Origins News Roundup for Friday, February 28, 2014

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February 28, 2014 Tags: Creation & Origins, Earth, Universe & Time, Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by Hannah Birky. You can read more about what we believe here.

Origins News Roundup for Friday, February 28, 2014

This edition of the Origins News Round-up features several recent thoughtful essays on a range of science and faith-related topics. Theologian Roger Olson draws a helpful distinction between “what science cannot explain in principle” and “what science has not yet explained” in this blog post on the idea of “God of the gaps.” An article in Scientific American titled “Is America Evolving on Evolution?” points to differences in acceptance of evolution between older and younger generations in the recent Pew survey. According to the article, the younger generations are more accepting of evolution. An article on First Things explains some of the philosophical criticisms of Intelligent Design, offering insightful thoughts such as, “If an omnipotent God has created nature, one must ask why one should not then posit nature as capable of causing natural events on its own steam rather than requiring intervention.” If you’re looking for a good read on the history and development of science, check out this review of Mario Livio’s Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Freeman Dyson entitled “The Case for Blunders.

In the ongoing search to discover more and more about our world, recent studies of zircon have clued scientists in to what early Earth may have been like 4.1 billion years ago. Live Science reports on the findings and their significance. Midwesterners may enjoy this satellite picture of the Great Lakes , which indicates that about 80% of the bodies of water are currently ice. Physics fans ought to check out these fascinating photos of nuclear reactors. Finally, a Yahoo News article offers a bit of 52-year-old encouragement from astronaut John Glenn: “Exploration and the pursuit of knowledge have always paid dividends in the long run.”

Hannah Birky is a student intern at BioLogos. She is a senior at Bethel College (Indiana) where she majors in Cell and Molecular Biology.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #84622

February 28th 2014

In Livio’s book about scientific blunders he got Darwin’s blunders half right.  He says that Darwin did not understand how Variation worked because he did not understand genetics and heredity.  Right!

However Darwin did not understand Natural Selection either because he accepted Malthusian “Survival of the Fittest” population theory as the basis for this aspect of evolution.  Furthermore this aspect of the theory has not been fixed by a better theory, so it still does not explain evolution properly, which is why it has a aura of magic around it.

What Darwin got right was that evolution is a process of Variation and Natural Selection, not how the process works.  Science and theology need to work on Natural Selection to correct Darwin’s blunder and fix the science which is tearing our world apart.

P.S.  I doubt is Mendel’s choice, if that was a conscious decision, could be called a blunder, but a personal decision that he chose to make.  Likewise, I do not really think that the Serbian tsar chose to sacrifice his army for his own heavenly peace. 

If there are “blunders” caused by religion, they should have found much better examples.    

Hanan D - #84624

February 28th 2014

First Things published this rebuttal to the god of the gaps piece.

Eddie - #84627

February 28th 2014

Thanks for noting that, Hanan.

The article by Meredith was filled with misinformation about Intelligent Design, and also had some philosophical flaws regarding occasionalism and other matters.  Webb’s correction of Meredith was quite pertinent.

For another articulate critique of Meredith, by someone who understands ID much better than Meredith does, I recommend the article by Michael Flannery at

Lou Jost - #84629

March 1st 2014

Flannery approvingly quotes a Christian apologetics encyclopedia which says “Scientists, as scientists need not be so narrow as to believe that nothing can ever count as a miracle. All a scientist needs to hold is the premise that every event has a cause and that the observable universe operates in an orderly way” (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 467). He’s half right here, in the important half for the present argument; but the half he is wrong about comes up often too, and so it needs correction. Scientists don’t need to believe that every event has a cause. Most scientists in fact don’t believe that every event has a cause. Einstein lost that debate with other quantum physicists long ago. “God” does throw dice.

We also don’t need the premise that the observable universe operates in an orderly way. Indeed, much of it is so chaotic that its behavior is hard to call “orderly”. Now the existence of life itself probably requires a certain amount of order in the universe, but this is not something we need to presuppose but rather something we observe.

“Scientists, as scientists,” Norman Geisler explains, “need not be so narrow as to believe that nothing can ever count as a miracle. All a scientist needs to hold is the premise that every event has a cause and that the observable universe operates in an orderly way” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 467) - See more at:
“Scientists, as scientists,” Norman Geisler explains, “need not be so narrow as to believe that nothing can ever count as a miracle. All a scientist needs to hold is the premise that every event has a cause and that the observable universe operates in an orderly way” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 467) - See more at:
“Scientists, as scientists,” Norman Geisler explains, “need not be so narrow as to believe that nothing can ever count as a miracle. All a scientist needs to hold is the premise that every event has a cause and that the observable universe operates in an orderly way” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 467) - See more at:
“Scientists, as scientists,” Norman Geisler explains, “need not be so narrow as to believe that nothing can ever count as a miracle. All a scientist needs to hold is the premise that every event has a cause and that the observable universe operates in an orderly way” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 467) - See more at:

Eddie - #84630

March 1st 2014


My purpose in mentioning Flannery’s article was to indicate some weaknesses in the argument made by Meredith, regarding the definition of ID and occasionalism and so on.  I therefore don’t need to endorse or defend everything that Flannery says.  So I presume you were not finding fault with my remark, but merely taking up something that Flannery said that you found debatable.

The issues you raise are quite large, and I wouldn’t say your responses are fully satisfactory.

On the question whether every event has a cause, I don’t know if your “most scientists” is accurate—have you polled “most scientists” on that question?  Has anyone?  It might be true for “most physicists” (though even there I would like to see hard survey numbers), and I would guess it is true for most quantum physicists.  But, I am told, not all physicists accept the so-called “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum reality, so I think one should be careful not to regard that interpretation as anything more than a current majority view.  In any case, it is debatable that science, as such, can really offer an authoritative opinion on the question.  It seems to me that the most that science, as such, can say is that we have found no evidence of causes for certain quantum phenomena.  To go beyond that, to say (which I know you didn’t, but many scientists and science journalists have) “science has shown that there are uncaused events,” seems to me to be straying into a large metaphysical judgment and invoking the prestige of science to hide its metaphysical character.

On the other point, about the orderliness of nature, I don’t want to quibble over words; I assume that you mean “regularity” or “governance by natural laws” or the like.  You yourself seem to believe very much in natural laws; you constantly criticize miracle stories as requiring the breaking of scores of natural laws.  So I assume that you think of nature as regular or law-bound (at least, at the macroscopic level, whatever may be true at the micro-level), much as I do.

You say that scientists “don’t need the premise” of regularity or orderliness.  Really?  The whole effort of modern science, from Descartes and Galileo onward, is to find regularity or orderliness.  When apparent irregularity shows up, scientists never rest content with that; they seek an underlying order, and they wouldn’t do that unless they were pretty darned confident that such an order existed.  For example, observationally, planetary motion is a complete mess; planets don’t appear to move in a perfect circular fashion across the sky; there is retrograde motion, there are loops, all kinds of funny paths.  But science strove from the time of the Greeks through to the time of Kepler to explain those irregularities in terms of a few simple circular motions or a few simple laws.  That bespeaks confidence that such geometries and such laws actually exist.  

When scientists encounter apparent lack of order, they never say, “Oh, well, that must be one feature of the universe where no regularity applies, so let’s not bother investigating that any further.”  Rather, they take it as an intellectual challenge to find the order underlying the apparent disorder.  Again, they would not do this without confidence that order exists.  The presumption is for order rather than disorder.

Mendeleev etc. would never have completed our modern, refined periodic table if they let observations that seemed to point to zones of disorder influence them.  They tried to find regularity.  When normal oxygen seemed far too heavy, thus messing up the periodic order they thought they had found, they didn’t give up; the insight that it might occur in diatomic molecules allowed them to see the theoretical regularity that was concealed by the empirical irregularity.  Etc.

So when you say, scientists don’t presuppose order but believe in it because they observe it, that is extremely misleading, if not false.  In premodern, prescientific times, all men in all places knew there was a certain amount of order in natural events, but they also figured there was a lot of sheer disorder, arbitrariness, chance, etc.  The success of modern science rests in the fact that it has steadily rejected this intellectual despair, and has incorporated more and more of natural events under lawlike schemes.  And that wasn’t just a matter of observation (you used the word “observe”), or more broadly of lots of empirical diligence.  Empirical diligence by itself produces only Baconian science, i.e., pretty useless science.  But modern science is Galilean, not Baconian—it looks for the order, poses its questions and sets up its experiments with a view to finding an order which is presumed to exist.

Quantum theory may indicate that at the level of the very small, order breaks down; and possibly at the level of the very large (massive black holes, etc.) order breaks down.  But those results were surprising to scientists, precisely because they sought an account of nature in which everything ultimately found its place in an orderly system of laws.  Modern science, from the beginning, presumed order, presumed law—though of course it did not presume any particular order or any particular law.  The latter had to be determined empirically.

So I think your remarks are misleading, at least as regards the history of modern science, and as regards the mind-set of modern scientists—other than those who work at the level of the very small or the very large.  I think the average person who sets out on a scientific career plans on discovering principles of regularity that lie behind the messiness of phenomena.  And I think he or she is pretty confident that, as so much has been reduced to order in the past, so much more will continue to be reduced to order in the future.  And that confidence comes from a belief that the order is there to be discovered.

Lou Jost - #84631

March 1st 2014

Sorry for the weird multiple pastes in my comment above…I was control-V’ing and not seeing anything appear, but the pasted bits were apparently going in, just beyond the bottom border of the comment box.

Eddie, as you noted, my comments were not aimed at yours, but at correcting some things Flannery mentioned. And these were asides, not too relevant to his main argument. But they are important to examine, because they underlie some other debates we have had here.

On the assertion that every event has a cause: The assertion in the article was a universal one, not limited to macroscopic objects. It is possible that many scientists who don’t know much about the subject might say that all events do have causes. But they’d be wrong, at least according to current generally accepted scientific knowledge as documented in textbooks and current articles. Physicists are quite sure that, according to what we know now, certain kinds of events don’t have causes. This is not very controversial, as you can check by looking at textbooks. There are dissenting physicists, but it turns out that there are huge problems with the view that there are causes underlying all quantum events. We can discuss these when the subject is more relevant to a post.

On the questions of the orderliness of nature, my point was that we do not need to assume this, we observe it. Of course, if one looks for order, one is hoping/betting that there is some. But that is not a presupposition. As we look with telescopes back into deep time, we might very well have discovered that the regularities and laws we found on earth did not apply to atoms there; perhaps chaos would reign out towards the limits of observation. This would have been grist for the theoretical mill, not a science-killer. Science works on whatever scraps of order are out there, and can also work quite well with certain kinds of disorder (indeed, complete disorder at certain levels is actually easier to quantify and predict than some kinds of order).

Maybe we are talking about different senses of “presume”. I don’t disagree that that scientists who struggle to find order underlying some phenomena probably feels sure that order is there (else it wouldn’t make sense to struggle so hard to find it). But the actual existence of order is an observational conclusion.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84628

March 1st 2014

Hannah, Eddie, and Hanan,

Thank you for refering me to these articles. 

In some ways it seems that TE’s and IDers are very close, according to this.  They seem to agree that life has order, is designed, but they disagree as to how.

This is a common and important problem.  NeoDarwinists often claim that evolution is governed by chance, even though Darwinism does not claim that Selection is governed by chance.  

ID takes the claims of chance seriously and seeks to show that evolution is not the result of chance.  The problem it has is that it focuses on Variation (as does Darwinism) which is largely indeterminant.

As far as I can tell TE claims that evolution is based on a divine plan, but this is based on a theological and not on a scientific claim.    

The problem here is that no one has seriously examined Darwinian Natural Selection, even though it is based on population theories of Thomas Malthus which have been long rejected by most scientists.  They are faulty for many reasons, but have not been replaced.

The truth is that evolution is a process designed by God which God guides through the obvious tool of Natural Selection. 

 Apparently people are scared off by the word “natural,” which to most means “physical” or without God.  However since God created the physical as well as the rational and the the spiritual, so God can use the physical.

Also by now we should have learned that there is nothing that is purely physical or purely rational, or purely spiritual.  Human beings are physical, rational, and spiritual beings.

Thus God can work through created, that is natural, processes to guide Creation and us through God’s history, which is physical, rational, and spiritual.  People such as Stephen Myers and myself are pointing to ecology as the natural process that God designed and uses.          

Jon Garvey - #84680

March 9th 2014

 ...insightful thoughts such as, “If an omnipotent God has created nature, one must ask why one should not then posit nature as capable of causing natural events on its own steam rather than requiring intervention.”

Eddie has rightly pointed out the rejoinder article in “First Things”, and the fact that this “insight”, like the ridiculous accusation that ID is “occasionalist”, completely misrepresents their position.

But does it not strike anyone else as sad that BioLogos should consider this an “insight” at all, seeing that it is exactly the argument used by the Deist Leibniz against the Theist Newton? Newton replied, through his colleague Samuel Clarke:

“And as those men, who pretend that in an earthly government things may go on perfectly well without the king himself ordering or disposing of any thing, may reasonably be suspected that they would like very well to set the king aside: so, whosoever contends, that the beings of the world can go on without the continual direction of God…his doctrine does in effect tend to exclude God out of the world.”

In other words the question is framed wrong - it has nothing to do with whether God can set up nature to run without intervention like a clock, but whether he would want to, seeing that Scripture presents him as a God both near (immanent) and far off (transcendent). Immanence in nature, as in human affairs, has to do with relationship and loving care - the opposite of the distant Deist technician God.

In any case, that Deist God has been discredited together with scientific determinism, so that now Leibniz’s argument is apparentltly being being used by TEs as some kind of defence of creaturely autonomy. “Nature” (which is what kind of agent, exactly?) causing itself to “run on its own steam” is an incoherent divorcing of the biblical God from the active government of the world, as it is described from Genesis right through to Revelation.

Metaphysically it is the “mere conservationism” condemned by the historic churches from patristic times onward as heterodox. It denies all possibility of real providence in nature - and therefore, equally in your life or my life.

So how is it an “insight”, please?

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