Friday, June 18, 2010

Polarisation, Polarisation, Polarisation!

Some of us are non-plussed by an escalation in attempts to construct water-tight arguments

I have only just seen this post on Uncommon Descent, a post which came out in April. I am very gratified by the generally conciliatory tone of the post. The post was a response to Karl Giberson of Biologos who the post claims has “offered an Olive Branch to ID”. Biologos is the Christian think tank founded by Francis Collins, an affiliation that identifies itself with Theistic Evolution. In turn Thomas Cudworth, who wrote the post for Uncommon Descent, makes some very positive overtures. Moreover also he makes some significant statements:

William Dembski, for example, has said that ID does not in itself require gaps in natural causality, and therefore does not rule out a wholly natural process of evolutionary change, provided that the natural process is understood not as chance-driven but as designed. (I really wish Dembski would make his position here clearer - TVR)

ID is compatible with the view that new information was “input” into the biological realm at various points, e.g., at the origin of life, during the Cambrian explosion, at the origin of man, etc. But it does not require such a view.

All that ID insists upon is that the integrated complexity observed in biological systems is in important respects the product of design. The means by which the design was brought into nature – via a front-loaded scheme that operates naturalistically, via subtle indetectable steering, or via “spot miracles” to fill in the “gaps” – are not part of design theory per se.

It is precisely because ID focuses on design detection that it is compatible with many different views of how biological order emerged. Thus, ID is a “big tent”, which can embrace people who don’t accept macroevolution at all, and also those who accept chemical and biological evolution “from molecules to man”. What unites all ID proponents is not a particular account of origins, but a rejection of non-design in favor of design.

TE as such says nothing either way about the detectability of design, and ID as such says nothing either way about the occurrence or non-occurrence of evolution. Therefore, neither group needs, on definitional grounds, to deny the core belief of the other.
It is only those ID people who insist on rejecting evolution on principle, and only those TE people who insist that God’s design must not be detectable, that have no common ground.

In sum, I second Dr. Giberson’s proposal for a new exploration of what ID and TE have in common, rather than what separates them. I think the best TEs and the best ID people have a strong sense of design in nature that is not merely a subjective impression but which points beyond nature to a designer of nature.

Sounds, good to me; it seems we have here a basis for reconciliation between Uncommon Descent and Biologos. So why can’t they get on? The answer, according to Cudworth: Polarisation, Polarization, Polarization!:

But in between, there is an overlap zone, which I think that neither TEs nor ID people have fully explored, because of reckless past charges on both sides which have generated great mutual distrust.

And there is no better example of polarization and mutual distrust to be found than in this recent post on UD where it’s back to the belligerent business of evolutionists slugging it out with anti-evolutionists. Cudworth’s post, it seems, is already water under the bridge, soon forgotten.

Part of the deeper problem here may be the hold the philosophy of deism has on our culture. My theory is that both evolutionists and anti-evolutionists have to consciously resist a compulsion toward a default deism. This philosophy suggests that if the patterns displayed by the cosmos are mathematically describable then it follows that they are autonomous “mechanisms” in need of no maintenance and sustenance. Ironically even the most out and out anti-evolutionist seems hold this view: In consequence (s)he has a pressing spiritual need to propose divine “interventions” in order to prove the presence of God in what (s)he otherwise percieves to be a self sufficient machine world of mathematical pattern.

STOP PRESS 20/6/10
In a post headed “Theistic atheism –oops I meant theistic evolution” Denise O’Leary quotes a fellow anti-evolutionist journalist:

To put it in terms of an equation, when atheists assure us that matter + evolution + 0 = all living things, and then theistic evolutionists answer, no, that matter + evolution + God = all living things, it will not take long for unbelievers to conclude that, therefore, God = 0.”

She goes onto say:

Right, exactly, that is the project of “theistic” evolution, so far as I can see. Helping theists get used to a world run by atheists and their values, while still hollering fer Jesus irrelevantly somewhere.

All good polarizing stuff that’s bound to further alienate the theistic evolutionists, thus illustrating my point. Moreover, we have a fine expression of the essentially deistic paradigm that some people are working to; namely the “equation” : matter + evolution + God = all living things. Note that this portrayal of the theistic evolutionist’s position conceives God’s work to be something different from “natural forces” represented by “matter + evolution”. The Christian anti-evolutionist, who may still have a subliminal belief that “natural forces” have at least a nominal autonomy reads “evolution + matter” as an upstart usurper of God’s sovereignty. (S)he thus wishes to minimize the “natural” terms in the equation by putting evolution+matter = nothing very much. But this is qualitatively little different from atheists setting God = 0. Deists and interventionists hold a common philosophy that is only different in degree but not in quality.

As I once said on this blog: 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. If we have to use these mathematical metaphors a better one to my mind than these simple linear equations is to think of God as a “zero point” operator i.e. G(0) = natural history.



Business as usual on the polaris front

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