstate the flaws you perceive in the evidence. You present a characterization of paleontology as continually presenting with great acclaim and confidence and then rejecting candidates as transitional fossils. This just is not an accurate reflection of the state of modern paleontological science. Again, I think your objections come from your creationist sources caricatures and misrepresentations of evolutionary science.

    PLEASE FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE EVIDENCE A PRESENTED BY ACTUAL SCIENTISTS WHO BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION! When you have done this simple thing. Then come and discuss.

    Till then, I fail to see the value of continuing this conversation with you.

  • Tim

    AHH,

    Thanks for the following:

    “I suspect that Tim (like me but unlike atheists) sees gravity and evolution (and everything else in nature) as God’s ways of working in God’s world.”

    I do indeed see this, though less heavy-handed than some. I see it more akin to how an ocean shapes the landscape than say how an engineer would work – but that’s all speculation on my part I suppose as it relates to aspects of God I will never understand. I can confidently say, however, that I believe it is God that makes life and this universe beautiful though.

  • http://www.fether.net Paula

    AHH,

    You’re missing the flow of conversation here; Tim said I had offended theistic evos and I was trying to get him to show if there’s any real difference between **the definion** of evo used by theistic evos and atheistic evos. It’s curious that you would say this right after remarking that people talk past each other.

    Tim,

    I don’t know where to start either and have given up trying, as I thought I communicated with my previous comment. Your kneejerk response to it indicates that this was a good decision, especially since you completely missed the exposure of your ASSERTIONS and the philosophical basis by which you INTERPRET everything. You don’t even realize that you’ve just argued both sides: evo insists that it only keeps changing the theory to match new discoveries, but then you have a hissy over rejected transitional fossils. I can’t talk to someone who wants it both ways.

  • rjs

    Tim,

    This isn’t exactly my specialty – but I may have misread what you meant.

    If we had 24 chromosomes that would not disprove evolution. (No fusion, no problem)

    But given that we have 23 chromosomes and apes have 24, an absence of evidence for fusion (or some other way of incorporating the information from the missing chromosome into the remaining 23 possessed by humans) would deal a serious blow to evolutionary theory. And as you say the apes couldn’t have developed a completely new one in the given amount of time either.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the follow-up RJS. I thought I was on to something there with that chromosomal fusion, and it’s good to see you validate this claim :)

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim and RJS,

    Ken Miller testified in the Dover trial:

    “Therefore, evolution makes a testable prediction, and that is, somewhere in the human genome we’ve got to be able to find a human chromosome that actually shows the point at which two of these common ancestors were pasted together. We ought to be able to find a piece of Scotch tape holding together two chromosomes so that our 24 pairs — one of them was pasted together to form just 23. And if we can’t find that, then the hypothesis of common ancestry is wrong and evolution is mistaken.”

    This made me chuckle. If they hadn’t found what they expected, they would have easily come up with another sub-theory to save evolution.

    Do you agree with Miller that this would have shown that “the hypothesis of common ancestry is wrong and evolution is mistaken”?

  • Tim

    PDS,

    When you have a theory with as much evidence behind it as Evolution, you don’t just toss it out at the first anomaly. A big anomaly that obviously and unequivocally contradicts the theory, sure inflict immediate and severe damage to a theory, however. Would a lack of Chromosomal fusion reducing the 24 ancestral pairs down to 23 be such an anomaly? Very likely so. Would it “disprove” evolution? I think it would, eventually. There would be a lot of scrambling at first to investigate genetic mechanisms for some way in which you could either very rapidly drop or form a new Chromosome without dramatic destructive effect to fitness. Do I think they would find such a mechanism? No, I don’t. But they would try initially, and when scientist after scientist failed to come up with a satisfactory answer, the Theory of Evolution would take a big hit. It wouldn’t die right away, but you would start to see work in the scientific community where alternative theories to evolution would start to be pursued. You would start to hear within the scientific community that the theory actually was “in crisis.” I don’t mean some lone religiously motivated scientists. I mean the big guns.

    But this isn’t something we see so much when an anomaly impacts around the edges (such as your tree of life article). Some anomalies lead to re-formulations of a theory or development of one with higher accuracy and explanatory power. This is a good thing. This happened to Newtonian gravity, we now have Einstein’s Theory of Relativity which is far more accurate and comprehensive. Does this mean Newton was wrong? Absolutely not. It just means he wasn’t perfectly accurate. I think it is very likely that our current Theory of Evolution is less than perfectly accurate. There could be surprising new developments on the horizon, such as in the area of structuralism. However, is the claim THAT evolution happened, with respect to such phenomenon as common ancestry between humans and the great apes perfectly accurate? Yes. It’s as iron clad at this point as anything you’ll find in science.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Tim,

    So you would agree that Miller was wrong? Didn’t he know it was wrong when he said that under oath?

    The Cambrian explosion is an enormous anomaly, and it has never been adequately explained and the scientific community shrugs.

    I don’t dispute at all that “evolution happened.” Rather, I ask with Behe, what’s the edge of evolution? How much does it explain? I don’t see theistic evolutionists asking that question.

  • Tim

    PDS,

    No, Miller was not wrong. If the chromosomal fusion wasn’t there, I believe the theory would have eventually failed. It certainly would have caused massive anxiety immediately, followed by a growing realization that the theory of evolution wasn’t supportable (provided no other genetic mechanism could be found to account for the evidence – which I feel is extremely unlikely). The fact that it might take several months for the theory to die and not just simply next day in no way implies that what Miller said wasn’t true. I believe what he said was true.


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