Thursday, December 28, 2006

Re: Did Darwin believe in Intelligent Design?

Denyse O'Leary (copy to CED)

[Graphic: "Schematic View of Bivalve Hinge & Attachments," Washington State University.]

Here is my expanded version of my earlier reply to your message which was posted to another list, and inadvertently copied to me. Thanks for your invitation to post my response to my blog CED. I presume neither the original sender nor yourself will mind me repeating his questions publicly. Feel free to copy this or my previous reply to that list and/or link to my blog.

> I know that Darwin was an agnostic, and his precise theistic / deistic leanings varied over time. But did he have a vague notion of ID, perhaps in the sense that God set up the initial conditions "just right"?
>I have heard of some correspondence, I believe between Darwin and Asa Gray, to the effect that Gray was missing the point of Darwinism by saying that God was guiding the process. Does anyone have the reference for that? What how does that square with Darwin's comments below?
>"Darwin was never an atheist embracing a dysteleological view of evolution, and significantly, he wrestled with the concept of intelligent design even to the last year of his life. (1)"
>(1) In his 1876 autobiography, Darwin argues, "Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wondrous universe, including man with his capacity of looking backwards and far into futurity, as a result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist." Note the present tense in italics. Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882. Edited by Nora Barlow (London: Collins, 1958), 92-93. A few years before his death in 1882, he openly admitted, "I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God." Charles R. Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1887), I: 304. Also see Denis O. Lamoureux, "Theological Insights from Charles Darwin" 56:1 Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (March 2004), 2-12; -----, "Charles Darwin and Intelligent Design" Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 15:1 (2003), 23-42.

Darwin (as he did with most things) vacillated between a vague deism in which he claimed, as in the post quoted, "I deserve to be called a Theist" and being what his biographers Michael White and John Gribbin call, "a total, uncompromising atheist":

"In losing his beautiful daughter [Annie, in 1851] - the little girl who had meant so much to him with her perfect character, so charming and gentle, a child who had never knowingly upset anyone and who was bright and intelligent, funny and affectionate - he had also lost any remaining vestige of religious faith he may have had. From that moment on, Darwin was a total, uncompromising atheist: his only god was rationality, his only saviour, logic and science; to that end he would continue to dedicate his life. There was no meaning to existence other than a culmination of biological events. life was selfish and cruel, headless and heartless. Beyond biology there was nothing." (White, M. & Gribbin, J., "Darwin: A Life in Science," [1995], Simon & Schuster London, 1996, p.156) .

Darwin also claimed in his autobiography that, "The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered" (my emphasis):

"Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." (Darwin, C.R., in Barlow, N., ed., "The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882: With Original Omissions Restored," [1958], W.W. Norton & Co: New York NY, 1969, reprint, p.87).

Significantly Darwin never (as far as I am aware) claimed this in his public writings during his life (his autobiography was published posthumously).

But Darwin is deluding himself (as his followers also do) in assuming that if natural selection can explain something then it can explain everything There is clearly a huge difference between explaining "a hinge of a door" and a watch!

[Graphic: "Watch Mechanism," Loreo Asia Ltd.]

That is, even if natural selection could explain "the ... hinge of a bivalve shell" (see graphic above) that would not mean it can explain the eye or any other "complex multidimensional ... 'Paley's watch', ... 'Organs of extreme Perfection and complication' ... adaptation that seems to demand a shaping agent at least as powerful as a deity" (my emphasis):

"The theory of species selection, growing out of that of punctuated equilibria, is a stimulating idea which may well explain some single dimensions of quantitative change in macroevolution. I would be very surprised if it could be used to explain the sort of complex multidimensional adaptation that I find interesting, the 'Paley's watch', or 'Organs of extreme Perfection and complication', kind of adaptation that seems to demand a shaping agent at least as powerful as a deity." (Dawkins, R., "The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene," [1982], Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, 1983, p.108)

And even if, for the sake of argument, Darwin was right, it would only be Paley's particular version of the "argument of design in nature," that failed, i.e. the `argument from contrivance', for example, that "the ... hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man."

And again, even if, for the sake of argument, Darwin was right and "Everything in nature" was "the result of fixed laws," that would still leave open the `front-loading' design argument that the laws of nature were designed, as per the subtitle of ID theorist Michael Denton's book, "Natures Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe" (see further below).

Also, even if Darwin was only an "agnostic" (i.e. one who claims that he does not or cannot know if God exists) and not an atheist (i.e. one who claims that God does not exist), the 19th century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge drew the distinction between Darwin (and Darwinists) personally, who may or may not be "atheists", and Darwin's theory (i.e. as interpreted by Darwin) which is "atheistic", because as both Gray and Hodge agreed, the denial of design in nature is "tantamount [i.e. amounts to] to atheism":

"Dr. [Asa] Gray goes further. He says, `The proposition that the things and events in nature were not designed to be so, if logically carried out, is doubtless tantamount to atheism.' Again, `To us, a fortuitous Cosmos is simply inconceivable. The alternative is a designed Cosmos... If Mr. Darwin believes that the events which he supposes to have occurred and the results we behold around us were undirected and undesigned; or if the physicist believes that the natural forces to which he refers phenomena are uncaused and undirected, no argument is needed to show that such belief is atheistic.' We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, `What is Darwinism'? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic, that the exclusion of design from nature is, as Dr. Gray says, tantamount to atheism." (Hodge, C., "What Is Darwinism?," [1874], Noll, M.A. & Livingstone, D.N., eds., Baker: Grand Rapids MI, 1994, reprint, p.156) .

As for Asa Gray missing the point, in my opinion he didn't. Gray's point was that as a purely scientific theory Darwin's theory was (and still is in my opinion) compatible with design and theism, if the variations (or mutations) were guided, i.e. "led along certain beneficial lines":

"Wherefore, so long as gradatory, orderly, and adapted forms in Nature argue design, and at least while the physical cause of variation is utterly unknown and mysterious, we should advise Mr. Darwin to assume, in the philosophy of his hypothesis, that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines. Streams flowing over a sloping plain by gravitation (here the counterpart of natural selection) may have worn their actual channels as they flowed; yet their particular courses may have been assigned; and where we see them forming definite and useful lines of irrigation, after a manner unaccountable on the laws of gravitation and dynamics, we should believe that the distribution was designed." (Gray, A., "Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism," Dupree, A.H., ed., The Belknap Press: Cambridge MA, 1963, pp.121-122)

But Darwin eventually in 1868 rejected Gray's attempted reconciliation of design and Darwinism:

"In the midst of social triumph, however, a note of discord appeared under the surface. For the year 1868 marked the end of Gray's long effort to prevent the complete demise of the doctrine of design in its new Darwinian setting. In 1860 a strong possibility had existed that Gray's adaptation of design to Darwinism, or at least the neutrality of Darwinism in its bearing on ultimate questions, might be the major answer put forth to counteract the onslaughts of Bishop Wilberforce. Darwin had, however, rejected Gray's argument privately. In 1868, Darwin took the final step not only of rejecting the design argument in a very conspicuous place but specifically of linking the rejection to Gray. On the last page of Variation of Plants and Animals under Domestication, he concluded, `However much we may wish it, we can hardly follow Professor Asa Gray in his belief' in lines of beneficent variation.'" (Dupree, A.H., "Asa Gray: American Botanist, Friend of Darwin," [1959], The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore MD, 1988, reprint, p.339).

However, note that Gray's proposal was not rejected by Darwin immediately in 1860, which showed that design was not inherently incompatible with Darwin's scientific theory of "the natural selection of numerous successive, slight, favourable variations" (Darwin, C.R., "Origin of Species," Sixth Edition, 1872, p.421), but was only incompatible with Darwin's materialist personal philosophy by which he just assumed that all variations in the history of life were unguided.

It is also worth noting that even conservative theologians in Asa Gray's day, like Robert L. Dabney, saw how Darwinism could be compatible with design, by what later became Lawrence J. Henderson's (and Michael Denton's) "fitness of the environment" argument:

"Robert L. Dabney, [was] perhaps the leading figure in the Southern Presbyterian Church ... Dabney went on to bolster his case by outlining what he saw as the major scientific and philosophical defects of the [Darwinian] theory, rehearsing standard objections: ... But he did go one stage further. Should Darwinian theory come to be vindicated, Dabney planned out the route evangelical theologians should take. It was precisely what the Princeton men had already begun to do. `I remark that if the theory of the evolutionist were all conceded, the argument from designed adaptation would not be abolished but only removed one step backward. If we are mistaken in believing that God made every living creature that moveth after its kind; then the question recurs: Who planned and adjusted these wondrous powers of development? Who endowed the cell-organs of the first living protoplasm with all this fitness for evolution into the numerous and varied wonders of animal life and function, so diversified, yet all orderly adaptations? There is a wonder of creative wisdom and power, at least equal to that of the Mosaic genesis. That this point is justly taken, appears thus: Those philosophers who concede (as I conceive, very unphilosophically and unnecessarily) the theory of `creation by law,' do not deem that they have thereby weakened the teleological argument in the least. [Dabney, R.L., "Lectures in Systematic Theology," (1878), Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980, pp.27,28,37] Dabney was clearly very reactionary in his attitude toward science But he did show a firm grasp of the nature of Darwinism and pointed the way to reconciliation should his inductivist doubts be shown to be without foundation." (Livingstone, D.N., "Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1987, p.125).

That is, as philosopher John Leslie pointed out, "not just any universe would be one in which Darwinian evolution would work" but only in one which is fine-tuned for life:

"Granted that Nature's laws are in fact life-permitting, Darwinian accounts give (although usually only in very compressed form) the causal story of Life's evolution .... Still, not just any universe would be one in which Darwinian evolution would work. If a tiny reduction in the early cosmic expansion speed would have made everything recollapse within a fraction of a second while a tiny increase would quickly have yielded a universe far too dilute for stars to form, then such changes would (presumably) have been disastrous to Evolution's prospects." (Leslie, J., "Universes," [1989], Routledge: London, 1996, reprint, p.108).

So my answer to the question: "Did Darwin believe in Intelligent Design?" is that: 1) Darwin most certainly did not believe in intelligent design in the ID Movement (and Paley) sense of at least some things within nature requiring intelligent, as oppposed to unintelligent, cause; and 2) Darwin may have believed in intelligent design in the sense of "a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man," setting up the "fixed laws" of nature, but then that is as far as it went with him. The outworking of those laws of nature would be from then on with Darwin strictly unintelligent natural processes.

In the final analysis, Darwin denied (or could not accept) that the "contrivances for certain purposes in nature ... were the effect and the expression of mind":

"The Duke of Argyll ('Good Words,' Ap. 1885, p. 244) has recorded a few words on this subject, spoken by my father in the last year of his life. ` the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the 'Fertilization of Orchids,' and upon 'The Earthworms,' and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature-I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin's answer. He looked at me very hard and said, 'Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,' and he shook his head vaguely, adding, 'it seems to go away.'" (Darwin, F., Footnote, Letter to W. Graham, July 3rd, 1881, in Darwin, F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," [1898], Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. I., 1959, reprint, p.285).

therefore Darwin did not believe in intelligent design.

Stephen E. Jones, B.Sc. (Biol.)

Genesis 35:1-7. 1Then God said to Jacob, "Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau." 2So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone." 4So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. 6Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

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