Monday, May 12, 2014

Special agent intention as an explanation

In the course of my discussion with Ed Feser, below, and also in the course of re-reading this old thread from What's Wrong With the World, it's occurred to me that the following points might be useful:

All Christians believe that God made the universe and sustains the universe. All Christians also believe that God sometimes does things that in some sense "go beyond" making and sustaining the universe. We usually call those miracles. Some have argued that, if a particular "going beyond" was "front-loaded" into the initial conditions of the Big Bang, it shouldn't be considered a miracle. I'm rather against front-loading talk, because I'm inclined to think that it would look like an intervention whenever it came up anyway. ("Hey, God front-loaded the change from water to wine at Cana into the Big Bang so that it happened at the very moment that Jesus intended it to!") But either way, Christians are committed to believing that there are things that God does by special intention that goes beyond, "God continually sustains everything at every moment" or "God made the whole world, somehow."

This is why all Christians that I know of have some notion of the natural order or of what are usually called secondary causes. There is some sense in which it is true to say that the weather in my town today is probably not the result of special divine intention but rather of the secondary causes according to which God has built the world but that the voice from the sky at Jesus' baptism was definitely the result of special divine intention.

When someone promoting an ID argument says that it is probable that such-and-such a particular phenomenon (say, the visual biochemical cascade in some animals) was the result of intelligent design, he need not be saying that the cosmological argument (or some other version of the teleological argument) doesn't work, that God isn't a necessary being, that it is not the case that everything in the universe depends on God for its existence, that God doesn't sustain the whole world, that God didn't create the whole universe, or anything of the kind. He can be prescinding from addressing all of those heavier metaphysical questions. What he is saying is that it is probable that this particular phenomenon (not everything in the universe indiscriminately) was the result of special agent intention. And special agent intention just isn't what we mean by any of those other things. It isn't included in God's sustaining the universe or God's being the Ultimate Cause or any of that. Suppose that a philosopher claims that, even if only one electron existed in the universe, it would have teleology and would necessarily require that God sustain that teleology. Whatever force that claim or an argument for that claim has, that argument isn't an argument for special agent intention. The old Gilbert and Sullivan song says, "If everybody's somebody, then no one's anybody." If we restrict ourselves to some sense in which everything is, of necessity, "the result of" God, then we just aren't talking about God's special intention, and ID arguments proceed from particular noticed facts and the explanation of special intention for those particular facts.

However one parses God's ways of working out His special intentions, Christians have to have a distinction between God's creating and sustaining everything and God's acts of special intention, because without it, we can't talk about miracles.

So when someone making an intelligent design argument says that it is probable that x was the result of intelligent design, he is saying that it is probable that x was the result of special agent intention. And whatever one believes about God as the Necessary First Cause and so forth, one is completely free to regard it as merely probable that some given phenomenon in the world is a result of God's special intention and special act to bring about that intention.

Hence, an ID argument does not involve postulating a God who is not the necessary ground of being or anything of the kind. As I said, the ID arguments just don't have to enter into those ultimate metaphysical questions at all. An ID argument involves postulating that we can examine probabilistically whether some given phenomenon is the result of special agent intention--which, if God is in fact the Agent in question, means special divine intention. What is being treated as merely probable is not God's relationship to Everything That Is but some agent's (or Agent's) special intention, and acting to bring about that special intention, with regard to this particular arrangement or event.

It will be observed that in making these last two points I am explicitly rejecting any hermetic seal or wall between the creation of, say, animals and Biblical miracles. That is correct. I do emphatically reject any absolute claim to the effect that "creation is different." Our conclusions about whether some animal or aspect of biological life is a result of special divine intention should be drawn on the basis of all available evidence, and in many cases (as discussed in the voice in the sky example in the previous post) that evidence will be similar in kind to the evidence that allows us to conclude special divine intention and action in the case of miracles within human history. The "creating parts of nature, such as animals, in the distant past has to be special" insistence is simply not, in my view, supportable. People often attempt to say that it must be different on the basis of various philosophical assumptions, but I simply do not find those arguments convincing. Evidence is evidence, and is all of a piece.

In any event, from a metaphysical point of view, I think it is enlightening to hold that in some sense special agent intention and action constitute the merely probable explanation in ID arguments. This should lay to rest any objection that ID is rejecting a God who necessarily is the Cause of all things.


Doug said...

Thanks for that. I'm another big fan of Ed Feser. But I think he has a huge blind spot when it comes to ID, and I think you've exposed it quite well. ID simply depends on agent causation, rather than anything logically contrary to A-T philosophy. And I find it quite peculiar that someone as clever as Feser has spent so much energy in opposition to an illusory problem of his own construction.

Matteo said...

I've definitely enjoyed the back and forth on all of this, and I've never, for the life of me, been able to grok Ed's animus toward ID.

He seems to, in essence, keep trying to assert (contra Lydia's decisive takedown) that the IDists as IDists are practicing "bad theology". Which is odd, since the whole point of ID is that it concerns itself with abductive inferences concerning empirical matters, not theology.

ID cannot possibly be conducting "bad theology" because it is not, in fact conducting any theology. Abduction to an intelligent cause of something based on empirical evidence is not theology!

I sometimes get the feeling that Feser wishes that all of the militant atheists would duke it out with Thomists rather than duking it out with IDists. It is the IDists that take all the flak because they are definitely over the target. Thomists are also over the target, but our civilization is so far gone philosophically that they aren't even noticed. Still, it's no reason to disparage and duke it out with the IDists.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lydia, what do you think of Gregory Dawes' objections to theistic explanations? For example, since God can be used to explain almost anything, any theistic explanation has little or no empirical content.

He also argues that theistic explanations must fulfill what he calls the optimality condition - God must fulfill his intention in the best possible way. So if we can show that some event isn't the best way to fulfill some divine intention - for example, if we can show that there were a better way to show that Jesus is divine besides resurrecting him - then our theistic explanation fails.

Given that our epistemic limits regarding whether some event is the best way to fulfill some divine intention, we can have little confidence that some theistic explanation has explanatory force.

Finally, even if the optimality condition can be fulfilled, Dawes also argues that theistic explanations lack explanatory virtues such as testability, consistency with background knowledge, previous explanatory success, simplicity, ontological economy, and informativeness.

Lydia McGrew said...

Dawes is completely wrong. But his approach illustrates why I think it is important that we not speak as if God is so much unlike ourselves that we cannot use ordinary methods of inference to recognize his action.

God actually cannot be used to "explain almost anything." Dawes is giving the false impression that, since God is all-powerful, all possible actions are equally probable for him across an infinite distribution. I discuss an objection much like this from Elliott Sober in this article

and in a similar article in the Routledge Companion to Theism.

Notice, too, the slide from "God will always do something in the best way" to "If we don't know that something is the best way, we can't possibly know that it was done by God." That's an extremely foolish inference. Even at the human level it fails. Suppose that someone is an excellent surgeon, and you have reason to believe that he will perform your surgery in a very wise and careful way. This does not mean that, unless you are medically knowledgeable enough to evaluate independently whether the surgery was performed in a wise and excellent way, you cannot know that that was your surgeon! Many similar counterexamples could be given, pretty much ad infinitum.

As for "testability," that sounds like it is going back to some kind of Popperian from a Bayesian or probabilistic IBE approach. The proposition, "I received a comment from a real, though anonymous, commentator asking about Gregory Dawes, and he was not a computer" is justified by the evidence I have--this single comment--even if I never get another comment from you again. I don't have to set up some kind of further test and have you pass that test to conclude that you are a real human.

As for simplicity, a simple explanation is always chosen relative to the evidence. I didn't wake up this morning believing that I would get a comment about Dawes on this thread, because that would have been a fifth wheel vis a vis my evidence. In short, I had no reason to believe such a "complex" thing. However, the existence of a human being who is curious about what I think about Gregory Dawes is, now, a simpler explanation of the evidence than the existence of a computer robot pretending to be a human asking about Dawes! God's action can be the simplest explanation _of the evidence we have_. Indeed, watching people try to find other explanations in specific epistemic contexts, where their explanations are manifestly ad hoc, makes this quite clear.

I could go down and do a similar analysis of "informativeness" and all the others.

Doug said...

Perhaps Feser's issue with ID is based on a mistaken inference among:

1. The effect of God's agent causation is a "one among many" effects-of-causation (i.e., phenomena).

2. God's agent causation is "one among many" agent causations.

3. God's agency is "one among many" agencies.

4. God is "one among many" agents.

We appreciate Feser's objection to #4. But surely ID is really only concerned with the (unobjectionable?) #1, without any inference to #2, or #3, let alone #4?

Lydia McGrew said...

I agree with Matteo that the majority of prominent ID theorists are not doing theology because, in fact, they leave open the identity of the designer. It's well-known that most or all of them actually _believe_ the designer to be God. For the purpose of leaving that option on the table, the only "theology" that is needed is the minimal theological proposition that God is not so vastly unlike ourselves as to be unable to reveal Himself. See my Christendom Review article in the above link. I believe that any attempt to make an argumentative analogy between God and the designers we know thus far may be the type of thing that gives rise to concerns about "theistic personalism," but pushing that concern too hard would make God too unlike us to reveal Himself, which would not be consistent with Christianity. In fact, an extreme form of negative theology which would prevent any inference from being made where the agent "would be" or is believed by the advocates of the argument to be God is exactly what someone like Sober is trying to chivvy Christians and design theorists into. We should not go along with that, since in fact it is not correct.

Anonymous said...

Your comments on Dawes' objections are very helpful. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on the other explanatory versions he mentions? Thanks :)

Lydia McGrew said...

Doug: I think concerning your #4, it may be useful to go back to the comments I made in the previous thread concerning a "fork" point in our reasoning. Or perhaps "disjunction" would be a better term. Here is what I mean: When we are inferring intelligent agency but prescinding from conclusions about the identity of the agent, and when both God and finite agents are among the possibilities, we need a way of indicating that. ID writers and sympathizers, myself included, have usually settled on terms such as "an agent" or "a person" for this purpose. The idea was to choose something broad and generic enough to cover either God or a finite agent, because *at that stage* one is not attempting to distinguish these.

Now, it seems to me that such an umbrella term is indispensable in the actual course of making the argument, because, when one is answering a person who attributes the event to natural causes, that is a step on the way: "No, it wasn't impersonal natural causes. It was an agent."

I suppose that, to a really hard-line classical theist, the concern then is that, in using such an umbrella term, we are classifying God as "just one agent among many," since he and the finite agents are included under the same umbrella term as the possible causes of the phenomenon.

As I pointed out in the previous thread, though,

a) the same complaint could be made in the case of and argument with someone who tries to attribute the voice from heaven to natural causes, so, for the Christian, it cannot be treated as an insuperable block to the inference,

b) if one is a purist on these matters, for both inferences it is possible to treat the umbrella term ("an agent" or "a person") as tacitly referring to a disjunction: "Either a finite agent or God, who is not strictly just another agent but has properties that are like intelligence and will in ourselves."

Lydia McGrew said...

Anon, it's been a couple of years since I read parts of Dawes, and at the time his objections struck me as being very similar to Sober's, which I've written about in a couple of places. My recollection was that Dawes was trying to do a specifically non-probabilistic IBE. I may be misremembering, but if I'm right about that, it explains the very existence of that grocery list of explanatory virtues.

As a Bayesian, I take IBE to be entirely explicable in probabilistic terms. I therefore think it is usually misguided to sit around with a checklist and say, "Does this hypothesis have this virtue?" in some abstract sense. I think that it causes us to lose contact with the *evidence* and tends to promote bias. For example, on a different subject, consider the naturalists who say, "We shouldn't believe in the mind, because it's simpler to believe that everything is physical substance." Don't get me wrong. I'm actually very, very interested in the role of simplicity considerations in theory-making. But that's a ham-handed use thereof, because it tries to prejudge the issue aside from the relation to the evidence. It would be simpler for me, a priori, _not_ to believe in the existence of Barack Obama, because then I would have one less entity in my ontology. But obviously, in connection with the evidence I have, it is _not_ the simplest explanation of that evidence for me to believe that Barack Obama does not exist!

We can apply the same point to "ontological economy." One of the most ontologically economical positions, I suppose, is solipsism: Nobody exists but me. How economical! But obviously, that would be a very poor and, ultimately, would require an overwhelmingly complex explanation of the data I have.

I think something similar is true with the existence of God. I wouldn't ask anybody to believe in God in the absence of evidence--"just because." I even grant that the theist has a burden of proof. But I think that burden of proof has been overwhelmingly well-satisfied, and at this point it is ludicrous to bring up "ontological economy" against the existence of God, just as it would be to bring up that consideration against the existence of well-confirmed historical figures.

As far as "consistency with background knowledge," I don't think there is a hard and fast distinction between E and background information. We make the decision of how to carve that up for purposes of some particular Bayesian inference. It's all evidence. If there is some particular evidence that Dawes thinks _disconfirms_ theism, he is welcome to bring it up. But if all he means is that we don't see God working miracles every day, or that we don't all have conversations with God, and that this somehow creates an "inconsistency with background evidence" for the existence of God, I'm going to say that is weak sauce. God isn't expected to be the kind of person whose visible interactions with us are as common as our visible interactions with each other, or with the family dog. *Of course* a miracle is an unusual event. That's what makes it a powerful sign. Yes, that gives it a lower prior than a car accident or some other mundane event! But that prior can be overcome by a strong Bayes factor of the evidence that comes in for the event.

"Informativeness" seems to be looking for God's existence to be making predictions. Again, I think this is a somewhat Popperian approach to evaluating some kind of "scientific research project." Agent action shouldn't be approached that way at all. My inference that you exist is not part of a research project and doesn't need to be "informative" beyond the fact that it is a good explanation of this conversation.

Doug said...

Lydia: you are on the money, once again. If man is created in God's image, then it is certainly legitimate for there to be a word for "any entity that reflects God's image" -- your "umbrella" -- without any implication that God takes on human properties.

Lydia McGrew said...

I want to add a point which I have also posted at W4: I am aware of the dispute in philosophy of religion among conservationists, occasionalists, and concurrentists concerning God's relationship to the order of nature and to all events in the world. It's probably true that most people writing about ID find it convenient to speak in conservationist terms, and perhaps they really are conservationists. I admit that I'm rather inclined in that direction myself. But the inference does not _ride_ on that, because of the point about special agent intention and miracles that I have made in the above post.

Suppose that one thinks that occurrentism or occasionalism is the best account of God's relationship to the world. That can't per se block an ID inference, because it cannot be used to block an inference to miracles.

It is rather ironic that some people (I seem to recall that Avery Dulles did this, and I know that the since-deconverted Howard van Till, formerly at Calvin, did this) have accused ID of being a "form of deism" because it makes a distinction between God's relationship to *everything* and the _special_ intention postulated in design. But one could just as easily argue the other way: If one is going to use one's concurrentism (for example) or occasionalism or whatever one's philosophy is about God's relationship to nature to _block_ the use of evidence to infer God's special acts, _that_ has a very strong tendency to deism, since deism famously denied the occurrence of miracles.

So that entire debate should be regarded as irrelevant. Whatever one's view--conservationist, concurrentist, or occasionalist--if one is a Christian one must have room for Divine intervention, for some _different_ way in which God is related to some events rather than to Everything That Is, and for us to be able epistemologically to infer those special events and that special relationship. ID arguments are no more per se committed to conservationism than they are to concurrentism, and one who takes any of these views, as long as he isn't committed to denying special divine actions and intentions in the world, should have room for the ID inference.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, your comments have been helpful in addressing my concerns. A final question: what is a good article/book on probabilistic IBE vs. non-probabilistic IBE? I'm not familiar with the literature on that topic. Thank you again.

Lydia McGrew said...

Peter Lipton has a book chapter that concludes "The Bayesian and the explanationist should be friends" from 2004.

This Stanford Encyclopedia article has an overview discussion of suggestions for bringing together Bayesianism and explanationism. See the article by my husband, Tim, in the bibliography as well as other relevant references.

Christopher McCartney said...

Although I grant that there must some difference between the way God works in general and what he does in a miracle, I don't see that ID arguments have to involve this. It seems to me that not only are the ID arguments silent on the metaphysical theory to account for special agent intention, they are also silent on whether the agent intention is special in the first place. It might well be that the functional complexity of biota makes it possible for us to infer an agent's intention behind them from premises delivered by empirical study of biology, together with very simple common-sense reasoning, whereas to discern the agent's intention in everything else takes more subtle metaphysical reasoning. But this difference in how we argue for the existence of the intention doesn't imply a difference in the intention itself.

In the case of miracles, things are different. In order for a miracle to be a sign to us, we have to be able to conclude that God is speaking in a direct and particular way, and there needs to be something special about the event itself to make it stand out from the background of the order of nature. But the coming to be of life within a merely chemical environment, and the increasing complexity of life, could have been the results of natural processes -- so long as it is the nature of a natural process to be ordered by a governing intelligence. What they could not be are natural processes devoid of intelligent authorship.

In fact, at least once life gets started, the process of going from (apparently) simple one-celled organisms, with very limited abilities, to progressively higher life forms with progressively greater abilities to perceive and comprehend the world around them, and to act in that world, with an agency that resembles more and more the divine intellect and will, looks for all the world like an instance of _growth_. I.e., it is like the growth of a plant from a seed, or a child in the womb, or any other kind of growth that is familiar to us. Which makes me think it was indeed a natural process.

To look at, an acorn is not much different from a pebble. When it starts producing leaves we might say that that looks miraculous, since we can't see (let's suppose we're living before modern discoveries in microbiology) how something pebble-like could have the powers to do that. But it was (even then) more reasonable to say that the acorn has some natural powers that we don't understand. In the same way the preCambrian biosphere may have had the natural power to produce the Cambrian animals. More speculatively, prebiotic Earth may have had the natural power to produce life.
This would be a kind of front loading. But it needn't stand out from the ordinary course of nature unless you subscribe to an ateological view of what nature is. If nature is inherently teleological, then the emergence and complexification of life will no more stand out than the emergence of an oak tree from an acorn.

Lydia McGrew said...

Christopher, you raise a lot of really interesting issues, and I will try to talk about most of them, but in a piecemeal fashion and not necessarily in order. The first one I want to mention, because it really jumped out at me, is this:

"But it needn't stand out from the ordinary course of nature unless you subscribe to an ateological view of what nature is. If nature is inherently teleological, then the emergence and complexification of life will no more stand out than the emergence of an oak tree from an acorn."

I think this is just wrong, and wrong at a fairly important level. Believing in a "teleological view of nature" doesn't tell us _where_ that teleology comes in or _what_ its powers are. Otherwise, _nothing_ would ever stand out as requiring special explanation beyond the "teleology in nature." It would become a universal (and hence ridiculous) "explanation"! For example, a person who believes in a teleological view of nature is still completely free to conclude that a series of cave paintings, or the Mona Lisa, were the result of the intervention of agents rather than the outworking of some inherent teleology in nature. Teleology in nature is an extremely broad concept and, if we interpret it charitably, it must allow for there to be an order in nature and some things that won't, in fact, happen as a result of the order in nature. Presumably someone who believes in teleology in nature is still a reasonable and sensible enough person to *look and find out* what sorts of things happen as a result of teleology in nature and which things don't. Because obviously, some things do and some things don't.

A pointed fact here that tells against your extremely sweeping statements is that Dr. Feser actually believes that the _emergence_ of life was _not_ the result of the inherent teleology in nature, and _could not_ have been. He has stated repeatedly that he believes there is an a priori Aristotelian argument that life (e.g., the first instance of life on earth) *could not* have simply emerged from non-life and had to be the result of special creation!!

So you see that there is a person deeply committed to inherent teleology who does not see it as this kind of "universal growth" principle according to which nature just "gets" ever-more-complex over time. You are applying your notion of teleology in nature to draw a very strong conclusion which is not, in fact, supported by that principle and which your fellow Aristotelians can disagree with you about completely.

And it is no wonder that that is so, because of the reasons I have already given above.

Lydia McGrew said...

" When it starts producing leaves we might say that that looks miraculous, since we can't see (let's suppose we're living before modern discoveries in microbiology) how something pebble-like could have the powers to do that. But it was (even then) more reasonable to say that the acorn has some natural powers that we don't understand."

This is true, but this is because we know by inductive experience that acorns grow into oak trees all the time. Therefore, once one knows this, it doesn't look like a miracle but like the order of nature, even if one doesn't know the details.

"In the same way the preCambrian biosphere may have had the natural power to produce the Cambrian animals."

No, not in the same way at all. In fact, your whole metaphor of "looking like the growth of the child" is a poor one precisely because of such lurches and jumps as the Cambrian explosion. (As well as for other reasons.) The Cambrian explosion happened _once_. The argument about its cause is therefore an argument about an historical event in a sense that is not true for the repeated emergence of an oak tree from an acorn.

In general, I think this point tells against your entire analogy to the growth of a child. Frankly, the emergence of the species doesn't look to _me_ *at all* like the "process of growth." It looks like a series of wild jumps, and our more detailed evidence tends to tell _against_ the Darwinian tale of how those jumps happened. Nor, lacking any inductive evidence that this is "like a child growing" and is just the kind of thing that happens all by itself, do we have grounds for accepting that analogy.

By the way, the whole "looks like growth" claim seems to me to spring from a post-Darwinian sensibility: Darwin developed his entire theory, and neo-Darwinians have worked and worked and worked on the details, precisely because they thought some explanation of this process was necessary, not because it was just blindingly obvious that this was all a natural process! If it turns out that their theory stinks and that nothing else is doing a good job replacing it, we should start deeply questioning this "natural development" metaphor.

Lydia McGrew said...

About front-loading: I have to be very honest in that I have never been a fan of front-loading. It has seemed to me that Mike Behe (whom I deeply respect as a biologist) and others who have repeatedly alluded to front-loading are trying to placate their critics. That's not to say they are insincere, but I think it is an unfortunate move, whatever its reasons. And it certainly doesn't work anyway to placate their die-hard critics!

The fact is that their evidence simply doesn't support front-loading. Even if we concede that front-loading is metaphysically possible, because God is all-powerful, the fact remains that their whole argument is that nature does _not_ appear have the inherent powers to produce these things from simpler things. Therefore, if it _was_ front-loaded, this means that God set up ahead of time for a sort of "lurch" to happen in nature which looked for all the world like a miracle--a kind of ticking time bomb. I suppose God could even do this with things that we all agree are miracles, though it's very difficult to talk about what that would be like. Could God have set up in the initial conditions of the Big Bang some kind of "time bomb" set to go off in a set of molecules which, God knew, would be exactly the molecules that would go into the water that would be put into the water pots at Cana, so that they would turn into wine at Jesus' command? I _guess_ so, but in that case, epistemologically, it looks like an intervention. In fact, it's pretty obvious that the front-loading hypothesis there is an ad hoc attempt to avoid intervention in a scenario that looks like intervention.

I think something similar is true of ID arguments. It's not as though their arguments _support_ front-loading. On the contrary, their arguments show the _improbability_ that these things would arise by natural processes from simpler things. At that point to hypothesize that "it's just a matter of what we don't know" is a kind of naturalism-of-the-gaps--an ever-put-off promissory note for an explanation that never emerges.

Front-loading, then, is a metaphysical presupposition, not an hypothesis supported by the facts.

Lydia McGrew said...

And finally, front-loading is still supposed to be an instance of special agent intention. The idea is that God _did_ do that front-loading, and that this wouldn't have happened without it. Even apart from the question of intervention, yes, that is _special_ agent intention, not _general_ agent intention. The whole point of front-loading is that God has not left "free to vary" whether x happens or not. He has set it up so that, for sure, it _will_ happen in just this one, precise way.

Lydia McGrew said...

So my last comment is intended to indicate this: While many of the foremost ID theorists would be more friendly than I am to your idea of front-loading and of "the whole process" showing the signs of design, or something of that kind, that would _still_ be an instance of "special agent intention." I do think that the concept of special agent intention is sufficiently broad to include front-loading and does indeed lie at the heart of the ID arguments, even if one postulates some form of front-loading as the specific means by which the intention was realized.

Lydia McGrew said...

I notice, too, Christopher, that you say that both the emergence of life and the emergence of more complexity "need not" stand out from the ordinary course of nature.

I would argue, from an empirical perspective, that it _does in fact_ stand out. "Need not stand out" is a rather odd locution. The important question, for knowing where these things come from, is whether they _do_ stand out, not whether, in some a priori way, they "need to" stand out. And whether they _do_ stand out can be discovered only by investigating the empirical evidence.

Christopher McCartney said...

"Need not" was deliberate. I chose those words in hopes that you would not misunderstand me in exatly the way you seem to have done in your first response. I should have tried harder: I meant my last sentence to be still contingent on the conjecture that evolution is the result of the exercise of natural powers in the same way as an acorn's growth is. That is absolutely a conjecture, not something the flows directly from a teleological view of nature.

My primary point was to argue that ID is _consistent_ not just with front-loading, but with a kind of front-loading that would make the emergence/development of life not miraculous/quasi-miraculous (not an instnce of special agent intention). The kind of front-loading that is usually put forward is just the kind you describe, what might be called entropic front-loading, where God arranges the exact position and momentum of every particle in the universe in such a way that, billions of years later, water turns into wine even though water does not posess the natural power to do any such thing, nor is its transformation the result of anything else's exercise of its natural powers. I fully agree with your evaluation of the hypothesis that would explain macroevolotion and/or the origin of life life by this kind of front-loading: logically possible, perhaps, but the difference between that and direct intervention doesn't really make a difference. That kind of front-loading certainly _would_ count as special agent intention.
But there is another kind of front-loading: the information for building an oak is front-loaded into an acorn. If -- underline that -- _if_ the preCambrian biosphere had the natural power to produce the Cambrian explosion (by some means that we understand no better than Aristotle understood the microbiology of an acorn), then that kind of front-loading would not count as special agent intention, and it would not stand out from the general order of nature, but would be an instance of the ordinary working of nature.
Bracket the question of whether the antecedent can be maintained with any semblance of reason. Do you grant me the conditional? If so, then we are in agreement as to my primary point.

Christopher McCartney said...

For my secondary point, I suggested that the antecedent is a reasonable conjecture. I claim no more for it than that, for, as you rightly point out, it only happened once (that we know of) and we cannot make the kind of inductive arguments that we can in the case of an acorn. All we have is an argument from analogy. But if the analogy is good, I say we can regard it as a reasonable conjecture. (By 'it' I mean the conjecture as regards the history of life, not the origin of life, for which I don't even claim "reasonable conjecture" status. A better descriptor would be "mere speculation.")

Now, I say the analogy is good, but you say it 1."is a poor one precisely because of such lurches and jumps as the Cambrian explosion." You also say, 2. "our more detailed evidence tends to tell _against_ the Darwinian tale of how those jumps happened." And 3." the whole "looks like growth" claim seems to me to spring from a post-Darwinian sensibility: Darwin developed his entire theory, and neo-Darwinians have worked and worked and worked on the details, precisely because they thought some explanation of this process was necessary, not because it was just blindingly obvious that this was all a natural process! If it turns out that their theory stinks and that nothing else is doing a good job replacing it, we should start deeply questioning this "natural development" metaphor. "

I think it will be best to respond to these in reverse order

Ad 3. But Darwinian evolution _doesn't_ look like organic growth. In the popular mind, Darwinian theory was often confused with vaguely Hegelian ideas of progress, which , though radically unAristotelian, were very much teleological. But Darwin himself denied -- the whole point of his theory was to deny -- that the history of life was like organismic growth in precisely the way I am conjecturing that it was: a process with a definite end in view -- one that occurs by the expression of latent powers already present in the seed or immature form. Darwin's whole point is that evolution is not like that: it has no end in view. He was trying to account for the apparent teleology in present organisms as the result of purely ateleological processes.
The metaphor of growth doesn't depend on Darwin. It depends on the empirical fact evident in the fossil record that simpler forms preceded more complex forms. Now I don't really like those terms, since my conjecture is that the apparently simple early forms are really complex after all, but they appear simpler on the surface, and more importantly they lack higher-level abilities that higher life forms have. Which is why we can hardly help calling life forms "higher" and "lower". On an interventionist theory, the fact that lower forms come into existence before higher ones is not one that has an obvious explanation. But if the history of life is a kind of growth, then that makes sense.

Ad 2. I agree completely. The evidence refutes Darwin. I think what I said above is sufficient to show that that's not relevant to my conjecture.

Ad. 1. The lurches and jumps of the Cambrian etc. are very much inconsistent with a Darwinian process, which must be gradual and incremental precisely because of its random, unguided nature, but not with my conjecture. The relatively sudden appearance of new features, after a period of stasis, is well within the powers of organic growth. Butterflies, for example.

Lydia McGrew said...


Thanks for your clarification and for the discussion. I was indeed confused by what I took to be your implication that one is either required or at least strongly encouraged by a "teleological view of nature" to believe that natural processes have the power both to produced life from non-life (which, as I mentioned, Prof. Feser thinks is ruled out by Aristotelianism) and to produce creatures having the features ID notes from creatures who do not.

I take it from your clarification that instead you are basing your conjectures more on the fact that relatively simpler life forms seem to precede relatively more complex ones in the history of life, rather than per se on a teleological view of nature. As I understand your position now, you acknowledge that the teleological view of nature, by itself, does not mean that one must make or ought to make such conjectures about natural powers. To my mind, this is not good evidence for such conjectures concerning the natural powers of the world. For one thing, presumably a special creator would have created things in *some* order or other, and there is no reason for him not to have done it in this order. This reminds me, in passing, of the concern skeptics sometimes raise about the Ascension: "If it really happened, why did Jesus go up?" To which I'm always inclined to reply, "Why not? Would it have been more better if he went West?"

For another thing, though I do not take a rigid view on Genesis, I think in discussions of this kind among Christians it doesn't hurt to take a look back at the text. There we do find God creating the types of creatures in an order, rather than creating them all at the same time. And we do find that creatures with, in some sense, greater powers are said to have been created after those with, in some sense, lesser powers. So, for example, the mammals come after the fish, and man is the crown of the entire process. I'm not saying that this has to be taken with strict literalness. I'm inclined to think the evidence favors an old earth, for example. I am merely pointing out that we have independent Scriptural reason to believe that God might well have specially created things in a "building up" order. I don't therefore think any especially strong answer to "why the designer did it that way" is required by a person bringing the explanation I am suggesting.

Lydia McGrew said...

(Cont.) Now, I would like to dig a bit into this analogy you are making to the development of an oak from an acorn or the development of some adult creature from its own embryo. I think it is actually false that the embryo represents a development from simpler to more complex. Actually, the *information* for the future development of the embryo (if it is given nutrition and the right kind of shelter) is there already in the embryo. The newly conceived embryo is not really simpler than the adult creature.

Moreover (and this is important), we are able to investigate scientifically the "natural powers" of the embryo to develop into an adult, and even further back, the "natural powers" of the male and female gametes and the process by which they unite at fertilization and produce the embryo. The process of reproduction is not impenetrable magic. "Natural powers" is a good phrase as far as it goes, but it refers to a real underlying physical process into which it is possible to inquire and which it is possible to make progress in understanding. Embryologists actually know quite a lot about this whole amazing process, in terms of the role of the egg cytoplasm, the combining of the male and female DNA strands, the triggering of various proteins, and so on and so forth. We don't know everything about it, by a long shot. Maybe we never will. But the underlying process is _there_, available, capable of investigation, and we have been able to make at least a very good beginning at understanding it. We have some idea of _why_ an acorn develops into an oak tree, why a male and female mammal's sexual intercourse produces an embryo, and why the embryo develops into an adult of that species.

Say what one will about Darwinism and neo-Darwinism, the production of those theories shows a correct recognition that, if one is going to postulate that special creation is false and that "the world" has the "natural powers" to produce all of the species we see, one has to do some work to make that plausible by giving further explanation. Otherwise one is just waving a magic wand. Also, by the analogy with the natural powers of the embryo, we should expect *inductively* to find that such a further explanation in terms of underlying factors is accessible to mankind. Otherwise the analogy is doing only the barest rhetorical work and has no relation to the reality. We expected scientifically to be able to say more about those "natural powers" by which an acorn turns into a tree, and that expectation has been amply fulfilled. So where is the explanation of "the world's natural powers" for producing the species?

Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are taken by most to be the best shot at an explanation of how this happened without special creation. Not that those theories even to address the origin of life issue (a point that often gets overlooked). But of course there are also attempted abiogenesis theories. A great many scientists still believe these theories about natural processes and the production of life and the species to be not simply the best shot, but actually true.

Lydia McGrew said...

(cont.) Like you, Christopher, I think (though speaking as a layman) that these various theories have been empirically refuted as well as one can say that about any scientific theory. But the point I am making here is that it will not do, scientifically, merely to make a vague reference to the world's "having the natural powers" to produce, say, all of the animals at the Cambrian explosion, without so much as a scrap about what this means in terms of a further explanation of what those natural powers were and *how* they could produce what we have.

Moreover, even if one rejects Darwinism, the ID arguments cannot simply be waved off as "not directed to me," because the ID arguments are all about *information*. The question is, where is the *information* for bringing about this emergence of, say, mammalian life, sexual reproduction, or the blood-clotting cascade, and so forth? The most natural place to look for it would be in the (already very complex) living creatures that existed previously, but that appears to have been a fruitless enterprise. You may be sure that the Darwinians are looking there, as well! And it is mere talk to say that the information might be "in the environment." Notice that in our present world, "the environment" doesn't seem to have the information for producing new life forms, so why should we have expected it to be any different before?

If you found a woolly mammoth in your front yard one day, you would not assume that he had arisen from the natural powers of the dirt and the air in your neighborhood.

It is for reasons of this kind, having to do with the immense amounts of information required for the things ID discusses, that these things *do* "stand out" from their surroundings. That is an epistemic matter. Once one gets into the details, one sees that the prospects simply are not good for "natural powers" to produce these things.

Remember that the Darwinians are fairly desperate. They would be extremely happy to grasp at *anything* that could be plausibly brought forward as a form of natural development or "evolution," even if it weren't very Darwinian. In fact, they do things like that all the time. For example, more recently they are downplaying the role of natural selection and up-playing the alleged role of gene duplication and transfer. Not that it's doing them much good. But the point I'm making is that saluting the flag to "I believe in evolution" is so important that you can be sure that even not-strictly-Darwinian processes will be investigated to the full and put forward. In that sense, the evolutionists are doing the work for you in leaving no stone unturned for finding out if "the world" had "natural powers" to produce these things. And it's just not looking like it.

Lydia McGrew said...

Moving on to the issue of "special intention." Suppose that the information for all of this actually was somehow "in the world" from, say, the beginning of creation. Maybe somehow God put the "natural powers" to make a blood-clotting cascade into the complex interaction of the mountains, the air, and the animal without a blood-clotting cascade. To speak frankly, I have no idea what I'm talking about there. It sounds like nonsense to me. Normally one would speak of the natural powers of some _thing_ that is of a particular kind. (And I would think that an Aristotelian, of all people, would want to do that even more than I would.) But suppose that it's not nonsense, and it's true. In that case, I would say that that really is a matter of "special intention" *in the beginning*. Consider your analogy of the process of reproduction and growth. I definitely agree with you that the growth of each acorn does not now occur by God's special intention but rather by the exercise of the powers of the acorn. However, remember, I'm the person arguing for intelligent design. I think that the existence of the *first* fertilized acorn, or the first oak tree (which amounts to the same thing) _did_ require special agent intention. The reason that oak trees now reproduce without special agent intention is because that kind of thing was originally made to do so, and to produce others of its kind capable of doing so, by special agent intention. So if God made the world so incredibly special that it somehow (though I'm not sure this is meaningful) "had the natural powers" to bring life into existence or new species into existence, then that environment-matter complex had to be quite specially designed, because we _know_ that life is a very finely-tuned kind of thing. Not just any arrangement of matter will do.

Lydia McGrew said...

One other point that I think is worth thinking about: One of the attractions of a more Aristotelian way of thinking is its emphasis on essences and natural kinds. When I make a pro-life argument, for example, some people would probably think that I sounded like an Aristotelian or a Thomist, because I speak of all human beings as belonging to the same natural kind. I speak of the powers proper to the human species. I speak of the embryo as not yet having developed the powers proper to it as a human being and of a disabled person as having suffered privation. I think those are very useful categories in that context. I think, too, that it is useful to have this notion of what is "proper to" a certain natural kind when we think about doing medicine, including veterinary medicine. A sensible doctor doesn't try to cure a dog that can't fly or a worm that can't bark, because flying is not a capacity proper to the kind of thing that a dog is, and barking is not a capacity proper to the kind of thing that a worm is.

Now, I'm trying to avoid throwing around terminology that I don't understand, here, but I know that Ed has always been very insistent, if I've understood him correctly, that bringing a new _essence_ into existence is the kind of thing that only God can do. Hence his argument for the absolute necessity of special creation for life rather than the emergence of life from non-life.

But surely it would have come as a great surprise to Aristotle to be told that, say, all animal species, once they have a "sensitive soul," also have the same _essence_. Would it not be much more in keeping with the overall hylemorphist view that a wolf has a _different_ essence from a worm or a fish? Certainly we find ourselves very much inclined to think of them as different natural kinds of creatures with different powers proper to them.

But if that reasoning is correct, then _any_ developmentalist thesis, whether it is Darwinian or not, must be wrong even from an Aristotelian point of view. For any notion that one type of creature literally morphed by natural powers into a different type of creature would seem to mean that a new essence came into existence by purely natural processes–that a creature with, say, a jellyfish type of essence changed (gradually or suddenly) into a creature with a wolf type of essence. To take your butterfly example, the whole point there is that the caterpillar is a Monarch caterpillar. Both the caterpillar and the butterfly really are the same natural kind of thing. The caterpillar is just the larval stage of that type of creature.

It would seem to me that the far more natural and empirical way to approach all of this from an Aristotelian point of view (together with the knowledge, which perhaps Aristotle himself did not have but which St. Thomas did have, that these various species have not existed forever) would be to look at what we have now and to look at the apparent limits of hybridization and interbreeding to help determine what the natural kinds presently are. Then one could use that to decide where special creation had to have occurred.

That approach, however, is much more like what a very strong type of creationist does when discussing the notion of reproduction "after their kind," as described in the book of Genesis. It would not have to be conjoined with a young earth view, though.

I have been rather surprised for some time to see people self-identifying as Aristotelians and yet at the same time either adopting or at least being drawn to views that tend to fuzzify or even eliminate the very "natural kind" distinctions that are among the greatest advantages of an essentialist approach to nature. It seems to me highly puzzling.

Christopher McCartney said...

Given that you're arguing against me it is remarkable how much of what you say is stuff that I agree with. First, "I think it is actually false that the embryo represents a development from simpler to more complex. Actually, the *information* for the future development of the embryo (if it is given nutrition and the right kind of shelter) is there already in the embryo. The newly conceived embryo is not really simpler than the adult creature. "

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. The high-level powers of perception and intelligent action present in higher mammals were latent in the preCambrian biosphere. The complex information was there, it just hadn't come to expression yet.

Further, you say, "‘Natural powers’ is a good phrase as far as it goes, but it refers to a real underlying physical process into which it is possible to inquire and which it is possible to make progress in understanding"

Yes, absolutely. Natural powers are not magic. They have particular ways of working which can be explained by reference to the efficient-causal actions of their parts. Rational creatures that we are, we have the ability to discover how they work. But sometimes it takes a very long time. Nobody knew how genes actually worked until the 20th century. It required the use of tools to probe the very tiny scale at which these mechanisms operate, tools not available until recently. The mechanisms responsible for macroevolution (if, as my conjecture requires, they exist) are separated from us in time as well as scale. We can't study macroevolution in controlled laboratory experiments: it just takes too long. So we have to proceed by forensic investigation of traces left behind haphazardly. This is a feature of historical sciences that makes their methods different from what is often presented as "the" scientific method in simplistic accounts of what science is. It also makes the process of discovery more difficult. Since we've only recently made the comparatively easier discoveries of microbiology, it's no surprise that we haven't yet discovered how macroevolution works.

So my conjecture implies a research program. If only we could convince the scientific establishment to abandon its dogmatic adherence to Darwinism we might be able to make some progress here. I think the way the process of discovery normally occurs in science is that you start with a conjecture that is at best merely suggested by the evidence, and then you do the nitty gritty work of looking for the details, which, if discovered, will confirm the conjecture. I too am a layman, and not equipped to do the empirical research. So all I can say is, "this looks to me like a reasonable conjecture. I wonder if there's anything to it."

You also say, "if God made the world so incredibly special that it ... "had the natural powers" to bring life into existence or new species into existence, then that environment-matter complex had to be quite specially designed, because we _know_ that life is a very finely-tuned kind of thing. Not just any arrangement of matter will do."

And I absolutely agree. But this is not unique to biology. We have reason already to believe that the universe was finely tuned. If the fundamental physical constants were slightly off, then stable atoms and molecules could not form. The second law of thermodynamics is explained as the natural statistical result of an initially low entropy universe, which is itself completely unexplained by modern cosmology, and which I believe entails a designer. Etc, etc.. Biological phenomena are not special in this regard: they just require more of the same fine tuning that basic physical structures and processes also require. This is not something that makes them stand out from the rest of the natural order. "Finely tuned" just is what the natural order is like.

Christopher McCartney said...

I don't "waive off" the ID arguments, I make them. Precisely because, on my conjecture, the information is preprogrammed into the system from the start, it is blatantly incompatible with Darwinism. It is expressly a version of ID.

The attraction of Darwinian explanations to secularists -- its ability to function as a myth, which appears to me to be why it has such a hold on the establishment in spite of its empirical failures -- is that they promise to explain how the apparent design in presently existing creatures could be the result of undesigned, ateleological natural processes, thus supposedly making it "possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." A form of evolution where the information is preprogrammed in from the start is just not the sort of thing a Darwinist can accept without abandoning the whole project. That's why the only people who are making this argument are opponents of Darwinism. For example, So to say that Darwinists are so desperate that they would be defending a prescribed evolutionary hypothesis doesn't make sense.

The thesis of common descent may be lurking in the background here. I think that the genetic evidence constitutes a solid demonstration of that thesis. I believe Behe accepts this thesis as well. Do you? Something about the way you spoke of the first acorn made me suspect that you reject it (but please correct me if I'm wrong). I think this is relevant because, although special creation is strictly compatible with common descent, a "natural process" account of the history of life is more plausible given common descent, and less plausible, I would say epistemically impossible, without it. I probably should have mentioned this in my initial argument for the plausibility of the conjecture.

I guess rather than summarizing the evidence for common descent here, I'll wait to hear your response, with the view of preventing (or at least delaying) an exponential growth in comment length.

You write, "presumably a special creator would have created things in *some* order or other." I don't see why that should be presumed. Surely he could have made the world in its present constitution instantaneously. Isn't this what Augustine thought? When human makers make things, they must go through a process where they make the simpler parts and then assemble them into a larger whole, or an engineer might make a proof of concept, a prototype, and then an more advanced version of a machine. But this is due to human limitations. Pace Feser, you and I both agree that ID doesn't require that God be a tinkerer. So I just don't see what grounds there would be for a prior expectation that God would create in some order or other, rather than instantaneously. Furthermore, if there are many possible orders, each in itself as good as any other, and my conjecture fits well with the order we actually see, I would regard that as a point in favor of it.

That being said, when you write, "I don't ... think any especially strong answer to 'why the designer did it that way' is required by a person bringing the explanation I am suggesting," I don't have any complaint with that. I'm trying to say: here's something that seems to fit particularly well with my conjecture. I'm not saying it presents some kind of really deep problem for your position. It doesn't.

The text of Genesis I regard as an anthropomorphic description of God going through a week of work as a man does. Because humans, with their limitations, take time to accomplish projects, and because God's work is being described on the model of human work, it takes time and occurs in an order that is like the order of human art. But art imitates nature. That's why the process of human making can be analogous to natural growth. And I think that explains whatever resemblance there is between the text and the observed order of natural history.

Christopher McCartney said...

Coming to your Aristotelian criticisms: you are raise some of the same issues that I have been thinking about myself.

First, what shall I say is the subject of these postulated natural powers? I am sympathetic with the Gaia hypothesis put forward by Lovelock and defended by Margulis. I think they have given a good argument that the physical and biotic aspects of our planet are coordinated so as to act as a single teleological system -- one that is analogous to a living creature.

But one might well doubt that this could count as an Aristotelian substance. Indeed I do doubt that. Lovelock and Margulis emphasize that they are not claiming the earth is literally alive. So, if they were to frame their hypothesis in Aristotelian terms I suspect they too would deny that Gaia is a substance. This might seem to render it an inapt subject for natural powers. But consider a hive or an anthill. Probably not a substance, as it seems queer to say the individual ants do not exist except as virtually present in the substance of which they are parts. So the ant-community is an accidental unity. And yet it appears to act as if it were a substance in that the individuals are all coordinated in their actions to serve the good of the whole. But it is not like a human community, where this happens by art: Ants aren't rational animals. So it happens by nature. Hence we must say either that an accidental unity can be the subject of real natural powers, or that the holistic-seeming natural powers of the accidental unity are really reducible to the natural powers of the parts, and yet it is appropriate to speak heuristically as if the whole had those powers.

Whatever account we give, since we know there exist these things that act analogously to living substances, and yet have individual living things as their constituents, if Aristotelian philosophy has any hope of being true, it must be able to accommodate them somehow.

Christopher McCartney said...

Secondly, I see the tension between Aristotelianism and developmental theses. But I'm more inclined to worry about whether it might present a problem for Aristotelianism. For, like you I am suspicious of metaphysical arguments (Aristotelian or otherwise) that purport to close off, a priori, the possibility of an empirical hypothesis. I refuse on principle to let my metaphysical beliefs govern what empirical hypotheses I will consider.

Furthermore, Feser has written, "plastic is plausibly 'natural' in the Aristotelian sense of having a substantial form, since it has irreducible causal powers (a mark of the presence of a substantial rather than accidental form). The same can be said of other common man-made materials (Styrofoam, glass, etc.)." Clearly plastic and styrofoam came about by the exercise of natural powers (in this case, human art). I think the same point can be made with any chemical substance. There was a time, shortly after the Big Bang, when there was no water. Does that mean God specially created water? I'm assuming, as seems pretty safe, that water is a natural substance. Yet it seems clear that the natural powers of oxygen and hydrogen are sufficient to account for their bonding to produce H2O.

So again Aristotelian philosophy had better be able to accommodate the coming into existence of a new species of substance by the exercise of natural powers, or else it would fall before the empirical evidence.

I also think Feser's argument for the impossibility of life deriving from non-life is a bit more subtle than you make it out to be.

In he makes it clear that the AT philosophy leaves open the possibility that non-living substance could have virtually or emminently the natural powers of imminent causation that exist formally in living things. But on empirical grounds he denies that non-living substances give any evidence of having such powers.

"We cannot just go around attributing “virtual” or “eminent” features to a thing willy-nilly. In particular, the A-T understanding of causality would in no way license the conclusion that just any old natural process could in theory have immanent causality or life within it “virtually” or “eminently” and thus cause life to exist “formally” in some first organism. The nature of causality as such is a metaphysical question, but what specific causal powers things actually have is an empirical question. And we know, of course, that most natural substances never in fact generate life on their own, which shows (given the A-T understanding of how causal powers manifest themselves) that they do not have the power to do so – that is, that life does not exist in them “virtually” or “eminently,” much less “formally.”

I really think most Aristotelians will agree that this is a question to be settled empirically.

Christopher McCartney said...

And I don't think Feser's empirical argument, or your point about the Mammoth, bears very much weight. Abiogenesis, as hypothesized, takes millions of years (at least) to go from purely chemical precursors to the first cell. The present state of the earth is not amenable to the process, if for no other reason than that bacteria are everywhere and quickly gobble up any resources that would be needed to nurture the early pre-organic metabolisms. Also, there's a lot of oxygen in the atmosphere ... which tends to oxidize things ... and in fact killed off most of the organisms that existed when it was first introduced into the atmosphere in large quantities. So it's no wonder we don't see abiogenesis today.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt the hypothesis, but the fact that Mammoths don't spring out of rocks in not one of them. From my perspective, the main problem with current abiogenesis theories is that they try to get the information for free, following the Darwinian pattern, rather than asking how the information might be embedded in prebiotic chemistry. And I confess, I'm not sanguine about any progress being made on this question until the true mechanism of macroevolution is thoroughly understood.

As for creatures reproducing after their kind: this is what happens normally and for the most part. Aristotle himself believed it was possible for an animal to give birth to a "monster" in rare cases. It's a departure from Aristotle to allow that monstrous births can produce new species, but I don't think that's in principle different from the Scholastic departure from Aristotle in denying the world's eternity.

As for the fuzzification of natural kinds: while Aristotelian philosophy could, if necessary, allow that things that seem to be different species could be shown empirically to be one species; nevertheless I see no actual empirical evidence for this. If a gradual, incrementalist theory fit the data, then this might be required, but the evidence all points to evolution proceeding by saltations. So I see no reason to doubt that Aristotelian species roughly line up with Linnaean species.

Lydia McGrew said...


Thanks for the interesting conversation. Thanks, too, for the link to John Davison's post. I find that clarifying concerning your own position. I would be interested to discuss with him what he considers to be the evidence that supports a suggestion of front-loaded and highly specified evolution as over multiple special creation events. One of his comments in the thread definitely suggests that he does _not_ take this to the point of abiogenesis and is open to multiple creation events, so at that point it just seems to be a question of how many.

To answer your question directly, yes, I am very dubious about the claims made for evidence of common ancestry, especially universal common ancestry and common ancestry of humans and non-humans. The claims for the evidence there are, as far as I can tell as a layman, far more controversial than they are usually portrayed as being. Just page through some of the articles from this Google site search.

I also recommend _Science and Human Origins_ by Gauger, Axe, and Luskin.

One point among a great many is that quite a few things brought in support of common ancestry could just as easily support common design. The alternative to common ancestry isn't coincidence, as many who argue for common ancestry appear to think. Your toaster and your TV both contain wires, but that doesn't mean they came by natural development from a common ancestor. Nor is it a coincidence. It means that designers know that wires work well for purposes needed in both items.

The "junk DNA" meme that has been such a big alleged support for the theory of common ancestry is coming under a lot of evidential stress now, as well.

We are also learning more and more how holistic creatures are and and how holistic reproduction is. The proper development of an embryo in creatures with eggs is _highly_ dependent on its having been generated by the sperm interaction with _that_ creature's egg. A great many things (such as DNA) make sense and do their jobs only in the context of the creature as a whole. The top-down nature of creatures seems to me a much stronger argument for a form of special creation than is usually noted. To my mind, the evidence suggests strongly that the answer to the chicken and egg question is definitely "the chicken." Indeed, in creatures that reproduce sexually, two chickens–male and female.

Limited claims of common descent are uncontroversial and supported by present facts of possible interbreeding–i.e., between dogs and wolves. But the more sweeping and startling (from a commonsense point of view) the claims become, the more it seems to me that they have turned out to be empirically under-supported. Sometimes a mere claim of "relatedness," based on some sort of genetic comparison, is being used, and that does not seem to me sufficient grounds.

Lydia McGrew said...

You mention Mike Behe's references to common descent. Quite frankly, I think it has been a mistake for Behe to make such a big deal about his affirmation of common descent. Most importantly, this is because Behe simply cannot mean by "common descent" what the scientific community as a whole means by it. For example, he and other ID-ers who affirm it must either mean a kind of highly specific front-loading of the sort you and I have already discussed in earlier creatures, which would look like special creation, or else it must mean special creation of information at some level, perhaps below the level of whole creatures–perhaps the designer inserting crucial genetic information at various important times. Now, this isn't what _anybody_ means by "common ancestry," so I think they shouldn't use that phrase, because it's confusing.

More importantly, if indeed there is far less oomph than we have been led to believe to the supposed evidence for common natural ancestry, then assertions of belief in common ancestry are like clinging to a sinking ship, rationally speaking.

I wouldn't mind *quite* so much the mere statement that the ID arguments are _compatible_ with common ancestry, though I still think that is confusing, given the usual meaning of the phrase. But I do think it unfortunate for major ID writers to say or to imply that they *believe* in (universal) common ancestry, given that there are increasing reasons to think that the evidence doesn't point there.

Lydia McGrew said...

"The text of Genesis I regard as an anthropomorphic description of God going through a week of work as a man does. Because humans, with their limitations, take time to accomplish projects, and because God's work is being described on the model of human work, it takes time and occurs in an order that is like the order of human art."

This seems to me rather weak as an interpretation. In particular, I don't see any reason to believe that the staged picture of creation is a divine concession to human ideas of limited energy and resources. The idea that God really did it all at once at the beginning and that it developed from there naturally is even farther removed from the text than, e.g., taking the time period of a week to be non-literal, and I think one should have to be driven to such a removal from the text by fairly strong scientific evidence, which in this case does not seem to me to be forthcoming. There is certainly no reason to think that God wouldn't create by intervention in stages.

One can of course make all kinds of claims of anthropomorphism. For example, one could say just as easily that your more front-loaded view portrays God as not wanting to "be bothered" to intervene too often, and that this is an anthropomorphic picture on the model of human work and a human desire for pre-programming conceived as efficient. My point is just that one can portray almost any picture of creation as anthropomorphic from some angle or other.

Lydia McGrew said...

I appreciate your emphasis on not holding empirical arguments hostage to entirely abstract metaphysical presuppositions. I wholeheartedly support that. But given what seems to me the wholesale conjectural nature of your hypotheses here and the absence of empirical evidence for them, I find your overall position puzzling. It seems to me that you are, in a sense, getting the worst of both worlds: You are conjecturing things that do not gel very well with your own metaphysics, and they seem also to have little in the way of empirical evidence to commend them. In the case of abiogenesis, I would go so far as to say that it has *nothing* in the way of empirical evidence to commend it. This seems like a lose-lose proposition for you, and I admit that I find it somewhat difficult to understand why you would resist the hypothesis of a more interventionist form of creation.

Regarding your response concerning abiogenesis and the sudden appearance of a woolly mammoth, I note that the reason that abiogenesis advocates usually picture it as taking huge amounts of time is because they are literally picturing it as happening by chance combinations and recombinations of prebiotic substances. A kind of repeated lottery, as it were. Since you are picturing it as happening instead by some as-yet-unexplained real powers built into the prebiotic soup, there is no explanation for a need for long periods of time.

Since you speak of what Aristotelian metaphysics "had better be able to accommodate," I assume that you will agree that it "had better" be able to accommodate the obvious relevance of complexity to these empirical questions. Now, one reason that hydrogen and oxygen have the "natural powers" to combine to form a new substance, water, is because water is a comparatively simple molecular substance. (Contrast water with even a single, unfolded protein strand, and then add in the important information involved in the specific shape of the folded protein!) That, too, is why we see water being spontaneously formed all the time, as a byproduct of chemical reactions, for example, but do not see the formation of new living things from non-life or from radically different kinds of living things. There is no reason whatsoever to think that the formation of new living kinds of creatures, or a fortiori the formation of life from non-life, is *at all* like the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen, and complexity is part of the argument against this supposition.

Another consideration is that of information load in living creatures. It would be ironic if the information that had to be preserved in the cells of earlier living creatures so that later creatures could suddenly burst on the scene were so complex that continual intervention were required to preserve it, preventing it from degrading through mutation! The probability that such information that contributes nothing to the present living creature but is only there so that, thousands of years or even millions of years later, some different creature will develop, would be conserved by natural means, seems to me quite low. In contrast, the pre-programmed information needed for a single-celled zygote to develop into an adult is used immediately and is needed for the growth and flourishing of *that creature*.

In general, I have found that the epistemic motivation among Christians for hypothesizing massive front-loading and especially for hypothesizing abiogenesis is not empirical evidence but rather a desire to avoid "too many" divine interventions. (On this point I actually agree with a comment to this effect, concerning abiogenesis and some other Thomists, that Ed Feser makes in the post you linked.) This issue is not an empirical one but rather a theological one. I address the issue of "too many" divine interventions in this recent post of mine.

Lydia McGrew said...

You mention the fine-tuning argument. Full disclosure: My husband and I, with a third co-author, wrote a skeptical paper, published in _Mind_, about the fine-tuning argument. Our concerns were related to problems with probabilities and infinite possibilities. So I'm not at all committed to the fine-tuning argument, though I would like to see it work. I have just this week heard that the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion has accepted a new article of mine in which I suggest some rather different types of fine-tuning arguments that may avoid our concerns.

In any event, when I wrote the original post, I had the fine-tuning argument in mind when I used the phrase "special agent intention" and wanted to be careful not to exclude the FTA from the concept. Although to my mind the best and epistemically clearest examples of special agent intention are in-universe events, I would say that, if the FTA works as originally conceived, it points to special agent intention. (And since in fact I think that God _did_ create the universe, of course I think that there _was_ that special agent intention for the universe to be life-permitting. It's just a question of whether we can see that probabilistically as in the FTA.)

We can perhaps best think of special agent intention in terms of what is being "left to vary." To go back to the example of the weather: If we assume that God did not specially intend the weather to be sunny and beautiful as opposed to rainy in my town today, we can think of God as "leaving to vary" the parameters that determined the specific weather.

In the FTA, the whole point of the phrase "fine tuning" is that the parameters of the fundamental laws and constants were _not_ left to vary beyond an extremely narrow range, because otherwise the universe would not have been life-permitting. Fine tuning is about as far as possible from being left to vary.

So I think that any time we are saying that the agent in any sense "set it up this way on purpose to bring about such-and-such an outcome," we are talking about special agent intention, even if we can imagine that for the initial conditions of the universe as opposed to in-universe events.

Lydia McGrew said...

Finally, on Aristotelian species and common ancestry. First, I think perhaps you are envisaging something like punctuated equilibrium? I'm getting this from your reference to "saltations" in species appearance. But in that case, I would argue that it would look more like special creation than like a natural process. I find any analogy here to butterfly metamorphosis highly unconvincing. If the newly emergent type of creature reproduces sexually (and many of them certainly would) then the saltation from some entirely different type of creature must take place suddenly in *two cases at once*, producing a male and a female in sufficiently close geographic proximity to one another to meet and mate!

The question would again arise as to why, empirically, one should hypothesize some natural development of one type of creature into a very different type *rather than* special creation. What is the empirical driver?

Second, I suppose that whether or not an Aristotelian must bring in special creation or not in connection with new essences depends on your view concerning the divine relation to new essences. I'm gathering that you think that the new creatures produced by the saltations genuinely would have *different* essences from the other creatures (and it seems to me that you *should* take that position), so I'm gathering that you think that God's direct action is not necessary to "unite an essence to an act of existence."

Christopher McCartney said...

Acts of existence are always numerically one. When Thomists speak of God joining essence and existence, they are talking about something that happens in individual substances -- and in every individual substance that has ever been. And not only when it first comes into being, but at every moment of its existence. It makes no difference whether it's the first of its kind or the billionth.

Saltations are rapid on a geological timescale. That doesn't mean they happen in a single generation.

I'm glad you found Davison's post illuminating. I had better point out that I am less than sympathetic with his claim that the environment has played "at best, a trivial role" in evolution. Given my adherence to the Gaia hypothesis, I expect a more active role for the environment.

I look positively on the more holistic recent discoveries in biology, and I fully expect more of the same to be forthcoming. To an Aristotelian, and one who accept the Gaia hypothesis, nothing could be more congenial.

I also look to the increasing understanding of how information can be embedded holistically, outside of DNA, in living cells, to provide a model for how information might be embedded holistically in the ecosystem, outside of individual living organisms.

Christopher McCartney said...

So there are four theses that I assign four different levels of confidence to.

1) Common descent, I say, is empirically demonstrated.
2) The Gaia hypothesis, I say, is strongly supported by the evidence (independent of evolutionary questions).
3) The thesis of prescripted evolution, I say, is a reasonable conjecture.
4) Abiogenesis, I say, might be possible for all we know.

Now, to understand why an Aristotelian of all people would accept (3), put yourself in my shoes and consider the plausibility of (3) given (1) and (2). New species have come into existence many thousands of times in the past few billion years, and, every time (since the Archean Eon), they are descended from previously existing species. When something of the same type happens the same way every time, this is a signal of its naturalness. In addition, when I see that the history of the earth, which I already know to be strongly analogous to a living organism, has exhibited an increase in patent "complexity," or expressed powers, over the course of its lifetime, the hypothesis that this is a form of growth comes quite easily; particularly when my alternative would be a form of interventionism that is compatible with common descent, which, as an attempt to "save Aristotle", would seem rather ad hoc, and I doubt it would even do the job very well.

Christopher McCartney said...

The junk DNA "meme", as you call it, i.e., the hypothesis that the -- what is it, 95% or so? -- of our DNA that does not code for proteins is the remains of formerly protein-coding segments of our many evolutionary ancestors -- I never did regard as very plausible. I suspected most of it to turn out to have some other explanation for its presence.

But there are segments of DNA that are recognizably the same as segments that code for proteins in other creatures, except with some errors that are sufficient to prevent functionality in given species. When two putatively related species both have these nonfunctional genes, they are often found to have the very same errors. The argument can also be made with respect to fully functional protein-coding genes that use alternate spellings. Some of the amino acids that are strung together to make proteins have more than one three-letter codon that codes for them. Thus two genes that are identical except for having one of these codons replaced by an alternate version that codes for the same amino acid will both produce identical proteins. I have a little bit of familiarity with the way that transmission errors in manuscripts of the Biblical texts can be used to reconstruct a kind of genealogy of the textual variants, enough to have a basic idea of what the geneticists are up to when they reconstruct a genealogy of species on a similar basis. Their results correlate well with the tree of life as derived from morphological considerations. Since the very same protein is being expressed in all the species under consideration, one cannot say that correlations in these variant spellings were to be expected anyway (given the relative morphological similarities) regardless of whether they share a common ancestor.

There are also genes that are functional in principle but that are switched off so that they are never expressed. For instance, chickens have the genetic information for constructing teeth. We know this because there were actual chickens that grew teeth in a laboratory, and the scientists did not insert the information for growing those teeth, they merely switched on the section of DNA in the chickens that contained that information already. This strikes me as compelling evidence that chickens are descended from something that had teeth naturally. But all extant species of birds (as far as I know) are toothless. So this is macro-evolution: a toothed animal, however otherwise avian, would be sufficiently different from a chicken to count as a different Aristotelian species: or if not, then Aristotelian species are so radically different from Linnaean species that there wouldn't be any basis left for an Aristotelian argument against universal common ancestry.

Christopher McCartney said...

Regarding fine tuning, you write, "So I think that any time we are saying that the agent in any sense 'set it up this way on purpose to bring about such-and-such an outcome,' we are talking about special agent intention." If this is all you mean then I would be happy to agree with you that biological species are the result of special agent intention, but I think everything that ever happens is too. Nothing is "left to vary" in the sense of being only an instance of the general sort of thing God wanted to happen, and not of particular concern to him that it happen in exactly this way.

But you are right to point out that there are some things in this world that don't appear to be fine-tuned, namely those things that happen randomly or or by chance as far as secondary causes are concerned. When we use the phrase, 'the order of nature', we are underlining the fact that the most salient feature of the world is that it is ordered, although it is an order that allows for chance and randomness within it. So, if all the ordered structures of nature exhibit fine-tuning, as I claim, then the fact that biological complexities also do so, while it might establish "special agent intention" is some sense, it would not make them stand out from the rest of the natural order, as miracles do, which is what is really at issue here, right?

Christopher McCartney said...

I think it's telling that to represent my interpretation of Genesis 1 as a departure from the text, you are forced to represent your recommended alternative as also a departure, only less of one. Which I don't regard as much of a recommendation. Instead we might regard them as departing, not from the text, but from a certain interpretive assumption about the text -- one that, it so happens, has been definitively shown to be false. That your interpretation is less of a departure from such an assumption is also not much of a recommendation of it.

If the text is intended to instruct us concerning the temporal/historical process by which creation occurred, then we face a serious problem, in that the text pretty clearly represents it as happening in a week. Seems to me we have excellent reason to conclude that the text is not intended to instruct us about that. It's possible, I suppose, to hypothesize that the text is asserting literal historical correspondence in some aspects of the narrative, but not others. But when I look at which aspects are being claimed to be literal, and which are not, I don't see the distinction arising out of the text, but out of the science that is being brought to the text.

My claims of anthropomorphism, by contrast, emanate from the text. The climax of creation week is the day of rest. The institution of the Sabbath is explicitly a concession to human limitation and weakness. We get tired after a week of work and need to rest. By resting at the end of a week of work God is certainly acting as a man would need to because of his human limitations. The role the text played in its cultural context, establishing and explaining this gift to man in his weariness, is very plain, as is also the intended parallel with human work on the first six days of the week. This doesn't mean that God might not also have actually created literally in the way the narrative represents, it just means there's no need to assume that he must have, and anyway we know that he didn't.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think it extremely unlikely that any such project as finding "information [for the making of life and/or new types of organisms] embedded holistically in the ecosystem, outside of individual living organisms" will be remotely successful.

That's the non-snarky version. The snarky version is, "Well, good luck with dat." But I thought I'd try being non-snarky for once.

Christopher McCartney said...

Regarding abiogenesis, you write, “Since you are picturing it as happening ... by some as-yet-unexplained real powers built into the prebiotic soup, there is no ... need for long periods of time.”

I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you for that observation. Although I can think of a few things that might lean in favor of a long process, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of rapid abiogenesis, and, given my premises, I should be open to considering it.

I agree that the formation of a new species of animal is radically more complex than the formation of water. My only point in bringing up H2O was to counter the suggestion that Aristotelian metaphysics is incompatible with the natural generation of new species of substance, an argument not based on complexity. Arguments that are based on complexity, by contrast, purport to show nothing about Aristotelian substances, except that the information necessary to produce the new substance had to be present in some mode in the cause(s) of that new substance, which my conjecture insists was the case.

Christopher McCartney said...

I used to think that the genetic information of advanced species could not have been simply inserted into the earliest bacteria, because it would degrade in the intervening billions of years. So I suspected that that information had to be present in some other form in which it could be naturally preserved, perhaps holistically embedded in the environment. But I just now noticed that in the comments beneath Davison’s article, someone named DaveScot wrote, “Objections have been raised that non-coding (unexpressed) genomic information on such a scale could not possibly be preserved for any length of time as it would be subject to degradation through accumulation of random mutations. To this I answer that it is trivial to preserve large amounts of information intact through any number of replications. This is done in computer architecture (my expertise) all the time. I even hold a patent on an automated method of sensing an appropriate tradeoff between performance and data integrity in secondary CPU cache memory systems. Any number of error detection schemes could be implemented in a cell to preserve non-coding data integrity. Far, far more complex things are involved in the machinery of life than error detection on new copies of stored information. That’s a trivial obstacle to a designer wanting to preserve certain unexpressed genome data for the long haul.” So I’m taking that into consideration.

Regarding “the issue of ‘too many’ divine interventions,” I agreed with your W4 post. Although I would say that, in general, if something, X, happened in the past, and we don't know what natural process could account for it, we ought to prefer the hypothesis of some as yet unknown natural process to the hypothesis of special divine action. But that preference can be overcome where there are positive reasons for regarding X as special and beyond the powers of what existed at the time X occured. And there are such reasons. The generation of life does seem to be beyond the powers of non-living substances. That’s sufficient to undermine the application of the general principle. Which is why all I can say in favor of abiogenesis is that it is possible that things are not as they seem. I do not claim any (operative) preference in favor of a natural, as opposed to a supernatural, origin of life.

Lydia McGrew said...

Did you know that the alleged pseudogene for vitamin C is also found in guinea pigs? That's an example of the kind of thing that should make us less confident about the alleged overwhelming evidence for common descent. Because nobody claims that both humans and guinea pigs got that from a common ancestor. So either that type of mutation must be less improbable to happen in species *without* common descent "by chance," or else the whole idea that it resulted by a mutation from an ancestor is false.

In fact, the geneological lineages from genetics are *highly* conjectural, and I think you may well find your confidence becoming lower if you read more about how they do not line up in the neat way you are being told.

" Their results correlate well with the tree of life as derived from morphological considerations."

Not so fast. Check out just the chapter on Ayala's tree of human-ape evolution in _Science and Human Origins_. What lines up with what depends *hugely* on what bit of code one decides to use for one's conjectural tree. The *failure* of lineup can be extremely striking if one happens to choose something different to make a tree for.

"This strikes me as compelling evidence that chickens are descended from something that had teeth naturally."

I don't think it's compelling evidence of that at all. And heck, from your perspective you would do as well or better to take it as "compelling evidence" that chickens are meant by God to be the *ancestors* of some species a few million years down the line that have teeth! Since one can argue either, the entire conjecture seems to me underwhelmingly supported.

Lydia McGrew said...

" I think everything that ever happens is [a result of special agent intention] too."

Then in the next paragraph, you say," you are right to point out that there are some things in this world that don't appear to be fine-tuned, namely those things that happen randomly or or by chance as far as secondary causes are concerned. When we use the phrase, 'the order of nature', we are underlining the fact that the most salient feature of the world is that it is ordered, although it is an order that allows for chance and randomness within it."

Are you saying that God actually specially intends all of the apparent chance events as well, but that we just don't realize that? Or is there a contradiction here?

In any event, I think that when you say that, if biological species development is the result of fine-tuning as you picture it, it doesn't stand out from the order of nature, you are not quite correct. Here's a way of putting it: There was no _previous_ order of nature that *brought about* the fine-tuning of the universal constants or the placing of information "into Gaia," or whatever you think happened, for biological evolution. Even if you were correct, or even if we are talking about the regular fine-tuning argument, these things seem to stand out because the fine-tuning itself does not seem to be a *product* of some order of nature.

Lydia McGrew said...

"But when I look at which aspects are being claimed to be literal, and which are not, I don't see the distinction arising out of the text, but out of the science that is being brought to the text."

I completely admit that I move away from a literal interpretation of the text only as I consider myself compelled by science (or common sense, etc.) I regard that as an interpretive virtue. I certainly don't think we should say, "Ah, well, this can't be literal, so what the heck, let's just throw it all out and assume the whole x chapters have no literal meaning we have to take seriously at all!"

That rather wholesale approach, by the way, is what gives us the denial of an historical Adam and of an historical Fall, which I consider to be serious theological errors. (So does the Catholic Church. I gather that you are Catholic.)

Lydia McGrew said...

I suspect Dave Scot may not be reckoning with the pressures on specifically biological creatures not to carry around and replicate huge extra amounts of informational coding that is of no value to the organism. I don't doubt him that the *coding* is possible.

In fact, I would like to see more computer geeks involved in ID research, because I think it could help avoiding errors.

What I think he is leaving out of account is the fact that we ourselves are constantly providing the necessary energy for the computer to replicate and preserve what it needs. There is nothing that I know of strongly similar to the process of natural selection for simplifying mutations causing natural degradation.

Lydia McGrew said...

"When two putatively related species both have these nonfunctional genes, they are often found to have the very same errors."

For future reference, please note:

You see, the whole assumption of "nonfunctional genes" that represent "the same mistakes copied in related species" due to common descent is not a *separate* issue from the "junk DNA" claim but is actually the same type of claim under slightly different guise.

So-called "pseudogenes" or allegedly non-functional genes whose lack of function has been caused by a mere mistake are turning out to have more functions than previously thought. See also here:

Do a site search on "pseudogenes" at Uncommon Descent for more.

Christopher McCartney said...

"Ah, well, this can't be literal, so what the heck, let's just throw it all out and assume the whole x chapters have no literal meaning we have to take seriously at all!" That rather wholesale approach ..."

... is an entirely unfair misrepresentation of my position.

My position is that where there are indications in the text that it is intended literally, it should be taken literally; where there are indications in the text that it is intended non-literally, it should be taken non-literally; and likewise where the text indicates that it is intended partly literally and partly non-literally, it should be so taken. In all cases the deciding factor is what the text itself indicates. Any disagreement as to how the text ought to be interpreted must be settled by exegesis, not eisegesis. And reading scientific theory into the text, even if the science happens to be correct, is still eisegesis.

(Note the difference between reading science into the text and allowing scientific evidence to provide an occasion for rethinking one's exegesis. Scientific evidence may indeed cause one to think that one's interpretation is wrong, but it doesn't say what interpretation is right. To do that, one must look within the text.)

The "literal where possible" hermeneutic, as appealed to by the fundamentalist, is at least intended as an exegetical principle -- that is, the fundamentalist means by it, "literal where exegetically possible." Since his literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is exegetically possible, he concludes it must be correct and how he deals with the science we can leave to him. As he understands the principle, it does not justify forcing the text to fit the science, when such an interpretation is, well, forced. But you seem to be using the principle as an excuse for just such an eisegetical procedure.

But I regard the principle as flawed from the outset. It is not how the early church fathers interpreted the Scriptures. It's not how the NT writers interpret the OT. And if I may cite the example of C.S. Lewis, whom I think you respect, and who has been a great influence on me, he clearly rejects it. (For what it's worth, I'm more conservative on these matters than Lewis) The principle is often argued for by means of a false dichotomy: as if the only alternative to "literal where possible" is some absurd caricatured view, such as the "wholesale approach" you describe. When compared, however, to the principle "literal where reasonable," it fares less well.

"I gather that you are Catholic." No, I'm Reformed.

Christopher McCartney said...

Yes, God specifically intends all "chance" events, hence the locution, "by chance, as far as secondary causes are concerned."

You say, "There was no _previous_ order of nature that *brought about* the fine-tuning of the universal constants ... the fine-tuning itself does not seem to be a *product* of some order of nature." True, but this tells us nothing about biological species that isn't also true of stars. Once there were no stars. Then by the natural action of gravity and nuclear fusion, stars came into being. Suppose someone said that stars stood out from the rest of the natural order as being the result of special agent intention. And then justified that claim by pointing to the finely tuned initial conditions of universe without which star-formation could not have occurred. That shows that stars are the result of divine intention, but it doesn't show that they are different from everything else in the natural order. In this respect they are the same as everything else in the natural order -- all the ordered structures, I mean -- if in fact all the ordered structures are finely tuned.

Christopher McCartney said...

"I suspect Dave Scot may not be reckoning with the pressures on specifically biological creatures not to carry around and replicate huge extra amounts of informational coding that is of no value to the organism."

You may be right about that.

Christopher McCartney said...

I just want to clarify that I was using the term 'fundamentalist' in a descriptive, not a pejorative sense. All too often it is used as a dismissive slur, and I'm worried someone might read my comment that way. Especially since I did, in a sense, "dismiss" the position without really engaging it. But I did so only because Lydia already believes the scientific evidence against the young earth position is compelling. I intend no disrespect for those who think differently.

I realize too that there are those who believe in a young earth who are not fundamentalists. But since the age of the earth is such a defining issue for self-styled fundamentalists, they were the first to come into my head as a typical example of someone who believes in a young earth on the basis of the "literal where possible" principle.

Lydia McGrew said...

No worries. My own non-response for a while is due to my working on some other projects, especially what I hope will be a post at W4 on the supposed scientific evidence that there "could not have been" an historical Adam and Eve, the sole first ancestors of all mankind. I cannot recall if you have said anything, Christopher, in the course of this exchange about Adam. I think the question has not come up explicitly here.