Teaching the Whole Controversy

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April 22, 2012 Tags: Christian Unity

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

Teaching the Whole Controversy

This past Thursday on the BioLogos Forum, genomics scholar Praveen Sethupathy argued that Tennessee’s recently-passed Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act wrongly claims that there is significant scientific controversy around evolutionary biology, when there is not. While many still misunderstand the way “theory” is used in scientific parlance to mean an explanatory and predictive system of knowledge, rather than the popular meaning of “a conjecture,” responses to Sethupathy’s essay did bear out his distinction between the science of evolution itself and the philosophical and theological issues raised in response to it, whether by atheists or Christians. But one commenter in particular (though writing in favor of the bill) also linked the complex “philosophical, theological, social, psychological, political, economic, and spiritual components” of the debate around evolution to the very structure of the educational system to which the law is addressed.

Jeff, who identifies himself as a Christian home-schooling father wrote in comment #69363:

. . . contrary to the modern model of education which isolates academic subjects by assigning to each one a separate teacher and classroom, it should be stressed that the pursuit of knowledge in general is greatly served by teaching students about the important relationships that exists between the various academic subjects in the real world. Thus, to include in a discussion of the theory of evolution some exposure to the theological and philosophical assumptions upon which that theory is based [emphasis added] is not only appropriate, but of great value in exploring the full scope of the theory as it has developed in our world and much of the controversy that surrounds it.

As another home-schooling father (of three boys) I concur wholeheartedly with Jeff’s assessment of the modern educational system—not just in public schools, but in far too many private and Christian schools, and in not a few home-schooling communities, as well. The breadth and depth of human knowledge is now so great that we must, in fact, have specialists who devote their lives to particular areas of study; but this makes the need for a broad and integrated education in the primary and secondary levels more important, rather than less. Beyond that, we need conversation between fields of knowledge as much as we need such dialogue within them. Indeed, part of our goal at BioLogos is to demonstrate that we in the Christian community can and must think deeply but also broadly about these issues if we want to do justice to the complexity of biological life, but also to the complexity of our lives of faith: to the complex redemptive mission God has called us to in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

But two things strike me as off in the quoted paragraph. The first issue is that it seems to attribute the most problematic philosophical issues of Evolutionism to the theory of evolution itself, as if those are foundational to the science rather than being philosophical add-ons. The very thrust of the statement included above is that an integrated learning is necessary in order to tease apart the philosophy from the evidential science—or, as I would describe it, to tease apart secular ideology and atheism from the powerful and beautiful descriptive and predictive account of biology that evolutionary theory provides—but that laudable strategy is abandoned at the outset when the two are inextricably linked together.

Again, BioLogos exists in part to show that the science of evolution (though always being refined) is sound in spite of the grandiose philosophical claims made “on its behalf” by those who despise faith and the faithful. Our own Senior Fellow in Biology, Dennis Venema, posts regularly on the compelling scientific evidence for evolution, and we also offer both brief and longer-form resources on our website to help readers distinguish between the science of evolution and the philosophical worldview that is Evolutionism.

But it should be noted that the “philosophical assumptions” that are rightly considered foundational to evolutionary theory—like a commitment to methodological naturalism—are seen by the majority of Christian and non-Christian scientists alike as foundational to all science. Furthermore, those basic assumptions came out of a Christian intellectual tradition that affirmed God’s trustworthiness as much as an Enlightenment belief in the power of reason. But perhaps more to the point, to read the history of evolutionary theory in more than a selective and superficial way is also to see that—from the beginning—many orthodox, evangelical Christians have seen it as consistent with their faith, and have given good theological reasons for thinking so.

The second issue, though, is more practical and bears on our life together as the church as much as it does on current educational strategies. Since generations of teachers have now been trained to teach in specific areas of knowledge, and covering state-mandated materials while also attending to classroom management is no small feat, I doubt that there are many elementary and secondary-school science teachers in Tennessee (or anywhere else) that feel adequately equipped to provide that level of integrated knowledge and instruction about that these subjects deserve, combining hard science, social and church history, the history of philosophy, and even theology. This is no slur against teachers.

The kind of discussion that really ought to be had—one that engages the philosophical and spiritual components of our knowledge—should happen (and can really only happen) in churches, not public schools. In church settings, our ability to discuss the relationship between science and Christian faith and doctrine will always be more robust than the anemic versions that would be permissible in public schools, even under this new law. But more importantly, churches may be the only place to find the level of civility, charity, and love that is necessary to understand, much less work through our differences. Or at least they ought to be safe places where that kind of conversation can happen—even with atheists.

But here’s the more troubling point: that “speaking truth in love” mentality is often not in evidence within the Body of Christ. Instead, many Christians seem convinced not only of the correctness of their own interpretation of scriptures, but also that those who hold different views are worthy of contempt—and that they have nothing worth hearing to bring to the conversation. A priori distrust of the Christian identity of those who see evolution as God-given, for instance, makes dialogue difficult, at best. If we can not muster the humility and charity to disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that still honors their basic integrity and faith, how can we hope to have proper humility before God’s Word or world, admitting the possibility that we have not plumbed the ultimate depths of what they have to tell us? It therefore seems folly to advocate—much less legislate—that our elementary middle- and high-school teachers “teach the controversy” when we, as the church, do such a poor job of telling the whole story ourselves.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it seems dishonest to claim that we want to “teach the controversy” in public schools without any reference to our Christian commitments. Rather than hide our belief that Jesus is Lord of all (including cosmology, geology, biology and history), let us make that claim forthrightly—let us reject atheistic accretions to evolutionary science, yes, but never deny that love of our Lord and Savior is what motivates us to wrestle with the mystery of God’s creative and saving work in the world.


Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.


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Roger A. Sawtelle - #69454

April 22nd 2012

Mark,

I agree with much of what you are saying, but I think that most of the problem on all levels is that we, that is both on the scientific and theological community, fail to understand the question of evolution properly.  Yes, you are right that it is the philosophical aspects that cause the most conflict between us, but I think that you are wrong to conclude that theses are add-ons that can be separated from Darwin’s theory.

There are 2 basic aspects of the Theory, the first is Variation which for practical purposes has been scientifically verified and while much still needs to be done to understand how this works, this can be considered in my opinion good science.  The second is Natural Selection, which Darwin based on Malthus’ population theories which have not been scientifically verified and run counter to Christian understanding of human nature.  Evolutionary biologists still affirm Natural Selection even though is has not been scientifically verified and it is this aspect of the Theory that is the basis for atheistic philosophy. 

Stephen Jay Gould defended the reputation William J. Bryan, a progressive politician and Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, by saying that he attacked evolution because he feared its results as found in the emergence of Fascism in Europe.  If so, the motive was right, but the means was wrong.  Evolution of life is true, but Darwin’s understanding it as the war of nature is wrong, and this is where we need to devote our attention. 

I have made it clear that I think that the understanding of the real mechanism behind Natural Selection is already available in the form of ecological theory.  Even if I am wrong I would hope that an open discussion of this issue would bring out the real and important differences between Darwinians and those who question Darwinian Natural Selection for sound theological, philosophical, and scientific reasons.         


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69524

April 24th 2012

The second is Natural Selection, which Darwin based on Malthus’ population theories which have not been scientifically verified and run counter to Christian understanding of human nature

I don’t follow this.  I thought even most young-earth creationists accepted natural selection.  Are you sure you don’t mean common descent?

If you actually mean natural selection, then you need to convince me A) that specific population genetic models of selection are wrong and/or lack empirical support, and B) that all the evidence we have for selection, including selection in humans (ex. genes to process lactose, sickle-cell, etc), is just as easily explained by some other model.

Even from within young-earth axioms, I’d be impressed if you succeeded.  But I’m willing to learn.

Siggy 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69526

April 24th 2012

Siggy,

Thank you for your comments and question.  There is much confusion concerning Variation and Natural Selection.

Unfortunately YCs are mistaken in accepting Darwinian natural selection based on competition.

Genes are not selected.  They are reproduced or mutated.  Gene changes produce Variations, which are subject to natural selection.  Some say that genetic drift is neutral variation, so the genes change but the species does not (so there is no real variation,) so there is no selection.

Malthusian competitive natural selection has not been verified.  Ecological natural selection is obvious to all and has been verified.  This means that life forms interact to adapt to and create ecological niches, rather than the blind atomistic random Darwinian view.  This process is called symbiosis and is the basis ecology of how humans must adapt to survive the disasters that we have created for ourselves.    

If you are interested in a detailed discussion of this, see my book, DARWIN’S MYTH.   


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69531

April 24th 2012

Okay, I think I understand you a little better.

By “Malthusian competitive natural selection” you mean the simplistic scenario in which, since resources are limited, organism compete with each other, and he who aquires the most resources has the most children (i.e. higher fitness).

“Malthusian competitive natural selection has not been verified”

What would a verification look like?

By “ecological selection,” you mean the more general and complex ways in which organism can interact to alter the “fitness landscape,” i.e. create new niches, and even open up access to new resources.

By emphasizing this, you seem to be trying to describe an evolutionary theory that does not require a “winner” and a “loser.”  In general this is a nice idea, and I like it when theists use their beliefs to pursue real scientific hypotheses.  But I don’t see how this can work.  Wether you call it “Malthusian” or “ecological,” in modern terms selection and fitness are defined as “the probability of survival of an A genotype relative to that of an B genotype.”  Do you accept the existance of such a differential? Or no?

Also, how many of these do you accept/reject: Frequency-dependent selection, density-dependent selection, fecundity selection, diversifying selection, gametic selection, sexual selection, kin selection, group selection?

Or, if you find that distracting, just explain to me what the selective pressure is in your view of “ecological natural selection.”  Is there any?

Glancing at your website, I notice that evolutionary theory only appears at the very bottom of each description of your book.  Instead, it seems to be motivated primarily from a dislike for present culture and more specifically what you call the “postmodern relativism” of “Dawkins and Dennett.”  Since they are both staunchly against postmodernism—militantly so (Dawkins: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/824, Dennet: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/postmod.tru.htm)— I’m sure they would be most amused by your charge.  Just because someone’s values and beliefs are different from yours doesn’t mean they don’t have any.

Siggy 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69534

April 25th 2012

Siggy,

In response to your question concerning selective pressure, I think the best answer from the human standpoint is “Work together (cooperate) or fail.” 

We see how different species work together for their mutual benefit within the environment in nature.  We really cannot explain this although maybe instinct is a fall back position, but we can say it happens.

Also to sustain and explain my ecological view I would point out that the ecology of the earth has changed most radically over the last 2 billion years and life has changed in complexity and diversity with it.  Thus it seems that the changing ecology has been the shaping force of life on earth, and humanity has been the ultimate result in that we are by far the most complex and diverse life form that has arisen out of God’s rational Creation.  

I am interested in reading what Dawkins and Dennett have to say about postmodernism.  For the record I am against both modernism and postmodernism.  In trying to understand Dawkins he seemed to take the relativist position that humans have evolved in such a way beyond absolutist morality, which has some truth.  On the other hand his system is monist and absolutist in that he sees the gene or DNA as absolute, the independent driving force of reality. 

The real problem with Scientism, atheist, monist, Darwinian stance is that they claim that nature is not rational, because Reality is material and matter/energy cannot, does not think, and thus Reality, Life, the Universe has no Purpose or Meaning.  They are now claiming that humans do not think, but are creatures of their environment. 

When you define reality as objective as Monod does, you end up with a one dimensional meaningless mess.  This of course is what I have been trying to point out.  Some people get it, most do not.  The issue and the problem is Scientism defines rationality and meaning out of Reality.  Read the recent book by Alex Rosenberg The Atheist’s Guide to Reality as a prime example of “rational scientism.”               


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69536

April 25th 2012

“I think the best answer from the human standpoint is “Work together (cooperate) or fail.”

Okay—so what ultimately affects change in genotype frequency?  Are you advocating group selection writ large?  Or something more Lamarkian?

“Thus it seems that the changing ecology has been the shaping force of life on earth.”

This I agree with whole-heartedly, though when I say as much I have in mind things like punctuated equilibrium and exaptation, which seems to be quite different from your take.

In trying to understand Dawkins he seemed to take the relativist position that humans have evolved in such a way beyond absolutist morality, which has some truth.”

And yet he believes secular morality provides the standard by which we (even religious people) judge (and reinterpret) religion’s atrocities.

By and large, atheists/agnostics/Humanists believe that morality—which they define as that which maximizes eudaemonia—is subtle, and trying to tell each other we know what it is often does more harm than good.  That is different than saying no morality exists.

I too am concerned about western culture’s apparent disinterest in deep more reflection and/or the refinement of strong life principles, and I think scientism (which is by definition pejorative: the taking of science too far) is part of the problem.  But as Humanist, I don’t think the problem (or solution) ultimately lies in metaphysics.

Sorry for diverging the conversation.  Morality is a difficult subject to discuss, and I’m not prepared to hash all the way through an extended dialogue on the topic.  Since I firmly believe that one’s censure should be proportional to the amount of empathetic energy he is willing to expend, I will back off .

Siggy 


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69537

April 25th 2012

That should be “deep moral* reflection”


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69538

April 25th 2012

Siggy,

I am afraid that once you have begun something it is hard to back off. 

Would you agree that the goal of “working for the mutual long term benefit,” as opposed survival of the fittest or the Selfish Gene, is a possible starting point for morality and ethics?   

Where does the source of value and purpose lie if not “beyond the physical,” that is meta-physically?


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69540

April 25th 2012

“Would you agree that the goal of “working for the mutual long term benefit,” as opposed survival of the fittest or the Selfish Gene, is a possible starting point for morality and ethics?”

Why are they mutually exclusive?  I am not familiar with any authors that assert the survival of the fittest is a foundation for ethics—leastwise, none who believe it.  Not even Nietzsche.  Perhaps such persons exist, but if so they are very fringe.

Creationists, accustomed as they are to deriving their axiology from their metanarrative, tend to assume that Darwinian evolution defines a red-of-tooth-and-claw moral system.  But only creationists believe this, almost exclusively.  Non-creationists do not see a paradox in the evolution of altruism via a competitive process.  The point is that we are now deeply empathetic creatures.  The story of why is interesting, but it can’t take away from that fact.

Where does the source of value and purpose lie if not ‘beyond the physical,’ that is meta-physically?”

You clearly don’t believe things can have value in themselves, separate from cosmic metanarratives.  This is the opposite of what Humanists, existentialists, Epicureans, utilitarians, virtue ethicists, to a certain extent even Stoics and Kanteans believe, and perhaps a subset of Christians who affirm moral influence theory.

The fact is that eudaemonia is sweet, regardless of it’s ultimate cause.

I geniunely understand how foreign that idea can seem from within a Christian world view—Before I lost my faith I also believed that atheism we (or should be) equivalent to nihilism.  And giving up my metanarrative and replacing it with a Grand Mystery indeed entailed culture shock—but not nihilism.

Nihilism has not bothered me even in the slightest for years.  My existential crisis is long over, permanently so.  I don’t even find the existentialists engaging anymore, because they were all about existential crisis.  I am quite content with Humanist ethics, where humans have value in their own right (all of them), and mango is sweet because mango is sweet, not because I have a grand story explaining why it is rational for mango to be sweet.  Mango is a simple, sensual example—but the same principle extends all the way up to higher ideals.

Beyond this testimony, it’s not clear to me how to proceed in discussion.  Either you empathize enough to see how my morality could be sensible if you share my world view, or you do not.  This is why I said I wanted to “back off.”


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69541

April 25th 2012

All that said, yes, a story of deep-set symbiosis and cooperation in nature would provide a beautiful backing for ethical practice.

We love articles that describe the role of the vagus nerve, or the widespread prevalance of mirror neurons in animals—the idea that empathy is deep set in nature is very romantic.

This much I will cede.  Metanarrative can help.  It’s just the idea that an amoral (or non-existant) metanarrative can significantly destroy or pervert the foundation of ethics that I resist. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69542

April 25th 2012

Siggy,

What we need and what I am proposing is a relational metaphysic which can only be rooted in a relational Complex/One, that is God. 

As much as you might resist this, it is the only answer.  Now as for a false or amoral God, you and I can only have faith that God is Who Jesus says God is.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69543

April 25th 2012

Siggy,

I did overlook this comment concerning things having value in themselves.  The answer is yes and no.  Things and people do have value if you value them.  Gold has no value if you have nothing to eat, unless you can exchange it for food.  Value in that sense is “subjective,” but of course food does have “objective” value. 

I believe that all people have value, even though all are different.  If people are all different then how can they all be of equal value?  Some people are seen as valueless by society, so they are put in prison. 

A related question is whether value or character is static or dynamic.  If people have value in themselves, but that value is hindered by hatred, ignorance, sloth, and other character problems, what can others do to enhance that value without destroying the person? 

In some sense I have no problem with saying that people have value per se.  My father used to say that the value of the chemicals found in the human body is less than $10.00, probably much less.  Using a reductionist point of view value tends to disappear.  Using a relational approach value increases.  I value something or someone that I care about. 


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69546

April 25th 2012

All the points you raise in your second comment are important questions that must be handled in some way by any world view.  I don’t pretend to have a formulaic answer for these qualitative questions.  Like Christianity, Humanists believe in the Golden Rule and “love they neighbor.”  What that means in detail is complex for both world views.

But we also “value something or someone that I care about.”  We do not use a “reductionist point of view.”  Thus my chatter about mango, which applies just as easily to my family, and so on up the scale of empathy.

Your first comment sounded more like a triumphalist termination of the conversation than anything else, so I will not reply to it.

If you would like to discuss more about evolution on a scientific level, I’d be happy to continue that thread of discussion.

Siggy 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69550

April 25th 2012

I would be glad to talk about evolution on a scientific level, but I really do not know what to say.

I really think that you need to read my book, DARWIN’S MYTH in order to understand where I am coming from.  I value your opinion as a person and a scientist(?).  

The philosophical aspect of the discussion is very important, but it needs careful exposition which does not seem to be possible in this format.  However I am interested to know if you have a relational world view and how it works if you do.    


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69557

April 25th 2012

“I really think that you need to read my book”

If you can give me a concise summary of its basic scientific (not just philosophical) thesis, you stand a chance of catching my attention.  So far you haven’t been able to convince me that you are proposing an actual mechanism for changes in allele frequency, much less macroevolutionary change.

I engaged you in conversation because I wanted to know what your proposed alternative to “Malthusian natural selection” was.  To this point, all I know is it uses the word “ecological” and has something to do with “working together.”  You have been mute on how that engenders genetic change or how it relates to existing mathematical theory.

“I am interested to know if you have a relational world view and how it works if you do.”

I don’t know what you mean by “relational,” but if you mean a world view that places high value on “relationships” and empathy, yes I certainly have a “relational world view.”  Then again, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t to some palpable degree.

Before, however, you used “relational” as the opposite of “reductionist.”  So perhaps you mean value that emerges as greater than the sum of its parts.

Again, then, yes—a human has value in a way a bag of chemicals doesn’t.  Everyone affirms this, atheist or otherwise.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69566

April 26th 2012

Siggy,

As I have tried to explain above the Theory of Evolution has two basic components, Variation and Natural Selection.  The first makes change possible by producing variant life forms, while the second determines which of these life forms will survive and flourish.

Each works separately and independently, and I am talking about ecological Natural Selection only.  Natural Selection does not produce variations and Variation does not select forms that will thrive.  It is all clear from my book. 

It is like a car, which has a motor which produces power and a drive shaft which links that power to the wheels to make the car move.  Even though the motor is working properly, if the drive shaft is broken, the car will not go and vice versa. 

Now it appears to me that modern evolutionary theory has abandoned the mechanism of Natural Selection by saying that if a life form flourishes it is fit and selected.  This is of course circular thinking like saying if you are alive, it is because you are not dead, which is true, but not a scientific explanation.  What do you think?

The atheists that I have dialogued with (as a Humanist, you identify yourself differently) claim that Reality is composed solely of matter/energy.  They reject Western dualism for physical monism.  This does not allow a place for thinking or relating which are both non-physical forms of existence.  Some try to claim that ideas are physical, which of course they are not. 

A relational understanding of reality is an alternative to the materialistic, idealistic, and dualist understandings of reality present in the world today.  Again see my book for details.    


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69568

April 26th 2012

“It appears to me that modern evolutionary theory has abandoned the mechanism of Natural Selection by saying that if a life form flourishes it is fit and selected.”

First, your definition is vague.  Replace “life form” with “genotype,” “flourishes with “has more fertile offspring than other genotypes” and “selected” with “increases in frequency” or “is fixated.”

Second, a scientist would prefer to replace your definition of selection with a mathematical equation that contains no ambiguities or apparent circularities.

If we could statistically measure the average number of progeny in the wild for a genotype A and a genotype B, then we could calculate s, the selection coefficient (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_coefficient), and determine mathematically how the ratio of alleles would change over time.  What part of this is a tautology?

But all this is a distraction.  I grok your distinction between variation and selection.  I’m not asking you about why you think the neo-Darwinian synthesis is wrong, and I’m not going to argue further about whether or not Darwinian natural selection is a tautology.

I’m asking you state in clear scientific terms (ideally mathematics) what you alternative is.  You have not even attempted to define “ecological natural selection,” and seem to be dodging the question.  I’m beginning to think you don’t have an alternative, just some vaguely defined woo.

—-

This does not allow a place for thinking or relating which are both non-physical forms of existence.  Some try to claim that ideas are physical, which of course they are not.”

And you cannot empathize at all with the millions of people who don’t share your metaphysics, and who draw very different ethical conclusions than you do?

I’m not asking if you agree with them.  I’m asking if you can see how it could make sense in any way.  Even wrong things can make sense.  Nothing in my previous posts about ethics resonated with you?

By all indication in this conversation, things are very black and white to you.  It is tiresome to dialogue with such triumphalism.  You certainly are not getting closer to convincing me to read your book, if it’s just more of the same.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69570

April 26th 2012

Siggy,

I am very sorry that we seem to be talking past each other.  You are set is talking about Natural Selection in a genetic, mathematical way.  Math is good, but math does not explain why some phenotypes flourish and others do not.  This is what Darwin tried to do and I am following in that scientific tradition. 

On the other hand usually we can see how, lets say, one invasive species flourishes and others do not because it finds a welcome niche in the environment. 

Also there was a study not long ago that found a strong corelation between changes which opened up new niches in the environment and the appearance of new species in the world.     

And you cannot empathize at all with the millions of people who don’t share your metaphysics, and who draw very different ethical conclusions than you do?

Wait a minute.  I never called people with whom I disagree sick or delusional.  All that I indicated was the contradiction between their theoretical, ideological world view and the world as people normally see it. 

Yes, I disagree with people of other faiths, with Marxist-Leninists, with conservative Christians, etc.  What we need to do when we disagree is try to understand why and how we disagree so we can find out how and where we agree.  We do need clarity rather than glossing over differences, and I think that if you had read my book you would see that this is what I am trying to do. 

Again I suggest you dig deeper before you rush to judgment.      


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69571

April 26th 2012

P.S.

If you are really interested in checking out some scientific studies which confirm ecological evolution, I will provide them for you even though they are not in the form you are demanding. 


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69575

April 26th 2012

“You are set is talking about Natural Selection in a genetic, mathematical way.”

Because natural selection is a genetic theory that was mathematized decades ago. *sigh.*  I don’t think you understand why I’m asking these questions:

In your original post, you stated:

“Evolutionary biologists still affirm Natural Selection even though is has not been scientifically verified and it is this aspect of the Theory that is the basis for atheistic philosophy” 

You boldly claimed that NS has not been verified, but seemed to be a theistic evolutionist (or evolutionary creationist, if you prefer).  I found this odd.  So, to try and understand better, I have tried to get you to say whether or not you accept the formulation of natural selection as genetic change in a population resulting from a differential in fecundity.

If you would just say “Yes, I accept NS by that definition.  I’m talking about the bigger picture, in which traditional Darwinism sees the fitness landscape as mostly static, while I see changes in ecological niches and the resulting nonlinear dynamics as highly pertinent.  The population genetic change engendered by selection is sound—I’m questioning what makes some organisms have higher fitness than others in the first place!  Furthermore my religion leads me to believe that competition is not the basis of evolution, but cooperation.  I thus propose a version of group selection as the driving force in genetic change”—then we could move on to actually discuss the matter.

If you were to reply as such, I would say “you don’t mean you disagree with natural selection, then, you just mean that the environment defines the trajectory of evolution in a very important way.  I agree with you!  I Jacob, Gould and others were really on to something when they emphasized contingency, environment, exapation etc.  I am extremely interested in the ecological approach myself, and have colleagues who study similar phenomena in the evolution of technology and artificial intelligence.  That group selection rules all is an extreme speculation that I can’t follow you on—but if you can make predictions and lay out a scientific research program to test your hypotheses, more power to you!”

Conversely, if you said “no, I reject population genetic theories of NS,” then I would assume you have a different idea of how genetics works.  That is why I have been pressing you for a statement on genetic change.  If you don’t actually reject the population genetic definition of NS, then it makes sense that you would be confused by my persistence.

“If you are really interested in checking out some scientific studies which confirm ecological evolution, I will provide them for you even though they are not in the form you are demanding. “

I may indeed be very intrigued by what you can point to.  But not until I know what you mean by ecological evolution—so far what you’ve described seems to be a pretty conventional interpretation of Darwinian evolution: species evolve to fit niches, but they change the environment along the way, altering and creating other niches, and so forth.  Nothing you’ve described matches your claims that modern science is barking up the wrong tree.



Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69576

April 26th 2012

“Wait a minute.  I never called people with whom I disagree sick or delusional”

Not what I meant.

Oh dear.  It looks like now we’ll need to argue about how to argue.  This seldom goes well, and only create drama.  But I happen to be passionate about the topic, so here goes:

The point is that the way you have approached our metaphysical disagreements has been to state your conclusions with great bravado.  You know I disagree with you.  You know I think there are powerful reasons to think differently.  But at times you act as if no such reasons exist and anyone who disagrees has obstructed vision.  This is the exact opposite of what you should be doing if you want me to take you seriously, much less to influence my opinion.

Compare this to the approach Phillip Clayton takes in The Predicament of Belief (http://www.amazon.com/dp/019969527X/).  I did not hesitate at all to buy that book—because I knew he would treat my world view with respect and fairness even while he concludes against it.

Violations of this principle are in the (biased) eye of the beholder, so let me rephrase a few of your statements as attacks on your world view:

“What we need and what I am proposing is a humanistic metaphysic which can only be rooted in the valuation of humans in their own right, irregardless of one’s metaphysical beliefs.

As much as you might resist this, it is the only answer.  As to false or amoral ethics, you and I can only accept an altruistic, agape-based world view founded in our innate sense of empathy, not the decree of some Creator.”

“Some try to claim that values can be derived from the supernatural, which of course they cannot.” 

I would never talk like this in a conversation with you. It’d be unnecessarily disrespectful, and only make you put up your defenses.   I don’t even hold these views—I believe metanarratives  can, indeed should play a role in the ethics of religious people.  But even if I did, being patronizing is a poor dialogue strategy.  I for one like to view people who disagree with me as epistemic peers.

Your original statements:

“What we need and what I am proposing is a relational metaphysic which can only be rooted in a relational Complex/One, that is God. 

As much as you might resist this, it is the only answer.  Now as for a false or amoral God, you and I can only have faith that God is Who Jesus says God is.”

“Some try to claim that ideas are physical, which of course they are not. “

“I am afraid that once you have begun something it is hard to back off.”

Your willingness to call Dawkins and Dennett postmodernists was another example.

These are alienating statements—not ways to build relationships with people who disagree with you.
 
Forgive me for being so terse.  I believe very strongly in treating each other with compassion—especially those who I disagree with—but it’s hard to do so when defending one’s self against a triumphalist critic who I feel is being a bit unfair.

You are correct that I am jumping to conclusions based on a very limited dialogue—that’s the perpetual risk with online debate!  But—while you are thinking about how I might be being unfair—also think about how you may have presented yourself in a way that made me raise an eyebrow, and assume that further discussion on metaphysics would be unlikely to bear worthwhile fruit.

That’s the point.  Hold both sides in your mind.  Now that we’ve dipped into the personal question of rhetorical ethics, the real test of our characters is whether we can have this discussion without polarizing to selfish extremes.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69583

April 27th 2012

Siggy,

I do apologize if I came on too strong and now I do see how you felt that your personal beliefs were underattack. 

 “What we need and what I am proposing is a humanistic metaphysic which can only be rooted in the valuation of humans in their own right, irregardless of one’s metaphysical beliefs.

You may be surprised, but I could agree with your basic statement.  The only question for discussion would be what do you mean by a “humanistic metaphysic” and “in their own right.”  Since I am concerned about rethinking the Western metaphysic as a whole I am certainly open to your thoughts in these areas.     

I assure you that I do not value people according to their beliefs or world view, but only as persons created in the Image of God, which is my human metaphysic, and loved unconditionally by God, which is my concept of “in their own right.” 

You do not agree with this point of view and I am not asking you to agree, but that is my stance, which I hold strongly to, as I am sure you do to yours, which is fine.  You might see a great distence between the two, I do not.

I am not trying to attack in the sense of destroy the beliefs of others, but to criticize in the sense of compare and understand by looking at the strengths and weaknesses different positions.  Sadly as we have both noted there is little opportunity to do this in this format, but I hope this explanation will help ease the tension between us and open continuing dialogue. 

Sadly people have misused concepts as labels to stereotype and brand people in a way that is very negative.  I try to avoid this, but with Dawkins and Dennett I see that I failed to do this. 

This is a discussion I trust between two reasonable people who are looking to understand each other and seeking to understand life more fully. 

Where I disagree with Clayton and most others is that there is no bright line between the “Supernatural” and the “natural.”  If God created the universe through the Logos, Jesus Christ, then God has left divine fingerprints all over the universe, which is the relational charater of the universe.  Again this is a philosophical/theological point of view which is important to me because it shapes my concern about evolution, but is not part of your understanding.

In some sense you seem to think that the ecological or symbiotic view of evolution may be true, meaning that phenotypes thrive or fail to thrive based on their ability to adapt to or create a particular ecological niche or set of niches.  If we can discuss this, I would be satisfied, rather than the nature of NS.      

 


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69595

April 27th 2012

Roger,

Thankyou for your gracious response.  It was risky for me to take the conversation in a personal direction, and you could very easy have escalated the matter by responding in kind.  I’m glad to see that you believe in handling conflict with grace .  I hope now that my defenses are down you will see that I do too.

And I do want you to know, if it has not been clear, that I do acknowledge validy and even a great deal of beauty in both your view of the universe (with ``God’s fingerprints” manifest everywhere) and the way your metanarrative entails an ethical foundation. I feel like I have learned something in this engagement, too, about what dimensions of moral questions are important to address in Humanist-theist dialogue.

While I can’t see it (perpsective is always self-justifying), if I have said anything that merits an apology from my end, I’m sorry.

I don’t think we’re making much headway on the scientific discussion, though it appears we have some overlap in the way we view evolution.

Shall we consider ourselves reconciled, and end on a positive note?

Siggy 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69608

April 28th 2012

Siggy,

Thank you for your gracious response also.  Indeed it was “risky” to take the conversatikon is a personal direct, but I am glad that you took the risk. 

Conversations like these are not easy, and few people are willing to take the risk like you did that leads to a breakthrough of understanding.  You perceived that I had gone beyond the limits of good dialogue and you spoke out meaningfully about that.  I salute your courage.    

This is the kind of communication we need to meet the world’s problems.  Most people seem to think that communication is simple and easy, but it is not.

While I am disappointed that we were unable to speak more about science.  I hope that can take place at a later time.  I am very pleased that we have some agreement on the way we view evolution.

Thank you for an excellent discussion and of course that answer to the last question is, Yes.

Best regards,

Roger   

   


Jeff - #69455

April 22nd 2012

Mark,

I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful response to my comments and would love to talk with you in greater depth about some of these issues, but since I am granted only a limited space to comment on the website, let me get right to what I consider the heart of the issue.

You made one critical observation which I believe must be addressed by BioLogos if it is to achieve its goal of reconciling modern science and the Christian faith.  You said that “a commitment to methodological naturalism” is “seen by the majority of Christian and non-Christian scientists alike as foundational to all science.”  That is exactly right.  Practically all scientists today, including most Christian scientists, are agreed that if science is to be science, it must proceed on the assumption that all natural phenomona can be explained by natural phenomena.  That, we are told, is a scientist’s job: to provide natural explanations for natural phenomena.  This being the case, if any scientist in the course of his work were to suggest that some observed phenomenon in nature is due to a supernatural cause, acting above and beyond the ordinary forces of nature, that scientist is immediately banished from the science department and sent to pursue his hypothesis in the department of religious studies. That, I believe, is what you mean when you speak of “a commitment to methodological naturalism.”

So here is my question: In the grand and noble quest for knowledge that we call science, are these really terms which we as Christians can accept?  Especially if we hold to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, can we agree to the assumption that all natural phenomena can be explained by natural phenomena and at the same time be faithful to the word of our God?  For example, in the Bible, we are told of a moment in the history of our planet, after the creation of man, when God poured out His wrath and vengeance upon the earth in a terrible global flood.  We are told that “the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened” (Gen. 7:11) and after forty days and nights of this deluge, even the mountains were submerged in water and “all flesh that moved on the earth perished” (7:21).  Obviously, such an event would constitute a geological and biological catastrophe such as we have never seen and likely cannot even fathom.  Among the natural forces known to us today, we can find none sufficient to explain such an event, and yet the Bible says that it happened.  Our God says that it happened! The modern scientific community insists that in explaining the facts of our world as that world now exists, we cannot acknowledge even the possibility of such an event because it is contrary to a naturalistic methodology.  Again, my question is: How can a Christian scientist who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture agree to these terms and be faithful to the word of God that he has received?  Since we have become comfortable with the idea of dismissing Genesis 1 as a myth, shall we do the same with Genesis 6-9 now?  And if so, where does it end?  Can this reduction of Scripture to mythology be stopped short of Matthew 28 and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and if so, upon what logical grounds?  Or would it be more appropriate for Christian scientists to refuse to accept naturalistic assumptions, accept the persecution that would accompany that courageous decision, and pursue a separate course of study in the grand and noble quest for knowledge that we call science that begins with a commitment to the Bible as divine revelation and infallible truth?

If you understand what I am asking, I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions.

 


HornSpiel - #69564

April 26th 2012

Practically all scientists today, including most Christian scientists, are agreed that if science is to be science, it must proceed on the assumption that all natural phenomena can be explained by natural phenomena.

Jeff, excuse me for jumping in here. I would like to explain why I believe your characterization of methodological naturalism is incorrect. It is scientism that assumes that science can explain all natural phenomenon, not methodological naturalism.

Methodological naturalism simply limits explanations of observed phenomenon, if they are to be scientific, to naturalistic causes. Scientism says says science is the only source of Truth. Methodological naturalism is simply a way of learning truth.

Christian scientists know that Truth lies outside of science.  Confronted with a true miracle, or any question about God, Science can only dumbly say “I have no answer.”

Yet science is all about explaining as much as can be explained. So while I believe the origin of life, for example, strongly points to the existence of God. I have no problem with scientists continuing to search for an explanation based on natural processes. You mention the Flood. 

Obviously, such an event would constitute a geological and biological catastrophe such as we have never seen and likely cannot even fathom.

You are absolutely right. Such an event would leave unmistakeable evidence on earth if it did occur in the way it it literally interpreted as happening. It was in fact Christians trying to find that evidence in the first place, who started the identification of geological layers. It was Christians who began “with a commitment to the Bible as divine revelation and infallible truth,” who discovered the earth was in fact much older that their preconceived notions. It was Christians, who believed the Flood was universal, who  discovered the evidence said no. 

So these things are not an atheistic humanistic plot to undermine the Bible, but a God-given corrective to our limited human understanding. The Creator speaking to His creation through the book of His works so we better understand the Book of His Words.


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69523

April 24th 2012

Just thought I’d throw out here that I am one of a number of scientists who do not accept methodological naturalism.

If there were good evidence that aliens built the pyramids, we could make a scientific statement about that.

The supernatural is no different.

Most advocates of an explicit methodological naturalism say “if we start allowing miracles, all science will break down!”  They are mistaken, because not just any miracle story would be allowed.  Only substantiated miracle stories.  Science requires evidence—it does not require an a priori model of what we observe.

Advocating methodological naturalism when we actually mean “science can’t say things without good evidence to back it up” only gives critics of evolution the opportunity to cry foul for being assumed out of the discussion a priori.  In actuality, they were not assumed out of the discussion.  Darwin himself took creationism very seriously as a scientific hypothesis, and so do authors today.  The question is how well the predictions of either hpyothesis match the evidence.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69574

April 26th 2012

Siggy,

You make a good point.  Science should be based on evidence and not on theories.  It seems to me that the Big Bang “singularity” is a one of a kind miracle.  We have good evidence of it from nature, but it cannot be replicated, or so it seems. 

However I have another problem with “naturalism” as defined by Monod and accepted by many others in that it claims that nature is NOT rational and thus has no purpose because it cannot think.       


penman - #69582

April 27th 2012

Why can’t “methodological naturalism” be defined - for Christians - simply as the quest after natural (created) causes for natural (created) phenomena, coupled with the expectation that 99.9 per cent of the time, natural phenomena do indeed have natural causes?

This doesn’t exclude the possibility of miracle - direct supernatural causation. But it enables science to be done. And it’s rooted in a Christian worldview: God has created the universe in such a way that natural phenomena do generally have natural causes.

By the way, the word FORUM is mis-spelt as FOURM in the “Add Your Comment” message. All monetary rewards for voluntary proof-reading gratefully received.


David - #69592

April 27th 2012

Hi Jeff,

I appreciate your passion for God and your desire to be dedicated to scripture. I think that is admirable and necessary to the Christian faith. I guess I have a few questions for you to clarify your comments.

“This being the case, if any scientist in the course of his work were to suggest that some observed phenomenon in nature is due to a supernatural cause, acting above and beyond the ordinary forces of nature, that scientist is immediately banished from the science department and sent to pursue his hypothesis in the department of religious studies”

As a scientist, I ascribe to a methodological naturalism (not a philosophical naturalism) because we must have a framework in which to perform our experiments. I would argue that methodological naturalism is very prominent in many things we do as humans, not just science. Let’s say that you have an fund manager at a company and you give him/her your life savings. You come back in a year to see how your investment has gone and the fund manager tells you that god took it and it is gone (A miracle!). Wouldn’t we be sceptical of non-natural causes? Also, do you go to the doctor at all (or send your kids there)? When you go in, does he/she tell you to pray and then go back to your church to have oil poured over you (James 5, not saying you can’t do that also). Or would you prefer for your doctor to find a cause of your disease and treat it in a natural and methodological fashion? So while I understand your dislike for naturalism, I would assume that our normal lives would consist of its application. Does this mean that we should disregard what James is saying? I don’t think so. Isn’t this what you are saying essentially then, that you should either believe what James is saying or get rid of James and the whole Bible?

On a side note (to the Biologos community), as a medical professional too, I am interested in how evolution has influenced medicine and the treatments we receive (outside of the obvious genetic treatments). For a long time in my life (due to my conservative evangelical upbringing) I accepted the 6-day creation account and did not consider how my desire to be a medical professional was influenced by evolution. I think many young evangelicals also just ignore the obvious conflict between what they hear in churches and what they learn in the classroom, hoping to never have to make a choice (or thinking it didn’t matter).

 ___

“Especially if we hold to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, can we agree to the assumption that all natural phenomena can be explained by natural phenomena and at the same time be faithful to the word of our God?”

I would be interested to hear what your definition of inerrancy is. Does this mean that the Bible is historically and scientifically without error? Does it mean that human interpretation is without error?

 ___

“Since we have become comfortable with the idea of dismissing Genesis 1 as a myth, shall we do the same with Genesis 6-9 now?  And if so, where does it end?  Can this reduction of Scripture to mythology be stopped short of Matthew 28 and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and if so, upon what logical grounds?”

Does accepting evolution automatically make us believe that Genesis 1 is a myth? I certainly accept evolution and Genesis 1 as truth. I do not accept a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 as truth unless that interpretation has been performed in the much necessary culterual context (as John Walton has wonderfully shown). What if we do not believe the Psalms and hold to a heliocentric view? Does that make them less true? Should we then throw out the entire Bible based on this one passage?

___

I look forward to your response since I have had many similar discussions with other brothers & sisters in Christ regarding this. I agree that it is an important issue, I just come down on the other side in accepting evolution.

David


Eric 'Siggy' Scott - #69594

April 27th 2012

I just have to say, this was a beautiful comment .

Siggy 


Jeff - #69662

May 3rd 2012

David,

If you are still there: I would define the inerrancy of Scripture as the wonderful truth that everything to which God speaks in the Bible may be accepted as true.  Thankfully, we do not have to thumb through the Bible and wonder where the mistakes are or where our God might be misleading us.  That assurance of inerrancy, of course, would extend to anything that God might say about the created world.   As the Creator, His authority on this subject is certainly supreme.  The doctrine of inerrancy does recognize figurative language as figurative, however, and that not all speech is intended to be technical, so there is a place for appreciating literary genre.

I also am a scientist and medical professional, and I do not feel that a methodological naturalism is necessary for the pursuit of scientific knowledge.  For example, if I were an anthropologist and an all-knowing and trustworthy God came to me and told me that He had created the first man fully formed of the dust of the earth, I would not feel compelled to lay that knowledge aside in the name of science because it falls outside the bounds of natural causes.  Rather, as the creation scientists do, I would accept that information as valuable truth which had been obtained by a competent authority, and I would proceed in my studies from there.  Would you agree?  And if so, is that really consistent with a prior “commitment to” methodological naturalism? 

I recognize that God works by means of second causes and that there are laws that govern those second causes in nature, and I certainly do not object to science that leads to the understanding and use of those laws of nature.  But I do believe that Christian scientists would be wise to accept the plain teaching of the Bible first on the authority of God as the most solid truth which they possess, and proceed from there to understand the world and develop their theories to explain what they see. 

I think the fatal flaw of the Enlightenment was that as men prepared to pursue knowledge by means of reason, they put down their Bibles and began instead with themselves.  “I think therefore I am” rather than “God created me, therefore I am.”  The result of the work of philosophers since that fatal Cartesian mistake has been to despair of the knowledge of truth altogether which is the essence of post-modernism.  That is sad.  It did not have to be that way.  I think if they had begun with the word of God as the beginning of philosophy and proceeded from there, the results would have been quite different.  Reason is good, but when it is made the highest authority in the pursuit of knowledge, it is a teetering idol that we have erected and is destined to fall.  And I fear that scientists are making the same mistake now, which is especially distressing among professed Christian scientists like the BioLogos crowd.  The Big Bang Theory will lead to a big sense of meaninglessness.  Evolution will lead to the degradation of man in his own mind and thus to the degradation of society.  I much prefer the approach of the scientists at Creation Ministries International who study the same data as everyone else, but start with biblical assumptions rather than unbiblical naturalistic commitments, and whose theories therefore agree with Scripture rather than leading to this crisis where we have to redifine the inerrancy of the Bible and think of creative ways to fit millions of years into Genesis 1 and homids into Genesis 2.


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