Monday, April 26, 2010

Creationism, Interventionism and Deism.

A rather anthropomorphic view of God's activity

In this post on Sandwalk Larry Moran adopts a new term for that category of evolutionist normally referred to as “theistic evolutionists”. The term, borrowed from a blog post by Jerry Coyne , is “New Creationist”. Although I wouldn’t quibble with the use of the word “creationist” here, I would question the appropriateness of the qualifier “new”. In this post on my church blog I submit some historical evidence indicating that the established prewar church was not inclined to question the findings of science, but rather to integrate those findings into its world view. In contrast contemporary Young Earth Creationism is a recent recrudescent phenomenon that started at around the time of the publication of “The Genesis Flood” by Whitcomb and Morris in 1961. So, in actual fact Young Earth Creationism may better qualify for the name “New Creationism”. A more appropriate name for the theistic evolutionists may actually be “establishment creationists” thus describing their identification with mainstream and established science.

In his “new creationist” post Coyne is responding to his antagonist Ervin Lazlo, a philosopher and system theorist. Laszlo must surely understand this subject and yet he is quoted by Coyne as appearing to promote “Hoyles fallacy”, a fallacy which estimates minuscule OOL probabilities by concatenating a set of assumed independent probabilities into a long product series. Naturally Coyne (and myself) would find fault with this kind of procedure. But in a further quote Laszlo appears to show an understanding that evolution requires peculiar preconditions in order to raise its probability to realistic levels – a point of view with which I would concur; if evolution and abiogenesis are facts then the improbability is not to be found in the way suggested by Hoyle’s fallacy, but instead can be traced back to the “one-off” prerequisite mathematical conditions grounded in the physics required by evolution. This “one-off-ness” is, as I have propounded elsewhere, a special case of a more general and abstract thesis that tells us that in the final analysis a great irreducible Logical Hiatus lies at the heart of all finite human theoretical schemes. However, it is the import and interpretation of this inevitable logical hiatus that causes the vexation between atheists and theists. For example, Lazlo effectively waves a red rag to the bull when after noting that evolution is conditional upon particular (and surprising) preconditions he goes on to say:


In the final count the evolution of life presupposes intelligent design. But the design it presupposes is not the design of the products of evolution; it’s the design of its preconditions. Given the right preconditions, nature comes up with the products on her own.

And:

Design is a necessary assumption, because chance doesn’t explain the facts.

Using his own words Coyne renders this sort of argument as follows:

…the evidence for all this is that life is complex, humans evolved, and the “fine tuning” of physical constants of the universe testify to the great improbability of our being here—ergo God.

Evolution started off simple and now many organisms are quite complex. Therefore God.

Here, Coyne is objecting to the God of the gaps argument, an argument whose general form is: “Logical Hiatus, ergo God”. I would concede that given a logical hiatus then an intelligent designer does not necessarily and obviously follow. The atheist has at least some room to play with other ideas in an attempt to “fill the gap” with a non-sentient and elemental cause before he gets to the divine “designer”: For example he might attempt to remove the ultimate improbability of the preconditions needed by evolution with the huge probabilistic resources found in some kind of multiverse model, although this model still inevitably has to make recourse to peculiar preconditions. In fact no matter how one tries to cut it, all human theories have an embedded logical hiatus in the form of given and particular preconditions. This truism leads me to commit myself to the view that logical necessity can only be found in the a priori complex rather than in the simple and elemental algorithmic laws of physics. The elemental is too simple and lacking in degrees of freedom to hide logical self-sufficiency. Therefore I conclude that infinite a priori complexity is the only place left in which Aseity is going to be found, if it can be found at all. Once one takes this conceptual step the possibility of Deity appears at once on one’s conceptual radar.

Although I agree with Laszlo’s theism I would not claim that theism is an obvious inductive leap that automatically follows from the Logical Hiatus that necessarily resides in all finite human theories. The step to theism is less inductive than it is deductive, although it would probably be better to describe theism as a totalizing world view, an all inclusive sense making framework that embraces a wide interdisciplinary experience of life from science, history, philosophy, metaphysics, and personal anecdote - even temperament may have a bearing. In the face of evidence that is sourced so comprehensively, arguments for and against theism will necessarily be narrative intense, absent of killer one-liners and inescapably idiosyncratic; least of all will these arguments meet the strict formal standards of proof that can be demanded of the simple objects dealt with by “test tube precipitating” science. For this reason belief in an intelligent designer is never going to be an obliging, authoritative and publicly shared conclusion. The latter is the preserve of the physical sciences where simplicity of ontology entails greater epistemological tractability.

Although I have some sympathy with Coyne’s objection to the “Logical Haitus, ergo God” type argument, I very much disagree with Coyne’s theology: He portrays the “new creationist” God as a part time deity who occasionally “intervenes”, perhaps only once at the beginning of things:

New Creationism differs from intelligent design because it rejects God’s constant intervention in the process of evolution in favor of a Big, One-Time Intervention,

In fact Laszlo himself encourages this view:

Given the right preconditions, nature comes up with the products of her own. (My emphasis)

The picture is anthropomorphic: The subliminal idea is that God creates in much the same way that a human creator constructs something by configuring elements capable of independent existence. He can then, to a lesser or greater degree, leave His creations to their own devices, perhaps occasionally returning from time to time to “intervene” in the operation of this quasi-autonomous creation. It is ironic that those Christian believers like Robert Sheldon who make a big deal of believing in divine “interventions” are not so far removed from Coyne’s portrayal of the deist’s God: The difference is that Sheldon believes not in a “Big, One-Time Intervention” but “Many-Time Interventions”. Deism lurks threateningly in the background of the Christian interventionist’s philosophy of God.

My concept of God is that of a God who “interrupts” the flow of normalcy rather than “intervenes”; that is, he interrupts or changes His mode of working, a working that in actual fact never ceases: “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). When we develop physical theories such as Gravitation or Quantum Mechanics, we do not picture such schemes as doing their work by “intervening” but rather see their action as relentless across all time and space. Likewise, if the ultimate underlying ontology of this universe is the Aseity of deity then I don’t expect that Deity to have the occasional role of the interventionist God, but instead to be a present tense continuous agent. As the sustainer of the cosmic order His role is relentless in time and space, interrupting the normal flow as and when He pleases.


Addendum: 29/4/10
Unfinished Business.
When I wrote about the concept of "divine intervention" here the following comment appeared:

Well it could be worse, we could be dealing with Pandeism, which proposes a God that is a quite logical and scientific entity which engineered a Universe that is truly random, and lacking in any of that unacceptable tinkering....

Clearly the person concerned never got to grips with the difference between "tinkering" and "interruptions". That person never turned up when challenged in a subsequent post and remains on my "unfinished business" list. It is ironic that those who are so vocal about believing in "interventions" support a philosophy that has a close relation with deism: "N interventions" very easily turns into "Zero interventions" when faith falls away and N slides toward zero.


6 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Tinkering, interruptions, call them what you will, but at the end of the day the question remains, has the deity of your conception sufficient powerful, intellect, and rationality to set forth a Universe which from its initial state unfolds in accordance with the laws of physics thus established to bring about complexity, life, ultimately intelligent life, without need for any 'interruptions' of any kind? And let me raise the stakes a bit, is able to set forth a Universe in this manner which in its unfolding ends up exactly as the Universe we perceive today, in every particular? For this is precisely the capacity asserted to be that of the Creator in Pandeism.

But I would not wish to leave an incomplete sense of what Pandeism proposes. So here it is.

Pandeism proposes that prior to the existence of our Universe (or, in some sense 'outside' the existence of our Universe, for those who would limit the existence of linear time to being within such existence) there was an entity of, as supposed above, sufficient power, intellect, and rationality to set forth a Universe of the scope and operation of our own. This entity had some rational motivation compelling it to set forth a Universe, perhaps because as a unitary being it could only learn the lessons of dichotomy by experiencing the existence of limited beings interacting with one another. And so, it set forth laws of physics designed to bring about the complexity which would ultimately create these beings, and it poured its energy into that which is now the energy of which our Universe is ultimately made. The laws of physics point to an end but are not determinative. Imagine a large funnel into which many small rubber balls are thrown against the wall; the balls may bounce randomly, unpredictably, but will ultimately end up going down then hole at the narrow end of the funnel. Just so, our laws of physics. No telling when or where exactly intelligent life will develop, or what form it will take, but the brilliantly constructed governing dynamics of our Universe make it highly likely that it will happen at some times and places.

And where is the Creator in all this? Well, it has become our Universe, so it's everywhere; it's power continually sustains all things in being, but it has not the need to 'interrupt' the obedience of every particle of energy in existence to the laws of physics which were well-enough made in the first place to bring about everything required to fulfill its initial motivation. Indeed, it would have an overriding incentive to not interrupt the natural development of things, which would be to not interrupt the natural development of things, and instead see how things unfold, how the true randoms play out, absent any intervention at all.

And what of man's millions of competing revelations and prophecies, visions, scriptures, oracles, miracles, spiritual emotions, supernatural feelings, ghosts, answered prayers, egrigores, and like beliefs? These are after all a constant across all cultures, even those whose take from them is completely opposite to their neighbors, suggesting either a deity doing a rather sloppy job of trying to communicate a single truth, or man doing a rather sloppy (and often self-serving) job of interpreting the unconscious manifestations of the mind of a deity not trying to communicate anything at all. For if, after all, our Creator became the Creation, then we are all fragments of it, and some talented few of us may in our own minds touch some small portion of the incomprehensibly vast and complex mind which underlies all things for however long our Universe is set to bounce around before it ends up down the funnel.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Hi Mr Anonymous,
Thanks very much for the thoughtful comment. In order to get an idea of where you are coming from can you confirm or otherwise that it was you I was discussing with on the comment thread of this post?

Trying to avoid putting you in a box: Is pandeism an idea you are exploring and feel favourable toward?

But what about the comment on this post? That wasn’t you was it? The latter comment appears to express a distaste for pandeism and my reading of it at the time was that I was dealing with an anti evolutionist.

Are you able to clarify the situation here? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

There is something to be said for conversing in anonymity; it reduces the conversation to the value of the ideas presented, and eliminates any chance of personalty being addressed; and their is something to be said similarly for refusing to be tied to a definitive position; it allows the conversation to focus on the relative value of every position to be examined without pretending that we have before us the capacity to fully embrace or dismiss any one of them. We are left to weigh probabilities and possibilities.

The first and lengthier item to which you point, yes that is mine. The other is a scrap of nonsense.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Thanks for the reply; I think I largely agree with you on those points! However, it helpful to know that you were responsible for the lengthier item as it will help me get a handle on what you are saying.

Yes the other one you remark on was nonsense!