Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mind the Gaps

In a post on the ID Website Uncommon Descent entitled Casey Luskin on Theistic Evolutionist’s evidence-phobia contributor Denise O’Leary quotes de facto ID guru Casey Luskin as follows:

Picture originally found on "Sandwalk" The speech bubble is mine.

Of course, when BioLogos claims “it is all intelligently designed,” they mean that strictly as a faith-based theological doctrine for which they can provide no supporting scientific evidence. Indeed, it’s ironic that BioLogos accuses ID of “removing God from the process of creation” when Collins writes that “science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science.” Under Collins’s view, God’s “domain” is seemingly fenced off from “nature,” which belongs to “science.”

My Comment: Here we go once more unto the breach dear friends: Western Dualism’s nature vs. theology dichotomy! What’s the point of theology if it isn’t responding to the empirical conditions of the human predicament by attempting to provide, however inadequately, a world-view level account of it? Under any circumstances theology is not fenced off from “nature”. If nature = creation and humanity is part of creation then any experience/observation/thought we have, based as it is in the created psyche of our humanity will by definition also be part of creation and therefore classify as “nature”. Ergo, theology, which presumably attempts to make sense of the broad sweep of human experience, is inextricably bound up with so called “nature”.  But admittedly, theology, like string theory has more the role of providing postdictive sense making narratives rather than that of predictive testability.

Since CIDs [Christian intelligent design supporters] treat design as a scientific hypothesis, not a theological doctrine, they would reply that a failure scientifically to detect design doesn’t mean God was somehow theologically absent, and would say that natural explanations don’t “remov[e] God.” BTEs [BioLogos theistic evolutionists] thus fail to recognize that CIDs have no objection to God using natural, secondary causes. They also fail to appreciate that in some cases, CIDs argue that natural explanations can even provide evidence for design (e.g., cosmic fine-tuning). But CIDs disagree with BTEs that God must always use natural causes, and argue we should allow the possibility that God might act in a scientifically detectable manner Thus, one important dividing line is:

• BTEs accept materialistic evolutionary explanations (such as neo-Darwinism) where the history of life appears unguided, and deny we scientifically detect design.

• CIDs hold we may scientifically detect design as the best scientific explanation for many aspects of biology

My Comment: I think you will find that in principle de facto IDists like Luskin understand “natural causes” to be those explanations which fall within the present canon of physics or, presumably, any future development of that canon (Although as we will see below in practice the IDist’s so called “natural causes” actually refer to the much dreaded evolution). The IDist’s explanatory filter defaults to intelligent agency when the physical canon fails as an explanation. But the explanations of physics inevitably face an ultimate logical hiatus or explanatory gap; this is because physics is in effect descriptive and therefore its final and complete word can only be a kernel of logically compressed brute fact; physical explanations can do no more and no less. Hence, the explanatory filter will eventually default to intelligent agency when the ultimate logical hiatus is arrived at. The pertinent question is at what point is the gap going to be found? Is that gap going to be found at the level of biological configurations; that is, are biological structures fundamental givens? Or is the gap going to be found at the fine tuning level where once the physical canon has been set up and correctly tuned the cosmos will then generate life? If, repeat if, Luskin is just talking about this general logical hiatus then I would question his claim that his kind of ID has a formal scientific status. After all, a grand logical gap is mathematically destined to be part the physical cannon under any circumstance and will exist where ever it is found. And if humans have anything to do with it the information inherent in this logical gap will inevitably prompt debate about its origin (This is why my version of the “explanatory filter” is recursive). The ensuing debate is likely to have a strong philosophical and theological slant. Thus arguing for God on the basis of an inevitable logical hiatus will probably veer towards theology and/or philosophy rather than formal science.

But we know that as a rule de facto IDists actually have a deep raison d’etre for insisting that a logical hiatus exists inside biology itself, not just generally in the canon of physics. For rather than trace the gap all the way back to the physics of fine tuning and the abstruse and contentious philosophico-theological posturing about the origins of physics, they much prefer to bring the gap closer to home; namely, at the level of biological configurations. And we know what that means: De facto IDists like Luskin hate evolution and will claim evolution didn’t happen (because intelligence did it!).  Whether conventional evolutionary theory works or not is something that is subject to testing. So, in this sense, biologically based intelligence–of-the-gaps sidesteps the highfalutin philosophical questions about ultimate origins and actually becomes scientific, although it is very negative science of (evolution) denial.

As I have remarked before in this blog this commitment to anti-evolutionism is potentially toxic to theology if some version of evolution is ultimately found to work. Luskin’s ID, although he may not bring himself to be very explicit about it, is very dependent on the failure of evolutionary theory. Luskin’s so called “scientific hypothesis” is not about the philosophico-theological issues which surround the question of the grand logical hiatus but rather the strong North American Christian right “No! No! No!” to evolution.  When Luskin accuses Biologos of requiring God to always use “natural causes” he can’t be accusing them of trying to do away with the grand logical hiatus because that is logically impossible. What he really means is that Biologos’ loathed publicly funded establishment academics are evolutionists!

Notice that Luskin wrongly refers to evolution as unguided. As I have repeatedly attempted to make clear on this blog even standard evolution is far from unguided – it very much depends on the up-front-information needed to “guide” it in the form of the channels of the spongeam, which if they exist (although they probably don’t at my guess) would have to be implicit in the canon of physics and/or future developments of that canon.

[A]ccording to textbooks and leading evolutionary biologists, neo-Darwinian evolution is defined as an unguided or undirected process of natural selection acting upon random mutation. Thus, when theistic evolutionists say that “God guided evolution,” what they mean is that somehow God guided an evolutionary process which for all scientific intents and purposes appears unguided. As Francis Collins put it in The Language of God, God created life such that “from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process.” Whether it is theologically or philosophically coherent to claim that “God guided an apparently unguided process” I will leave to the theologians and the philosophers. ID avoids these problems by maintaining that life’s history doesn’t appear unguided, and that we can scientifically detect that intelligent action was involved.

My Comment: The premise that pervades this paragraph falls over because as I’ve already said conventional evolution, on its own logic, is guided – that is, it effectively posits the implicit information of the spongeam, a requirement that is related to Dembski’s conservation of information. Because testing evolution amounts to testing for the existence of the spongeam then the question of its existence is subject to formal scientific investigation. On the other hand the question of the origin of the information in the spongeam, which would have to be implicit in the physical canon, concerns that final logical hiatus I’ve already referred to and is therefore potentially philosophical and/or theological.

Theistic evolutionists sometimes try to obscure these differences, such as when BioLogos says “it is all intelligently designed.” But when pressed, they’ll admit this is a strictly theological view, since they believe none of that design is scientifically detectable. CIDs wonder how one can speak of “intelligent design” if it’s always hidden and undetectable. “We’re promoting a scientific theory, not a theological doctrine,” replies ID, “and our theory detects design in nature through scientific observations and evidence.”

Some theistic evolutionists will then further reply by saying, “Since we both believe in some form of ‘intelligent design,’ the differences between our views are small.” ID proponents retort: “Whether small or not, these differences make all the difference in the world.”

And there’s the rub. By denying that we scientifically detect design in nature, BTEs cede to materialists some of the most important territory in the debate over atheism and religion. Biologically speaking, theistic evolution gives no reasons to believe in God.

My Comment: Since the logical hiatus in physics is mathematically inevitable and must ultimately be acknowledged by both Biologos and Luskin, at first site it might seem that if they both use the explanatory filter, both are justified in claiming to be IDists. Therefore Luskin’s claim that theistic evolution gives no reasons to believe in God is false. So what’s the real basis of Luskin’s beef? Well Luskin can’t bring himself to admit it but what he really means by his claim to having a scientific theory is that he is anti-evolution and Biologos isn’t.  But bland anti-evolutionism is not a great way to claim to having a “scientific theory”.  Hence de facto IDists will attempt to make claim to a positive science of “intelligence did it!”.  But this doesn’t hold much water because some de facto IDists will actually tell us that explicating  the nature of the intelligence that "did it " is not part of ID!.  This makes it very difficult to use this “science” in a positive way to make predictions. For example, de facto ID’s belief that there is no junk DNA is problematical given the inscrutability that some IDists build into their intelligent agent. This makes it all but impossible to anticipate the methods, motives and personality of that intelligence; may be that intelligence has some obscure reason for storing redundant and repetitive DNA in the genome.  (See here for a blog post of mine that tries to take a sympathetic view to ID “predictions”)

To be clear, I’m not saying that if one accepts Darwinian evolution then one cannot be a Christian. Accepting or rejecting the grand Darwinian story is a “disputable” or “secondary” matter, and Christians have freedom to hold different views on this issue. But while it may be possible to claim God used apparently unguided evolutionary processes to create life, that doesn’t mean Darwinian evolution is theologically neutral.

According to orthodox Darwinian thinking, undirected processes created not just our bodies, but also our brains, our behaviors, our deepest desires, and even our religious impulses. Under theistic Darwinism, God guided all these processes such that the whole show appears unguided. Thus, theistic evolution stands in direct contrast to Romans 1:20 where the Paul taught that God is “clearly seen” in nature. In contrast, theistic evolution implies God’s involvement in creating humans is completely unseeable,

Theistic evolution may not be absolutely incompatible with believing in God, but it offers no scientific reasons to do so. Perhaps this is why William Provine writes: “One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.”

My Comment: The first two paragraphs of this passage are incoherent given that conventional evolution is far from unguided; presumably this fact is not “clearly seen” by the likes of Luskin; he can only see biological gaps. But on account of de facto ID’s explanatory filter conventional evolution, with its ultimate inevitable logical hiatus, does offer at least a prima facia case to believe in God contrary to what Luskin says, as I have already stated. Thus, from the point of view of the explanatory filter conventional evolution is theologically neutral. However, that’s not say that it is theologically neutral on the deeper question of whether a Christian God would actually reify such a process.


Finally the post on Uncommon Descent had some snarky concluding comments from Denise of O’ Leary:

So many people marketing theistic evolution these days dislike evidence…… If the evolution scene were what they claim it is, you’d think we’d be the ones not to want evidence. But we totally rely on it and are comfortable with it.

As a science de facto ID is primarily negative. If de facto IDists are loathe to comment on the nature of the intelligence at work the power of ID to provide predictive evidence is compromised. O’Leary’s boast about ID being very evidence based rings hollow; ditto Luskin's claim to de facto ID being strongly scientific. The fact is de facto ID is not a hard science. 

My own attempts at explaining evolution in terms of an immanent intelligence at work require the nature of intelligence to be at least partly unpacked – see here and here. However, let me make it clear that this work is highly exploratory, speculative, tentative and very unfinished. So, I am in no position to bully either atheists or de facto IDists round to my point of view.

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