Design in Nature, Part 1

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March 18, 2011 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Oliver R. Barclay. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Design in Nature, Part 1

Note: This is the first of a four-part series adapted from a 2006 Science & Christian Belief article by Oliver Barclay, in which Barclay compares and contrasts the biblical view of design in nature with modern design arguments that draw on contemporary science. In this first entry, Barclay considers the biblical claim that “all people in all cultures and at all times have some awareness of the fact that God is behind the universe” and reminds us not to overlook the fact that God is also in continual control of the world. Please see the full paper for references and complete text.

Creation

The Bible begins with a resounding declaration that the universe is the creation of the one almighty God, who had only to say so and it came into being: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth... And God said... and it was so.’ Ignoring the question of the timescale and possible mechanisms of creation, we find that this theme runs through the whole Bible and is developed in various ways so as to fill out its significance. Perhaps it is most famously exemplified in the New Testament by the prologue of John’s Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’

The biblical writers are united in their insistence that the cosmos reveals the reality and power of the Creator God. Romans 1:19-23 sets this out as clearly as any biblical passage. Here it is stated that all people are under God’s wrath when they have turned away from: ‘what may be known about God (and) is plain to them... For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ This surely means that people can perceive, however vaguely, that there must be an all-powerful divine being behind the material world. This knowledge is accessible to all people irrespective of their cultural or educational background, and no knowledge of science is required to make such knowledge available; it comes by simple observation and personal experience of the wonders of the world around us.

Most of the sermons in the New Testament are addressed to Jews, or to those more generally who accepted Old Testament teachings, so that the truth that this is a world created by God is taken almost for granted in this context. Strikingly, in the only two recorded sermons to audiences that did not have this background, at Lystra and Athens (Acts 14:14-18; 17:22-31), Paul does stress the fact that this is a world created by God and that his listeners should respond to that fact, acknowledging that the creator God is not to be compared with lesser ‘deities’, and therefore they should seek to find him.

The Old Testament repeatedly states as fact that this universe is created by God, but is at pains to stress that it is the God, Jahweh, and not any of the other so-called gods, who is responsible both for its creation and its continuing functioning. In the Old Testament there is no real attempt to argue for the fact that this is a created world, rather it is treated as almost self-evident: certainly a truth that everyone is made aware of from observation. Psalm 19 expresses it like this:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Ps. 19:1-3)

The biblical claim is that all people in all cultures and at all times have some awareness of the fact that God is behind the universe, based on their own personal observation.

Creation and Providence

It is important to realize that the idea of creation and the continual control of the world – what we often call providence – merge into one another in biblical thought. So Paul, in his speech at Lystra, says that: ‘The living God who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them... has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons’(Acts 14:15,17). This title ‘the living God’ is often used by the biblical writers to stress that God is active in the world. Similarly, when Paul was speaking at Athens, he said that: ‘The God who made the world and every- thing in it...gives all men life and breath and everything else’ (Acts 17:24,25).

When we are called to acknowledge God as ‘our Creator’ we are being called not only to acknowledge that without him we and the universe would not exist, but also that he has brought us into being as we now are, even though (as we now know) it is the result of a long series of genetic and environmental processes. To the biblical writers the processes of ‘nature’ that science is exploring today are as much the work of God as the existence of the world itself. It is he who sends the seasons, as he has promised, so that when he is thanked for the harvest it is not just for the fact that there is the cycle of life that gives a crop, but that in his goodness this has happened once more. God is the Great Provider; hence the word providence.

There is a huge difference between the concept of God as merely the great designer and the biblical idea of the living God. As Calvin expressed the point: ‘without proceeding to his Providence we cannot understand the full force of what is meant by God being the Creator’. God creatively maintains the world so as to provide for living things. ‘He sustains all things’; as Hebrews 1:3 expresses it. If he did not, it would all dissolve into chaos and disappear. As Jesus himself said: ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45, note the present tense).

So the fact that the land can be fruitful and that it is in fact so are two aspects of the same care of God for his world that make it a place fit for life. ‘For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited’(Isa. 45:18). God is presented as the One who has deliberately brought into being and maintains a world that can support life. So the state of the world is evidence not only for the existence and power of God but also for his kindness and care for his creation.

Design

Does this include an argument for design? Clearly if it is God who has created and rules ‘nature’, deliberately for the good of living things, including humanity, then his design is implied in the way that things are organized. But this is a very different stance from those arguments for design which seek to show that some of the particular findings of science point to a Great Designer. Instead the biblical writers see the existence, and the generosity of God to humanity, in the whole panoply of the created order and its ongoing processes.


Dr. Oliver Barclay is a retired zoologist, who was the founding secretary of Christians in Science and the first editor of Science & Christian Belief.

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John - #55256

March 22nd 2011

Ronnie:
“Its the height of arrogance to claim anything God does or makes is “inferior”. To make that claim you are putting yourself (and evolutionary mechanisms) in a position superior to God.”

But that’s my point, Ronnie!


According to Meyer’s misrepresentation of the RNA World hypothesis, proteins are “more efficient” catalysts than RNA, i.e., superior. If you prefer, substituting “less efficient” for “inferior” changes nothing about Meyer’s dilemma. From all of the evidence, he appears to have chosen to withhold the evidence and deceive his readers to avoid addressing this essential point.

Read p. 305 of Meyer. How can the “ribozyme-based protein-synthesis machinery” possibly be “transitional” when that is how every one of your cells synthesizes proteins as you are reading this?

unapologetic catholic - #55266

March 22nd 2011

John,

You’re right, I forgot about Behe’s belated acknowedgement of error—caught by a mere graduate student.

That’s why we have peer review.

You’re also right about the weakness of the  it’s designed” becasue “it’s so elegant”  argument.  This is the argument essentially made by Jonathan Witt and Logan Gage of the Discovery Institute.  If the design is demostrated by its elegance then examples of inelegant and kludged design are surely relevant. 

If the argument is that God is omnipotent and therefore we mere mortals of limited intelligence can’t speculate why He would or would not have designed something in a particular way, then we also have to concede that “design” can’t be defined in any scientific way because God could have accomplished the current state of biology in any way—inclduing miraculous ways such as Last Thursdayism and we wouldn’t be able to tell that He had been “designing.”


Rich - #55286

March 23rd 2011

UC wrote:

You’re right, I forgot about Behe’s belated acknowedgement of error—caught by a mere graduate student.

First, Behe acknowledged no error of a magnitude that would undermine the fundamental thesis of his book.  (His detailed response to his rude and insulting critic—whose scientific remarks were framed by an adolescent exhibition of sneering that flouted the rules of professional decorum and thus deserved no response—can be found in the repository of EOE responses housed at Uncommon Descent.)

Second, if the mere graduate student in question—and I agree that mere is an appropriate adjective, and in more than one respect—caught any error in Behe, it is because she actually read his book, which is more than can be said for many of the commenters here.

One of these days UC may surprise me and write a post about an ID proponent that does not contain any partisan cheap shot.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #55442

March 24th 2011

Penman wrote:

That may answer Roger’s concern that I’m treating theistic argument far too lightly. Certainly when false arguments are used by atheists, I think we should refute them if we can. Eg the endlessly repeated argument by Richard Dawkins that if a complex entity like God exists, someone must have designed Him, which even other atheists have said fails in a number of ways to engage with the actual theistic concept of God. (eg a failure to understand divine simplicity).

Thank you for your response.  The question is God’s relationship to the universe.  You bring up the question of complexity and unity.  I would argue that God is not simple, even though philosophically this must be true.  The Bible only says that God is One, not that God is simple.  The Trinity is clear that God is both One and Many, notg simple.

Dawkins problem is that nothing in all creation as far as we can tell is simple.  Everything is both one and many, a colmplex one, just like God is the Complex One.  Reality is much more like the YHWH than it is like some simplistic monism.  Matter/energy is clearly complex in character.  That is why reductionism is a failed stratedgy if its point is to reveal the simplicity of nature, and not the way aspects of reality interact and are interdependent on one another.

Our need for God is based on our need for relationships with others and the Source of Reality.  If Reality is based on only the material, then these relationships are not real and humans are just another kind of physical being at the mercy of physical laws, if they exist.  
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penman - #55461

March 24th 2011

Roger A. Sawtelle - #55442

I think divine “simplicity” in traditional theology applies not to the relationship between God’s essence/substance/nature & the persons of the Trinity, but solely to God’s essence. Clearly the relationship between “essence” & “person” in God involves a certain complexity.

But does that mean the divine essence can’t be simple? By “simple”, the theologians mean (as I understand them, & I’m not an expert here) that the nature of God is such an absolute unity that He can’t be cut up into parts. You could cut off my arm, but I’d still be human. Humans are complexes of parts. Divine simplicity means that God is not. You can’t slice off a part here, a part there. His essence is too “one” for that.

More is involved, but I think this at least is involved.

I suspect that when Richard Dawkins (who, incidentally, whenever I’ve seen him in debate, has been civilized & courteous, not some raving “atheist-fundamentalist”) speaks of God’s “complexity” he is probably referring to the complexity required of the human mind to understand the concept of God. Understanding divine simplicity can be a complex intellectual task….! If that’s his meaning, it’s a quarrel over different ideas covered by an ambiguous word.


John - #55731

March 26th 2011

UC wrote:
You’re right, I forgot about Behe’s belated acknowedgement of error—caught by a mere graduate student.”

IIRC, she was an undergrad at the time, making Behe look even worse.

“First, Behe acknowledged no error of a magnitude that would undermine the fundamental thesis of his book.”

How would you know, Rich? Besides, Behe’s error was of a literally infinite magnitude. How does that change Behe’s calculations?

”(His detailed response to his rude and insulting critic—whose scientific remarks were framed by an adolescent exhibition of sneering that flouted the rules of professional decorum and thus deserved no response—can be found in the repository of EOE responses housed at Uncommon Descent.)”

His earlier rude, insulting, sexist, and patently false denials were on his personal blog at Amazon, which have been deleted. Funny how you omitted that.

So crunch the numbers for us, Rich! Behe didn’t and you won’t. Do you not realize that Behe’s incredibly belated concession was still wrong about the number of binding sites?

Rich - #55732

March 26th 2011

Gregory (55275):

Thanks for your reply.

You have a further request for clarification here:

**********************************
You wrote: “Certainly I regard natural theology as an enterprise of philosophy rather than of religion”

Then later: “Within theology, there is natural theology and revealed theology.” 

So now ‘natural theology’ is ‘within theology’ and not ‘an enterprise of philosophy’?

*********************************

Gregory, first of all, notice that in the first quotation, I used the word “religion,” not “theology.”  Then refer to my explanation of the difference between the two.

If you understand why natural theology is not intrinsically religious, then your only remaining question should be why I call natural theology part of “philosophy” in one place, and part of “theology” [not “religion”] in another.  The answer is simple.  Natural theology is a branch of both philosophy and theology. 

Theology means literally “the study of God.”  God can be studied through revelation (revealed theology) or insofar as his existence and character can be arrived at through reasoning (natural theology).  So natural theology is one type of theology.  But there is no reason why natural theology and philosophy can’t overlap.

Do you know Venn diagrams?  Try your hand at one.  Draw two circles, one for “theology” and another for “philosophy.”  Now overlap them.  In the overlap zone you will find, among other things, natural theology.  In the non-overlap zone of the theology circle, you will find “revealed theology.”  Simple, no?


John - #55734

March 26th 2011

endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com/2007/11/mr-owl-how-many-days-does-it-take-to.html


Rich - #55735

March 26th 2011

Gregory, you also wrote:

“Nevertheless, it is sociologically obvious that ‘confession’ is inexcapably correlated in ‘coinage’ of the duo ‘intelligent’ + ‘design’. This is what ‘reflexivity’ would teach you.”

The words “confession is inexcapably [sic] correlated in coinage of the duo intelligent + design” are mangled either syntactically, or semantically, or both.  I cannot connect the words coherently.  However, I will guess from your past posts that you probably mean:  “ID proponents push ‘intelligent design’ because as Christians they already have a prejudice in favor of the existence of a designing God.”  Is that what you mean?

Gregory, you assume that because I don’t speak sociologically, I must be against a sociological analysis.  I’m not.  You can sociologically analyze the ID people all you want.  You can say they have desperate longings for the lost world of 19th-century small-town Protestant America, and want to recreate it.  You can attribute to them any social motivation that you like.  I’m making a philosophical point, not a sociological one.

Philosophically, it matters *zero* what the social motivation of the ID people is.  Philosophers couldn’t care less.  They are interested only in whether ID arguments are valid or invalid.

What you rare doing Gregory, is pushing a subtle form of argumentum ad hominem.   You are trying to discredit ID philosophy/science by discrediting ID motives.  That’s a fundamental argumentative error; and appropriately, it’s just the sort of argumentative error I’d expect from someone who had studied sociology rather than philosophy.   


John - #55737

March 26th 2011

endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com/2007/11/quick-translation-for-laymen-ii.html


Here’s the best summary from Abbie Smith:
endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com/2007/11/epic-fail.html
What *I* would call disingenuous is saying anything I wrote was ‘insulting’ while you seem to have no difficulties dismissing the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of scientists while you contribute nothing beneficial to society (no, I dont consider feces and CO2 ‘beneficial’). You have no problem stealing the work of those same scientists and misrepresenting it to laymen, pretending it supports your claims. You have no problem writing entire books on topics telling scientists they have no idea what theyre talking about, but you apparently cant even read an HIV-1 review article. You cant even read your own diagrams!...

Note how Behe is completely unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions. He didnt respond to my essay with anything resembling science… and its *my* fault. *I* was ‘mean’, and that prevented Michael Behe from responding to my essay like a biochemist. If *I* was ‘nice’, well, then he could have responded. Really, the lack of science in any of Behes posts is *my* fault. Uh huh.

Rich, the most important rule of professional scientific decorum is to know what one is talking about. Not only did Behe break that rule, he did so while claiming to understand the field better than those working in it.

I just love watching the way your hypocritical mind works. You throw training and qualifications right out the window when someone says something with which you disagree. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #55897

March 28th 2011

Penman wrote:

I think divine “simplicity” in traditional theology applies not to the relationship between God’s essence/substance/nature & the persons of the Trinity, but solely to God’s essence. Clearly the relationship between “essence” & “person” in God involves a certain complexity.

Forgive me for overlook this topic while trying to keep up with other posts.  You are right I think in terms of traditional theology, but here is where I part with traditional philosophical theology, because I find that it is not possible to separate the Persons of the Trinity from God’s essence, substance, nature.

Jesus is totally, fully God, just as is the Father and the Holy Spirit.  There is no separate or separatable essence from the Persons.  They are all fully and equally God.  Together they are God and separately they are God, although Augustine says that they always work together.  

Yes, I can lose my arm and still be me, but that my arm is still me.  I cannot lose my body and still be me, nor can I lose my mind nor my spirit and still be me.  So in this way I am a complex one just as the Trinity is a Complex One.   

What Dawkins is arguing is that science seeks to go from a complex reality to a simple realities.  He claims that if God created the universe with all its complexies, then God would have to be even more complex than the unverse.  That makes sense given a materialistic point of view that reality starts from the simple and moves up in size to the complex.

The way I see it based on a triune form of reality, all of the pieces, all of the aspects of reality have the same complex one form, which enables them to fit and work together in  basic harmony.  God is the Source and God is not simple according to the Bible which is the foundation of our understanding, not philosophy.      


penman - #56080

March 30th 2011

Roger A. Sawtelle - #55897

Well, I don’t wish to separate the persons of the Godhead from the divine essence, in the sense that the essence has no independent existence of its own outside the persons. But we *can* distinguish in our minds between person & essence (otherwise we’d have three essences to match the persons, or only one person to match the essence).

I think I still agree with the traditional view. I’m not sure what it would mean to call the divine essence “complex”. If complexity doesn’t mean composition of parts which can be taken apart, I’m unclear what it means when applied to a living being. You can take apart the human body, & if you had Frankenstein’s skill (or Walter Bishop’s from “Fringe”) you could put it back together again. That can’t be done to God’s essence, can it? Not even by Franky or Walter.

This thread seems to be getting sporadic hits now, so no worries if you miss this & don’t reply….


Roger A. Sawtelle - #56196

March 31st 2011

Penman,

Thank you for responding.  I was afraid you would forget as I almost did.  This problem is much too important to overlook. 

It is pretty clear that if you have one person’s mind in whatever body that is the person you have, just as long as the person has a body, that is a physical aspect.  Despite all the science fiction humans cannot transplants new minds or spirits into people.

On Star Trek they can clone whole people, but not on earth.  

Complex means complex, parts that function together.  Complexity implies oneness, so they are not opposites as people think.  Simple means no parts so cannot function.  Love is not simple, but personal and complex.  

The opposites are the Simple and the Random, neither are functional.  The One and the Many must be reconciled in the Complex or as maybe clearer the Complex/One   

You can identify the different parts and how they work together, but you cannot take them apart without destroying the effectiveness of the whole.  

What is the essence of a team?  It is not a thing or a person, but the spirit which gives it life and purpose, and yet that spirit is embedded in all its members.

The problems with saying God is essentially simple are many.

1. God cannot be Personal, because persons are complex/one entities, which makes the Bible wrong.

2. There is no place in the Bible for a Simple God.  Islam has a monopoly on this idea and this view gives Muslims the theological advantage.

3.  Humans cannot know a Simple God.  While this might seem to protect God from our eyes, it makes science, faith, theology, and ethics impossible, as Muslims have found.  

4.  If God is essentially Simple, it would seem that the Deists, the philosophers, and even the atheists are basically right.  We live in a mechanistic, unfeeling universe.  


penman - #56361

April 1st 2011

Roger A. Sawtelle - #56196

Your analogy of a team working together as one, animated by team spirit, suggests that when you’re talking about complexity, it’s actually the three persons of the Godhead that you have in mind. They are complex in the sense that they are more than one thing (three things - three hypostases) who act as one.

That may well be true & orthodox. I’m not aware of any theologian who discusses divine simplicity except in relation to the single divine essence/substance/being/nature possessed by each & all of the triune persons. The denial of complexity belongs *here*, rather than to the relationship between the divine persons. As far as I’m seeing it at present, if you want to deny any sort of simplicity to God in any sense, you’ll have to deny any real distinction between the divine essence & the divine persons. Maybe that *is* what you’re denying?

When I look at what classical theologians say about simplicity, they take it as referring to “composition” - that something is made up of parts. And their subject is the divine essence, not the relationship between the persons. They’re denying that God’s essence is like an organism or a machine: lots of smaller bits fitting together to make a bigger unit. They saw this as compromising the absolute unity or oneness of the essence. What parts would the divine essence be made up from? And if, in a complex entity, the whole depends on the sum of its parts, we’d have God’s essence as a “whole” that depended on the sum of its parts to be God - which sounds rather weird.

Here’s St John of Damascus in his Exposition of the Faith:

“God has absolute simplicity of being and is not an amalgamation of
different ingredients
... How could a body belong to the divine nature which is infinite,
boundless, formless, intangible, invisible, and (in short) possesses absolute
simplicity of being and is not an amalgamation of different ingredients? How
could God be immutable, if He were limited, and subject to unstable and
changeable emotions? And how could He be free from these, if He were composed of
different elements and dissolved back into them again? For a combination of
different elements is the beginning of conflict, and conflict the beginning of
separation, and separation the beginning of disintegration; and disintegration
is completely alien to God.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #56390

April 1st 2011

Penman,

Of course the theological model of God must be based on that which is revealed through the Bible.  This reveals no simplicity.

Now what seems to me has been done and is the source of our current theological problem is to overlay the theological/Biblical model with a philosophical model, which speaks of the simplicity and essence of God.  This is not needed and in the end is a mistake because it is wrong.  The Trinity itself is the “essence” of God.

Scientists are looking at the brain.  They were expecting to see it organized around a brain center, but evidently it is not.  It is decentralized around some five organizing centers.  What happened to the “soul?”  

Well, if God is not centralized, but functions as three organizing centers, this makes more sense.   Plus from a protection point of view it is better to be decentralized and have some back up systems, so one blow is less likely to completely disable the brain and mind.

The fact is God made humans in God’s image.  Therefore it follows that we should be able to find clues as to Who God is in our biology.  That does not mean that we look like God, but it does mean as I understand it that we function basically like God.  This of course does not mean that we are as good or intelligent as God , but we are constantly discovering the marvelous complexity of the life God has given us and the universe.       


penman - #56395

April 1st 2011

Roger A. Sawtelle - #56390

“The Trinity itself is the ‘essence’ of God.”

Okay - I see now. That leaves us with a question, though: what is it that makes each person of the Trinity fully & truly “God”, not just a third of God? Isn’t that where traditional thinking about “essence” comes in? To take one example, Christ the 2nd Person of the Trinity isn’t only one-third divine, one-third of God. He is one hundred per cent God. So are the Father & the Spirit. So they must each have something other than simply their personhood to make them each fully divine: each as much God as the other two.

This isn’t just human philosophizing, because scripture does say that all the fullness of the Godhead (not a third of it) dwells in Christ.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #56464

April 1st 2011

Of course the unity and complexity of God is the great mystery of Christianity.  However it is based on Biblical revelation that Jesus was fully God and fully human, not on any philosophical explanation of how this is.  Since neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit is simple, how can one say that the essence of God is simple, unless they are not divine.  It seems to me like saying that the essense of humanity is the ability to think, but no humans can think.

As you have indicated with the quotation below, some Church Fathers were more concerned about bringing theology in line with philosophy than with scripture.  God is not formless, rather God is Good.  God is not immutable in that God cares.  God is not infinite in that God is Love.     

How could a body belong to the divine nature which is infinite,
boundless, formless, intangible, invisible, and (in short) possesses absolute
simplicity of being and is not an amalgamation of different ingredients? How
could God be immutable, if He were limited, and subject to unstable and
changeable emotions? And how could He be free from these, if He were composed of different elements and dissolved back into them again? For a combination of
different elements is the beginning of conflict, and conflict the beginning of
separation, and separation the beginning of disintegration; and disintegration
is completely alien to God.


God does not have a body, but Jesus Who is God does.  I hope that you accept the Apostles Creed including affirmation of the Ressurection of the body.  We do not need the Hellenistic desparaging of the body and the material today. 

There seems to be a constant tug of war between seeing God as basically One or basically Three.  I know and I trust you know that either way is wrong.  God is both One and Three, but not simple and many.  To try to understand this and give a balanced view I developed what I call the Interpersonal Model of God and the Intrapersonal Model of God, both built on Biblical models and those used by Augustine.  They are detailed in my book, The GOD Who RELATES, if you are interested.   



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