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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Christian Evolutionary Biologists

Post of the Month: January 2004


Subject:    Re: Outer space observations vs. God
Date:       30 January 2004
Message-ID: bveehu$bh1$

david ford wrote:

> howard hershey wrote in message news:bv8gvf$8df$
>>Wakboth wrote:
>>> david ford wrote in message
>>>>If the Judeo-Christian God of theism exists, then those traveling to
>>>>outer space should be able to see him.
>>>Why? Most, if not all, Christians believe that God is omnipresent and
>>>spiritual, not material, and therefore not visible as such. This is
>>>something a three-year-old would think.
>>>>A good number of individuals have traveled to outer space and none
>>>>reported seeing God.
>>>Depends on the definition of "outer space"; when I hear the words, I
>>>think of space beyond Jupiter's orbit, or even interstellar space,
>>>where no human has gone (so far).
>>>>Therefore, God doesn't exist.
>>>Your argument here was (supposedly) used by the Soviet cosmonauts in
>>>the sixties. It was idiotic and disingenuous then, and it is the same
>>>Besides, I've thought that you were trolling for creationism and God;
>>>what's with these lame-o "atheist" attempts?
>>He thinks that atheists and agnostics (which are, in his mind, a set
>>within which evolutionary thinkers are included, despite the fact that
>>several well-known evolutionary biologists were rather orthodox
> Examples, please.

Theodosius Dobzhansky (you can't get more orthodox than Orthodox). Francisco Ayala and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (better known for his philosophical writings, but a trained paleontologist). But perhaps like Orthodox Christians, Catholic priests don't count as orthodox Christians in your world.

Or perhaps the falsification of the Biblical account of the Flood would be sufficient, rather than 'evolution' per se. If so, then we would have to start with Steno, who countered the idea that seashells on mountaintops were a consequence of the Big Flood, and proceed from that point. Atheists and heretics tend not to be beatified by the Catholic Church. After all, it isn't just biology that Fundamentalists oppose.

There is Asa Gray (a rather well-known botanist and early supporter of Darwin in the U.S.): "The first American Darwinian, Harvard botanist Asa Gray, was also an outspoken defender of the "compatibility"--that was the word he chose--of evolution and a very traditional type of Christian theism. Addressing the student body of the Yale Divinity School in 1880, he identified "the essential contents of that Christianity which is in my view as compatible with my evolutionary conceptions as with former scientific beliefs," as being "briefly summed up" in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, classic statements of faith used as touchstones of Christian orthodoxy since the fourth century."

E.D. Cope (rather well-known paleontologist) was a Pennsylvania Quaker. His evolutionary ideas were Lamarckian, but they were still 'evolutionary'.

I have been unable to determine which church O.C. Marsh went to as a child or whether he attended as an adult (other than for marriages or funerals, including his own), but I would guess that it was one of the New England based churches since his family was rather prominent.

The case of James Woodrow (uncle to Woodrow Wilson) is interesting. He clearly did not see any contradiction between being a quite orthodox Christian and an evolutionist, although his Church (Southern Presbyterian) became more hostile to him over time. Compare the initial church trials with later ones.

Part of the problem is that you have a strong US-centric bias. What was true for the US (filled as it was with intellectual backwaters like the South and frontiers until recently) in the early twentieth century was not true in Europe. Although Darwin's mechanism tended to be more popular in England than the continent, evolution (common descent and change in species over time) was and remains essentially universal among European scientists after Darwin.

"Unlike the United States, where a strong fundamentalist opposition to evolutionism developed in the 1920s (most famously expressed in the Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925), in Britain there was a concerted effort to reconcile science and religion. Intellectually conservative scientists championed the reconciliation and were supported by liberal theologians in the Free Churches and the Church of England, especially the Anglican "Modernists."

Part of the problem, of course, is that biographies (when they exist) of scientists tend to focus on their scientific contributions and their religious faith and church-going behavior (or lack thereof) is often considered to be completely irrelevant and is not mentioned -- unless they make a specific point of it or belonged to religious orders (as many of the early 'scientists' did before science became an independent profession). I do not find this lack of interest in the religious life of professional scientists to be particularly surprising, since science, unlike Biblical fundamentalism, does not have a litmus test of Christian faith. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Christians, and atheists can (and have) all make good scientists.

Fundamentalists of any stripe, OTOH, cannot be good scientists when the evidence of nature contradicts their fundamental beliefs (whatever they are). They can only deny that nature does contradict their beliefs or they can discard their fundamental beliefs. Biographies of creationists, not surprisingly, tend to emphasize their religious beliefs rather than their scientific successes in fields of research relevant to evolution. [With, of course, the exception of pre-Darwinian and neo-Darwinian era scientists, when creationism was a more viable explanation. Even then, these biological scientists were not often the simple-minded Biblical literalists that we see on t.o. Take Louis Agassiz, for example. He would not fit into the ICR.]

But, as the below shows, rather significant swaths of different faith organizations have no problem with evolution. So any scientist that is a member of these faiths need not be an atheist to be an evolutionary biologist. Only certain narrow and fundamentalist sects within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism seem to have a problem with evolution.

>>So he is tossing out these brain-dead and trivially ignorant
>>'pro-atheism' arguments to watch the "evil, atheistic evolutionists and
>>Darwinists" enthusiastically agree with them. He has, I am sure, been
>>disappointed by the responses, most of which not so politely point out
>>that the initial premises are, let us say, flawed.
> I am glad to hear you say it.
> Many pro-"evolution" arguments, e.g. Gould's argument involving the
> panda's thumb, are premised on flawed views of what the God of theism
> would and wouldn't create.

If the positive argument against evolution is that God designed biological features for their functional utility, the quality of design for the proposed function is certainly a relevant feature worthy of discussion.

A supernatural God certainly can create any sort of design he/she/it/they wants to. But a God that creates both good design and terrible and inefficient design (despite presumably having knowledge of both possibilities) for the same function is, from the perspective of human designers that we know about, being erratic, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Any argument that says that we cannot tell or speculate about what sort of designs God would produce and therefore whatever we see is what God produced is a vacuous, contentless, and pointless, argument amounting to little more than the assertion "Whatever we see, goddidit." That may be convincing to those who already believe it, but it certainly is not a scientific argument.

Or perhaps you have a less "flawed view" (that doesn't amount to saying "Whatever we see, goddidit") that explains why a God of complete knowledge would choose to produce both the grasping human thumb (which evolution attributes to ancestry that includes small tree climbers) and the klutzy panda thumb (which is a crude adaptation of a former carnivore's wrist bone)? But you need to make an argument that puts some constraint on what God would produce, one that doesn't make any possible finding in nature consistent with God's intent. If you have no way of constraining God's intent so that some types of design are indicative of God and others aren't, you have no evidence that God did it, just blind belief.

Gould was trying to make a scientific argument by constraining God's choices to rational ones similar to those than any semi-sentient engineer would make. That is a testable idea. An unconstrained God that is as likely to produce a design of surpassing idiocy and unnecessary complexity as a design of surpassing elegance (from an engineering standpoint) is one that cannot be detected by the scientific method. If you don't like Gould's choice of constraint on God's intent, please present your own consistent and testable constraint and tell us what you think God would do.

[Return to the 2004 Posts of the Month]

A Dialogue with Dembski

Post of the Month Runner-Up: January 2004


Subject:    Re: Dembski's latest on irreducible complexity
Date:       20 January 2004

"Bobby D. Bryant" wrote in message
> On Sun, 18 Jan 2004 13:43:48 +0000, Wedge Buster wrote:
> > Irreducible Complexity Revisited
> > William A. Dembski
> Is Dembski progressively abandoning his own arguments in favor of Behe's
> IC argument? He sure seems to talk about IC a lot these days.

It has been clear since at least Dembski's book "Intelligent Design: the Bridge between Science and Theology" that all of Dembski's verbiage about "specified complexity" was essentially pointless, because at the key point, when specified complexity is applied to biology, Dembski relies on Behe's irreducible complexity to exclude the gradual buildup of "specified information" to reach "complex specified information," i.e. "specified complexity."

Thus Dembski's argument has always reduced to Behe's argument, and I never saw much point in dealing with anything else -- although many others, bless their hearts, have delved into DembskiLand rather deeply. But it remains the case that if Behe is wrong then Dembski's arguments collapse as well (well, except for his emergency backup positions like "Well, even if evolution can produce IC that just means that specified complexity was frontloaded into creation from the beginning, or is introduced undetectably at the quantum level. Or something.")

The great thing now is that Dembski sees the problem on some level and is trying to shore up IC. This leads to all kinds of entertaining obfuscation, along the lines of:

Dembski: "Specified complexity cannot be produced by evolution."

Evo: "Well duh, you made 'cannot be produced by natural processes' part of the definition of specified complexity. Your statement is thus a meaningless tautology."

Dembski: "Irreducible complexity cannot be produced by evolution, and this means that IC systems exhibit SC."

Evo: "You are ignoring change-of-function, an important evolutionary process that has been cited as the explanation for systems with 'irreducible complexity' ever since Darwin himself."

Dembski: "OK, well I guess evolution can hypothetically produce IC after all, but there's no evidence that cooption actually happens in natural settings, the only good evidence of this is in technological evolution."

Evo: "Here's a bunch of examples of change-of-function in natural systems. A bunch of these have even resulted in IC toxin degradation systems in historical times."

IC catabolic pathways:;act=ST;f=9;t=17
Gene origin:;act=ST;f=9;t=6
Cooption in the lit:;act=ST;f=9;t=8

Dembski: "Well, I'm going to ignore your evidence that natural cooption is common because evolutionists have not produced detailed, testable accounts for the origin of IC systems like the flagellum."

Evo: "Yes they have:"


Immune system:;act=ST;f=9;t=16



Dembski: "By 'detailed' I mean every last mutation and substitution accounted for, every transitional described to the last molecule, and all supported by probability calculations conforming to this completely untested method I came up with over breakfast this morning. Nothing less will suffice. If this level of detail is not produced then this means IC cannot evolve which means they are SC which means they cannot evolve which means ID."

Evo: "Look, now you're just being silly. Even with a time machine this level of detail would be impossible. A detailed account is detailed enough to be scientific if it reduces the origin of a complex structure down to a series of processes known to occur in present times (such as gene duplications and proteins switching substrates), and is therefore testable. By the way, if detail is important then your ID hypothesis is nuked, since you don't offer the slightest smidgen of detail which would allow your hypothesis to be tested or evaluated for explanatory power."

Dembski: "ID isn't that kind of explanation."

Evo: "It's not an explanation at all. We might as well 'explain' things by saying 'Svferfneblicks did it', for all the good it would do us. Look, until you deal with the above literature on the evolution of IC systems -- acknowledging its existence, reviewing it in detail and then successfully rebutting it -- there's no reason for biologists to take you seriously."

Dembski: "Even if evolutionists did produce an explanation that met my standards, explaining the gradual origin of an IC system in excruciating detail, it wouldn't worry me in the least, since it would just mean that the Specified Complexity was 'front-loaded' in at the big bang, or the process was guided undetectably at the quantum level."

Evo: "Excuse me, I need to go find a brick wall to bang my head on. Oh good, here's one. <sound of head banging>"

Dembski: "Victory is mine!"

[Return to the 2004 Posts of the Month]

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