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The Evolution of Evolution

The End of Darwinism Evolution
Evolutionism vs. Creationism

The surest way to gin up some traffic here is to put those terms into the post.  Heheh. 

Now, I cheated in the title, as will become apparent in a moment.  Aristo-Thomists might already suspect the pun.  If so, keep quiet until I'm done here. 

On one side of the debate is a group of people with deeply held metaphysical beliefs who tell fables.  On the other, a group of people who desire above all that their beliefs be recognized as a science.  I speak, of course, of evolutionists and creationists respectively.  The atheist philosopher, Michael Ruse, once made an important distinction between evolution and evolutionism, the latter being a pseudo-religious commitment to the former.  A similar distinction can be made between creation and creationism, with the latter desiring the former be exalted to the status of science.  There is a symmetry to it all that is pleasing to geometers, string theorists, and auld curmudgeons. 

Mary Midgley addresses this in her book Evolution as Religion

1. Evolutionism. 
You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics.  But it is baldly asserted by evolutionists that the "fact" of evolution has "proven" God unnecessary. This is as if the fact of the piano and the physics of vibrating strings "proves" there is no need for the pianist, as the music has been completely explained by the acoustics.   One suspects that a step is missing. 

The statement is silly on several levels.  First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena.  Rather it is a conclusion reasoned from various facts about the world.  This is not the venue for that; but let it be said that neither God nor evolution is "necessary" for auto repair.  And ponder the whole "X is not necessary for Y" argument.  Why after all, should X be necessary for Y?

What gives evolution such lofty credentials, anyhow.  Does it possess the Subtle Knife?  Why do we not suppose that Maxwell's Equations made God obsolete?  Back in the old days, Gregory of Nyssa engaged his dying sister Macrina in a Platonic dialogue, which is what people did before Twitter, I suppose.  Gregory told her that mechanical automata were said to have proven that God was unnecessary.  So this sort of thing has been going on for a long time, with the death of God announced breathlessly every generation or so. 

For St. Macrina's answer, see: Gregory of Nyssa, On the soul and ressurection and scroll down to the part beginning "But what, I asked, if, insisting on the great differences..."  Basically, she said that such automata provided supporting evidence for God's existence.  And the same is true of evolution. 

Secondly, as James Chastek has pointed out:
Presumably, evolution means we can stop looking for some magical elf-and-Santa-workshop where God busily assembles new species.  Great. Call off the search. If evolution were to fail, what then? Would it leave the sort of hole that could be filled by the the magical mystery species shop? No. We would just look for another natural explanation, whatever it was. If evolution were to fail, it would not leave a God-shaped hole, and so it follows that it is not filling one now, nor has it ever done so.

2. Intelligent Design. 
You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics.  But it is baldly asserted by IDers that the "fact" of irreducible complexity has "proven" a Designer necessary. 

The statement is silly on several levels.  First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena.  Oh, wait.  I am repeating myself.  It's almost as if they were mirror images of....  Well, ah, hmm.  Let's continue.

For some comments on Intelligent Design, per se: Michael Behe: Teach evolution and ask hard questions

Behe's theory is: A) Some things are irreducibly complex.  B) Natural selection cannot account for irreducible complexity.  Therefore C) an Intelligent Designer is necessary. 

Critics, driven mad by C) have attacked A) and B) with vigor.  I have sometimes thought that if he had simply stopped with B) he would have been okay.  

Critics of A) usually miss the point. He did not say that some things were really really complex. He specified a particular kind of complexity: one in which the whole must exist before it can function. Gradually adding parts in slow Darwinian manner would not do it. This is easily seen in artifacts: e.g. a circuit that does not function unless all components are in place. It is not clear that the same is necessarily true of organisms. Of course, Darwin started it by citing the artificial breeding of pigeons as the model for the actions of Nature.  But it is not clear that truths about artifacts carry over to nature without a Breeder lurking in the background.

Critics of B) also miss the point.  He does not say that natural selection is false.  He believes it does account for most of evolution but does not see how it can operate at the microcellular level.  (Remember, the Darwinian engine is overbreeding + ruthless winnowing.)  Behe has not proven his case. Absence of evidence -- no known Darwinian pathway -- is not evidence of absence -- no possible Darwinian pathway. But neither is it refuted by telling "just so stories" about how it might possibly could maybe happen. Behe has pointed out that in some of the proposed pathways rebutting him there are intermediate links that by Darwinian logic would have been selected against.   

Against this we must put St. Thomas Aquinas, who compared Nature to an Artifact:  
Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
-- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268 

IOW, Aquinas saw no contradiction between considering Nature as an Artifact and Nature moving by her own internal powers.  Behe and company missed that completely, which is why their work fails theologically before it fails as science.  In fact, there very well may be biological phenomena unaccounted for by the Darwinian metaphysic.  (After all, gravity does not explain how protons and neutrons form a nucleus.  Electromagnetism does not account for radiation.)

Even if the theory of natural selection failed to account for cellular machinery, there could well be other mechanisms that do.  Perhaps chemical or physical!  (Though biologists would probably hate that as much as an Intelligent Designer!)  One of the bad effects of creationism is that it has caused Darwinians to circle the wagons and get defensive and not look for other possibilities.  Even Eldrege and Gould took flack for their punctuated equilibrium theory because it "gave comfort to the creationists."  Rally round the paradigm, boys!   

Behe himself admits that other natural explanations are possible; i.e., that B) can be correct without C) following:
The underlying point of all these criticisms that needs to be addressed, I think, is that it is possible future work might show irreducible complexity to be explainable by some unintelligent process (although not necessarily a Darwinian one). And on that point I agree the critics are entirely correct. I acknowledge that I cannot rule out the possibility future work might explain irreducibly complex biochemical systems without the need to invoke intelligent design, as I stated in Darwin’s Black Box.
Michael Behe: Philosophical objections to intelligent design, response

Irreducible complexity actually is scientific in the Popperian sense.  One may falsify the proposition that X is irreducibly complex by actually reducing it; not with coulda woulda just-so stories, but by demonstrating the actual Darwinian pathway -- meaning that for each alteration of the genome along the pathway, the resulting organism is better fit for survival than its competitors. 

The Intelligent Designer is not natural science.  BTW, Behe also believes that the Big Bang implies an Intelligent Designer.  And a few scientists actually denounce the Big Bang as "theistic creationism" on that account.  But not too many.  If they do not fear the spirit of God, they do fear the spirit of Einstein.  Physics, man; that's real science.   

Now, Intelligent Design is a shape-shifter, an SFnal critter, since many of its fanboys mean different things by it at different times, depending on the exigencies of the circumstances.  But as we saw with Aquinas, one may believe in a God who has designs [plans] for the world without believing in the specific hypothesis that calls itself Intelligent Design.  In fact, considering the God of traditional theology, one ought not buy into the theory.  

One further note is the "third way" described by U.Chi researcher, James Shapiro: A third way

3. Evolution
There is persistent confusion between cause and effect ever since Hume cut them both off at the knees.  In physics, it is much easier to distinguish between empirical facts, natural laws, and physical theories.  Falling bodies are empirical facts.  Regularities like s = 0.5gt^2 are the natural laws.  And "gravity" is the theory that "makes sense" of the facts and laws.  From it, the laws can be deduced and the facts predicted.  But a theory is simply a story we tell that makes sense of the facts.  No matter how well supported, it never "graduates" to "fact" because it never ever becomes empirically real.  You cannot show me a gravity or tell me how much it weighs or what its length is (objective properties).   

That species change over time and are genetically related are facts.  "Natural selection" (overbreeding+death) is the theory, the "engine" that "drives" evolution.  Without it, evolution would only be, it would not "make sense."

There are logical problems with evo, which we won't go into.  The atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor has pointed out some of these problems here: Jerry Fodor: Why pigs dont have wings  And David Stove, another atheist philosopher, asks:  So you think you are a Darwinian?

Darwin started by drawing an analogy to pigeon-breeders, which right away is a problem.  Pigeon breeding is intelligent design.  The breeder knows what traits he will select for.  "How could a studied decision to breed for one trait or another be ‘the very same thing’ as the adventitious culling of a population?" 

Also Darwin tried to explain species while denying the real existence of species which is rather problematical:
"I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other..."  -- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
This is raw nominalism, and as such philosophically incoherent.  If a species is only a term, what exactly is 'evolving'? 

James Chastek wrote:
Didn’t “natural selection” used to be nothing but boring, old fashioned “death”? Did we do that much more than recognize an interesting side effect of death? Include some mutations too, I guess. So death and freaks. “A closer look at death and freaks”, however, isn’t the name for a theory that could make anyone giddy with the idea that they’ve killed God, or overthrown everything once claimed about nature, or ushered in an absolutely different new era of human understanding.  

4. Why Evolution and Creation Cannot Contradict Each Other
The problem with ID is the same as the problem with evolutionism: equivocation in the terms.  There is Intelligent Design [caps], a specific theory proposed by Behe and others.  Then there is intelligent design, the notion that the universe is created according to a plan by God.  IDers can slip back and forth between them because the terms they use could mean either. 

Aquinas famously gave five arguments from empirical facts to the existence of God, but none of them were the argument from complexity, either Paley's version or Behe's version.  Both Paley and Behe accept the post-Newtonian metaphysic of dead matter subject only to external forces.  In this, they are like Dawkins. 

But evolution of whatever stripe is only "moving matter around."  Something that has the form of an ape changes into something that has the form of a man.  Matter is transformed; it is not brought into being.  Creation otoh is continuous and from nothing.  It is not something that happened long ago; it is happening right now.  It is not a hypothesis explaining how something apelike became something manlike.  Rather it explains how nature has the power to do that in the first place.  As Augustine of Hippo wrote:

It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth.  In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in tmes to come.  [Emph. added] 
On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11

Here we see the root of evolutionary thinking.  Creation was not a point event, but a creation of things including their time-dimension.  It is a sustaining in being not a poofing into existence.  Aquinas even addressed it assuming an eternal universe.  It did not matter to creation if the universe had no beginning in time. 

ID tends to demote God from Creator to transformer of matter.  It is thus theolgically unsound.  Because modern science recognizes only certain kinds of efficient causes, IDers imagine God to be some sort of really powerful efficient cause operating within the universe, making things happen that would not have happened by themselves.  Yet, God is said to have looked on all he created and saw that it was good, and surely "good" includes "works right without tweaking."  The problem with imagining God as an efficient cause in rivalry with other efficient causes is that when a natural efficient cause is found, that "eliminates" God.  ID is a God-of-the-Gaps argument, about in a par with the unGod of the Gaps that holds that knowing how something is transformed eliminates the issue that it exists at all. 

But if God exists and is the source of being, as some suppose, then he is the source of falling apples and the ability of sodium and chlorine to form salt, not just of weird flagella or oddball hemoglobin cascades.  IOW, there is no need to suppose something is unlikely in order reason toward God.  Aquinas did not.  In traditional theology, the likely things that we think we do understand pretty well also receive their being from him.  So the evolution of the flagellum is hard to figure.  Big deal.  Someday we might figure it out.  (That's Aquinas again.)  But unless it just *poofed* into existence, it must have come from something pre-existing; and that something was necessarily some thing - it had a form.  But if so it merely has been transformed into another form.  And if it has been transformed, there was a physical series of operations by which it transformed.  It may or may not have been natural selection; but it was surely natural. 

For a Thomist critique of ID see the following.

Michael Tkacz: Thomas Aquinas versus the Intelligent Designers

Francis Beckwith: Thomas Aquinas and intelligent design

Stephen Barr: The end of intelligent design

5. The End of Evolution

Much of the modern problem of understanding stems from the rejection of final causes.  This was due to fear of Early Moderns that if final causes were recognized, then God would have to be admitted.  That is, establishing finality is hard; but once you do, God pops out like Jack-in-the-Box which startles small children and modern sophisticates.  But this gets it backward.  Aquinas thought that finality in nature was obvious, but reasoning from there to God was very difficult.  After all, Aristotle saw finality in nature too; but never concluded a God from it.  

Hence, the modern sees everything in terms of a certain kind of efficient cause, and the old idea of God is pasteurized into an engineer sitting at a drafting table having a bit of fun with the platypus before getting down to the serious business of puff adders and praying mantises.  God must be some sort of efficient cause, too; right?  

Actually, evolution is very hard to get to using only efficient causality.  Not even Dawkins can avoid teleology in his writings.  (His famous example of deriving a sentence from a series of random letters is not only teleological -- he has the target sentence already in mind; but unDarwinian -- the intermediate sentences do not make sense and so are "unfit" for their niche as information-bearers.  The real trick is to start with an intelligible sentence and, by accumulating random mutations and eliminating the results that become unintelligible, wind up with a different sentence.  Better yet: start with the Don Quixote genome (biblionome?) and watch it mutate into Moby Dick!    

It makes much more sense when viewed from the four Aristotelian causes, including finality.   

Because, without finality, efficient causes make no sense.  If there is not something in A that "points toward" B, then how can A cause B "always or for the most part and not cause C or D or nothing at all.  Hume realized this and wound up denying causality, too.  There is only correlation. 
Pfui, sez I.  Which is about what ibn Rushd said to al-Ghazali (who had said much the same as Hume). 

The proof of finality is the existence of natural laws.  Science thus denies finality while quietly relying upon it.  Falling bodies move to the point of lowest gravitational potential.  Complex systems move toward equilibrium in "attractor basins" with sometimes "strange attractors."  Tiger cubs mature into adult tigers, and never into tiger lilies.  The adult tiger is the final cause of the maturation of the tiger cub.

(If finality really does imply God, as Aquinas reasoned, then the existence of a natural law of evolution is an evidence for God's existence, rather than against.)  

So what is the end of evolution?  First of all, "evolution" is a global cause and so the end must be a global end.  And that means it is not this or that particular species or trait.  The end of evolution would seem to be "a multiplication of species."  After all Darwin called his tome "The Origin of Species."  We also observe globally a tendency toward greater complexity even if not each and every step along the way has done so.  This may be do more to a second law of evolution and not natural selection per se. 

On the specific level, the evolution of species X would seem to have as its end "greater fitness to this ecological niche."  What particular trait or behavior achieves this fitness would seem a matter of chance. 

On the individual level, living things have a drive to go on living and are apt, when finding themselves in possession of a new trait, to find some way of exploiting that trait.  For example, Fodor's polar bears finding themselves blinding white and seeing land prey running away might wander about looking to strike it rich and wind up prospering in the Great White North.  IOW, perhaps the environment did not select for white bears but white bears selected their environment.   

6. An Apology

I didn't have time to make this shorter. Perhaps reflection will help an edit. But some may note that the links critical of evolutionism were mostly to "atheists" like Fodor, Stove, Midgley; while the links critical of intelligent design were to "theists" like Barr, Tkacz, and Beckwith. This appealed to my sense of humor.  

6. Addendum  
It's been pointed out that medieval art often portrayed God directly designing the universe with compass and square, and therefore portrayed him as a direct efficient cause.  However, the medievals were quite clear on the idea of metaphor and allegory.  It is the modern, infused with science, that insists on seeing everything with a remorseless literalism.  



( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2010 02:56 am (UTC)
Interesting read
I linked to here from my facebook and livejournal, if that's ok.
Feb. 17th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
An intelligent creator need not be God, as we conceive of a supernatural, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient Creator. He might be merely a cosmic engineer. God, as Christians know Him, is also loving, self-sacrificial, and so generous as to endow His creatures with the freedom to love or not to love. It is in His power to grant them eternal life, so they can share His life in joy forever.

As well as creating the physical world, God must also have created the rules and conditions by which it operates, including mathematics, time and space.

God knits all that He has created into one comprehensive and glorious cosmos, which includes not only physical objects and their rules and actions, but mental events and qualities, infinitely allusive, from music to poetry, to love itself, including love of the beauty of the cosmos. The universe is a great poem, a great symphony, a splendid work of truth.

Everything God has made is light, is one, and yet everything retains its freedom and character. All is made to praise Him, and in praising him it gives glory in joy and peace forever. Amen.

Feb. 17th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
But it is baldly asserted by IDers that the "fact" of irreducible complexity has "proven" a Designer necessary.

It depends. I've seen some IDers claim just that, though Behe himself seems to be more modest in his claims and (correctly) state that it's just an inference.

Behe has not proven his case. Absence of evidence -- no known Darwinian pathway -- is not evidence of absence -- no possible Darwinian pathway. But neither is it refuted by telling "just so stories" about how it might possibly could maybe happen. Behe has pointed out that in some of the proposed pathways rebutting him there are intermediate links that by Darwinian logic would have been selected against.

I actually think that Behe's IC argument can be made stronger than he makes it (though not as absolute as some ID layman rank-and-file claim it is).

One thing the IC argument *does* establish, with hard logical rigor, is that if there is a Darwinian pathway to an IC object, it must be an indirect one rather than a direct one.

That is to say, if we were to (going backwards in time) remove one of the parts of the bacterial flagellum, for instance, it *might* be possible to rearrange and/or modify the remaining parts into some pre-flagellum machine so that they do something else "functional", but what they wouldn't be is a bacterial flagellum.

But this means that the fact that the parts to this pre-flagellum machine just so happened to be what was needed to make the flagellum, and that they just so happened to come together in the right way to make the flagellum, is left to pure happenstance. Sure, the parts of the pre-flagellum could have been honed by natural selection, in gradual Darwinian fashion, to be more and more adept at whatever role they played at the time, but they could not have been selected for their future adequacy as the necessary parts of the bacterial flagellum.

In fact, while they are designed to mask the problem, indirect pathways to an IC system from a pre-existing system present the exact same conceptual problem as the idea that an IC system might happen to pop into existence from the chance encounter of parts from several *different* systems. Either way, you've got a bunch of parts spontaneously changing function and forming a new integrated whole for which they were neither evolved nor intended. Sure, it's possible, but it's really just an appeal to raw chance, and the whole point of Darwinism was to provide a non-intentional explanation that was better than chance.

So, Behe's IC formulation actually accomplishes two things on the level of logical deduction: 1) It shows that a direct Darwinian pathway to an IC system is impossible (this I've seen IDers point out before), and 2) It shows that any possible remaining Darwinian pathway is not an improvement on chance (this I haven't).
Feb. 18th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
Dawkins's program has another problem. He is not just trying to defend evolution, he is trying to defend Atheistic Evolution. However, his program is an example of artificial selection by an intelligence via a program designed by that intelligence.

In line with your comment, he needs to find a way to mimic natural selection and to have it work on a much bigger sample.
Feb. 18th, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
In any conversation about creationism, evolution, intelligent design, New Atheists, and all that hubbub, without fail the stupidest thing to come up has always been and will always be "irreducible complexity." Of all the philosophers' attempts to masquerade as biologists, this is the most offensively transparent. It's like a student insisting to his math teacher that there simply must be a biggest number, and in fact that he has already found it.

No biological structures are irreducibly complex. If it has adaptive value--if it can keep a single specimen alive and fed and healthy for one extra minute--it doesn't matter if it doesn't look to human eyes like a "finished product." Hippos don't swim as well as dolphins, but they swim a whole lot better than lions, which is all that matters.
Feb. 18th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
Lots of bluster, but little demonstration that you even comprehend what ID proponents (and frankly, some critics) mean by an irreducibly complex structure. It's not about whether it does a given task in an optimally efficient way, or whether it looks like a "finished product".

Stop relying on what misinformed lay-critics (typically people who insist that ID is nothing but Young Earth Creationism in "disguise") tell you about ID and IC. Read it for yourself.
Feb. 19th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
Re: Heh.
You are quite correct. For instance, Behe is not a Young Earth Creationist, and he is one of the better known people in the ID movement.
Feb. 18th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
Irreducible Complexity
Do you even know what is meant by "irreducible complexity" in regard to cellular construction? It means that a system is entirely dependent on its constituent parts and that the system would stop performing a vital operation without one of those parts. The point of it is that each individual part sometimes does not have a selective advantage on its own and therefore no Darwinian mechanic can bring it about. Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions drawn by people who say a thing is irreducibly complex does not excuse ignorance of what it is.
Feb. 19th, 2010 12:41 am (UTC)
Re: Irreducible Complexity
But unlike an artifact, in which the parts have no intrinsic finality to the purpose they fulfill or relationship to one another, the parts of a biological organism do have intrinsic relationships to the whole. They affect one another epigenetically, providing cues to one another that affect their development.

On a gross level, we observe that when we tame silver foxes over the course of many generations, they become not only tame but also develop floppy ears, curled tails, and other features essentially as do domesticated dogs, cats, or cows. These other features are "free riders" that are "part of the package" of the genetic change stemming from domestication. These linkages make it far more likely that evolutionary changes really do produce "package" deals and not "one part at a time."

This "free rider" issue is a bigger problem to natural selection than is irreducible complexity, as Fodor pointed out in the article I linked. In the case of domesticating foxes, it is obvious which trait is being selected [tameness] and which are the free riders [curly tail, floppy ears, etc.] But this cannot be the case for natural selection, since there is no intention in nature. We can suppose the polar bear was selected for white fur because it matches the white snow and ice and thus lets the bear sneak up on the ringed seals. Seems reasonable, but that's our mind, not mindless nature. It is also possible that the bear was selected for warm fur and the whiteness was a free rider. (It's not clear that the polar bear relies on camouflage at all! http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/bear-facts/polar-bear-prey/ ) IOW, it's not clear that there were once grizzly bears hunting on the ice -- and the brown ones starved because the seals saw them and ran away laughing while the white ones prospered and became polar bears. (Polars and grizzlies remain interfertile. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grizzly%E2%80%93polar_bear_hybrid ) Perhaps some bears just happened to turn white and found in the striving to make a living that they fed better in the White Lands.
Feb. 19th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
Michael Behe is a professor of Biochemistry. While he is by no means the only representative of ID, he is not (merely) a philosopher. In point of fact, many of the examples he uses in his book, Darwin's Black Box, are from his field of expertise.
Feb. 19th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC)
Take the sentence:

Methinks it is much like a weasel.

Suppose a sentence is a portion of a "genome" and its survivability is equivalent to its intelligibility. That is, the sentence must "mean something" at every stage of its evolution.

Is it possible for such a sentence to come about by cumulative mutations of the phonemes from an earlier sentence? If not, then it is "irreducibly complex," in the sense that it could not remain intelligible if even one part of it were changed. (Let's not look at letters but phonemes. English spelling doesn't catch the phonemes exactly.)

A single point mutation gives us this: the ea sound came from a short a sound by the elongation of the vowel. The schwah vowel realized as -el remains a schwah but is realized as -ail

Methinks it is much like a wassail.

This is still intelligible (if a bit silly) but recall that Hamlet was shamming insanity at the time anyway. Unless he really had gone insane, which is another post entirely. So the sentence is still intelligible in the larger context of the play, even.

Now suppose there were some other mutations, such as fused phonemes separating, additional phonemes inserted, phonemes clipped, and so forth. And suppose, too, the equivalent of regulatory genes that insist that certain sounds cannot come together or which "correct" other parts of the string according to the "grammatical" or "orthographical" rules of nature. An earlier version might be:

Methinks I smack like a wassail

"Smack" means "to taste" so perhaps a wassail bowl has been dumped on his head.

A still earlier version might be

Meath inks' mat link a boss ail

Which means that printer's mats inked up with inks made in Co. Meath, Ire. have been correlated to illness in management. Whether this is still compatible with the rest of Hamlet is problematical.

If you can't do something like that the sentence is irreducible.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 18th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
Re: оченавь даже
Спасибо. Я буду пробовать сделать более ясным.
Feb. 20th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
Silly and sillier
"First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena. Rather it is a conclusion reasoned from various facts about the world."
"You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics. But it is baldly asserted by IDers that the "fact" of irreducible complexity has "proven" a Designer necessary.

The statement is silly on several levels. First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena. Oh, wait. I am repeating myself. It's almost as if they were mirror images of.... Well, ah, hmm. Let's continue.
Behe's theory is: A) Some things are irreducibly complex. B) Natural selection cannot account for irreducible complexity. Therefore C) an Intelligent Designer is necessary.

So what, exactly, is the bitch with Behe and the IDists in general? I mean, given that their conclusion that there really is design in biology is "... a conclusion reasoned from various facts about the world."
Feb. 20th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC)
Re: Silly and sillier
The IDers think that it is the **complexity** that provides the evidence. In effect, they say: the simple stuff is due to nature, but the particularly complicated stuff is G/o/d a Designer intervening to accomplish something nature could not.

The theologian says: the simple stuff and the complex stuff alike owe their being to God. How they were transformed from one form to another can be explained by natural philosophy because God created them with natures capable of acting directly on one another.

ID effectively says that once a natural explanation for X is found, it is no longer evidence of a designer. The theologians say that regardless whether or not we know the natural explanation, X is evidence for God.

"Design" stems from the teleology of nature, not the engineering complexity.
Mar. 4th, 2010 06:35 am (UTC)
Re: Silly and sillier
The IDists aren't doing theology (much less Thomistic theology); they're doing modern science, and doing it within the (false) constraints which the positivists have been able to convince everyone it must have. The scientific conclusions the IDists draw are consistent with Christian theology -- and, importantly, are inconsistent with a-theology.

Given that the reigning mindset is modernism -- that hardly anyone is even paying attention to A-T philosophy, much less understanding it -- coupled with a pervasive and unacknowledged scientism, then ID, for its flaws, is about the best approach one can expect to get any traction.

Also, you're misrepresenting ID.

And, mind you, I'm not even an IDist; I'm a creationist.
Feb. 20th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC)
Behe and other ID proponents do not necessarily believe in proposition C) in your A B C example given above. In Behe's recent book "The Edge of Evolution" he specifically discusses the issue, and in a sense says that "A" and "B" are the important parts of what he is teaching.

And Intelligent Agent tho, is a reasonable hypothesis if no other obvious cause can be found.
Feb. 20th, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
Holy guacomole, how awesome is this?!

Wonderful and very clear explanation. I hope people will come across this and realize that the evolution/God dichotomy is a false one.

I remember reading Eifelheim and thinking, dang, this guy can treat the middle ages as the middle ages, without inserting a modern worldview and therefore a lot of anachronism into the thoughts of his characters. When I realized that you had read Regine Pernoud, it became a little more clear as to how that was possible.

Now I find out that you have read Dr. Tkacz. That is monumentally awesome. I had the privilege of taking some classes from him at Gonzaga University. It was literally life-changing. I don't think anyone else could have presented Aquinas in a way that I not only understood, but that excited me. The realization of how rational everything was, of the way it all fit together . . . amazing.

I'm gonna have to get a hold of some of your other books and stories.
Feb. 20th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow
I'm gonna have to get a hold of some of your other books and stories.

Don't let me stop you.
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
Clever, but not really
I think it is rather clever to basically put evolution within a Christian context. I hope you understand that the seculars win and you lose on this issue no matter how cleverly it is conceived.

The seculars only have to point to Scripture which says that God formed everything. If intelligence is not evident in nature, the seculars win. It really doesn't matter how clever your argument is because you have to go back to Scripture.

I know Catholics are a little different because they can run with the Popes interpretation rather than the Biblical one. The distinction hurts Christianity in the long run and fails.

The Bible teaches that the Creation was a miracle similar to the water to wine miracle. Why would you want to impose naturalism onto a miracle? It is like trying to understand the separation of the Red Sea on the basis of a naturalistic explanation.

I think Catholics have simply gone off track here and lost the argument. I can see the thinking; however, I can't see how you win. You will always lose in the intellectual realm if you distance yourself from the tenants of the ID movement.

The ID proponent not only has a way of recognizing intelligence in nature. It also allows the possibly of the miracle of Creation.

Your method denies miracles which ultimately can be used to deny the resurrection because you are imposing naturalism onto the evidence.

I know Catholics commitment to the Pope can understand Biblical truth at times. This is why I am a Protestant who believe the Bible is the Word of God.

God Bless
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
The seculars only have to point to Scripture which says that God formed everything. ... This is why I am a Protestant who believe the Bible is the Word of God.

I suppose this is why the Eastern Orthodox regard fundamentalist Protestantism as a form of atheism. Discussing such things with either group sounds eerily similar.

As St. Augustine pointed out long before there were any Protestants, the Bible says that God gave earth the power to bring forth the living kinds.

It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in tmes to come.
On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11

I know Catholics are a little different because they can run with the Popes interpretation rather than the Biblical ones.

You forgot the Eastern Orthodox, the second largest body in Christendom. And you forgot the Ecumenical Councils.

The Bible teaches that the Creation was a miracle

You seem to believe that "miracle" means a cheap magic trick. Poof! A dog! Creation is indeed a miracle; but evolution is not creation.

Evolution is the "rolling out" of matter from one form to another. In principle, the transformation of a dog-bear into a dog (in one region) and a bear (in another region) is no different from the transformation of sodium and chlorine into salt. No creation is involved. But that any of it exists at all is creation, which is not a one-time event a long time ago, but something happening now, from moment to moment.
Feb. 21st, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
Mike, here the words of Scripture

Genesis: 1:24-25

And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good."

You can quote anybody you like; however, as a Jesuit trained individual once told me, "I consider the Bible to be my authority; everything else is merely for consideration."

You didn't answer the core of my argument though. Why do you impose naturalism on a miracle. Once you do this you have to deny the resurrection itself.

I love your blog and have been following for awhile. I appreciate your insights... I just think Catholics have taken a non-Biblical approach to the issue which harms Christianity in the long run. In fact, the approach can be used to undermine the resurrection.

God Bless...
Feb. 21st, 2010 11:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
Anonymous wrote:
Mike, here the words of Scripture

Genesis: 1:24-25. And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so.

Yes, as St. Augustine said: "Let the land produce...", which means that material bodies were endowed with secondary causation, the ability to directly effect causal change. Theologically, this is no different than a carpenter using a screwdriver. Secondary causes are instrumental, in this understanding; but they are genuine causes.

After all, God said, "Let there be light," but no one denies the theory of electromagnetism.

Why do you impose naturalism on a miracle.

I don't. Evolution does not impose on creation. They are two very different and distinct things. In particular, evolution does not "explain" creation; and creation is a necessary prerequisite for evolution to even take place. (If there is nothing, it cannot evolve.)

As an imperfect analogy, consider a pianist playing the Moonlight Sonata. The music is "completely explained" by the physics of vibrating strings, the acoustics of the piano box, the mechanical linkages of the levers and hammers, and no on. A blind audience, knowing this, might suppose there were no pianist at all, since everything physical about the music has been explained without the "pianist hypothesis." Except for one thing: the very existence of the music at all. And should the pianist stop playing even for an instant, the music would come to an end.

The piano is an "instrumental cause" (or secondary cause) and the pianist is a "primary cause". There is no contradiction in entertaining both.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
Your statement about primary and secondary causes are well understood; however, the design is in the piano which is irreducibly complex. Intelligence is the cause of the piano and we find that intelligence in the piano itself. I don't think anyone rational mind would assume that the piano came about by its own volition.

You end up back at ID theory even using your illustration. A person could argue that the wood came about by natural causes, the ivory for the keys came about by natural causes, the shape was cut out of wood by erosion over billions of years. However, the end result is not a bunch of disparate separated things... you have an irreducible complex piece of machine that is capable of producing music.

In other words, you find intelligence. I am a Contemporary Creationist and believe that God used a process that we can see in science. However, what we are really seeing is the miracle described in Genesis.

The Bible does not superimpose naturalism on the text; rather, Moses allowed us to know that it was a supernatural act on the part of God.

You stated, "Evolution does not impose on creation. They are two very different and distinct things. In particular, evolution does not "explain" creation; and creation is a necessary prerequisite for evolution to even take place. (If there is nothing, it cannot evolve.)"

Evolution most certainly has to impose on creation because the Bible argues that God formed these things. God may have worked through nature; however, if this is the case, we should still see signs of intelligence in nature that can only be explained by a God directed process.

I really don't see how you get around the ID argument. You have intelligence in your illustration and you should be seeing intelligence at work in nature if it was a mind directed activity.

God Bless...
Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:30 am (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
I really don't see how you get around the ID argument.

In traditional theology, there is no need to. Who needs "irreducible complexity" when we have the argument from motion or the argument from finality? Forget bacterial flagella. Why does mass have gravity? The ID argument confuses the issue by confusing intelligent design with Intelligent Design; that is, the bringing into being of the universe with all its natural laws and its sustaining from moment to moment versus the notion that our current state of ignorance needs a "God-directed process" in place of the natural processes that God ordained, because we haven't identified them all yet. Apparently, God looked on all that he had created and saw that it was good, except for the bacterial flagellum and few other things and he had to tweak those.

Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
I understand where you are coming from and thankes for the discussion. In essense, you are basically saying that nature is a machine that needs a first uncaused cause.

Your formula is simply naturalism + God. Your view is really no different than the naturalist which is why they will always win here. The addition of God rather than having direct evidence for intelligence in the design is why they will always win this argument.

All you have to do is look at England where Christians decided to accepted a modified version of evolution which is basically your position. The end result has been atheism/agosticism for a large portion of that society. I believe it is now about 50%. Americans which still has those Creationists beliefs everywhere is still standing around 75% Christian.

The Pope by running with Evolution (something for which has never been demonstrated on the macro level) is really leading Europe to secularism. The atheists/agostics have a hayday with Christians who accept evolution because they have one step in the grave intellectually to non-belief in God with the right amount of indoctrination.

The question of whether evolution is true has already been falsified by Lenski. In 44,000 generations (equivalent to 1.76 million human years), he has only notice one significant change of digestion. If you take that rate and apply it to the macro level, Darwinian evolution simply is not possible considering that we only have 530 million years from the Cambrian explosion to account for over 1.5 million species.

The arguments for the ID explosion on the intellectual level are really being set up by the failures of Darwinians to demonstrate that naturalism itself cannot account for the diversity in nature. If you deny the ID arguments, you are in essense denying that we can detect intelligence in nature which is the whole thrust of atheistic evolution also known as Darwinian evolution. The evidence on the other hand is overwhelming.

God Bless..
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
That is not by any stretch an accurate representation of Lenski's results. And even if it were, 44,000 generations of E.coli bacteria, taking into account the someodd-billions of individuals in each intestinal tract of each of the someodd-billions of animals on earth that host them, would probably take only a matter of days, if not hours.

Then again, this sort of shifting goalposts is typical: "you can't prove evolution happens, and if you do prove it, you can't prove it happens fast enough!" Reminds me of William F. Buckley on one of his later "Firing Line"s admitting to Steven Jay Gould that evolutionary biologists had satisfactorily documented the transition from mammal-like reptiles to true mammals, but that they probably couldn't do it for many other taxa so they shouldn't be so confident about evolution after all. It doesn't work that way.

And color me unimpressed by the consequentialism on display here (and in Buckley's own arguments too). Even IF acknowledging evolution turned people into atheists.... so what? Acknowledging nuclear fission makes a lot of people scared, but it still works. Teaching based on emotional validation is not teaching.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
1. The nations of Europe that have become most determinedly "secularist" (which they mistake for "atheist") are in the North. England is a case in point.

In essense, you are basically saying that nature is a machine that needs a first uncaused cause.

2. That is largely because it is. Just as every email, no matter how infinitely often it is forwarded on the Web, must have an "unsent sender." But of course it runs deeper than that, since the uncaused cause is operating right now, not at some time in the remote past.

3. I find it curious that both atheists and fundamentalists object to this from the exact same metaphysic. As Augustine pointed out:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”
-- On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book I, Ch 19:39 "Christians should not talk nonsense to unbelievers.

And again:
For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself. And if he should once permit that evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him. "For we walk by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7 Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold.
-- On Christian Doctrine, Book I, ch. 37
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
It just so happens I can sum up Mr. Flynn's whole argument in one G.K. Chesterton quote:

"Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something."

His is not some clever reframing of an argument. It is the whole substance of the miracle of creation. God made something from nothing. The natural laws of the physical world were also made from nothing and are as much a part of creation as the world itself.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
Thank you, geek-L. Your comment regarding "substance... of creation" and "natural laws... were also made from nothing" and "natural laws... are as much a part of creation as the world itself" coincided by sheerest chance with my cracking open newly-purchased Etienne Gilson's Thomism and coming in the first couple pages to the question of "being versus being" [ens vs esse*], substance, matter, and form.

Substance is the union of matter with form. As there can be no matter without some form of matter ("Every thing is some thing.") so there can be no form without matter ("No white without a white thing.")

Matter per se does not exist. The act-of-existing is that about which one can say "this thing exists." But this cannot be matter because matter cannot exist without form. That is, it is only of the composite substance (matter+form) that we can say "it exists." Therefore, since matter does not exist per se, it cannot be the cause of the substance existing. (Something which does not exist cannot be a cause of anything.**)

Form specified the substance and makes it intelligible - that is, we can form "concepts" of it. Form is thus "that-by-which" the substance is "that-which-is." But as with matter, having no existence in itself it cannot be the cause of the existence of the substance.

If we considering the universe as a substance, the matter is given form by the natural laws that shape it. That is, the natural laws are form that make the universe intelligible. There would be no matter without these laws [or some other laws like them]; and no matter could exist without some set of natural laws forming them.

Thus, it is quite a different thing to ask a) how matter is transformed [from one form to another] and b) how the composite substance of matter-+-forming-laws came to be.

An illustrative example: the plane triangle. It is a three-sided geometric figure. The matter is "geometric figure." The form is "three-sided." The inseparability of form and matter is immediately obvious: there cannot be a geometric figure without it being some form of geometric figure. And, while we can conceive of three-sidedness (since this is what makes the figure intelligible), three-sidedness cannot exist in fact without some actual triangle to instantiate it.
* being versus being. Clear in Latin, obscure in English [or in French as Gilson complained]. Ens is the being as the things which exists and esse is being as the act-of-existing. My cell phone is a being, but it also has being.

Something which does not exist cannot be a cause of anything. Which leads eventually to the conclusion that if anything at all is the cause of existence then it must necessarily exist, catching us all up unwary into the Ontological Proof - critics of which forget (or never knew) the "necessary existence" part of it.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
Hi Mike,
Is Gilson's book actually called 'Thomism"? I see one out of print on Amazon. But wanted to make sure it's not one of the more recent re-issues of his other books.

John F

Feb. 25th, 2010 04:53 am (UTC)
Re: Clever, but not really
That's so funny, I just picked up a copy of Etienne Gilson's From Aristotle to Darwin and Back last week, I stumbled upon it after reading your post and couldn't pass it up.

I understand (marginally perhaps) the distinctions between form and substance and abstractions, and they're crucial in metaphysics. But I think you need to be careful not to appear to fall into the same pit St. Augustine is warning about. People know things about the world from their experience, and using the language of metaphysics with someone who doesn't understand it doesn't communicate ideas well.

For example, even my toddler knows about gravity, although he calls it "uhoh". (My efforts to teach him to say "Ooh, gravity!" have been fruitless.) And I know about gravity. And it obviously exists. But I don't have the faintest clue how to phrase it in the language of metaphysics, although I suspect such an expression would make it sound a lot like it doesn't exist... And because I know gravity is real, I'd be tempted to dismiss the metaphysics as nonsense.

I wish to rebuff the idea that your position is just naturalism + God. Instead it is God's creation of nature.

So I think it's useful to try and phrase your argument in non metaphysical terms, especially to those who clearly did not understand it the first time around. And to the best of my abilities, that is that God's act of creation made everything; what it's made of, how it works, what it does, and where it is going. Scientific inquiry into creation can never detract from it because science relies on creation to exist in order to inquire into its workings.
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