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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 5

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October 8, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 5
Source: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/walter.sargent/public.www/web%20104/20s%20scopes.jpg

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

Historical Comments

No episode in the history of Christianity and science is better known than the Scopes trial. In the swelteringly hot summer of 1925, a rookie teacher named John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee. Scopes was technically a criminal defendant, but everyone knew that the law itself was ultimately on trial—not the man, who wasn’t even sure that he had taught evolution when he had filled in for his principal (the regular biology teacher) during an illness. The real issue was the constitutionality of the Butler Act, a new law that forbade public school teachers “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man had descended from a lower order of animal.” Even Scopes and his lawyers wanted to ensure a conviction, because they needed one in order to put the law on trial in higher courts. Fittingly, by far the most famous moment of the trial did not involve Scopes at all; nor did it take place in the courtroom. On a makeshift stage, constructed outside the courthouse under the trees to accommodate the crowd, Scope’s lawyer Clarence Darrow, a noted agnostic, cross-examined three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who had joined with the fundamentalists to lead a national campaign against teaching evolution and inserted himself onto the prosecution team at Dayton.

No scientific idea has been more controversial among Christians than evolution, and no one hated it more than Bryan. He blamed evolution for many of the great evils of modernity in his eyes—cutthroat, laissez-faire capitalism; class pride and the power of wealth, which could undermine democracy; German militarism and World War One (Bryan even wrote a pacifist pamphlet, part of a collection that included a similar tract by Darrow, his political ally on several matters); and religious skepticism, such as that displayed by Darrow. Above all, Bryan blamed evolution for the kind of liberal Protestant religion called “modernism,” the arch-foe of the “fundamentalism” that had recently arisen specifically in order to “do battle royal for the fundamentals” against liberal forces, in the words of Curtis Laws, the Baptist editor who first used the word “fundamentalist” in print, in July 1920. As far as Bryan was concerned, “theistic evolution” (a term he used himself often) was even worse, functioning as “an anesthetic which deadens the pain while the patient’s religion is being gradually removed,” or “a way-station on the highway that leads from Christian faith to No-God-Land.”

About eighteen months before the Scopes trial, Bryan had invoked a different image to summarize his views on evolution and Christianity, in a letter he sent from Galveston, Texas, to Philadelphia. The recipient was Charles G. Trumbull, editor of the Sunday School Times, a tabloid-style weekly magazine for which Bryan had written a series of articles about the dangers of modernism. Bryan’s articles defended (among other doctrines) the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, and the Bodily Resurrection—all of which were denied by leading modernist clergy. Trumbull was publishing them in a book, Seven Questions in Dispute, accompanied by several cartoons by his in-house artist, Ernest James Pace, which had already appeared in various issues of the magazine. The point of Bryan’s letter was to suggest the theme for a new cartoon, specially drawn for the book. The cartoon would “represent evolution as I believe it to be, [namely,] the cause of modernism and the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the bible.” It would have “three well-dressed modernists,” a student, a minister, and a scientist, all descending a staircase on which “there is no stopping place”—that is, a slippery slope, ending at the bottom with “a scientist stepping from Agnosticism to Atheism.” “Such a cartoon,” Bryan emphasized, “would visualize the thought we are trying to emphasize: the three persons who are most effected by modernism are the student, the preacher who substitutes evolution for religion, and the scientist who prefers guesses to the Word of God.” (Bryan to Trumbull, 31 January 1924, Bryan Papers, General Correspondence, container 40, Library of Congress Manuscript Division)

E. J. Pace, “Descent of the Modernists.” Frontispiece to the book Seven Questions in Dispute by William Jennings Bryan (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924). Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

Incarnational Faith

At that time, with tens of millions of American Protestants caught up in bitterly divisive denominational battles over the Bible and modern knowledge, middle ground on evolution was mighty hard to find. As Pace’s cartoon implies, many modernists accepted evolution while denying the very “vital truths of the Bible” that Bryan had identified, while the fundamentalists all rejected evolution in the name of Christian orthodoxy. One searches in vain for someone like Asa Gray, a leading scientist who had promoted what he called “theistic evolution” simultaneously with affirmations of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in lectures delivered at the Theological School of Yale College in 1880. No one could ever say that evolution led Gray to slide helplessly down Bryan’s staircase. Gray not only held that evolution is “compatible” with Christian faith, he upheld a genuinely Incarnational theology of creation in which Christ was fully divine. “I accept Christianity on its own evidence,” he told the students at Yale, “and I am yet to learn how physical or any other science conflicts with it any more than it conflicts with simple theism. I take it that religion is based on the idea of a Divine Mind revealing himself to intelligent creatures for moral ends.” For Gray, “Revelation culminated … in the advent of a Divine Person, who, being made man, manifested the Divine Nature in union with the human,” and “this manifestation constitutes Christianity.” (Natural Science and Religion, pp. 106 and 108)

Sandro Botticelli, The Cestello Annunciation (1489-90),
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

The Incarnation was for Gray “the crowning miracle,” attended by other miracles that “are not obstacles to belief,” adding that the “essential contents” of Christian faith were “briefly summed up” in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. (p. 108) So much for Bryan’s staircase; Gray never even reached the third step, despite his support for human evolution.

Although Gray apparently had no prominent theological descendants in the Scopes era, they are more numerous today. The most visible example would be John Polkinghorne, whose book The Faith of a Physicist (1996), takes the form of a commentary on the Nicene Creed, which he (like Gray) affirms alongside his acceptance of evolution. Thus, he devotes most of a chapter to exploring “whether the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead is one that is credible for us today.” Along the way he rejects the view associated with Joseph Renan and Rudolf Bultmann “that what happened was [only] a faith event in the minds of the disciples,” placing the source of doubt where it actually belongs—not in science itself, but in the unbridled skepticism of David Hume, to which Polkinghorne shows an appropriate skepticism of his own. Polkinghorne argues that Hume’s “confidence that the laws of nature were known with a certainty that extends even into realms of unprecedented and hitherto unexplored phenomena is one that was certainly falsified by the history of science subsequent to the eighteenth century, and it could never be pressed to dispose of an event like the resurrection of Jesus, which claims to be a particular act of God in a unique circumstance.” (The Faith of a Physicist, pp. 108-109)

This is not a trivial example. As he says in a more recent book, “The resurrection is the pivot on which Christian belief turns. Without it, it seems to me that the story of Jesus’ life and its continuing aftermath is not fully intelligible.” (Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion, p. 83) Indeed, one of the most reliable ways to understand a writer’s basic attitude about science and religion is to study what is said about the Resurrection.

Given his view of the Resurrection, Polkinghorne’s assessment of the larger picture will come as no surprise: “The scientific avenue into theological thinking will seek to give due weight to science, but it would be fatal to allow it to become a scientific take-over bid, affording no more than a religious gloss on a basically naturalistic account.” The crucial question, of course, involves “the degree of accommodation required of the historic faith in its expression in an age of science,” on which “there is a spectrum of response running from assimilation to consonance.” Basically, the assimilationist “seeks the most immediate and accessible correlation between scientific and religious thinking,” and the deity of Christ is set aside. But speaking exactly to the points I outlined for you in my previous two columns, Polkinghorne holds that

The consonantist, on the other hand, while wishing to ensure that theological understanding is consistent with what science tells us about the structure and history of the physical world, will insist that theology is as entitled as science to retain those categories which its experience has demanded that it shall use, however counterintuitive they might be. Jesus Christ will continue to be understood in the incarnational terms. (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 86)

Modernist Heterodoxy

If theologically “orthodox” approaches to evolution were almost invisible in Bryan’s day, “heterodox” approaches were almost ubiquitous, and it was the modernists who were offering them. For a historically significant example, let’s hear from theologian Shailer Mathews, the leading theological educator of his generation. Mathews was Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago for a quarter century, including the whole period of the “fundamentalist-modernist” controversy. Chicago was the hotbed of modernism, and it graduated a large number of doctoral students, who then went and taught at other seminaries or occupied prominent pulpits. Mathews’ colleagues included at least two theologians whose views were at least as radical as his own: Darrow’s close friend, George Burman Foster (Darrow gave the eulogy at Foster’s funeral in 1919), and Gerald Birney Smith, who taught his students that evolution means that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

In his aptly titled autobiography, New Faith for Old (1937), Mathews placed very revealing comments about his overall attitude. An “orthodox” position just would not work for him. Yes, there had been “some scientists like Asa Gray who championed Darwinian evolution while holding to the Nicene Creed,” but Mathews thought they “were not representative churchmen.” For Mathews, modern science had completely changed the intellectual landscape for theology: “Laboratory science did something more than lead to research. It undermined habits of thought and substituted the tentativeness of experiment for authoritative formulas [i.e., the orthodox creeds].” The fundamental problem was educational, that “Scientific method had not touched religious thought. It was only when educational processes had ceased to be controlled by the study of classical literature and grew more contemporary, that orthodox theology was felt to be incompatible with intellectual integrity.” (New Faith for Old, pp. 220-21)

I could easily multiply the examples, but I don’t need to. We can readily connect Mathews’ conclusion about orthodox theology with Ian Barbour’s historical generalization that the modernists “emphasized God’s immanence, often to the virtual exclusion of transcendence, and in some cases God was viewed as a force within a cosmic process that was itself divine.” (Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, p. 74) The attitude displayed by Mathews and his friends—that which is not “scientific” ought not be affirmed by the Christian theologian—would fit perfectly into the intellectual world of today. As process theologian David Ray Griffin has noted, “modern liberal theologies have achieved a reconciliation of science with theology at the expense of its religious content…” (Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts, p. 183, his italics) Thus, when the late Arthur Peacocke spoke of God as “the transcendent, yet immanent, Creator,” he did not mean the maker of heaven and earth who literally became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin and raised bodily from the grave. (Theology for a Scientific Age, pp, 22 and 268-89) Or, when John Haught testified at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, he declined to affirm the historicity of the resurrection: If the disciples had brought a video camera into the upper room, it would not have captured an image of the risen Christ—the camera lacked faith, apparently, and therefore it could not see.

Many of the leading religious voices in the modern “dialogue” of science and religion that has sprung up since the 1960s—including Haught, Barbour, Peacocke, and Griffin—have been intellectual descendants of Mathews and other modernists from the Scopes era, rather than descendants of Gray. This is one of several reasons why Theistic Evolution is so unpopular among traditional Christians: they judge the tree by its fruit, and they taste no transcendence.

However, they need to try more trees before carrying out the induction. Unlike the situation in Bryan’s day, it is no longer hard to find world-class scientists and theologians whose views are much closer to Gray’s than to those of the modernists. Anyone who still thinks that Theistic Evolution is just “a way-station on the highway that leads from Christian faith to No-God-Land” had better think again.

Looking Ahead

I’ll be back in about two weeks, to begin presenting the last of the five views in our series on Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design. My approach will be identical to that taken in every other part of the series. I’ll identify main assumptions, examine implications and conclusions, and sketch the history of the view. Please join us, and in the meantime join in our final conversation about Theistic Evolution.


Edward B. Davis, “Fundamentalist Cartoons, Modernist Pamphlets, and the Religious Image of Science in the Scopes Era,” in Religion and the Culture of Print in Modern America, ed. Charles L. Cohen and Paul S. Boyer (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), pp. 175-198.
James R. Moore, The Future of Science and Belief: Theological Views in the Twentieth Century (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1981).

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Jon Garvey - #73512

October 10th 2012

...as I said previously, people say they are theologians and yet do not believe in God. What a species we are, we humans.

It seems it’s not only the theologians who are confused. A poll accessed on Telic Thoughts suggests that 21% of atheists believe in God, and that more agnostics believe in God than those who are uncertain or don’t know! The explanation is probably something to do with its being an American poll .

Roger Thompson - #73555

October 11th 2012

Don’t be ridiculous. The poll asked, “Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?”

GJDS - #73514

October 10th 2012

Reply to Eddie, #73503 (the reply facility has gone again)

I have read your comments with some care; you are covering a very broad area. Hopefully I can offer a few useful comments to illustrate a point. I understand what you mean by, ‘assuming a given mass of hydrogen and the correct conditions (gravitational pull, diffusivity of hydrogen, and so on), a star would form according to the laws of physics’; your then contrast this to another hypothetical on ‘dropping a cell into an ocean’ and the range of factors that must be considered for life to commence.

On the formation of stars, your notion is that if a given mass of hydrogen were placed in space it would automatically (or certainly) form a star. Scientifically we cannot make this statement with certainty. It may be possible to provide mathematical equations that would assume for a given amount of matter, using a number of assumptions, a hypothesis related to star formation may be examined. It is unlikely the maths would give anything but a result that would enable the physicist to continue his speculations. This is easily understood when we realise currently astrophysics may account for less than 10% of the mass of the know universe in their computations. These matters point to a large uncertainty, rather than regularities and certainties derived form laws of astrophysics. These treatments do rely on regularities that you term laws, such as gravitational attraction amongst other matters, so the mathematical treatments have a reasonably sound basis. This however rarely amounts to clear statements of stars and galaxies that others may take as a basis for a design or teleology. The treatment is totally within the scientific hypothesis the scientist has developed, with the accompanying uncertainty.

On the origin of life, whatever scenario we may contemplate, there are insurmountable barriers to speculation by anyone who may contemplate the origins of life. When we add the extreme complexity of the bio-sphere, it is impossible for scientists to ‘fall back’ on regularities that have been proven in other areas of science (e.g. chemistry and bio-chemistry). This means the uncertainty is far greater than for astrophysics.

These comments suggest the question of design, and teleology, are mute within a scientific context. I hope these comments are helpful.

Eddie - #73516

October 10th 2012


I indicated that I was accepting, for the sake of argument (I used the word “supposedly” to make sure everyone would understand this) the “standard” theory of star formation, i.e., that gravity will eventually pull enough hydrogen atoms together, in a tightly-packed enough mass, to generate the energy necessary to initiate nuclear fusion.  I was not saying that this is the gospel truth about how stars actually form, but was giving it as an example of what people mean when they talk about an entity that is created, not by intelligence, and not by chance, but by natural laws or natural necessity.  This is not the forum to argue about whether or not the standard account of star formation is reliable.  Take it as a handy example frequently discussed in popular science books, and nothing more.

I don’t know why you mention teleology and design in reference to star formation.  I was not suggesting that the formation of a particular star is an example of a process guided by a designing intelligence; I was offering it as a process guided by natural laws or necessity.  (Of course, the general laws themselves may be the product of a designing intelligence, but that wasn’t the point I was making.)

Also, I wasn’t speaking of the origin of life, but of the evolutionary process subsequent to the dropping of an already living cell in the primeval ocean.  But I agree that there is great uncertainty regarding the origin of life.

In your last paragraph, I think you wanted the word “moot”—which for some bizarre reason is often pronounced as “mute,” without any phonetic justification.  As for whether questions of design and teleology are somehow inappropriate within a scientific context, that is true only if one takes a constricted view of natural science as a body of knowledge that deals with efficient causation only.  But there are genuine causes of things that are not efficient, e.g., the plan of the architect is an indispensable cause of the existence of the house, even though the plan is made of neither matter nor energy, but is pure thought.  Unless we can be sure that there is nothing analogous to that operating within (or from beyond) the natural world, we should not rule out intelligence a priori as a possible contributing cause to certain entities and events.

GJDS - #73518

October 10th 2012

Eddie, (reply to 73516)

I will persevere with this in the hope that I will get a clear understanding of the point you wish to make.

We suppose that the theory of star formation is a way of discussing either natural law or that of necessity (without concerning ourselves with the accuracy of the latest astrophysics). By this I am assuming you mean once various causes (or a chain of causality) were in place, natural law would lead to the formation of stars (or perhaps laws and causes may have a similar meaning to you?). Do you have any comment on what causes would be in play that would uniquely lead to stars (even in a general way).  

I am having problems understanding the following:  I was not suggesting that the formation of a particular star is an example of a process guided by a designing intelligence; I was offering it as a process guided by natural laws or necessity.  (Of course, the general laws themselves may be the product of a designing intelligence, but that wasn’t the point I was making.)

I cannot understand your next point; what you would mean by dropping a cell in a primeval ocean, if it does not mean some way to commence life. Perhaps you could elaborate.

On “constricted view of natural science as a body of knowledge that deals with efficient causation only.  But there are genuine causes of things that are not efficient..”  Natural science deals with observations and hypothesis; scientists may often observe regularities in their work and these are often accepted as theories that have a general application in well defined areas. Just what are genuine causes in contradistinction to scientific activities, knowledge and theories?

Having a plan in thought is understood as a human attribute; just how would this be analogous to pure thought? An architect would have many thoughts while designing a house. How do you separate all of his thoughts and identify his ‘pure thought’? Are you suggesting more that an analogy? I cannot understand what you infer by intelligence within or outside of nature (assuming I have begun to understand your statements). Are you saying that we may infer a divine intelligence by analogy?

It is good to be educated Eddie, but it is even better to be able to express yourself with some clarity. Arguing that you understand what you are saying does not make your ambiguities easier to understand.

Eddie - #73532

October 10th 2012


Regarding your last comment, I’m a professional writer, with several articles published in several different venues over the past year.  I’m paid to write.  So somebody thinks I’m a clear writer, even if you don’t.  And I spend an immense amount of time rewriting and polishing my posts before sending them, to get rid of any ambiguities.

Based on your question about the cell in my example, you do not seem to know what a “cell” is.  A “cell” is either a free-standing living organism, or part of a multicellular living organism.  Either way, if one already has a cell, one already has life.  So if I place a cell in the primeval ocean—and given the context, everyone in these discussions would assume I meant a free-standing living organism (e.g., a bacterium)— I am not thereby originating life; I am giving already-existing life a chance to reproduce, and to evolve into new forms.  You are confusing “origin of life” with “origin of new species after life has begun.”  The problem is therefore not with my writing, but with your reading.

As I read your other comments and questions, I find the same pattern.  My writing, upon review, seems clear enough, for anyone with the appropriate background (anyone having studied evolution, creation, and intelligent design in some depth).  I get the strong sense that it is not just my particular words that you are finding hard to follow, but that you are not bringing to my words the background knowledge that I have come to expect of BioLogos readers.  Perhaps you could let me know what background you have in this field?  What subjects did you study at university?  Which works of Darwin have you read through in their entirety?  Which works of Gould, Dawkins, Gaylord Simpson, etc.?  Which works by ID authors?  Which works by TE authors?   Which works in the history and philosophy of science?  Have you read Hume’s discussion of causality, for example?  Aristotle’s discussion of the four causes?  Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions?  If I know what you have and have not not read, perhaps I can adjust my level of discussion to your level of knowledge of the material.  I’ll try my best.    

GJDS - #73538

October 10th 2012

Eddie (#73532)

I now see just what your comments amount to; avoid the topic (stars forming, bacteria or cell plopping into a mythical ocean) and then back to your favourite topic, which is Eddie by Eddie and about Eddie. Meanwhile causation and laws of nature and this pure thought (of course found in many books you read) will be found in the description of Eddie by Eddie, who always knows best.

Eddie - #73540

October 10th 2012


I tried, in 73516, to politely answer your questions with substantive comments and explanation.  You failed to understand several of my answers, and, instead of considering the possibility that the problem might lie in less-than-careful reading or lack of background knowledge on your part, jumped to the attack, complaining about the inadequacy of my prose (which no one here other than you seems to find a problem).  I then gave further clarification on contents (73532), and offered you a chance to provide me with some personal intellectual background, as an aid to my future writing for you.  You have responded with a biting personal attack.  I’m not interested in a conversation partner like that, so you can join several others in my “do not reply” pile.  Good day to you, sir.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73519

October 10th 2012

In a book written not long ago, What Darwin Got Wrong, the authors, who are avowed atheists exposed a dirty little secret, Darwinian Natural Selection is teleological. They pointed out that Nature cannot select because nature cannot think or chose.

Thus the idea that selection is part of the evolutionary process opens the door to the possibility to Supernatural Selection, because God is the only Agent Who is in the position to make such selections. Just by labeling Natural Selection as natural, that is, materialistic does not make it so. Especially since Darwin and his followers have not specified a scientifically proven process that causes Natural Selection.

Dawkins in his Selfish Gene clearly states that while Variation is random, Natural Selection is not. However he fails to indicate how Natural Selection works in a rational non-random manner. Therefore he affirms that Natural Selection acts teleologically, but ignores the teleological process and ignores Natural Selection in his thinking while concentrating on genes and Variation.

Indeed for Darwin Natural Selection is very teleological. For him Natural Selection is the constant “working at the improvement of each organic being.” For others Natural Selection is the struggle for survival. While the survival of the fittest is an inadequate telelogical view, it is still a teleological understanding of evolution.

Therefore teleology is not foreign to our understanding of evolution. In my view as with perhaps the authors of What Darwin Got Wrong, who of course wanted to get rid of teleology, but offered no solution, ther question is what is the telos of evolution.

I would suggest that the telos or purpose of evolution is to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” and eventually “subdue it.”

Jon Garvey - #73521

October 10th 2012


I agree that Darwin’s view of evolution was intrinsically highly teleological because the environment would cause to survive the most perfect of infinitely varying possibilities. That’s what Asa Gray latched on to.

I also agree that there is a hidden, though very limited, teleology within natural selection now - the urge to survive ensures that there’s something survivable to select. The survival of life is hardly the same concept as the creation of what is “very good”, though. Hymns of priase for creation used to be more than “Thank God we’ve survived, at least.”

But modern evolutionary theory gives a far more limited role to natural selection than Darwin did. Eugene Koonin’s summary, to which I’ve referred to before, speaks (for advanced species) of overwhelmingly neutral mutations in small populations swamping the capacities of adaptive selection, selection acting mainly just to purify out the absolutely deleterious forms. Which is another way of saying that any old rubbish survives, but the monsters die.

And the “any old rubbish” is the millions of species including us, replete with a majority of non-functional genes, poor (ie accidental) design, egregious errors, jerry-building, and nasty habits hard-wired in. Any teleology in that scheme is hard to identify. It is certainly a mechanism that underdetermines any desire of the Creator to make, say, a pangolin. Or a human being in his image.

GJDS - #73544

October 10th 2012

Hi Jon,

We agree that we can separate the atheist from the theist; we also agree that Othodoxy (both the traditional and the evangelical kind) that accepts that God is the creator of all that is seen and unseen. Furthemore, we may reason that faith and science need not be in conflict but an both be considered in a reasonable (and through reasoning) manner. This would lead to a final separation, that of YEC with their interpretation of Genesis, from Orthodox and conservative traditions (e.g. Aquinas, Calvin, Augustine and so on).

This leaves us with specific matters that cause concern amongst Christians, mainly dealing with evolution, design, a celestial intelligence, and teleology. These matters are, to varying degrees, are linked to the sciences.

On design, we need to understand how science may discuss some of these issues. On design, for example, science describes structures of great complexity as having spatio-properties, and these are usually dealt with via a sub-discipline of symmetry. Thus the structures of DNA, proteins, enzymes, as well as generally all organic and inorganic molecules, can be fully discussed and understood in this way. So  when someone brings up the question of design, just what is discussed. We may think it is function - the complexity argument can again, be discussed by observing the entities in question, and understand much of this using (I hesitatedly say the laws of- hoping I do not get into another useless exchange) chemistry and bio-chemistry. To then argue that changing the entity by removing a part would prove anything, is sperious reasoning. This argument would be a counter however, to the notion of an endless gradation of changes by an entity (that would be very confused) that has not become fully functional.

I note that design as an aesthetic and reason based proposition has been recognised as valid for many centuries (including Kant). But does science need such a notion? I do not think so.

We are left with intelligence; one of the attributes of God is taught by Othodoxy as all knowing and all wise. I cannot see why this becomes a point of dispute re evolution. Teleology however, like design, is a concept that is dealth with by science - instead of purpose, all reaction patheways are governed by a series of things (oops I nearly said laws) including the energy, entropy, and other factors. So would a mixture of chemicals, or cells, follow a ‘purposeful’ route? You bet they will. Would a scientist use this term? No.

I think it would be useful to reflect on how we use words and terms, and try to think of these when we descuss such widely differing areas of human activity. I had better end this before it all dissapears again.

Jon Garvey - #73522

October 10th 2012

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73527

October 10th 2012


I have made it clear that I do not agree with the details of Darwinism.

Your problem again seems to be that you like modern evolution is bogged down is Variation, when the issue is Natural Selection.

As I have repeatedly tried to pint out there is a very real and scientific filed of study that conteracts this and that is Ecology which is also teleological.

My point is that we are responsible citizens of this century must do more than criticize scientific thought, but point to the possibility of bringing together Evolutionary thought and Ecological thought to create a real Teleological world view that is at least closer the concept of Jesus as the Telos/Logos.

Of course our Scientism friends seem to have a built in bias to exaggerate the make shift nature of evolution.  On the other hand if any one can work through the messiness of nature, God can and not random chance.  Random chance needs to be linear.  Rationality does not have to be.

Jon Garvey - #73528

October 10th 2012

But if the data suggests that natural selection is not doing the heavy lifting of evolution, how does it become the issue, Roger? Are you going to ignore the data?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73529

October 10th 2012

P.S. The fact that DNA is a very complex code indicates that it is a product of intelligence, because matter/energy is illiterate.  

Jon Garvey - #73531

October 10th 2012

Ah, Roger, now we’re on common ground.

And the fact that living things are not only complex, but individually and collectively beautifully formed to maintain both their own lives and the economy of the planet indicates that, Koonin’s summary notwithstanding, it is a product of intelligence, because matter/energy is not wise or provident. “Biology is the study of things that appear to be designed,” as the atheist said.

So that is why one expects BioLogos to be jam packed with articles about the intelligent patterns of the DNA code, and the wisdom of God apparent in biology and ecology throuighout his good creation… oh, but hold on a minute, that’s ID, not TE,  isn’t it?

Eddie - #73535

October 10th 2012

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73537

October 10th 2012

Jon and Eddie,

Calm down.  BioLogos should not be a booster of one point of view, but a place where persons with differing views can talk and discuss. 

What I am talking about is based on reconciliation of ideas and disciplines.  Reconciliation requires that people are willing to compromise, give up what is unimportant to gain and protect that which is important. 

The integrity of science, philosophy, and theology are important and must be maintained.  Misunderstandings about the character of reality, bad theology, and inaccurate science are what we need to give up. 

We need a win, win, win situation and attitude.  That is the way God works, not a I win you lose, which is the basis of the problem.   


Jon Garvey - #73576

October 12th 2012

Roger, I’m calm as a mill pond.

God’s reconciliation does not depend on compromise, but resolution.

Politicians compromise, by weasel words, diluting the truth, aiming at votes rather than long term solutions and so on.

Resolvers take the harder path of hammering away at specific mistakes, correcting category errors, recognising hidden worldview assumptions etc. They seldom win elections but benefit everyone down the line. One example would be the difference between Chamberlain compromising with Mr Hitler for “peace in our time”, and the out-of-step Churchill calling for resolve - millions of lives might have been spared had he been heeded.

A better one would be the way that, in Christ’s passion, both justice and mercy were fully satisfied, without compromising either.

On specifics. GJDS has pointed out below how the devil of both variation and natural selection is in the detail. Darwin spoke in plausible generalities, but 150 years on we have to ask whether natural selection is anything more than a tautology, and if so what exactly is it, and how is it quantified? We have to ask whether, if it only means that the very unfittest fail, and a multitude of mediocre forms survive, it can achieve the “endless forms most beautful” Darwin supposed it could.

If it can’t do so, then it can’t be the sole means God uses to create.

GJDS - #73543

October 10th 2012

Eddie (reply to #73540)

I will be happy to join the growing list of those who find your waffling intolerable and will not respond to you, and hopefully you will stick to your decision of not responding to me. Meanwhile, you should consult the Oxford Dictionary on the meaning of “mute” and “moot”

Eddie - #73548

October 11th 2012

Neither “mute” nor “moot” works well in your sentence as you have written it.  “Mute” might be acceptable for the point you were trying to get across, but if that’s what you meant, your syntax is awkward and confusing.  “Moot,” as commonly used, would work in your sentence, though the common usage does not reflect the real meaning of the word.  I inferred that you were trying for the common, inexact meaning of “moot,” and misspelled it as “mute” because that is how many people in North America pronounce it (“myoot”).  (The Oxford English Dictionary—the full-sized version—indicates that “myoot” is not the correct pronunciation, but I inferred that you were going with the flow.)

You can’t credibly accuse me of “waffling”—my discussions here are very pointed and forceful, with crystal-clear thesis statements, backed up by organized sets of paragraphs which defend the thesis.  The problem is not that I am waffling; the problem is that you do not understand the points that I am making.  And I think I already identified the reason for that, and offered you my assistance, but you aren’t interested in my assistance, so I will be quite pleased to leave you on your own.  

I replied to you this time only out of a sense of obligation, because you directly addressed me and asked me for clarification.  I had a sense that any attempt to respond to you would not turn out well, and I was right.  I will not let any sense of obligation misguide me a second time.  Good-bye.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73551

October 11th 2012


I am not ignoring the data concerning natural selection. 

People say that genetic drift goes around natural selection, but that is only because it is neutral, that is neither harmful or helpful.  Neutral genetic drift does not deny Natural selection, it affirms it because NS selects it in because it makes not significant difference in viability of the life form.

Natural Selection is hard to judge in terms of data, because it either selects in or out.  We can see what it selects in, which by definition is all existing organisms.  We really cannot know the changes it selects out, because they do not exist.   

GJDS - #73559

October 11th 2012

Hi Roger,

It is worth remebering that science cannot accept a hypothesis, let alone a theory, if it cannot be tested fully, in terms of it will do this, and it won’t do that. Thus your comment, “Natural Selection is hard to judge in terms of data, because it either selects in or out.  We can see what it selects in, which by definition is all existing organisms.  We really cannot know the changes it selects out, because they do not exist.” ...  if taken at face value, amounts to a conclusion that natural selection is fiction.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73563

October 11th 2012


To some extent you are right.  Karl Popper criticized Darwinian Natural Selection on this very point, it is a tautology. 

The question is What causes, and what are the criteria for Natural Selection?  Darwin, Dawkins & Co. have not really been able to specify them.  That is where ecology comes in and gives Natural Selection purpose and content. 

In a sense we know that change happens, caused by Variation.  However evolutionary science has failed to identify specifically why some changes improve the chances of survival and others do not.  We knew something was happening, but not how or why. 

This perhaps is the reason why there is something akin to religious about evolutionism.  It is accepted on faith.  What we need to do is take the religion out of science, that is both Scientism and Creationism and replace it with solid science , while at the same time rebuilding philsophy as a solid basis for doing theology and science and as firewall between them.     

GJDS - #73566

October 11th 2012


It is difficult to know how to respond to this type of reasoning; theistic evolutionists (I assume this is a correct decription for yourself and others such as Eddie), when presenting their reasoning, go around in circles, but instead of accepting their case as ambiguous and their understanding of science as very poor, they decide that everything elese must change. I suggest the changes needed are in this theistic evolution, in that ot has little, if any idea, of what science is.

The theory of evolution has changed dramatically over the last 100 years or more, because it has been inadequate in dealing with its subject matter. The science that has been practiced (as is the case with all of the sciences) has been burdened with this inadequate overview. This is not remedied by ‘changes in philosophy’ (an even more ambiguous phrase than TE), and certainly not by the non-sence that poses as theology in this area. The change will be the thinking of scientists practicing in this area.

Since so much focus has been on Genesis, I am reminded of another section in this book, which discusses peoples who had decided they would build their way to the heavens; instead they ended up as a confused and confusing rabble.

Jon Garvey - #73575

October 12th 2012

Hi GJDS @ #73544 - I’m not allowed to paste into the in-line window, and for some reason I couldn’t post at all yesterday. Sigh.

We are left with intelligence…

The cause-and-effect processes of natural science are not a complete match for the teleological goals of intelligence. For example, a physical account of the manufacture of a book or painting will completely omit that which is most significant about them, ie their purpose and meaning. These are not epiphenomena - one cannot say, “I see the same book and painting as you - I just don’t happen to believe they have a goal” without being a fool.

Yet the artist’s intention is instantiated without any departure from the natural order: the physicist’s account is true, but almost entirely useless because it excludes not only the acknowledgement of the intelligent agent, but the use to which the artifact should be put. If you can’t read a book it may as well be a block of wood.

Aquinas dealt with this in a commonsense way by saying that the rational order in nature is axiomatically God’s work, whatever secondary cause produces it. Paley said much the same, though they are seldom put in the same camp.

Just as Aquinas’ “order” has now been codified into “natural law”, and his “chance” into statistically investigable “randomness”, so his instinctive bridge between the cause-and-effect account and the teleological account (or in his terminology between efficient causes and final cause) could now be formalised as information, which you don’t mention, and which can at least partly be approached by the scientific discipline of information theory. For the most part, information theory has failed to come up with a rigorous concept of how one can identify “meaningful information”, yet this is undoubtedly an objective reality in the case of “War and Peace” or “La Gioconda”. Physical science fails adequately to explain both those artifacts by cause-and-effect alone.

Darwin and his successors tried to show a complete physical explanation that would dispense with a teleology of life, but even if they succeeded in identifying such a process (which is open to much question, as you have pointed out) they would no more have excluded detailed intelligent purpose than in the case of an artistic product. Because information is the key, and has not been accounted for adequately by cause-and-effect.

So either natural science is missing a trick on the tools it needs in information theory, or else information is a completely unique, non-physical yet solidly real, category but beyond the limited (and therefore inadequate) purview of physical science. If scientists offload the question of information to the fields of philosophy or theology, that’s fine, so long as they acknowledge that those fields are not merely subjective and optional, but that their own methodology has a yawning gap which they are intrinsically unable to fill.

Since theistic evolution aims to bridge science and theology, information should be pretty central to its concerns, it seems to me.

PNG - #73578

October 12th 2012


For some reason I couldn’t post for most of the summer. Maybe even if there is not law of “conservation of information,” the software is practising “conservation of participant number” or some version of musical commenter chairs.

Jon Garvey - #73581

October 12th 2012

Ah software! 90% viral junk, as any fule gno. It’s amazing it ever works at all.

GJDS - #73583

October 12th 2012

Hi Jon (third try lucky?!)

You make interesting and valid points. I agree the central issue (as far as science is concerned) is that of scientists setting limits to their pronouncements, especially when they try to influence the public regarding issues that are religious (and to a lesser degree, philosophical). By science, I mean the natural sciences. I also would like to see theologians perform their tasks, instead of becoming socio-political commentators who simply muddy the water when it comes to matters of the Faith. However these people (e.g. Dawkins and liberal theologians) will not acknowledge their limitations, and thus the jumble; my interest is to delineate between the information the natural sciences, from that of opinion in the public arena, and of personal beliefs. Then conversations may commence with some clarity, and an understanding of various positions and outlooks. Our beliefs and faith positions are influenced by our traditions, upbringing, and the faith that we have personally embraced, so we cannot be truly clinical in such an endeavour.

 If we identify the categories of knowledge and seek a mega-system of information, it may be theoretically possible to arrive at a means by which we may communicate across the various divides of philosophy, social and psychological sciences, natural sciences and theology (although I suspect even then politics will come in and destroy any clarity such a project may achieve). I cannot identify theistic evolution (TE) as the project that would provide a systems information paradigm. To me, TE is stuck with a false premise, in that it seeks to show how God went about creating life on this planet. Instead, this may be attempted by a project something along the lines of ‘seeking commonality amongst human beings on purposes and meaning(s) of human existence, and the well being of humanity and the planet, using the tools of the sciences, technology, philosophy and theology’ (not a good slogan or label). It would truly be a mega-project!


I have taken a quick look at material by Aquinas and I cannot find any difficulty when placed over the activities of the natural sciences. However, it would be problematic to re-read him within the context of scientific activity, including evolution. In short, I think he shows how reason can provide a sufficiency when we consider ourselves and the creation. His notion of order and chance fit in well even with common sense, in that human beings can live and act in the world with reason and faith. Scientist may use terms like stochastic treatments and correlation coefficients when considering events that appear random to us, but that can easily be seen as understanding order at varying levels. Chance and randomness in the strictest sense (i.e. totally unpredictable and opaque to any rational treatment) is a very difficult concept – quantum uncertainty simply points to an inability to obtain all information for quantum events at the same instant. ... continued

GJDS - #73584

October 12th 2012

cintinued ..... The randomness of evolution has been exaggerated, and as the article by Koonin (your link) shows, a great deal of the thinking of evolutionists is questioned and (pun intended) continues to evolve.

Thus we are left with the time-honoured subject of determinism and free will. Just how purposeful is a human being, and how much purpose can we discover in the world and our lives? The inference is that purpose is inexorably linked to intelligence, and with that, we would see design and meaning. All of this from evolution? I think not, even though in a perverse sense atheists are desperately trying to come to this end – even if it means using evolution to show everything is without purpose, without intelligence, and without design etc., i.e. fantastically and unscientifically random. All we understand, they say, is an emergent property of matter. We may see in this an underhanded attempt to drag in Aristotle with his thinking of substance and properties. 

You state, “The cause-and-effect processes of natural science are not a complete match for the teleological goals of intelligence.”

This is an insightful comment, and I do not think that any scientist believes cause-and-effect processes were a complete match for the teleological goals of intelligence; indeed I rarely use such terms in my work. I usually look at data, after I have determined the purpose of the experiment or research program. Thus teleology is an indication of the purpose(s) of the scientist in performing his work; it is problematic to impart such an attribute to the objects of scientific work. The intelligence in all of this is clearly that of the scientist.

Just what activity would you suggest that would enable human beings to identify teleological goals of intelligence beyond that of human beings? By this I mean an identifiable intelligence that is not based on faith, but on information. You can choose any field of human endeavour to answer this question.

Paley describes an object, and infers a designer by analogy; his inference is derived from understanding the activities of human beings. I have not had a close look at Aquinas recently, and you can correct me if I am wrong, but I think he uses reason to arrive at his five ways, along with a lot of heavy theology and more than a dash of Aristotle’s philosophy in his system. For the natural sciences to add information to these matters, we need someone to devise an approach to formulate the questions, and a way to arrive at the possible answers.

I have indicated the certainty that scientific endeavour/information has provided regarding the Universe, and how this agrees with Faith that God is the creator of things seen and unseen. Those activities of natural science that are subject to scientific uncertainty do not qualify for this – this is not a problem or a failure in science, nor one of Philosophy of Science, but the reality of scientific endeavour.

I am cutting and pasting this, but from previous experience, the web page may still give me trouble, so I will not test my luck, and stop now.

Jon Garvey - #73589

October 12th 2012

Just what activity would you suggest that would enable human beings to identify teleological goals of intelligence beyond that of human beings? By this I mean an identifiable intelligence that is not based on faith, but on information. You can choose any field of human endeavour to answer this question.

First, of course most science is legitimately concerned with cause and effect, especially in applied research. So my main concern was not to suggest scientists should, for example, work on what pitchblende is for, but rather to guard against the mindset that things have no purpose because scientific methods can’t see them (hence the human examples, where everybody knows they have purpose, but information theory still cannot describe it.

Your words, quoted, actually don’t include “scientifically identify”, which makes life easy: I firmly believe we have an innate human capacity to identify intelligent workmanship, which is why we see design everywhere we look, especially in life but including the recognition that cosmic fine tuning has purpose. That’s why Dawkins reminds his readers constantly to tell themselves things are not designed. What we see is, to put it formally, the informational content: highly contingent and complex, and yet serving a purpose or function. Yockey, Dembski and a bunch of others say broadly similar things about it.

A specific instance of this is the old chestnut of the semantic coding in DNA, which requires a great deal of explanation, so far lamentably unsuccessful, to explain its origin without intelligence.

GJDS - #73601

October 12th 2012

Jon (#73589)

I firmly believe we have an innate human capacity to identify intelligent workmanship, which is why we see design everywhere we look, especially in life but including the recognition that cosmic fine tuning has purpose.

Innate human capacity, human reason, human intuition .... whatever term we wish to use, it ends up saying the same thing, Off course we see order, design, beauty, elegance, intelligence, in the creation. As I have indicated before, one human being will believe, this, and another will not.

I have stated previously that we human beings are the biggest ‘answer’ to questions/discussions on these matters, because we do not ‘evolve’ in some Darwinian/Dawkian sense. Indeed, we defy nature itself - which is about as anti-Darwinian evolutionary as it gets.

What we see is, to put it formally, the informational content: highly contingent and complex, and yet serving a purpose or function.

We can see this in any scientific activity we choose - a general mathematical expression, for example, is that x is a function of y; also, geometry, discription of every molecule that constitutes the entire planet ... I could go on; all conform to this statement. But these matters must conform to human common and good sense. It is here that we find ourselves in trouble. For example, the DNA code has been described as both the ‘language of God’ and as a vast algorithm, or like a software package containing enormous information etc., with most of it ‘junk’. Yet anyone who has produced and worked with complex software packages will tell you that even a few lines of ‘junk’ in a program will render the entire package inoperable. Common sense would say, yes, to the analogy and a human being would reconsider such language by saying an intelligence has produced it! Intellectual perversity would say, no, we want the analogy and we also want to believe it is junk! Coomon sense would say, an intelligent being created the DNA because its content clearly points to this. Intellectual peversity would deny this with a responce, “Prove it!?” We may say, “Prove what. We are pointing to what is obvious.” And so the story continues.

The biggest mistake is to believe that we can conscript science in activities which are derived from human differences and beliefs.

Jon Garvey - #73610

October 13th 2012


Quite agree. I forgot to add that invariably teleology slips into science by the back door. Methodological naturalism must, legitinmately, exclude purpose, and work only by cause and effect.

Yet as soon as you use the word “junk” you’ve accepted purpose, and a departure from it - you’ve gone beyond “A caused B” to “A should have caused (B - junk).” The same goes whenever words like “function”, “error”, “defective”, “require”, “necessary”, “pseudo-” etc. All these presuppose an “ideal”, or norm which cause-effect language cannot justify.

If it’s justified on the basis that these words relate to survival or reproduction, then those too are teleological goals inconsistent with one’s purported naturalism.

That’s especially so in sciences like my own medicine, where “correction” is the entire business in hand. Much of the science is to define “health” even though it is never actually fully observed (all that junk DNA etc).

But Ed Feser points out that teleology is hidden in every causal chain. For example, the water cycle actually makes cause and effect sense only if the “goal” is the recycling of oceans. Otherwise you might as well say evaporation causes cooling, cooling causes shivering, shivering causes spilt milk, spilt milk causes stray cats to gather, etc. Every time we describe even an inanimate process, it contains hidden, but real, goals (aka final causes) - the water cycle is not merely a human goal imposed on the world, but a real thing that keeps it working (another teleological word).

GJDS - #73614

October 13th 2012

Jon, (I hope this window last longer this time).. to continue, and in light of your post to Merv…

I wonder if we are speaking about the same thing and using different words. By this, I mean that I use the term, useful research/science, whereas you say teleological(?). Often research is described as ‘curiosity driven’ or ‘functionally (applied) driven’. In bio-activities, the former is obviously ideologically riddled, and people are more interested in proving some forsaken point, while in the latter it is mostly problem orientated, especially in things such as climate change and medicine. I use terms such as hubris for the former, because many of these people believe themselves as self-justified - they are doing pure knowledge and without them science would die, and so on. Instead, many do work that is often shown to be of of little value, such as Dawkins and his selfish gene. However they are very strong politically and can garner opinion and support by clever self-advertising. 

Now on cause and effect as you discuss - I think I would see it as either (b) defining a problem and using science to find a solution (i.e. purposeful science), or (b) a way of viewing nature as a system which is defined by a causal chain. On (a) I can agree, on (b), however, when discussed within NT or TE, it misses the point. By saying God created out of nothing, and relying on science to show how exact (constants) the creation is, we mean God created a specific thing. That is totally teleological in a theological sense… but only in that sense.

Another way I reason this is to contemplate nothingness - a very difficult concept in toto, but a ‘dense’ analysis leads us, within a theistic view, to a necessity that God creates (out of nothing) and must therefore sustain. An alternate wording is the Universe is phenomena to us (sensible and intelligible) that is based on real (God given reality) entities and that is why it is strictly this universe.

The window has lasted this long and I feel as if I done something great as I have beaten this machine (this time).

GJDS - #73612

October 13th 2012

Jon (this post may survive?)

It is an interesting way to view cause and effect, and I have not thought of it in this way .... teleology is hidden in every causal chain. For example, the water cycle actually makes cause and effect sense only if the “goal” is the recycling of oceans. Otherwise you might as well say evaporation causes cooling, cooling ..... I would see this as a system which contains a sub-system (for the sake of this discussion) of ocean evaporation etc. All of this is understood by consdiering factors such as heat from the sun, surface area of water, etc etc… with the correct data we would then understand ocean currentls, cloud formation, rainfall and other properties.

Your suggestion points to some type of some type of ideal or imagined state to which a natural system is either driven to, or is assessed by the observer. In this way, we may say it is approaching this, or it needs to be corrected, or some functional language, in support of a pre-concieved end result. Is this a fair response to your suggestion?

I do not think that MN is science per se, but an odd way to discuss the scientific method. It may more broadly be seen as a commitment in the sense that people believe MN would supply all knowledge, information and belief people want from nature (another version of NT). This window is acting up so I will log out now.

Jon Garvey - #73620

October 13th 2012


I’m afraid I’m again drawing on Aquinas to an extent ... but usefully, because he focuses one’s attention on the obvious. “System” itself is, in most definitions, a teleological word. A pile of junk is not a system - a  computer chain, or a method of filing, or music on a stave, or weather, is, because it does something useful: it has meaning.

A river flowing into the sea is an event, and not of great interest. It’s simply what happened next, cause and effect. A river continuing to flow into the sea because of the water-cycle is a true system, and responsible for planetary landscaping, sustaining life, working mills etc. It is “why the world has the order we see.”

Aquinas’ actual view of “final cause” (teleology) is simply “that to which the nature of a thing tends”, so is broader than the theistic or “intentionality” discussion we’ve been having - but it actually presupposes it (why is it the nature of buried trees to form coal? etc).

But the point is that these “goals” are not imagined or ideal: the water cycle would be vital for the survival of the earth even if we weren’t around to watch it. True, there is also a real evaporation-cooling-shivering-milk-spilling-cat-gathering cycle (though it’s too Heath Robinson and rare to be of much interest. Nobody would say “Water evaporates in order to gather cats”).

The point is that if our science, whether theoretical or applied, is discovering systems in nature it is either (a) finding out something true about the world - ie that it has teleology inbuilt or (b) arbitarily imposing invented human patterns on it, which makes it to do with art, not knowldege.

GJDS - #73647

October 13th 2012

 Beaglelady # 73646

I am assuming the term means code that has become ‘junk’. Commenting removes lines from the software code that is unwanted(obviously a lazy way out for a programer, as she should remove the unwanted lines). Otherwise, commenting that I have used, simply adds comments to inform on reasons and purpose for that section of the code. 

beaglelady - #73646

October 13th 2012

 Yet anyone who has produced and worked with complex software packages will tell you that even a few lines of ‘junk’ in a program will render the entire package inoperable.

If the code is commented out it doesn’t affect anything, no matter how much you have commented out! That said,  only a very sloppy programmer would let commented out code  accumulate forever.  Human developers regularly clean up their code, or come out with completely new releases.  For example, MicroSoft’s ASP.NET, which replaced MicroSoft’s classic ASP, is a complete rewrite.  



Roger A. Sawtelle - #73586

October 12th 2012


Thank you for your response. 

We see things very differently.  This could well be because we come from two different Christian traditions.  I just want to say that I am responding to the modern point of view of Richard Dawkins and Jacques Monod and I think my response is an appriate Chritan response to this point of view.

I do think that your bringing up the Tower of Babel is an appropriate topic of discussion.  I would say that the Babel event teaches the same lesson as the Fall.  Humans must do things God’s way or it wouldn’t work. 

The people of Babel wanted to build a great city and go to heaven.  Fine, but they did it the wrong way and God confused their language and scattered them.  It seems to me that at Pentecost God reversed that curse. 

At Pentecost God enabled people of many nations and languages to hear the Gospel in their own tongue.  With due respect to our Pentecostal friends this was a real miracle, but the miracle was not in the speaking in tongues, but the hearing in tongues.  This spiritual, human miracle is more significant than the more vaunted physical miracles. 

Pentecost demonstrates that God does not want people to be divided, but the source of unity must be the right one, faith in God and love for others.

The original couple wanted to have the knowldge of good and evil, which was not wrong, but they did it the wrong way for the wrong reasons and therefore sin and death came into the world.  Jesus the Logos and Savior came to give humans victory over sin and death, thus reversing the curse of original sin.    

Again God gives us what we need when we follow God’s Way and not our own. 

Yes, Scientism sees itself building a Tower of Babel, a stairway to Heaven.  First of all we must say that the fruits of science in terms of medicine and technology are great blessings to humankind, but these are made possible by God through Jesus Christ the Logos, not by human random effort.

Second, we must state, which I try to do when possible but feel I get little support from others, true fulfillment, peace, and joy do not come from sceince, but from positive human relationships, which natural science does not begin to address.

Third, Christianity is not against science, but Christianity, science, and philosophy must be in proper relationship, just as the body, mind, and spirit must be in right relationship, before humans as individuals or collectively can work together to best advantage.     

We ned to work together, but it is hard without some common understanding of how the world works.  That is why I have tried to discuss three different world views, monism, dualism, and triune view.  Now humans are divided between monism and defacto dualism.  I based on a Trinitarian Christian understanding of Reality think that a trune view can reconcile both, enabling all persons to do things God’s Way, rather than our way.         

GJDS - #73602

October 12th 2012


In general terms on peace and happiness we tend to agree; on specifics and how to arrive at world views, I think there is a great deal of difference. I have stated many times that I do not see a conflict between Faith and Science, so I cannot see how your statement of ‘Christianity is not (or is) against science’ is relevant to my discussion.

There is clear dissagreement on your version of evolution - however, each of us has a right to our individual opinion. However, I need to confess that I cannot see your “trinitarian Christian understanding of Reality’ as having any substance or relevance to discussions on TE. Consequently I do not see a need to discuss it with you. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73591

October 12th 2012

GJDS, Jon, and Eddie,

In terms of teleology the prime example today is the Anthropic Principle, which strongly implies telos.

I read on place that the AP was not good science because it was speculative and did not lead to addition discoveries.  Then I read that the AP did lead to new discoveries and indeed the AP had been used as part of the theory behind the Multiverse Theory.

One article clearly stated humns has a Choice between a Fine Tuning God or a Multiverse.  Of course the Multiverse Theory has not been verified and probably cannot be verified.  The facts behind the AP have.  In my opinion this teleology is evidence for the existence of a Creator God, but not undeniable proof. 

Also in my opinion the fact that the universe is a cosmos, not a chaos, is evidence for the existence of the role of the Logos in forming the universe, rather than a humungous number of failed universes before ours came into existence. 

Also in my opinion the fact that the universe is a universe, a unified diversity, is evidence that the universe is a triune, or one/complex entity, verifying my view that we need a triune understanding of reality as well as God.       

Jon Garvey - #73592

October 12th 2012

Roger, the apparent contradiction in your second paragraph is the difference between the “strong” anthropic principle, ie that the Universe is heavily loaded in favour of our being here, and the “weak” anthropic principle, which essentially tries to defuse it by saying it has to look special to us, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to comment.

Hence the projection of the so called principle of indifference (we ain’t special because we’re just a small rock in space) to the multiverse: if there are infinite numbers of universes one that produces us is no big deal.

But as someone pointed out, since everything’s possible that makes it entirely likely that ours is the one Universe created by an ominipotent being who also rules the other Universes, just as we always believed.

Far more parsimonious to believe in the Universe we can detect, and a cause we can begin to understand - the Multiverse is just a modern Creation myth with little predictive power.

Merv - #73595

October 12th 2012

Eddie, I finally did get your other two extensive replies replied to, but you’ll have to go back to the first page to find them just after what you wrote.    Did this over my lunch break—so we’ll see if my hurried thoughts amounted to anything ...


Eddie - #73598

October 12th 2012

Thanks, Merv.  I’ve replied in the appropriate spots.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73599

October 12th 2012


Of course I basically agree with you.  That is why I did not say that the Anthropic Principle proves the existence of the Creator, but is evidence of that reality.

The AP does clearly indicate that our universe was created with the conditions necessary for the existence of life and perhaps on other worlds besides our own.  It is certainly special and unique because it seems that there is only a one in 10 to the 500th billion power chance that these precise conditions would exist. 

Of course because this is our home we would consider it special, and that does that prove anything.  The universe is special because Life is special and meaningful and only the extremely foolish would deny this.  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” or life is without meaning or purpose.  There are no two ways about it, no God, no Meaning, and no Meaning, No God.         

Jon Garvey - #73611

October 13th 2012

Quite right, Roger - see my last post to GJDS, above.

Merv - #73603

October 12th 2012

You ask if I’m willing to go to my grave not having committed to whether living systems are designed.  I should be clear on this at least:  I will go to my grave not knowing a lot of things regardless of my level of comfort with that.  But on this issue of design of living things, I feel no pressure to be in a hurry since I already, as a Christian, have an a priori commitment that whole of creation (chance, necessity, from roses  to disease-carrying mosquitoes) are all products of God’s design no matter what direct or law-mediated processes God used.  So from my faith perspective I feel no pressure whatsoever to show anything scientifically.  To me science is a corner of reality which is useful to apprehend certain regularities about our physical existence and it *should* be taken for granted by nearly everyone with a wit of sense that much of what we think about life or God in general stems from commitments we have outside of this scientific realm.  You seem to be determined to demonstrate this very fact to the hoard of evolutionary biologists and life scientists who you see as claiming the mantle of materialistic science as a justification for their every philosophical commitment.  I agree with you that they need to pull their heads out of that philosophical sand and take a real look at themselves.  Perhaps I just don’t exude as much zeal or optimism about pursuing that mission. 


So you should gather by now that the design I refer to when saying I’m still open to finding mechanisms of necessity or chance is the big ‘D’ design where science demonstrates (or has already demonstrated) that that is the best explanation for the data.  As far as small ‘d’ design where God guarantees what He wants *somehow* by the regularities of nature and chance, then I’m already there.  But back on the stronger Design inference:  You challenge us to commit based on data *today* and not on a commitment to some possible future data.  Okay –fine:  so if I would commit today to saying that *D*esign is the best explanation for how DNA came to be, then I have made a commitment … but to what?  Does the investigation stop there?  Just what have we explained?  We would have concluded that an intelligent agency contrived this for its own purposes.  That may well be an explanation – but is it all that science can look for?  Could science look further?  Our banking on future continued discoveries is not just a gamble out of the blue; we have so much historical inertia to consider.  How much have we explained now that would once have just been chalked up as design?  Things you blithely refer to as mere mechanics of necessity (i.e. obviously not needing any to invoke any Design hypothesis whatsoever) such as planetary orbits or particles condensing into stars would did at one time command the awe of everyone as obviously the work of God and God alone.   More recently ‘life’ or vital substances themselves were opaque to scrutiny (before microscopes or knowledge of the cell) and so that was God’s domain.  …and on we hike down the well worn path of the gaps argument.  Do you insist that all this historical precedent be entirely disregarded as we ponder what may be around the next corner? 


Merv - #73604

October 12th 2012


Now let me be clear:  I don’t for one moment claim that “all things always go on as they always have…” yada yada repeating Hume’s error and ignoring the apostle Peter’s admonition regarding the mockers of his day.  I believe singularities, miracles, and all manner of things punctuate our past and present for God’s purposes.  But science can’t get any grip on those things other than to (if they happen to catch one in the camera, so to speak) note that ‘xyz’ happened and we’re puzzled by it.  There is no regularity or repeatability to study in such a case.  That’s why I am a skeptic that science (in the modest and limited sense I use the word) will be able to get a handle on that thing we call Design.  I’m fine with concluding that something is designed (I already have).  But I’m puzzled as to where to go with such a conclusion scientifically unless just to stop there, conclusion in hand and announce that science has reached a final ruling on the phenomenon in question – no more investigation necessary.  We can call it science –I’m fine with that; science in its broadest form is, after all, the pursuit of any and all knowledge.  But what some of these biologists who most inspire your ire take as science more narrowly defined (empirical, repeatability, quantifiable, etc.) …what so many loosely call modern science … within that realm, I’m curious what role you see for the desired Design conclusion, if indeed it is anything other than a conclusion?





Eddie - #73605

October 12th 2012


Thanks again.

I’m not claiming any finality for any design inference.  I’m saying that there is nothing wrong with design inferences expressed with proper tentativeness.

Look, someone may see a diamond pattern of frost on a window and say, “Only an intelligence could have produced that pattern,” and then someone may show the person facts about the geometry of ice crystals etc., and the person may withdraw the hypothesis and admit that natural laws, not intelligent design, provide a full and satisfying explanation for the pattern.  I have no problem with disproofs of design of that sort.  I think all claims of design are revisable—indeed, all scientific claims of any kind should be revisable, though you wouldn’t think that if you listened to AGW proponents or Darwinian evolutionists.    

So I look at the Pyramids, and I say, “chance plus necessity would not have produced such structures.”  That’s a tentative inference; it is revisable.  If one day we find pyramids in the Gobi Desert that were in fact formed by blowing sand and baking heat, then the inference is clearly faulty.  But I doubt that you or any TE thinks that the inference is very doubtful.  The same could be said for Stonehenge, Mt. Rushmore, etc.  

In the case of origin of life, I say:  “The particular arrangements of living cells are such that the first cell could not have been formed merely by chance accretions of simple molecules; some designing intelligence was involved.”  That’s a tentative inference.  It could be wrong.  An experiment in a test tube may one day prove it’s wrong.  If so, I have to withdraw the inference.  Those are the rules of science.  Empirical evidence can destroy an inference.  

So I’m not dogmatizing.  I’m saying, at this point in time, if a rational person had to bet his life on whether the first cell was formed totally without any intelligence or planning, or was formed by an intelligence of some kind, the smart money would be on the intelligence.  This has nothing to do with trying to prove the existence of God, etc.  It’s simply the best available hypothesis given current knowledge, that some intelligence was involved. 


Eddie - #73606

October 12th 2012

Merv (part 2):

Now, I believe that your other question is:  of what scientific use is a design inference, beyond the bare conclusion, “This was designed”?  The short answer is, even if that is all that we can determine—that X was designed rather than a product of chance—that’s useful enough for me.  (It blows the position of Dawkins out of the water, for starters.)  But there is a longer and better answer.

If you think that living cells were designed, then, when you find parts of the genome that you don’t understand, you are likely to proceed cautiously.  Instead of inferring that large chunks of it, maybe the majority of it, have no function (as did many Darwinians, who were working on the assumption that random mutations over time would cause the accretion of millions of bases that either never had any function, or once served a function but did so no longer), you would say, “Maybe this part of the genome does have an important non-coding function; what sort of experiment could we devise to find out?”  You would be very skeptical of the conception of “junk DNA.”  Now, who were the big champions of “junk DNA”?  TEs, and atheists.  Who were the biggest skeptics of the notion?  ID theorists.  And what does it look like now?  That most of the genome does have function.  (Of course, as you can see by the reactions of Dawkins to the new data—pretending he never said what he said before, and by the scrambling among TEs to put the best face on it, this point is not being readily conceded.)

Not long ago the appendix was dismissed as an evolutionary leftover; now it is believe to have some useful functions.  The instinct of an ID person would again be not to dismiss possible function too quickly.

Steve Fuller has pointed out that in the history of science, the assumption of design, not the assumption of blind matter in aimless motion, was what guided the triumphs of the early modern era.  Newton, Kepler, etc. all assumed that they were thinking God’s thoughts after him, and that the universe was designed.  The purely chance-driven, matter-in-blind-motion accounts of the ancient Epicureans did not produce any natural science, only speculations.  (Indeed, most “origin of life” investigations today have a kind of Epicurean smell about them.)   

Thus, it seems to me that the design understanding provides a useful heuristic for understanding many aspects of nature, and biological nature is simply the most obvious case of this.  But I’m not arguing that science should assume design.  I’m merely arguing that design inferences should be allowed where warranted, and that research should be allowed to build on them, where warranted.  I don’t see this as a radical subversion of all of modern science, but merely as a broadening of explanatory options.

Merv - #73608

October 12th 2012

I resonate with your examples, particularly because I’ve always thought it to be breath-takingly arrogant to pronounce something useless because you can’t explain any function for it.  (Sort of like the example someone here recently used:  the fisherman who declares that if it can’t be caught in his net, it doesn’t exist.)    But of course that arrogance is a two-edged cut, as I know you’re well aware.  When you stated early that design inferences can and should be held tenatively, in that we are on common ground.

I wouldn’t say so much that such science “blows Dawkins out of the water”, since Dawkins will always just claim to be waiting for the materialist explanation according to his metaphysical presuppositions as you have so well noted.  But your point about the design inference encouraging further investigation while the ‘junk DNA’ conjecture was the premature ‘science-stopper’—that I find interesting as a counter-point to what is usually leveled against IDists.  Although it may be worth noting that whatever the presuppositions are that were held, they obviously didn’t shut down the science since somebody discovered some function to allow for this potential victory dance.  

-Merv   (will be away from computer Saturday and so may not be corresponding here until late Sunday.)

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