Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Polkinghorne: A Creationist and ID Theorist.

Last night I was at Norwich Cathedral where John Polkinghorne was giving a talk. I have published some pics to convey the atmosphere. Their quality is not good as my “point and snap” photographic technique struggles under poor conditions.

One of Polkinghorne’s theme (as usual) was of a universe “endowed with the potentiality” to generate life via evolution. During the Q&A session he described himself as a creationist who believes in Intelligent Design. This claim is entirely intelligible given that Polkinghorne believes the universe to have been deliberately “fine tuned” in order to be fruitful in its production of life.

However, what worries Polkinghorne about the term “intelligent design” also worries me: It has become (especially in North America) synonymous with anti-evolutionism. Thus, the insinuation is that theorists like Polkinghorne who are standard evolutionists must be advocating a life creating processes that is unconditional upon Divine Design. As Polkinghorne himself said, somehow the anti-evolutionists have posited “natural” processes in which God has no hand; that is, their objection to physics as the source of life is based on a subliminal feeling that physics is a “mechanical” or “natural” process that minds itself without the hand of God.

The contention here is not whether evolution is supported by common physics or not, but just who can consider themselves to be flying the flag of “intelligent design”. The anti-evolutionists think that they alone are flying that flag and that everyone else should come on side for God. The insinuation is that those who don’t are somehow in bed with “naturalism” and atheism.

The anti-evolution/evolution debate is an emotionally charged war zone where combatants need to know who to shoot at and who not to shoot at. As far as the anti-evolutionists are concerned Polkinghorne is on the wrong side and cannot be regarded as an ID supporter. It is therefore no surprise that in this polarized environment people like Polkinghorne tell us that they have little sympathy with the anti-evolutionist ID community.

But the category division between "goodies and baddies" is based on quite subtle criteria. In this post on Uncommon Descent a correspondent moots the idea that common descent with genetic front loading can be identified as an ID candidate even though the correspondent doesn’t hold this view himself. Why then can’t Polkinghorne’s evolutionary views, which if they are valid would inevitably entail a biased front loading, also be identified as an ID candidate? I suspect this has something to do with the side of the battle field he identifies with.

Christian flock: some think ID sorts out the sheep from the goats
and that Polkinghorne is a nave knave

These are the notes I made on the evening of 27/4/2010
Qualia vs Formalism. Meta questions beyond science
  1. Why is science possible? Why can we render it using equations? Why do we have a rationally transparent world? The Creator: A concept that makes intelligible the intelligibility of the world.
  2. Why is the universe so special? For example the Carbon resonance. Dark energy has been fine tuned to a very small value.
Polkinghorne believes in one universe – the multi universe is speculative and unintelligible.
The universe is endowed with potentiality. The universe is designed to be fruitful. It is not a puppet theatre. Life can make itself.  Mutation needed for evolution tradesoff against cancer. Can not easily separate the benevolent from the malign – inextricably bound up. Hence a universe with ragged edges and blind alleys.

Question & Answer Session
Polkinghorne says he believe in creation and ID.
The IC concept – postulates isolated structures.
American “ID” drives a wedge between the “natural” and God: posits processes where God didn’t have  hand.
The Fall: Down to the self limitng act of God – he gives gifts of free will. Creature make themselves vs puppets. The good has to be balanced against the evil.

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