Sunday, May 03, 2009

Theistic Evolution: How Does God Do It?

Theistic Evolution is a form of creationism that limits God's involvement in the creation event. The chief limitation is that most of God's activity have to be consistent with the facts of evolution.

Francis Collins has created a website devoted to his concept of BioLogos, which, it turn out, is just another word for Theistic Evolution. The website is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Many of us have difficulty understanding how a personal God can be involved in guiding evolution without violating the laws of physics and chemistry. In other words, how is Theistic Evolution/BioLogos compatible with science? This is a key question since we know that major scientific organizations (AAAS, NAS, NCSE) support the notion that science and religion are compatible. In fact, they explicitly support Francis Collins and Theistic Evolution.

Let's see how science and religion are compatible by looking at Question 14 on the BioLogos website [What role could God have in evolution?].
Divine Action is defined as God’s interaction with creation. Due to the understanding that evolution accounts for the diversity of present life forms, it might appear God played no role in the process of evolution. (See Question 26 about The Complexity of Life.) Clearly this contradicts the central doctrine of creation for many faiths. Christianity, for example, professes a God actively involved in creation. Many faiths share the concept of an interactive God, or theism. The opposing belief — the belief in an uninvolved, disinterested God — is deism.
Collins sees this a a major problem. According to him, Christians believe in creation and a strictly scientific explanation of evolution seems incompatible with this belief.

Elsewhere on the website, Collins makes it clear that theism is not deism and his view of Theistic Evolution/BioLogos is not deistic. So how does he solve the problem?

Any God worthy of the name has to be capable of miracles, and each of the great Western religions attributes a number of very special miracles to their conception of God. What can science say about a miracle? Nothing. By definition, the miraculous is beyond explanation, beyond our understanding, beyond science.

Ken Miller in "Finding Darwin's God" p. 239
Well, it's not very clear to me. There is some hand-waving and some backhanded suggestions but nothing specific is described. In this sense, the Francis Collins version of Theistic Evolution is similar to that of Ken Miller in Finding Darwin's God. Here's the BioLogos version..
Even before Darwin’s contribution to biology, the scientific revolution in physics marked a tremendous advance in our understanding of the world. Scientists discovered that the world’s behavior could be explained and predicted with great accuracy on the basis of physical laws. Nature, as understood at the time, appeared to reliably follow a set of fundamental rules. For example, the motion of planets could be explained as a necessary result of their obedience to the force of gravity. This understanding of the world lent itself to the belief in a rational, consistent creator.

But, as Polkinghorne puts it, these laws might also come across as “a gift from the Greeks.”5 Given a second look, they challenge basic theism. For as much as these laws signify a rational creator, their trustworthiness could also imply God’s absence. After all, if the laws of nature can explain almost any phenomenon, how is God involved? In order to understand how God could take an active role, or how the world could have any inherent freedom, the laws of nature must be somehow open or flexible. The world’s future cannot be entirely determined or predictable from any given moment.
This is the potential area of conflict. If science says that evolution obeys the laws of physics and chemistry then there's no room for an interventionist God without violating those rules. And if your God does that then there's a conflict between science and religion. They are not compatible.

What to do? Miller and Collins, and many other theists, opt for a solution where God can intervene at the quantum level without ever being detected. Thus, nature only appears to obey the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry because God is clever enough to disguise his interventions.
The mechanical worldview of the scientific revolution is now a relic. Modern physics has replaced it with a very different picture of the world. With quantum mechanical uncertainty and the chaotic unpredictability of complex systems, the world is now understood to have a certain freedom in its future development. Of course, the question remains whether this openness is a result of nature’s true intrinsic chanciness or the inevitable limit to humans’ understanding. Either way, one thing is clear: a complete and detailed explanation or prediction for nature’s behavior cannot be provided. This was already a problem for Newtonian mechanics; however, it was assumed that in principle, science might eventually provide a complete explanation of any natural event. Now, though, we see that the laws of nature are such that scientific prediction and explanation are ultimately limited.

It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation. In this way, modern science opens the door to divine action without the need for law breaking miracles. Given the impossibility of absolute prediction or explanation, the laws of nature no longer preclude God’s action in the world. Our perception of the world opens once again to the possibility of divine interaction.

Despite the uncertainty and unpredictability of the world, we are not forced to reject the earlier understanding of God’s creation as consistent and reliable. After all, the world still exhibits the same orderly behavior that inspired so many faithful scientists of earlier centuries. Regardless of the irregularity of tiny,quantum mechanical, or complex, chaos theoretical, systems, the sun stills rises and sets, the tides ebb and flow, and objects fall to the ground. Nature is reliable enough to reflect God’s faithfulness yet flexible enough to permit God’s involvement.
So this is how to make science and religion compatible. Let's restate it so that everyone can grasp the argument,
"... modern science opens the door to divine action without the need for law breaking miracles. Given the impossibility of absolute prediction or explanation, the laws of nature no longer preclude God’s action in the world.."
On the surface it seems to work since, by definition, all of God's interventions and guidance are undetectable. Therefore, there can't be any obvious conflict between the purely modern scientific view of evolution and creationism.

Personally, I don't think you can have your cake and eat it too. Once you start attributing events to God's intervention you are conflicting with a strictly materialistic interpretation of those same events. It doesn't matter whether your God is extremely careful to fool scientists into thinking that evolution is natural. The very act of postulating divine intervention in the natural world is not compatible with the scientific way of knowing.

Here's the bottom line, according to Francis Collins.
Our modern understanding of physical laws combined with a proper understanding of God’s relationship to time can be synthesized into a robust theistic worldview. Darrel Falk provides the following perspective:
“The Bible tells us that God created, but it does not tell us how, and we need to be careful that we do not force the God of the Universe into one of our human molds. […] What do we learn about the nature of God’s activity from studying the Bible? One thing we learn is that God builds freedom into His creation. […] Just as God builds freedom into our lives today, so freedom may well be a central component of God’s biological world as well. This is not to say that God is not playing a supervisory role in creation in a manner resembling the role God plays in my life and yours. But there is no a priori scriptural reason to assume that the biological world was created one species at a time by the God of the Universe “pushing creation buttons” each time he wanted a new species. […] God’s spirit guides the progression of life. His presence is never far from creation, just as it is never far from the events of my life. Nonetheless God respects my freedom and (I suspect) values freedom in the rest of creation as well.”
This is how evolution and creationism are compatible. This idea that "God’s spirit guides the progression of life" is the view that major scientific organizations and the NCSE endorse as being compatible with science.


[Photo Credit: Francis Collins discusses “The Language of God”]

58 comments :

  1. It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation. -

    What's the difference between an unrecognizable god and no god at all? </rhetorical question>

    Any deviation from chance is recognizable given a large enough sample set. For a god's intervention to be undetectable, it cannot deviate from chance given any sample size. If Collins "god" is anything more than a god of pure randomness, it must be recognizable to scientific observation.

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  2. There is some hand-waving and some backhanded suggestions but nothing specific is described.

    In theology? Oh, no!

    This idea that "God’s spirit guides the progression of life" is the view that major scientific organizations and the NCSE endorse as being compatible with science.

    Again, it depends on you definition of "compatible." It means that they believe that the methodological assumption of naturalism applied by science is, in some sense, wrong in fact, but a correct method to apply nonetheless. They believe in that methodlogical assumption in a way that makes no practical difference to how we do science. The result is that the science done by such people (assuming they are consistent in their philosophy, a requirement for everyone) looks exactly the same as the science done by people who are philosophical naturalists. That certainly seems like a fair definition of "compatible" to me.

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  3. I guess the only position that would satisfy Larry is for all christian scientists to give up their belief in absolutely anything, and I guess that this would be the "appropriate" position for AAAS and the likes.

    AAAS and other such organizations deal with science and that's where they should focus on. They do not endorse theistic evolution, just like they don't endorse atheism. It seems to me that Larry would hate for them to do the first, but love the second. I agree with John that the methodological naturalism carried out by christian scientists warrants their view to be compatible with modern science. However, moving beyond that to philosophical naturalism, which is what Larry seems to prefer, is NOT a position that can be validated by science and therefore should NOT be endorsed by any scientific organization.

    But of course, bashing any christian proposition as irrational and stupid is so much more fun.

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  4. So, to clarify, they believe in micromiracles, but not macromiracles? Haven't I read something similar before?

    Also, is this "Honey, I Shrunk The Deity" as the god of the gaps is reduced to the gaps between quanta? Why's he worth worshipping when he's undetectable? Or is the undetectability this week's paradox which proves the worshippable?

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  7. Sandwalk says...

    Many of us have difficulty understanding how a personal God can be involved in guiding evolution without violating the laws of physics and chemistry. In other words, how is Theistic Evolution/BioLogos compatible with science?

    This is the potential area of conflict. If science says that evolution obeys the laws of physics and chemistry then there's no room for an interventionist God without violating those rules. And if your God does that then there's a conflict between science and religion. They are not compatible

    On the surface it seems to work since, by definition, all of God's interventions and guidance are undetectable. Therefore, there can't be any obvious conflict between the purely modern scientific view of evolution and creationism.


    Once you start attributing events to God's intervention you are conflicting with a strictly materialistic interpretation of those same events. It doesn't matter whether your God is extremely careful to fool scientists into thinking that evolution is natural. The very act of postulating divine intervention in the natural world is not compatible with the scientific way of knowing.

    .
    .
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    Don't try telling me that you don't do (anti)theology. I just don't buy that one.

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  8. Once you start attributing events to God's intervention you are conflicting with a strictly materialistic interpretation of those same events. It doesn't matter whether your God is extremely careful to fool scientists into thinking that evolution is natural. The very act of postulating divine intervention in the natural world is not compatible with the scientific way of knowing.I think John has pointed out how they can both have and eat their cake, as far as the practice of science is concerned. Thus the "two ways of knowing" (science and faith) are "compatible" insofar as they do not make conflicting statements about specific natural phenomena (albeit not in the stronger sense of "working together"). Their interpretation of any particular phenomenom is likely to be as materialistic as yours or mine, to the limits of human observability -- which is all the "truth" that science qua science can aspire to. The fact that you (and I) find the god-talk to be an irrelevant gloss is another matter entirely. This particular formulation of TE seems specifically constructed to set up two truly non-overlapping magisteria, and I would argue that it succeeds in that.

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  9. Any deviation from chance is recognizable given a large enough sample set. For a god's intervention to be undetectable, it cannot deviate from chance given any sample size.That assumes you know what the distribution should look like, sans intervention. If too many electrons are emerging spin-up from your experiment then indeed you have reason to suspect some monkey business behind the quantum curtain. But (hypothetically) if God were hiding in there tinkering with mutations so as to eventually get humanity, how would you know? You would have to show that the particular mutational history that lead to us was significantly improbable (and not just in the sense that any given poker hand is one of a vast number of equiprobable outcomes). I don't think we know enough about the possibility space to begin to make that sort of assertion.

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  10. They believe in that methodlogical assumption in a way that makes no practical difference to how we do science. -

    Why bother? If this is an accurate description, Collins et al. achieve "compatibility" only at the cost of making their religion vacuous: the laws of physics plus one invisible elf. (And if you allow one invisible elf, why not two? Three? An infinity?)

    When someone defends a position by asserting its vacuity, we should be suspicious that they're trying to bullshit us, trying to sneak something in the back door.

    Without the scientific method, we have no way to distinguish true statements from false. We have no way of telling if God loves gay people, or God hates gay people. "Theology" becomes a perfect synonym for personal opinion.

    Naturalists acknowledge, of course, that people have opinions, preferences and desires, all of which are factual properties of minds, all with causal explanations.

    Every theologian and religious apologist sooner or later asserts and privileges some opinion or preference as truth. What opinions do Miller and Collins wish to privilege?

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  11. I don't think we know enough about the possibility space to begin to make that sort of assertion. -

    Then we don't know enough to exclude chance.

    It's possible that God exists and is as yet undetected. It's just as possible that God exists and is hiding behind my couch. It's possible that a thousand monkeys will fly out my ass. Mere possibility is trivial and uninteresting.

    Do Collins and Miller assert that a god is as yet undetected or that god is undetectable in principle? If the former, let them go look: when they detect a god, I'll be happy to examine their results. If the latter, in what sense does their god differ from no god at all?

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  12. ... Collins et al. achieve "compatibility" only at the cost of making their religion vacuous ...

    ... in what sense does their god differ from no god at all
    ?

    Why would science organizations care about the success or failure of their theology or whether it is a version of god-in-the-gaps? The sole claim of the NAS is that some theists assert that their theology can be made compatible with science. Nowhere do they claim that it is good or coherent theology (whatever that would look like).

    That's where the criticism of the NCSE is valid I think. The people at their faith site do (arguably) endorse TE as good theology.

    Every theologian and religious apologist sooner or later asserts and privileges some opinion or preference as truth. What opinions do Miller and Collins wish to privilege?

    And evolutionary psychologists don't? I don't see how that is an exclusive failing of theists. The way to guard against that is to evaluate their claims the way you do everyone else's.

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  13. The notion that the appearence of humans was inevitable has a major flaw. That appearance is contingent on the KT extinction; if it had not occurred, we wouldn't be here. Therefore, in order to invoke such a hypothesis, Miller and Collins must claim that their god intervened to cause the asteroid collision, which is certainly not a quantum event!

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  14. Any God worthy of the name has to be capable of miracles, and each of the great Western religions attributes a number of very special miracles to their conception of God. What can science say about a miracle? Nothing. By definition, the miraculous is beyond explanation, beyond our understanding, beyond science.

    Ken Miller in "Finding Darwin's God" p. 239
    That's a little too convenient a definition. Lots of things used to be "beyond" all that. But people got curious. Miller's definition is a curiosity killer. Don't get curious and investigate, because by definition, you can't. He defines curiosity right out the window. His defintion also completely disregards the possibility that it might all be a myth. How very very convenient.

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  15. Though I don't agree with it, theistic evolution, at least in the form expressed by its more educated and intelligent proponents, strikes me as being the most honest form of creationism. It does not require pretending away the body of evidence that supports evolution (and much other science as well) as does young-earth creationism. It does not depend on a dressing up religious views as science, like ID (or its less sophisticated ancestor, "Creation Science") does. And, it does not need to pretend that evolution as a "theory in crises" as pretty much all other creationists like to do.

    I also happen to think that it serves a useful purpose. Which is that it provides a means for people who are unwilling or unable to abandon religious thinking to accept science, or even to become scientists. Religious scientists may be a minority, but they are a significant minority, and science would be worse off without them.

    Before anyone gets riled, please understand that I'm not saying that non-religious scientists or scientific organizations should promote or defend theistic evolution. I'm just saying that it is not in their best interest to actively oppose it. A simple statement that it is unfalsifiable, and therefore outside of the domain of science, is all that needs to be said about it.

    One could argue that theistic evolution or similar science/religion compartmentalization methods are a wedge by which religion can be inserted into science. There may be some truth to that, but I think that the reverse effect is a stronger one. It is a wedge that allows science and reason to make gains in an overwhelmingly religious and unreasoning world.

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  16. Dembski's "explanatory filter" would really like Ken Miller's "miracles", and Behe would say they are "irreducibly complex".

    Wells would just say something really dumb and completely off the wall. Probably a turbine analogy or something. "Miracles are like little tiny turbines."

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  17. Do Collins and Miller assert that a god is as yet undetected or that god is undetectable in principle? If the former, let them go look: when they detect a god, I'll be happy to examine their results. If the latter, in what sense does their god differ from no god at all?What I've read (admittedly not much) of Miller at least indicates he asserts that divine action is undetectable in principle. I agree that's no different from no god at all. As I already said, god-talk is an irrelevant gloss -- superfluous window-dressing -- on the results of science. If indulging in that kind of personal artistic expression (and I think that's what it should be seen as equivalent to) helps people like Miller and Collins sleep better at night, then bully for them. I happen to have been there, tried that, and lost the taste for it.

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  18. John Pieret says,

    The sole claim of the NAS is that some theists assert that their theology can be made compatible with science. Nowhere do they claim that it is good or coherent theology (whatever that would look like).

    It's true that NAS does not discuss theology but by endorsing those claims the National Academies of Sciences strongly implies that the claimants are at least practicing good *science.*

    That's a dubious assumption in many cases. It's one of the reasons why scientific organizations should not be endorsing the Theistic Evolution version of creationism.

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  19. I guess Collins' god doesn't believe in the sanctity of life, since he has let 95% of all the species he 'created' go extinct.

    Did these species eat of a forbidden fruit, or is it just that 95% of his god's decisions are full of crap?

    Hmmm... maybe those sheepherders were smart to leave their god's contribution to just Creation.

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  20. Marc says,

    I guess the only position that would satisfy Larry is for all christian scientists to give up their belief in absolutely anything, and I guess that this would be the "appropriate" position for AAAS and the likes.

    Partly correct. My goal is that all scientists (and everyone else) abandon superstitious belief.

    But my goal for scientific organizations is that they stay out of the discussion and not take any position either for or against religion. That seems to be the overwhelming choice of Sandwalk readers as well according to the poll in the left-hand sidebar.

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  23. In case you hadn't heard:

    "Francisco Ayala is presenting at the "evolutionary mechanisms session" in Rome. He was trained in Catholicism, Spanish-style, as a Dominican. We were in California at a meeting with Whiteheadian philosopher John Cobb. At that meeting Ayala agreed with me when I stated that this doctrinaire neo-Darwinism is dead. He was a practitioner of neo-Darwinism but advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism's now dead." - Lynn Margulis

    Yes, you heard right: Neo-darwinism is dead!

    Now go to your board and write that 1000X

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0903/S00194.htm

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  24. Re Charlie Wagner

    Lynn Margulis is a nutcase who is an HIV/AIDS denier. She has no more credibility on the subject of evolution then Linus Pauling had on the subject of cancer cures. Prof. Ayalas' recent book on evolution says nothing of the sort. Whackjob Wagner will have to do better then that.

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  25. Three quick thoughts:

    1. This is just another "G-d of the gaps" argument.

    2. Collin's didn't have a hand in the NCSE's stance, did he? He strikes me as someone who would be in a position to.

    3. One of the main reasons the various TE ideas are a waste of time to me, is that those supporting them have no intention of questioning their proposals. Typically what I see is that they "demand that others"—scientists in this case—"disprove" their idea, while leaving their idea/assertion as an empty, unsubstantiated, unquestioned, untested claim. In cases, they'll go even further and place pre-emptive strikes against questions or testing their ideas, as others have pointed out. To my mind, by being determined not to question or substantiate what they propose, they've given up any pretence to be scientists.

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  26. So Collins' God is like a biased random-number generator, shifting the outcomes of probabilistic events only under circumstances where we can't detect the shift?

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  27. We sure do know an awful lot about this God which cannot be detected. Sounds kinds fishy...

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  28. It's true that NAS does not discuss theology but by endorsing those claims the National Academies of Sciences strongly implies that the claimants are at least practicing good *science.*[Sigh] Now you have to define "endorse." Does mentioning the existence of people who claim to reconcile science and religion amount to an "endorsement"?

    And do you have any evidence that Miller, Collins and Ayala, for example, have done bad science? Or are you just recklessly casting aspersions on fellow scientists' reputations? Or is it that anyone who doesn't think like Larry Moran is automatically doing bad science?

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  29. This may be a naive question, but how will BioLogos and Collins' belief that science and religion are compatible affect Collins' reputation as a scientist?

    The NHGRI website says "Dr. Collins left his position as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute to explore other writing and professional opportunities." Are a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and BioLogos the "writing and professional opportunities" he was exploring?

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  30. John Pieret says,

    [Sigh] Now you have to define "endorse." Does mentioning the existence of people who claim to reconcile science and religion amount to an "endorsement"?

    Yes, in the context of the evolution/creation controversy, it does.

    These organizations have made public statements about Intelligent Design Creationism, declaring it to be non-scientific. They are in the business of determining what's scientific and what isn't. They do not endorse the science of Michael Behe or Bill Dembski, for example.

    In that context, when they declare that the science of Ken Miller and Francis Collins is compatible with religion then they mean that the science is correct.

    And do you have any evidence that Miller, Collins and Ayala, for example, have done bad science?

    Nope. But that doesn't have much to do with what we're discussing. I don't have any evidence that Michael Behe has done "bad science" either but I'm confident that his view of what counts as legitimate science is wrong.

    How about you? Do you think that Michael Behe's version of science should be held up as a shining example of correct science? How about Hugh Ross?

    If the answer is "no" then we've established that we have an obligation to examine the quality of a person's scientific viewpoint before declaring that it is valid. Furthermore, we have established that it is not sufficient to just say that a person has published good scientific work, because in that case many Intelligent Design Creationists will count as doing good science.

    Or are you just recklessly casting aspersions on fellow scientists' reputations? Or is it that anyone who doesn't think like Larry Moran is automatically doing bad science?

    I'm trying to explain the difference between what I think is the proper way to use science as a way of knowing and what is improper.

    John, do you have a contribution to make to that discussion? Can you tell me why you think Hugh Ross and Michael Behe don't qualify while Ken Miller and Francis Collins Do?

    You don't have to take my word for it but you do have to admit that the decision isn't quite as obvious as you'd like to imagine.

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  31. There is a book titled, "Dominance & Delusion" written by M.A. Curtis. This book covers a wide variety of topics. One topic that he covers is evolution. At first I didn't share similar beliefs as the author on the subject, however after thinking about it for a while, it changed my mind.

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  32. According to Jerry Coyne, "John Haught... who appears frequently on the NCSE website... has an equally teleological view of evolution. ... But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required."

    Moran, Myers and many other commentators have time and again made the point that we are concerned that the NAS/NSCE is endorsing and accommodating religious belief to the point of remaining silent about actual falsity (i.e. a teleological view of evolution), rather than staying neutral about how individuals reconcile science with their religious beliefs.

    Furthermore, the NAS/NCSE — as organizations that claim to speak for the scientific community — substantively misrepresents the actual position of the vast majority of scientists (as well as a substantial segment of religious people) who do in fact see science and religion as irreconcilable.

    Moran, Myers, J. Coyne, and amateurs such as myself speak specifically about the irreconcilability of science and religion only as individuals. Unlike the NAS/NCSE, we do not claim to speak authoritatively for the scientific community as a whole.

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  33. This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 5/4/2009, at The Unreligious Right

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  34. Re Larry Moran

    And do you have any evidence that Miller, Collins and Ayala, for example, have done bad science?

    Nope. But that doesn't have much to do with what we're discussing. I don't have any evidence that Michael Behe has done "bad science" either but I'm confident that his view of what counts as legitimate science is wrong.
    Just for Prof. Morans' information, Prof. Behe hasn't done much science since he wrote his first book. I believe that he has published exactly 1 paper in the scientific literature in the last 13 years.

    The problem with Prof. Moran is that he fails to distinguish between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. Hugh Ross and Michael Behe reject methodological naturalism, Ken Miller accepts it (I have to admit that I am somewhat dubious about Collins).

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  35. It's possible that a thousand monkeys will fly out my ass. Mere possibility is trivial and uninteresting.On the contrary, if you can assure me that there is a non-negligible possibility that a thousand monkeys will fly out your ass, I would like to sign a contract to become your agent.

    Oh yes, regarding the discussion:

    To those who think there is some sort of firewall between philosophical and methodological naturalism: Aw, c'mon. A person who believes that the stunning beauty of the natural world requires miracles to explain it, but who refuses to look for such miracles in daily research into that beauty, is being utterly inconsistent.

    That doesn't mean inconsistent folks can't be good scientists. The smartest person I know is a fine astrophysicist and a Christian. (Fortunately his Christianity is expressed in a devotion to helping the less fortunate rather than telling others how to live.)

    What IMHO it **does** mean, is that science organizations shouldn't be pushing such inconsistency to the public as an example of how science works and/or ought to work.

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  36. But of course, bashing any christian proposition as irrational and stupid is so much more fun.Not really, it is more that it is so frustrating when someone plenty bright enough* are not willing to realise that their view is seriously flawed, - flawed in logic, flawed in rationale, and flawed in honesty.

    *Xian scientists, not the ordinary god-zombies.

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  37. If you actually read through this and other material produced by other theistic scientists you will notice that their entire evidence is now completely tied up with the fine tuning argument. If that falls they have nothing left to fall back on. Do they really feel that this argument is worth clinging to with such fervor? I'm not a physicist so I don't have the right arguments to oppose the fine tuning question but I get the feeling that its illogical to assume that physics is not at a stage where many aspects of the universe may be answered in the years to come. It's less than a century since we figured out where the Suns energy comes from - previously considered supernatural and the most compelling proof of 'God' for 99% of humanity's history.
    I havent even got into the really silly stuff on ther biologos site - such as when they try to argue for the possible existence of Adam and Eve (they don't specifically name the talking snake!) and when they describe the fact that their is apparently a homonid called Homo divinus!

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  38. On the contrary, if you can assure me that there is a non-negligible possibility that a thousand monkeys will fly out your ass, I would like to sign a contract to become your agent. -

    Collins et al. are talking about possibilities that at best negligible and at worst completely undetectable. In that sense, it's just as possible that a thousand invisible monkeys are flying out of my ass even as we speak.

    Are we to hold professional scientists to an epistemic standard lower than the standard we use to (correctly) dismiss nonsense such as invisible flying monkeys?

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  39. Prof. Moran... fails to distinguish between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. -

    The connection is clear enough. To reject "philosophical" (ontological) naturalism without vacuity, it would seem helpful to propose an epistemic methodology for justifying your ontology stronger than making stuff up and calling it true, with no way to consistently distinguish between contradictory propositions.

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  40. If you actually read through this and other material produced by other theistic scientists you will notice that their entire evidence is now completely tied up with the fine tuning argument. -

    The Fine Tuning Argument has been adequately rebutted.

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  41. MartinC says,

    If you actually read through this and other material produced by other theistic scientists you will notice that their entire evidence is now completely tied up with the fine tuning argument. If that falls they have nothing left to fall back on.

    I don't think that's correct. As far as I can tell there are two main arguments for the existence of God.

    The "Moral Law" argument states that the existence of a universal morality is evidence that God exists.

    The other argument has many names. It's commonly called the evidence from personal experience or evidence from revelation. Usually it is tied up with consciousness. Theists argue that consciousness cannot be explained by science therefore it is evidence of a spiritual world. God reveals his presence (to theists) through their thoughts and experiences.

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  42. RE: Larry,

    I think the 'something from nothing' argument is the third. And I think it is unique because it is commonly used both by 'sophisticated theologians' and by regular folk.

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  43. My training is in physics rather than biology. May I say "quantum mechanics therefore anything's possible therefore jesus" is absolute nonsense?

    Among a thousand other objections, for example, all quantum interactions still have to obey conservation laws; is Dr. Collins willing to have God obey the Law of Conservation of Energy when he works miracles? Things that have probability zero are still impossible.

    Ignoring any number of technical issues, however, the argument has the same flaw as all apologetic arguments: the best you can get out of them (ignoring bad logic, circularity and slippery definitions) is that God isn't completely ruled out. The notion that quantum uncertainty opens the door a crack for an intervening God does absolutely nothing to prove such a monster actually exists. And yet theists insist it somehow does, and make the leap from "something supernatural by the broadest possible definition is not completely ruled out" to "it must be Jesus".

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  44. I'm sure others have made this argument, though I haven't seen it:

    For phenomena that satisfy some useful definition of reality, one would expect increasing numbers of observations to track increasing opportunities for same.

    Yet with ever more people, ever more sensitive detection equipment and ever better communications, the numbers of reported observations of miracles of the walk-on-water, divide the Red Sea, etc., variety are vanishing to nothing, and there are no such observations that have been confirmed. Increasing opportunities/decreasing observations seems to me to be a pattern characteristic of figments (leprechauns, invisible pink unicorns, invisible flying monkeys, etc.)

    This also, ISTM, negates arguments of the "If it's miraculous, by definition science can't reach it" variety. Confirmed observations are certainly the stuff of the scientific method, and ancient holy books aren't at all shy about claiming widely confirmed observations of the miraculous in the past.

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  45. Larry, I know their arguments about the universal moral law and personal revelation, but those, like the classical arguments such as design or ontological are rarely, if ever used when their opponent is a serious atheist. I guess I should have been a little more specific in saying that the argument based on fine tuning is the only one that they feel comfortable using when faced with someone who dismisses all supernatural explanations that rely on pure faith (as the moral low and personal revelation arguments ultimately depend).
    The fine tuning argument is, after all, based on some sort of empirical claim that is amenable to naturalists to examine.

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  46. The Barefoot Bum said:

    The connection is clear enough. To reject "philosophical" (ontological) naturalism without vacuity, it would seem helpful to propose an epistemic methodology for justifying your ontology stronger than making stuff up and calling it true, with no way to consistently distinguish between contradictory propositions.I found the following article a while ago, which deals intimately with what you've said here. I think I'll finally get around to reading it now.

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/barbara_forrest/naturalism.html

    You know, what I find strange is that if theistic scientists are willing to go so far as to say that God works undetectably, why, then, do they subscribe to theologies that have God working quite detectably in the past?

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  47. Larry:

    Nope. But that doesn't have much to do with what we're discussing. I don't have any evidence that Michael Behe has done "bad science" either but I'm confident that his view of what counts as legitimate science is wrong.

    How about you? Do you think that Michael Behe's version of science should be held up as a shining example of correct science? How about Hugh Ross
    ?

    Has Michael Behe represented ID as being valid science? Yes, he has. Therefore he has done bad science every time he writes another book or article about ID. Do you have any examples of Miller, Collins or Ayala misrepresenting what counts as legitimate science? Has, for example, Miller claimed that his suggestion that God works through quantum mechanics is a scientific claim that could be tested through methodological naturalism?

    Let's be clear about this, Larry, representing that science does not amount to philosophical materialism is not misrepresenting science. You may think it is wrong philosophy but even if so, it does not misrepresent science unless you are claiming that science and philosophical materialism are one and the same thing. If you are, then I'd put you in the same category as Behe and Ross.

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  48. Larry:

    Re the NAS:

    Yes, in the context of the evolution/creation controversy, it does.

    These organizations have made public statements about Intelligent Design Creationism, declaring it to be non-scientific. They are in the business of determining what's scientific and what isn't. They do not endorse the science of Michael Behe or Bill Dembski, for example.

    In that context, when they declare that the science of Ken Miller and Francis Collins is compatible with religion then they mean that the science is correct
    .

    Until you can find an example of Miller, Collins and/or Ayala misrepresenting how to do science, the way Behe and Dembski do when they say ID is science, you have failed to show that the NAS has endorsed anything but proper science when they point to Miller et al.

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  49. The fine tuning argument is, after all, based on some sort of empirical claim that is amenable to naturalists to examine.Just remember: if it turns out there is no god, then the universe is not fine-tuned. So before one can make the claim that the universe is fine-tuned, one has to prove that the universe was created by god.

    Here's an analogy - what if someone asked you: "if there is no god, then how do you explain you have a soul?" What would your response be? It would be that if there is no god, then there is no such thing as a soul.

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  50. The fine tuning argument is, after all, based on some sort of empirical claim that is amenable to naturalists to examine.
    Nah, not really. Believe me, if it's something they like a lot, then they will find a way around it. For example, you would think that bread turning into flesh and wine turning into blood would be amenable to naturalists to examine, right? Well, guess what...

    Anyway, all it amounts to is another opportunistic "god of the gaps" loophole. They dunno what happened with the "tuning" thing, therefore that means Jesus healed a leper. (Or something.)

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  51. Here's an analogy - what if someone asked you: "if there is no god, then how do you explain you have a soul?" What would your response be? It would be that if there is no god, then there is no such thing as a soul.

    That might actually work, but of course you would be playing devil's advocate by playing along and conceding their premise that in order for souls to exist, god would have to exist too. But really in faerie-land lala land you can have it however you want. Souls without god, a-okay! no need for proof! Only assertion!!

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  52. The existence or non-existence of a soul is something that seems to get glossed over in many of these arguments, yet it is central to most religions. If I don't have a soul, why should god matter to me?
    And if souls exist, that opens up so many hard questions. Did all anthropoids, primates, mammals,etc. all the way back to bacteria have souls, and if not, when and how did they develop? If my soul is attached to my body, why does it supposedly leave if I die? Why can it not be detected, if it interacts with the world (presumably, it interacts with me, and I interact with the world)?
    Getting any answers to these questions is like nailing jelly to a wall, the harder you try, the more messy and unsuccessful the result.

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  53. An accommodation of science and Christianity makes perfect rational sense so long as you accept the existence of a soul and the ability of God to suspend the laws of nature using miracles.
    The necessity for a supernatural soul to explain consciousness has gone the way of requiring God to explain weather patterns - quite simply the evidence now shows we don't need God as an explanation for these things.
    Francis Collins Biologos site states its position on the compatibility of science and christian miracles
    "does not in any way remove the logical possibility of miracles. However, for the universe to behave in an apparently ordered fashion, such events must be rare."

    I honestly don't know what their point is here. If 'God' can do a miracle once then what difference does it make whether its rare or frequent (- isn't frequency or rarity somewhat dependent on subjective timsecales?).

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  54. Spouting off some verbiage about quantum this-or-that might help one get through the day while "accepting" both the Bible and the fossil record, but I doubt it would help when actually studying quantum physics. What with undergrad and graduate school, I had two years of the subject, not counting courses on related subjects like statistical mechanics, field theory and so forth, so if I thought it could be helpful, I would have tried it by now.

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  55. "Miller's definition is a curiosity killer. Don't get curious and investigate, because by definition, you can't. He defines curiosity right out the window."

    Sorry, 386sx, but the evidence is against you. Miller does scientific research which apparently stands up to the same standards as are applied to the work of the atheist scientists you clearly approve of, which demonstrates that Miller's definition hasn't killed curiosity in Miller, where surely it would if it could in anyone.

    It's amusing that the problem folk have with the likes of Ken Miller is that they reckon that in theory science and religion are utterly incompatible and yet the evidence from practice is that they can co-exist in the same person and not prevent him from doing science that meets the same standards as are applied to the work done by any atheist. The evidence of this must be explained away or reference to it expunged.

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  56. Hello everyone,
    I am a senior in college and have am just about to finish a course that examined the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. There are some intriguing evidences on both sides of the argument. I grew up like most Americans being taught both creationism and evolution. I tend to lean towards some form of old earth creationism. But there are a few questions that I have about evolution that if answered would greatly help in my search for the truth.
    1.If evolution is true, what is the basis for humanity to have morals? Whenever we see an animal kill another one in the wild we do not believe that the animal is being cruel or unjust, we simply say that it is part of nature. However, when a person is killed by another person there seems to be an intrinsic reaction of disgust or sadness on the part of those who witness it. Being a Christian I would say this is because humans do indeed have a fundamental value that the rest of nature does not have.
    2.My second question is to those whom claim to be both Christian and to believe in evolution. How is it possible, if at all, to reconcile these two beliefs? In my searching for these answers I read Giberson’s book “Saving Darwin” but did not think that his answers were sufficient. In his book he says that sin evolved out of selfishness, which is a necessary part evolution. This seems to take away the historical understanding of sin; that being a rebellion towards God. If Giberson’s understanding of sin is correct I do not see how we are then responsible for our actions, after all we are just acting out of a necessary evolution. I guess I see evolution being so necessary for Atheism that it is hard for me to see how Christians can believe it, but I would like to be proven wrong.
    3.My final question is along the same line of thinking. How, as Christians, does one interpret the Creation passages in order to believe in evolution? After all if Genesis is not reliable then all of the other 65 books in it are not.
    Thanks you for your time.
    Scott

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  57. Hello Scott,

    As you might guess, few of the regulars here will be interested in your questions 2 and 3. The only thing I would say is: claims about the physical world are to be determined by evidence from the physical world. Whether those conclusions are or are not compatible with other religious or philosophical commitments is a separate question.

    Back to question #1:

    1.If evolution is true, what is the basis for humanity to have morals? Whenever we see an animal kill another one in the wild we do not believe that the animal is being cruel or unjust, we simply say that it is part of nature. However, when a person is killed by another person there seems to be an intrinsic reaction of disgust or sadness on the part of those who witness it. Being a Christian I would say this is because humans do indeed have a fundamental value that the rest of nature does not have.

    In my view, we have to begin by separating that question into two aspects, which I call moral psychology (ie. why in fact do humans make the moral choices they do) and moral philosophy proper (ie. the attempt to systematize our moral behaviours, and justify them in terms of some consistent ethical theory; eg. utilitarianism, deontism, divine command, etc). Humans most of the time behave morally themselves, and make moral judgements about other people, without necessarily holding any articulated and consistent ethical theory. It's just something we do, because we have an instinctive understanding, mediated largely by emotions like anger, shame, compassion, and affection that we need to treat others in a certain way if we wish to go on living in society with them (few of us want to be hermits, or could survive long as such). Now here's the kicker: we are not the only animals to display moral behaviour (suggested reading: Frans de Wall). Other primates (and some non-primates) care for sick troup members, grieve their dead, share food, detect and avenge acts of "cheating" and so on. We are not unique -- in fact, any social animal must have certain in-built rules that allow the group to cohere and function.

    This basic psychology, shared with other animals and inherited from our ancestors, is the starting point for all human morality. So far from evolution being opposed to human morality, it is in fact the origin of it.

    Once you understand that much, you can start doing moral philosophy (and in my view, any system that is not informed by an accurate picture of our history is doomed from the start to be nonsense). I've never studied it formally, so I'll say no more about it except that I think an enlightened self-interest actually gets us pretty far along the road to usable ethical theories.

    One more comment: it may seem to you that this is a rather fragile basis for morality. You're right: history shows that human morality is fragile in many ways. We tend to treat our own family, our "tribe", and our social equals and superiors well, but inferiors and outsiders are fair game for exploitation. But history also shows that religion has been no great guarantor of good behaviour, and a frequent motivator of very bad behaviour -- for every act of compassion in the name of Jesus, there's an opposing example of labelling someone as an outgroup to be oppressed or killed (just ask the Jews!).

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  58. Scott

    "Whenever we see an animal kill another one in the wild we do not believe that the animal is being cruel or unjust, we simply say that it is part of nature. However, when a person is killed by another person there seems to be an intrinsic reaction of disgust or sadness on the part of those who witness it."

    This is an observation of our moral reaction as humans to the death of a non human animal. Consistent with Eamon's comment, we tend to be more concerned about the death of an organism that is more closely genetically related: family member, tribe member, countryman, human, great ape, mammal, and so on down the chain to bacterium or thereabouts.

    We have no reason to believe that this tendency is not universal, to the extent that organisms are capable of expressing "concern" or interest.

    "Being a Christian I would say this is because humans do indeed have a fundamental value that the rest of nature does not have."

    I don't think your previous observation says anything about the "fundamental values" or morals that other species may or may not have as regards the death of one of their own. It has everything to do with OUR perception of ourselves as being uniquely capable in that area.

    Cheers,
    Paul

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