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Design in Nature, Part 4

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April 8, 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 4

This is the final post in a four-part series adapted from a 2006 Science & Christian Belief article by Oliver Barclay. Part one can be found here. Having compared the biblical understanding of God’s providence with the view he feels is implied by the Intelligent Design movement, Barclay now returns to describe the “biblical approach” to design. Please see the full paper for references and complete text.

The Glory and Beauty of Creation

The idea of the beauty of creation at first sight appears to be intrinsic to the idea that it expresses the glory of God. For many people it is the extraordinary beauty of the world that strikes them as evidence that God has designed it. However, I cannot find this stated in the Bible either explicitly or even indirectly, although Jesus told his disciples that even the lilies of the field, although temporary, outshone ‘Solomon in all his splendor’ (Matt. 6:28,29).

One reason for this lack of emphasis is that beauty is temporary and another may be that it is largely a matter of what seems beautiful to us. Tastes change and beauty has a large subjective element. Not long ago, for instance, the magnificent snow capped mountains of the world that to us seem so beautiful were regarded with almost universal horror, while the spider in the bath is only beautiful to those who have had the opportunity to study it in detail. In fact the Bible often refers to the passing nature and the seductiveness of beauty: ‘Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting’ says the book of Proverbs (Prov. 30:31).

Nevertheless there is certainly the recognition that beauty is something to give thanks for as a gift from God and beautiful things are valued. The temple and the Old Testament tabernacle had to be made to be beautiful, as less than that would not be to honor God. God ‘has made everything beautiful in its time’ says the preacher (Eccles. 3:11) but goes on to say how he cannot find in that the secret of life.

Therefore while we are encouraged to admire beauty and to appreciate it, the Bible does not emphasize it, nor use beauty as evidence that the universe is made by God or shows his design. The data that come to our senses are in any case ambiguous, as the world also contains things that are ugly, although overall it is difficult not to believe that such a beautiful world does point to a wonderful creator and move us to acknowledge that such beauty is at times awe-inspiring as well as cause for heartfelt thanksgiving. Paul reminds us that ‘God... richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (1 Tim. 6:17) and the beauty of the world is something that we should enjoy as an important aspect of God’s generosity.

Certainly the Bible encourages us to enjoy the wonders of the world. As the famous verse in Psalm 111: 2 has it, ‘the works of the Lord are great, sought out by all those who take pleasure in them’. This has always been a favorite text for scientists who take pleasure in discovering the wonders of his works. There is enormous pleasure in science, even when we are not discovering anything new, but just enjoying its descriptions of the hidden intricacies of the natural world. The pleasures and joys of life are therefore seen as aspects of God’s creation which he has planned for us. In that sense they bear indirect witness to his design, but the biblical writers are more concerned to lead us to acknowledge him, and worship and thank him as our generous creator. The beauty of the world is just one part of God’s generosity, which is one part of his ‘glory’, which is ‘above the earth and the heavens’. Isaiah in his soaring poetry has it like this:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has... instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?... He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and its people are like grasshoppers... Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name... Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isa. 40:12-14, 22, 26, 28-29)

The creator God of the Bible is no remote deity. Indeed this passage from Isaiah is also immediately preceded by saying that this God ‘tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms’. Christians are astonishingly told to call him ‘Father’. While we should rejoice to call him Creator and enjoy the benefits of his creation and providence we should not stop there.

Conclusion

The concept of design is only a very small part of the biblical picture of the world and is best put in its place by asking the question: ‘design for what?’ The biblical answer is that all things on earth are created, maintained and planned for the possibility of a life as we know it and in particular for people to live and be in relationship with God. That broader view reminds us of the glory and power of God in creation, but in the Bible the concept of design is really incidental to this larger theme.

What are the practical consequences for scientists? Firstly it reminds us to stop more often to marvel at the amazing universe that we have been given. When we do so our lives and our scientific work are enriched. It is a great stimulus to pursue our work with the excitement that we are finding out more of God’s works.

Secondly, the biblical insights should give us a new humility about our discoveries and the whole scientific enterprise. When we give the highest honors to those who have made scientific discoveries, we should more often remind ourselves of Isaiah’s challenge: ‘Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him?’(Isa. 40:14). Who in fact invented the genetic code, which you are so proud to have discovered after centuries of scientific effort? These are the kind of reminders that God gave to Job.

Thirdly, when we talk about design in nature we should be careful to point out that this is at best only a tiny aspect of the biblical idea of creation, and even then implicit rather than explicit. Far from being a remote draughtsman who designs things without later involvement, we should always present the biblical creator God as he is, the one who cares for and is intimately involved in every aspect of the created order.

Fourthly, the biblical emphasis should make us more bold when writing or teaching to say more often than we do, how awesomely astonishing and ingenious the created world is. It is not always appropriate to talk about God as Creator in the context of teaching or practicing science, but people can still get the message. Professor R.J. Hooykaas, one of the founders and mentors of Christians in Science, used to say that one of his happiest moments was, when teaching on Crystallography in a Communist country, and having made no mention of God or creation at all, he was approached afterwards, privately, by a Russian scientist who said ‘I think you must be a Christian.’ The sense of wonder and humility before creation displayed by the lecturer in this case had clearly displayed something of the glory of God’s created order – in this case in the order displayed by crystals.

The larger picture of God’s creative actions is well expressed in Psalm 8, where the writer puts alongside each other the magnificence of the creation and the fact that God does care for people:

0 LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!... When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?... 0 LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:1, 3-4, 9)


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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Trevor K. - #57349

April 8th 2011

From part 3  “God’s purposes could, in principle, be achieved as much through an
evolutionary process as in any other scientifically defined process.”

So what Dr. Barclay is saying is that things were not designed, they evolved. This then is the over-arching point of the whole series. And perhaps more particularly, GOD used evolutionary processes rather than direct design and implementation of what we currently see around us. He then goes on to say substitute words in Job to show how we could easily modernise that whole conversation.

There’s just one small perspective left out by Dr. Barclay namely that the genetic makeup can now quite easily be viewed by us - over and over again. It’s right here in the present.

However as to it’s origin and original form, one can only go by either what the bible clearly states in Genesis 1 or one can begin to speculate via atheistic evolutionary story telling as to how that structure arrived as it is today. Point is that no human was there to witness how it originated and document it in today’s scientific terms. The only witness we do have is what the bible states in Genesis 1 itself.

If one chooses to side with the atheistic “scientific story telling” then one is forced to start manipulating and massaging Genesis 1 [which clearly and expressly contradicts evolutionary thought] to fit in with one’s core belief. The result is that God gets discredited and is now no longer the incredible creative genius that the word makes Him out to be.

Besides which, the evolutionary process defies all we know about current real physics and real operational biology - things left to themselves run down, deteriorate or die. They do NOT improve themselves and get better and better. The entropy of the human[and probably animal, bird and fish] genetic code is testimony to that. It is going downhill far too fast in the direction of elimination and extinction but at the same time the mutation rates are far, far too slow to be of any use for upward productive selection.

So the conclusion is that Dr. Barclay has been swayed by the atheistic naturalism and uniformitarianism and is now firmly in that camp. Instead of using the bible as authority on origins, he now believes the atheists.








Rich - #57360

April 8th 2011

Dr. Barclay:

Three points, if I may.

First, while it is true that many earlier writers of natural theology placed emphasis on the beauty of creation, the case for natural theology does not ultimately rest on the beauty of creation.  None of Aquinas’s Five Ways, for example, draws upon the presence of beauty in creation.  And even if Paley or others may have from time to time brought in the notion of beauty, it is clear that at the core of Paley’s thought and of 19th-century natural theology generally is the adjustment of parts to the function of the whole, as in the classic watchmaker example.  The adjustment of the parts to the function of the whole is not an argument from beauty.  And note that modern ID proponents, to the extent that they use ID arguments to promote a limited (very limited) natural theology, do not appeal to the beauty of creation to do it.  They speak of the adjustment of parts to the function of wholes.  So I wonder who your target is here.  What significant scientist, philosopher or theologian *today* argues that God must exist because the world is so beautiful?

Second, even if “design” is a subordinate conception in the Bible, design is clearly implied throughout the Bible.  The problem with many TE/EC writings is that they are evasive about whether or not God is in fact a designer.  Not a *mere* designer,  to be sure, but *at least* a designer.  And it is the Christian belief that God is *at least* a designer that creates the tension with certain forms of evolutionary theory, which are built upon the premise that there is and can be no design in the evolutionary process.

Finally, the statement:  “Far from being a remote draughtsman who designs things without later involvement ...” has no plausible modern target.  It might be a valid objection to the Deism of 200 years ago, but it is completely inapplicable to OECs, YECs, and ID proponents.  I have challenged you, Ard Louis, and other columnists and commenters here to find me statements to this effect in modern Christian writers, particularly ID proponents.  No one has come up with even one such statement.  You and other columnists here appear to be attacking a view which no one holds.  I thus do not see the relevance of such criticism.


Jordan - #57363

April 8th 2011

Trevor K. - #57349—“So what Dr. Barclay is saying is that things were not designed, they evolved.”

Where did he say that?

I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy by contrasting design and evolution. Evolution is a process, and makes no judgment either way about whether its products are a result of fore-thought agency or not. It is perfectly possible for something to be both evolved AND designed (even “designed to evolve”). Design doesn’t mean “magically poofed into existence from nothing”.

Merv - #57379

April 8th 2011

Dr. Barclay wrote:  “Fourthly, the biblical emphasis should make us more bold when writing or
teaching to say more often than we do, how awesomely astonishing and
ingenious the created world is.”

Thanks, Dr. Barclay for emphasizing these [quite Biblical] aspects.  Someone somewhere once wrote of God being “bigger” for us the more we grow and understand.  (Aslan?)  What an awesome picture of a parent lovingly condescending to a child in terms the child can understand and relate with, except that this “parent” is infinitely perfect and we will always have child status even while we grow. 

The psalmists would be exuberant over all the new things we can now see, and yet their original language still catches the treasured passions for then and now.

-Merv


R Hampton - #57388

April 8th 2011

Rich,
To your way of thinking (and many, if not most in the ID community), divine providence and contingency are mutually exclusive - hence their theologically motivated attack on “neo-Darwinism”. For example:

In The Design Inference, Dr William Dembski developed the theoretical basis for his concept of ‘Complex Specified Information’ (CSI). Such systems conform to an independently recognizable pattern (i.e., they can be ‘specified’) but have a vanishing probability of arising guided only by natural laws or random processes. Such systems can only be the product of deliberate intelligent design.

“Design is characterized by three things: contingency, complexity and specification. Contingency ensures that the object in question is not the result of an automatic and therefore unintelligent process…” (Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology, Dembski 1998, p. 128)

- Designer science, Royal Truman, Technical Journal (now Journal of Creation) 14(1):28–34, April 2000

http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v14/i1/designer.asp


But because Catholic church adopts a Thomist approach, they do not reject the either/or scenario presented by ID - hence the scientific findings for evolution are accepted:

Now, the difference between St. Thomas’s argument and the case made by intelligent design should be readily apparent. The Fifth Way is not a defense of DT* directly; it is an attempt to support PT**. The result of St. Thomas’s reasoning is the conclusion that nature is constantly under the direction of an intelligence that guides every unintelligent substance through all of its movements and changes. In short, if the Fifth Way is successful, then Aquinas has shown that a very strong version of providence is actually the case. This is not to say, however, that Aquinas is opposed to the notion of design. Indeed, his strongly providentialist argument likewise implies design. If God directs and controls all natural events, then he ultimately directs and controls the events that led to the formation of complex organisms. St. Thomas, in short, is able to deliver both DT and PT.

Furthermore, notice that St. Thomas has not offered a scientific argument, and therefore his case is not subject to revision or rejection by future empirical or experimental results. The Fifth Way is a consequence of a broader metaphysical account of causation. One of the very basic concepts employed in physical science is law-governed efficient causality, and science offers no ultimate explanation of why such causality works as it does; it can only assume this notion and use it in less fundamental explanations. Any scientific explanation will presuppose efficient causality as a basic explanatory category, and will subsequently be unable to account for efficient causality. Therefore, since St. Thomas offers an explication of efficient causality, his position itself is not one open to scientific verification or revision. He is ultimately explaining what makes scientific investigation possible by showing the necessary conditions, including final causality, of one of the scientist’s fundamental presuppositions.

The case of Darwinism is instructive on this point. We might expect a
Darwinist to respond to the Fifth Way by arguing that evolution has done
away with the need for final causes in biology by showing the all
organisms are ultimately reducible to more fundamental biological units
which are selected according to the dictates of external survival
pressures. However, Thomas will simply respond by pointing out that any
such reductionist account presupposes that there are efficient causal
relations, and that such relations presuppose the operation of final
causes. Thus, the Darwinian reductionist begs the question against St.
Thomas, for he assumes exactly what has been called into question,
namely efficient causal relations that are free from teleological
influence.

- The Fifth Way, Scientism, and Intelligent Design, James D. Madden,

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8252



* Design Thesis (DT): The complex processes and organisms we find in nature are not merely accidental, but the products of divine artifice; they are designed in the same sense as we typically think of human artifacts as being designed.

** Providentialist Thesis (PT): God is intelligently involved in every single event that transpires. God is not merely the designer, but also the executor of His plan for the universe (of course in doing so He does allow creatures to co-operate with him).


JayR - #57966

April 13th 2011

Madden’s is a common but mistaken representation of the design arguments of Bill Dembski, Mike Behe, and other design theorists. As Dembski has said many times, his notion of the explanatory filter, with chance, necessity, and design as the jointly exhaustive options, is intended to prevent false positives, but not false negatives. In other words, if some structure can be produced by the gravitational force, say, then we would attribute it to a physical law. But attributing something to a physical law does NOT mean “not designed.” Some structure, such as a bacterial flagellum, may go far beyond the capacities of the law like processes of physics, and may exhibit designed features, but it simply doesn’t follow that the physical processes behind it are not also the result of design. In fact, that’s exactly how most design theorists understand things (including every one with whom I’ve discussed the matter). Design is behind physics, chemistry, and biology. It’s just that most ID proponents dispute the adequacy of physics, chemistry, and the Darwinian “mechanism” to account for biology.


To put it simply, design theorists such as Dembski, Behe, Meyer, Wells, Gonzalez, and yours truly see biological systems as outstripping the capacities of physical regularities, but we don’t treat the properties of physics as unintelligent givens. On the contrary, the properties of physics, including causal properties, also require an explanation in terms of intelligence. So there’s nothing “either/or” in the ID approach. It’s perfectly compatible with design “all the way down.” And in fact, that is precisely the view of every ID theorist who is also a theist (though ID theorists try to avoid smuggling theism into mere ID arguments). If you doubt that, just ask one. I have. Dembski, Meyer, Behe, Gonzalez, for instance, all affirm the Providential Thesis above.


R Hampton - #57389

April 8th 2011

It is perfectly possible for something to be both evolved AND designed
(even “designed to evolve”). Design doesn’t mean “magically poofed into
existence from nothing”.

Now compare that satement with this:

CSI [has] a vanishing probability of
arising guided only by natural laws or random processes. Such systems
can only be the product of deliberate intelligent design.


Gregory - #57415

April 8th 2011

“modern ID proponents, to the extent that they use ID arguments to promote a limited (very limited) natural theology, do not appeal to the beauty of creation to do it.” - Rich

Just fyi: http://www.ameaningfulworld.com/

Here ‘genius’ & ‘beauty’ are both invoked, if memory serves correctly (i didn’t have time to finish it).

It seems the more one is interested in ART in comparison with SCIENCE, the more likely one is to appeal to ‘beauty’.

Scientists haven’t really convinced the world that what they do is ‘beautiful,’ but rather that it can be ‘useful’ to people (this is a more pragmatic approach).


penman - #57528

April 9th 2011

Rich - #57360

“What significant scientist, philosopher or theologian *today* argues that God must exist because the world is so beautiful?”

Before you vanish, Rich….

How about one of the UK’s foremost ID philosophers, Peter Williams?
http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/williams-aesthetic.shtml

I’ll try to paste a quote & hope it comes out okay - if it doesn’t I’ll try again:

“Philosophers rarely advocate arguments from beauty for the
existence of God, and those who do advocate them rarely spend more than a few
paragraphs in their cause. This is so much the case that major critiques of
theistic arguments, such as J.L.Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism, feel no
need to respond to aesthetic arguments. However, the range, subtlety and power
of aesthetic arguments is greater than commonly realized, and they have been
defended by such luminaries as Richard Swinburne, F.R.Tennant and Keith
Ward.”


Gregory - #57541

April 9th 2011

Hi Penman,

The first time I came across ID advocate Peter Williams a few years ago was through his site: http://idpluspeterswilliams.blogspot.com/

I wonder if he’s made any statements or comments about BioLogos anywhere in his writings. If you find something, I’d appreciate if you could post it here.

You might also be interested in this fellow from the Dutch Reformed tradition who studies art & aesthetics (though not sure how much he engages ‘science’ in this dialogue): http://www.icscanada.edu/faculty/lzuidervaart/

Thanks,
Gr.


Rich - #57560

April 9th 2011

Gregory and penman:

Design proponents may from time to time, when they act as Christian apologists (as many of them do, in their non-technical writings), invoke all kinds of arguments for the existence of God, including arguments from the existence of beauty in the world.  But such arguments are not design arguments, in the narrow sense that ID proponents usually mean —unless they claim that the beauty is produced by a detectable design.  In the latter case, the detectable design must be shown in the normal ID manner, and so you really have an argument from design rather than an argument from beauty *as such*.  

Thus, if I argue that sunsets are beautiful, and therefore God must exist, I am not making a design argument in the purportedly scientific ID sense, but only a loose sort of philosophical design argument, resting on the premise that beauty in nature is a sign that nature was created by a wise and loving being.  And a natural phenomenon that one person finds beautiful, another finds ugly, or neutral.  So arguments from beauty don’t have the universal power of design arguments as ID understands the term.  People might disagree about sunsets, but no one disagrees with the statement that a computer is designed, or the pyramids were designed.

However, if I argue that the beauty of the sunset could only have been produced by certain planned features of the electromagnetic spectrum and of the refractive properties of atmospheric gases, then I am making a design argument in the technical ID sense, and the beauty becomes in effect incidental to the argument.  If the argument holds, it wouldn’t matter if someone found sunsets the ugliest thing in the world; sunsets would still be designed.

penman, I concede that the statement of mine which you quoted was too general for my point.  I had written:

“What significant scientist, philosopher or theologian *today* argues that God must exist because the world is so beautiful?”

I should have restricted that statement, as I did in the sentence quoted by Gregory:

“modern ID proponents, to the extent that they use ID arguments to promote a limited (very limited) natural theology, do not appeal to the beauty of creation to do it.”
 
The important words here are “to the extent that they use ID arguments.”  By that I mean mathematical arguments, biochemical arguments, arguments from information theory, etc.  You don’t see an argument from beauty in *Darwin’s Black Box*, *No Free Lunch*, *The Design of Life*, etc.

The column by Dr. Barclay may of course be addressing more than ID proponents, and maybe there are some philosophers these days trying to revive arguments from beauty.  To that extent his complain may be warranted.  But the characteristic arguments of Meyer, Wells, Behe, Dembski, Sternberg, Denton, etc. are not arguments from beauty.  And since the whose series of articles by Dr. Barclay constitutes in part an objection to ID, I think my point is valid.


Unapologetic Catholic - #57693

April 12th 2011

Design proponents may from time to time, when they act as Christian apologists (as many of them do, in their non-technical writings), invoke all kinds of arguments for the existence of God, including arguments from the existence of beauty in the world.  But such arguments are not design arguments, in the narrow sense that ID proponents usually mean —unless they claim that the beauty is produced by a detectable design. “


Discovery Institute fellows Witt and Wiker beg to differ:


http://www.amazon.com/Meaningful-World-Sciences-Reveal-Genius/dp/0830827994


penman - #57766

April 12th 2011

Gregory - #57541

“The first time I came across ID advocate Peter Williams a few years ago was through his site: http://idpluspeterswilliams.blogspot.com/  I
wonder if he’s made any statements or comments about BioLogos anywhere
in his writings. If you find something, I’d appreciate if you could post
it here.”

I haven’t seen anything, Gregory. A search of his site reveals a few positive comments about Francis Collins, but from an ID perspective - viz, Collins isn’t hostile in principle to the view that the first life may have originated by a supernatural act of God, for which Prof Williams commends his open-mindedness.

Williams doesn’t seem to have any ideological problem with the general theory of evolution (common descent with modification over deep time).

BioLogos seems pretty much unknown here in the UK!


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