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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

An Evangelical Palaeontology student reviews Lamoureux’s Evolutionary Creation

This is a guest review of Denis Lamoureux’s new book "Evolutionary Creation" by Jordan Mallon. Jordan is a member of the CSCA and has just been accepted into a PhD program in the Dept. of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. Congratulations Jordan!

Like Denis Lamoureux, the author of Evolutionary Creation, I'm an Evangelical Christian and a student of palaeontology and evolution. At one time, such an admission would have incited whispers and invited accusations of cognitive dissonance. Many see the act of trying to marry evolutionary science with Christian theology as futile, like trying fit a square peg in a round hole. And for many years I felt the same way. I felt as though there was some piece of the puzzle missing that would help me to make sense of the book God inspired and the world He created.

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
Lamoureux's latest contribution is that missing puzzle piece. Having been born and raised in a conservative Lutheran church, I was taught to believe in young earth creationism and was told that evolution is a tool of the devil. Probably the most common objection to evolution was that it contradicted the sin-death connection presented in the Bible. After all, if there was death before Adam, how could Adam's sin have introduced death into the world, as Paul repeats in the New Testament? In his book, Lamoureux attempts to answer the "sin-death problem". His solution is simple: There is no sin-death problem.

Approaches to the Relationship of Scripture and Science
We reach this conclusion by first recognizing two important categories in the evolution/creation dialogue: concordism and accommodationism. Concordism is the belief that the Bible's statements about science and history are always accurate, and that any scientific theory that contradicts the Bible must be wrong. Accommodationism is the understanding that God accommodated His message of faith, love, and redemption to the first Hebrew people using language and motifs they were familiar with (e.g. solid firmament in the sky, preformatism, numerology, etc.), and that any attempt to milk scientific insight from the Bible is missing the forest for the trees. Citing the example of Jesus' incarnation, Lamoureux sees the latter position as most in-line with God's nature. He defends this view using an inductive Bible study method, pointing to one example after another of the primitive science and history found in the Scriptures. Lamoureux is careful to defend biblical inerrancy, however, stating

"... the Bible is the inerrant and infallible eternal Word of God transcending time and incarnated in the incidental imperfect words of humans within history"
(p. 174).
Once we accept that the Bible does not necessarily contain accurate science, we are free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science, regardless of whether or not they accord with the Genesis creation account. Using the analogy of human development in the womb (Psalm 139:13-14), Lamoureux presents evolution as just another natural process, ordained and sustained by God, by which the Lord achieves His good will and creates human life. In fact, Lamoureux sees evolution as the perfect creative process by which God both reveals Himself to us in the design reflected in that process (Deus Revelatus), and by which He hides Himself from us in the non-miraculous nature of that process (Deus Absconditus), thereby allowing us as His children the opportunity to truly exemplify our faith in Him. This was a key point that really struck a chord with me. After all, we wouldn't need faith if we could use science to prove God's handiwork in the world.

Suffering and Death
But how can Jesus, the Prince of Peace, make use of evolution, which involves suffering and death, to achieve His good will? Lamoureux offers a robust theodicy in answer to this question, noting that Jesus himself declared that suffering and death exist to bring glory to God (e.g., John 11:4). Strangely, this contrasts with Paul's understanding of the origin of death through Adam, as revealed by Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Returning to the concept of accommodationism, Lamoureux completes this puzzle by noting that the origin of human suffering and death in Genesis 3 is itself an accommodation of God to the ancient motifs of the first Hebrew people. Death isn't a result of sin, as Genesis 3 states and Paul repeats. Death exists to bring glory to God, as Jesus himself tells us.

Some of these claims will no doubt leave many Christians uncomfortable. Lamoureux's suggestions are well removed from traditional church thinking (though perhaps not as far removed as some might think). I am still not sure how to feel about some aspects of the book, but that is part of the beauty of works like this one: It forces us to engage our Evangelical minds and to actually THINK about what we believe and why we believe it. Lamoureux admits to not having all the answers, but this is something he has learned to live with. What remains clear is the author's undying commitment to Christ and to understanding the world and the Word He has given us. And for that reason alone, I think Lamoureux deserves to be heard.

54 comments:

Hugh Griffin said...

Under suffering and death

"Lamoureux completes this puzzle by noting that the origin of human suffering and death in Genesis 3 is itself an accommodation of God to the ancient motifs of the first Hebrew people. Death isn't a result of sin, as Genesis 3 states and Paul repeats. Death exists to bring glory to God, as Jesus himself tells us."

I'm uneasy with this direct contradiction of scripture. But, in an accommodationist framework, would someone not say that spiritual death (i.e. separation from God and life) is the result of sin? This is in contrast to biological death, which pre-dated the first sin. This allows a person to receive Paul in what he says, while recognising the accomodations in Genesis 3.

I'm not completely sorted on this, just flying a kite.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Hugh,
Lamoureux is not a guy to pull his punches. For example, he bluntly states that Gen 1-11 is not historically based at all, where many accommodationalist ECs (I think - certainly myself) would want to qualify that by saying that a) whether there is any historical basis to Gen 1-11 is unclear and b) although the historicity of Gen 1-11 is not crucial to the faith, it certainly raises some thorny issues re: the theology of the Fall & Paul’s references to it. I may not agree with everything Lamoureux says but I emphatically agree with Jordan's assessment that we need to listen to him.

You may want to check out my past post on the Fall that refers to a series of posts by Stephen Douglas on scripture. He does a good job IMHO of presenting a case against the necessity of a historical fall of Adam. Not sure yet if I agree with him but he presents the case well.

Jordan said...

Hi Hugh,
Lamoureux's argument that even the sin-death connection referred to in the Bible is an accomodation struck me as a bit odd, too. I've gotten very used to the idea that the death spoken of by Paul was spiritual in nature. And to some extent, I still do. Lamoureux doesn't see it this way, though, and justifies himself further in his book (sorry, I can't give everything away ;)
I'm still digesting much of what Lamoureux has to say, and it's going to take some time if I ever come around to seeing things his way. His argument does make a lot of sense, though, and appears to be supported biblically. No doubt we'll sort the grain from the chaff some years down the road. I'm still getting my theological feet under me.

And for what it's worth, Steve, Lamoureux does allow for *some* historical basis of Genesis 1-11 in his book. It goes without saying that he doesn't read these chapters as historically accurate, though. :)

Steve Martin said...

Jordan,
You are right .. I went back and checked the email Denis sent to me & the ASA list. He states:

Sorry to say, but, yes. An absolute & very strong "Adam never existed." To put it another way: Adam = Firmament.

Later he does say that there *might* be some historical stuff in Gen 4-11 (ie. at least based on real individuals) but the key point is that he strongly states that there was no historical Adam - which of course is the key issue when dealing with Rom 5 etc.

Jimpithecus said...

I have struggled with the literal aspects of the primeval story for some time, especially the base-60+5 years for humans that existed before the flood, the fact that the fifth person in the Sumerian ruler list is taken up to heaven and given a tour (the fifth person in Genesis is Enoch) and so on. Maybe Conrad Hyers is right: it reads like mythology because that is what the people of the day would resonate with. It doesn't need to be historically accurate to convey spiritual truth. I need to pick up Lamoureux's book at some point.

elbogz said...

Beginning with the hypothosis that:

Once we accept that the Bible does not necessarily contain accurate science, we are free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science

Ok, then we can also be free to except the evolution of early man. That being stated, it seems to say that Adam and Eve were not the first humans, and that history falls more inline with a man type creature wandering out of Africa 500,000 years ago or so. Fifty thousand years ago man type creatures were wandering parts of Europe and Asia, and pre history began in these parts of the world. Ten to twenty thousand years ago, man as we know him today emerge and began to populate all parts of the world, including the Americas.

In all parts of the world, different cultures, different Gods, different levels of knowledge of the shape of the world, all began to take place. Four to eight thousand years ago, agriculture took root and people settled into living in one place rather than wandering to hunt and gather.

So then we have the proposition:

noting that the origin of human suffering and death in Genesis 3 is itself an accommodation of God to the ancient motifs of the first Hebrew people

But why just the Hebrews? Why not the Chinese? Why not the American Indians? Then why was Abraham so special and not Tao Chin? Why didn’t God tell them too? Only with the story of Adam and Eve, and the tower of Babble, could you say that God had a reason not to tell the Chinese about Jesus. But if that culture existed for 50,000 years and God never bothered to tell them, then, I think you open up a much bigger can of worms.

Still on the same theme, the statement:

"... the Bible is the inerrant and infallible eternal Word of God transcending time and incarnated in the incidental imperfect words of humans within history"

But not all people on the earth had the same belief about the shape and the size and the origin of the world. If you were to say, God didn’t tell us about a cell, because mankind would not be able to see if with the tools of the time….Ok I’ll give you that one. But if you say, God did not tell us the world was round and the Earth was not the center of the universe, because the people of the time could not know that, is just not a true statement. It was knowable. Other cultures of the time began to figure out the world was round, simply by looking off into the horizon.

Once you say the bible is not a factual history, then you have to answer the question, what is it? Why would God write a book for one tiny group of people, and ignore all the rest of creation. Even to this day there are people and places that have never heard the God of Abraham. Would it be so hard for God to write the bible in Chinese too? After all, they probably had a written language thousands of years before the Hebrews.

Jordan said...

Hi elbogz,

"But why just the Hebrews? Why not the Chinese? Why not the American Indians? Then why was Abraham so special and not Tao Chin? Why didn't God tell them too? Only with the story of Adam and Eve, and the tower of Babble, could you say that God had a reason not to tell the Chinese about Jesus. But if that culture existed for 50,000 years and God never bothered to tell them, then, I think you open up a much bigger can of worms."

Great question. To be honest, this isn't something I've spent a lot of time thinking about, so I doubt if I'll be the best one to give you an answer. I don't see the problem as one restricted to evolutionary creationists, though. Why did God pick the Jews as His chosen people? This is a question that even non-evolutionary creationists continue to ask themselves. Why did Jesus choose 12 apostles? Why not 13 or 7,000? Why did God pick Mary to give birth to Jesus? Why did God pick David to do His work? These questions apply equally well to all Christians, not just evolutionary creationists.

"But if you say, God did not tell us the world was round and the Earth was not the center of the universe, because the people of the time could not know that, is just not a true statement. It was knowable."

I agree. But just because the shape of the Earth was knowable doesn't mean the Hebrews knew it. On the contrary, the Bible pretty clearly attests otherwise (as does the Jewish Talmud). God accomodated to what the Hebrews knew, not to what they could have known.

"Once you say the bible is not a factual history, then you have to answer the question, what is it?"
First, it is worth pointing out that no one is saying the entire Bible is historically inaccurate.
Second, the Bible tells us why it was written. It was written to make us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). It was written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:23). It was written so that we might receive eternal life (John 5:39). It was written to give us hope (Romans 15:4). Nowhere does the Bible claim to be written for the purpose of delivering accurate history. This sort of accuracy was of no concern to the ancient Near Eastern people (let alone the Hebrews), and it should not be a concern of ours either -- certainly, not as it relates to the creation account.

elbogz said...

“First, it is worth pointing out that no one is saying the entire Bible is historically inaccurate

I really struggle when you say, parts of the bible are myths and parts of the bible are true history. I know I’ve said this before, but I am really stuck on this point. Ok, so, the story of Adam and Eve is mythical. The story of the creation of the earth, is, not actual science, but a story that could be understood at the time. Do we keep going or do we stop now? Noah was probably mythical. The Exodus from Egypt was probably mythical. King David? Not sure.

If we are to accept a hypothesis:

Once we accept that the Bible does not necessarily contain accurate science, we are free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science

So, Is there a chapter and verse we say, ok, from this point on, the bible is historically accurate? Maybe we could say the Old Testament was more of a story, than actual history. But wait, what about the lineage of Jesus. It was certainly important to some that he came from the line of King David. But if all or even part of that is mythical, then the first chapter of Matthew is a myth.

Which parts are historically accurate, and which are myths and stories and how can you tell the difference? We say the bible is the word of God because the bible tells us it’s the word of God. We don’t have some other source to go to that confirms this.

But the bible doesn’t say, well, parts of it are told so people at the time can understand, but not historically accurate, and parts are historically accurate. Jesus spoke of Adam and Eve as if they were real people and the Garden of Eden was a real event.

If this hypothesis were true, then the bible should support our conclusions

Steve Martin said...

Hi Elbogz:
Some critical & difficult questions there.

1. Re: history in the bible. I do like Jordan’s answer re: purpose. What is “accurate history” and what is not? On addressing this question, I think Paul Seely’s answer on accommodation (from ASA list a couple of years ago) answers this succinctly & pretty well to my satisfaction:

Perhaps it should be added that there are two issues involved. Science as such and historicity. My belief is that the science in the Bible is always the science of the times. It is always accommodated by God. I have tracked this in my studies from Genesis to Revelation. Or to put it in other words, God had no intention to reveal scientific truth in Scripture and did not do so.

Historicity is a separate, if overlapping, problem. Biblical historians say or imply that they got their historical facts from human sources. Accordingly, their history can be no better than their sources, and this is why Gen 1-11, which evidences being based in part on outdated Mesopotamian sources, is so bad, later Genesis based on oral traditions and Kings based on royal chronicles is better, and the Gospels based on eye-witness accounts are best of all. This also answers the question of how we can with logical consistency make a separation between Gen 1-11 and what follows.

Divine revelation was saved for matters of faith and morals.


2. Why did God choose the Hebrews? Well Deut. 7:7-8 tells us it certainly wasn’t because they were the most significant, strongest, etc. – in fact the Hebrews in the ANE world were one of the most insignificant peoples. Choosing a people like this is in keeping with NT theology as well – God’s message is not delivered first to the wisest, strongest etc. (1 Cor 1 - last part of the chapter)

3. Why did he not reveal himself to other peoples at other times? Given that “humans” had religious impulses very early on (at least 20-30 thousand years ago), why did God wait so long to reveal himself? I really don’t think I have a good answer to those two questions. Maybe the most pertinent related question though is this: What about other religions? Are they all “wrong”? My simple answer is “The only way to God is through Christ” but no, other religions “Don’t get it all wrong”. I do want to read John Stackhouse’s book “No Other Gods before me?”. Here is the blurb from the book:

No other Gods before me? examines the diversity of world religions and offers sound advice to Christians living in a multicultural world. Topics covered include the possibility of revelation from God in other religions, how Christian missionaries can and should cope with religious pluralism, the gospel in a postmodern age, and whether a person can come to faith in Christ and remain a Muslim. This book will challenge readers to take a fresh look at other world religions and how they relate to the Christian story. Contributors include Richard Mouw, Gerald McDermott, and Miriam Adeney.

Stephen Douglas said...

elbogz,

No shameless plug here, but I try to make some sense of the "if not all, then why some?" question you are asking in my series on bibliology, of which the article Steve linked to is the final. Specifically, I'd like to hear your take on the last three (1, 2, 3), all of which are geared at addressing concerns like yours. Let me know what you think!

Jordan said...

Hi elbogz,

"I really struggle when you say, parts of the bible are myths and parts of the bible are true history. I know I've said this before, but I am really stuck on this point."

It's really nothing new if you think about it. No one, not even yourself (I think), takes the entire Bible literally. Yet we don't worry about falling down the slippery slope of taking none of it literally. We have ways of gauging what events are historical and which aren't (linguistics, archaeology, etc.). Many evolutionary creationists are happy recognizing post-Genesis 11 events as historical (some are even more inclusive than that).

"But wait, what about the lineage of Jesus."

Jesus' lineage, as given in Matthew, is definitely not historical. It is riddled with discrepancies. It doesn't even add up to the 14-14-14 pattern specified by Matthew. Why? Because the Jews didn't value history. They valued numerology. Again, their priorities and values were very different from our own. We shouldn't read the Scriptures expecting to find 21st century, post-Englightenment, newspaper accuracy of recounted events.

"Jesus spoke of Adam and Eve as if they were real people and the Garden of Eden was a real event."

... because his audience believed Adam and Eve and the Garden were real. Again, this is God accommodating to his audience.
(Also, for what it's worth, Jesus never referred to Adam and Eve as real people. He cited their story in order to make a point about divorce, just as we might cite Aesop's fable about the ant and the grasshopper in order to make a point about planning for the future... without ever believing these characters actually existed.)

Steve Martin said...

Guys: Also check out Mike Beidler's most recent post The Absentee God that is relevant to this discussion.

crevo said...

"Once we accept that the Bible does not necessarily contain accurate science, we are free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science, regardless of whether or not they accord with the Genesis creation account."

This is a non-sequiter. The content of Genesis is _history_, not science. Therefore, we should only accept conclusions from science which are consistent with that history.

Likewise, it is unclear what your goal is. "free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science". Let's assume this is correct. You still haven't offered a reason why we _should_. There is literally _no evolutionary explanation_ for the origin of major groups and body plans, not to mention how to get those changes propogated within a population. The only evidence that many these organisms evolved from other organisms is simply that they exist, therefore it is assumed that they must have evolved. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, scientific theories are not arrived at in a theological vacuum, especially the historical sciences (but also the experimental ones).

Therefore, we should not uncritically accept _any_ scientific theory, _especially_ one which is in conflict with scripture, without adequate reflection on the theological ideas underpinning those theories.

Jonathan Watson said...

The content of Genesis is _history_, not science.

Is it? What kind of history are you talking about? When you say "history" do you have the exact same concept in mind as the Hebrew grandfather when he said, "Let me tell you the story of God's creation of the world...."?

I think we have to be really careful that we don't read back into the Bible concepts we have only developed in the last 500 years or so. They just didn't intend (very important concept) the same kind of scientific "accuracy" that we do. We just can't make a distinction that they never even thought of making, and then try to determine which side of that distinction they fall on.

The biblical concept of inerrancy has to start from our attempts to determine the literal meaning of the text, which has to involve the intention of the writers, editors, and compilers. You can't ask an ancient dude for a time scale in terms of the recorded vibrations of the cesium-133 atom.

(1 Jubilee = 1.42144688×10^19 vibrations of the cesium-133 atom.)

scientific theories are not arrived at in a theological vacuum

Hmm. Surely they don't. However, methodological materialism is a product of the Christian (or a compatible) worldview, so any scientific theory that involves a purely mathematical abstraction of physical reality is, ipso facto, already Christian.

Jordan said...

Hi crevo,

Thanks for responding to my review. I have a few responses of my own to your post.

"This is a non-sequiter. The content of Genesis is _history_, not science. Therefore, we should only accept conclusions from science which are consistent with that history."

A non-sequitur is a conclusion that does not follow from its premises. In what way was my statement a non-sequitur?
I think that saying a story must be historically accurate because it reads as a simple, sequential narrative of events is a non-sequitur. What reason do you have for asserting Genesis is history?

"Likewise, it is unclear what your goal is. "free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science". Let's assume this is correct. You still haven't offered a reason why we _should_."

Why should we accept evolutionary science? Because that's where the evidence is pointing. That's what God's creation is telling us. When the evidence for heliocentrism mounted thanks to scientific insight, the church (slowly and painfully) abandoned its position supporting geocentrism and adapted. I think we're beginning to reach that same breaking point with regards to evolution. This blog is testament to that.

"There is literally _no evolutionary explanation_ for the origin of major groups and body plans, not to mention how to get those changes propogated within a population."

Two points I would like to make in response to this:
1) The fact that we are not yet able to account for every detail relating to the origin of evolutionary novelties is not an argument against their evolutionary origin. Just because we don't know when blues musician Tommy Johnson was born, doesn't mean he didn't exist.
2) Yes, we do have evolutionary explanations for the origin of major body plans. Much of this research is summarized in the latter half of Gould's Structure of Evolutionary Theory if you're interested in learning about it (warning: it's a heavy read, both literally and figuratively).

"Therefore, we should not uncritically accept _any_ scientific theory, _especially_ one which is in conflict with scripture, without adequate reflection on the theological ideas underpinning those theories."

I agree that we should not accept scientific theories uncritically. You seem to think that biological evolution has been uncritically accepted by scientists, though. It has not. The theory of evolution has been tested again and again since Darwin first formulated it. The theory has stood up to great scrutiny for nearly 150 years.
I also agree that evolutionary theory has theological underpinnings for Christians. I don't think these challenges to Christianity are insurmountable, though. Origins theology like that presented by Lamoureux in the book I reviewed offer some Christ-centred solutions. :)

Jonathan Watson said...

We've been talking about making a distinction between "spiritual" death and "physical" death for Adam and Eve. I don't see why we can't make a distinction between human life and death, both physical and spiritual, and life and death in the rest of the cosmos. It's apparent that human life and death is more significant than the life and death of plants and animals.

Adam and Eve were in a special covenantal relationship with God. The fact that the Tree of Life was somehow necessary for their continued existence indicates that life without death was not "natural" to them but in fact a preternatural gift given to them while they remained in that original covenantal relationship.

As for Paul and his groaning creation, why not a situation in which God allows the creation to evolve up like a bridge coming together within a scaffolding? He builds it all up (by means of evolution), slips in the linchpin (us), and kicks the scaffolding away (or whatever). Suddenly we decide we don't want to be the moral linchpin that holds it all together, take off, and now the whole thing groans because it was never meant to be without its linchpin. Or ... something like that.

I'm not sure you have to spiritualize everything (a process that I'm highly uncomfortable with - gnostic overtones and all that), but I don't see why "very good" has to mean "perfect" or "maximally optimal". Once we get rid of the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds, then we realize that there's no reason why God couldn't have created the world such that it wasn't "complete" without our participation as priests of materiality, and when Adam refused that responsibility, the creation remained incomplete and subject to evil and futility.

crevo said...

Jonathan -

I don't disagree with a most of your comments - I personally don't use the term "inerrancy", for instance, because I think it causes confusion - placing truth in terms of a 20th century logical positivism that just doesn't work. However, I also disagree with the notion that these are merely stories. For instance:

"And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died. And Seth lived a hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. And Seth lived after he begot Enosh eight hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died. And Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Kenan."

These are records, not personal anecdotes. It might not be a 20th century record, but they do have the "record" quality of them. There are other styles mixed in, too, but all in all this is a seriously-composed book, not a collection of tales told by ancestors.

crevo said...

"In what way was my statement a non-sequitur?"

Because what you established (that the Bible is not a science book) and what you concluded (you should not trust its history) are two different things. It does not follow that if the Bible is not a science book then we shouldn't trust its history. Evolutionary biology tends to incorporate both history and science. Therefore in order to say that we don't have to worry about conflicts with evolutionary biology, you would have to establish that it is neither a book of science nor a book of history.

"What reason do you have for asserting Genesis is history?"

The most obvious one is the large amount of geneological information, as well as the history of interpretation of Genesis (even most of the allegorists agreed that it is true on the literal level _as well_ - i.e. that an allegorical reading does not make the literal reading false). There are other reasons as well, but would take more time to go into. But those are fairly foundational reasons.

"Because that's where the evidence is pointing"

I would have to disagree with you there. Geology is going more and more towards catastrophism (not to mention more and more geologists are YECs), and evolutionary biology is starting to go more and more towards recognizing discontinuities as being fundamental within biology. What keeps them in the "evolutionary" camp is their assumptions, not the evidence. Even if you don't accept flood geology, there is nothing about any fossil which suggests the _reasons_ for it differing from ancestor fossils, and there is nothing in experimental biochemistry or genetics that suggest that either natural selection or self-organization are responsible.

"The fact that we are not yet able to account for every detail relating to the origin of evolutionary novelties is not an argument against their evolutionary origin"

I don't disagree with you. However, the problem is that the origin of major groups is the _primary detail_ which evolutionary theory is _supposed_ to explain. I'm not arguing that some tangential part is unsupported, but rather the core of the theory is unsupported. When the periphery is more supported than the main paradigm, this is evidence that you are interpreting the evidence on the wrong paradigm.

"Yes, we do have evolutionary explanations for the origin of major body plans. Much of this research is summarized in the latter half of Gould's Structure of Evolutionary Theory if you're interested in learning about it"

I haven't read Gould, primarily because most evolutionary biologists today seem to be backpedalling away from him, and if I were to read it and criticize it, I'm sure I would get accusations that I'm just arguing against outdated research :) I'm not saying you would do that, I'm just saying that's why Gould hasn't been on the front of my radar to read. If you can give me a chapter or two which lines out what you are thinking of, I'll try to read it next time I'm at the library.

"You seem to think that biological evolution has been uncritically accepted by scientists, though"

In many cases (esp. for scientists whose main focus is not evolutionary biology), yes. However, I think you misunderstood my point. I think that within science, the theological presuppositions of evolutionary theory have been accepted uncritically by everyone, sometimes unknowingly (it's hard to see the water you're swimming in). When it gets to the public, the version they get has been passed off to them without ever mentioning any of the theological presuppositions, and therefore they accept it uncritically, both from a scientific and a theological viewpoint.

A good book to read on this subject (which I don't think even covers evolution - the author may be an evolutionist for all I know) is The Myth of Religious Neutrality.

"The theory of evolution has been tested again and again since Darwin first formulated it"

Not really. As I said, experimental biochemistry doesn't support it, and you can't determine from fossils the mechanism or reason by which one is different from another.

crevo said...

One other comment on "where the evidence is pointing" - most mutations which do anything interesting have been found to be cyclical rather than directional. That is they are phase-variable, or copy-number-variable, or the mutable sites are designated through the DNA's secondary structure (see B.E. Wright), or some other teleological mechanism, where the cell's biochemistry is literally pointing to likely places for beneficial mutation within the genome. So, even in the cases of beneficial mutations, we are in large part seeing the exposure of information that was in essence already there, but as an implicit rather than an explicit feature. See for instance Caporale's book "The Implicit Genome."

Jordan said...

Hi crevo,

"It does not follow that if the Bible is not a science book then we shouldn't trust its history. Evolutionary biology tends to incorporate both history and science. Therefore in order to say that we don't have to worry about conflicts with evolutionary biology, you would have to establish that it is neither a book of science nor a book of history."

I agree. The point I am making in my book review is that Lamoureux does just this. He uses inductive Bible study to show that the opening chapters of the Bible are niether historically, nor scientifically, accurate (they were incidental stories given to deliver messages about theology, not history or science). Again, with this as groundwork, I think it does follow that we can move on to examine the evidence for evolution without fear of contradicting the story presented in the Genesis creation account(s).

"The most obvious one is the large amount of geneological information, as well as the history of interpretation of Genesis... those are fairly foundational reasons."

The genealogies of the Bible are indeed quite extensive. But were they written as a simple record of historical events? The inherent contradictions therein, the use of stylistic numbers (numerology), and the ancient ANE motifs of longevity before the flood and tribal formation suggest otherwise. This is explained in detail in chapter 6 of Lamoureux's book. I don't doubt that at least some of the people in these genealogies were real, but the genealogies themselves are not likely historically accurate.
I'm also not sure that I agree with your argument that the traditional interpretation of Genesis as accurate history has any relevance to whether Genesis is accurate history. Traditionally, the Church interpreted the geocentric passages in the Bible as accurate science, too, but that doesn't mean the Sun revolves about the Earth.

"I would have to disagree with you there. Geology is going more and more towards catastrophism (not to mention more and more geologists are YECs), and evolutionary biology is starting to go more and more towards recognizing discontinuities as being fundamental within biology."

As a student with a degree in both geology and biology, I have to disagree. Modern geology incorporates shades of both catastrophism and gradualism, and has for many, many years. Certain aspects of the geological record can be accounted for only by catastrophic processes (e.g., volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts, landslides), and certain aspects can be accounted for only by gradualistic processes (e.g., varves, mammillary deposits, trace fossils). There is certainly no trend whereby an increasing number of geologists are accounting for the geological record with reference to catastrophic scenarios.
Nor is there any trend among biologists to recognize discontinuities between taxa. If anything, the trend has been towards recognizing just how similar life is. The relatively recent advent of genetics has only spurred this trend by shedding light on both the genetic code we all share and on the hierarchical manner our genes (and resulting phenotypes) are distributed.

"I'm not arguing that some tangential part is unsupported, but rather the core of the theory is unsupported."

The fundamental tenet of the theory of evolution is that variation + heritability + selection = evolution. I hardly think this "core" tenet is unsupported.
Nor do I think the notion of uncommon descent is unsupported. Entire books, some the thickness of a phone book, have been written reviewing the evidence in support of the origin and evolution of Bauplanes. Again, check out Gould's Structure of Evolutionary Theory, or Valentine's On the Origin of Phyla, or Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, or any number of other books written on the subject.

"If you can give me a chapter or two which lines out what you are thinking of, I'll try to read it next time I'm at the library."

Try checking out Chapter 10, for starters.

"I think that within science, the theological presuppositions of evolutionary theory have been accepted uncritically by everyone, sometimes unknowingly (it's hard to see the water you're swimming in)."

I'm sorry, but I fail to see what "theological presuppositions" you're referring to. The theory of evolution, like any other scientific theory, makes no theological suppositions. It assumes nothing about the existence or inexistence of a divine creator, let alone his/her/its/their actions in history. Evolutionary theory simply assumes -- as does any scientific theory -- that we can account for natural processes with reference to natural mechanisms. This is an assumption, to be sure. But it is an assumption that works, as testified by the fact that you bring your car to the mechanic when it doesn't work, rather than performing an exocism.
Substitute "germ theory" or "atomic theory" or "gravitational theory" in the quote above, and the concern appears without warrant.

"As I said, experimental biochemistry doesn't support it, and you can't determine from fossils the mechanism or reason by which one is different from another."

I'm not sure what findings from experimental biochemistry you're referring to, so all I can say in response is that, yes, experimental biochemistry does support evolutionary theory. Check out Miller's book Finding Darwin's God to read why the argument that biochemistry somehow negates evolutionary theory does not stand up to scrutiny.
I agree with your statement that we cannot determine from the fossils themselves the answer to why one is different from another. But evolutionary biology incorportates more than just fossils. It includes population ecology, genetics, embryological development, etc., which we can study in real-time to account for the patterns we see in the fossil record.

In any case, I think we're getting a mite bit off topic. If you're interested in debating the evidence for evolution further, please feel free to email me at the address given at my website (linked to above).

elbogz said...

No one, not even yourself (I think), takes the entire Bible literally.

Actually, I think for most my life I would be classified as an evolutionary theologist, without even knowing that such a title existed. But after a couple of years listening to fundamentalist Christian radio (Calvary network), watching the creationist scientific debate, it’s hard for me to take anything in the bible as truth, and most my previous beliefs pretty much get tossed into the trash.

Spiritual life would be much simpler if such a debate did not exist. It’s probably simplest to take the bible literally, put your fingers over your ears and sing to yourself “la la la la la la la”. You can be a literalist by simply reading the bible, and then using the bible to prove the bible. You do have to ignore history, and you do have to ignore science, but, other than that, life is simple.

Being an evolutionary creationist is hard. You can’t use the bible to prove evolution. You have to use science, and you have to use history. Therefore you have to find all these outside sources, and outside readings and intriguing theories of anthropology, to come to a working theory. But when you use science and you examine history, you’re stuck with, a bible that is a myth.

That’s a tough place to be theologically. I mean, you have a theology, about the bible, but you have to ignore what the bible says, to advance it.

Jonathan Watson said...

you have a theology, about the bible, but you have to ignore what the bible says, to advance it.

But ... you don't. You just have to be careful and pay attention to what all Christians have said about the Bible and participate in these debates and the church will work it all out, eventually.

Augustine is a marvelous model of someone who is constantly repeating to himself and us that scripture is an extremely deep, somewhat-inscrutable work of an infinite transcendent God, and as such we need to be very careful about saying "we know exactly how this is to be interpreted." We constantly come back and prostrate ourselves before God and read the scriptures with all our wisdom, aware that any conclusion we come to will be incomplete, but still be part of the Spirit's leading us into all truth.

And, again, you're not in this by yourself. That's why God gave us people like Augustine, et al, so we don't have to bear such a burden alone.

Steve Martin said...

Jonathan: Welcome. Interesting analogy. I’ll have to think about that one.

Crevo:

Welcome as well. I realize that most Christians can’t understand how Evolutionary Creationists (ECs) reconcile the perceived conflict between faith & science. I am actually pretty sympathetic to this viewpoint (after all, it was mine for quite awhile!). One of my primary objectives for this blog is to help other Evangelicals a) understand the science that supports evolution (and when I say evolution, I’m using the Allan Harvey’s definitions) and b) understand that (orthodox Christian) theology is compatible with the science. I also want my readers to understand that for EC’s this is not a sellout to materialists, atheists etc. or the result of our ignoring scriptures. We have not abandoned or compromised our faith. I disagree (quite strongly) with two of your statements.

1. What keeps them in the "evolutionary" camp is their assumptions, not the evidence

And

2. the theological presuppositions of evolutionary theory have been accepted uncritically by everyone

Regarding #1, most EC’s (by far the majority I believe) originally assumed that evolution was wrong. Most of us were biased against evolution, and came to accept it only after looking at the evidence. For most of us, this was actually a very difficult step. What keeps us in the “evolutionary” camp is the evidence. (This is a common theme is some of the 10 books discussed earlier)

Regarding #2, certainly not by most EC’s and not by me. How God created the world & the evidence he displays in his creation (for eg. evolution) does not drive my theology & is certainly not a theological presupposition. But maybe I don’t understand what you mean. What theological presuppositions of evolutionary theory do you think have been accepted uncritically?

crevo said...

"The inherent contradictions therein, the use of stylistic numbers (numerology), and the ancient ANE motifs of longevity before the flood and tribal formation suggest otherwise."

I'll have to read the book more, but just to point out that stylistic numbers is only against historicity if we assume that God cannot write history. As for longevity before the flood, this is recorded in Greek, Sumerian, and Biblical history (and perhaps others). I've heard most of these arguments (I go to a liberal seminary) and most of them only work if the non-historicity of Genesis is already assumed, or if the idea that God is behind history is removed, or if overly-minute details are overly-examined.

"There is certainly no trend whereby an increasing number of geologists are accounting for the geological record with reference to catastrophic scenarios."

Compare Lyell to the state of Geology around the time of the Missoula flood controversy to today. I think you'll see a definite trend. I think this trend is going to increase given that mudrocks have now been shown to be able to be deposited in moving water.

"The fundamental tenet of the theory of evolution is that variation + heritability + selection = evolution. I hardly think this "core" tenet is unsupported."

If by "evolution" you just mean "change over time", then of course it is well-supported. If by evolution you mean the generation of higher-level taxonomies, then there is simply no evidence. In fact, the only semi-reliable ways of getting novelty in biology is by either cross-breading or by the introduction of symbionts (for example, see the recent induction of a cecal valve in the Italian Wall Lizard).

"Entire books, some the thickness of a phone book, have been written reviewing the evidence in support of the origin and evolution of Bauplanes."

Most of what I've read of evolutionary theory assumes evolution to be true, and then tries to sort out the details, rather than to critically examine whether or not a body plan was actually evolved or not.

"Valentine's On the Origin of Phyla"

Hmmm... I have not read this book, but it was my understanding that the definition of evolution you used above was _not_ the mechanism Valentine proposed for the origin of the Phyla. Am I mistaken here or not?

Also see the paper The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution. This is evidence for what I am saying about the emphasis on discontinuities. Basically, they are proposing what would be the equivalent of evolutionary magic (that is, unless there was a pre-existing mechanism to accomplish it) for the major diversifications, and then we get classic Darwinism for the more minor variations. Which, again, goes to my point that we don't have any evidence for the origin of major groups - the entire reason for proposing such "big bangs" is not that we have _experimental_ evidence that they happen, but that the primary mode of the fossil record is major discontinuity, not the slow gradualism that would be true if the experimentally-demonstrated form of evolution could be extrapolated across time. There are many proposed mechanisms, precisely because none of them have been experimentally demonstrated, yet discontinuity is such a prominent feature of the fossil record which evolutionary theory is supposed to explain.

"The theory of evolution, like any other scientific theory, makes no theological suppositions"

First of all, we need to separate evolution from "other scientific theories" because it is more affected by theology than others (but they are all affected by theology). Evolution, dealing with historical events, actually follows a different scientific method than experimental sciences, as laid out by Ernst Mayr: "Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain...Observation, comparison and classification, as well as the testing of competing [theories] became the methods of evolutionary biology, outweighing experimentation."

As you can see, if you go from experimental to historical-narrative, your presuppositions become more important than reality. In fact, experimentation was specifically developed to remedy the problems associated with presuppositions in knowledge, which is entirely brought back into play when your goal is to construct a narrative. Successful theories in evolution are not based on whether or not an experiment works, but whether or not your peers agree that your mechanism is plausible - a vastly different standard - one which is based on the predominant presuppositions of the group more than reality.

"that we can account for natural processes with reference to natural mechanisms"

But we don't even know that it is a natural process - that hasn't been demonstrated.

"This is an assumption, to be sure. But it is an assumption that works, as testified by the fact that you bring your car to the mechanic when it doesn't work, rather than performing an exocism"

You are correct in that we treat automobiles naturalistically. But that doesn't mean we treat everything naturalistically. I debate people based on reason rather than trying to manipulate them (manipulation would be the naturalistic method). The process of development of software (not the software itself) is again based on non-naturalistic concerns. So therefore, it is more of an assumption than you let on.

"Substitute "germ theory" or "atomic theory" or "gravitational theory" in the quote above, and the concern appears without warrant."

I don't disagree that these are, at least for the most part, naturalistic, but I will say that the science of them is still theologically based.

For instance, when looking into physics, are we to favor explanations which: (a) are simple, or (b) explain the most data? Another question, which ones should we be directing our efforts towards? Here's what Heisenberg says on the subject:

"we may hope that the fundamental law of motion will turn out as a mathematically simple law.. it is difficult to give any good argument for this hope for simplicity -- except the fact that it has hitherto always been possible to write the fundamental equations in physics as simple mathematic forms. This fact fits with the Pythagorean religion and many physicists share their belief in this respect, but no convincing argument has yet been given to show that it must be so" (Heisenberg, "Physics and Philosophy, p. 72-73, quoted in The Myth of Religious Neutrality)

" so all I can say in response is that, yes, experimental biochemistry does support evolutionary theory"

Okay, which experiments can demonstrate a biochemical mechanism that explains the major discontinuities of the fossil record? Note that I just referred you to a paper from only a year or so ago which was proposing mechanisms which haven't been observed (and therefore by definition is not demonstrated by experimental biochemistry) for the explanation of the major transitions.

Since you don't want to continue this here, feel free to contact me at jonathan@bartlettpublishing.com if you would like to discuss this further.

Jordan said...

In response to elbogz...

"It’s probably simplest to take the bible literally...

Being an evolutionary creationist is hard."


Being an evolutionary creationist is hard only if you insist the opening chapters of Genesis are true to history. If you can make that leap, from a YEC concordist hermeneutic to a EC accommodationist hermeneutic, life gets easier because you're no longer having to play apologetics. No more defending the weak science of Flood geology and baraminology. No more trying to pigeonhole Genesis 2 into Day 6 of Genesis 1. No more fear of scientific progress (like the discovery of transitional fossils). If you think about it, it was once difficult for geocentrist Christians to make the leap to heliocentrism, but the latter is the comfortable position we Christians share today.
If anything, the hardest thing about being an EC is the constant belittlement of your faith by many scientific/historical concordists, as though you're somehow less than Christian.

"That’s a tough place to be theologically. I mean, you have a theology, about the bible, but you have to ignore what the bible says, to advance it."

I don't see it that way. Again, if I'm reading the Bible to learn about my salvation (the expressed reason why the Bible says it was written), am I really ignoring it if I don't read it all as a history or science textbook? Am I ignoring the Bible if I don't buy into the idea that the Earth is flat like clay under a seal (Job 38:13-14)? Am I ignoring the Bible if I don't think the Earth is covered by a solid, crystaline dome called a "firmament" (Ezekiel 1:22, Job 37:18)?

Jordan said...

Steve,

Since it's your blog, how do you feel about crevo and I continuing our discussion about evolution here? Are we going too far off topic?

Steve Martin said...

Jordan,
Quick response before I head off to work for the day. In general, yes I do like to keep conversations fairly close to the topic of the post. Sometimes there are very good reasons for wandering somewhat off topic, but at some point it becomes unhelpful & I’d prefer to gently route the conversation elsewhere when that happens. On the other hand, you are a guest poster here (and doing an excellent job I must say – thanks!) so in some ways it is your call for this post (sorry for dumping responsibility here). If you will be unable to continue the conversation for some reason (I know I indicated the responsibility was for a “few days”), just indicate that in a final comment.

Crevo,
Just to put this into context. I do not have a formal science background in most of the relevant areas for this discussion (my formal training is mathematics & computer science - & really my interaction with the technical aspects of those fields is fairly narrow these days – I’m now really more on the business side). Most of the really relevant topics (particularly biology, anthropology) I’ve picked up on the side – primarily because I needed to resolve the science / faith issue. As such, I often cannot address specific questions without doing a little bit (sometimes a lot) of research. I’ve almost completely stopped running after “criticisms of evolution” for three reasons 1) I don’t have the time for this anymore 2) I’ve had enough experience (particularly given #1) chasing down these criticisms & almost inevitably the claims are completely baseless (and even dishonest at times) and most importantly 3) the biblical & theological justifications for antievolutionism now seem really weak. Oh yes, I admit there are still a lot of serious theological implications I am still working through (see my post identifying 10 theological challenges I have either worked through or am working through) but I honestly believe an EC worldview is both theological coherent & theologically orthodox. Much more so in fact than a lot that passes for Evangelical theology. For me this feels like a rediscovery of orthodox theology, not an abandonment of it.

Jordan said...

Hi crevo,

Given our discussion has evolved by branching into smaller and smaller topics of discussion (the same, nested hierarchical pattern exhibited by life!), and given your distaste for over-examining "overly-minute details" ;), I agree with Steve that we should narrow our focus once more. I'm just going to address three subjects that appear problematic and that keep coming up for discussion, but I would really like to focus on the last one.

1. The evidence for evolutionary common descent.
Regardless of whether you feel the theory of evolutionary common descent is is well-supported by the evidence or not, I think it's important for dissenters to remember that the onus is on them to come up with some viable, alternative explanation. It's very easy to criticize a theory, yet not so easy to formulate a better one. And let's face it -- the track record of anti-evolutionism has been dismall when it comes to explaining things like the identification of the Flood sediments, the order of the fossil record, or the nested hierarchy after which life is patterned. Evolutionary theory explains these things; anti-evolutionary creationism does not (it explains them away).

2. Evolution as historical rather than experimental science.
I disagree with the canard that evolutionary science is somehow not experimental science. There seems to be this idea out there among non-evolutionary scientists that there is this one-way progression of information from the fossil record to theory; that the fossil record is useful only as a source of raw data and nothing more. This is a misconception. Evolutionary science is much more cyclical and integrative than that. We can use the fossil record not only as a source of data, but as a means of testing our ideas about the patterns and tempos of evolution. For instance, if I'm holding two contrasting cladograms in my hands that make different interpretations about the interrelationships of certain taxa, I can test these cladograms (read: hypotheses) by seeing which of them best describes new fossil evidence. This was exemplified most recently by the "frogamander" paper in Nature, which used new fossil evidence to reject the monophyletic hypothesis of lissamphibian origins.

3. Theology and evolution.
You say, "we need to separate evolution from 'other scientific theories' because it is more affected by theology than others." I think this is what we should focus on given the subject of this blog. Let's talk about the relationship between evolutionary science and theology. What exactly do you mean when you say evolution is more strongly affected by theology than other sciences? What problems are unique to evolutionary theory that you feel we as Christians should be weary of?

crevo said...

"Regardless of whether you feel the theory of evolutionary common descent is is well-supported by the evidence or not, I think it's important for dissenters to remember that the onus is on them to come up with some viable, alternative explanation"

I disagree. In science, "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer. Therefore, the onus is always on the person who says that they know something scientifically to show it.

"For instance, if I'm holding two contrasting cladograms in my hands that make different interpretations about the interrelationships of certain taxa, I can test these cladograms (read: hypotheses) by seeing which of them best describes new fossil evidence."

It's still not equivalent with experimental evidence because of the enormous lack of controls. In experimental sciences, you can control for just about any variable you can think of. In historical sciences, you don't get the controls. Likewise, usually it is not cut and clean, and therefore requires a number of judgment calls, each of which is dependent on the possibilities that the researcher is willing to consider.

"What problems are unique to evolutionary theory that you feel we as Christians should be weary of?"

One of the biggest ones is the assumption that early life was less complex than modern life. Most evolutionary theory assumes that evolution is capable of _producing_ novelty, as opposed to merely re-using existing structures and codes. Almost all experimental genetics shows an overall downward trend in fitness. The beneficial mutations we do find often wind up being either borrowed from other organisms, apparently precoded for their new purpose, or part of an implicit/cyclical structure.

Experiments such as Lederberg and Luria-Delbruck are often used to show that the mutations are not planned for, but that interpretation is based on the theological assumption that the organism's mutations aren't canalized towards potentially-beneficial spots as a design feature to enhance the population's future fitness (I have a paper coming out about this later this year in Creation Research Society Quarterly).

All of these positions assume that:

a) earlier organisms (and especially ecosystems if we include symbiosis in the mix) had lower information content than current organisms

b) therefore, the origin of novelty in evolution is based on new information being generated through natural selection, rather than pre-existing information simply being uncovered over time

While many evolutionists do attest to the truth of some instances of pre-existing information being the cause of mutation, they do not allow it to be the dominant factor, precisely because their theology prevents them from being able to do it, not because of the evidence.

For other instances of the theological reasonings that occur in evolution, see Paul Nelson's essay which was published in Michael Ruse's journal, or Cornelius Hunter's book.

crevo said...

Steve:

"Most of us were biased against evolution, and came to accept it only after looking at the evidence."

I don't doubt that. However, whether or not you are biased for or against evolution, a lot of biases exist which slant the evidence in favor of evolutionary theory even within Creation circles. For instance, one thing that I am always correcting Creationists about is the nature of mutations - they are not random, but the Creation community has accepted the assumption that they are. The fact that they, as an entire community, are against evolutionary theory, has not prevented them from inadvertantly latching on to ideas which originated from theological presuppositions contrary to theirs. That is just one example - I'm sure I could find many more.

Another, for instance, is the idea that 99.99% of species have gone extinct. There is no evidence for this. It is based on how many species _should_ have existed if evolutionary theory is true. I believe that the number of _catalogued_ fossil species is somewhere on the order of 250,000 and the number of catalogued live species is somewhere on the order of 6,000,000. Those numbers are probably old and off, but the point is that the 99.99% figure that gets thrown around is not based on counts of species in the fossil record, but rather of the number of estimated extinct species would have to exist for Darwinism to have worked. Yet many anti-Darwinists will use that number as if were an empirical fact.

The problem is that neither evolutionists nor creationists think to analyze the theological presuppositions behind a lot of the data they are working with, and therefore, even for someone biased _against_ evolution, they may be using data whose interpretation is biased _for_ evolution.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Crevo,
I agree that biases play a huge part here – and frankly, I think that is a good thing. If we all had to work things out from first principles all the time, we would all be crazy or extreme skeptics (probably both). So for example, your #2 (extinct species) is based on a tonne of supporting evidence (from what I understand), all of that evidence based on other well-supported evidence (for example, a very old earth). So I am “biased” to accepting some of the evidence without having to work through the details. On the other hand, it appears to me that you are biased towards the **existing** fossil evidence – ie. “If we haven’t seen it, touched it, and catalogued it, then it never existed”. (Chapters 8 & 9 in “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation” have some good stuff here on the fossil record).

Re: “mutations are not random”. Well, that depends on what you mean by random. My understanding is that randomness in scientific circles is all about unpredictability. (eg. I think Loren Haarsma has written about this on several occasions – check the ASA archive). And right now, although we are starting to understand some of the factors that affect mutations in general, we certainly cannot predict individual mutations. So I believe that the vast majority of people (both “creationists” & “evolutionists” – this is confusing categorization since I fall into both groups) are absolutely correct when they say “mutations are random”.

I believe the confusion lies in how randomness is often used (and possibly how you meant it to be used above) – I believe you are including the concepts of causation and indeterminacy here. This of course smuggles in a metaphysical concept - with its resulting biases. If by random you mean “indeterminacy”, then I would agree that it is not yet knowable whether mutations are “random” – we don’t know whether it is theoretically possible to calculate mutating behavior (even though I’m a big sci-fi fan, I highly doubt we will ever know). There are materialists that claim true “randomness” does not exist – ie. everything is completely determined. These materialists chide Dawkins et al for not carrying the “true atheist faith” to its logical conclusion – that there is no such thing as free will. Of course, you will get some hyper-calvinists who say similar things because all events are determined by God & that there is no such thing as free-will.

For me? A) I suspect that there is true indeterminancy in the physical universe. I do not believe this impinges on the sovereignty of God (see for example “God, Chance and Purpose” by David Bartholomew). B) I also strongly believe that free-will is a gift that God has given to humanity. C) I don’t necessarily see these as tied together – ie. I might end up being wrong about A) but not about B).

Getting back to the heart of the matter: theological presuppositions. First, for myself (and I consider myself both a creationist AND evolutionist) I absolutely do think through the theological presuppositions and the theological implications. From my experience, almost all ECs do – we have to. We can’t simply accept our old biases uncritically and we do need to work through the implications. I would say it is a much truer statement that those that are simply one or the other (ie. either a creationist or an evolutionist) do not think through these things as critically – partly because they have no reason to do so.

And now I’m getting way off topic of the OP – yikes.

crevo said...

"your #2 (extinct species) is based on a tonne of supporting evidence (from what I understand), all of that evidence based on other well-supported evidence (for example, a very old earth)"

Actually, not. Those who are not strict Darwinists don't agree with it. In fact, the first I heard about it was from an evolutionist - he just disagreed with the idea of a Darwinian origin for major groups (he thought the major group origins were based more on horizontal transfer). Changing that single assumption alters the number of presumed existing species by over 90%!

"ie. “If we haven’t seen it, touched it, and catalogued it, then it never existed”"

That is not my opinion - I'm sure that there are lots of things we haven't catalogued. However, the presumption of Darwinism is the main character of our expectations of the fossil record - a presumption I do not share.

As for randomness, there are actually multiple definitions of randomness. My primary source of information about randomness in my paper is Anthony Eagle's "Randomness is Unpredictability" from the British Journal of the Philosophy of Science. I actually agree with you on indeterminancy, and think that randomness in this sense is actually good. However, most biology textbooks, when talking about mutations, aren't just talking about their unpredictability, but rather are talking about whether or not they are inside or outside the control of a system. I would agree wholeheartedly that many of them are randomized (indeterminant within a set), but would disagree that they are random (happening outside biological control) -- at least for the most part (there are certainly some mutations which are outside biological controls, but those are rarely the ones which are beneficial in any context).

"From my experience, almost all ECs do – we have to... I would say it is a much truer statement that those that are simply one or the other (ie. either a creationist or an evolutionist) do not think through these things as critically – partly because they have no reason to do so."

I'm curious, then. We know what parts of the Creation account you disagree with - what part of standard evolutionary biology (preferably something standard enough to be in a textbook) would you disagree with on theological grounds?

Pete said...

I'm not sure how evolution happened (or even whether it could?!?). What I am sure of is that it DID happen, at least on the very specific claim of common descent (and in that regard, at least on the order of the mammals). This is strongly evidenced by the (morphological) nested hierarchy we find life in today. This would be suspicious enough, though I might find it reasonable that God wished to create in such a specific pattern (indistinguishable from common descent) But then we add all the independent lines of evidence which fall into the same pattern, that of fossils, biogeography, embryology, and organs that serves different purposes by quite clearly are shared among species with a common ancestor. Still, maybe I would let that slide, those are not exact on every level and some unexplained data probably still exists. But then we come to genetics. Now when I referred to the morphological nested hierarchy, I could have just as well said genetic nested hierarchy and even that might not have been the total clincher since you would expect the same genetics to produce the same morphological features (once again, admitting God created in the one specific and only pattern that also evidences common descent, instead of the infinite other patterns that would have proved special creation). But how do you explain the errors in the psudeogenes that fit the same nested hierarchal structure. Or dead genes, like the now famous Vitamin C gene example in humans (and all primates) broken in the same place. And then we come to the nail so thick it will take a truly amazing explanation to pull it out, the ERVs, viruses inserted into our genome in times past, FOLLOWING THE SAME NESTED HIERARCHY STRUCTURE!!! There is only one reasonable explanation for this and SURPRISE SURPRISE, it is the one all the other evidence points to, common descent. At one time (as far back as new world monkeys) we shared a common ancestor with these living species and a singular viral insertion event is now left over in both our genomes in the same chromosome location. Any explanation about how we received these ERVs or tries to suggest we always had them MUST account for the fact that they are found within the primate genome in a nested hierarchy fashion. I have yet to meet a special creationist he even seems to understand this fact.

When I see an online back or forth over the evidence of evolution, any such discussion which is not discussing the nested hierarchical pattern of all available and/or measurable properties of life is totally pointless. It is meaningless to argue whether it can happen while ignoring that it obviously did. It seems to me most special creationist apologists are totally ignorant of what a nested hierarchy is, most likely because they learn all their information from AIG or ICR which also seems oblivious to the evidence of common descent (or at least they never talk about it).

As we approach questions of random mutation and natural selection, we have gotten way ahead of ourselves. Its like trying to prove my sister doesn't exist by referring to the implausibility of such and such egg and sperm and birth control and whatever, all the while my sister is standing next to me. And almost all of these conversations assume any "evolutionary" explanation is somehow atheist. I am totally open to someone showing me that God's miraculous intervention MUST have been present for common descent to be a reality. Hey, I am a Christian so I believe He created however he did it. I also believe He created me in my mother's womb, and it appears He used the very natural process of sex, conception, gestation, etc. But maybe evolution can't be natural, maybe you can prove mutation plus natural selection is not adequate, fine by me. God plays a role regardless by the very definition of the Christian God, make it as "miraculous" as you want. But none of this would convince me this very creation method was not common descent, that is a testable measurable conclusion that is tested every time a new species is sequenced.

The Christian might have warrant to debate the need for a creator in the common descent process to battle off the atheist, who often use it as a tool to exclude God. But for our purposes on this blog it is common descent that the concern, and how that intersects with Biblical history, not ontological materialism. So if there is any desire to defend Genesis by showing evolution wrong, what specifically needs to be addressed is the (overwhelming IMHO) evidence for common descent. I seldom entertain any discussions with a creationists who will not address ERVs. It is a sure sign they don't know what the evidence for common descent actually is.

Steve Martin said...

Pete,
Welcome back. Good to hear from you again (it is the same Pete isn’t it?).

Crevo:
“I'm curious, then. We know what parts of the Creation account you disagree with - what part of standard evolutionary biology (preferably something standard enough to be in a textbook) would you disagree with on theological grounds?”

To clarify, I do not disagree with "the" Creation account - I disagree with specific fallible interpretations of Genesis that result in "a" Creation account that, in Conrad Hyers words, constrict the cosmic dance.

As to the science books, frankly, my approach now is (in general) to believe what I read unless there are good reasons not to. Sometimes books / authors / scientists try to smuggle in atheistic metaphysical concepts (eg. extrapolating from randomness to purposelessness) but this occurs rarely from my own experience.

Why do I give science books the benefit of the doubt? First, science is not inherently atheistic (see Keith Miller’s Creation, Evolution, and the Nature of Science. Second, it seems to me that the vast majority of scientists (of all religious persuasions) demonstrate integrity in their research. (Part of the reason may be that if they didn’t, their duplicity would be discovered & their careers damaged). On the other hand, a lot of anti-evolutionist claims are not only wrong, but also seem downright dishonest. (See index of creationist claims on talk.origins). It is very disconcerting to discover that many Christians are confidently drawing conclusions by (willfully?) ignoring all (often overwhelming) contrary evidence.

Re: your claim that there is no evidence for massive species extinction. I **think** what you are saying is that, in your opinion, a) the evidence for an old earth is not overwhelming & b) the generally accepted practices for dating fossils in the geological column is bogus. Is this what you mean? So the “theological” assumption you are talking about here is an old earth – is this correct?

Re: dearth & limitations of “beneficial” mutations. Check out my article To mutate or not to mutate: That is not the question on why "beneficial" might be a confusing terminology – actually, some of the best stuff is in the comments (fortunately many of my readers have a way better understanding of this stuff than I do :-) ). Actually, a better resource might be to go to Stephen Matheson’s post referenced in my post above or to his recent criticisms of Michael Behe’s arguments (here, here, here, and here).

Jordan said...

I'm with you, Pete. The nested hierarchy pattern exhibited by life makes sense only in the light of common ancestry. The only response to this argument I've heard from anti-evolutionary creationists so far is, "Well... God could have designed life that way." Of course, this sort of ad hoc hypothesizing does nothing to explain this pattern -- it only explains it away.
Sure, scientists may be wrong, and it is possible that some other factor accounts of the hierarchical pattern of life. Until someone comes up with a better explanation, though, we'll keep what we've got because it works. We may still be figuring out the details, and I agree with crevo that there's no shame in admitting that, but an incomplete theory does not make for an incorrect one.

Having said that, I want to talk about the theological problems crevo sees with evolution. What problems come to your mind, crevo? (It looks like you tried answering this question earlier, but your entire response had everything to do with information theory and nothing to do with theology, so I'm not sure that you understood the question.)

crevo said...

"The nested hierarchy pattern exhibited by life makes sense only in the light of common ancestry."

I don't get this one. This might make sense if we actually had possession of a lot of species which were the common ancestors of extant groups, but these are largely missing, if not entirely missing for the higher-level taxa. Thus, the pattern does not reveal common ancestry (in which cases we should have common ancestors of most larger groups available - especially considering how static so many groups are in the fossil record), but rather an organizational pattern, which is the product of design.

Likewise, there are multiple ways of organizing the tree (the standard evolutionary tree is only one way of doing this). For example, on gross morphology, we would put the Thylacine with the Wolf. If we went by complex structures, we might be tempted to put mammals near cephalopods, based on similar eye structure. If we went by genes, we would get a different structure as well.

Basic summary:

Tree with known ancestors - indicates evolution

Tree lacking ancestors - indicates organizational pattern

Multiple potential trees - indicates multiple layers of organization and reuse

"everything to do with information theory and nothing to do with theology"

My point was that many options were excluded a priori because of a preconception on what God was/wasn't allowed to do within Creation.

Pete -

On the ERVs - note that most of the premises of the argument have been found to be faulty (ERVs are functional, and do have preferential insertion sites). Also, the study which showed the nested hierarchy only focused on, I think it was 8 fragments out of 98,0000. The rest may conform to the same pattern - I don't know - but the study that everyone points to only looked at 8 of them.

For example, here is ERV evidence in support of one tree, and here is pseudogene evidence in support of a different one.

Nested hierarchy? Perhaps, or perhaps they are just similar genomes which have gone through similar histories. You can guess at either side, but the notion of overwhelming evidence is simply not there.

One amusing anecdote in this whole idea of genomes giving evidence of the evolutionary tree is Pegasoferae, which, by using the same sorts of data to group humans and chimps, you also get horses and bats grouped together.

But my main theological point is that there have been numerous avenues of inquiry that are simply unexplored because they are a priori assumed unfruitful because they contradict the theologies of those involved.

Also, about the pages you linked to, again, mutations aren't generally random. Some of them occur in absence of stress, but that doesn't put them outside the control of a system (see my previous references). However, many of them are specifically induced by specific stressors.

Pete -

I was surprised but happy to see you say "I am totally open to someone showing me that God's miraculous intervention MUST have been present for common descent to be a reality". I thought evolutionary creationism was opposed to Intelligent Design, but this looks like you are supporting it. Basically, this would be Behe's view - in fact he makes the point that Intelligent Design is the saving grace of common descent. I disagree with him for the evidence regarding common descent, but agree with him that the only way to overcome any of these problems would be through Intelligent Design. But the interesting thing is that the theological presuppositions in science (that God could not have intervened or that science must be able to operate independently of God) prevent people from looking down that avenue.

Steve Martin said...

Crevo,

You stated you were glad when Pete said that :
“I am totally open to someone showing me that God's miraculous intervention MUST have been present for common descent to be a reality.”

and that you

“thought evolutionary creationism was opposed to Intelligent Design, but this looks like you are supporting it.”

Ok, this is getting at a very, very important point that we all (Evangelicals interested in science) need to understand IMHO. I believe there is actually a lot of common ground between A) large parts of the Evangelical EC community and B) some parts of the Evangelical ID community (don’t know how large this is). Ted Davis has made this point several times on the ASA list over the last couple of years. (Side note: B above does not include i) YEC or ii) those opposed to common descent – it is unclear from your comments where you stand but I suspect you would fall into at least ii & possibly i – is that correct?).

The main difference between these two positions is actually a theological claim.

A) The Evangelical ID community believes that a) it is theologically **necessary** for design / purpose to be scientifically detectable. Some (many) would also claim that b) this detectibility has already been demonstrated although most agree much more work needs to be done on the scientific level. But the important point here is that the theological presupposition is the driving factor.

B) On the other hand, most of the Evangelical EC community believes that the scientific detectibility of design is NOT theologically necessary, but neither will we rule it out for theological purposes. We believe in miracles (and most of us would believe that miracles were not necessarily reserved for the apostolic era). We do not however, believe that it is necessary to claim that one of those miracles (ie. scientifically unexplainable events with meaning) included the development of life on earth. But I don’t think we rule out the possibility that some miracle of this sort will be demonstrated in the future (most of us doubt this pretty strongly though). In other words, if somehow design was demonstrated at a scientific level, I don’t believe my worldview would be altered that much at all. My faith is based on the life, death, and resurrection of the incarnate and redeeming Christ. How God created the world is very interesting to me, but it really is not a core part of my faith.

On the other hand I am very worried that the Evangelicals ID community may be damaging the gospel by focusing on God’s fingerprints in creation (fingerprints that it is unclear he ever intended to leave) rather than Christ crucified. I realize that you don’t need to choose one or the other, but that is certainly an impression one is given much of the time.

Other ECs can comment on whether or not the position above (my own) fairly represents theirs as well - I may be assuming my own position is more widespread than it actually is.

crevo said...

"B) some parts of the Evangelical ID community (don’t know how large this is). Ted Davis has made this point several times on the ASA list over the last couple of years. (Side note: B above does not include i) YEC or ii) those opposed to common descent – it is unclear from your comments where you stand but I suspect you would fall into at least ii & possibly i – is that correct?)."

I am YEC, but tend to work pretty closely with ID OECs and ID Evos. For example, here are some ID Evos who tend to view me quite favorably (and I, them), despite our large gaps of disagreement.

"it is theologically **necessary** for design / purpose to be scientifically detectable"

I think the issue is that (a) we would like to expand science to include intelligent causes (I am actually beginning work on an ID textbook which doesn't discuss origins at all, but focuses on ways to extend science to include intelligent causes and shows some engineering/computer science applications.)

In addition, the universe, as well as life, shows pretty clear marks of design. I've never figured out how this is debatable except in a theoretical sense (scientists should always be allowed to explore new avenues even prior to their being demonstrable publicly, but past this sense I've never understood how people don't look at what is going on and immediately see design. ID is simply formalizing the intuition. However, ID proper deals with causation - whether or choice exists as a reality or not, is while the ID origins debate is an application of this causal structure to origins. See my essay here. I'm going to have to cut this post short because my children are feeling slighted :)

Jordan said...

"I don't get this one. This might make sense if we actually had possession of a lot of species which were the common ancestors of extant groups, but these are largely missing, if not entirely missing for the higher-level taxa."

Actually, we don't even need fossil taxa to see that life is arranged in the pattern of a nested hierarchy. We can (and do) design cladograms based on living taxa alone (just look at any molecular phylogeny). The fossils just help to complete the picture.
Secondly, we DO have many fossil ancestors of common extant groups, including frogs, humans, reptiles, amniotes, mammals, birds, horses, vertebrates, tetrapods, whales, rabbits, snakes... you name it. In fact, among vertebrates, the only two groups for which we still have no good transitional fossils are turtles and bats (although a primitive, non-echolocating bat was described recently).
Sure, you can argue that God patterned or "organized" life this way. But that doesn't tell us anything we Christians don't already know. Simply saying God did something tells us nothing about how He did it, which is the very type of question science is interested in answering. Science has an evidence-based answer to how God patterned life. And as of yet, no testable alternatives have been offered.

"kewise, there are multiple ways of organizing the tree (the standard evolutionary tree is only one way of doing this). For example, on gross morphology, we would put the Thylacine with the Wolf. If we went by complex structures, we might be tempted to put mammals near cephalopods, based on similar eye structure. If we went by genes, we would get a different structure as well."

Yes, on superficial gross morphology, we might be tempted to place the thylacine with the wolf or vertebrates with cephalopods. At the level of the family tree, we might also be tempted to group all the long- and short-haired people separately, or to separate all people who wear Gap clothing from those who wear Old Navy. Of course, this is just silly, and in order to get a more accurate picture of familial interrelationships, we would need to look at the distribution of a number of independent variables like genetic disorders, shape of the face, hair colour and texture, skin pigmentation, genes, etc. It is these shared, derived characters that allow us to acurrately reconstruct a family tree.
So when we're dealing with the morphology of fossil and extant animals, we don't simply say "this one looks like a dog, this has eyes like a cat..." and group them that way. We look at minute differences in the phenotype and genotype, such as the patterning of the sutures of the skull, the shape of an ankle bone, the number of thoracic vertebrae, and/or a sequence of genetic code, in order to get an idea as to how to best group these things. The more independent variables, the better. If you want to learn more, the following website is useful:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/search/topicbrowse2.php?topic_id=55

Let's get to the theology, finally...

"But my main theological point is that there have been numerous avenues of inquiry that are simply unexplored because they are a priori assumed unfruitful because they contradict the theologies of those involved."

This is quite the blanket statement, so I'm uncertain of what you mean by it. If you're saying that you think miraculous creation has been unfairly excluded from the realm of science, I can't say I agree with you. Science, by definition (not by etymology), requires natural explanations for natural phenomena. Therefore, in science we don't have the luxury of appealing to miracles in order to explain discontinuities in the data because this isn't allowed. By definition. To do so would put an end to discovery because everytime we come to a gap in our knowledge, we would simply attribute that gap to a miracle of God. Think about it: Would you argue that God must be miraculously conspiring agaist us because we have yet to find the cure for cancer? If that were the case, there would be no point in further research!
All this isn't to say that I don't think the world is designed. It is. The Bible tells us as much (e.g., Rom 1:20). But as theologian Howard Van Till rightly points out in an analogy: "the process of designing a truck -- an action of the minds -- is wholly distinct from the process of assembling it -- an action of the "hands" (from Perspectives on an Evolving Creation). Thus, it is entirely possible for something to be both designed and evolved. This is the position I take as an evolutionary creationist.

Pete said...

I don't get this one. This might make sense if we actually had possession of a lot of species which were the common ancestors of extant groups,

Some of this was mentioned by Jordan by I want to emphasize a few points. First off, the nested hierarchy pattern I speak of is for living organisms today. If common descent were true, we would find them as such. It is also true that God could create them in this nice pattern. But lets be clear, there is only one pattern that could be true for common descent. There are an infinite number of patterns God could have chosen. So if God did choose to create through instantaneous creation, He did so in the one manor that would also evidence common descent, instead of the infinite number of ways that would disprove it. (Strangely enough, adding whole bunch of inherited but non functional genes inherited from our ances….I mean put in by God once again because it would evidence common descent).

but these are largely missing, if not entirely missing for the higher-level taxa.

I used to push this line when I was a YEC. It was pure ignorance on my part and trust in Duane Gish. If you would like to see the myriad of fossil finds representing creatures that either fill lines on the branching tree of life or are closely related (something that is impossible for us to determine short of a time machine), you should read “Evolution: What the Fossils say and why it matters” by Don Prothero.

Likewise, there are multiple ways of organizing the tree (the standard evolutionary tree is only one way of doing this).

Jordan already elaborated on this a bit, but organizing on eye size which get you little since it can change rapidly and any convergence would be very difficult to detect. And I hope you are not implying the nested hierarchy is an arbitrary classification. As a test, I sometimes ask whether cars (say all 2006 Toyota models) or computers, (say all HP from 1996 - 2008) can be put into nested hierarchies. The answer of course is no, because they do not share features in smaller and smaller groupings (human designers just mix and match parts). Even the four vehicles, the 2 and 4 door Corrolas and Cameries can not be put into a nested hierarchy. Either you group them first on number of doors and the engine type breaks the nested structure or you group them on engine first and the door number breaks the hierarchy.

Multiple potential trees - indicates multiple layers of organization and reuse

We do have several different trees of life, it is the result of gaps in our knowledge, especially poor observation of genetics in the past. It is slowly converging. I’m sure you have heard the often quoted phase, given the number of species and the possible number of phylogenic trees we have now narrowed it down to a precision of more decimal points then we have measured the Gravitational constant in physics.

On the ERVs - note that most of the premises of the argument have been found to be faulty (ERVs are functional, and do have preferential insertion sites).

First off, that some ERV genetic material has proved to serve functions does not imply that all nor even many do so. But just for the sake of argument assume that they all did, this is irrelevant to the point. The point is whether they are viral insertions . Are you denying this? You seem to accept they are inserted as later you reference the preferential insertion points (and I will address this point shortly). If they are inserted and they are inserted on the same location on the same chromosome across multiple species then there is a probability associated whether this could happen. But not only that, the ones shared are shared in a nested hierarchy, the same nested hierarchy evidenced through other forms of unrelated genetic evidence. Do you have an alternate explanation for this then common descent? And if you do wish to assert these are not viral insertions, please allow me the freedom to await you original research that can demonstrate such. We catch watch these viral insertions in real time, it is an active field of study since HIV itself is a retrovirus.

But assuming you actually believe they are inserted since you mentioned the preferential insertion sites (and I don’t take you as one who would just throw out multiple lines of rebuttals even if they clearly contradict each other), how does this change the probability that we will find them at the same location? It makes the odds better for sure, but how much better? Let’s just look at two species, humans and chimps, and make some estimates What if there were 50 favored insertion sites. Then the odds of them sharing the same site is 1/50. And lets assume we find that humans and chimps share 5 such ERVs. Now we are at (1/50)^5 that is 0.00000000032 for just two species and five sites. And this is being very optimistic, as there are more then five shared and there are more then 50 favored sites. Now, assume it is a ERV that was shared from a distant common ancestor, so it is shared with all the primates. All probability becomes effectively zero and we are still within the primates. Do you know there are ERVs we share in orthogonal sites with mice… Simply throwing out “there are preferential sites” is not much evidence against common descent and that is without even taking into account the fact that when then are shared, they are shared in a nested hierarchy.

Also, the study which showed the nested hierarchy only focused on, I think it was 8 fragments out of 98,0000. The rest may conform to the same pattern - I don't know - but the study that everyone points to only looked at 8 of them.

I know there have been more studies of ERVs then just 8 shared in monkeys and primates. I know there have been studies on reptiles, carnivores, and mice. But assume you did see evidence that traced out a greater number, would that be meaningful to you?

For example, here is ERV evidence in support of one tree, and here is pseudogene evidence in support of a different one.

Ah ha! Bouya! Indeed, this is exactly the kind of thing I consider evidence against common descent! Thank you, at least this would imply we are starting to understand each other. I will try to read this paper as best I can,but let me just say in advance, gather up as many of these as you can find. Finding one outlier, (especially for species so closely related) is a start though there are probably possible explanations (the chimp genome losing a particular gene is not only possible but not even uncommon). I'm sure if you dropped a pencil tomorrow and it shot up towards the roof, you wouldn't immediate assume gravity is not pulling downward and it is all a scientific shame. Indeed, there might be metal in the pencil and an electromagnet above the ceiling. But if half of everything all over the world went up we would need to rethink our theories. So find more. If common descent is not true, there should be just as many of these if not more that break every nested hierarchy pattern. This is exactly how humans design, breaking a nested hierarchy with just about every new product. If you can find me cases where errors in pseduogenes are shared with dogs but nothing in between I will abandon common descent.

Pete said...

Well, here is a link that discusses that case.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/molgen/

The original article is 1985. Appears in 1992 the resolution was discovered. I'm too tired to read this thing carefully at the moment, but I'll let you read it and judge.

Woodmorappe describes an example of an epsilon immunoglobulin pseudogene that was reported (Ueda et al, PNAS 82: 3712 1985) to be shared by gorilla and man but not by chimpanzee, seeming to contradict the conventional evolutionary view that human ancestors diverged from the gorilla lineage before they diverged from the chimpanzee lineage. Unfortunately, Woodmorappe failed to consider later data from Ueda's laboratory (Kawamura and Ueda, Genomics 13:194, 1992) that were available when Woodmorappe wrote in 1994 (Bible Science News 32:4 p. 12). These more recent data show that DNA deletions destroying duplicated copies of the epsilon immunoglobulin genes (1) occurred independently in human and gorilla lineages (independence was deduced from the fact that the "right" and "left" boundaries of the deleted DNA were completely different in the two species), and (2) also occurred (again independently) in chimpanzee. Thus Woodmorappe's example of a shared pseudogene linking humans to gorilla but not to chimp (in apparent violation of the more recent divergence of human ancestors from chimpanzee accepted by most evolutionists) is incorrect: these are not "shared" pseudogenes but independently arising pseudogenes, and chimpanzee has a similar, though larger, deletion. (I should mention that I cited this same incorrect example in my original version of this essay. However, at the time I wrote--1986--the example was supported by the evidence then available; and I printed a correction in Creation/Evolution after the new data were published. I should also stress that the example of the processed epsilon pseudogene mentioned in section 4.3 above represents a completely different sequence, which no one disputes is shared by humans, chimps and gorillas.)

Edward T. Babinski said...

I like Lamoureux and also Kenneth Miller, who both argue in favor of common descent and cite the scientific evidence in droves in the face of creationists who are fellow Christians.

However, I don't see the point of claiming a book is inerrant and simultaneously admitting it's a book that contains the ignorance of its day and age. One could use a similar argument to claim the "inerrancy" of any ancient book.

Likewise with the "Hidden God" defense of theism.

If the hypothesis of "God's hiddenness" combined with the admitted errant passages found in ancient "holy books" do not raise SOME questions and doubts in the minds of Christian theists like Lamoureaux, then what does?

The prima facia evidence is that all living multi-cellular beings die. It's happening all around us, we've seen it. There's no contesting the evidence in that respect. What happens after death may be nothing, or a mystery we know very little about. But to claim you have seen behind the metaphysical curtain and know that humanity must come to believe "in Jesus" in order to "inherit and eternal personal existence that consists in praising Jesus," seems like a claim to knowledge that cannot be supported to any great personal degree, nor universally agreed upon. We don't really know in such cases. Some claim to know. But the metaphysical curtain and hiddenness of God, hiding behind natural processes, and hiding behind a book featuring prima facia errors, does not look highly convincing.

Speaking of other religions and cultures there's a new book titled THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION by a well known author of religious works that goes into detail concerning what was happening all round the world during "the Axial age," and how different cultures produced different religions and yet during the Axial age they came to concentrate on inner spiritualities rather than archaic rituals, and this happened around the world as cultures grew and scholars arose and people started asking more questions. We are all heirs of the Axial age, and it's a fascinating story. Check out the book, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, and the smaller accompanying work by the same author, A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH. Also check out by another author the book, SPOOK: SCIENCE TACKLES THE AFTERLIFE (a history of the search for scientific proof of the afterlife). Great reading! Even better listening. I've been listening to the cassettes and CDs.

Steve Martin said...

Crevo:
At the beginning of this thread you brought up the “theological presuppositions of evolutionary theory”. I don’t necessarily agree with your characterizations of these presuppositions, but I do agree that we all have some theological presuppositions. In fact, I believe the most significant difference between ID and EC positions is theological NOT scientific ie. the common evangelical ID position (I believe) insists that God’s design / purpose must be scientifically detectable where as an evangelical EC maintains that this is not theologically necessary. Your reply, rather than addressing this theological difference, discussed plans to expand science to include “intelligent causation” so I think you either agree with me, or fail to appreciate your own theological presupposition.

Pete:
Thanks a lot for your excellent discussion & for digging up the rebuttal on talk.origins.

Edward:
Welcome. Regarding inerrancy, you may want to check out the previous post Inerrancy: Ignore it, Redefine it, or Replace it. Many of us agree that the term inerrancy is unhelpful (the common definition of it is clearly unsupportable & more nuanced definitions should probably just use a different word). Still, I understand why some want to do this. (Enns has put up another post on the topic).

Re: the Axiel age - and in fact the rise of religion much, much before the Hebrews existed (at least 10’s of thousands of years). Yes, this stuff is very interesting but I don’t see it as particularly troublesome as an Evangelical Christian. A little off topic though .. maybe another post.

Re: doubt. I suspect every single Christian experiences doubt. I certainly do. But doubt is not the opposite of faith (as so often thought). A nice little book on this is Alister McGrath’s “The Sunnier Side of Doubt”.

Finally Jordan:
Thanks a lot for both your post & your comments. All were excellent.

Stephen Douglas said...

Agreed. Thanks, Jordan.

crevo said...

Sorry I got busy and forgot to answer followups :(

Steve:

"Your reply, rather than addressing this theological difference, discussed plans to expand science to include “intelligent causation” so I think you either agree with me, or fail to appreciate your own theological presupposition"

I think you misunderstood my point. ID does not have to detect God at all. The point of ID is that non-material causes (including human choice) are real. Yes, that is an assumption - possibly classifiable as a theological one, but it is one that I think is a defining part of human experience (if someone here has not experienced the ability to choose, please mention it!)

ID can be applied to origins (and often is), but it is not about origins. It is about causation in general. It is about the reality of choice within contingency. Note that one of the seminal works on ID - Dembski's The Design Inference - isn't about origins at all - it is merely about causation. Another ID work that has nothing to do with origins is Schwartz's Quantum Interactive Dualism thesis for the mechanism on how choice influences our bodies.

Thus, ID doesn't need to prove God, because ID doesn't even need the origins debate to exist.

Jordan:

"Actually, we don't even need fossil taxa to see that life is arranged in the pattern of a nested hierarchy."

Yes, and I agreed that this was the case. What I pointed out is that a nested hierarchy _without identifiable ancestors_ points to a logical organization, not a physical (i.e. descent-based) cause.

"In fact, among vertebrates, the only two groups for which we still have no good transitional fossils are turtles and bats"

I disagree here. The problem is that most of what are classified as "transitional" are either (a) within the bounds of what Creationists consider a created kind, or (b) chimeric, and only transitional in the sense that they provide evolutionists clues to how a transition might have happened (to use common evo phraseology), but are not themselves part of the transitional lineage.

"Simply saying God did something tells us nothing about how He did it, which is the very type of question science is interested in answering."

But the question is - is it answerable by science? For instance, can I tell from looking at a computer program what type of keyboard was used to enter it in? No, and also that is the least important thing about the computer program. And then, if the author of the computer program tells you some details, then disagreeing with him based on circumstantial evidence seems silly. I would instead use the information provided to me by the programmer to understand the layout of the program better.

"Science has an evidence-based answer to how God patterned life. And as of yet, no testable alternatives have been offered."

Except that science's alternative isn't testable either, it just happens to follow science's materialistic rules. If science's materialistic rules are incorrect, there is no reason to believe it.

"[on the grouping things]"

I don't disagree that there is a structured grouping. My point is that the exceptions are so stark as to remove the notion that the groupings are based on physical reasons. I have no problem with the large separation in taxonomy between the human and the octopus. But if you look at it based on eyes, then you realize that common descent doesn't explain anything. These are two systems that, though they have some differences, are very much alike in operation. Yet their existence in such different habitats and such different groupings indicate that natural selection was not the one that put these together.

"This is quite the blanket statement, so I'm uncertain of what you mean by it."

Here's one example question - do beneficial mutations arise by happenstance, or because organisms are precoded to have those mutations occur? More and more we find the latter, yet this is not incorporated as a generalized explanation in evolutionary theory, because it would require that the original organisms _start_ with a very large pool of information. This is excluded on theological grounds, not because the evidence is against it. Over and over the reasons for beneficial mutations is because the genome has specific coding to produce those kinds of mutations, yet it is still claimed that natural selection operates on happenstance mutations, and that the mutations are not predisposed to benefit the organisms. This is a theological hope, not a data element.

"Science, by definition (not by etymology), requires natural explanations for natural phenomena."

This is all well and good, but for historical events, how do you separate natural from supernatural phenomena? If a phenomena is supernatural, isn't investigating it as if it were a natural phenomena a category error of the highest proportion? Might it not be wise to allow for evidence that your categorization is in error?

"Therefore, in science we don't have the luxury of appealing to miracles in order to explain discontinuities in the data because this isn't allowed. By definition."

So why should arbitrary definitions be binding in any way on what a believer believes? If evolution is true simply on the basis that science has no other way to investigate it, then I hardly see how we should be encouraging non-scientific Christians to agree, since we have no basis other than a methodological limitation in which to say so.

"To do so would put an end to discovery because everytime we come to a gap in our knowledge, we would simply attribute that gap to a miracle of God."

This is a red herring. The problem is that whether or not something is natural or supernatural is not decidable by science. However, you are missing the fact that this doesn't mean that it isn't decidable at all. It is only undecidable if we look at science as our only means of knowledge. Since science is limited to looking at chance and necessity, and we know that our everyday lives are full of choice-based activities which involve more than chance and necessity, acting as if science should be running the show (since it is so limited) is simply dumb. Science is powerful when used in the right context. It is misleading or false when used out-of-context.

No one, especially me (which I've already stated), is arguing that a gap in knowledge is evidence of God. In fact, I don't know of anyone who believes that. However, systematic gaps are usually evidence of a failed paradigm. And information and organization are usually (actually, always) evidence of design and choice, and choice is above the chance-and-necessity-only rules of science. And this doesn't end investigation, it simply begins it on a different path - looking for the organization principles in charge rather than the original physical causes. With science alone, you are limited to believing in things that make no sense because of an arbitrary methodological rule. However, I think we should use all of our faculties of reason and not science alone.

Pete -

On your nested hierarchy example, I think you missed.

"As a test, I sometimes ask whether cars (say all 2006 Toyota models) or computers, (say all HP from 1996 - 2008) can be put into nested hierarchies. The answer of course is no, because they do not share features in smaller and smaller groupings (human designers just mix and match parts). Even the four vehicles, the 2 and 4 door Corrolas and Cameries can not be put into a nested hierarchy."

I would say they are just as much of a nested hierarchy as life is. Again, look at the eye of the octopus and human. It matches your "mix and match parts" of car design very well.

"It is slowly converging."

I think the opposite is the case. The more and more data we find, the more, especially for higher-level taxa, the biochemists are saying that it is "bushes" not "trees".

"But just for the sake of argument assume that they all did, this is irrelevant to the point. The point is whether they are viral insertions . Are you denying this?"

I don't know if they are or not. I tend to view retroviral insertions as a "plug-in" mechanism for organisms. Some plug-ins come factory-installed and some get added later, so I am not committed to them being post-creation insertions. They may be, or not. If the cell cannot use the ERV markers for housecleaning activities (such as removing some under certain circumstances), then I would think that they would have to be post-creation. But if the cell can distinguish them, then it is perfectly legitimate for them to just be factory-installed plugins. As of right now, our knowledge of the cell is too early to tell.

"how does this change the probability that we will find them at the same location? It makes the odds better for sure, but how much better?"

It depends on the ERV, and when it occurred. If Sanford's Genetic Entropy hypothesis is correct, they may have had stronger affinities for certain sites in the past than in modern times.

"But assume you did see evidence that traced out a greater number, would that be meaningful to you?"

Yes - I would like to see a global pattern among three semi-disparate organisms (close enough evolutionarily that we should be able to trace the signal, but distant enough for Creationists to think they are different created kinds). It would not necessarily convince me to come to your side, but it would certainly pull in that direction, and definitely keep me from ever talking about ERVs as anything but current evidence for common descent.

"So find more."

Oh, I certainly agree that there is much more research that needs to be done. Hopefully they will complete the chimp sequence fully someday (right now, if I recall correctly, the chimp is sequenced, but the sequence is hung on the framework of the human genome, making the question of ancestry difficult to deduce on the data, since it was assumed for the reconstruction).

"Well, here is a link that discusses that case."

Thanks for the link! I will check it out.

Jordan said...

crevo,

Our discussion continues to branch into ever smaller units of conversation, so I'm going to try to simply things by speaking to your concerns and broadly as possible, lest things become too hard to follow.

Re: transitional forms...

You're obviously contrary to the idea of transitional fossils. It seems you would rather consider something like Gerobatrachus -- with a body plan that looks exactly half-frog, half-salamander in nearly every minute osteological detail -- as some sort of uniquely created being, whipped up by God in a poof of smoke to fill the multi-dimensional morphospace between frogs and salamanders. This is an exaggeration of your position, to be sure, but I don't think I'm far off the mark. Your position reminds me of that taken by the guest in this 3-part audio series here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJjXtx0Hks0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71rMB3d0lmE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8bl8dISU2w&feature=related
The host admits that in almost every way, Gerobatrachus nicely fills the morphological gap between frogs and salamanders, as predicted by evolutionary theory. But rather than ceding one to the evolutionists, he simply says, "Well, God could also have miraculously created it that way if He wanted to!" This is just a bogus and intellectually dishonest answer. If every transitional-looking fossil that comes out of the ground can simply be attributed to the undefinable notion of a miraculously "created kind", there is no amount of evidence that could ever convince either him or you otherwise. Every new discovery will simply be considered "variation within a kind". That said, I don't think it's worth discussing transitional fossils any further.

Re: theology and science...

First, I agree that the whole of the scientific enterprise hinges on a single assumption -- namely, that for every effect, there is a natural cause. I would hesitate to label this a "theological" assumption as you do, though. If scientists were forced to buy into the idea that God does not work miracles in the world, I doubt if we would have any Christians in the field at all. Rather, this assumption of science is a methodological one. We assume the cause-effect relationship for the sake of narrowing down an infinite set of possibilities to a handful of probable ones. If we didn't, we wouldn't get anywhere. We would be left spinning our tires. Put simply, as scientists, we buy into methodological naturalism, not ontological naturalism.
Second, we are both in agreement that, given the cause-effect assumption that science makes, science cannot be used to account for miracles of God. To do so, we have to step outside the realm of science and objective hypothesis testing. This is why the study of "organizational principles" you advocate to account for gaps in evolutionary theory will never work because you cannot conduct it in any systematic, objective manner. By doing away with methodological naturalism, you've opened Pandora's box and anything goes. All opinions about God's action in history become equally valid and no consensus can ever be reached.
Lastly, suffice it to say that I don't think the "systematic gaps" (whatever that means) you speak of exist in evolutionary theory. Are there gaps in our understanding of evolution? Yes. But I think these gaps will continue to close as we continue to investigate the functional integrity of God's creation (the closing of what palaeontologists call "Romer's gap" is a case in point). That has been the legacy of science, after all. Then again, I might be wrong, and we might find that the more we poke and prod, the better established those gaps will become. I guess only time will tell. If I'm right, evolutionary theory will continue to crystalize with the discovery of each new fossil, each new genome, and each new insight into population ecology. If you're right, evolutionary theory will one day be doomed and this idea of common descent will appear only as an historical footnote in biology textbooks. But neocreationists have been predicting the latter since Darwin's time, and when the leaders of the very same Intelligent Design hypothesis you advocate describe ID as something other than a worked out scheme (Johnson) and as fully compatible with common descent (Behe), I think I know which outcome I'll put my money on (if I were a betting man).

Pete said...

Crevo,

Sorry you are having to answer from so many sources at once. Not only does that get confusing but takes quite a bit more time on your end. I'll try to make this my last post and let you go on discussing with others.

On your nested hierarchy example, I think you missed.

So lets be clear then. I define nested hierarchy as a structure that does not mix and match and can not be broken, so the 4 cars I reference can not be put into a nested hierarchy. And I consider life to fall into this NH, especially when viewing the DNA where there will be no superfluous similarities. Now you claim that life does indeed mix and match and if this can be shown to me for a decent amount of examples I will consider common descent to be falsified. Given how clear common descent is on different branches of animals, I must admit one or two examples would not suffice, but if there were enough to demonstrate there was no NH then I will abandon common descent.

As for the Octopus, that is a good example and one that needs to be explored. I am not familiar with how long ago the Octopus would have diverged from more familiar creatures with eyes to determine whether any similarity is not just shared. What would really be evidence for me though would be if the underlining genetics was the same, not just the outward appearance. The outward appearance might just be the most optimal (roundy shape, eyeball in middle). For instance the "fins" of whales, fish, and penguins look similar but are quite easily identified in the underlying bone structure (and underling DNA) to be modified mammal arms, fish fins, and modified bird wings respectively.

I think the opposite is the case. The more and more data we find, the more, especially for higher-level taxa, the biochemists are saying that it is "bushes" not "trees".

No, to the question of the number of possible phylogenetic trees, it is being reduced through better and better dna sequencing (and more dna sequencing at that). I think you are confused by the whole bush vs trees comment. We used to draw fairly straight lines through many of the species we had a variety of transitional forms for (humans, whales, horses, etc) assuming all those species were on the ancestral line. So our tree was pretty sparse. Now it is more recognized that most of these creatures branched away and died out leaving no modern day ancestors, so we have many more branches in our tree until it starts to look like a bush. This doesn't mean that it is still not a branching structure, or that it is not a nested hierarchy, or really have anything to do with the number of possible phylogenetic trees for animals such as mammals (wait, I see a possible source of confusion, I mean possible phylogenetic trees for those species still existing today).

Two notes: As stated previously, even if a creature did seem to be transitional, there is no way to prove that particular creature actually was. Indeed, maybe his species was, maybe his own brother was, but we can never tell if that particular animal ever procreated any line still alive today or ever procreated at all.

2) I recognize that the "tree" or "bush" will only remain true for creatures that pass along the DNA through sexual reproduction and not by swapping dna or consuming others dna and making it your own like bacteria.

Steve Martin said...

Hi crevo,

Hmm. If ID is all about intelligent causation, then I’m not sure we really have a problem. We wouldn’t have a problem because a) I agree that intelligent causation is self evident in humanity & b) I accept not only intelligent causation for the universe, but a grand purpose by an “intelligent designer”. In other words, what ID is trying to prove (rather unsuccessfully from what I’ve seen) I already accept as fact – partly on “faith” (but let’s not start a discussion on the definition of faith :-) ).

However, I suspect once we get to the details, we will have a problem. (Partly because the vast majority of ID supporters seem to want to make it about origins - specifically the claim that ID rules out common descent).

The short summary is that I don’t view “randomness” or “chance” as in anyway antithetical to an “intelligent designer” or his ability to accomplish his grand purpose. Bartholomew’s “God, Chance, and Purpose” has a good discussion on this.

Claire said...

Hi Crevo, sorry to jump in on this but, hey, we need a few XX chromosomes on this site! I had a Ph.D in microbiology and after this worked in an evolutionary biology lab for a while- but still managed to maintain a YEC stance. (I had to resort to "God just made it look like that.") Eight months ago, I couldn't bear the cognitive dissonance any more and decided to read some material by evolutionists with an open mind. The genetic evidence for common descent is overwhelming. I could explain away fossils, comparative anatomy and the peppered moth but I could not argue with the genetics, which Pete has already referred to. I'd just like to add that the evidence re human Chromosome 2 means it cannot be anything other than the result of the fusion of two ape chromosomes- unless God deliberately designed our chromosome 2 to make them appear to have evolved from apes. (I googled this but haven't come across any creationist material to explain this away).

Furthermore, the distribution of placental/marsupial animal twins is another stumbling block for creation scientists (why did no placental animals migrate to Australia after the flood?!), who are left resorting to very speedy post-Flood evolution http://www.nwcreation.net/marsupials.html

I appreciate you haven't got time to read/respond to all these comments. I just think the YEC position is untenable anymore because the evidence for common descent is so overwhelming- if we would but look at it!

Jordan said...

For what it's worth, octopus and human eyes are deeply homologous (homocratic). That is, while the eyes themselves are convergent, their coding and development are homologous (both eyes are coded by Pax6 genes). Again, this is what you would expect for common ancestry, and not necessarily for common design (after all, an omnipotent common designer can break any rules or patterns he wants).

Thanks to everyone for their input in this discussion so far! :)

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Claire,

Did you know about the creationist professor at a conservative Christian institution who admits that the genetic similarities of humans and chimps represent a genuine "problem?" He SEES the problem and even wrote a research paper about it. But he still doesn't accept common ancestry.

His paper is excerpted here:
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/09/creationist-admits-problem-chimpanzee.html

Oh, and since you asked about the chromosomal fusion and how creationists deal with it, I recall reading about a fairly well known I.D.ist on the web who argues that indeed the chromosomes fused but this fusion took place AFTER the first human beings were created. He says that in the beginning both humans and chimps had exactly the same chromosome numbers and lengths, but each species was created separately. That's his idea.

But if that's true then in the beginning the first humans and chimps were "created" so similarly genetically that they could EASILY have interbed. So how would a creationist using such an explanation define humans and chimps as only bringing forth "after their kind" when they could have easily interbed?

I don't know how such people sleep at night. Probably switch their brains completely off. I'm an ex-young-earth creationist myself by the way.

My story is located here:
http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/articles/yec.html

and told from a different perspective here:
http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/leaving_the_fold/babinski_agnosticism.html

elbogz said...

Crevo

Some of your statements do more to tear people away from a belief in God than anything any real scientist would say. Earlier in a comment you said

Geology is going more and more towards catastrophism (not to mention more and more geologists are YECs), ….snip…..

That is just not true. Not in the least. I ask you to take any student, that’s had at least one semester of college geology, and stand in a canyon in Utah, look at 200 million years of geology and ask,

“Ok, Where is the proof of the flood?’.

To quote Rudy Giuliani recent speech. Zero, Zilch, Nada.

Pick up a piece of Conglomerate, and ask, just exactly how was this rock formed? Go to a mountain in Nevada and look at 6000 feet of limestone, formed in an ocean by shells of ocean creatures, and say, just exactly how was that mountain formed? The fact of the matter is, there is no proof of the flood. There is no Noah’s ark. There is no possible solution to putting two of each animal on the ark and seeing the world we have today.

The problem is, churches preach the sermon about the flood geology. Children absorb it like little sponges. But then they walk outside, and look around and realize, that the church lied to them about rocks. If the church is going to lie about rocks, then what does that say about the things it says about God.

Charlie J. Ray said...

>>>Once we accept that the Bible does not necessarily contain accurate science, we are free to accept the conclusions of evolutionary science, regardless of whether or not they accord with the Genesis creation account. Using the analogy of human development in the womb (Psalm 139:13-14), Lamoureux presents evolution as just another natural process, ordained and sustained by God, by which the Lord achieves His good will and creates human life. In fact, Lamoureux sees evolution as the perfect creative process by which God both reveals Himself to us in the design reflected in that process (Deus Revelatus), and by which He hides Himself from us in the non-miraculous nature of that process (Deus Absconditus), thereby allowing us as His children the opportunity to truly exemplify our faith in Him. This was a key point that really struck a chord with me. After all, we wouldn't need faith if we could use science to prove God's handiwork in the world.<<<

While this is a convenient evasion of the issue of infallibilty and inerrancy of Scripture, it does not really address the problem. Of course the Bible is not a scientific account of creation nor does its historical accounts match modern methods of historiography. But that does not free us to evade the issues so conveniently. The problem is still there and raises even more questions.

Is the Bible mythological? Or is it meant to convey objective facts about reality? Is God merely an etiological myth meant to bring ontological questions down to an anthropomorphic level, or is there in reality a personal being who transcends human being and knowledge and the material existence of the universe itself?

I might also point out that early scientists like Newton were actually using their faith to do empirical science like astronomy and physics as well. Newton actually used God's creation as the starting premise for his work, not the other way around! Newton surmised that it is reasonable to conclude that God reveals himself in His creation and that it should therefore be trustworthy and uniform such that we may discover something about God from His creation. This is the impetus for Newton's discoveries in astronomy, physics, and the laws of motion and gravity!

I hardly think that faith and science can be so easily divorced in earlier times. The postmodern era seems to overlook the obvious here.

Jordan said...

Hello again, Charlie.

I appreciate your concerns, but I'm not sure that they follow from anything I've said. Neither Lamoureux nor I (nor any evolutionary creationists I know of) argue that the entire Bible is mythology. The opening chapters may be, in part, but I fail to see why this would prevent the audience from garnering "objective facts about reality". As Christians, we know there's more to reality than what we can experience with our five senses. The literary genre of mythology is therefore just as good as any other at conveying spiritual reality (Paul calls it "expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words", 1 Cor 2:13). To illustrate, Aesop's fable about the boy who cried wolf needn't be an historical account in order for us to learn that lying never pays. That's the beauty of biblical creation account -- it gets its point across regardless of whether we believe it to be historically accurate or not.

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that Newton's Christian faith is what motivated him to do good science. And Galileo. And Copernicus. These scientists (and many like them) serve as excellent reminders that we do not need to cower from scientific discovery in order to keep our faith intact.