Tag Archives: Metaphysical Naturalism

William Dembski replies to theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk

William Dembski is much nicer than I am, and so he takes theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk to task very gently.

Excerpt:

In the paper to which Falk responds, I lay out four non-negotiables of Christianity as well as four non-negotiables of Darwinism. Falk and I are united on the four non-negotiables of Christianity, but differ a bit on those of Darwinism. The four non-negotiables of Darwinism that I list are common descent, natural selection, human continuity, and methodological naturalism. Because Falk and I both reject Darwinism, there’s quite a bit of overlap in how we view these four non-negotiables. Nonetheless, I think it will help readers of my essay and Falk’s response to clarify some of our differences here, subtle though they may be.

With regard to common descent, I agree with Falk that God could have brought about life by means of a large-scale form of evolution that links all organisms to a common ancestor. That said, I don’t accept common descent. I think the scientific evidence is against it (for my reasons, see my book The Design of Life, coedited with Jonathan Wells). Also, even though common descent may be acceptable in broad theological terms, I think it is problematic exegetically with regard to Scripture. Simply put, I think you’re going to have a hard time getting large-scale evolution out of Scripture or rendering the two compatible.

With regard to natural selection, Falk appears to accept that this is the principal mechanism by which organisms are brought into existence successively by an evolutionary process. At the same time, Falk does not want to see natural selection as devoid of purpose but rather as a mechanism through which God is able to accomplish his purposes. But in that case, in what sense is selection “natural”? Is Falk’s view of natural selection, when viewed as a scientific hypothesis, any different from Richard Dawkins’s? And if their views, taken scientifically, are the same, what is the evidence for the creative power of this mechanism?

Falk extols “God’s marvelously ordinary processes of creation: ordinary because they follow his natural laws so faithfully, marvelous because they have resulted in a world of complex and beautiful life.” In my view, the word “ordinary” is entirely out of place here. As I’ve argued with Robert Marks in a paper titled “Life’s Conservation Law,” even if life is the result of an evolutionary process driven by natural selection, it would have to be a form of selection finely tuned by an environment that is itself finely tuned (see our contribution to The Nature of Nature, edited by Bruce Gordon and me — the paper in question is available online here).

Falk takes exception to my thinking it “odd” that God would create by natural selection, and thus by a process that gives no evidence of intelligence. And he rejects my charge that such a method of creation “occludes” God’s activity. Falk, echoing Psalm 19, proclaims that all aspects of creation bespeak God’s handiwork and glory. Now let me concede that “oddness,” in the sense of what appears odd to us very limited human beings with our very limited vantages on the world, is not a good criterion for determining what God would and wouldn’t do. Still, it hardly seems that God is mandated to create via a process that provides no evidence of his creative activity — and nowhere does Falk admit that God provides actual evidence of himself in creation (at best he allows that nature provides “signposts” — but what exactly are these signs? who is reading them? why should we take them as pointing to God?). Moreover, for Falk to echo the psalmist is hardly an argument for the world proclaiming God’s handiwork and glory, because many atheistic evolutionists will deny Falk’s confident affirmations of divine perspicuity.

I’ve seen this directly. I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck. Thus, when Falk echoes Psalm 19, what more is he doing than giving expression to his own faith? Indeed, what more is he saying to atheists than merely “I see God’s hand in all of this and you don’t — you’re blind and I see.” Perhaps faith has given him sight that atheists lack. But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature? God, as omnipotent, can certainly make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.

Still, the more interesting question here is whether there is a rational basis for Falk’s faith that is grounded in the order of nature. ID, in finding scientific evidence of intelligence in nature, says there is. Falk, along with BioLogos generally, denies this. But in that case, how can he avoid the charge that the faith by which he sees God’s handiwork is merely an overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith? Note that I’m not alone in thinking it odd that God would create by natural selection. Many atheistic evolution see evolution as a brutal and wasteful process that no self-respecting deity would have employed in bringing about life. Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and the late Stephen Jay Gould were united on this point.

There are three things that annoy me greatly and cause me to lose my temper. One of those things is theistic evolution, which to me is essentially atheism with unnecessary subjective verbiage added on top. My advice for discussing evolution with a theistic evolutionist is to never, ever allow them to talk about anything about religion. Just focus on the science and what the science can show. Anything else they say about their personal feelings and beliefs that isn’t scientific is just an attempt to deceive the listener. Never ever allow a theistic evolutionist to talk about possibilities – what God could or could not do. That is irrelevant to the discussion because it is outside of what science can show.

The central question when discussing evolution is this: can we use the ordinary methods of science, just as Dembski’s method for recognizing design based on specified complexity, in order to detect intelligent causes? Atheists and theistic evolutionists are united on the answer: NO. Darrel Falk and Richard Dawkins agree that there is no way for science to show that an intelligence is needed to explain some effect in nature, because natural mechanisms can do the job with the probabilistic resources available. Design theorists think that you can infer that intelligence is the best explanation – for some effects that pass the mathematical tests.

So you have atheists and theistic evolutionists on one side, and intelligent design people on the other side.

Philip E. Johnson lectures on science, evolution and religion

I found this fun lecture by the grandfather of the big-tent intelligent design movement, Berkeley law professor Philip E. Johnson.

I’ll bet you guys have all heard of him, but you’ve never heard him speak, right? Well, I was a young man, I used to listen to Phil’s lectures and his debates with Eugenie Scott quite a bit. This is one of my favorite lectures. Very easy to understand, and boilerplate for anything else in the origins debate. This is a great lecture – funny, engaging and useful. You will definitely listen to this lecture several times if you listen to it once.

The MP3 is here. (91 minutes, 41 megabytes)

The Inherit the Wind stereotype

  • Many people get their understanding of origins by watching movies like “Inherit the Wind” (or reading science fiction)
  • The actual events of the Scopes trial are nothing like what the movie portrays
  • The law forbidding the teaching of evolution was symbolic, not meant to be enforced
  • The actual Scopes trial was a publicity stunt to attract attention to Dayton, TN to bring business to the town
  • The ACLU advertised for a teacher who would be willing to be sued
  • They found a substitute physical education teacher who would be willing to “break” the law
  • The movie is nothing like the actual events the movie is a morality play
  • The religious people are evil and stupid and ignorant and bigoted
  • The scientists and lawyers are all intelligent, romantic, and honest seekers of the truth
  • The religious people think that the Bible trumps science and science is not as reliable as the Bible
  • The movie argues that the reason why there is ANY dissent to evolution is because of Biblical fundamentalism
  • The movie presents the idea that there are no scientific problems with evolution
  • The movie says that ONLY Biblical fundamentalists who believe in 6 day, 24-hour creation doubt evolution
  • The movie says that Biblical fundamentalism are close-minded, and not open to scientific truth
  • The movie says that people who read the Bible as making factual claims are misinterpreting the Bible
  • The movie says that smart people read the Bible for comfort and feelings and arbitrary values, not for truth

Guided evolution and methodological naturalism

  • What scientists mean by evolution is that fully naturalistic, unguided, materialistic mechanisms caused the diversity of life
  • Scientists do not allow that God had any real objective effect on how life was created
  • Scientists think that nature did all the creating, and any mention of God is unnecessary opinion – God didn’t DO ANYTHING
  • Scientists operate with one overriding rule – you can only explain the physical world with physical and material causes
  • Scientists DO NOT allow that God could have done anything detectable by the sciences
  • Scientists WILL NOT consider the idea that natural, material processes might be INSUFFICIENT for explaining everything in nature
  • You cannot even ask the question about whether natural laws, matter and chance can explain something in nature
  • Intelligent causes can NEVER be the explanation for anything in nature, and you can’t even test experimentally to check that
  • Scientists ASSUME that everything can be explained with natural laws, matter and chance – no questioning of natural causes is allowed
  • Where no natural explanation of a natural phenomenon is available, scientists SPECULATE about undiscovered natural explanations
  • The assumption of naturalistic sufficiency is called “methodological naturalism”
  • To question the assumptions that natural is all there is, and that nature has to do its own creating, makes you an “enemy of science”
  • But Johnson says that naturalists are the enemies of science, because they are like the Biblical fundamentalists
  • Naturalists have a presumption that prevents them from being willing to follow the evidence where it is leading
  • Experiments are not even needed, because the presumption of naturalism overrides any experimental finding that falsifies the sufficiency of natural causes to explain some natural phenomenon

What can natural selection and mutation actually do?

  • what evolution has actually been observed to do is explain changing populations of moths and finches
  • finches with smaller or larger beaks are observed to have differential survival rates when there are droughts or floods
  • no new body plan or new organ type has been observed to emerge from these environmental pressures
  • the only kind of evolution that has been observed is evolution within types – no new genetic instructions are created
  • in textbooks, only confirming examples are presented – but what is required is a broad pattern of gradual development of species
  • if you look at the fossil record, what you see in most cases is variation within types based on changing environments
  • the real question is: can natural law and chance be observed to be doing any creating of body plans and organ types?

What kind of effect requires an intelligent cause?

  • the thing to be explained in the history of life is the functional information sequences
  • you need to have a sequence of symbols or characters that is sufficiently long
  • your long sequence of characters has to be sequenced in the right order to have biological function
  • the only thing that can create long sequences of functional information is an intelligent cause
  • intelligent design people accept micro-evolution – changes within types – because that’s been observed
  • the real thing to be explained is the first living cell’s functional information, and the creation of new function information

Critical response

The next 15 minutes of the lecture contain a critical response from a philosophy professor who thinks that there have been no developments in design arguments since Aquinas and Paley. He basically confirms the stereotypes that Johnson outlined in the first part of the lecture. I recommend listening to this, because it shows how weak the counter arguments are, and how these pseudo-intellectuals mislead unprepared students to question their Christian faith – especially dangerous since they have the power of the grading pen. Notice especially how he never mentions any arguments that Christians actually use, nor does he mention any actual science. Everything is “words, words, words” as Hamlet might say – no talking about experiments.

Here’s what he says:

1) Don’t take the Bible literally, even if the genre is propositional.

  • all opposition to evolution is based on an ignorant, fundamentalist, literal reading of the Bible
  • Christians need to reinterpret the Bible so that it is basically relaying personal preferences, and not factual information, regardless of the genre intended
  • the Bible really doesn’t communicate anything about the way the world really is
  • the Bible is just meant to suggest certain opinions and experiences which you may find fetching, or not, depending on your feelings and community
  • if Christians would just interpret the Bible as myths and opinions on par with other personal preferences, then evolution is no threat to religious belief

2) As long as you treat the design argument as divorced from evidence, it’s not very effective

  • the latest and best version of the design argument is Paley’s argument which involves no experimental data, so I’ll critique that
  • this 200-year old argument which doesn’t rely on science has serious problems, and unnamed Christians agree with me!
  • Christians should NOT try to prove God’s existence using evidence from the natural world (as Romans 1 says), and in fact it’s “Pelagianism” to even try
  • Christians should divorce their faith from logic and evidence even though the Bible says that Jesus performed miracles to supply evidence for his claims
  • Christians should not tie their faith to the best science available today, because science is always changing – what happens if we discover that the universe is eternal tomorrow?
  • What if! What if! Just because you guys have the facts on your side today, tomorrow science might prove that the universe is eternal! What would you do then?
  • It’s a good idea for me to critique the arguments of 1000-year old people who did not know anything about the cosmic fine-tuning argument – that’s fair!
  • I find it very useful to tell people that the argument from design is false without mentioning any scientific evidence of design from things like DNA and fine-tuning
  • We need to assume that the natural world is explainable using only natural causes
  • We should assume that natural causes create all life, and then rule out all experimental evidence for intelligent causes that we have today
  • As long as you accept that God is a personal opinion that has nothing to do with reality, then you can do science
  • The non-Christian process theologian Teilhard de Chardin is actually a Christian, and he accepts evolution, so quit complaining you ignorant fundies!
  • Remember when theists said God caused thunder because he was bowling in the clouds and then we found out he didn’t? Yeah well – maybe tomorrow we’ll find out that functional sequences of amino acids and proteins have natural causes! What would you do then?

3) What the Bible really says is that you should vote Democrat and allow government to redistribute wealth to the poor

  • Stop thinking about creation and start thinking about social justice! But not for stinky unborn babies

Q&A time

The lecture concludes with 13 minutes of questions.