Sunday, April 30, 2006

Re: this uncertainty confuses me because so many`experts' have so many different viewpoints

AN (copy to CED, with later minor changes)

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2006 8:45 AM
Subject: [...]

[Graphic: "Uncertainty," Marco Roascio, Arte81]

AN>Dear Steve Jones,
Hello. I have e-mailed you once before complementing the work you do on your blog. I read your articles everyday and, I think you have one of the best "intelligent design"/creation websites on the net.

Thanks for your message. I presume you know it is my policy to respond publicly to private messages on creation/evolution/design, after removing the sender's personal details. Also, that it is my policy not to get involved in personal discussions on creation/evolution/ design issues.

AN>I really enjoy how you analyze and break down pro-darwin news articles with complete confidence. I am e-mailing you today because I am very frustrated with this whole debate (creationism vs. evolutionism vs. intelligent design).

Thanks. It is inherently frustrating because most of those active in such debates have well-formed views that are, to a large extent, worldview-driven, and so resistant to opposing evidence and arguments.

AN>I have only been familiar with the current debate since around this past Christmas (after getting to an argument with a classmate ...) and I feel that I am unable to discern much of what is being said concerning evolution or ID ... Before college, I was ... basically kind of a semi-wild hipster type that could care less about school or this kind of debate. I was just content riding around on my skateboard and hanging out around town.

Thanks for the background, some of which I deleted because it might identify you.

AN>I am frustrated because I don't know who to believe anymore. Everyday, I read the debates and comments on various ID web pages from extremely smart people with PhD's in biology, math, engineering, etc.

The main problem is not intelligence, or education, but starting assumptions. For example, if your starting assumption is that there is no God (atheism, materialism, naturalism), or that there is a God but He does not intervene in the world (gnosticism, deism, theistic naturalism), then no evidence for creation by supernatural intervention could be accepted, and some form of evolution would then be the only option. As Christian geneticist David Wilcox observed, "One can be a theistic `Darwinian,' but no one can be an atheistic `Creationist'":

"I conclude that the easy acceptance of neo-Darwinism as a complete and adequate explanation for all biological reality has indeed been based in the metaphysical needs of a dominant materialistic consensus. One can be a theistic `Darwinian,' but no one can be an atheistic `Creationist.'" (Wilcox, D.L., "Tamed Tornadoes," in Buell J. & Hearn V., eds., "Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?, " Foundation for Thought and Ethics: Richardson TX, 1994, p.215)

AN>I am pretty convinced that Dawkins and Dennett are completely wrong mainly because of C.S. Lewis's "argument from reason".

Agreed. I presume you have read Reppert's book:

"When C. S. Lewis presented the argument from reason in his revised third chapter of Miracles, he claimed that what he called `strict materialism' could be refuted by a one-sentence argument that he quoted from J.B.S. Haldane: `If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.' [Lewis, C.S., "Miracles: A Preliminary Study," Macmillan: New York, 1978, p.15; quoting Haldane, J.B.S., "Possible Worlds," [1927]; Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick NJ, 2001). However, Lewis maintains that naturalism involves the same difficulty, but he goes on for nine pages explaining why. I suspect that in Lewis's time the idea of nonreductive materialism was not as prevalent as it has since become, and that what passed as `materialism' was identified with strong forms of reductionism. However, here I will be defining materialism broadly, such that it will be very difficult for someone to argue that some form of nonmaterialist naturalism will escape the difficulties I advance for materialism. Any genuinely naturalistic position requires that all instances of explanation in terms of reasons be further explained in terms of a nonpurposive substratum. For if some purposive or intentional explanation can be given and no further analysis can be given in nonpurposive and nonrational terms, then reason must be viewed as a fundamental cause in the universe, and this strikes me as a huge concession to positions such as theism, idealism and pantheism, which maintain that reasons are fundamental to the universe. Any genuinely naturalistic position will be subject to the same objections that I am presenting against materialism, so I will develop my argument in relation to materialism." (Reppert, V.E., "C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: A Philosophical Defense of Lewis's Argument from Reason," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2003, pp.50-51)

AN>And if Dawkins and Dennett are right (which I highly doubt it), then that is the end of the discussion and pretty renders humanity worthless. It would also make our planet and it's amazing human history and spirit into the cruelest joke ever told.

Agreed. But I presume that they don't care about "humanity", but only about themselves. They are both rich and famous and want the Universe to be indifferent to them (i.e.there is no God who can call them to account):

"Theologians worry away at the `problem of evil' and a related `problem of suffering.' ... On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: `For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.' DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." (Dawkins R., "River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life," Phoenix: London, 1996, p.155. Emphasis in original)

AN>I also highly doubt that chance mutations and randomness are capable of creating everything we see today even if large amounts of time are added to the equation. I couldn't leave some Lego blocks (do they have these in Australia) out for millions of years and expect them to assemble in to a Lego city.

Good illustration (and Lego blocks are worldwide-my son is now a computer engineer in the USA and it was probably his vast collection of Lego that helped!).

AN>Anyways, I have read commentary from most of the guys over at ... and they seem to view ID as some sort of curiosity. They don't think it is science or even a theory just yet. They claim to still accept evolution for the most part and think that ID will add to RM+NS to develop a stronger theory of how life developed in its' current state. I think ... at ... believes in macroevolution. Isn't that just the same as accepting Neo-Darwinism? Can macro-evolution be designed?

I don't want to comment on individuals, and everyone is entitled to their view of ID. However, I will say that any claim that "ID is not even a scientific theory" is just a play on the words "scientific" and "theory." ID is a theory in the sense that it makes a testable claim about the real world, namely that some things in nature are best explained as the product of intelligence:

"The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." ("Top Questions: Questions about Intelligent Design," Discovery Institute - Center for Science and Culture)

If it is a scientific theory to claim that there is no design in nature (as Darwin's theory does):

"Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of his day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong. The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false. All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker." (Dawkins, R., "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," W.W Norton & Co: New York NY, 1986, p.5. Emphasis original)

then it is equally a scientific theory that there is design in nature.

AN>I am confused as to why people that see the plausibility of ID cannot accept it? Hasn't Dembski and Behe done a good enough job of developing this theory? Since ID has not been proven as science, would that mean that Darwinian Evolutionism is true until proven false?

There are no doubt a variety of reasons, mostly to do with confusion about what ID is. Those from the creation side can (and some do) reject ID because it is not Biblical enough and/or does not make it explicit that the designer is the God of the Bible. They don't seem to realise that it is not possible to prove from the evidence of nature alone that the designer was the Christian God, although those IDists who are Christians (like me) assume it is.

Those on the evolution side mostly reject ID because they have a prior committment to naturalism (i.e. strong naturalism: nature is all there is = there is no supernatural = there is no God; or weak naturalism: nature is a closed system of cause-and-effect in which God, even if He exists, would not intervene). While ID does not insist that the designer is supernatural (Michael Denton for example was once a Discovery Institute CSC Fellow and he was not even a theist, and seems to believe in a form of Aristotelian teleology in which the laws of nature are the designer), philosophical naturalists unwittingly confirm Romans 1:18-20 in that they intuitively recognise that there is design in nature and connect that with a Creator.

AN>[...] See above about me generally not commenting on others. If I did so, then that person would rightly expect me to let them put their point of view on this blog, and I have neither the time, nor the inclination to do that. I closed down my list CED, because after 11+ years (1994-2005) debating creation/evolution/design, I regarded that for me it was no longer a profitable use of my scarce time.

AN>Stuff like this depresses me! Argh!

One thing you learn in the creation/evolution/design debate is that you are going to get depressed if you expect that others are going to see your point of view, let alone accept it. The best that you can hope for is: 1) you can see their point of view; and 2) clarify and modify your own position, in the light of any actual facts (as opposed to mere opinions and philosophical preferences) that they present (e.g. as I did with common ancestry).

AN>[...] See above.

AN>Thanks so much for reading this long e-mail and I'd really appreciate a reply (but please take your time because I know you are a busy guy). I am sorry to burden YOU with my problems but I really don't know anybody that is knowledgeable about this kind of stuff that can guide me in the right direction.

In this field of creation/evolution/design, there is no "right direction", in the sense that no one can prove that they are right and all those who disagree with them are wrong. I personally accept (and have said so publicly since 1999) that I would have no problem as a Christan if Darwinian evolution (i.e. its facts, as opposed to its philosophy) were 100% true:

" I would have no problem even if Darwinian evolution was proved to be 100% true, because the God of the Bible is fully in control of all events, even those that seem random to man (Prov. 16:33; 1Kings 22:34). Jesus said that not even one sparrow will die unless God wills it (Mat. 10:29-30), which means that God is fully in control of natural selection. But if the Biblical God really exists there is no good reason to assume in advance that Darwinian (or any form of) naturalistic evolution is true!" (Stephen E. Jones: My testimony of how I became involved in the Creation/Evolution debate, 1999-2005)

All that can be done is come to your own assessment of what position best fits all the evidence. A test of that is a serene confidence that one really has honestly considered all the evidence and one's position adopted is, as best as one can ascertain, the right one. I assume that if one's `body language' is nastiness and attempting to suppress opposing positions (as the Darwinists do):

"In the final analysis, it is not any specific scientific evidence that convinces me that Darwinism is a pseudoscience that will collapse once it becomes possible for critics to get a fair hearing. It is the way the Darwinists argue their case that makes it apparent that they are afraid to encounter the best arguments against their theory. A real science does not employ propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked, nor does it rely on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story. If the Darwinists had a good case to make, they would welcome the critics to an academic forum for open debate, and they would want to confront the best critical arguments rather than to caricature them as straw men. Instead they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics." (Johnson, P.E., "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, p.141)

then I assume that one does not really believe in one's heart of hearts, that one's position is correct.

AN>It's just that all of this uncertainty confuses me because so many `experts' have so many different viewpoints from Ken Ham to Richard Dawkins! I don't know who is right and who is wrong for sure. If you don't have time to respond to any of this, could you please forward it to somebody who can?

Join the club! There is inherent and unresolvable "uncertainty" in this field of creation/evolution/design, precisely because it is seen from a variety of mutually exclusive "viewpoints". As Darwin rightly noted, each "fact" is seen and then stored on one's mind along with a "point of view":

"Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. ... I look with confidence to the future,- to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality ... for thus only can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," 1872, Sixth edition, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 1928, reprint, p.456)

that gives it its meaning. Therefore, one cannot expect that those with radically different "viewpoints" see the same facts, in the fullest sense of their meaning and weighting.

All one can do is try to understand the "many different viewpoints from Ken Ham to Richard Dawkins" and compare their core claims against the evidence (both scientific and Biblical). It may be helpful to remember Isaac Asimov's point that it is a fallacy to think that "right" and "wrong" are absolutes (at least in scientific matters), there being a "relativity of wrong":

"The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern `knowledge' is that it is wrong. ... This particular thesis was addressed to me a quarter of a century ago by John Campbell [a science fiction editor], who specialized in irritating me. He also told me that all theories are proven wrong in time. My answer to him was, `John, when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.' The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that `right' and `wrong' are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong." (Asimov, I, "The Relativity of Wrong," in "The Relativity of Wrong," [1988], Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, 1989, reprint, pp.214-15. Emphasis in original)

Also, Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins can be right and wrong about different things. For example, Ham could be wrong, and Dawkins right, on the age of the Earth. But Ham could be right, and Dawkins wrong, on whether Christianity is true (which it is). And the consequences of Ham being wrong about the age of the Earth, and Dawkins being wrong about Christianity being true, are infinitely different!

AN>I am still looking forward to purchasing your book whenever it is finished.

Thanks. As I have said, I am taking a one-year detour from my "Problems of Evolution" book, to classify my ~10,000 evolution quotes, into an Evolution Quotes Book. I passed my 500th quote the other day, leaving `only' ~8,000 to go (since I have eliminated a lot already and the original estimate of ~10,000 was probably too high). I am hoping that there are going to be a lot of further quotes that I can leave out, as it is going to be difficult to keep the book to about 1,000 quotes. As I also have said, I will probably self-publish it directly as an eBook.

AN>Your Friend in Christ,

As "Your Friend in Christ," I hope you don't mind me saying that if you are a relatively new Christian, you should consider that your higher priority is growing your Christian life (Mt 13:18-23; Col 1:10; 1 Pet 2:22; 2 Pet 3:18), compared with debating on the Internet. If the Internet is taking quality time away from your regular personal Bible study and prayer, and Christian fellowship, then my advice is to either cut the debating back, or abandon it altogether.


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


Lifewish said...

ID is a theory in the sense that it makes a testable claim about the real world, namely that some things in nature are best explained as the product of intelligence

My understanding is that "testable" in this context means that a claim is both verifiable and falsifiable. I'm curious as to how one would go about falsifying the ID claim.

Certainly, as stated here, it would appear not to be falsifiable - if I understand correctly, claims of the form "there exists a member of set X with property Y" can't be falsified except by exhaustively searching the set.

Also, what method are you using to determine which explanation is "best"?

Stephen E. Jones said...

>Lifewish said...

SEJ>ID is a theory in the sense that it makes a testable claim about the real world, namely that some things in nature are best explained as the product of intelligence

>My understanding is that "testable" in this context means that a claim is both verifiable and falsifiable. I'm curious as to how one would go about falsifying the ID claim.

The short answer is: to falsify ID show that a naturalistic (e.g. Darwinian) explanation fits the facts better.

The flip side of the claim that ID is unfalsifiable is that Darwinism is unverifiable.

There is plenty on this on the Web (e.g. in Behe and Demsbki's writings), including where critics like Ken Miller claim to *have* falsified ID!

If you are new to this and haven't read them, then do so. But if you are not new at this and have read those writings, but don't accept them, then there is nothing that I could say that would help you.

>Certainly, as stated here, it would appear not to be falsifiable - if I understand correctly, claims of the form "there exists a member of set X with property Y" can't be falsified except by exhaustively searching the set.

See above.

>Also, what method are you using to determine which explanation is "best"?

The same "method" used routinely in science: fits the facts better than the alternatives.

However, as I have said, I don't regard these comments as the place to have a debate.

That is because after ~11 years on C/E lists, I shut down my list CED [] after I came to the conclusion that (due to the worldview-driven nature of this debate), *nothing* I could say would make any difference to my hard-core opponents.

I therefore regard posting to my blog and writing books as a more fruitful way to spend my time.

Stephen E. Jones

Lifewish said...

However, as I have said, I don't regard these comments as the place to have a debate.

Ah, fair enough - I can seriously sympathise with that. Good luck with the books, and give me a yell if you ever get back in the saddle :)