Creation Bits

This blog has been superceded, and is only here for archive purposes. The latest blog posts, depending on topic, can be found at one of the blogs at the new location!

These are very uneditted and underthought ideas that I get while debating the creation/evolution debate. This is the more-often-updated but less-thought-out version of the crevo blog.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Naturalism, Science, Theology, Polkinghorne, and Dembski

I wanted to post about two great articles regarding naturalism, science, and theology. While I am not an ID'er, I very much respect Dembski, and the first article is his. The other, by Polkinghorne, is very interesting, though I find myself at odds with him a lot more often than Dembski.

The first article is Intelligent Design: Yesterday’s Orthodoxy, Today’s Heresy. There are several interesting things within the article. The ones I found most interesting is:

  • The fact that bad theology in the 19th century is what led to Darwinism. Specifically, he contrasted William Paley's theology of a watch built by a watchmaker with the Church Father's theology of a master flutist who both created a flute and loved to play it. Paley leaves God distant from creation, instead of intimately involved. This distance eventually led to evolution (in fact, when Darwin was still a Christian, Paley was one of his favorite reads).

  • The fact that you can't have a completely self-contained interpretive framework. Ultimately, you have to involve ideas and thoughts from other disciplines, based on (or at least inspired by) Godel's incompleteness theorems.

  • The problems with current Christian education of its pastors.

  • It points out that evolutionary ideas have been around for a looong time, and Creation is in direct opposition to them.

Here are some quotes:

“Enuma elish” are the first words of the poem. They mean “when on high.” The poem is talking about the origin of the world, and it ultimately tries to vindicate Marduk as the head god of the Babylonians. The poem starts out with Tiamat and Apsu, who are the salt and fresh waters. Notice that this starts with natural, material forces. As the salt and fresh waters mingle, there is a sort of cohabitation, and out of this comes a first generation of gods. As the gods go on, they kill each other and do various things. For generation upon generation you get new gods, and as you read along, you find that these gods are becoming more and more conscious and intelligent, until you finally get to the head god, Marduk.

Notice what is happening. It is not that you are starting out, as in Genesis, with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;” that God speaks the world into existence; that God, a conscious, intelligent, personal agent, is the source of all being, and then everything is created as a result of this intelligence. Rather, intelligence is emerging as a byproduct of natural forces working themselves out. So we see an evolutionary story in the Enuma Elish. I am not just imposing it; it is there.

And more:

Paley was a theist, but it is easy to see why with Paley’s natural theology it was a very short step from theism to deism. But now push it a little further: If a perfect watch is one that never needs winding, would an even more perfect watch be one that constructs itself? A watch is just an object in motion. Material objects move. So why not just set it up so that material objects build the watch and then allow the watch to continue indefinitely? There was a fellow named Kingsley who described evolution as the result of God, but he said, “God makes a world which makes itself.”

I think you see where this is going. You go from theism to deism, but once you have a perfect watch that does not need God except at the beginning stages, why not just take it further and just have a watch that constructs itself? I think that is where the logic of science went. By the time you get to Darwin you have a world in which everything makes itself. And what Darwin brings to the party, as it were, is an account of how you get biological organization and complexity.

And then:

Let me just say where I believe we are now. I think we are finding that this concept of a world that creates itself is no longer adequate. For the idea that the world created itself to be convincing, you are going to have to argue that material processes are adequate to explain everything in the world. To do that, there has to be a reduction to natural law. Basically, what you have to say is that for anything that happens, there is an antecedent circumstance and some law-like relationship that takes you from one thing to the other. You have this in Newtonian mechanics. For example, if you have a certain orbit, then there were some initial conditions, some properties of the matter which led to that. Or if you are trying to explain some instance of biological complexity, then there must be some background conditions, some natural selection pressures, or certain properties of variation that could account for that.
It is not that the principle of sufficient reason breaks down. It is just that when intelligence is a sufficient reason, there is no reduction possible. If God in his wisdom creates the world, it makes no sense to ask: What is behind that wisdom? Who designed that wisdom? There is nothing behind it. That is how intelligence works. Intelligence is creative. Intelligence is not an open book; intelligences write books. They create novel information. You cannot reduce them to these material mechanisms.

If I had to characterize in a nutshell what is happening within the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, I would say this: We in ID are saying that this picture of a materialistic world, entirely controlled and capable of being explained by mechanisms is no longer adequate, and we have good solid reasons for showing the insufficiency of that worldview on scientific grounds.

A similar thing happened in the 1930s in mathematics, when a mathematician named Kurt Gödel showed that there were true mathematical statements that could not be proven. The things that are proven in science are those things that you can explain in terms of material mechanisms. Gödel’s result is called “the incompleteness theorem” because it is saying that there are truths that are not susceptible to this sort of mechanization of mathematics. Likewise, the mechanization of science is incomplete—it does not account for everything.

And that brings us to the second article: Religion in an Age of Science. It's a very interesting article. However, Polkinghorne does not hold that scripture is in authority over science, and that where scripture and science disagree, we should look to scripture. He believes the other way around. However, the arguments against naturalism and science are excellent. Especially this paragraph:

There is a second thing I want to say, and it's this: many people have a picture of the physical world which is very outdated. The great triumphs of the science in the eighteenth century, and the further discoveries of the nineteenth century, encouraged a view of the physical world as if it were in some sense mechanical, a rather rigid and deterministic world. Actually, we've always known that can't be right, because we've always known as an absolutely basic fact of human nature that we have the experience of choice and responsibility. In the twentieth century we have made further scientific gains and twentieth-century science has seen the death of a merely mechanical view of the world. In part, that is due to the cloudy fitfulness of quantum theory lurking at the atomic and sub-atomic roots of the world. But I think, more importantly still, it is also due to another unexpected insight of science gained in the last thirty - forty years. Even the physics of the everyday world, even the physics of Newton, is not as mechanical as Sir Isaac and his followers would have thought it to be. That's a very surprising discovery. Those of us who learned classical physics, learned the subject by thinking about certain tame, predictable systems, like a steadily ticking pendulum. That's a very simple robust system. If you take a pendulum and slightly disturb it, or you are slightly ignorant about how it is moving, the slight disturbance only produces slight consequences, the slight ignorance only produces slight errors in your estimation of how it will behave. We thought the everyday Physical world was all like that. It was tame, it was predictable, it was controllable - in a word, it was mechanical. Now, we've discovered that, in fact, almost all the everyday physical world is not like that at all. Almost all of the everyday physical world is so exquisitely sensitive that the smallest disturbance produces quite uncontrollable and unpredictable consequences. There are very many more clouds than clocks around. This is the insight that is rather ineptly named chaotic dynamics. It came as a very great surprise to us. It is not altogether astonishing that the discovery was first made in relation to attempts to make models of the earth's weather systems. In the trade it is sometimes called the butterfly effect: that the great weather systems of the earth are so sensitive to individual circumstance that a butterfly stirring the air with its wings in Beijing today will have consequences for the storm systems over London in a month's time. Now, that world - that exquisitely sensitive world - is an intrinsically unpredictable world. We can't know about all those butterflies in Beijing. So we've learned that the physical world, whatever it is, it certainly isn't mechanical, even at the everyday level. It is something more subtle and more supple than that. To do justice to the full development of the argument, I'd need to say a good many more things, but I think already one can see the beginnings of a picture of the physical world that is unpredictable in detail and open to the future. That is a gain for science. Science begins to describe a world which is sufficiently flexible in its development, a world of true becoming, of which we can consider ourselves as inhabitants. The future is genuinely new, not just a rearrangement of what was there in the past. In such a world of true becoming, with its open future, we can begin to understand our own powers of agency, our own powers to act and bring things about. I would want to say also that such a physical world is one which, in my view, is capable also of being open to God's providential interaction and his agency in the world. So that whole picture of the physical world has been loosened up. It is much more hospitable to the presence of both humanity and divine providence than would have seemed conceivable a hundred years ago.

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