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This blog has been superceded, and is only here for archive purposes.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.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The reliance of evolution on theological arguments

I just finished reading Nelson's The Role of Theology in Current Evolutionary Reasoning. Fantastic paper. It shows how some of the main arguments for evolution are resting on theological assumptions, and even with those theological assumptions, the arguments don't carry the weight they suppose.

[note -- in all quotes, italics are in the original, bold is mine]

Evolutionists use two primary arguments for their position. The argument from imperfection (as in Gould's The Panda's Thumb) and the argument from homology. Nelson's basic point is that the former requires a definition of perfection which is both defensible and measureable, and the latter only qualifies evolution into the race -- it does not set it up as a preferential system unless empirical evidence that such homologies could be the result of common descent are found. His basic point is thus:

If homology provides evidence for descent, it must do so not because homologies are inconsistent with what a rational creator would have done. A rational creator might have done any number of things. Rather, homologies appear to mark out a pathway of natural transformation characterizing a continuous geometry of organic form, i.e., of descent. Is the appearance of natural transformation more than an appearance? Is the geometry of nature profoundly continuous? These questions want empirical answers. Speculations about the freedom of the creator should be seen for what they are, and abandoned.

So, basically, in order to prove the homology argument, it requires someone to show that there is in fact such continuous variation between creatures, not just that such homologies are not consistent with what one person's conception of a creator might do. The ultimate argument is that such a way of designing is fundamentally uncreative. In response, Nelson uses a quote by Lovtrup:

Why not? Even the Creator may use a good device more than once. Yes, why not indeed? Darwin's arguments against this possibility are postulates, unfounded by any evidence.

Nelson also notes that the common objection that an engineer could design better limbs than vertebrate limbs is a wholly unsubstantiated objection. It was made in 1859 by Owen with no support, and has been repeated ever since.

Nelson attacks the arguments from imperfection by two means. The first is to show that optimality depends precisely on (a) knowing precisely what it is that is being optimized, (b) knowing what such an optimization would look like, and (c) being able to compare what exists to what should be. (a) and (b) are wholly untenable. First of all, it presupposes a particular theology, namely one with an omnipotent Creator. While that is fine for debating Creationists (that is in fact what Creationists generally believe), it does not provide support for evolutionary theory over and above other theological outlooks. The dichotomy between Christianity and evolution is a false one, and one on which evolution rests. If the Christian conception of God were to be invalidated, evolution does not follow before a different conception of God. Of course, we do not even have to go there. Viewed individually, an organism may be viewed imperfect, when in fact if it were viewed combined with the rest of the system, the system my be judged perfect. Nelson says:

...the necessary finitude or limits of scientific observation may lead us to infer mistakenly that an organic design (e.g. the panda's thumb) is imperfect, when its imperfection is only apparent, that is, local. On this view, any judgment of perfection or imperfection must be qualified with a proviso that perfection -- defined as divinely created perfection -- can be judged only on the scale of the whole creation. And there is no reason for a creator to optimize one part of the universe at the expense of the whole.

Nelson doesn't mention this, but determining whether a given observation is optimized in relation to some idea of free will makes this determination almost impossible. Since we can't design free will, we don't know what sorts of tradeoffs are involved, and certainly don't know what perfection or imperfection would look like in such systems.

Nelson notes another problem with the imperfection argument. Namely it is that of cooption. Many evolutionists use co-option as evidence against design. If something looks rigged, if it looks like a secondary adaptation of an existing element, then it could not have been designed. However, this supposes that there exists only static theories of creation -- i.e. that all ecosystems are set up as they were from creation. But almost no creationist holds on to this view. Most creationists hold to dynamic theories, where a created kind has had secondary causes affecting their interaction with the environment, including speciation. It is essentially a false dichotomy which is set up. Either one believes in secondary causes in the current natural order, or one believes in divine fiat. Left out is the possibility of multiple, distinct creations which are further diversified by secondary causes.

Nelson makes a convincing case that a large portion of evolutionary theory rests not on empirical evidence, but on theological arguments, and bad theological arguments at that.

Yet many hold that the Darwinian revolution entailed the surrender of theological speculation in biology. Indeed, many scientists and philosophers would argue that natural science and theology view each other across a largely (if not completely) impassable epistemological gulf. Science, on this view, is by its very nature committed to a thoroughgoing methodological naturalism. Hence, the problem which opened this essay: the persistence of Darwinian theological themata in evolutionary theory is inconsistent with the doctrine of methodological naturalism.

But should science necessarily be committed to methodological naturalism? The shortcomings of theological arguments for evolution may be evidence enough that science has no business meddling in theology (or vice versa). I draw a different moral, however. Science will have to deal with theological problems if science is a truth-seeking enterprise; theology must confront the patterns of scientific experience if it hopes to speak to all of reality. What this essay helps to show, I think, is how very easy wit will be to do both theology and science badly. That is not a brief for methodological naturalism, however. It is a tale of caution about how we should go about explaining the origin of the world's creatures.

As for methodological naturalism, I should point out that Nelson has a short but interesting brief out on whether methodological naturalism should be assumed in science. Basically he points out that (a) we cannot know a priori if naturalism is true, therefore (b) using naturalistic assumptions means that we may be unnecessarily limitting ourselves to possible true explanations, and (c) searching for false explanations is not useful.

If the role of theology in biology is of interest to you, I suggest you also check out Hunter's book Darwin's God. It makes a lot of the same points here. However, it has many, many examples, and many more specific questions. Hunter does a better job at the specifics (after all, it's a full book), while Nelson does a better job of isolating the specific theological/philosophical questions that are at issue. Darwin's Proof is Hunter's follow-up work, but I have not read that book yet.

There is no place for theology in the laboratory which is the place where the truth is ultimately revealed.
I actually disagree. I take Nelson's position in the article about their interplay. I also agree with Polkinghorne's analysis that if there is a grand unified theory, it is theology doing the grand unification.

In addition, with respect to the Bible, you might be interested in specific reasons I think that the Bible should be considered when evaluating origins.

Anyway, thanks for participating, and your papers should be up on the blog later tonight or early tomorrow.
Disagreement is essential to meaningful dialogue.

Here is the challenge I pose. Name a single scientific achievement that in any way involved any theological considerations whatsoever. You may start with Galileo and end wherever you choose and I say there has never been a single example. Louis Pasteur was extremely religious, going to mass several times each week, yet there is no mention of God anywhere in his great achievements. Another example is Gregor Mendel the Abbot of his order. Where did he invoke his sincere religious beliefs?

Here is what I will concede however. I think some of the great minds of science have been blessed by having revealed for them truths that were denied to others. That may have been made possible by a God of sorts. It is remarkable that each of Mendel's seven independent factors happened to reside on a separate chromosome of which there were only seven pairs.

Einstein devoutly believed this and claimed that those who could not make discoveries were unable to hear what he called the "music of the spheres."

He summed up his views on both extremes of the current debate as follows:

"Then there are the fanatical atheists* whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics** and it stems from the same source.... They are creatures that can't hear the music of the spheres."

* Richard Dawkins with his many followers come to mind.

** Phillip Johnson with his many followers come to mind.

"The main source of the present day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in the concept of a personal God."

Einstein also, perhaps inadvertantly, spoke in support of the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis.

"Everything is determined... by forces over which we have no control."

I will be very much interested in any demonstration that theological considerations ever had anything to do with scientific progress.

Please do not construe my sincere beliefs as derogatory. They are not meant to be. I sincerely believe that we are all victims of our "prescribed" fates and are not responsible for how we are forced to believe by our genetic heritage.
Some of us have been luckier than others. In short I find it very difficult to accept the notion of Free Will. Neither apparently could Einstein.

"Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting ARE NOT FREE but are just as CAUSALLY BOUND as the stars in their motion."
(my emphasis).

"A past evolution is undeniable. A present evolution is undemonstrable."
John A. Davison
Excellent points -- I will respond later this week (probably tomorrow, but no guarantees).

I am used to being ignored just as have been all my sources. I am not being sarcastic, only accurate. I understand your position and will respect your silence. You were very kind to reprint my first paper. Incidentally, the letter to the editor by Maguire to which I responded is the only peer reviewed reference to any of my papers that I know of. We many critics of the Darwinian fairy tale share a common trait. We do not exist. We must not for, if we did the Darwinian myth would collapse in a millisecond.

Thanks again.

"A past evolution is undeniable. A present evolution is undemonstrable."
John A. Davison
"Name a single scientific achievement that in any way involved any theological considerations whatsoever."

I'm not an expert in science history, but my guess is that Mendel's ideas probably occurred to him from taking a creationist stance. He argued against biological transformism in his paper, and my guess is that the idea occurred to him originally from creationary theological considerations.

Newton's natural philosophy centered on theological considerations:

Newton, in a certain sense, went in the opposite direction, attempting to construct a natural philosophy that led inductively to God and conceiving a view of the universe in which God’s spirit is infinitely extended. God’s omnipresence (associated with God’s spirit) for Newton helps to explain the universality of gravity. Newton only hinted at this in his General Scholium to the Principia, while in private he was much more sanguine. Similarly, Newton’s concept of absolute space and time relate to his notions of God’s infinite extension in space and his infinite extension in time. Interestingly, in conceiving of God filling time on the analogy of God filling space, Newton seems to have moved towards a conception of time as a dimension.

Russell Humphreys, a YEC, was able to use Creationist assumptions to correctly predict the magnetic field of Uranus as well as the amount of Helium contained within zircon crystals.

Todd Wood's prediction of the role of mobile elements has been shown to be true.

Pangea was also predicted, by creationists, long before the long-agers thought of it. In fact, it was laughed at by the long-agers when it was originally proposed by Creationists.

I am personally working on some predictions of V(D)J recombination, and I know others are persuing research projects in a number of areas. But, as I'm not a biologist, I wouldn't put too much stock into it until after review by others.

In a mildly more humorous tone, the existance of "billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth" is a creationist prediction :)

Anyway, I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I'm most familiar with.

"I find it very difficult to accept the notion of Free Will."

That's interesting. I usually use Free Will as a starting point for proving ID. My main method of argumentation is that choice is something that we can agree exists. Deterministic mechanisms can not give choice. Random chance can not give choice. Nor is their combination sufficient to give choice. The only thing that could give choice is for there to be another causal mode. Since we've already decided that material mechanisms cannot establish choice, the cause of choice in humans must have another source. Thus, a purely material view of the origin of humans does not explain the observed phenomena of choice, and therefore cannot be complete.

Mendel made no mention of the Creator in any of his work. He was certainly no Darwinian as all his characters were discrete and without gradual transformations.

I will say this though. I feel for purely intuitive reasons that certain beings have been somehow selected to reveal the Plan to the rest of us. Bach and Mozart especially in music, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein in physics, Godfrey Hardy especially in mathematics, Berg, Bateson and Schindewolf in evolution. In each instance it has involved that which was always there, just waiting to be discovered. I believe the great musical compositions of the past were also always there and their composers were chosen to be the instruments of their expression. I feel this is what Einstein meant when he claimed that only certain humans were capable of hearing what he called the "music of the spheres."

I realize this probably sounds a little radical but it represents my current thinking.

Thanks for permitting my heresies.

"Everything is determined... by forces over which we have no control."
Albert Einstein
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?