America, Masons, Deism,Conspiracy Theories, Fundamentalism and Paranoia
America, nowadays, is a nervous if not rather frightened country (See my last blog entry, http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.com/2011/09/witchs-brew-from-townhallcom.html). The US are going through a tough time when many Americans have become paranoid about all manner of dogs, real and imagined, who are out to get them; from actual Islamic terrorists to florid tales about conspiratorial groups within the US government itself. Given this malaise it is no surprise that certain motifs - such as global warming theories - are listed as subversive of the American way of life and provoke passionate responses. Such reactions, if they boarder on the obsessive compulsive, are not good news for us in the West who look to the US for firm and confident leadership in science, technology, culture, politics, commerce and even in Christianity. Instead the Country seems to be tearing itself apart with all sorts of spiteful polarised arguments.
Another of those ideas regarded as subversive, especially amongst America’s considerable Christian fundamentalist population, is of course evolution or “Darwinism” as they refer to it. For Christian fundamentalists the question of the origins of life is seen through a “God did it” versus “Darwinism did it” dichotomy. The Christian anti-evolutionists see the two as mutually exclusive and this, as I have suggested before on this blog, is down to a subliminal deistical mindset which is over-awed by the putative creative and sustaining vitality of “naturalism” and therefore sees it as a threatening pretender to God’s sovereign role. For if “Darwinism did it” then that is regarded as a challenge to the claim that “God did it”. If God didn’t do it that means naturalism did it. If naturalism can do it, that means we don’t need God to do it. If we don’t need God to do it that makes His presence, perhaps even his very existence, superfluous. Thus for many American Christians “Darwinism” challenges the very basis of their faith.
In a blog entry dated 19th September 2011 anti-darwinist blogger Cornelius Hunter (See the “Darwin’s God" blogspot) paints the perfect picture of classic deism where“Natural laws” are putatively able to do God’s work for him thus giving him his redundancy papers. In fact this kind of deism, if followed to its natural conclusion, is in danger of taking God out of the picture altogether and handing Him His “God is Dead” certificate: Here are some pertinent extracts from Hunter’s article:
The view that God should work according to natural laws rather than direct providence has always been attractive to religious believers. These believers prefer a more distant God for many reasons. For instance, is it not obvious that God would not have directly created such an evil world? Instead, God must have created the laws and went away. Like Aristotle’s Prime Mover, God is removed from the evil and not culpable. But there are several other theological traditions that argue just as strongly against divine intervention, and for creation by natural law. One is that the world, especially the lowly things of the world, are beneath God’s dignity.
In the era of modern science the infra dignitatem argument, orinfra dig for short, traces at least back to the Cambridge Platonists in the seventeenth century. The idea was that God would not, as the Anglican botanist John Ray put it, “set his own hand as it were to every work, and immediately do all the meanest and trifling’st things himself drudgingly, without making use of any inferior or subordinate Minister.”
The subordinate minister or agent was Plastic Nature which, unlike the Creator, was not infallible or irresistible. Instead, Plastic Nature had to contend with the ineptitude of matter. The results were those “errors and bungles” of nature.
Such gnostic tendencies by no means ceased with the seventeenth century. Indeed, this view seemed to have a divine sanction. After all, to control the world exclusively through natural laws—God’s secondary causes—required an even greater God. In 1794 Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin wrote this Gnostic-sounding vision of how natural history should be viewed: “The world itself might have been generated, rather than created; ….”
Divine providence could engage in the noble activity of impressing laws upon matter, but not grovel in the muck of nature
Alfred Wallace agreed. Evolution’s cofounder argued that the universe was self-regulating according to its general laws and in no need of continual supervision and rearrangement of details. “As a matter of feeling and religion,” concluded Wallace, “I hold this to be a far higher conception of the Creator of the Universe than that which may be called the ‘continual interference hypothesis’.”
Darwin, for his part, was keen to the implications of this modern gnosticism. If God was not intimately involved in the world, then was He involved at all?
Likewise, it was reasonable for Darwin to argue that complex organs were not likely shaped by God because that would mean he works as man does. (This latter statement appears to be motivated by a humunclus view of ID – see http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.com/2011/09/does-intelligent-design-make-testable.html )
In his post Hunter puts these deistical ideas into the minds of Victorians who he claims had a Gnostic-like religious rationale for putting a distance between God and a world full of suffering and evil. These Victorians, according to Hunter, favoured the idea of evolutionary and “naturalistic” mechanisms being responsible for a morally sub-standard creation, because it got God off the hook for the evil and suffering in the world; basically a maneuver very similar to the Gnostic attempt to solve the problem of suffering and evil with a theological kludge which puts creation into the hands of a demiurge.
Now, I myself can’t speak for Victorians, but Hunter is clearly portraying them as promoting a distant and unconnected God, a God that is not exactly the epitome of the incarnate God of the Cross who closely identifies with His creation. Hunter’s subtext here is that because these spiritually suspect Victorians used and needed evolution as a kind of gnostic rationale for suffering and evil, therefore “evolution” is concomitantly discredited. But Hunter’s argument is only compelling for those who implicitly accept the force of the deistical notion that “naturalism” implies a disconnected if not absentee God. Ergo, Hunter is a crypto-deist.
Before proceeding I must make it clear that I have no strong commitment to conventional evolution and I would even go so far as to say that I’m very interested in the kind of criticisms Hunter makes of standard evolutionary theory. But if evolution is to be ultimately rejected it must be rejected for the right reasons: The crypto-deism that Hunter subliminally espouses is not one of those reasons.
It is irony is that many a Christian believer is subliminally impressed by the logic of deism and its challenge to their faith. That they (subconsciously) accept the underlying categories of deism is seen in their reaction to it: If “naturalism” renders God redundant they respond by re-employing God in acts of “super naturalism” ; that is they bring Him back in to the show by allowing Him to intervene in the workings of nature from time to time; the bigger the “intervention” the better it is. For if the creation of life is to be regarded as a kind of macro “intervention” that fails to fit into a Darwinian natural law framework then it leaves a conspicuous logical hiatus readily filled with God’s interventional role, a role which for many is the rationale for His existence and the underwriter of faith. But my thesis is that many anti-evolutionists have in fact swallowed the concept of deism and its concomitant concept of “naturalism”; for the only way they can think of challenging the sovereignty of “naturalism” is by holding onto to the concept of divine “interventions” in the face of what they take for granted as the otherwise autonomous “natural” processes. For the Christian crypto-deist the existence of those “interventions” is important, if not critical, to faith. Evolution is thought of as a non-interventional process whose efficacy to generate form and pattern must be challenged at all costs. In this context “generation” and absolute creation are conflated; there is a failure here to see that the concept of "pattern" doesn't just apply to a configuration that is an end result but also to a configuration that is spread over time in the form of a process of generation.
At the heart of this reaction to the putative autonomous creativity of “natural mechanism” is, I suggest, a profound misunderstanding about just what science is uncovering. Science is not uncovering autonomous mechanisms and processes, but rather the amenability of the patterns of nature to be described using two kinds of mathematical object, namely, algorithms and statistics, (or “law and disorder” as I call it). That we find the patterns of nature to be amenable to mathematical description does not mean nature runs itself any more than computer algorithms can run themselves – such algorithms need the constant sustaining presence of a computational substrate to run. (A similar sustaining immersive presence of God may be alluded to in Acts 19:27b-29). Algorithms and statistics ostensively make nature more knowable but that says little about the metaphysical question of whether or not that that entails less need for some transcendent supporting substrate. If nature does contain those one-off discontinuities in pattern such as water being transmuted into wine, this interruption in the flow of normalcy would be no more an “intervention” than a hardware interrupt in the execution of a program. So called “naturalism”, (that is the reign of law of disorder) has less to do with absolute creation than it does a description of the patterns of what is already created. (I’m using the running of an algorithm as a metaphor here, but some people are taking it more literally! See here: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.com/2007/02/time-travel.html )
In any case if the unknowability of the “miraculous” one-off somehow prompts us to feel the presence of God more keenly, then even should our world be exclusively a story of law and disorder it is still subject to the unknowable and the singular. Viz: The laws of our world are non-linear and therefore the patterns they generate are highly sensitive to the least significant decimal places of real numbers, numbers whose information in the decimal depths is inaccessible to human kind. Moreover it may well be that quantum randomness is absolute in sense that it generates patterns that are not amenable to humanly manageable short time algorithms. Thus as far as we are concerned the cosmos is open ended, the receptacle of one-off providences, even under so called “naturalism” .
In sum then I don’t see why the tainting of evolution with Victorian religious motives and deistical assumptions has any necessary effect on its truth or falsehood. In some ways Hunter typifies the nervous anti-evilutionist who obsesses about the apparent threat evolution poses to his faith. Although his blog contains many thoughtful challenges to evolution it is largely the domain of anti-theory and on the actual history of life he has little to say.
End Note: I don't want to be entirely negative about Hunter. He often makes some good points. Here's one of them taken from the post I've considered above: It is perhaps one of the great enigmas in religious thought that one can profess to be an agnostic, skeptic, or even atheist regarding belief in God yet still hold strong opinions about God. Very true I feel.