Friday, July 15, 2005

Roman Catholic Church's `wedge'

The big news of the week (if not the year) was the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn letter to the New York Times of July 7, 2005, stating that:

"The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." (Schonborn C., "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times July 7, 2005).

As a creationist who accepts common ancestry, this is where I believe the `wedge' should be inserted, between common ancestry (which is not necessarily evolution, since a Creator could supernaturally intervene at links in ancestor-descendant chains) and the mechanism which evolutionists cannot possibly know was "an unguided, unplanned process".

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"


Stephen E. Jones said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen E. Jones said...


Thanks for your comment, the
first I have received.

By "evolution" I mean the *fully
naturalistic* version held by the
overwhelming majority of the
*scientific community* and
therefore compulsorily taught in
schools and universities.

That is, "the standard scientific
theory that `human beings have
developed over millions of years
from less advanced forms of life,
*but God had no part in this
process*.'" (Shermer M.B., "The
Gradual Illumination of the Mind,"
Scientific American, February 2002.
That is the only version of
"evolution" that *counts*.

I am not interested in *private*
definitions of "evolution" as
"theistic", "guided", etc., since:
1) they have no official standing
in the scientific community (and
indeed are strongly *opposed* by
it); 2) in my experience what
"theistic evolutionists" actually
defend is *naturalistic* evolution;
and 3) I regard "theistic" and
"God-guided evolution" as
oxymorons, because "evolution"
(in the sense of biological change
over time) was coined by the
atheist Herbert Spencer, and
taken up by the agnostic Darwin
in his "Descent of Man", to mean
*non-theistic* evolution.

IOW, "evolution" is the
*atheists* word, and they are
entitled to define its primary
meaning (which they do anyway).
The right word for Christians
and other theists to use is
*creation*, which includes
everything covered by "evolution"
and more, i.e. God creating: 1)
supernaturally not through
existing materials and natural
processes (immediate creation);
2) supernaturally through
existing materials and natural
processes (special providence);
and 3) naturally through existing
materials and natural processes
(general providence).

Please take these my definitions
of "evolution" and "creation" on
board, because they are what *I*
mean by them on this blog.


Stephen E. Jones said...

Mark, thanks again for your comments. Since my last response (which was my first in this forum) came out too narrowly formatted, I will trial and error composing my replies on my word processor, and copy-and-pasting it here to CED.

MN>I like your 3 types of creation,

Good, so in accepting that there is a God and that He has
(or at least could have) supernaturally intervened in life's
history, you accept that Materialism (matter is all there is, i.e.
there is no God) and Naturalism (nature is all there is, i.e.
there is no supernatural) are false, and therefore "evolution"
is deprived of its twin supporting metaphysical pillars?

MN>but I wonder about how we're
>going to have a meaningful and specific discussion about
>type number 3 if we're not allowed to use the word
>"evolution" to talk about the natural process of common
>descent with variation.

First, this begs the question that "common descent with
variation" has *always* and *everywhere* been a *fully*
"natural process".

Second, we can just "talk about ... common descent" and
"variation." "Evolution" is just a label first placed by
atheist/agnostics Spencer and Darwin on nature. Nature
itself does not have "made by evolution" stamped on it.

Even the eminent evolutionist Pierre Grasse drew a
distinction between "variation" and "evolution" (see tagline).

MN>Do the atheists get to claim evolution as belonging
>exclusively to them just because an atheist was the first to
>think of the word evolution?

You miss the point. There already was the word "creation"
(in fact Darwin referred, mostly pejoratively to "creation" or
its cognates, at least 109 times in his Origin of Species

The reason "an atheist was the first to think of the word
evolution" was that Spencer and Darwin wanted a word that
was the *antithesis* of creation. Therefore, "theistic
evolution" (or "evolutionary creation") is an oxymoron.

MN>It seems rather a shame for believers to simply
>abandon an entire line of scientific inquiry just because the
>atheists were there first, especially given that evolution is
>actually rather the most intelligently designed aspect of

There is no need for "believers to simply abandon an entire
line of scientific inquiry" but ever since Darwin the
atheist/agnostics have made it so difficult that most have.

What is needed is a creationist paradigm that will enable
"believers" to carry out such "scientific inquiry" without
accepting materialistic/naturalistic rules of reasoning.

This I will attempt to provide in my planned second book,
"Progressive Creation: A Scientific General Theory of

MN>If America had been discovered by atheists, would
>believers all go back to Europe?

This is an example of the fallacy of false analogy:

techniques of reasoning are so potentially useful-or
so potentially dangerous-as analogy. When we
reason by analogy we attempt to advance our
position by likening an obscure or difficult set of facts
to one that is already known and understood and to
which it bears a significant resemblance. The fallacy
of false analogy arises when the comparison is an
erroneous one that distorts the facts in the case being
argued. Drawing attention to likenesses can be
extremely useful so long as the two things being
compared resemble each other in important respects
and differ only in trifling ways. If, on the contrary, they
are alike in unimportant ways and different in
important ways, then there is no valid analogy
between them and a fallacy of false analogy results.
Merely to seize upon some slight similarity as a basis
for concluding that what is true of one is also true of
the other will usually lead one astray. ... To expose a
false analogy-or an imperfect analogy, as it is
sometimes called-it is necessary to establish that the
two things being compared resemble each other in
insignificant ways, while they differ in significant
ways." (Engel S.M., "With Good Reason: An
Introduction to Informal Fallacies," St. Martin's Press:
New York NY, Fourth Edition, 1990, pp.150-151)

To be valid you would need to show that "America" and
"evolution" "resemble each other in important respects and
differ only in trifling ways".


"Present-day ultra-Darwinism, which is so sure of itself,
impresses incompletely informed biologists, misleads them,
and inspires fallacious interpretations. The following is one
of the numerous examples found in books today: "In
microorganisms, the generation time is rather short and the
size of the population can be enormous. Therefore,
*mutation acts as a very powerful evolutionary process*
during a shorter lapse of time than in populations of higher
organisms" (Levine, 1969, p. 196, the italics are mine). This
text suggests that modern bacteria are evolving very quickly,
thanks to their innumerable mutations. *Now, this is not
true*. For millions or even billions of years, bacteria have not
transgressed the structural frame within which they have
always fluctuated and still do. It is a fact that microbiologists
can see in their cultures species of bacteria oscillating
around an intermediate form, but this does not mean that
two phenomena, which are quite distinct, should be
confused; the variation of the genetic code because of a
DNA copy error, and evolution. *To vary and to evolve are
two different things*; this can never be sufficiently
emphasized ... Bacteria, which are both the first and the
most simple living beings to have appeared, are excellent
subject material for genetic and biochemical study, but they
are of little evolutionary value.".(Grasse P.-P., "Evolution of
Living Organisms: Evidence for a New Theory of
Transformation," [1973], Academic Press: New York NY,
1977, p.6. Emphasis in original)
Stephen E. Jones

Stephen E. Jones said...


Still trying to get the formatting right!

On Sat, 23 Jul 2005 09:16:06 -0700 (PDT), Mark Nutter wrote:

MN>Sorry, been away for a while--comments are not like Usenet!

There is no need to apologise. There is no requirement that you must respond to my comments, nor I to yours.

MN>You said that "creation" includes God creating "3) naturally through existing materials and natural processes (general providence)."

That is correct.

MN>I replied, "I wonder about how we're going to have a meaningful and specific discussion about type number 3 if we're not allowed to use the word "evolution" to talk about the natural process of common descent with variation."

It is not that "we're [i.e. Christians and other theists] not *allowed* to use the word `evolution'". My point was that: 1) "Evolution" was coined by an atheist (Spencer) and taken up by the agnostic Darwin, to mean the *antithesis* to creation; and 2) Christian and other theists have their own word "creation",
which can cover everything that "evolution" can and *more*.

Moreover, as Dawkins (quoting Darwin) pointed out, if God supernaturally intervened "at *any one* stage of descent" (my emphasis), then the *whole* process "was not evolution at all":

"Darwin ... wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: `If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish...I would give nothing for the theory of Natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.' [Darwin C.R., letter to C. Lyell, October 11, 1859, in Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," [1898], Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, reprint, pp.6-7]. This is no petty matter. In Darwin's view, the whole *point* of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a *non*-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.248-249. Emphasis in original)

but "divine creation":

"At first sight there is an important distinction to be made between what might be called 'instantaneous creation' and 'guided evolution'. Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. ... many theologians ... smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him some sort of supervisory role over the course that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course, human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change. ... In short, divine creation, whether instantaneous or in the form of guided evolution, joins the list of other theories we have considered in this chapter." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.316-317)

IOW, if you insist on using the word "evolution" (in the same sense that Darwin, Dawkins and the leaders of evolutionary biology use the term), then you are saying that God *never* supernaturally intervened or guided the process was "at any one stage of descent".

MN>You said, "this begs the question that 'common descent with variation' has *always* and *everywhere* been a *fully* 'natural process'."

Yes. You said, "the natural process of common descent with variation" with no qualifications. I did not say, nor do I accept or claim, that "common descent" has "*always* and *everywhere* been a *fully* 'natural process'."

As Ratzsch has pointed out, God could have supernaturally intervened at links in the ancestor-descendant chains, to "inject essential new genetic material at various points in order to facilitate the emergence of new traits" and "that miraculous and deliberate divine intervention would by itself leave unchallenged ... that all species derive ultimately from some common ancestor":

"Suppose contemporary evolutionary theory had blind chance built into it so firmly that there was simply no way of reconciling it with any sort of divine guidance. It would still be perfectly possible for theists to reject that theory of evolution and accept instead a theory according to which natural processes and laws drove most of evolution, but God on occasion abridged those laws and inserted some crucial mutation into the course of events. Even were God to intervene directly to suspend natural law and inject essential new genetic material at various points in order to facilitate the emergence of new traits and, eventually, new species, that miraculous and deliberate divine intervention would by itself leave unchallenged such key theses of evolutionary theory as that all species derive ultimately from some common ancestor. Descent with genetic intervention is still descent-it is just descent with nonnatural elements in the process." (Ratzsch D.L., "The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1996, pp.187-188)

I, according to my Progressive (Mediate) Creation position, maintain that that in fact is what happened, at strategic points in life's history.

MN>Now in the context of our discussion, I'm not sure how to take that. Are you saying that when God creates naturally through existing materials and natural processes that this is or is not a fully natural process?

No. I was pointing out you were subtly begging the question, by your words, "the natural process of common descent with variation."

MN>And if it were not, would it be scientifically distinguishable from a process that was fully natural? If so, how?

The first thing is that one personally must have a paradigm that can *accept* any evidence when "God creates" *other than* "naturally through existing materials and natural processes".

For example, in my "The Minimal Cell" articles I pointed out that the evidence is that the *minimum* self-replicating system would have to have at least 256 genes, whereas undirected natural processes cannot produce even *one nucleotide*.

Evidence of that sort has convinced one of the world's leading atheists, Antony Flew, to become a deist:

"First, a substantial case of agreement. Richard Dawkins has famously asserted that `Natural selection the blind automatic process which Darwin has discovered we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life.' Against that claim I pointed out, after quoting a significant sentence from the fourteenth and final chapter of The Origin of Species, that one place where, until a satisfactory naturalistic explanation has been developed, there would appear to be room for an Argument to Design is at the first emergence of living from non-living matter. And, unless that first living matter already possessed the capacity to reproduce itself genetically, there will still be room for a second argument to Design until a satisfactory explanation is found for its acquisition of that capacity. You have in your book deployed abundant evidence indicating that it is likely to be a very long time before such naturalistic explanations are developed, if indeed there ever could be." (Flew A.G.N., "Full Review by Anthony Flew." Review of "The Wonder of the World : A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God," by Roy Abraham Varghese, Tyr Publishing: Fountain Hills AZ, 2004. Tyr Publishing, News Release, December 10, 2004.

who now accepts that there is a God and that He supernaturally "created" "from non-living matter" "that first living matter" which in turn "possessed the capacity to reproduce itself genetically".

I pointed out in my debates with atheists on my (now terminated) list CED that Antony Flew, although now he calls himself a "deist", is more theistic than most of the "theistic evolutionists" I have encountered, in that few of them would concede that God supernaturally intervened, even at the origin of life.

MN>Can God be tested by this means?

It depends on one's personal philosophy. If one does not accept that there *can* be evidence of God's supernatural intervention in life's history, then for that person *no* amount of evidence will suffice. As Jesus said, in Luke 16:31, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets", i.e. accept that there is supernatural revelation from God, "they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead", i.e. that there has been other supernatural intervention by God in history.

The creationists (Christian and Muslim) on my list had no problem accepting the Minimal Cell evidence that God had supernaturally created the first living organisms, but no atheist could accept it, admitting that they would *never* accept such evidence, while there was the bare logical possibility of unknown and even *unknowable* natural causes.

So to cut a long story short Mark, what (if any) evidence would *you* accept that God has supernaturally intervened in life's history?

Stephen E. Jones

Anonymous said...

There is no need to postulate a living intervening God but there is absolutely no way one can deny that there must have been one in the beginning. My own fantasy is that The Big Front Loader, as I call it, was consumed with the effort and disappeared fully confident of what the outcome would be, namely that the last evolved mammal would be Homo sapiens, a creature capable of finally realizing exactly that scenario.

"Everything is determined... by forces over which we have no control."
Albert Einstein