Monday, December 04, 2006

A complete book the only way to do justice to the Intelligent Design debate?

I am beginning to wonder if I don't need to write a complete book on this Intelligent Design stuff. Brian left a long comment at the end of my last major blog on the topic. I found that most of the places where he disagrees with me and I disagree with him, he has misunderstood me.

So let me say this for the record:

1) I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, who is the Creator of heaven and earth. So: I believe the world has been designed by an intelligent being whom I worship as my God. Moreover, when I look at the world, I marvel at his handiwork. When I talk about "Intelligent Design", I am not talking about the well respected philosophical tradition of the "Argument from Design" for God's existence. I am, rather, speaking specifically of what I call "trademark ID", that is, ID as promoted by the Discovery Institute and by scientists such as Michael Behe.

2) I believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and therefore accept them as true, inspired, and inerrant in all matters of faith and morals.

3) I don't have an especial affection for or attachment to the theory of evolution. I am not a scientist, and would not be overly bothered if tomorrow it was scientifically proved to be load of codswallop.

That having been said, I believe that Christians have problems with the theory of evolution because

1) it seems to imply that human beings and everything else came into being as a "casual and meaningless product of evolution" (to use Pope Benedict's words), or by pure unguided and unplanned chance, or (to use the Holy Father's words again), because it seems to deny that "each of us is the result of a thought of God; [that] each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

2) it seems to contradict the best-known account of creation in the scriptures, namely the first chapter of Genesis.

I believe it is essential for every Christian at all interested in this question to know that in fact neither of these problems is really posed by the theory of evolution. My reasons for saying so are as follows:

1) St Thomas Aquinas already pointed out almost eight hundred years ago that there is no contradiction between events that happen "contingently" (ie. by randomly or by chance) rather than "necessarily" (ie. pre-determined) and the involvement of the will and purpose of the Creator. He wrote (and every Christian should memorise these words):
If God foresees that this event will be, it will happen, just as the second argument suggested. But it will occur in the way that God foresaw that it would be. Now, he foresaw that it would occur contingently [ie. by chance]. So, it follows that, without fail, it will occur contingently and not necessarily" (SCG, 3, c.94).
To say, therefore, that the happening of an event is scientifically and statistically random is not to say that it happens without meaning or purpose or the intention of Divine Providence. In other words, "the modern argument that the recognition of the role in chance in evolution would eliminate God from the process is simply a non-starter" (Neil Ormerod, Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Australian Catholic University). I am sure the Holy Father knows this, and therefore does not attack the theory of evolution per se, but rather rejects the notion that what may indeed be products of evolution are "meaningless" or that the evolutionary process implies that human beings (and indeed all creation) are not "each the result of the thought of God."

2) A much deeper problem is with the seeming conflict between the scientific account of evolution and (one of) the biblical accounts of creation (specifically Genesis 1). As my wife said to me on the weekend when I discussed with her the probable origins of the poem in Genesis 1 during the Babylonian exile and the way in which it built upon earlier liturgical and cultic traditions of the origin of the Sabbath and the seven day week, "But we were never taught that." Basically, we have taught our people that the Psalms are poetry, and the Book of Ecclesiastes is philosophy, and the Prophetic books are prophecy (naturally), but we have also somehow taught them that Genesis 1 is history (and, in the process, failed to teach them what "history" is). In short, because I am convinced that Genesis One is NOT history, nor is it science, but rather a profoundly TRUE poetic meditation (and apologetic) upon Israel's faith in its God as a Universal (rather than local) Creator who acted in love and freedom to create a Rational world, I believe it does not conflict in any way with the theory of evolution per se. Moreover, John 1, and not Genesis 1, must be taken as the "conclusive and normative scriptural creation account" (Ratzinger, "In the Beginning", p 15.

Of course, here is where the book comes in. And I will make a start on it...tomorrow.

2 Comments:

At Thursday, December 07, 2006 2:42:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Thank you for your reply. To clarify my intentions, I am not commenting on your blog to make you look bad, or as an attempt to destroy your arguments. Heck, I agree with you that Catholicism and evolution are compatible. I really enjoy an informed discussion on Catholicism and ID, and no Catholics in my area that I know have any interest in such a conversation. Even online I have a difficult time finding someone who knows enough about all of the issues to have an engaging dialog. As far as I can tell, it is difficult to have a conversation with Catholics about ID because we are sensitive to the sentiment of the scientific community. I see this sensitivity as a good thing. And we are generally antithetical to, or suspicious of, anyone who rejects current or “popular” views in science. And, of course, the scientific community generally rejects ID for any of a number of bigoted and ignorant reasons. So, I completely understand why Catholics want to throw the hot potato around, or even ignore the topic.

I am genuinely interested in discussing these issues with you. If you find me and my subtlety annoying, I definitely understand. I will cease my commenting if it is burdensome to you, or you would like to spend more time blogging and commenting on other issues.

By the way, my name is Brain, not Brian. These words are easily confused. And just for the record, I prefer “Inquisitive Brain” or “Inq Brain.”

David said: I am beginning to wonder if I don't need to write a complete book on this Intelligent Design stuff. Brian left a long comment at the end of my last major blog on the topic. I found that most of the places where he disagrees with me and I disagree with him, he has misunderstood me. :::end quote:::

After reading this blogpost, I still don’t understand why you think intelligent design is a wrong turn. And I'm pretty sure I understand that you are saying that someone can be a faithful Catholic and hold to evolutionary views. That still leaves the question: Why is ID ("trademark ID", that is, ID as promoted by the Discovery Institute and by scientists such as Michael Behe) a strategic wrong turn?

David said: So let me say this for the record:

1) I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, who is the Creator of heaven and earth. So: I believe the world has been designed by an intelligent being whom I worship as my God. Moreover, when I look at the world, I marvel at his handiwork.
:::end quote:::

As a Catholic, I highly agree.

David said: When I talk about "Intelligent Design", I am not talking about the well respected philosophical tradition of the "Argument from Design" for God's existence. I am, rather, speaking specifically of what I call "trademark ID", that is, ID as promoted by the Discovery Institute and by scientists such as Michael Behe. :::end quote:::

Gotcha’.

David said: 2) I believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and therefore accept them as true, inspired, and inerrant in all matters of faith and morals. :::end quote:::

Me 2.

David said: 3) I don't have an especial affection for or attachment to the theory of evolution. I am not a scientist, and would not be overly bothered if tomorrow it was scientifically proved to be load of codswallop. :::end quote:::

As a biotechnologist, I do have a special affection for it. I think it is a very interesting and scientifically useful view of life. I just happen to think that Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution are only useful in a minute number of cases and that other telic views of evolution are in greater conformity with the physical evidence, much more scientifically interesting, and more useful.

David said: That having been said, I believe that Christians have problems with the theory of evolution because

1) it seems to imply that human beings and everything else came into being as a "casual and meaningless product of evolution" (to use Pope Benedict's words), or by pure unguided and unplanned chance, or (to use the Holy Father's words again), because it seems to deny that "each of us is the result of a thought of God; [that] each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
:::end quote:::

I do have a major problem with this, since there is nothing about the scientific evidence or human knowledge about the natural world that would lead to this conclusion. The only way to conclude life is meaningless is to have a firm “No” answer before approaching nature with the question about whether there is meaningful.

David said: 2) it seems to contradict the best-known account of creation in the scriptures, namely the first chapter of Genesis. :::end quote:::

I am a cradle Catholic, so I was never even instructed that we should read the first chapter of Genesis literally. I understand the four modes of Scriptural interpretation in Catholic tradition (I believe Origen was the first to outline these four). I also know how to read the Bible as an informed reader. I am most familiar with the Patristic, “historical-critical,” and neo-Patristic schools of thought. I would claim myself as an eclectic interpreter, so I find no contradictions between science and the first chapter of Genesis.

David said: I believe it is essential for every Christian at all interested in this question to know that in fact neither of these problems is really posed by the theory of evolution. My reasons for saying so are as follows:

1) St Thomas Aquinas already pointed out almost eight hundred years ago that there is no contradiction between events that happen "contingently" (ie. by randomly or by chance) rather than "necessarily" (ie. pre-determined) and the involvement of the will and purpose of the Creator. He wrote (and every Christian should memorise these words):
If God foresees that this event will be, it will happen, just as the second argument suggested. But it will occur in the way that God foresaw that it would be. Now, he foresaw that it would occur contingently [ie. by chance]. So, it follows that, without fail, it will occur contingently and not necessarily" (SCG, 3, c.94).
:::end quote:::

I agree with your point if it is that, theologically, the currently espoused scientific theory of evolution is not necessarily contrary to divine providence, and is not contrary to Catholic doctrine. But a majority of my qualms with neo-Darwinism are not theological or philosophical, they are scientific.

David said: To say, therefore, that the happening of an event is scientifically and statistically random is not to say that it happens without meaning or purpose or the intention of Divine Providence. In other words, "the modern argument that the recognition of the role in chance in evolution would eliminate God from the process is simply a non-starter" (Neil Ormerod, Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Australian Catholic University). I am sure the Holy Father knows this, and therefore does not attack the theory of evolution per se, but rather rejects the notion that what may indeed be products of evolution are "meaningless" or that the evolutionary process implies that human beings (and indeed all creation) are not "each the result of the thought of God." :::end quote:::

Agreed.

David said: 2) A much deeper problem is with the seeming conflict between the scientific account of evolution and (one of) the biblical accounts of creation (specifically Genesis 1). As my wife said to me on the weekend when I discussed with her the probable origins of the poem in Genesis 1 during the Babylonian exile and the way in which it built upon earlier liturgical and cultic traditions of the origin of the Sabbath and the seven day week, "But we were never taught that." Basically, we have taught our people that the Psalms are poetry, and the Book of Ecclesiastes is philosophy, and the Prophetic books are prophecy (naturally), but we have also somehow taught them that Genesis 1 is history (and, in the process, failed to teach them what "history" is). In short, because I am convinced that Genesis One is NOT history, nor is it science, but rather a profoundly TRUE poetic meditation (and apologetic) upon Israel's faith in its God as a Universal (rather than local) Creator who acted in love and freedom to create a Rational world, I believe it does not conflict in any way with the theory of evolution per se. Moreover, John 1, and not Genesis 1, must be taken as the "conclusive and normative scriptural creation account" (Ratzinger, "In the Beginning", p 15.

Of course, here is where the book comes in. And I will make a start on it...tomorrow.
:::end quote:::

Good point about poetry. I love Scriptural poetry, it is wonderful, especially when audibly spoken in Hebrew or Greek. And I don't take Genesis 1 as science either.

Anytime ID theorists start talking about Scripture with reference to ID in public, and in their books, they invariably talk about John 1, not Genesis. William Dembski and Phillip Johnson have frequently done so.

So far, your comments address many points on the reconciliation of evolution with Catholicism. This I understand, and I agree. Please help me see how I have misunderstood your points.

And remember, I’m an ID evolutionist. Philosophically, I am a Bonaventurean, so I never had a problem with evolution in the first place (particularly regarding Bonaventure’s points on the rationes seminales and Augustine’s points about the logoi spermatakoi). While I have an intellectual affinity for evolution, I think the currently espoused evolutionary fairy tale is scientifically bogus because of the physical evidence that contradicts it, and it’s not very scientifically useful either.

As far as the issue of the intersection of ID and Catholicism, all of your comments so far seem to be an extremely well formulated red herring. If you are simply trying to “strike a pose” by making some interesting theological and philosophical points, and simultaneously lashing out at the most convenient target with epithets about Bugs Bunny and Albuquerque, that’s one thing. But if you seriously want to show that ID is a strategic wrong turn, you’re going to have to say why. Pointing out that evolution is compatible with Catholicism does not show that ID is a wrong turn. I am an ID evolutionist, and I think evolution happened. But there is not a shred of evidence that life came about by purely material processes, while there are truckloads of observable physical evidence that it came about by an intelligent cause.

How do your blogposts help one to deliberate whether ID is a strategic wrong turn or a right turn? Based on what you have said so far, it sounds like the talk you heard transgressed the philosophical minimalism of ID. I would submit to you that the talk you heard on ID was a strategic wrong turn about evolution and ID, not that ID is a strategic wrong turn.

If you are agreeable, I would be willing to present at your blog why I think that ID is a right turn. It would be free content to add to your site, and you will get to hear the views of someone who is an enigma in this topic: a Catholic-biotech-ID-evolutionist.

Inquisitive Brain
inquisitive.brain@gmail.com

 
At Friday, December 08, 2006 10:30:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Righto, Inq Brain. I think we are on target here. We've cleared away what we agree on--and that's a very great amount, praise God. I will take up specifically your question then why, given all this, I think that "trademark ID" is a wrong turn in a new post, taking up the questions in your last paragraph. I would be happy if you responded to the new post when it is up, and that we continued the discussion this way.

 

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