Sunday, July 17, 2005

Universe 'too queer' to grasp: Dawkins

Only 78 years after his fellow evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane
suggested that "the universe is not only queerer than we
suppose, but queerer than we can suppose,"1 Oxford
University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science,
Richard Dawkins has told a global conference that the
"Universe may be just `too queer' to understand." The
reason, Dawkins explained, is that we are living in a "`middle
world' ... the narrow range of reality that we judge to be normal
as opposed to the queerness that we judge to be very small or
very large." He then asked, "Are there things about the
Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle,
ungraspable in any mind, however superior?"

But as Phillip E. Johnson commented on Haldane's
suggestion, "For some obscure reason, Darwinists like to quote
that statements although Darwinism asserts that the realm of
life is not queerer than we can suppose but at bottom very
simple and commonsensical. All it takes to make a world of
living things, according to the theory, is variation, natural
selection, changing environments and long periods of time. But
that is nineteenth-century science.... When biology finally has
its quantum revolution, our view of life and its origin will change
profoundly."2

Dawkins is but one among many rationalists who has poured
scorn on the famous statement of the early Church Father
Tertullian (c.160-220 AD), on the doctrine of the Trinity,
"I believe because it is absurd."3 Tertullian's point was
that because the Trinity seemed absurd from a human
perspective, no one would have invented it, so it must be
divinely revealed,"4 But if the Universe is "`too queer'
to understand," and there are "things about the
Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle,
ungraspable in any [finite] mind, however superior," as
Dawkins says, then Tertullian would be right, after all!

Then paradoxical doctrines of Christianity, like the Trinity,
while they may seem "queer" to rationalists, whose minds are
only reliable for the "Middle world," would be just what one
would expect of the "very large," that is, infinite. This
is in fact the teaching of the Bible, e.g. Isaiah 55:8-9,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than
the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my
thoughts than your thoughts."

So Dawkins is unwittingly groping towards the Christian view of
reality. To paraphrase the agnostic astronomer Jastrow, "For
the [atheist] who has lived by his faith in the power of reason,
the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains
of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he
pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of
theologians who have been sitting there for centuries"!5

Stephen E. Jones
"Problems of Evolution"

References:
1. Haldane, J.B.S., "Possible Worlds: And Other Essays,"
[1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.286.
Emphasis in the original.

2. Johnson, P.E., "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds,"
InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1997, p.95.

3. Dawkins, R., "A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Essays by
Richard Dawkins," [2003], Menon L., ed., Phoenix: London,
2004, reprint, p.164.

4. Erickson M.J., "Christian Theology," [1983], Baker: Grand
Rapids MI, 1988, Fifth Printing, p.342.

5. Jastrow R., "God and the Astronomers," [1978], W.W.
Norton: New York NY, Second Edition, 1992, pp.106-107.

2 comments:

Hugh Henry said...

The Judeo-Christian equivalent is "
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Job 38:4" Also, the Islamic position on the "Nature of God" They say it's a hopeless speculation, just give it up.

Creationist arguments presupose that they do know how life was created or at least enough know how God didn't do it.

It happens that modern computer application and design uses techniques such as genetic algorithms, neural nets, and open design where the application is not designed but evolved, very much like Darwinian designs. So this must be how God does it? I wouldn't know. I wasn't there.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Hugh

Thanks for your comments.

HH>Hugh Henry said...
>
>The Judeo-Christian equivalent is
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Job 38:4" Also, the Islamic position on the "Nature of God" They say it's a hopeless speculation, just give it up.

I cannot comment on "the Islamic position" but "The Judeo-Christian equivalent is" not "just give it up." It is rather that compared to God's omniscience, man's knowledge is inherently limited by his finitude. And now no less than that prince of atheistic rationalism, Dawkins has admitted what Judeo-Christianity has at least since Job (~1,000 BC) taken for granted.

IOW, Christianity's position is that man *should* try to find out as much as he can (and so fulfill the commandment to `love God with all his mind' (Mat. 22:37), but all the while realizing that we will only be able to "know in part" (1 Cor. 13:9,12).

HH>Creationist arguments presupose that they do know how life was created or at least enough know how God didn't do it.

You are presumably referring to *young-Earth* "Creationist arguments", like the following:

"By creation we mean the bringing into being of the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of sudden, or fiat, creation described in the first two chapters of Genesis. Here we find the creation by God of the plants and animals, each commanded to reproduce after its own kind using processes which were essentially instantaneous. We do not know how God created, what processes he used, *for God used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe*. This is why we refer to divine creation as special creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigations anything about the creative processes used by God. As we have pointed out earlier, evolutionists have not witnessed any real evolutionary changes take place nor will this be possible in the future. They, likewise, will never be able to know how their postulated evolutionary changes may have taken place." (Gish D.T., "Evolution: the Challenge of the Fossil Record," [1985], Creation-Life: El Cajon CA, 1986, Second Printing, p.35. Emphasis in original)

But as an *old-Earth* progressive creationist, I do not agree that "the creation by God of the plants and animals" was necessarily "using processes which were essentially instantaneous." Nor do I necessarily agree that, "We cannot discover by scientific investigations anything about the creative processes used by God." I agree with Davis that "God is free to create through natural or supernatural means and by rapid processes or over long periods of time [so] … no single type of process can be identified a priori as uniquely suited to the divine purpose" and God can in fact have created by "ordinary providence, special providence and miracle":

"Progressive creation, understood as an alternative to `fiat creation' and theistic evolution that incorporates the elements of truth in both, is here taken to mean that *God's creative action has occurred over long periods of time through a variety of means.* The emphasis on `a variety of means' calls attention to the fact that the focus of the biblical terminology of creation is on the results of God's action, and the relationship of those results to the divine purpose, rather than on the details of the processes God used to achieve these results. Fiat creationism in both its older and more recent forms in American fundamentalism is based on an unnecessary dichotomy between natural and supernatural processes as possible methods of creation. God is free to create through natural or supernatural means and by rapid processes or over long periods of time; no single type of process can be identified a priori as uniquely suited to the divine purpose. ... Rather than a twofold distinction between `natural' and `supernatural' means, it is in fact more biblically accurate to recognize a threefold distinction between God's works of ordinary providence, special providence and miracle. In ordinary providence God works immanently through the regular laws of nature (e.g., causing the grass to grow through the processes of photosynthesis [Ps 104:14] or creating animals through the normal processes of gestation [Ps 104:24, 30]); in extraordinary providence God redirects the forces and laws of nature (e.g., causing a wind to blow quail from the sea to feed the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings [Num 11:311); in miracles God transcends the laws of nature for a redemptive purpose (e.g., the floating axhead [1 Kings 6:6], the feeding of the five thousand, the bodily resurrection of Jesus)." (Davis J.J., "Is `Progressive Creation' Still a Helpful Concept?," in "The Frontiers of Science & Faith: Examining Questions from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2002, p.127. Emphasis in original)

or a combination of all three:

"For example, Henry Morris and Gary Parker, representing the "creation science" point of view (young earth, six-day creation, "flood geology"), state that "evolution purports to explain the origin of things by natural processes, creation by preternatural process; and it is semantic confusion to try to equate the two" (Henry Morris and Gary Parker, What Is Creation Science? [El Cajon, Calif.: Master Books, 7987], p. 300). This would seem to be an example of the fallacy of the excluded middle: "X must be explained in terms (and only in terms) of either A or B." Instead it may be the case that X can be explained by C or D, or by some combination of A, B, C, D and so forth. In the case of origins, it needs to be recognized that God is free to create through either natural or supernatural means, or through a combination of both."(Davis J.J., "Is `Progressive Creation' Still a Helpful Concept?," in "The Frontiers of Science & Faith: Examining Questions from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2002, p.127l)

Therefore how God created, whether "through either natural or supernatural means, or through a combination of both." should be determined by the *evidence* .

HH>It happens that modern computer application and design uses techniques such as genetic algorithms, neural nets, and open design where the application is not designed but evolved, very much like Darwinian designs.

I am not sure what you are saying here. Clearly "modern computer application and design … *is* … designed"! As a biologist, I would need to be satisfied that "genetic algorithms" really *are* "Darwinian", and not just *pseudo*-Darwinian programs that are *designed* "to search a space of possible solutions to a problem until they find an answer" (see tagline). That is just as "deeply teleological" (only more subtly so) as Dawkins' METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL "evolutionary algorithm which was explicitly programmed to end up at the target".

HH>So this must be how God does it? I wouldn't know. I wasn't there.

How "God does" *what*?

Steve

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"Thus, Dawkins's ["METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL"] simulation converges to the target sequence in 43 steps. In place of 10^40 tries on average for pure chance to generate the target sequence, it now takes on average only 40 tries to generate it via an evolutionary algorithm. Although Dawkins and fellow Darwinists use this example to illustrate the power of evolutionary algorithms, in fact it raises more problems than it solves. For one thing, choosing a prespecified target sequence as Dawkins does here is deeply teleological (the target here is set prior to running the evolutionary algorithm and the evolutionary algorithm here is explicitly programmed to end up at the target). This is a problem because evolutionary algorithms are supposed to be capable of solving complex problems without invoking teleology (indeed, most evolutionary algorithms in the literature are programmed to search a space of possible solutions to a problem until they find an answer-not, as Dawkins does here, by explicitly programming the answer into them in advance). ... A more serious problem then remains. We can see it by posing the following question: Given Dawkins's evolutionary algorithm, what besides the target sequence can this algorithm attain?" (Dembski W.A., "No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence," Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham MD, 2002, p.183)
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/
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