Thursday, January 09, 2014

Western Dualism in the North American Intelligent Design Community. Part 2

This is the second in the series where I comment on a post by North American IDist Vincent J Torley.  (See part 1 here) The aim is to expose the essential dualism of Torely’s views, views which are based on a false dichotomy between God’s creative activity and so called “natural processes”.  The Western mind finds it difficult to think past this dichotomy and this seems to be down to the paradox of keeping both the eminence and immanence of God in mind at the same time.  (See here)

In his post Torley quotes atheist Sean Carroll (See quote below). Reading this quote I find it ironic that Carroll actually succeeds in articulating a theological concept that I actually agree with, although of course he wouldn't accept that this concept corresponds to any reality:

[T]he ultimate answer to “We need to understand why the universe exists/continues to exist/exhibits regularities/came to be” is essentially “No we don’t.”…
States of affairs only require an explanation if we have some contrary expectation, some reason to be surprised that they hold. Is there any reason to be surprised that the universe exists, continues to exist, or exhibits regularities? When it comes to the universe, we don’t have any broader context in which to develop expectations. As far as we know, it may simply exist and evolve according to the laws of physics. If we knew that it was one element of a large ensemble of universes, we might have reason to think otherwise, but we don’t. (I’m using “universe” here to mean the totality of existence, so what would be called the “multiverse” if that’s what we lived in.)…
There is no reason, within anything we currently understand about the ultimate structure of reality, to think of the existence and persistence and regularity of the universe as things that require external explanation. Indeed, for most scientists, adding on another layer of metaphysical structure in order to purportedly explain these nomological facts is an unnecessary complication. (My emphases)

Where I agree with Carroll is that he sees theology as adding another layer of metaphysical structure that purports to explain the universe’s existence and the persistence of its regularities. What Carroll has effectively put his finger on here is that he has identified theology as a metanarrative that embeds science rather than competes as an alternative narrative. Of course, as you’d expect, Carroll believes this meta-narrative to be an unnecessary complication. This post is not the place to critique Carroll’s dismissal of this meta-narrative. Suffice to say for the moment that to Carroll’s “No we don’t..” I would simply reply at this stage with “Oh yes we do!…”. What concerns me more here, however, is that as far as his theology is concerned Carroll seems to have “got it” whereas Torley hasn't! Making theology a meta-narrative doesn't bring it in to inevitable collision with Law and Disorder science, whereas Torley’s commitment to the dualist idea that God fills in the gaps where L&D science seems to fail gives rise to a potential conflict.
Further on in his post Torley quotes John Lennox:

There is an immense gulf between the non-living and the living that is a matter of kind, and not simply of degree. It is like the gap between the raw materials paper and ink, on the one hand, and the finished product of paper with writing on it, on the other. Raw materials do not self-organize into linguistic structures. Such structures are not “emergent” phenomena, in the sense that they do not appear without intelligent input.
Any adequate explanation for the existence of the DNA-coded database and for the prodigious information storage and processing capabilities of the living cell must involve a source of information that transcends the basic physical chemical materials out of which the cell is constructed… Such processes and programmes, on the basis of all we know from computer science, cannot be explained, even in principle, without the involvement of a mind. (p. 174)

My Comment: This quote probably appeals to Torley because of its dualistic flavour. Here we see again the Western dualistic outlook in action; that is, a matter verses mind dichotomy superimposing itself on the language used to discuss creation. The connotation of this kind of language is that matter is a passive medium rather like the painter’s colours or the writer’s ink, with no life of its own and subject to the will of an intelligent homunculus who comes along and manipulates it. In this dualist context matter is not thought of as a proactive medium with an associated immanent active intelligence. In the communities that hold this dualistic paradigm talk of “self-organization” or “emergent properties” is tantamount to conferring intrinsic creative powers on matter thus setting Mother Nature against Father God. This dualistic paradigm does not conceive God as the proactive agent immanent in the dynamic of matter, and therefore any notion of matter as an expression of (divine) "oomph" looks to them dangerously like a creative competitor to God.

We don’t have to go to evolutionary theory to see God’s immanent intelligence at work: The growth of an organism from a fertile seed is an act of so called “self-organisation” whereby a total physical regime, a regime which includes initial conditions and present tense continuous processes, succeeds in generating an autonomous survival machine. Few would dispute this. Where the dispute lies is between dualistically minded  atheists and theists who are divided on the question of whether or not this undisputed ability of a physical regime to generate living structures can be applied recursively. That is: Is the physical regime that generates organisms itself a product of a physical regime? To the atheists, of course, the ability of a physical regime to recurse clinches the case for “natural processes” being an alternative to a creator God.  To the community that Torley represents this concept of recursion is all but taboo because their “explanatory filter”, which puts God on the same logical level as physical processes, means that recursion leaves God out in the cold.

 The central claim of Dr. Stephen Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell (HarperOne, New York, 2009) is that the best explanation – indeed, the only causally adequate explanation – for the digital code that we find in the cells of living things is intelligent agency.

My Comment: This is plain old dualistic god-of-the-gaps; that is, intelligence vs. physical regime. The subtext is: “We can’t find a physical explanation for life, therefore intelligence and therefore God!”. But this line of argument all too easily prompts its anti-thesis; That is: “Natural processes explain life, therefore no intelligence and no God”! In the next quote below we find that Torley’s biological “god-of-the-gapsism” is part and parcel with that other god-of-the-gaps proposal, namely the cosmological argument:

Here is where the biological argument for Intelligent Design can take us beyond the cosmological argument, which takes cosmic fine-tuning as its starting point.

My Comment: Once again notice how Torley has an implicit habit of mind whereby he exclusively identifies ID with his brand of god-of-the-gaps. Torley goes on to suggest that those theists who, because of considerations of intellectual elegance, favour the idea that life has been generated as a result of a single divine dispensation embodied in the cosmic physical regime have…

…a limited concept of beauty, which can account for some kinds of beauty that we see in the world, but not the richest kinds.

My Comment: I'm not going to get into this argument about the respective aesthetics of god-of-the-gaps vs. one-creative-dispensation. All I want to maintain here is that a physical regime based concept of life’s origin can be construed as very much an Intelligent Design position in spite of Torley’s subliminally dualistic habit of mind which prompts him and his friends to exclude mono-dispensationalists from the intelligent design paradigm. (See my previous blog post here where “IDist” Granville Sewell confidently pronounces “If you believe that a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones, you are probably not an ID proponent, even if you believe in God.”)
As I finish this second part let me add my usual disclaimer: I don’t necessarily agree with the establishment’s position about the mechanisms of evolution. However, I certainly wouldn't argue against the establishment’s position in the way Torley does. The establishment’s view is that the algorithmic functions of physics are likely to be sufficient for evolution and that the evolutionary biologist's brief is to account for the generation of life in terms of currently understood physics and chemistry – this is evidenced by my observation that no biologist I've yet heard of is looking for any new physics to explain evolution. In contrast as a private worker there is no career pressure on myself to stop me entertaining ideas that the immanent God provisions the cosmic physical regime in proactive ways we have yet to understand, thus making it organically “fruitful” (“fruitful” is a term I have got from John Polkinghorne). But in spite of classifying myself as an Intelligent Design Creationist I have major problems with the approach of  Torley’s “IDist” community who have help create an inevitable conflict between their dualist theology and science.

This series will continue with an in depth look at Torley’s post, a post where, if anything, we go from bad to worse.

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