Saturday, December 30, 2006

Introduction to the Controversy - Part 3.

Contributed by Howard Taylor.

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.


The Argument from Design – Bertrand Russell and David Hume.

Bertrand Russell greatly respected the argument from design especially as expounded by Leibniz. (He regarded Leibniz, in whom he specialised, as "one of the supreme intellects of all time") BR writes: "This argument contends that, on a survey of the known world, we find things which cannot plausibly be explained as the product of blind natural forces, but are much more reasonably to be regarded as evidences of a beneficent purpose."
He regards this familiar argument as having no "formal logical defect". He rightly points out that it does not prove the infinite or good God of normal religious belief but nevertheless says, that if true, (and BR does not give any argument against it) it demonstrates that God is "vastly wiser and more powerful than we are".
(See his chapter on Leibniz in his History Of Western Philosophy.)

It is important to appreciate that, religious sceptic though he was, (but not one who ever characterised himself as an atheist), Hume shows no sympathy to the approach we calling “methodological materialism”. That is, in Hume there is no trace of the idea that teleological concepts such as “intelligence” and “design” are inappropriate on methodological grounds in the context of biological explanation. As was usually the case with thinkers prior to Darwin, the basic question for Hume was how much soundly based knowledge can the Argument from Design yield. In Hume’s view, in turns out, the answer to this most general of questions is “not as much as previous philosophers have hitherto imagined”, but this conclusion does not depend in any way on the notion that the concept of “design” itself is in some sense inadmissibility at the outset of an investigation into the features and origin of organic nature.

What is Hume’s most general verdict on natural theological reasoning? The third sentence of his earlier work The Natural History of Religion of 1751 will surprise those who, without properly studying him, hail Hume as a committed metaphysical atheist. Hume in fact writes as follows:

“The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no
rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a
moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism
and Religion.”

ID – A threat to science?
Some allege that it is. But what do they mean? They are usually unconsciously using a definition of science which says it is that subject which only looks for physical causes for physical effects.
But what is the basis of that definition? It assumes that physical nature is a closed system of cause and effect. However we can’t assume that. There is no evidence for that belief. Some have argued from an interpretation of Godel’s theorem that the physical world is not a closed system. Why not define science as that discipline which seeks to explain physical effects by following the evidence wherever it leads rather than be bound by an unprovable metaphysics which denies that non-physical realities impinge upon the physical world?

One seamless whole?
It is often claimed by theistic evolutionists and atheists that nature is ‘one seamless whole’. That is to say it must be regarded as one without the need to postulate further creative acts. But what is the basis of this belief? It isn’t scientific because science has not shown it to be true. There is still no viable theory of how lifeless matter turned into living organisms. It is not philosophical because there is no convincing ontology to give basis for the belief. It is not theological because the Bible does not teach it. It is a prejudice.

God of the gaps.
It is often alleged that ID people are evoking the dreaded ‘god of the gaps’. This criticism is based on the assumption that all physical effects have physical causes. Just because many physical effects have been found to have physical causes, does not mean that we can assume that all will. That is an unwarranted assumption. Further the ‘god of the gaps’ gets less as science advances.
However with the biological understanding of life, the advance of science has revealed a world of marvels unthought-of before. The ‘gaps’ or mysteries are getting greater.

False dualisms in criticism of ID by some Christians.

I. Spiritual/Physical.
It is alleged that Genesis 1 and other Biblical passages are ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ and not ‘physical’. However Genesis 1 and other passages have as their subject God and the physical world. Theology is concerned, not only with the spiritual, but also with the physical. Hence, although the Resurrection of Christ had a spiritual dimension, it was nevertheless a Resurrection of the Body.

II. Creation/Redemption.
Many Christians accept the miracles of Redemption as seen in Jesus but reject the Divine creative input expounded in Genesis 1. The Incarnation holds together the Creation and Redemption and therefore they should not be treated as totally distinct.

ID makes no predictions as normal scientific theories do.
This is a common criticism of ID. However it should be remembered that the theory of evolution makes no predictions either. It is ‘immunised’ (Karl Popper’s phrase – see below) against such a test. Actually ID does make predictions. It predicts that there will always be a discontinuity between non living matter and living matter. The exclusively physical properties between non-living matter and living matter will never be found. The basis of this prediction is that the DNA and RNA (essential to life) are a form of code – see section above entitled: Messages, languages, and coded information ONLY come from minds.

Karl Popper.
He says Evolution is not a scientific theory because it cannot be tested. He regards theories as ‘immunised’ as those that are protected against all future discoveries because they can be reconciled with anything[2]. His theory of falsification says that for a theory to be counted as scientific, the proposer must be able to stipulate what new facts if found in the future would falsify his theory. Evolution in its modern form fails this test and is ‘immunised’ against all possible future discoveries. He regards this as a bad thing. He says ‘Evolution’ is at best a philosophical framework in which other scientific disciplines can find their home. He therefore reluctantly accepted it.
But can it provide such a framework? This leads us to the next topic.

Two opinions
Not being in the same scientific league as many geneticists I cannot argue with their biology. However it is often said that Darwinian evolution provides the paradigm within which all biological research is carried out. For example Denis Alexander who has made his case against ID, says in his otherwise very good book ‘Rebuilding the Matrix:
The theory gives coherence to an immense varied array of research fields, including and behavioural psychology, to name but a few [3].
Now compare that statement with the following statement from Professor Philip S. Skell, Member, National Academy of Sciences (a very prestigious body), Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus Penn State University. He researched researchers. He asked them to consider a world where there was no theory of evolution. What difference would it have made to their research?
In 2005 he said:
I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.
Many of the scientific criticisms of (neo-Darwinism) are well known by scientists in various disciplines, including the disciplines of chemistry and biochemistry, in which I have done my work. I have found that some of my scientific colleagues are very reluctant to acknowledge the existence of problems with evolutionary theory to the general public. They display an almost religious zeal for a strictly Darwinian view of biological origins.Darwinian evolution is an interesting theory about the remote history of life. Nonetheless, it has little practical impact on those branches of science that do not address questions of biological history (largely based on stones, the fossil evidence). Modern biology is engaged in the examination of tissues from living organisms with new methods and instruments. None of the great discoveries in biology and medicine over the past century depended on guidance from Darwinian evolution---it provided no support.

Dawkins and the Origin of Complexity.

So who made God? This question is the essence of Richard Dawkins' argument on page 141 of his ‘The Blind Watchmaker’[4].

He says a Creator, in order to make such a thing as the DNA would have to be at least as complex as the DNA. If we have to explain the origin of the DNA's complexity then we must explain the origin of the complexity of God. What is wrong with this argument? It assumes that the laws of nature (i.e. cause and effect) apply to that which is beyond nature - a patently false assumption. If God exists then He is, by definition, beyond nature. Dawkins goes on to say:
"You have to say something like 'God was always there', and if you allow yourself that sort of lazy way out, you might as well just say 'DNA was always there', or 'Life was always there'. and be done with it."

Although, no doubt Dawkins means this as a rhetorical sentence, its rhetoric can only be effective if the sentence makes any sense. But it doesn't. It is beyond dispute that DNA and life were not always there! No one pretends that they were. We do not know the laws that relate to the Eternal existence of God who is beyond nature, but what we do know is that life has not always existed. [5]
It is a common claim of Richard Dawkins and others that a cause for nature’s complexity must be more complex than nature itself. Thus that complex cause’s existence must call for explanation. However is this true? For example a war between nations maybe very complex, but the cause of the war maybe one man’s greed, jealousy or ambition. Just as we invoke non-complex but personal causes for complex situations, why not invoke a Personal cause for the existence of life?[6] Indeed Thomas Aquinas argues that God must be simple i.e. He must have no component parts.
[1] I owe this section on Hume to Dr. T. S. Torrance, senior lecturer in Economics and Philosophy at Heriot-Watt University.
[2] Unended Quest.
[3] Page 289.
[4] The Whole Book is reviewed in
[5] I give another response to this often asserted Dawkins argument at the end of the ‘philosophy’ section in the appendix on Intelligent Design.
[6] This is the essence of Keith Ward’s argument in a Tablet article in January 2006.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Biologic Institute.

A tantalising glimpse of some of the work going on in ID is here.

The Sunday Sequence

This was an interesting (in parts) debate featuring Richard Dawkins and Andy McIntosh from Truth in Science.
The presenter (William Crawley) summary of the sequence is here
Listen again is here.

Things became interesting when AM challenged RD on whether abiogenesis requires intelligence or not. RD interpreted this to mean that AM was maintaining that evolution breaks the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

Is seems clear to me that they were talking past each other at this point. AM is talking about the problem of abiogenesis whereas RD is talking about things like gene duplications and subsequent mutation.

Richard Dawkin's reflects on the sequence here

This has been followed up by a letter in the Guardian really pushing for Leeds University to take further action with regard to AM.

“However, the claim that McIntosh's eccentric view of reality is unconnected
with his teaching or research as a professor of thermodynamics would appear to
be cast into some doubt by a conversation that I recently had with him on BBC
Belfast's Sunday Sequence. McIntosh publicly stated that evolution is
incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics.”

According to RD YEC beliefs should bar a person from any position anywhere in UK education or research. This includes areas entirely unrelated to science as well as to science itself.

“As to the general point about whether barmy views like McIntosh's should debar
somebody from teaching a subject which is not directly connected to that
particular nonsense, it is a difficult question. Would you like your child to be
taught, say, chemistry or German, by a teacher who believes in the Flat Earth
theory? It doesn't matter, you might say, because chemistry and German would be
the same on a flat Earth. But wouldn't you lose CONFIDENCE in that teacher's
qualification to teach ANYTHING? Would you entrust your child's education in any
subject to a man whose perception of reality was so demonstrably unreal?”