18 April 2011

Land of the Lost, part 8

SO, HERE WE GO, part 8 of my review of John Walton's Lost World of Genesis One. I can't remember why I took such a long hiatus from posting this material (I think I just got sick of the subject around the time of last year's hoopla revolving around Bruce Waltke). It was the good discussion / series going on over at Jesus Creed, however, that served as the impetus to finish what I started.

As as an aside, on the day I began writing this post (about a year ago), I found myself sitting in the corner of Ligonier's studio listening to a live interview with Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell. He helpfully clarified a few misgivings that I've shared with others about Intelligent Design, the main one being his explanation that ID does not attempt to say anything about the Christian God, for it cannot. Its cumulative case for design simply shows that the design itself is not "apparent"; rather, it demands something intelligent standing behind it. That's as far as it purports to go. Thus ID is not religion masked as science.

I'm sure I could find something to disagree with there, but Dr. Meyer did a great job articulating the differences between ID as a scientific endeavor and the subsequent philosophical/theological speculations that come after the theory of design is established. I'm still left wondering about the observable chaos of the cosmos and how that relates to all this, but I suspect that will be my lot in this life (i.e., wondering) since, after all, I've no intention of becoming a molecular biologist or physicist.

PROPOSITION 14: God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer Are Less Different Than We Have Thought.
  • Two extremes are to be avoided in this construct that Walton has presented: (1) that God's work as creator is simply a finished act of the past; and (2) that his work as creator is an eternally repeating present.

    The potential deism of #1 is the most popular notion among Christians today (creation and providence are often unnecessarily bifurcated). Both young-earth creationists and certain theistic evolutionists can be guilty of this kind of thinking. It can further break down between those who see God simply winding up the clock and letting the natural laws he put in place to wind themselves out and those who see God intervening at critical junctures to accomplish major jumps in evolution. But they both betray the assumption that God is either irrelevant to natural history or that natural history is due to direct interventions. There is a middle way, writes Walton: "That God might be working alongside or through physical and biological processes in a way that science cannot detect" (p. 120).
  • The other extreme is that creation is a constantly recurring process. But one immediate objection to this view is that it destroys the telos of creation. In order for there to be a goal and a purpose, there must be a beginning and an end.

    Here Walton also has an eye on J├╝rgen Moltmann (see his God in Creation). Contra Moltmann, creation work after Genesis 1, properly speaking, is basically "sustaining and maintaing work," and thus are not "creative acts." In short, it's a difference between originating and preserving.
  • In contrast to the first extreme, creation is not over and done with. In contrast, to the second extreme, origins is rightfully distinguished from God's sustaining work, but both could be considered in the larger category of creation.

    This shakes out practically in our weekly practices within the community of faith: "We recognize his role of Creator God by our observance of the sabbath . . . recogniz[ing] that he is in charge. . . . [And] even though God does not reside in geographical sacred space any longer, he is still in his cosmic temple, and he now resides in the temple that is his church (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19)" (p. 124).
PROPOSITION 15: Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose.
  • Walton wants to state the obvious here—that his book is all about presenting a teleological view with respect to the material world; so all of it, by definition, is intelligent and therefore designed.
  • ID takes it in another direction, arguing that the appearance of design in the cosmos is not illusive, but is the result of an unidentified intelligent designer.
  • One of the primary ways ID-ers attempt to show this is through the identification (in nature) of what they call irreducible complexity. Since certain structures (an eye, for instance) need a multitude of parts that need to be functional all at once for the structure to continue to exist and do its job, it could not have evolved one piece at a time.

    They're not at the point where they're offering alternative scientific mechanisms; they're just challenging the reigning paradigm of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. ID does not offer a theory of origins.
  • And here's the point: while irreducible complexity or mathematical equations and probabilities may challenge the reigning paradigm, empirical science cannot embrace ID simply because science, by definition, is not capable of exploring the teleological (see the layer cake analogy, Proposition 13).

    Put differently, ID does not advance scientific understanding because it does not (cannot?) offer scientific observations to support its premise—the existence of an intelligent designer. Such is not testable or falsifiable. When you're simply promoting a negative ("natural mechanism cannot fully account for life as we know it") and then inferring from that an intelligent designer, our discussion has left the realm of science.
  • In short, even if ID-ers are simply content to claim that a principle of design is testable and falsifiable, they ultimately succumb to promulgating a "God of the gaps" theory. Proving a negative requires that all possibilities have been considered, which in turn requires that all possibilities are known. "As a result design cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt . . . and it can only fall back on the claim that the currently proposed naturalistic mechanisms do not suffice" (p. 129). In other words, to say that X structure is designed (as a matter of science) only works when there's a gap in our knowledge about what we know today about X structure. Tomorrow, we may uncover what's been missing in the equation, and so the design claim clearly becomes irrelevant.
  • Neo-Darwinists (materialists) offer nothing better. They presuppose anti-teleology, just as the ID-ers presuppose the opposite. Both presume a metaphysical premise, which is, again, by definition anathema to science.
  • And this is appropriate, writes Walton. The response to the proven inadequacies of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, if there are such, is not to admit the existence of an intelligent designer (again, that's outside the realm of science) but to work out the science and thus propose alternative naturalistic mechanisms.
As Christians we ought to be all about this pursuit of the truth. We ought to want to know exactly how the natural mechanisms of the cosmos work, which, as Christians, will only lead us to greater awe and thus deeper worship of our creator God.

So, you tell me, is it even possible to bracket the metaphysical (i.e., not to be neutral, but to be as neutral as possible) when doing science? Should it be bracketed?

The ever-popular Part 9 will blow your mind.


David Finnamore said...

Why should metaphysical considerations be anathema to science? Steven Meyer shows, convincingly to me, at least, that science is irrelevant or even impossible in a metaphysical vacuum.

Chris Donato said...

I agree, David, and by "anathema" (which is my word, not Walton's) I mean it isn't the business of science (given its own limitations) to discern purpose. I don't mean scientists ought not think these issues all the way through to the metaphysical—just that we (and scientists too) need to be honest about leaving the realm of science when we/they do so.

Put differently, this isn't about relegating religious talk to the periphery of public discourse; it's about exploring the mechanisms of the cosmos unfettered as much as possible from the conclusions we already have swimming around in our heads.

Francis Collins helpfully discusses this issue here.

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