Saturday, December 08, 2007


Under a Passing Sun

Here is another nice discussion from Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation:

It has been generally agreed (then and since) that Darwin's doctrine of natural selection effectively demolished William Paley's classical design argument for the existence of God. By showing how blind and gradual adaptation could counterfeit the apparently purposeful design that Paley, the Bridgewater writers, and others had seen in the contrivances of nature, Darwin deprived their argument of the analogical inference that the evident purpose to be seen in the contrivances by which means and ends were related in nature was necessarily a function of mind. This inference, in which human and divine purpose were identified, had been its whole strength as a proof. In natural selection Darwin substituted an alternative hypothesis that was both logically adequate to account for the forms of organisms and philosophically more appealing to the positive outlook.

Darwin's argument ... did not, of course, disprove design in any possible formulation. One could, if so inclined, continue to believe that natural processes in general were purposeful and that the ends which they accomplished were designed.
Philosophically, at least, this is an important distinction. The destruction of the power of the argument of Natural theology did not, in turn, constitute an argument against the existence of God. However, there were those who still wanted to make nominally scientific arguments in favor of God:

Darwin downed Paley, but found himself already outflanked by the designers: design was now found in the rational order of creation and in the process, in the laws, by which a general progressive end was achieved. This view of design was not new, of course; and interestingly, it was not one that Darwin himself found entirely unacceptable. In point of fact, Agassiz and Owen had both rejected a sole reliance on Paleyesque adaptive contrivance to prove design prior to 1859. ...

But in giving up Paley's simple and direct empiricism for an idealism which substituted an intuitively perceived plan behind the adaptations for the adaptations themselves, the design argument was, to the positivist, on less relevant ground scientifically. It had, by abandoning the empirical world, removed itself from the area of science and entered that of religion. When, eventually, belief in design became an act of faith in an incomprehensible divine wisdom and its ends, the idea of design ceased to have any potential value as a scientific explanation: its assertions were unverifiable and hence useless. When the Duke of Argyll, Mivart, and other advocates of design answered the Darwinist criticism that nature showed a wasteful economy of means that was contrary to the idea of a wise and provident designer by saying that "we have no antecedent knowledge of the Creator which can possibly entitle us to form any such presumption as to His methods of operation," they were, in effect, admitting that the benign and frugal character of the Creator was not inferable from nature; rather, it was an article of faith that was held despite what nature indicated, a faith that nature was, somehow, rationally managed.
To further demonstrate that there is nothing new under the sun of Intelligent Design creationism (as if that was needed), consider the following:

The [similarities in embryological development in vertebrates] Futuyma cites may exist because a Creator employed them for some inscrutable purpose; or they may reflect inheritance from specific common ancestors; or they may be due to some as yet unimagined process which science may discover in the future. The task of science is not to speculate about why God might have done things this way, but to see if a material cause can be established by empirical investigation.
..........- Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial

[G]enetics has revealed that we are even programmed to die! Indeed, unfortunately, many individuals with many diseases face a shortened lifespans. Does that mean we were not designed? Perhaps we were intelligently designed to die because it was not a part of the designer's final reason for creating us that we should live in these physical bodies forever. One might think that the designer is therefore cruel, but remembering that this is a theological issue, it can be pointed out that Christianity explains how "evil" in the world is ultimately not the fault of God.
..........- Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center, "Some things appear 'unintelligently designed' or are poorly designed. Is ID falsified by 'sub-optimal design'?"

The reason such questions [about imperfection and evil] have traction in biology, however, is because the designer in biology is widely supposed to be a benevolent and omnipotent God. And this, in turn, is supposed to raise the classic theodicy problem (if God is good and all powerful, whence evil?). There are answers to the theodicy problem, but they are theological answers ...
..........- William Dembski, "Addicted to Caricatures: A Response to Brian Charlesworth"
This is, of course the heart of the problem, as Gillespie lays out:

To the positivist, who was committed to understand all natural processes only in terms of law and natural causes, Paleyesque design was merely incredible and its idealist successor irrelevant to the tasks of science; the invocation of a divine engineer, in any capacity, was a causal redundancy.

Thus the unstable Newtonian legacy of nature as matter in motion coupled with the idea of a supervising Creator finally fell apart. Its materialist, or positive, tendencies had long been gaining ascendency and had long been an increasing source of worry to its supporters. Design was the means by which it had been anchored to a theological base. Without design, a material science was almost irresistible. The virtual disappearance of natural theology from scientific discourse by the century's end signified more than the passing of a generation of scientists who had been born and educated in a more devout era. It indicated a change in the way scientists thought about nature and science, and in the practice of science. Not impiety but positivism had banished both theological explanations and concerns from the minds of working scientists.
That's why ID advocates must, in the end, resort to advocating a change in the very nature of science. It is an argument they lost long ago but cannot accept. ID is the sad tale of people who worry at the frayed ends of old disputes instead of moving on to new concepts and possibilities.


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