Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Catholics and Evolution

This was originally intended to be a comment on the post below regarding "folk science", responding to Karie's request for books dealing with evolution from a Catholic perspective. However, it was getting so long I figured it might as well be a post instead.

I have not, as of yet, read the books that Geoffrey recommends, though several of them are ones that I am eager to read -- notably the collection of papers from the conference on evolution and creation which Benedict XVI sponsored last year (and now available in English from Ignatius.)

There is, in my opinion, a dearth of good material on "evolution from a Catholic perspective" which is accessible to the average reader. The reason for this is, so far as I can tell, that for many of those with a solid understanding of the topic, it does not seem like much of a controversy for Catholics, while many of those who are most urgent to frame the debate for other Catholics are those who are concerned that evolution represents some particular threat to the faith.

At the risk of being pedantic (a risk to which I am all too prone) I'd like to try to sketch very briefly how it seems to me the issue should be viewed by Catholics before listing off a couple of books.

There are, so far as I can tell, three reasons that people worry about evolution from a religious perspective:

1) Scriptural -- For those with a certain approach to biblical exegesis, it seems necessary to believe that all plants and animals were created within a short period of time and that nothing ever died before Adam's fall. For these folks, the billion year plus history of life presented by evolution is a major problem.

2) Philosophical -- Many Catholic thinkers look at terms used by modern biologists such as "undirected evolution" and "random mutation" and take it that evolution as a biological theory requires a philosophical stance that denies God's knowledge and creative power. They have no problem in principle with an ancient earth or with common descent, but they fear that evolutionary theory requires an acceptance of radically materialistic philosophy. This is also fed by:

3) Guilt by Association -- Many of the most well known biologists of the last 150 years have been atheists, and some of the most outspoken attackers of religion today (e.g. Richard Dawkins) are professional biologists. Given point two above, this tends to make people even more concerned that there is something fundamentally dangerous about evolutionary theory.

Point one has never been a great Catholic hang up because it is based on an approach to biblical interpretation which is generally not ours. However, if one wants to look at the question of how Catholics should deal with the creation account in Genesis, you won't get much better than Pope Benedict's commentary on the Creation Account. Catholics have long held that the Bible and science are eminently compatible -- a point on which Galileo extensively quotes St. Augustine in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.

Point two is where the most worry goes on these days, fueled to a great degree by point three. (Guilt by association is not, of course, a valid reason to take anything to be false in the realm of science, but it's an easy enough worry to get into given that so many apologists for atheism are running around loudly claiming that evolution has proved that there is no God.)

Perhaps the most famous example in regards to point two is some Cardinal Schonborn's writing, including his famous NY Times editorial, and several articles in First Things. Now, I agree with nearly everything that Schonborn says, except that he at time seems to suggest (and I don't know if this is just a matter of translation or a confusion that sometimes creeps into his writing) that the modern "neo-Darwinian" synthesis in biology somehow contains (or can contain) philosophical assumptions of randomness and lack of direction which are contrary to the faith.

Now, certainly, many individual scientists base their claims that the world is random and without direction (in the philosophical sense of the terms) on their understanding of biology, but in my opinion (and Cardinal Schonborn expresses this as well in some other parts of his writing) it is not in fact possible for science to produce or support philosophical positions such as these, except to the degree it may make one feel they are plausible.

People often think of science as telling us how the world actually is, but in fact, the scientific method is simply designed to allow us to make accurate predictive models of how physical systems governed by physical laws will act in the future. As such, it is fundamentally incapable of speaking to issues like whether the universe has a purpose, is moving in some intended direction, or is "random" in the philosophical sense of the term.

All that said, I don't currently have any books that deal with issues two and three from a Catholic perspective. I would, however, strongly recommend anything written in First Things about evolution by either Stephen M. Barr or Fr. Edward T. Oakes.

Stephen M. Barr's book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith deals with the relationship between modern science and a proper Catholic understanding of God's role in providing order in the universe (and the inability of materialist philosophies to explain this on their own) but it's primarily about physics and astronomy in that regard, not biology.

Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God presents some good critiques of the science that goes into "Intelligent Design", but I didn't find it fully satisfying at a theological level. (Miller is a Catholic biologist.)

My own approach tends to be that one doesn't really need a Catholic book on evolution, so long as one had a proper Catholic understanding of the place of the physical sciences in the overall hierarchy of knowledge. If one has a clear idea of what science can and can't do, evolution as a theory doesn't present any particular worry from a Catholic point of view.

47 comments:

bearing said...

Great post. I'm a sucker for anything with an enumerated list, it's true, but I think you've clearly and concisely spelled out the important obstacles here.

Geoffrey said...

I wouldn't recommend anything by Kenneth Miller. His understanding of theology is abysmal, and consequently, he wavers into a vague kind of Deism sometimes.

Plus, he jokes about stuff, like having people sign a paper saying they believe in evolution, in order to get a flu shot. Actually, I think he's serious about stuff like that at times.

Overall, I feel like he's got a bad aura to him. I get that from the interviews I see.

I'd rather been stranded on a desert island with Professor Dawkins than Mr. Miller. Dawkins, although he's a militant atheist, seems like he's closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than Mr. Miller. I can't explain why.

Darwin said...

I'm in agreement that Miller does not have a sound theology/philosophy -- he's probably more sound than the average pew-sitter, but that's not saying much.

However, I haven't ever got the impression that his heart's in the wrong place -- while I must admit that a lot of Dawkins writing simply gives me the impression that in addition to being wrong on some key things, he's also an intolerant jerk.

bearing said...

Dawkins drives me the craziest because his writing is so beautifully clear and the concepts behind some of his books are genius. He's got to be one of the 20th/21st century's best science writers. And he so badly needs an editor who will excise the irrelevant, distracting polemics against religious believers and various other people he doesn't like.

The whole time I was reading _The Ancestor's Tale_ I wanted to scream, "You idiot! This would be a timeless classic if it weren't for your so-early-2000s comments about the Bush administration!"

Geoffrey said...

"However, I haven't ever got the impression that his heart's in the wrong place -- while I must admit that a lot of Dawkins writing simply gives me the impression that in addition to being wrong on some key things, he's also an intolerant jerk."

Don't get me wrong, I get that impression from Dawkin's books as well. However, I get an entirely different impression, a positive one, from the interviews I've seen.

"Dawkins drives me the craziest because his writing is so beautifully clear and the concepts behind some of his books are genius. He's got to be one of the 20th/21st century's best science writers."

I'd politely disagree that he's a good science writer, unless you consider such things as "evolutionary psychology" and reading tea leaves to be science (in truth, their credibility is about the same). I mean no offense, but some of his ideas are kind of "out there"

John Farrell said...

Having met Ken Miller and seen his presentation, I think his theology is a lot more solid than a reading of his 5-year-old book suggests.

He is not helped, by the way, by the almost deliberate vagueness of the current generation of Catholic theologians when they discuss evolution. Cardinal Schonborn seems deliberately to misunderstand the theory, and insists on an ontological definition of randomness in Darwin's theory that no biologist would agree with, including Richard Dawkins.

I agree with Brandon. In his writings, Dawkins too often proves himself to be an intolerant jerk. As Steve Matheson has pointed out, far more distinguished research scientists, such as Sean Carroll and Marc Kirshner, have shown themselves to be as good at science writing as Dawkins or PZ Myers. I highly recommend their books over Dawkins'.

John Farrell said...

One of the problems with many Catholics and evolution, from my own experience, is that too many are content to fall back on complacent, arm-chair objections to the theory, based on philosophical presuppositions, rather than what is actually being researched and discovered by evolutionary biologists today.

Much as I liked Chesterton's quips 20+ years ago when I first read Everlasting Man, his paradoxes have dated badly, and there's no reason (beyind nostalgia) to read him on the subject except perhaps to be reminded of what a journalist might have said credibly in the days before DNA was discovered.

It makes no sense to keep clinging to shopworn complaints about 'gaps' in the fossil record when the study of genetics alone proves beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings and chimpanzees share the same common ancestor, and that our own chromosomes carry the 'marker' that demonstrates precisely when we diverged from our cousins.

John Farrell said...

I'm getting my bloggers confused. I meant Brendan (not Brandon of Siris fame).

Geoffrey said...

"It makes no sense to keep clinging to shopworn complaints about 'gaps' in the fossil record when the study of genetics alone proves beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings and chimpanzees share the same common ancestor, and that our own chromosomes carry the 'marker' that demonstrates precisely when we diverged from our cousins."

And Chesterton did not deny our common ancestry in his book either. Indeed, he suggested it might have happened that way. Maybe you should re-read it?

As I quoted Chesterton saying before, in a previous comment to a previous post on this blog:

""What is the real truth, what really happened in the variations of creatures, must have been something which has not yet suggested itself to the imagination of man. I for one should be very much surprised if that truth, when discovered, did not contain at least a large element of evolution. But even that surprise is possible where everything is possible, except what has been proven to be impossible."

So yes, Chesterton really did expect a future theory to incorporate many elements of evolution.

The discovery of DNA has changed things profoundly, don't get me wrong. And neither I nor Chesterton ever denied that we share a common ancestor with chimpanzees or apes. In fact, he in his day, and I in mine, are very much inclined to believe in common ancestory.

However, the discovery of DNA has not alleviated the problems of how our massive succession of transition species survived. I'm much inclined to accept "punctuated equilibrium" to get around those more pesky transitional species, like a rat with wings to weak to fly and feet too weak and webbed to run.

The only problem is, what makes punctuated equilibrium work? Why the sudden jump in mutation?

My theory is, when we become more knowledgeable, we will find patterns in gene mutation that indicate some kind of a direction or tendency. This would help a lot.

Geoffrey said...

"He is not helped, by the way, by the almost deliberate vagueness of the current generation of Catholic theologians when they discuss evolution. Cardinal Schonborn seems deliberately to misunderstand the theory, and insists on an ontological definition of randomness in Darwin's theory that no biologist would agree with, including Richard Dawkins."

Have you read the cardinal's book, "Chance or Purpose?" Schonborn gets beat up so much, but as he has clarified, he agrees with the current theory of evolution.

I've read his most recent book. Unless you elaborate on what exactly you perceive his ontological definition of randomness to be, I can't comment on whether it's accurate or not.

Darwin said...

I'm much inclined to accept "punctuated equilibrium" to get around those more pesky transitional species, like a rat with wings to weak to fly and feet too weak and webbed to run.

Just to clarify: Punctuated equilibrium has more to do with explaining why we have long pauses in change than how change occurs quickly. It's not that mutations speed up during the punctuations, but rather that during the periods of equilibrium mutations are selected against.

Certainly, any scientific assessment is going to take it that there never was a point when the ancestors of bats could not yet fly but were no longer good walkers/climbers. (Note that today flying squirrels, mice and lemurs are all pretty adept as running and climbing despite their sometimes decent gliding abilities.) Indeed, if we ever found evidence of bat ancestors that appeared not to be either adept flying or adept runners, that would be a major strike _against_ current understandings of evolution.

Geoffrey said...

"Certainly, any scientific assessment is going to take it that there never was a point when the ancestors of bats could not yet fly but were no longer good walkers/climbers. (Note that today flying squirrels, mice and lemurs are all pretty adept as running and climbing despite their sometimes decent gliding abilities.)"

I did, in fact, consider that.

It's very true, however, flying squirrels and the like have a skin flap along their sides, which connects their forelegs and hindlegs. To my knowledge, they don't have webbing between long, paper thin, incredibly delicate fingers on their forelegs, as bats do.

If they did have webbed feet, they wouldn't be very good runners. They might need to eventually go aquatic, where such a mutation would be useful. And that takes us even further from the problem of how they eventually began to fly...

Geoffrey said...

"Just to clarify: Punctuated equilibrium has more to do with explaining why we have long pauses in change than how change occurs quickly. It's not that mutations speed up during the punctuations, but rather that during the periods of equilibrium mutations are selected against."

Thank you for the correction, I misunderstood that. However, now my only weapon against some of those awkward transitional species is gone.

Patrick said...

Hold on a second. Darwin, you wrote:

As such, [science] is fundamentally incapable of speaking to issues like whether the universe has a purpose, is moving in some intended direction, or is "random" in the philosophical sense of the term.

I was going to point out that you don't actually mean this because you can think of possible universes in which science would point to intention in evolution (i.e. if Intelligent Design were the case); you don't expect to find ours is such a universe, but you must admit that it would be possible for science to conclude on such a matter.

E.g. as Geoffrey anticipates:

My theory is, when we become more knowledgeable, we will find patterns in gene mutation that indicate some kind of a direction or tendency. This would help a lot.

Of course, I note that if evidence of purpose in evolution would be (strong) evidence for a creator God, then the lack of it is (at least weak) evidence against one.

James H said...

LEt me say I thought the Wili Page on Catholics and Evolution was preety helpful for a start off at least to get an overview and it was good on sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_and_the_Roman_Catholic_Church

John Farrell said...

My theory is, when we become more knowledgeable, we will find patterns in gene mutation that indicate some kind of a direction or tendency.

In a word, not likely. And the insistence that some kind of 'obvious' tendency needs to be seen at that level just shows a prior commitment to William Paley's limited sense of 'design' that has caused so much trouble with outfits like the Discovery Institute.

Cardinal Schonborn is surely right to insist in his book that we must not insist that God be a 'cosmic engineer'; He is the Creator. But then the Cardinal loses his nerve and starts re-gurgitating the same tired criticisms of Darwin that are the hallmark of ID proponents who DO think of God only as a cosmic engineer. This is why ID is such poor theology.

You should read Kirschner's book 'The Plausibility of Life' to get a sense of how biologists are seeing, through facilitated variation, how rapidly species can evolve novel traits without any recourse to 'design' in any simplistic sense. Sean Carroll's Making of the Fittest is also an excellent book.

Also, Steve Matheson's blog,
http://sfmatheson.blogspot.com/
is an invaluable resource as he is a researcher (and a Christian) and has some great posts on what's going on currently.

Darwin said...

Geoffrey,

In re bats: Well, I could spin hypotheticals, but that's precisely the sort of "just so" story that tends to give things a fluffy reputation.

Based on the principle that all intervening adaptations must be advantageous or at least neutral, it would seem likely to me that bat ancestors hit a flying squirrel stage (many bats today do have membranes between fore and hind legs) and then developed increasingly long fingers in order to widen their flying surface and eventually achieve powered flight rather than just gliding. I seem to recall reading somewhere a few years back about a genetic discovery that the finger elongation in bats is actually controlled by only a single gene, so it might be that a gliding bat ancestor didn't have that far (in evolutionary terms) to go.

So it seems to me that worries about intermediate forms like GK's bat ancestor may be more the result of our failure to imagine the transitional path rather than an actual problem with the variation and selection description of evolution. We never, after all, find these awkward transitional critters either alive or in the fossil record. So it's a result of our trying to imagine what an unknown sequence of intermediates might be like.

Patrick,

I was going to point out that you don't actually mean this because you can think of possible universes in which science would point to intention in evolution (i.e. if Intelligent Design were the case); you don't expect to find ours is such a universe, but you must admit that it would be possible for science to conclude on such a matter.

Actually, given the scope of how science as we practice it investigates things, I would hold that there is not a possible universe in which scientists would find evidence of design in the "divine engineer" sense that the ID folks seem to mean it.

We developed our scientific methodologies based on the apparently accurate assumption that in the world we live in one can come to make accurate predictions about the past and future behavior of physical systems by looking for physical explanations for how they behave.

Perhaps in some differently constructed fantasy world we'd have "speculative teleology" and "experimental teleology" instead of modern science, but I don't think that science as we define it is capable of detecting the agency of actors which are not physical in nature.

Thus, modern science could detect the work of a human genetic engineer, but not the work of an all powerful creator. At best, the laws and structures which we find via modern science may suggest to us the plausibility and reasonableness that the universe is the production or a rational and ordering creator. But modern science doesn't have the tools to "show" us that. That's where we need other disciplines such as philosophy and theology.

Patrick said...

Look, I'll give you an example of a possible world in which science would point to evidence of design. Imagine that we analyzed the telomeres on human chromosome 19 DNA, and realized that a long section of "junk DNA" common to all of us was actually a binary sequence corresponding to the first 1000 prime numbers (or better yet, to the Hebrew characters for the first chapter of Genesis).

At this point the scientific method would conclude that undirected natural selection was strongly falsified, and directed evolution dramatically confirmed, although of course it wouldn't differentiate between this having been done by powerful but physical aliens or by a metaphysical deity. But if the sequence of primes were found, say, in the binary decimal expansion of the cosmological constant, then it would strongly confirm the hypothesis that an entity with cosmos-creating power has a mind of sorts.

If you don't think that this confirmation would be scientific in nature, then I suggest it's because you've artificially limited the scope of scientific inquiry so as to claim it can never contradict religion. The body of practicing scientists wouldn't declare such conclusions "unscientific" in the least.

Darwin said...

If something like a prime sequence were found in the "junk DNA" it might certainly suggest some sort of "design" (or perhaps more properly, "engineering"), I'll agree with that, though I'm sure that some theories about how it reflected an underlying natural structural pattern might also be put forth. Science could recognize the, "we don't know how this could happen naturally" aspect of the situation.

However, any possible explanation that science might give for how that happened would perforce be a matter of ruling out divine causation, not demonstrating it. Since a hypothetical divine causation is not a physically describably or repeatable thing, science just can't have much to say about it. (Does anyone in philosophy of science -- paging Scott Carson -- want to check me on this?)

It might be interesting to flip the question around, though. What is it that would make a prime sequence found in junk DNA look like something that was put there "artificially"? Well, it's simply that it's not a pattern we're used to finding in nature.

When we find a really cool structure in nature, like Bucky Balls we don't immediately conclude that this proves the universe was divinely ordered, because we tell ourselves that this is simply a reasonable way for carbon atoms to organize themselves given the way that they bond and so on. So basically, we say it's natural for carbon atoms and DNA and quartz crystals and snow flakes to be organized the way they are essentially because -- that's the way they normally behave based on the physical structures that they have. Familiarity.

So if we constantly found the prime sequence of numbers all over the place, would we really conclude it was "unnatural"? Right now it seems like it would be an amazing proof of intervention, but that's because it's a mathematical sequence we can easily find in our minds but which we never find in nature. If we did find it in nature all the time, would it really look like a sign?

Does the order we already find in the universe only look "natural" because we're used to it, and the kinds of order we can imagine but haven't found only seem like they would "prove something" because we haven't found them?

Patrick said...

I think I have an idea where we're getting stuck, and it has to do with the scientific method and probabilistic predictions.

Since a hypothetical divine causation is not a physically describable or repeatable thing, science just can't have much to say about it.

Not in the sense of predicting specific further findings with high probability, which I think is the notion of the scientific method you're using. However, if a model doesn't do that, but does predict that a very large range of phenomena is not as improbable as otherwise assumed, then this is a testable prediction as well. (When it comes to the philosophy of science, I admit that this is a not entirely uncontroversial claim.)

If you were testing the hypothesis of a capriciously creating deity, you might not be able to enumerate everything you were keeping an eye out for, but you'd be able to recognize the aforementioned scenarios as confirmation— they may be unlikely particulars for such a deity to do, but that unlikelihood is preposterously better than the unlikelihood of such a thing happening by material forces.

The point about possible natural occurrences is well-taken (since the Fibonacci sequence does appear in biological entities due to certain efficiencies in gene-coding, so far as I understand it), but you couldn't make the same argument for the other example: the simply encoded text meaningful to humans.

CMinor said...

Interesting post & discussion, y'all.

Dunno if you were able to drag yourself through The God Delusion, Bearing, but after having done so I may never read anything by Dawkins again no matter how well-executed his other works may be. There were times while reading when I really wanted to whack the guy on the head with the largest style manual available!

Oh, and if anyone's keeping track, add me to the list of those who think he's probably an intolerant jerk.

CMinor said...

Oh, and re the previous post, Darwin:

I think some teary-eyed molluscs would look great in cross-stitch-- scallops, maybe?

If I ever do come up with a design, I'll send you the first one I make!

Darwin said...

There were times while reading when I really wanted to whack the guy on the head with the largest style manual available!

Sincerity is so often the enemy of style...

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

"I don't think that science as we define it is capable of detecting the agency of actors which are not physical in nature."

Why not?

Darwin said...

Because modern experimental science is a form of "methodological materialism" -- it looks for only solutions which are physical and occur according to physical laws. Solutions which are observable, repeatable, and predictable.

Thus, when the Vatican seeks scientific confirmation of a miracle, they seek not confirmation that it is a miracle, but confirmation that there is not scientific explanation for what happened.

Patrick said...

Again, Darwin, I worry you're confuting the scientific method with the general tenor of its conclusions. When Galileo started observing the moons of Jupiter or when Pasteur did his sealed-broth experiments, neither seemed to have a physical-law explanation in mind (in fact, before Newton, the idea of moons and planets hanging up in space seemed rather less of a physical and mechanical explanation than the crystal spheres). They just tested the more probable consequences of certain hypotheses against reality.

The fact that finding physical regularities and laws has been phenomenally successful in the realm of making scientific predictions doesn't imply that these are the only valid sources of scientific predictions.

Aside from which, I simply can't imagine that if such outlandish scenarios as we're imagining came to pass, that you'd really claim the scientific thing to do is put our heads in the sand rather than treat a deity as a viable explanatory hypothesis— and I can't imagine that actual practicing scientists would follow that principle.

Darwin said...

I'd certainly be open to the idea that science has increased its emphasis on finding strictly physical explanations for things over the last 400+ years. But in part, that's because science has only in the last century or two fully differentiated itself from other fields of human inquiry.

As for your God-proof scenarios: I hesitate to personalize things, but it always seems to me non-theists who I encounter saying, "If only we could find X, that would be such clear proof that there was a God."

Honestly, if someone came out with an analysis arguing that a sequence of junk DNA found in all plants and animals spelled Yaweh, if you used some particular transcription schema, I imagine it would mainly be written off as some weird guy whose "research" was self fulfilling. Sure, it looks like it spells Yaweh, but only if you use the transcription pattern he picked. Who's to say that means anything? Now the real question is, why is it that all organic life forms share that apparently "junk" piece of DNA. That's what deserves some time and attention!

I don't deny that it might certainly convince you. Heck, some people are convinced of God's existence by DNA, or the beauty of a sunset, or any of a host of other physical phenomena (or emotional reactions to physical phenomena). But I kind of suspect that not only would something like what you describe fail to receive scientific consensus as "proving God" (which I don't think it would anyway) but that it wouldn't even be regarded as that noteworthy.

John Farrell said...

Yes. And it's worth pointing out, as Darwin has before, that methodological naturalism is an approach to the study of the natural order advocated explicitly by the medieval schoolmen. Buridan in particular, but my own favorite on the subject--thanks for Mike Flynn--is Adelard of Bath:
"[from Adelard's Quaestiones naturales] “[T]he natural order does not exist confusedly and without rational arrangement, and human reason should be listened to concerning those things it treats of. But when it completely fails, then the matter should be referred to God. Therefore, since we have not yet completely lost the use of our minds, let us return to reason.”

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I recognize that this may be taking us far afield, but by way of explanation for my question, I would make two points.

First, I tend to doubt that there is any absolute distinction between the physical and the non-physical, the material and the immaterial, etc. If solid evidence were to develop in favor of the existence of ghosts, or telepathy, or whathaveyou, science wouldn't simply give up the ghost; rather, it would simply expand what counts as "physical" and "material" to include these new "paranormal" phenomenon, just as these concepts were expanded in the past to include things like fields and quarks and spacetime. For a more detailed explanation of this point, see Science, Materialism, and False Consciousness by Bas Van Fraassen.

Second, while I hold no brief for the ID folks, there is nothing in the theory of intelligent design that requires the designer to be non-material. Maybe the Mormons are right, and God is a material being. Maybe humans were created by space aliens, or time travelers, or whatever. Who knows? If we find these explanations faintly ridiculous and not worthy of serious consideration, it cannot be because they violate methodological naturalism, or are somehow inconsistent with science. There must be some other reason. And whatever that reason is, it seems likely to me that *that* reason is the real objection to intelligent design as science, not that it violates methodological naturalism.

Darwin said...

Blackadder,

I'd agree with you that science is fully capable of looking into the work of "designers" such as space aliens -- or indeed anything else that is constrained by predictable laws and acts in a materially observable way.

To my mind, where ID falls down is in their design detection methodogies (specified complexity and irreducible complexity) which I think are often a filler for "we can't currently imagine how this could happen" and tend to ignore the information-building possibilities of contrained systems with constrained-randomness inputs.

So basically, I think their means of detecting design are often flawed, and that assuming they worked, they'd be best at detecting the design of creatures rather than God.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I have no problem thinking that the specific arguments and means of detecting design put forward by the ID folks are deeply flawed. But assuming their methods were accurate, I don't see why they would be limited to detecting physical beings. God clearly can act in a materially observable way and can act within the constraints of physical law if He chooses to do so.

Darwin said...

Good points.

Certainly, God can act in a materially observable way, and someone using the methods of modern science could detect and measure those actions. What I'm skeptical of is how that person could, using a scientific methodology, successfully attribute that action to God as we understand Him.

If God's actions seemed in some sense predictable, than it seems like the scientist could equally well imagine that what he was seeing was the result of some as yet unknown, predictable natural process. If His actions were detected but not predictable (say, the miraculous cures which are often used as documentation for saints' causes) then there's not a whole lot a scientist can say other than, "I'm not sure why that happened."

One of the issues with trying to detect a creator God of the sort that Catholicism describes is that if God truly orders and holds the universe in existence via His active will, then we are actually seeing his actions all the time and mistaking the order of the universe for "purely physical" laws.

So actually, my biggest beef with the line of thinking displayed in ID is actually any _difference_ between a "natural" and a "designed" thing in nature.

Anonymous said...

I have no difficulty with notions of common descent. What I do have difficulty with, however, is the theory of evolution, at least in its Darwinian form. The difficulty as it appears to me is that the Darwinian theory reverses the order of learning. It attempts to determine the origins of things before determining what those things are. In so doing, it explains away the very object of its study. Allow me to elaborate. Until we know what the various species are, i.e., what a dog is, a horse, etc..., it is useless to try to understand how they originated. Nevertheless, this is precisely what Darwin and those who have followed him have attempted to do. They have constructed a theory of the origin of species which, in fact, explains away species altogether. Dogs, horses, cats, etc... are not really distinct species in the sense of being different in kind (which is what species means after all) but are merely denominated so. On this view, the differences between them are merely differences in degree. And how do we know this? Well, the theory of evolution implies it since new species develop by progressive accidental changes over a long period of time. But progressive accidental changes can never create anything substantially new. Ergo.......
Now, it may well be that the "species" within the plant and animal kingdoms (excluding man) are indeed merely different in degree and not different in kind. But I hardly think this is shown by merely assuming it beforehand, which is what all gradualistic theories seem to do. The proper procedure would be to investigate each species thoroughly in an attempt to understand what distinguishes one from the other. Once this has been done, one can then ask the question: could species A be related to species B through a series of accidental changes?
The prime example of this kind of thinking occurs in the case of man. Once we know what man is and how he is distinguished from the animal and plant kingdoms, we realize that the evolution of man as such in the Darwinian sense is impossible. One cannot progress from sensitive soul to intellectual soul by degrees.

Ed De Vita

The Deuce said...

Point two is where the most worry goes on these days, fueled to a great degree by point three.

Actually, DC, I think that a lot of "theistic" evolutionists are just as much to blame for this as the atheists. Let's take Kenneth Miller, for instance, who's book you recommended in this post.

Here we have an example of "Catholic" Kenneth Miller, theistic evolution poster-boy, explicitly advocating trying to appeal to people's innate religious sense of and desire for purpose, by trying to replace it with Darwinian "purpose", and in so doing, quite clearly saying that living things, including humans, weren't actually made with a purpose.

Or for another example of Miller communicating the same thing, go here.

I've also seen quite a lot of theistic evolutionists, Miller included, use the "argument from imperfection" against design. Ie, so-and-so biological trait (the eye, the human backbone, whatever) is poorly-designed, therefore it wasn't designed, therefore it wasn't designed at all, but was actually a product of natural selection.

Note that the argument from imperfection is NOT an argument for common descent, or for long periods of time, or whatever, based on physical data. It's NOT a philosophical argument that God acted indirectly or through proximate causes to accomplish his will. It's a philosophical argument that the biological feature in question wasn't even intended by God, and is therefore a product of natural selection instead.

These theistic evolutionists are essentially saying the same thing about Darwinian evolution that the atheists are: that it's an explanation for the appearance of intendedness in biology that replaces and renders actual intention superfluous.

Look, people expect atheists to spin science in their favor. However, when even the "theists" who are supposedly on their side are presenting them with obvious heresy that amounts to "God didn't intend humans" they're going to conclude that there must something very wrong with Darwinian evolution that makes it intrinsically incompatible with orthodox Christianity.

And more theistic evolutionists like yourself and John Farrel are quite a bit to blame too. If you guys expect people to sign onto "Darwinian evolution", you need to be out in front explaining why Kenneth Miller et al are wrong about what it means. People aren't stupid, and they're not going to sign on to a position when they can see a glaring logical contradiction in it. If you mean something different by "natural selection" than Ken Miller does, then you need to directly, clearly, and loudly inform people of the differences between the definitions, and explain why yours is right and his is wrong, and why they should accept yours.

If you are a serious Christian, and you have some expertise in some area that you want other Christians to learn from, then it is your first concern that they maintain their beliefs in Christianity and that their other beliefs are logically consistent with Christianity.

That means that your first target, the people that should raise the most ire in you, is not the atheists, and not the IDers, but those theistic evolutionists I mentioned above, who are hawking a picture of Darwinian evolution that amounts to heresy, and telling Christians that it's all just peachy and orthodox. As always in Church history, false teachers on the inside are the bigger danger to the body of Christ than enemies on the outside. And yet, when I go here, or to Farrell's blog, all I see is endless railing against those evil IDers and atheists, and not a word against the insidious Gnosticism being peddled by so-called "theists".

Like I said, if the Darwinism you're pushing means something different from the Darwinism these other theistic evolutionist are pushing, such that it doesn't contain the contradictions I mentioned above, then it is your duty to lay it out for people. If you haven't really given much of a thought to it, and haven't really figured out a rigorous, consistent framework that leaves fundamental Christian doctrine about God intentionally making man untouched, then you darn well better not try to get other Christians to change their beliefs until you do.

Darwin said...

Deuce,

Perhaps I was unclear, but I meant to give at least a very mixed review of Ken Miller's book. (Unlike John Farrell, I haven't had the chance to see his presentation or see him speak since.) His argument against the likes of Behe are strong, I think, but in Finding Darwin's God, I think his approach to philosophy and theology is deeply unsatisfying.

First, let me say, I strongly dislike the term, "theistic evolution" in that it seems to me that it should carry no more meaning than "theistic gravity". So far as I can tell (and I work in statistics and marketing, not biology, but I find it an interesting topic and try to read a lot about it) evolution is a description of the way things work in the world. As such, it is a reflection of the laws and order of the universe. Just like gravity, the speed of light, magnetism and the strong nuclear force, it is a way things act and it reflect the creative and ordering nature of God's will. But I don't see it's process as being any more or less "theistic" than other natural laws and processes.

Now, while I don't fully agree with Miller's philosophy and theology to the extent that I've encountered them, I don't think I see a problem with Miller's specific arguments that you link to and mention. When he argues that the products of evolution are "imperfectly designed" his point is not that God did not "intend" human beings or any other creature. Rather, his point is that speciation is the result of processes that are "messy" in a way that ground up specific design is not. However, this does not mean that God doesn't intent each creature to be the way it is, or that He does a bad job of intending them. Rather, it reflects that rather than sitting at a craftsman's table or an assembly line manufacturing each creature from scratch (a human image imposed on God) what we see in the universe is the product of God's willing into existence physical laws and processes that are logical, consistent, and fertile in their natures.

I'm very sorry if you feel that my emphasis on evolution in any way forms a challenge to belief. Certainly, that is not my intention. Beyond the above, I'm not sure that I can explain myself much more clearly other than to say that like Cardinal Newman reacting to Darwin's Origin of Species, I see no barrier to this current understanding of science being the way in which God's creative intellect created all those species which we see before us.

The Deuce said...

DC, just take some of the quotes from Miller in what I linked to:

"People want to believe that life isn't purposeless and random. That's why the intelligent design movement wins the emotional battle for adherents despite its utter lack of scientific support."

Okay, so far so good. People want to believe that life isn't purposeless and random. They want to believe they were put here for a reason - that purpose isn't an invention of their own. This is a universal religious desire. There is a Christian response to this desire: God did indeed plan and intend you, and therefore you were put here for a reason.

But then:

"To fight back, scientists need to reclaim the language of 'design' and the sense of purpose and value inherent in a scientific understanding of nature"

"There is, indeed, a design to life -- an evolutionary design... The structures in our bodies have changed over time, as have its functions. Scientists should embrace this concept of 'design,' and in so doing, claim for science the sense of orderly rationality in nature to which the anti-evolution movement has long appealed."

So, he seeks to hijack peoples' desire for purpose as a means to sell them Darwinian "design"-talk. Of course, the Darwinian sense of "design", "function", etc, doesn't entail any actual intention. So this is an attempt to use people's need to be intended - a spiritual need - as a means to sell them a non-intentional replacement concept, all for political advantage over the ID guys.

The ID guys may be wrong about science, but this is a much bigger issue theologically. I maintain that a proper set of priorities will see the latter as the bigger problem.

And this is practical advice as much as spiritual. The average person can see Miller's words and know what they imply perfectly well. It takes special training to rationalize them as no big deal, and as not being an attempt to subvert the theistic concept of purpose. Let me put it this way: as charitably as you have to read Miller to make his words unproblematic to Christian doctrine, you could no doubt render most IDers unproblematic to mainstream science. And Miller isn't alone here. There's plenty of theistic evolutionists who appear to have been pushed to some variety of gnosticism or process theology by their understanding of Darwinian evolution, and who promote that view as consistent with Christianity.

If an orthodox Christian, having seen what Miller (or Coyne, or whoever) says, can see you ostensibly selling the same position as him, but without laying out how he's wrong in the same way you would an IDist, they aren't going to be inclined to accept what you say either. These people have perfectly valid concerns, based on what they've seen coming from many in the theo-evo camp. Their unresolved, logical issues aren't going to vanish until they are dealt with in a clear and consistent logical manner, with a picture of evolution that doesn't contain those logical problems. It's no use brow-beating them for their backwardness in not just dropping it and signing on, and trying to distract from or rationalize away the deviations from Christian doctrine coming from other theo-evos can only make things worse.

Darwin said...

As I said, what I've read of Miller's theology/philosophy is not very sound. And when it comes to Coyne, I think his theology tends towards the downright fluffy, though he's certainly a good astronomer.

However, I don't see Miller's comments you link two (only the top link seems to work for me) to be problematic. First of all, let's keep in mind he's writing in Science Daily, a secular scientific publication. Now here's what he says near the end (part of which you quoted):

Miller will use arguments from his new book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul to be published by Viking Press in May, for his AAAS talk. Miller will argue that the scientific community must address the attractiveness of the "design" concept and make the case that science itself is based on the idea of design -- or the regularity of organization, function, and natural law that gives rise to the world in which we live.

He points out that structural and molecular biologists routinely speak of the design of proteins, signaling pathways, and cellular structures. He also notes that the human body bears the hallmarks of design, from the ball sockets that allows hips and shoulders to rotate to the "s" curve of the spine that allows for upright walking.

"There is, indeed, a design to life -- an evolutionary design," Miller said. "The structures in our bodies have changed over time, as have its functions. Scientists should embrace this concept of 'design,' and in so doing, claim for science the sense of orderly rationality in nature to which the anti-evolution movement has long appealed."
[emphasis added]

At first pass, it looks to me like Miller is saying that all the talk about "evolution is undesigned" and "evolution is random" is often confusing to the non-scientist because the results seem designed and orderly, not random.

And indeed, while the theory of evolution would hold that species are not individually engineered in a sculptor-and-clay sort of way, and that mutations are "random" in the sense of being "accidents" -- evolution is not indeed a random or directionless process in the way that most people generally use those terms. "Random" mutations can actually only take place within certain limits defined by the structure of DNA and the nature of replication. Natural selection is clearly not a "random" process. And all of this happens within the context of orderly and rational physical laws.

Given that as Christians we often see the orderly and rational nature of the universe as a sign of God's creative will (a sign that materialism has no successful way to explain or even prove exists) I would see Miller's attempt to convince fellow scientists to acknowledge this order as central to the theory of evolution as a positive step -- and one that many of the more strident atheists will object to.

So I'm not fully clear what the fuss is about in this regard, but I will say this: I don't see how evolution as a theory can be theistic or otherwise, any more than gravity and momentum could the theistic or otherwise. So if someone makes a big deal about call himself a "theistic evolutionist" it's a decent bet that he's got a conception of the relationship between science and theology that I would disagree with to some extent.

John Farrell said...

So I'm not fully clear what the fuss is about in this regard, but I will say this: I don't see how evolution as a theory can be theistic or otherwise, any more than gravity and momentum could the theistic or otherwise. So if someone makes a big deal about call himself a "theistic evolutionist" it's a decent bet that he's got a conception of the relationship between science and theology that I would disagree with to some extent.

Well said.

Deuce,
And more theistic evolutionists like yourself and John Farrel are quite a bit to blame too. If you guys expect people to sign onto "Darwinian evolution", you need to be out in front explaining why Kenneth Miller et al are wrong about what it means. People aren't stupid, and they're not going to sign on to a position when they can see a glaring logical contradiction in it. If you mean something different by "natural selection" than Ken Miller does, then you need to directly, clearly, and loudly inform people of the differences between the definitions, and explain why yours is right and his is wrong, and why they should accept yours.

I don't expect people to sign on to Darwinian evolution any more than I expect you to become a 'theistic evolutionist,' whatever that is. I note that you just assume I must be one. If you can show me a post on my blog where I call myself that, I'd be happy to have my memory restored.

I agree with DarwinC that theistic evolution is problematic. I'm a Catholic, and I accept Darwin's theory as far as it goes. Nothing more. No need for TE. You either accept evolution on the basis of the facts, or you don't. I do.

The problem with the ID people is that they confuse design (with a little 'd', the kind Paley was describing) with Design that I think is more in line with orthodox Christianity: meaning the 'big' picture. Which is another way of saying they get hung up on efficient causes, mistakenly thinking that in Darwin's case, efficient causes wipes out Final causes.

I don't think Ken Miller is wrong about Natural Selection. Or genetic variation. I think the Discovery Institute is not only wrong, but dishonest, when it incessantly insists that the somewhat messy and disordered functioning we see in living organisms as a result of evolution NECESSARILY means THAT THERE CANNOT BE A GOD!!

This is ludicrous. I zap these guys on my blog --yes, frequently--because they obviously do not share Pope John Paul's words that truth cannot contradict truth.
They are clearly terrified of what we can and are learning about the natural order, and are pre-sold on Paley's argument.

The problem with the militant atheists isn't that they deny purpose at the level of efficient causes. Richard Dawkins as much as Ken Miller will tell you that of course the eye is meant to see, and that it operates as though it were designed to see. The problem with Dawkins et al is they absolutely won't hear of any talk about Final Causes. Ken Miller's new book idea sounds like he is trying to restore some sense of that Aristotelian respect for Final Causes into evolutionary biology.

You may rest assured that he will be roundly abused for it by all the blowhards at scienceblogs.

But there is real harm, in my opinion, in giving cover and encouragement to an allegedly Christian institute that believes it is perfectly all right to lie to children about science because of misguided fears about evolution.

I'll stick with Saint Augustine, who said "God doesn't need my lie."

Anonymous said...

Darwin,
While I agree with your point that the use of the adjective "theistic" to modify one's belief in a scientific theory betrays a rather poor concept of the relationship between science and theology, nevertheless, I'm not so sure that it is a problem in the case of the theory of evolution. Let's remember that Darwin wrote his "Origin of Species" in a mechanistic age and was seeking a mechanistic solution to the problem of origins. Now mechanism may be a sufficient working hypothesis in the physical sciences. These sciences are mathematical by their very nature so that one necessarily looks to predict future states of a system on the basis of given initial conditions. But to extend this to a biological investigation into the origin of species and the origin of life seems to me to be a bit of a stretch.
Let's just consider the implications of such a view. If science must always look to explain the world by the necessity of matter, without consideration of final, formal, or agent causality, what follows? Well, if you trace it back you'll find that, under such a mechanistic view, inanimate matter must contain within it the inevitability of animate matter and animate matter must contain within it the inevitability of the diversity of species we see in the world today. Moreover, since all matter can be broken down into elementary particles, let's say for the sake of argument, that these are electrons,protons, and neutrons, it would follow that these elementary particles already contain within themselves the inevitability of all living species. Now mechanism cannot really distinguish between kinds of things. These are mere appearance. All things are simply more or less complex arrangements of electrons, protons, and neutrons. It follows then that no living substance, including man, is essentially different from a clump of elementary particles. All are merely particular possibilities selected from a vast array of possibilities.
In the end, a theory of evolution without final, formal, or agent causality is nothing more than the conflation of the possible and the actual. In other words, the reason we see the diverse forms of living and non-living things today is because they are inherent possibilities of matter. Such a theory can "explain" anything precisely because it explains nothing at all. Moreover it does an injustice to what we really do know about the world from our everyday experience. There truly are different kinds of things that are not merely accidentally distinguished. This is our first and most certain experience of the world. Any theory that would explain it away is no theory at all.
It seems to me that any "scientific" theory based on such a false philosophical foundation is doomed to failure. It is insufficient to say, "Oh well, I can always interpret a theory such as evolution within my theistic framework." You can't really do that because mechanism is at the heart of the theory and the most that God can do is to create the mechanism and to keep it in existence. But this doesn't change the nature of the mechanism. It would still be true, whether God is involved or not, that man, dog, tree, rock, etc... are merely more or less complex arrangements of elementary particles and, consequently, not essentially different from one another.
Before I close this rather lengthy post, allow me a simple example of what I mean. I'm a high school science and mathematics teacher. When I teach chemistry, I always bring up the commonly known fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Students generally acknowledge this and, sometimes I even get to do an electrolysis experiment to prove it to them. But then I ask them the following question: Is water two things or one thing? Clearly water has vastly different chemical properties than either hydrogen or oxygen. This would indicate that it is one new substance. On the other hand, it is composed of two substances. So which is it: one substance or two substances? The best way that I know to answer this question is to speak of hydrogen and oxygen surrendering their properties to form a new unitary whole. The hydrogen and oxygen are virtually present in this new whole, but not actually so. Note here, that I've brought in some philosophical principles to help explain what would otherwise involve a violation of the principle of non-contradiction. This shows the insufficiency of the mechanistic view. In the mechanistic view, water is not really different from hydrogen and oxygen but merely a more complex arrangement But is this truly adequate to the science? I think not.

Ed De Vita

The Deuce said...

I thought I'd comment on some of the other messages in the threads here as well, since there's some interesting stuff that's been said.

First of all, I'll say where I stand. I believe in evolution, but like a few posters above, I doubt very much that the Darwinian picture of evolution can be consistently harmonized with Christian teaching, without seriously trivializing or bastardizing one or the other.

I think that the basic premise behind ID is correct: that it's possible to rationally infer intention by observing physical effects, and that life exhibits a few such effects. However, I think a lot of IDists themselves don't understand that and are badly misguided, in a number of ways. For one, many of them advocate the design/descent dichotomy, where if something wasn't created by immediate miraculous fiat, then it wasn't designed. The "nobody cares about mollusks" guy that Darwin mentioned in a previous post was a good example. They think that inferring design means disproving any physical continuity.

Okay, on to some of the interesting things in this thread. The first I wanted to talk about was Cardinal Schonborn, and whether he's deliberately misunderstanding evolutionary theory in taking it to refer to ontological randomness.

I contend that he isn't. First, I don't think there is any universally agreed-upon definition of "random" for evolutionary theory, which explains why so many theo-evos seem to veer off into process theology while others don't. In my opinion, the worst John Farrell can correctly say about Schonborn is that he refuses to use the same definition he prefers, not that he's misunderstanding what the theory says.

But second, the main reason I suspect that consistent Darwinism can't be coherently harmonized with Christian doctrine is that I think using a non-ontological definition of randomness inevitably trivializes the theory, so that the ontological definition is actually the correct one here.

At base, "random" means unintended. Stephen Barr would say it means uncorrelated. However, "uncorrelated", like "correlated", has no meaning unless you say what it's uncorrelated with. And what it means is, "uncorrelated with one's intentional states".

Randomness need not imply indeterminism. For instance, let's say I turn on a fan, which, in Jurassic Park "Chaos Theory" fashion, sets off a complex string of deterministic events that results in a hurricane off the coast of Japan. I'd say that the hurricane was random, even though I technically caused it, because I didn't cause it intentionally, and it was beyond the ability of anyone to predict it. However, if I really did somehow predict and intentionally cause that hurricane, I would be wrong to call it random.

Now, there's two senses in which we use "random" - the subjective sense and the objective (ontological) sense. The subjective sense of random simply means that a particular event is not the result of our intentions, or of anyone else's that we're aware of, and that we are unable to predict it. This use of "random" leaves open the possibility that said event is intended by God, and is therefore not actually random.

The objective, or ontological, definition of random means that the described event really is random - ie, unintended by anyone, which would include God.

The question is, which of these definitions is operable in the Darwinian theory of evolution? Does it necessitate one or the other?

For most purposes of science, the subjective definition of randomness suffices. When, in an experiment, we try to account for "random factors", it's really irrelevant whether or not those factors are literally unintended by God. We just mean that there are things we can't control or predict, which we need to compensate for in our models.

But, Darwinian theory is different. The reason is, it's primarily a historical explanation for biological origins rather than a predictive framework for future events. Saying that biological diversity is the result of genetic changes that *we* didn't intend is trivial. Of course we can't intend or predict those events! They happened before we were around to do so! If that's all that Darwinian theory meant by "random", then it wouldn't even be a theory - just a non-statement. In fact, "random" in that sense wouldn't actually be a description of the mutations at all, but rather a subjective statement of our lack of knowledge about them.

That's the problem. Experimental science isn't an exercise in ontology. However, historical explanations are necessarily exercises in ontology, so when a historical explanation makes use of randomness, it must be ontological randomness.

Otherwise, it's an exercise in post-modernist "history", where instead of trying to find the actual truth, everyone's "interpretation" is just as valid. I happen to think that Darwinian theory is meant to be an actual explanation about how origins actually happened, not a subjective interpretation.

A lot of things go under the label of "science", but I think that some are qualitatively different from each other in terms what epistemic sphere they're in and whether or not they make metaphysical claims.

John Farrell said...

That's the problem. Experimental science isn't an exercise in ontology. However, historical explanations are necessarily exercises in ontology, so when a historical explanation makes use of randomness, it must be ontological randomness.

What do you base that claim on? D

For example: We know that we share 98% of the same genes with chimpanzees--because the historical explanation suggested it--and molecular genetics proves it. If the historical explanation is to be trusted, and Darwin's theory of descent with modification by variation and natural selection is testable, then someone needed to explain why we have one fewer pair of chromosomes than the other primates--if we descended from them. What we found shows a change, a fusion, in one of our chromosomes that took place.

If I understand you, you are saying Darwin's theory insists that this event was ontologically random? It happened without any reason, indeed without any real cause, whether it was a change in the environment, a mutation in the genome of some apes that kept it?

The Deuce said...

Darwin,

I still think it's problematic:

First of all, let's keep in mind he's writing in Science Daily, a secular scientific publication.

Indeed. And I think he'd draw a major gasp if he were to say this to a crowd of average Catholics, because using regular old common-sense English, it sounds a lot like he's trying to offer evolutionary "design" as a stand-in for God's actual intention.

"Random" mutations can actually only take place within certain limits defined by the structure of DNA and the nature of replication. Natural selection is clearly not a "random" process. And all of this happens within the context of orderly and rational physical laws.

Actually, when most people refer to evolution as "random" I don't think they are making the mistake you attribute to them here. What they mean is that the direction evolution takes is unintended - not that it is somehow outside the purview of physical laws. Pointing out that it operates within physical laws doesn't really answer that one way or another.

If Miller had started with "People like to think that things happen in an orderly manner according to laws, and ID appeals to that" and then went on to say how scientists could combat it by pointing out the order inherent in science, I'd have no problem.

But what he actually stated was that people want to believe in "purpose" and "design" - that is, final causes - and talks about how scientists can appeal to this by presenting the orderliness of efficient causes, while using final cause language (ie, "evolutionary design"). I don't see how this isn't a problem.

I don't see how evolution as a theory can be theistic or otherwise... So if someone makes a big deal about call himself a "theistic evolutionist" it's a decent bet that he's got a conception of the relationship between science and theology that I would disagree with to some extent.

Let me put it this way: If you find "theistic evolutionist" problematic, because it improperly mixes final causes with a final-cause-neutral scientific theory, then you ought to find "evolutionary design" problematic for the same reason.

What I mean is, if evolution says nothing about purpose like you say, then "evolutionary design" is a flawed concept, and it's wrong to present it as an answer to people's desire for purpose and design. That's offering a final-cause-neutral substitute for actual final causes, by dressing it up in final-cause terminology. The correct thing to say in that case is not "there is design, an evolutionary design", but rather "evolution says nothing about whether the various forms of life were designed or have a purpose, because that's outside its scope".

Darwin said...

Ed De Vita,

I'm a medieval kind of guy (if all the Dante posts aren't already a give-away on that) so I find your approach highly appealing at a theological/philosophical level. However, I think you're giving modern science credit for being much more than it is. At least as I see it (and I like to think that how I see it is a proper contextualization in a Thomistic framework of which its practitioners say it is) modern science is a very, very limited field. In that sense, I'm not sure that it even can answer the question of how life originated, as opposed to how it developed since originating. Similarly, it just doesn't address the question of why water is substantially different in its behavior from the sum of its parts. (Take two gases which are highly flammable, put them together, and you can use them to put out a fire.) It just observes that water _is_ substantially different from its components.

So while I appreciate the things you're saying against the non-difference between inaniminate and animate matter, I just don't think that's the question modern science is trying to answer.

It may be the most important question, but at the human level, science doesn't attempt the most important questions.

Darwin said...

Duece,

I dunno what to say other than that at a cold reading I took him to say, "If you tell people that things don't have functions, they'll know you're wrong." I didn't take him to be talking about final causes, and substituting efficient causes by slight of hand (man, I wish I could share your confidence that the ordinary Catholic would know what _either one_ was!) but rather that he was telling a 90% atheist audience: Look if you tell people that an eye does not exist in order to see, they're going to go look for someone who's talking sense. I don't think he was even addresses the question of providence.

That's just one person's reading, and admittedly someone who already has his own frame but I don't see this as denying or suggesting a substitute for the idea that God intends the world. I'd say that at most he's asking for a limited return of formal causality, but simply not addressing the question of final causality. I think when he's talking about purpose and design in that context, he's basically talking about formal rather than final causality.

At this point, though, I need to go deal with my own products of descent, because they're rioting...

No Catholic Evolution said...

Catholics have to assume that the Church Fathers and Doctors were correct. Only scientists and theologians currently have permission to "discuss" evolution. The rest of us have to shut up and assume the traditional teaching of Creation: http://www.kolbecenter.org/the-traditional-catholic-doctrine-of-creation/

zuma said...

Did Pope Benedict XVI provide any view of his support of evolutionary theory?

The following is the extract of the speech from Pope Benedict XVI when he had his dialogue with Fr Alberto at the church of St Justin Martyr on 24th July 2007:

I think you have just given us a precise description of a life in which God does not figure. At first sight, it seems as if we do not need God or indeed, that without God we would be freer and the world would be grander. But after a certain time, we see in our young people what happens when God disappears. As Nietzsche said: "The great light has been extinguished, the sun has been put out". Life is then a chance event. It becomes a thing that I must seek to do the best I can with and use life as though it were a thing that serves my own immediate, tangible and achievable happiness. But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN THE CREATOR WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO CONCEIVE OF EVOLUTION, and THOSE WHO INSTEAD SUPPORT EVOLUTION WOULD HAVE TO EXCLUDE GOD. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, THE DOCTRINE OF EVOLUTION DOES NOT ANSWER EVERY QUERY, especially the great philosophical question: WHERE DOES EVERYTHING COME FROM? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance. This is what I wanted to say in my lecture at Regensburg: that reason should be more open, that it should indeed perceive these facts but also realize that THEY ARE NOT ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN ALL OF REALITY. THEY ARE INSUFFICIENT. Our reason is broader and can also see that our reason is not basically something irrational, a product of irrationality, but that reason, creative reason, precedes everything and we are truly the reflection of creative reason. We were thought of and desired; thus, there is an idea that preceded me, a feeling that preceded me, that I must discover, that ...

zuma said...

Comments upon the speech of Pope Benedict XVI as listed above and observe carefully those words that are placed in capital letters:

Despite Pope Benedict XVI did mention above that there are too many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality, he did not state clearly of his stand towards evolutionary theory since nothing is mentioned whether he had found favourably towards this theory.

As the phrase, those who believe in the creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, is mentioned in his speech above, it implies that those people that uphold the truth that God should be the Creator of this world could not be able to identify whether there could be any link between the doctrine of evolution and Creator. This is by virtue of those people that support creationism would perceive that God was the One that directly created everything instead of being treated as everything would be the work of evolution and that He just stood aside just to assist without directly creating it.

As the phrase, those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God, is mentioned above, it implies that those people that support evolutionary theory would turn up to exclude God in their process of formation of everything. This is certainly true in the sense that those people that support evolutionary theory would turn up to support that God has to be excluded to be direct creation of this world since their belief is based on the assumption that He only stood aside and to assist in the formation of the world without directly creating it. If God would turn up not to be directly creating everything, how could he then call Him to be the Creator as mentioned in his speech above? As Benedict XVI called God to be the Creator, He should have supported that God was the One that had created everything directly.

Despite Pope Benedict XIV mentioned that there are many scientific proofs for evolution, he did not mention that all these evidences could be useful to prove the creation of this world. As the phrase, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, is mentioned in his speech above, it implies that he did not support evolutionary theory could be a useful source to answer every query that would bring towards it. As the phrase, where does everything come from?, is mentioned in his speech above with the phrase, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, it implies that the doctrine of evolution could not provide a suitable reason how everything would come about, such as, Was God the One that directly created this world? How would God create this world? As the phrase, they are not enough to explain all of reality they are insufficient, is mentioned in his speech above, it gives an absolute conclusion that the doctrine of evolution should not be treated as reliable and sufficient source to prove how everything would come about. As the phrase, they are insufficient, is mentioned in his speech above pertaining to the doctrine of evolution, it implies that Paul Benedict XIV did not intend Christians to treat evolutionary theory to be useful source to tackle answer as where everything comes about or how everything could be formed in the beginning.

Nevertheless, Pope Benedict XIV did not mention that evolutionary theory could be useful to support how everything could be formed in the beginning, such as, How could human beings be formed? Was God directly created them? This is by virtue of evolutionary theory could not provide sufficient source to prove it.