March 15, 2004. Notes by Jeffrey Wattles with Carolyn Burkhart, Matt Fredmonsky, Michael Gloystein,
Edward Harder, Morgan Moore, Ryan Spak
This document is in two parts: first, student notes on chapters on an anthology of writings on the controversy over creation and evolution, and, second, notes by Jeffrey Wattles proposing some integrated perspective on the discussion.
Debates about creation and evolution have been the focus of the middle third of the Spring 2004 offering of Kent State University’s Department of Philosophy course taught by Jeffrey Wattles, Integrating Science, Philosophy, and Religion: Proposals and Challenges. The course title suggests at least two ideas: first, that scientists and religionists draw on philosophical convictions as they enter the debates, and that philosophy can clarify some of the issues. Second, the title suggests that there are many ways to integrate science, philosophy, and religion, some ways more or less naturalistic, some religious—and that each way faces important challenges.
The first third of the course introduced the science-and-religion interdiscipline with a text by Oxford University chemist and theologian Alister E. McGrath, Science and Religion (Blackwell, 1999). The second third of the course uses Robert Pennock, ed., Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics (MIT Press, 2003), and page references in this document are to this text unless otherwise indicated. Occasionally in the following notes, the symbol “C” introduces a creationist perspective, and the symbol “D” introduces a Darwinist perspective. Please bear in mind that there are many varieties of each, some overlapping.
Our study of these issues became particularly timely when, on Tuesday, March 9, 2004, the Ohio state school board voted 13-5 in favor of approving an optional lesson plan for teaching evolution in a way that includes discussion of intelligent design. No student is to be tested on intelligent design.
We had the ambition of learning enough this semester to be able to offer some contribution to those who teach biology and who must deal with these issues. This semester a snow day interrupted our only chance to interact with Professor Matthew Weinstein’s class in the college of education for students who are teaching science in high school. The question Professor Weinstein asked us to address was how a biology teacher should answer a creationist student who does not want to learn the theory of evolution. We have focused as directly as we have been able to do on this difficult question. Among the many ideas that students will present in their role-playing with you, I would mention one partial strategy of response.
1. Prepare yourself so that if you are treated in a confrontational manner, you can respond in a friendly, calm, and wise manner (golden rule: treat others as you want others to treat you).
2. Learn something of the more sophisticated versions of intelligent design theory, some of which embrace fully evolutionary accounts of the origin of life and the emergence of human beings. Ideally, you would learn a touch of philosophy of science and philosophy of religion.
3. Distinguish philosophical positions (religious or naturalistic) from scientific research and reporting.
4. Be candid about where various scientific claims seem to be along the spectrum from well-established fact to speculative hypothesis.
The following pages include
I. Article summaries. The first two deal specifically with the question of the place, if any, creationism should have in the public schools. Here is a brief indication of the author and position.
1. Robert T. Pennock, the editor of the text, is a naturalist philosopher from Michigan State University whose particular article summarized first argues against including creationism in public school science curricula.
2. Alvin Plantinga is one of the most prominent Christian philosophers in the U.S., currently at Notre Dame, a defender of “theistic science” who debates Pennock in this article.
3. Nancey Murphy is a philosopher of science and theologian who defends the theory of evolution on philosophy of science grounds.
4. Paul Nelson is a Christian philosopher who challenges the use of theological arguments by defenders of evolution (“no wise God would ever create anything like this”).
5. Howard J. Van Till is a Christian physicist who defends the full story of evolution.
6. Ernan McMullin is a philosopher with advanced training in physics and theology who defends the theory of evolution against philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s proposal for “theistic science.”
7. Matthew J. Brauer and Daniel R. Brumbaugh are zoologists who criticize the intelligent design theory of biologist Michael Behe.
8. Peter Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher who criticizes William Dembski’s use of the idea of “complex, specified information” in an argument for intelligent design.
II. An initial systematic summary of some of the issues emerging in the essays we studied.
(Here the “summary” is more extensive than is the case with the other summaries, and more quotes are used because of particular relevance of this article for science educators.)
I. The Question
The public schools. There is much pressure on the schools today from creationist individuals and organizations. While the discussion has centered on the public schools, it should be noted that there is something problematic about the state accepting the science instruction in some alternative schooling.
“Is it right to teach children something that is known to be true is false? Is it not bad faith to misrepresent the findings of science in what is purported to be a science class? If the basis for knowledge is taken to be biblical revelation, isn’t it intellectually dishonest to pub such revelations forward as science?” (756)
More mature students are ready for the exercise of dissecting creationism so they can see for themselves what’s wrong with it. Should this be a reasonable goal in high school as well as college?
Kinds of creationism. There are diverse versions of creationism today on account of “disagreements about the details of Christian theology, partial acceptance of scientific views, and different political strategies” (759); and many creationists keep their specific views hidden. In addition there are a variety of non-Christian views. If the creationists are politically successful, “all these (and many more) anti-evolutionary views would have to be included as ‘alternative theories’ to the scientific conclusions” (761).
Taught how? There is no problem about teaching different forms of creationism in a comparative religion class. It might well be beneficial to teach creationism as an example of how not to do science. “It is because of the possible pedagogic utility of this approach that I actually find myself of two minds about whether teachers should introduce creationism into their science lesson plans” (763). There are problems with other ways of teaching creationism: when evolution is presented as false or evil or as “the other alternative” as if there were only two alternatives; or when teachers go ahead and teach their own creationist convictions despite “the court rulings that have found teaching creationism in the public schools to be unconstitutional” (763).
II. Legal Arguments. Courts have repeatedly ruled against diverse arguments that the free exercise of religion protects a teacher’s right to teach creationism; in 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard found “creation science” not to be a science. In the 1981 Segraves v. California, however, the Sacramento Superior Court ruled “that teaching evolution did not infringe on religious freedom, and that a 1972 antidogmatism policy of the School Board—which said that statements about origins should presented conditionally, not dogmatically, and that class discussions on the topic should emphasize that scientific explanations focus on how things occur, not on ultimate causes—was an appropriate compromise between state science teaching and individual religious beliefs (764).
III. Creationist Extralegal Arguments.
Isn’t it unfair to teach only a doctrine that contradicts the majority opinion? Empirical fact is not decided by a vote, and parents, most of whom are not expert, have no right to control what is taught.
Isn’t creationism being censored? No; it is simply matter of determining a responsible curriculum.
Doesn’t it infringe on academic freedom to exclude creationism? One may question whether academic freedom is a proper concern in public elementary and secondary schools. Moreover, “academic is not a license to teach whatever one wants” regardless of “special professional responsibilities . . . objectivity and intellectual honesty.”
Finally, “it cannot now fairly be said that the basic theses of evolution are scientifically controversial” (767). “This is not to say that there are not problems that remain to be solved, but that is true of every science, and such issues are of sufficient complexity that they are properly reserved for consideration at professional meetings, in the primary literature, and in graduate programs” (768).
IV. Epistemological Arguments. How should one respond to the claim that there are certain things a Christian knows by faith, things revealed in scripture? “One cannot ascertain truths except by appropriate methods, and creationists are typically unwilling to even say what their special methods are, let alone show that they are reliable” (769). Christians disagree widely about what they take as revealed truth. “The knowledge that we should impart in public schools is not this private esoteric “knowledge,” but rather public knowledge—knowledge that we acquire by ordinary, natural means” (770).
V. Religious Protection Arguments. “The teaching of creationism . . . improperly promotes one religious view over others” (770); many Christian groups oppose the version of religion represented by the creationists. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was designed in part to repress the sectarianism of the theocracies common in the early colonies; and the First Amendment “wall of separation between Church and State helps us avoid the violence that plagues so many nations today. Evolutionism has been found in court not to be a religion, and putting all religious views on an equal footing in a science class “would make the classroom a place where different religions were inevitably pitted against one another” (770).
VI. Educational Arguments. The goals of public education include providing students with “a true picture of the natural world we share . . . [and] to develop the skills and instill the civic virtues that they will require to function in harmony in society” (772). Younger students should not be confronted with material that is “beyond their developmental level” (772). The general hypothesis of a Creator God is not one that science can test, and “the specific hypotheses of creation-science have been rejected by science” (773). Creation science does not belong in the discipline of science. “Historically, theistic science had many centuries to prove itself, but in the end scientists concluded that they had no need of that hypothesis” (774). Creationism could lead to revolutions in the teaching of history, too. Should “fairness”and “balance” be accorded to those who deny the Holocaust, too? “Critical thinking does not mean indiscriminate thinking, but thinking governed by the rules of reason and evidence” (775).
VII. The Answer. “We find many good reasons for excluding creationism from the schools, and few good reasons for not doing so. On balance, it seems the wiser course not to allow the conflict into the classroom”(775).
The question is not whether it is legal or permissible to teach evolution in the schools; that debate is over. The question is whether it is right and just and fair, in a radically pluralistic society—where there are different comprehensive beliefs—to teach evolution “the way arithmetic and chemistry and geography are taught: as the settled truth” (779). The situation in public education is as though there is an implicit contract into which tax-paying parents enter for the education of their children.
There is a basic right (BR): Each of the citizens party to the contract has the right not to have comprehensive beliefs taught to her children that contradict her own comprehensive beliefs. (781)
(This is a prima facie right that can be overridden in special circumstances). The current consensus of science should not override BR, since that consensus changes over the years. Indeed, it would not be fair to teach another principle:
(PC): The right way to answer questions of empirical fact—for example, questions about the origin of life, the age of the earth, whether human beings have evolved from earlier forms of life—is by way of science, or scientific method. (786)
“Note, first, that (PC) is not, of course, itself a question of empirical fact.”
One way to handle things would be to avoid offending comprehensive beliefs by teaching nothing about the origins of life, neither evolution nor creationism. What we can do is to “teach evolution conditionally.” Evolution should be taught by distinguishing the different probability for different theses that are often lumped together, including the following :
· the earth is very ancient
· life forms share a common ancestry
· Darwinism explains the origin of species and phyla
· the earliest life forms have a completely naturalistic origin
To teach evolution as the best hypothesis “will be compatible with everyone’s religious and comprehensive beliefs” (789). And creationism should be taught conditionally, too.
Nancey Murphy earned a doctorate in the philosophy of science at U.C. Berkeley, currently teaches critical reasoning to seminary students, and has written about and conducted research regarding methodological issues in theology, science, and the relationship between the two fields. In this article, she uses her training in scientific reasoning to point out problems with Phillip Johnson’s critique of evolutionary biology.
Francis Bacon’s scientific reasoning is described as a process of ridding the mind of prejudice/preconceptions, collecting all relevant facts and then drawing inductive inferences from these facts. Murphy sees this view as inadequate as it only can be used in observed regularities. She prefers a hypothetico-deductive (Hempel) form of scientific reasoning. Hypothetico-deductive reasoning relies on the formation of a hypothesis to explain a given observation. Then, by asking what observable consequences would follow from this hypothesis and by actually observing these one may confirm the hypothesis. The steps of hypothetico-deductive reasoning are outlined below:
We observe O1
We formulate hypothesis (H), which, if true, would explain O1
Then we ask, if H is true, what additional observations (O2…On) ought we be able to make?
If O2 through On are observed, H is confirmed
Murphy notes that scientists often make use of models when studying unobservable processes/entities. She also makes the point that no scientific theory can be proven. It may only be confirmed.
In chapter two of his book Darwin on Trial Johnson points out that Darwin used artificial selection as a model for how natural selection would operate. He views artificial and natural selection as being fundamentally different. He goes on to say that artificial selection has failed to produce new species of animals and instead has shown the limits of variability in the gene pool. Finally, he concludes that even if scientists could breed fruitflies (for example) into separate populations not capable of interbreeding with one another this would not be sufficient evidence that a similar process could if given sufficient time produce a fruitfly from a bacterium (macroevolution).
According to Murphy, one must first ask what observations are required to confirm the scientific hypothesis that natural selection can produce radically different new species. She feels that the needed observations would be as follows:
1.) Selection can produce radical differences within a population.
2.) Selection can result in speciation (the development of one species out of another). A new species is defined by its inability to breed with its parent species.
Murphy feels that selective breeding is an adequate model for natural selection because like natural selection selective breeding operates by differential reproduction rates and within the variation supplied by nature. Murphy points out that we can’t expect to breed “dogs as big as elephants” but instead should look for evidence via selective breeding that macroevolution can occur by natural selection if given sufficient time. Murphy also argues that Johnson’s dismissal of plant and possible fruitfly speciation because these aren’t equivalent to macroevolution is unjustified.
Geneticists have confirmed that the gene pole generally provides for variation within a limited range but it also allows for occasional mutations which allow for novelty outside the normal genetic capacity. Murphy sees the concept of mutation as an essential auxiliary hypothesis for the evolutionary process and feels that Johnson’s dismissal of mutation’s capabilities is unjustified. The addition of the workings of mutation as an auxiliary hypothesis helps to prevent the falsification of the central theory of evolutionary biology. Imre Lakatos views a refinement of a network of theories as progressive if the refinement explains the problem for which it was introduced and predicts/corroborates novel facts. A refinement that fails to do the latter is considered degenerative. According to Lakatos, rational science accepts progressive programs and abandons degenerative ones.
In this section, Murphy points out that many of the auxiliary hypotheses added to the theory of evolution in order to explain things like self-sacrificing behavior have been shown (empirically) to be progressive. She stresses that a theory is a work in progress and its strength should be judged not by the anomalies that it encounters but by the theory’s overall ability to deal progressively with these anomalies.
Johnson writes that evolutionary biology is not scientific because its central idea cannot be falsified (Popper) as it is held as dogma. Murphy counters this argument by citing Lakatos view that science can and often does center on dogmatic core ideas and that the success of these programs should be based on the theory’s overall progressiveness.
Johnson argues that evolutionary theory is held as dogma because it is the only explanation for life that fits with naturalism. Murphy feels that true scientists operate under methodological atheism, which means that their scientific explanations are to utilize natural (not supernatural) entities and processes. She contrasts this idea with that of “a religion of scientific naturalism” whose proponents hold an ethical agenda and plan for salvation. Murphy feels that Johnson has grouped scientists who utilize methodological atheism together with the latter group.
In response to Johnson’s idea that “evolutionary biologists ought to consider the possibility that life is the product of creative intelligence” Murphy writes that doing so would cross the line of science into metaphysics/theology. The blurring of this line is unlikely considering the fact that most scientific research is funded via the federal government, which is committed to the separation of church and state. Further, the past failures of the idea of a "God of the gaps,” in which supernatural forces are used to explain what natural science cannot, still haunt the minds of many theologians who therefore prefer to keep their field separate from natural science.
Arthur Peacocke has proposed an idea that would put theology at the highest point on a hierarchy which contains all the different fields of science. In this hierarchy lower levels would help to set limits on the behavior of entities at higher levels. Thus it would follow that when a certain science has reached its explanatory limit, metaphysical/theological explanations could then be employed. The example that is cited is an explanation of what happened “before” the Big Bang. Murphy closes the article by citing the need to evaluate evolutionary biology (as a science) independent of the whole Chance vs. Design debate.
Paul Nelson, “The Role of Theology in Current Evolutionary Thinking”
Edward Harder and Ryan Spak
Some background on Paul Nelson
Paul A. Nelson is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, and editor of the journal Origins and Design. His monograph, “On Common Descent,” Evolutionary Monographs (University of Chicago, 2001), analyzes the theory of common descent. (Page xix of “Contributors”)
That Nelson is a Fellow in the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture clearly aligns him with the theist camp in the Intelligent Design/Evolution debate, although one would be hard pressed to find such evidence in his article. Also, he “is a philosopher of biology, specializing in evo-devo and developmental biology,” with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Department of Philosophy.
Nelson states his intentions at the end of the article when he says:
The shortcomings of theological arguments for evolution may be enough evidence that science has no business meddling in theology (or vice versa). I draw a different moral, however. Science will have to deal with theological problems if science is a truth-seeking enterprise; theology must confront the patterns of scientific experience if it hopes to speak of all reality. What this essay helps to show, I think, is how very easy it will be to do both theology and science badly. This is not a brief for methodological naturalism, however. It is a tale of caution about how we should go about explaining the origin of the world’s creatures. (Page 700)
Nelson starts off with two basic definitions that he will use in his essay (page 677):
When theologians say “If God had created the world . . .” they open themselves up to scientific enquiry by the comparison of such propositions to empirical data. However, science runs into a problem according to Nelson. Evolutionary biologists will claim that empirical data refutes Intelligent Design, only to turn around and call creationism untestable as a scientific hypothesis. “If creationism cannot be tested, then what was one doing when one emphasized the imperfections of nature? Surely it is not possible to test and find wanting a hypothesis that is, in fact, untestable” (page 678). Most scientists, he says, will simply brush this “incongruity” aside.
Nelson then turns to ask biologists why evolution is true. He focuses on two arguments he has found. They are the Imperfection Argument and the Homology Argument.
The Imperfection Argument
This argument responds to writings as Stephan Jay Gould’s essay on the panda’s thumb and what Ernst Haeckel calls “dysteleology,” as he “gathered a number of apparently useless or imperfect structures that, he argued, could be reconciled with the theory of creation only by ‘ludicrous’ ad hoc conjectures” (page 682).
The argument in “formalized” on page 683:
1. If p is an instance of organic design, then p was produced either by a wise creator, or by descent with modification (evolution).
2. If organic design p was produced by a wise creator, then p should be perfect (or exhibit no imperfections).
3. Organic design p is not perfect (or exhibits imperfections).
Organic design p was not produced by a wise creator, but by descent with modification.
Statements 1 and 2, he says, are distinctly theological. Because creationists introduced God into the argument and commented on the natural, material world, scientists see this use of theology as justified. But as Nelson states: “As a polemical tool, therefore, theology is useful. But evolutionary theory as a natural science claims nothing for itself theologically. When the debate is over, the theology, borrowed for the evening’s reductio, goes into the trash bin with the folded programs and coffee cups” (page 681).
Nelson also points out that “wise creator,” “perfection,” and “imperfection” are ambiguous terms. Assuming these were unambiguous, however, the imperfection argument still presupposes a static theory of creation; “one would be hard pressed to find any expression of that view in creationist literature, whether recently or within past decades” (page 684). He holds that most, if not all, creationists support a dynamic theory of creation that allows for genetic changes.
Beyond this point, Nelson claims that terms such as “wise creator” must now be fixed objectively. We do not have the right or ability to comment on what a “sensible creator” would do. In the case of the panda’s thumb, he claims that the imperfection is apparent only on a local level. “And there is no reason for a creator to optimize on part of the universe at the expense of the whole” (page 688). He also states we cannot truly understand perfection, or optimization, or what to expect of a creator simply because we are human. We lack the insight to understand what a “wise creator” would do—we cannot meaningfully judge something that is not our peer. Also, who are we to pick the criteria by which “imperfection” is judged?
Although the panda’s thumb may be suboptimal for many tasks, it does seem suited for what appears to be its usual function, manipulating bamboo. (At any rate the facts of the matter are very much in dispute.)
But even if the panda’s thumb were suboptimal for manipulating bamboo, it might still be the best structure possible. The creator could have been bound by “compossiblility constraints,” which would limit the design possibilities that are mutually consistent . . . . The thumb might have some primary function for which it was designed, and the panda has co-opted it secondarily to strip bamboo. One may have failed to identify the correct reference situation by which to judge the design…(page 690)
The Homology Argument
This argument is based upon the observations of similar structures in many animals that nevertheless perform very different tasks. Biologists wish to use this to point to common descent because “an engineer could design better limbs in each case” (page 692). That is to say, if a “wise creator” had made each animal separately, then such structures should be more unique to whatever purpose they fill.
Nelson’s counterpoint here is similar to that for the imperfection argument. By saying any structure should be something else in order to posit a “wise creator,” we make unfounded presuppositions about what we think a “wise creator” is. In fact, because he is so wise, God would be free to do whatever he pleased, possibly giving us the illusion of constraint or limitation. In other words, if you remove theology from the homology argument (what God should or would have done), it cannot stand by itself.
Nelson succeeds in making objective points about the shortcomings of both theology and science. While he does not offer any better theory to replace those he so injured, we do not believe that was his intent. As he states, he only set out to show that the current theories are so insistent on destroying each other that they have weakened themselves to do so. He calls for a much-needed critical examination of each side of the debate so that they are able to make progress instead of just polemics.
Howard J. Van Till, “When Faith and Reason Cooperate” (IDCC, 48-163)
A summary with notes on the logic of the argument [J. Wattles]
The current popular conflict between spokespersons for science and faith does not represent either science or faith well. The goal should be to promote cooperative effort. When faith and reason appear to clash,/ ‘tis the appearance must go to smash. [This idea might well be taken as the main conclusion of the paper.]
[A definition of the term “faith” is needed to clarify the debate.] Faith means “one’s personal commitment to act in the warranted confidence that the object of one’s faith is trustworthy (e.g., to have faith that God will provide lovingly for our needs)” (148). Faith must be distinguished from “a deliverance of the faith”—a specific belief concerning what the Scriptures require a Christian to affirm, a belief held mostly for the reason that it constitutes an element in the received Christian tradition (149). We do well to respect “God’s choice to accommodate the biblical text to the historically and culturally limited conceptual vocabularies of the day” (151).
[The next main part of the argument goes to show that the “Grand Evolutionary Story” is neutral—if properly interpreted.] Religious neutrality . . . cannot mean “can’t be used by a [worldview]” (152). Neither is neutrality a matter of neither affirming nor denying religious dogma. Rather, the neutrality in question must pertain to the essentials in the debate—the Apostle’s Creed and modern Western naturalism (Sagan: “The Cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be”). If the Grand Evolutionary Story is told in a manner limited to physical properties, physical behavior and the formative history of lifeforms, then GES may be neutral.
[Here we seem to have a conclusion from the previous two major points. Once faith and science are properly understood, we realize that they cannot conflict.] Distinguish authentically religious questions from questions accessible to modern empirical science. Avoid “the error of treating creation and evolution as if they were in essence alternative answers to the same question” (155).
The unfortunate character of Plantinga’s position may be seen by analogy with an imagined debate between a mythological appropriation of heliocentrism, a conservative Christian denunciation of heliocentrism, and a protest in favor of distinguishing the proper spheres of religion and science (155-158). [Logicians recognize that an argument from analogy is illustrative, not demonstrative; but do not overlook the importance of metaphor in rigorous thought.]
The created world has “functional integrity, both in its present operation and in its formative history” (160). [This is one of the most important premises in the overall structure of the argument. It can also be regarded as a conclusion, however, on a more fine-grained analysis, since there the concluding section of the text presents a number of arguments designed to support it.] John Stek: “The internal economy of the created realm is neither incomplete nor defective. That is to say, it contains no gaps that have to be filled with continuous or sporadic immediate operations of divine power; God is not himself a component within the internal economy of his creaturely realm.” “To introduce a ‘God of the gaps’ . . . would be to presume to exercise power over God—the presumptuous folly of those in many cultures who have claimed to be specialists in the manipulation of divine powers” (158, 159). “To imagine gaps in the created order requiring God’s immediate action to fill them portrays God as acting like a creature. [These are arguments designed to show the theological error of the opposing position, characterized by the pejorative term, “God of the gaps” (see McGraw, p. 211).]
Van Till refers to “the Apostles Creed.” Here is a text of it.
The Apostles' Creed (as usually recited today) I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
Howard J. Van Till, “The Creation: Intelligently Designed or Optimally Equipped?”
Van Till is a Christian Physicist, and he is going over the creation/evolution debate in the first part of this chapter. He says that the debate cannot be framed as an either/or choice of “episodic creationist theism” and “evolutionary naturalism.”
Episodic Creationist Theism: The belief that the formation of certain physical structures and life forms now found in the creation was accomplished by occasional episodes of extraordinary divine action in which God imposed those structures and forms on matter (488).
Evolutionary Naturalism: Naturalistic worldview in which the scientific concept of evolutionary development in the formational history of the universe is taken to play a major role in warranting its credibility over against episodic creationist theism (488).
The Return of Paley’s Argument from Design
He is describing “intelligent design theory” in this part of his article. He is both for and against this theory because it gives an alternative viewpoint to the whole debate. He says that he is against young-earth creationism, but he is also against evolutionary naturalism. He is trying to find a middle ground and he agrees with some points in the intelligent design theory.
Intelligent Design Theory--Most often entails the combination of both thoughtful conceptualization and the first assembly of a new form by extra-natural means (489).
The Goal of Articulating a Well-informed Faith
He wants to combine the two theories, “My goal is to articulate a perspective that is at once faithful to historic Christian doctrine and well-informed by the natural sciences” (490). However, he is afraid that both sides will put up walls, because integrating these two views will put an end to the either/or debate, and both sides feel the need for it.
The Need for a Reexamination of Fundamental Questions
He assumes that all Christian believers would agree to two simple formulations.
He lays out the argument quite simply, if no creator, then no creation. In contrast he gives the naturalistic point of view saying, “the existence of the universe is evidence only for the existence of the universe--nothing more to be said” (492). These two views fight it out with no real winner says Van Till.
An Important Definition
He uses this part of his article to give a definition of the concept he calls “formational economy.” He describes how atoms become molecules and other such concepts.
Formational Economy of the Universe--The set of all of the dynamic capabilities of matter and material, physical, and biotic systems that contribute to the actualization of both inanimate structures and biotic forms in the course of the universe’s formational history.
The Robust Formational Economy Principle
He gives an argument against Darwinism proposed by the North American Christian community. He also says that there are epistemological gaps in the knowledge of science, but that’s because science is limited to this day in age.
Epistemological Gap--knowledge that scientists do not know about how each life form came into existence.
The Role of Apologetics
He introduces apologetics into his argument here, saying that he believes it is one of the goals of the intelligent design movement.
Apologetics—A theological discipline that challenges and engages the culture and appeals only to empirical evidence and sound reasoning (496).
The Naturalistic Challenge
Van Till discusses the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, and restates his argument on the matter of design, saying that Dennett is a modern evolutionary naturalist, and “the thrust of his challenge to theism is this: If there are no gaps in the formational economy of the universe, then what need is there for a creator?” (499).
Is Divine Intervention Necessary for the Universe’s Formational Development?
Van Till again sets forth Dennett’s argument on this subject. Dennett argues that “the universe has all of the requisite capabilities for self-organization and transformation” (500).
Is Divine Intervention Necessary for the Universe’s Daily Functioning?
In this part of his article Van Till lays out a number of questions concerning the functional economy. He also stresses “the importance of encouraging a theological reexamination of the concept of divine action in the physical world that is also the object of scientific scrutiny” (502-503).
Distinguishing Conceptualization from Actualization
Van Till believes that before the debate can be straightened out both sides must agree to distinguish between these two issues, conceptualization and actualization.
1. Does the universe display the marks of having been thoughtfully conceptualized or does it bear the marks of being the sort of unconceptualized entity that just happens to exist?
2. Whether thoughtfully conceptualized or not, is the formational economy of the universe sufficiently robust to make possible the actualization of all physical structures and life forms by means of self-organization and transformation in the course of time?
Van Till argues that both sides of the debate seem to link these two questions and their answers together.
Should Not Creationists Have High Expectations for the Creation?
Van Till feels the need to reexamine the two views as they pertain to the robust formational economy principle in this section of his article. He wants to adopt this view and wants Christian theists to do the same. He sets up an argument in favor of the robust formational principle, and comes up with the conclusion that epistemological gaps “provide no sufficient basis whatsoever for presuming the existence of corresponding ontological gaps in the formational economy of the creation” (507).
The Fully Gifted Creation: Both Thoughtfully Conceptualized and Optimally Equipped
He gives his point of view here by saying that he believes God acts through the processes observed by science. He also believes that the universe was made by intention, not coincidence. “The universe bears the marks of being the product of thoughtful conceptualization for the accomplishment of some purpose” (508).
How is Divine Creative Action Manifested?
Van Till makes the argument that God acts through his creatures. He gives an example of a surgical team who pray to God to give them the strength to get through the surgery. He also gives a list of all the creatures and molecules that there are in the world, saying that God must be at work because we cannot understand these things in there true depth. “I can observe what creatures have done, but God’s act of calling for that particular action is beyond my empirical grasp” (510).
Intelligently Designed or Optimally Equipped?
Van Till wraps up his article in this last section. He lays out his conclusion quite clearly, he tends to “favor the concept of a creation optimally gifted by the creator with a robust and gapless formational economy” (510). He answers questions about deism, saying that his view is not even close to it. He gives his last argument here that the loss of gaps does in no way disprove the existence of God.
[In other words, intelligent design theory, implying not only God’s thoughtful conceptualization of creation but also “interventionist” actualization (503), manifests lack of faith in the Creator’s generosity in endowing matter with adequate self-organizational capacities (which are not themselves self-explanatory) to achieve the creation that we observe today. Next, intelligent design theory commits the fallacy of an appeal to ignorance (We haven’t found it, therefore it can’t be there; we haven’t found a mechanical explanation for the transition from non-living to living beings, therefore, such an explanation can never be found). Finally, intelligent design theory makes an inappropriate demand that science prove its claim about evolution; in fact, there science does not arrive at strict, final, proof, only the best available account available at the present. (JHW)]
Ernan McMullin, “Plantinga’s Defense of Special Creationism” (IDCC 165-190)
Matt Fredmonsky, 3/10/04
McMullin is countering Plantinga’s essay defending Special Creation, or, as Plantinga also refers to it, “theistic science.” Many different terms are used, giving rise to much confusion, including “Christian Science” and “Creation Science,” which all refer to the creationist point of view. Plantinga also offers his own version of theistic science, and so some distinctions early on might help to combat confusion.
Theistic science, according to Plantinga, is what a Christian knows by faith or by way of revelation. Plantinga’s proposal has some similarities to creation science, also. One difference is that many creationists believe in a young earth, but Plantinga, while at the same time trying to incorporate theology, accepts that the earth is much older.
Creation scientists attempt to be wholly scientific in their methods, without appealing to scripture, but this cannot truly be achieved. The result is a failed attempt that ends up relying strictly on the Bible, and thus restricts this approach from being taught in public schools here in the United States.
Plantinga focuses mainly on the issue of the origins of the kinds of living things. He is in the end more concerned to combat claims of certainty made by the evolutionists than he is to argue that the Christian is irrevocably committed against a full evolutionary account of origins.
McMullin continues by stating that because of this failed attempt of creation science to remove itself from religious connotations to become a scientific discipline, Plantinga offers up his own version of theistic science. But McMullin does not think that “theistic science” should be described a science. He says it lacks the universality of science; it lacks warrants that come to characterize natural science, mainly systematic observation, generalization, and the testing of explanatory hypotheses. It requires faith, and faith (we are told) is a gift, a grace from God. To use the term science in this context seems dangerously misleading; it encourages expectations that cannot be fulfilled, in the interests of adopting a label generally regarded as honorific. McMullin gives sustainable evidence for this belief throughout the argument.
Plantinga points out that for someone who does not believe in God, evolution in some form or other is the only possible answer to the question of origins. McMullin takes this statement and its support and interprets it by saying that Plantinga’s essay can be read as a plea for a more informed understanding of the real nature of the creation science debate,
and a more sympathetic appreciation for why creation scientists believe what they believe. McMullin argues that Plantinga leans too far in the other direction, however, and that his charitable interpretation of creation science could easily mislead.
McMullin then goes on to draw connections between Plantinga and an argument made by Galileo in a Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615). Galileo says there should be two options for a Christian in dealing with conflicts between scripture and science. Galileo argues that scripture and science are competing as answers to the one question, cosmology. His two options are as follows: on the one hand, he cites Augustine in support of the traditional view that in cases of apparent conflict, the literal interpretation of Scripture is to be maintained, if the opposing scientific claim has something less than necessary demonstration in its support, because of the inherently greater authority to be attached to the word of God. The second option is this: on the other hand, Galileo also argues that one should not look to Scripture for the knowledge of the natural world: “The function of the Bible is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” God has given us reason and the senses to enable us to come to understand the world around us.
What McMullin is saying is essentially that Galileo’s response has each, the philosopher and scientist, treading into and evaluating the other’s discipline, whereas each of these professionals is prompted to respond to the other, what right have you to intrude in a domain where you lack the credentials to speak with authority?
Plantinga argues a similar point. A literalist understanding of God’s making of creation is to be preferred unless a stronger case is made for evolution. McMullin urges it is destructive to treat the Bible and science as competitors for cosmological explanation. Yet Plantinga argues that one or the other must be regarded as supreme.
Here I would mention their last and most significant point of agreement. Plantinga remarks that “if, for example, current science were to return to the view that the world has no beginning, and is infinitely old, then current science would be wrong.” McMullin says that scripture does not prescribe that the universe had a beginning in time, in some specific technical sense of the term time; the point of the creation narratives is the dependence of the world on God’s creative act, not that it all began at a finite time in the past. A world that has always existed would still require a creator.
McMullin goes on to mention evidence for the thesis that all life forms on earth share a Common Ancestry. He goes into some detail discussing molecular biology in the fossil record. “Comparison of DNA, as well as of the proteins for which DNA codes, between different types of organisms shows that there are striking similarities in chemical composition between them.” He also cites similar evidence in favor of Common Ancestry, which plays a huge role in evolutionary theory.
McMullin goes on to discuss theories of evolution. He argues in favor of evolution, but states that Plantinga appeals to a “God of the gaps” as his explanation for the fault of evolutionary theory. A “God of the gaps” intervenes in universe transactions and plays a part in the everyday functioning of the universe. Plantinga argues for these interventions by pointing to scripture and Jesus Christ. McMullin’s view, from theological and philosophical standpoints, is that such intervention is, if anything, improbable. The story of salvations is a story about men and women, about the burden and the promise of being human. It is not about plants and animals; it provides no warrant whatsoever for supposing that God would have brought the ancestors of the various kinds of plants and animals to be outside the ordinary order of nature.
McMullin then lays down more arguments in favor of evolution before reaching his final conclusion, which he somewhat pointed to earlier before citing his points of agreement. He states: “Let me make myself clear. I do not object to the use of theological considerations in the service of a larger and more comprehensive worldview in which natural science is only one factor. I would be willing to use the term knowledge in an extended sense here, . . . but I would not be willing to use the term, “science,” in this context. Nor do I think it necessary to do so in order to convey the respectability of the claim being made: that theology may appropriately modulate other parts of a person’s belief system, including those deriving from science.”
“There are those who prefer the evolutionary account of origins on the grounds of evidence that this is in fact most probably the way it happened, but are perfectly willing to allow that it was within the Creator’s power to speed up the story by special creation of ancestral kinds of plants and animals, even though (in their view) this was not what God did. This is a view that a great many Christians from Darwin’s day to our own have defended; it is the view I am proposing here.”
“Evidence is mounting that the resources of God’s original creation were sufficient for the generation of the successive orders of complexity that make up our world.”
Matthew J. Brauer and Daniel R. Brumbaugh “Biology Remystified:
The Scientific Claims of the New Creationists”
The following summary begins with section number 5 on page 314. In this section, Matthew J. Brauer and Daniel R. Brumbaugh critique the view presented by Michael Behe in Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference. The first two major criticisms are discussed here.
Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity of biological structures is called into question here. Brauer and Brumbaugh label as circular Behe’s purported refutation of the model of evolution (defined as “numerous, successive, slight modifications” ). In addition, Behe seems to confuse the concepts “simpler precursor to the current system” and “proper subset of the current system.” They find fault here with Behe’s description of an “irreducibly complex system” being equivalent to itself (the complex system) less one or two parts.
As a counterexample, the authors discuss how large urban areas work. If the sewer system were removed from New York City, it would not work as it did with that system in place. However, just because the system would not function properly if one significant portion were removed at present, it does not follow that the large urban area always functioned as it does today.
In other words, just because the city operates at a very complex level, dependant on many different systems put in place, it would not necessarily suggest that the city has always operated at such a level. Rather, if you look back at the development of New York, you would see the sewer system as an important part of the developing city.
Similarly, Brauer and Brumbaugh see no reason to suggest that biological systems were, from the beginning, irreducibly complex. They label as an argument by fiat Behe’s comment, “any precursor to an irreducible complex system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional.”
Simply stated, a “precursor” to a complex system as defined by Behe will obviously fail, yet surely there is more to be said about the origin of a system then this? Complex systems usually have some kind of predecessor that may have been simpler. Behe can point to the complexity of current biological systems, but this does not simultaneously describe how the system developed.
Next, Behe’s notion of complexity in isolation is criticized. Behe uses as an example of the molecular cascade process that occurs with vision (all in isolation from the rest of the organism, making it seem even more mysterious and miraculous). Behe describes this process (associated with the metazoan eye) as a significant problem for Darwin’s theory of evolution. His description of the process of vision leads him to assert that such a process is much too complex to have arisen out of mere evolution. Thus an evolutionary origin (for the eye) is not plausible.
The critics here seem to be concerned with Behe’s description of the process of vision in isolation as too “mysterious.” They use an example of a series of escalators in a twenty-story building. They claim that focusing too narrowly on the intricacies of how the escalators function causes the observer to miss the larger context associated with escalators and their development. Literally, the critics here want the reader to picture a system of escalators suspended in air; arguably a marvel to behold. How did this just happen? It did not; obviously it formed in the context of the building process, as did the modern escalator as we know it today. It has developed from a very simple tilted conveyor in 1892. The point: “Isolated systems seem less miraculous in the proper context.”
Peter Godfrey-Smith, Information and the Argument from Design (IDCC, 575 – 594)
The primary purpose for this article was to analyze Dembski’s article Intelligent design as a Theory of Information. Godfrey-Smith does well in stating the problems in Dembski’s argument, but makes little headway in his own argument for this article. For this paper, I will start by first laying down some of the definitions of the terms he and Dembski use though out their papers, then state what Godfrey-Smith has to say about Demski’s argument.
Biologically Complex – An entity that has many different kinds of parts or that does many different things.
Information – Has a range of possible states or outcomes, where said states or outcomes have some definite probability of occurring.
Complex Specified Information (CSI) – Information associated with an event or entity and the probability of that event occurring.
Measure of Information – -log2( probability ), i.e. if an event has a probability of ¼ then the measure of the information is -log2(¼) = 2, meaning 2 bits of information is associated with that event.
The thesis of the origin of life by “chemical evolution.” Miller and Urey 1953 and subsequent experiments show that amino acids (which make up proteins) and the bases that are key components of DNA and RNA “can be created from inorganic raw materials spontaneously in laboratory experiments that simulate early conditions on earth.” (Peter Godfrey-Smith, p. 587) “Short chains of amino acids have also been produced from solutions of individual amino acids with the aid of heat and the right kind of surface.” After that, hypotheses diverge. Some posit “a single type of molecule with special properties of self-replication.” Others posit self-reproducing chemical networks, without a central molecule. But you also need “cell-like encapsulation of self-replicating structures. Discussions of the origins of life rapidly become technical” (587).
The “standard picture” of the sequence and time of life forms (according to philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith, 584f). Biology, geology, and physics support the following picture. The earliest fossil evidence we have is of bacteria. There must have been more basic forms, but they are unknown.
3.5 billion years ago—bacteria
1.7 billion years ago—eukaryotic cells
800 million years ago—multicellular organisms
over 120 million years ago—flowering plants
300,000 years ago—homo sapiens
Defense of “descent with modification”: Many sciences flourish in an interwoven way by working with the idea of evolution
Geology; paleontology; comparative anatomy (think of vestigial organs, such as the appendix, coccyx, and muscles that move the ears and nose; there are “half a dozen “human” species, with unbroken series of . . . increasing cranial capacity, reduced face and teeth, and larger body size” 131); comparative physiology; comparative embryology (human embryos display features of earlier forms of life, e.g., gill-like structures); biogeography (certain patterns of geographical distribution--orchids and alligators are only in the American south and in China, and there is a nice evolutionary explanation for this” 131); molecular biology (270, 178, 131, 759). If organisms aren’t related by descent with modification, what’s the explanation for all the detailed similarities we find among living things?
Caveat: the following list is culled from diverse authors; some of the terms may be synonymous; almost none are defined by the authors who mentioned them, who gave lists of alternate factors in order to show that contemporary biology is not restricted to explaining evolution only by natural selection operating on random genetic mutation. There are theorists who minimize the role of natural selection and theorists for whom natural selection is practically the whole story—and most biologists are somewhere in between.
I. A manifestation of chance
Genetic drift (spread of mutations that are neutral with regard to selective pressures)
Gene flow: incorporation of genes into a population from a separate population
Linkage: occurrence of two or more genes on the same chromosome
Molecular evolution immune to natural selection
Long-term change on account of “molecular drive” (gene-hopping) chemical soup in the cell, what ends up where seems random. DNA recomb shuffles, sometimes for anomalous reasons. Outside pressure like a virus, introducing new strands of DNA. Most random. For NS to work need differential pressure. Much in the genome have no differential impact on survival, so change randomly from one generation to another. Location on the genome itself. Hitchhiking genes passed on merely because manifest in an individual capable of surviving.
“Punctuated equilibrium,” highlighting times when sudden, major environmental change precipitated rapid biological change [decreasingly discussed today]
Founder effects (due the limited number of individuals that begin a new species-why? If reason was there was a sharp pull on survival and only the survivors were those capable of living through the challenge, than NS; otherwise not); an localized event in an isolated founder population could explain the sudden appearance of a new species. [NS can’t work on nothing. No wings without limbs.]
The innovative behavior of an individual organism in a particular environment
We’re still waiting for a new theory
Information flow involving whole-part or “top-down” causation
Macromutation: simultaneous (in a single reproductive event), coherent (= in formal terms? Working together to achieve some result better than randomly selected traits, probabilistic account) mutation in perhaps hundreds of genes. There are genes that control the rate of mutation, maintain the integrity of genome, except under certain situations of stress.
1. could explain some of the gaps in the fossil record
2. could give a natural and genetic explanation of descent with modification
3. consistent with the concept of intelligent design.
4. could not accomplish speciation by producing only a single individual in a sexually reproducing species. Twins would be necessary or something even more unlikely (194).
Challenges to relying on natural selection of small, random mutations as the primary explanation of evolution
(a) the rarity of transitional forms between phyla in the fossil record
(b) complex structures such as the mammalian eye using many highly structured parts that would need to evolve simultaneously
(c) selective breeders have not produced new species.
Defense for a major explanatory role of natural selection operating on small, random mutations
There is much direct observational evidence of evolution.
The chances that any given species will be represented in the fossil record is extremely low (275). And some of the parts of the intermediate forms we’d like to see are transitions in the reproductive systems—soft bits, the parts that could never be represented in the fossil record (275). Transitional forms are not as absent in the fossil record as is sometimes claimed (307).
Genuinely improbable things sometimes happen.
Some events seem much more improbable than they would seem if we knew the preceding conditions.
It would not in fact be necessary for every component of the mammalian eye to evolve fully and simultaneously: an organ may operate less efficiently or less robustly with fewer parts (315). Moreover, constituents of a cell, a tissue, or an organism are put to new uses because of some modification of the genotype.
Artificial selection does in fact provide evidence for natural selection, since they are similar in key respects: both operate by means of differential reproduction rates and within the variation that nature supplies.
Science should not be expected to give proof, only the best currently available scientific explanation.
It is not uncommon for a major theory, such as Big Bang cosmology, to have problems with it. A few confirmed predictions are about all you might expect to support some theories.
It’s very hard to falsify a whole network of theories and auxiliary hypotheses. The central idea, the “hard core” is usually too vague to be tested directly. When negative evidence comes in it can often be reconciled with the central theory by adding or changing lower-level (auxiliary) hypotheses. If positive evidence is lacking, its absence can often be explained by the same strategy. The auxiliary hypotheses developed to respond to objections to the theory have led to some new observations. A certain amount of “dogmatic” loyalty to the core is a regular feature of good science and necessary to allow for scientific thought to develop.
Philosophies of science
(D) Science has developed the best methods for studying nature; and, for good and sufficient reasons, the term “science” implies the use of these methods. Thus religion plays no proper role in science.
Science works to establish the best available understanding of things; it cannot be expected to prove its conclusions.
(C) Science is in the business of understanding whatever domain it tackles, and the methods that are appropriate are determined by the domain under investigation, not by the success of certain methods in other domains (Aristotle, Dilthey). If there is something to life more than material structures, then material sciences alone cannot adequately study the origin, nature, and development of life.
Science is conservative for many reasons, laudable and not-so-laudable. As Thomas Kuhn argued, working within a paradigm of research means that anomalies (evidence that doesn’t fit) are not permitted to overturn the paradigm (Thomas Kuhn). As Michael Polanyi has argued, there is a personal commitment that drives scientific research, a commitment to pursuing certain questions in certain ways, looking for certain types of result; this does not make science “subjective” in any pejorative sense of that term. Moreover, it is normal for a theory to have some core affirmations as well as some auxiliary hypotheses; thus when difficulties arise for the theory, there is an appropriate tendency to work hard to elaborate new auxiliary hypotheses that can handle the difficult evidence without requiring the overthrow of the theory’s core; and a progressive research program is one where the auxiliary hypotheses are not mere ad hoc patches to cook up possible explanations for recalcitrant data, but “lead to the prediction and corroboration of new facts of a different sort” (Nancey Murphy’s summary of Imre Lakatos, p. 459). Strictly speaking, according to the Duhem-Quine hypothesis, when difficulties arise for a theory, there is no way to tell what part of a complex theory needs to be revised.
It must be acknowledged that some people take positions on Darwinism because of core philosophic commitments (religious or naturalistic).
Naturalism: “Evolutionary biology has destructive implications for belief in non-mechanistic organizing designs or forces . . . .” (William Provine, p. 69)
What spectrum of views do religionists hold who oppose Darwinism?
The term “creationist” is in such widespread use as a pejorative term, referring in the majority of cases to uneducated people who carry on warfare against the science establishment in defense of a literal interpretation of the Bible as the Word of God, that many people who share some of their beliefs shun the label “creationist.” A range of views should be recognized here; it is very common to regard the origin of life as the act of the Creator. Some believe in a “young earth,” some 6000 years old. Some believe that every new species was separately created. Some believe that the gaps between phyla (fish, reptiles, birds, mammals) indicate special creative acts. Some believe that at least humans were separately created.
What is at stake for creationists in the debate over evolution?
The purpose and meaningfulness of life.
The significance of human life.
God’s truth in a war.
(D) If you work with contemporary hermeneutics (methods of interpretation) you can find room to accommodate science and religion: the account of creation in Genesis was not intended to answer current scientific questions (Ernan McMullin, pp. 173-75)
(C) If you interpret Genesis honestly, and in accord with many prominent scholars, you find that the text originally intended to communicate something close to what a common-sense reading indicates (Alvin Plantinga, 215-217).
There is a war going on in our culture, and cultural forces like science are not neutral in the fight. Current science gives “no consideration whatever to the possibility that mind or spirit preceded matter” (73).
It’s necessary to rethink science from a Christian perspective.
Facts seemingly inconsistent with intelligent design
Ubiquity of pain, suffering, death
Facts that seemingly invite the concept of intelligent design
The universe is on the whole orderly, in a manner comprehensible to our intelligence, is evidence that we and it were fashioned by a common intelligence. What is truly a miracle, in the pejorative sense of an event having no rational connection with what has gone before, is the emergence of a being with consciousness, free will, and a capacity to understand the laws of nature in a universe which in the beginning contained only matter in mindless motion.” (71).
Strategy #1. Distinguish science from philosophy and religion. Science as such makes no philosophical affirmations, either religious or naturalistic. Those such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and William Provine who are materialists, atheists, naturalists, and evolutionists, and who see everything as a united “package deal” do not speak for all evolutionists (364).
Strategy #2. Affirm our common humanity; understand our differences--and shared specifics; and appreciate the uniqueness of each personality.
Strategy #3. Set aside abusive, hostile, dismissive, polemical rhetoric and attitudes.