I do not call God infinitely good because I see no evil in the world, but because all that I desire exists in him. No rational appetite can desire finite goods as finite, and so I am stuck desiring the infinite good in all that I do regardless of how much injustice I imagine in creation, and regardless of how well I recognize the real structure of my desires.

Last month I read a review of a television drama that was set in a concentration camp. The Jews debated among themselves about the existence of God, and in the face of one objection after another the  argument was finally  decisively won by those who claimed that evil made God’s existence impossible. Then, when they were all led off to the gas chamber, one asked “what do we do now?” and the answer was “We pray”. The answer was not absurdism or intellectual cowardice- it was the recognition in the face of death of the structure and order of the heart.

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31 Comments

  1. John Farrell said,

    January 29, 2009 at 10:15 am

    James, if I don’t know better, I’d say you posted this in response to this.

    Okay, not really. But it is apropos. How God’s goodness should be defined (i.e, not in moral terms) seems something that never occurs to new atheists.
    :)

    • January 29, 2009 at 12:26 pm

      It was strange to read that article. Each time I glance back at the evolution/theism debate I have a harder and harder time even understanding what the two have to do with each other. “Man came to be by chance!” So what? If I win the lottery, is this totally outside the order of providence? Has any serious Christian ever committed himself to the bizarre view “if by chance, not by providence?” If I met my wife randomly, can I pray in thanksgiving for it, or should I stop myself and say “oh wait, I met her by chance, I guess God had nothing to do with it…”

      Evolution doesn’t even show that nature has no intentional purposes! Any casino uses chance and random distributions to achieve its ends- and natures have a bit more ingenuity and complexity than a casino or a church bingo night. Nature uses random distributions all the time to achieve its ends- gene distributions, profusions of seeds, large litters, etc. So what if animal species come out by chance too? None of this requires that we deny purposive activity to nature- even in the generation of species.

      Evolution might destroy one version of biblical literalism, but I never once accepted this particular kind of literalism- did St. Augustine? I consider myself a biblical literalist (and I have the most extreme view possible of biblical inerrancy), even about Genesis 1-9, but I don’t take the literalism or inerrancy to require that I bungle the genre of literature I’m reading. It gets frustrating to see people waste so much effort on such a silly non-issue. Ugh.

      (end rant)

  2. John Farrell said,

    January 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Rant well spoken!

    (er, well ranted…)

  3. January 29, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    What theism has to do with evolution is that evolution imagines nature to have certain powers, namely, without any assistance to bring about the specified complexity found within biological systems. That assistance, in theological terms, would be called “grace.” So, those who deny ID deny that nature needed grace to effect various engineering improvements in the structure of creatures’ bodies, particularly on the level of molecular machines within cells. Now that does not mean that nature can on its own do nothing, but only that in various cases it apparently needed help, and untangling the works of nature from works of grace is one of the tasks of the ID research program. So, evolutionists are kind of Pelagians, in that they hold that nature is perfectly self-sufficient in this regard.

  4. January 30, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Dmitry,

    The evolution/ID debate is something biologists can argue amongst themselves. I don’t have the competence to deal with specialized biological turf wars. If some group of them wants to vociferously protest that God is not necessary to account for what they study, all I can do is shrug and wonder why they are talking about him at all. It’s not very helpful to meditate on something your science does not consider. Absence of theistic principles or conclusions wouldn’t even make biology that special. Geometry and thermodynamics don’t need principles or conclusions that mention God either. MIght God arise as a conclusion? Perhaps. The various scientists can figure that out amongst themselves.

    What I object to is when a biologist, either using dialectic or a few of the tools he’s gathered about natural theology, tries to make claims about natural theology. Usually, they only succeed in embarrassing themselves- most of the objections I see to natural theology are about as sophisticated as “if evolution happened, why are there monkeys?” or “If the earth is moving, why doesn’t the wall hit me when I jump?” Darwin’s only objection to God’s existence was the argument from evil- and one doesn’t need to know anything about biology to give the AFE. Russell’s teapot speaks to something profound, but I’m not sure if Russell intended the profundity he actually hit on. The eternal problem with natural theology is that people tend to think that anyone can just speak about it whenever he wants, without meditation, careful formation, practice, and some degree of natural aptitude. Is God easier to be played on than a pipe?

    As an outsider looking at the Ev/ID debate, I have to say I’m rooting for the evolutionists. I rather like the theory for reasons similar to why you dislike it. How can natural powers be insufficient to produce natural things? How is a result natural if it cannot come to be by nature? It’s an interesting question. None of these arguments I’m giving is biological, and they wouldn’t decide the issue. As a non-specialist, I have to go with the consensus, which is pretty clearly with evolution and not ID. Maybe a few hundred years from now one will win out, or both will disappear, or they both will be taken as different models. If you want my prediction, I think the sciences, as they advance, will be pushed to accept more and more models, each of which is incompatible withe the other, but each of which explains something about the data. Theology has been doing this for hundreds of years already (we need to use both abstract and concrete terms to speak of God, and we understand the soul by negation and analogy, etc) and it’s about time the other sciences caught up. If sciences continue, people will look back at our time and think “why did they all insist that there had to be one model! How stupid! They didn’t know anything about science!” One can already see the beginnings of this awareness in people- it’s really what “postmodern” means. The atheist-for-the-sake-of-science crowd is the dying gasp of the modern age. “There must be one system for everything!” Why? …They will return in some new form at some later point, of course, since the human mind has a strong pull towards monism and it tends to leap at it given the faintest justification.

    And as I point out every time I have a chance to, atheism can’t catch on because it has a hard time attracting women. The more likely postmodern challenge to Christianity and perennial wisdom will be a rehash of the old syncretist model as a tool to dissolve dogmas. This is what the Evangelicals are fast becoming, but they are just the canary in the mineshaft.

    So am I saying that man will always leap at single explanations even while he leaps at multiple ones? Yes. Both are natural desires in their own way. Man is ordered to an absolute unity which his mind naturally shatters into a multiplicity, and this is a difficult tension to deal with in our present state.

  5. January 30, 2009 at 5:31 am

    James,
    I’m new here. But I hope to visit more often.
    Your comment to Dmitry is in alignment with one I might write I think if I could put mine together so well and had the depth to your experience with scripture and philosophy. I have no problem with the science-side of evolution as it fits perfectly under God in my understanding of each. I don’t see a conflict. As you seem to say, I would be disappointed if it weren’t this way with the slow, ordered pace of evolution. There certainly are those undeniable laws for living a life we all know of them, as scripture reminds us everyone is subject to, just as there are those demanding laws of physics always under pressure and under our feet. If this Cosmos is 13 billion years in the making, I see God is very patient, and dedicated to His rich, deep, immense, beautiful science.

    But in addition, what I noticed was the difference between your comment to Dmitry and the rich, tiny post to which it is attached. The richness of its “way”. The post being the Art-filled, grace that flows through its compact form vs. the science of the more lengthy comment. This happens to me at my blog. I am first inspired and then set out to make a small bit of reflected beauty as precisely as I can. A reflection of what was “seen” with my best version of it. And then in the comments sometimes as it turns out, comes a much longer “study” on it with my eyes, as provoked by what others see in it with their eyes.

    I hope this comes out right….my point is that right here no less in your post and accompanying comment is an example of the Artist and the ape in one Man. By Artist I mean that part of Man that touches the surface of God, and by ape I mean no disrespect; he is the other harder one from the other ordered realm to which we must also attend or perish.
    Rick

  6. January 30, 2009 at 10:05 am

    If God arises as a conclusion, then this is of interest to natural theologians who try to, as you yourself put it, see God in nature. So, if you don’t have the competence to examine these questions for yourself, acquire it ASAP. Or do you expect doing “philosophy of nature” to be a trivial undertaking? I mean, look, theology is a last science, in that it presupposes familiarity with numerous other subjects. Nobody forces you to be a theologian, but if want to be one, you’d better study everything. You write: “How can natural powers be insufficient to produce natural things? How is a result natural if it cannot come to be by nature?” But if angels were created in grace, why not men? And if men’s souls, then why not men’s bodies? The computer I am writing on is a natural thing; but even a person who has never seen a computer will, upon examining it, surely declare that it must have been designed by an intelligence, that it is a product of art. And grace is precisely God’s art used to attain what nature cannot bring to a finish. The evidence of God’s art is inside us.

  7. January 30, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    arf?

  8. Brandon said,

    January 31, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    There’s a difference between studying everything and studying a specialized field; it’s entirely possible to study things without getting into finer or more controversial details, and with architectonic sciences and arts this will often be the case, because the sort of specificity you require for specialized matters will often just get in the way of understanding things at a higher level of generality. (There has to be consistency, of course, but that can be checked, and anyways, due to the limits of our knowledge in any field, is always checked, in bits and pieces.) What it would require is that each thing be examined at that level of generality useful for what you are doing (e.g., even as set up here the dispute between evolution and ID requires no particular knowledge of details of biology in particular because as set up here it is simply a general argument about natural causation, using some biological examples). Being a theologian doesn’t even literally require the study of everything; otherwise it would be impossible for human beings to be theologians. That the full field of theology requires knowledge of everything; but the full field of theology is simply God’s own knowledge. Theologians only get it parcelled out, participated, and that means they get it partwise and piecemeal. And there is no getting around that.

  9. January 31, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Both sides of the ID/Ev debate want to be seen as doing “science” as the term is presently accepted, which (in their context) means they want to be seen as doing biology. This is why I see the whole debate as an inner-biological turf war. So long as all sides are insisting “I am doing biology” I don’t see how my opinion is of any ultimate importance.

    Problems arise in that Biologists are seen fit to discourse on theological matters- and perhaps this is lady philosophy’s punishment for the times when theologians were seen as fit to discourse on topics that were proper to the consideration of natural science. Both yield the same sad and absurd result. The gods no doubt are rolling in laughter. One can imagine Dionysius and the wood sprites rolling on the ground at the latest crop of “science” atheists “I haven’t seen a sitcom this good since those guys who said the moon was covered in glass!”… but I digress. The upshot of no one respecting the rigor of theology, and everyone respecting the rigor of science is that when people want rigorous arguments for God’s existence they turn to physics or biology or thermodynamics, etc. Let ‘em go if they want to. They can see what the modern sciences will give them. In the meantime, theology still remain with all of its rigor, all of its certainty, all of its non-hypothetical knowledge, and a whole cache of proofs that work regardless of how the ID/Ev debate falls out.

  10. February 1, 2009 at 5:53 am

    And yes, some of the arguments that theology has are design arguments. The design arguments (as St. Thomas articulates them) work just fine regardless of whether living species came to exist by chance. St. Thomas, following Aristotle, never denied that many things arise by chance.

  11. Clare W. Parr said,

    February 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    “St. Thomas, following Aristotle, never denied that many things arise by chance.”

    Which opens the window of opportunity to ask a couple of questions, the answers to which have eluded [and tormented] me for years:

    First, what is the meaning of ‘chance?’

    Second, are the Aristotelean / Thomist understanding of the meaning of ‘chance’ and the Darwinian understanding of the meaning of ‘chance’ the same?

  12. February 7, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    The contemporary scientist would distinguish chance events from random ones, where chance events have equally probable outcomes and random ones do not. Dawkins speaks of both as, I think, as “when the outcome is not intended”.

    Darwin’s understanding of chance seems to be something like “a by-product of the struggle for existence”. Here again, chance refers to an unintended outcome of an activity.

    Aristotle’s idea of chance, adopted by St. Thomas, includes these senses but has access to a few more important distinctions. They first distinguish outcomes that happen for the most part and those that do not. They next divide luck, which is something belonging to rational agents, from chance, which belongs to non-rational ones (the two have different causes, it turns out). St. Thomas makes a further distinction between which agent you compare the outcome to, since multiple agents and causes can be involved in any process, and what respect you consider the effect. An effect might be outside the intention of one and not of another, or outside the intention in one respect, and not in another.

    All sides agree that “chance” means somehow “outside the intention of something” or “arising without a pre-present order to the effect”. All sides agree that chance is a real source of the existence of things, and is therefore a cause. Aristotle even articulates something like a theory of evolution, but he denies that it can be a cause of nature where nature is understood as a cause of operation in the X it is in, as X, Read book II of Aristotle’s Physics.

  13. Clare said,

    February 8, 2009 at 12:26 am

    The contemporary scientist often very carelessly conflates randomness and chance, Dawkins being a particularly egregious example of such carelessness. Having said that, it seems right that Darwin and his descendants use the words ‘random’ and ‘chance’ synonymously, meaning uncaused.

    It seems to me that the Aristotelean / Thomist meaning of chance _presupposes_ a first cause, or intention.

    I just can’t believe that Aristotle and St. Thomas would be persuaded by Darwin’s metanarrative….

    Thank you for taking the time to answer.

  14. February 8, 2009 at 3:07 am

    Confusing randomness and chance is dangerous, but both are more or less equal in speaking to the question of whether the outcome is from intention.

    You’re right that the Aristotle-St. Thomas account of chance is made with reference to intention, but I think that this is simply because they recognize what “cause” means. One cannot have an adequate account of what cause is, or even meaningfully distinguish causality from correlation or any old way of “coming after” something else, without recognizing something that determines a cause to an effect even before the effect arises. This requires some pre-existence of an end or goal in order to have causality at all.

    The difficulties with recognizing that the end is the first of all causes are well-known: the chief being that it posits causality prior to existence. Nothing is odd about this if we place mind prior to natural existence. If we deny such a mind then causality becomes a contradiction. That’s expensive.

  15. John Farrell said,

    February 8, 2009 at 3:22 am

    it seems right that Darwin and his descendants use the words ‘random’ and ‘chance’ synonymously, meaning uncaused.

    This is not true. A biologist might interchange either word, but with the understanding that it means ‘unpredictable’ or ‘uncorrelated.’ That is certainly not the same thing as ‘uncaused.’

    • February 8, 2009 at 3:56 am

      John,

      That’s another important distinction which Aristotle didn’t get to. Clare might have been thinking about the popular, non-expert accounts the science myth- which confuses “not positing a necessary cause” with knowing that a cause need not be posited.

  16. February 8, 2009 at 3:37 am

    I think that Aristotle and St. Thomas would love Darwin’s account! They wouldn’t care for all the silliness that arises around it (some of which, admittedly, Darwin is himself responsible for) but it’s easy to forget what an elegant, powerful, wide reaching and simple theory it was. The crucial thing to notice is that Darwinian selection occurs only after St. Thomas’s discussion of about mind in nature is already over and solved. St. Thomas’s notion of design works just fine regardless of whether one accepts evolution or denies it. Darwinianism neither confirms nor denies what St. Thomas says about teleology. This is not to say that one cannot object to what Thomas is saying, but that they have to object using an appropriate science. Neither does it mean that biologists are unable to discuss among themselves how far they should admit design, if at all.

    Design in St. Thomas’s sense does not mean that there is some vast hopper full of animal parts and God needs to come in to assemble them; nor does it mean that every new species has to come to be ex nihilo. Even when something is created ex nihilo it does not follow that this needs to be revealed by natural science- the human soul is created ex nihilo but we do not learn this by noticing some defect in the gene sequence or some flash of light in embryology. Natural things do not require divine causality because they are deficient in the natural order, but because the natural order-complete in itself- is a deficient mode of complete existence.

  17. Clare W. Parr said,

    February 8, 2009 at 4:20 am

    “Confusing randomness and chance is dangerous, but both are more or less equal in speaking to the question of whether the outcome is from intention.”

    Well, isn’t randomness distinct from chance in the sense that randomness is _unintentional_ – blind, aimless, meandering? IOW, in the case of Darwinian evolution, random variation / mutation just happens. Cardinal Schoenborn succinctly explains:

    <> [T]he role of randomness in Darwinian biology is quite different from its role in thermodynamics, quantum theory, and other natural sciences. In those sciences randomness captures our inability to predict or know the precise behavior of the parts of a system (or perhaps, in the case of the quantum world, some intrinsic properties of the system). But in all such cases the “random” behavior of parts is embedded in and constrained by a deeply mathematical and precise conceptual structure of the whole that makes the overall behavior of the system orderly and intelligible.

    The randomness of neo-Darwinian biology is nothing like that. It is simply random. The variation through genetic mutation is random. And natural selection is also random: The properties of the ever-changing environment that drive evolution through natural selection are also not correlated to anything, according to the Darwinists. Yet out of all that unconstrained, unintelligible mess emerges, deus ex machina, the precisely ordered and extraordinarily intelligible world of living organisms. And this is the heart of the neo-Darwinian science of biology. <>

    I agree that causality demands an end, but that’s, again, antithetical to the Darwinian scheme, and that’s the crux of my conundrum. How can Darwinian evolution be true to reality on the one hand, and plainly defy metaphysical, philosophical, and scientific axioms / laws on the other? And how can it be said that Aristotle and St. Thomas would agree that many things arise by _Darwinian_ chance, if my understanding of Darwinian ‘chance’ is correct?

    I want to thank you very much for your civil, thoughtful replies.

    Mr, Farrell: I own and enjoyed reading your _Day Without Yesterday_!

  18. John Farrell said,

    February 8, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Clare, thanks so much for your kind comments! (and for reading the book)
    That said, I have to say Cardinal Schonborn is flatly wrong. He never gives one example of his sweeping statement you quoted (meaning referencing work or statements or claims by working scientists –not armchair blowhards like Dawkins), and I can think of dozens of scientists who would deny his assertion.

    Take genetic drift, for just one example.

    Suppose your boss asks you to take a 150 page manuscript to the copy center and make 11 sets of copies.

    No matter how good the machine is, you’re going to get some copying errors. Randomly. Either a blank page that failed to copy at all, or point where a page simply failed to load. The mutations in genes that molecular biologists study work the same way. As accurate as DNA copying can be, you are going to get mutations based on copying errors (and other factors). But they are random in the same sense. Unpredictable. Not blindly uncaused as the Cardinal unfortunately claims.

    Please don’t rely on him –with all due respect–for an assessment of evolution. He simply doesn’t understand the science. I appreciate his pastoral concern that self-serving accounts of evolution by atheists with an axe to grind can mislead people, but it’s worrisome when a bishop of the church says something that a moment’s consultation with any biologist will be demonstrably contradicted. The Cardinal to me seems to be arguing that at the molecular level, biology is fundamentally unintelligible, which is nonsense.

    Best,
    JF

  19. Clare W. Parr said,

    February 8, 2009 at 5:18 am

    “I think that Aristotle and St. Thomas would love Darwin’s account! They wouldn’t care for all the silliness that arises around it (some of which, admittedly, Darwin is himself responsible for) but it’s easy to forget what an elegant, powerful, wide reaching and simple theory it was. The crucial thing to notice is that Darwinian selection occurs only after St. Thomas’s discussion of about mind in nature is already over and solved. St. Thomas’s notion of design works just fine regardless of whether one accepts evolution or denies it.”

    But then the evolution one accepts is not Darwinian! And unlike St. Thomas’s design, Darwinian evolution _assumes_ mindLESS evolution of the very raw materials [i.e., self-replication, DNA / genetic information, its cellular "house," etc.] that any selection is contingent upon, and can’t even explain how the “mechanisms” [asexual / sexual reproduction] by which the information is transmitted mindLESSly “evolved.”

    “Design in St. Thomas’s sense does not mean that there is some vast hopper full of animal parts and God needs to come in to assemble them; nor does it mean that every new species has to come to be ex nihilo.”

    I’ve never imagined that it does. Neither have I ever imagined that some vast hopper full of animal parts just “emerged” from the void, having been “created” by a simple little physical algorithm that “created” itself….

    “Even when something is created ex nihilo it does not follow that this needs to be revealed by natural science- the human soul is created ex nihilo but we do not learn this by noticing some defect in the gene sequence or some flash of light in embryology.”

    Whether or not biological life, form /essence, etc., was created ex nihilo, it doesn’t follow that natural science needs to adamantly DENY design, reduce teleology to teleonomy, mind to brain, free will to illusion, etc.

    “Natural things do not require divine causality because they are deficient in the natural order, but because the natural order-complete in itself- is a deficient mode of complete existence.”

    I don’t understand the contention that the natural order is a deficient mode of complete existence. Contingent [in the Thomist sense of the word], yes – but deficient? Why so?

  20. February 8, 2009 at 6:22 am

    Clare,

    I used the examples just to make things clear, not because I thought your opinion led to the example.

    Darwin’s theory was a thing of beauty. I say “was” because no one I know accepts it as he laid it down. According to Darwin, animals reproduced exponentially, food supply reproduced far less so (he used Malthus’s numbers) so there were a whole army of animals competing for food supply. Those who were better competitors lived to breed another day, and since offspring are like their parents, those traits survived.

    So where did all this atheist nonsense come in? I think it came from two factors which are quite distinct from the biological theory:

    1.) Darwin stopped believing in God for a reason that had nothing to do with his theory: the existence of evil in the world. Since he was a biologist, he used some biological examples, like the fippiger wasp or the mating habits of the praying mantis. He may have also appealed to the mass die-offs that were involved in his theory, which seem wasteful and unplanned. But Darwin wasn’t doing biology when he did this: he was trying to do theology using biological examples. The answer to Darwin’s objections is not given in Biology.

    2.) Darwin wrote during the high-water mark of the modern period, where the desire for universal systems of everything were in vogue. Evolution became an embarrassing “theory of everything” as opposed to being a very elegant and simple account for the dominance of certain traits in animals. This “theory of everything” nonsense is now in its death throes- no actual scientist or philosopher takes this theory of everything stuff seriously- though this was not the case except till very recently. As recently as the 1950’s there were reputable psychiatrists claiming that psychiatry would solve everything, reputable philosophers who thought there was a single method for all knowledge, etc. Scientists will still use claims about God to sell books (both pro and con) but this idea that we can have a single method for everything is a book selling myth for vulgar second rate thinkers. They cause damage, to be sure, but the real challenge of our time does not come from them.

    OOPS! I haven’t addressed your points yet, so:

    If the Darwinian tries to argue from the fact that he does not consider mind in nature to the necessity of denying mind in nature, I can only shrug. All he is telling me is that his field does not need to posit mind to explain what he finds in nature. Very well, but there are other things to find- some of which are prior to biology and presupposed to it.

    You are right that natural science does not need to deny design. They can’t deny anything that is studied outside their science. They cannot affirm it either.

    As to when I said “Natural things do not require divine causality because they are deficient in the natural order, but because the natural order-complete in itself- is a deficient mode of complete existence.”

    Nature is like a forwarded e-mail. As soon as you see a forward, you know that it traces back to an e-mail of a different kind- to a higher sort of cause. But you don’t determine this because there is something deficient in the message, or because the message is incomplete- with missing words or sentences, say.

  21. Clare W. Parr said,

    February 8, 2009 at 7:16 am

    James Chastek wrote: “That’s another important distinction which Aristotle didn’t get to. Clare might have been thinking about the popular, non-expert accounts the science myth- which confuses “not positing a necessary cause” with knowing that a cause need not be posited.”

    Fair enough, but that doesn’t explain how randomness, which is the linchpin of Darwin’s theory, can be a necessary cause.

    John Farrell wrote: “Clare, thanks so much for your kind comments! (and for reading the book)”

    Welcome. You earned the kind comments.

    “That said, I have to say Cardinal Schonborn is flatly wrong. He never gives one example of his sweeping statement you quoted (meaning referencing work or statements or claims by working scientists –not armchair blowhards like Dawkins), and I can think of dozens of scientists who would deny his assertion.”

    In fact, Schoenborn did cite one working scientist’s sweeping statement to underpin his argument: Will Provine. And I can cite dozens more – biologists who are self-described Christians, agnostics, and atheists – who echo Provine’s statement. Having said that, it seems to me that you’ve ignored the Cardinal’s _argument_ and instead made an – irrelevant – appeal to authority….

    “Take genetic drift, for just one example.”

    Which is another utterly random mechanism [and which has always struck me as analogous to a Ptolemaic epicycle].

    “Suppose your boss asks you to take a 150 page manuscript to the copy center and make 11 sets of copies.”

    “No matter how good the machine is, you’re going to get some copying errors. Randomly. Either a blank page that failed to copy at all, or point where a page simply failed to load. The mutations in genes that molecular biologists study work the same way. As accurate as DNA copying can be, you are going to get mutations based on copying errors (and other factors). But they are random in the same sense. Unpredictable. Not blindly uncaused as the Cardinal unfortunately claims.”

    In the first place, the copy machine analogy fails. The copy machine’s errors can be quite easily explained because the causes are intelligible, the _machine_ being designed….

    In the second, the Cardinal isn’t describing how gene mutation works, he’s outlining the Darwinian explanation that prescribes uncaused, blind genetic variation and mutation.

    In the third, the Cardinal’s point:

    <> If the Darwinian biologist takes a very narrow view of the supposedly random variation that meets his gaze, it may well be impossible to correlate it to anything interesting, and thus variation remains simply unintelligible. He then summarizes his ignorance of any pattern in variation by means of the rather respectable term “random.” But if he steps back and looks at the sweep of life, he sees an obvious, indeed an overwhelming pattern. The variation that actually occurred in the history of life was exactly the sort needed to bring about the complete set of plants and animals that exist today. In particular, it was exactly the variation needed to give rise to an upward sweep of evolution resulting in human beings. If that is not a powerful and relevant correlation, then I don’t know what could count as evidence against actual randomness in the mind of an observer. … He is free to define his special science on terms as narrow as he finds useful for gaining a certain kind of knowledge. But he may not then turn around and demand that the rest of us, unrestricted by his methodological self-limitation, ignore obvious truths about reality, such as the clearly teleological nature of evolution. <>

    “Please don’t rely on him –with all due respect–for an assessment of evolution. He simply doesn’t understand the science. I appreciate his pastoral concern that self-serving accounts of evolution by atheists with an axe to grind can mislead people, but it’s worrisome when a bishop of the church says something that a moment’s consultation with any biologist will be demonstrably contradicted. The Cardinal to me seems to be arguing that at the molecular level, biology is fundamentally unintelligible, which is nonsense.”

    Having read the Cardinal’s relevant books, catecheses, etc., it seems to me that 1] he understands the science, 2] that he cannot be demonstrably contradicted by a biologist because there are many more biologists who would contradict the biologist who contradicts the Cardinal than there are biologists who will contradict the Cardinal. What the Cardinal argues is that Darwinian randomness isn’t merely an unsolved mystery, it’s the fuel that powers evolution – and that fuel _must_ be random because Darwinian evolution is a pure physical phenomenon untainted by the Divine Mind – and that is a metaphysical, not a methodological, claim. The Cardinal’s argument seems to you worrisome, but to me it seems, worrisomely, that Darwinian biologists argue that biology is fundamentally unintelligible!

  22. John Farrell said,

    February 8, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Clare, I appreciate the response. The copy machine analogy is fine because you don’t need to assume it was designed (as James points out) in order to make sense of the copying errors.

    Neither do you need to assume “design” in the Paley sense, in order to make sense of genetic drift. It is only random –stochastic is the actual word Prof. Larry Moran uses, for just one example (U. Toronto) –in that you cannot predict when it will happen, but that doesn’t mean after the fact we can’t assign a perfectly sensible and real cause to it’s occurrence. Cardinal Schonborn denies that scientists do this–and thinks they believe drift etc is metaphysically uncaused, which is nonsense.

    No one could predict the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and changed the landscape for mammals to take advantage of. But it was a chance event in the same way genetic drift is.

    BTW–what exactly did Provine say? You didn’t reference his quote, and I have a feeling the Cardinal was referring to the man’s philosophical bias, not his operational statements about the field of evolutionary biology.

    He’s infamous for denying the existence of free will. But that is not the same thing as claiming that evolutionary biology assumes a metaphysical notion of randomness as uncaused.

    I think what seems to bother you is that scientists don’t need to bother with Final Causes in order to study the natural order. They content themselves with efficient causes and build from there.

  23. John Farrell said,

    February 8, 2009 at 9:14 am

    BTW,
    Fair enough, but that doesn’t explain how randomness, which is the linchpin of Darwin’s theory, can be a necessary cause.

    In fairness to James, randomness was never the linchpin of Darwin’s original theory. It was natural selection. Darwin knew next to nothing about how variation occurred (ironically, too, as Father Mendel was working this out with full appreciation of what it would mean for Darwin’s theory). His major contribution was natural selection.

    There are whole schools of scientists with their own biases about which is more important to modern evolutionary biology. Larry Moran, for example, thinks NS is important, but that factors like drift, recombination, are as important.

    Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, thinks NS is the be-all and end-all of Darwin.

  24. February 8, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    What’s wrong with randomness anyway? Assume that in a perfect, complete biology, human beings arose by sheer chance, along with all other natural species, and the “broader sweep of things” reveals nothing. So what? Are chance events now somehow outside of providence? If I flip a coin, or play bingo have I leapt outside the order of providence?

    Even if the first man arose by chance, it doesn’t follow that “what a man is” is a chance thing. If letters fall on the ground and spell randomly spell CAT, they spell the same word CAT that I just spelled intentionally. Likewise, a man that arose by chance is just as much a rational animal, called to virtue and holiness as much as a man who comes about in any other way.

  25. February 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Exactly, James. I think Tomberg put it well, “We do not walk because we have a legs, we have legs because we have a will to walk.”

    The coin toss is a good analogy. There are conditions on the coin’s apparent random results. It’s under dual control too, as Polanyi says. But the coin, just like the legs have a condition or system-space in which they may operate. The system-space for “legness” to evolve into must exist prior to legs, or legs will never work.

  26. Clare W. Parr said,

    February 8, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    John Farrell wrote:

    “Clare, I appreciate the response. The copy machine analogy is fine because you don’t need to assume it was designed (as James points out) in order to make sense of the copying errors.”

    A person wouldn’t try to understand why a pile of junk at the friendly local salvage yard isn’t functional – doesn’t “work.” That same person, noticing a copy machine among the piles of junk at the friendly local salvage yard, may quite reasonably decide to determine why the machine doesn’t work because he knows that the copy machine is designed, i.e., the machine is the creation of an intelligent, creative agent that reflects his intention, that, being designed, can be “reverse engineered” and possibly repaired.

    Even Dawkins has forthrightly acknowledged that

    The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool.

    However, Dawkins explains,

    All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.

    Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.

    How, exactly, does assuming that DNA copying errors are random make sense of anything?

    “Neither do you need to assume “design” in the Paley sense, in order to make sense of genetic drift.”

    I’ve never imagined that I would need to assume Paleyan design, or Aristotelean, or Thomist design, to make sense of genetic drift.

    It seems to me that there is no making sense of genetic drift. The frequency of a particular allele at a particular gene locus that a population harbors “drifts” at random, which is much like stating that a man who’s eating his supper is alive….

    “It is only random –stochastic is the actual word Prof. Larry Moran uses, for just one example (U. Toronto) –in that you cannot predict when it will happen, but that doesn’t mean after the fact we can’t assign a perfectly sensible and real cause to it’s occurrence. Cardinal Schonborn denies that scientists do this–and thinks they believe drift etc is metaphysically uncaused, which is nonsense.”

    Alrighty. Then what, exactly, is the perfectly sensible and real cause of genetic drift?

    “No one could predict the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and changed the landscape for mammals to take advantage of. But it was a chance event in the same way genetic drift is.”

    That’s the Cardinal’s [and my] point.

    “BTW–what exactly did Provine say? You didn’t reference his quote, and I have a feeling the Cardinal was referring to the man’s philosophical bias, not his operational statements about the field of evolutionary biology.”

    Cardinal Schoenborn:

    Many of those assertions are in textbooks and scientific journals, not just in popular writings. I will leave it to others to compile a complete account of such quotations. I made a small contribution of three quotations in my recent catechesis on creation and evolution in the cathedral church of St. Stephen’s in Vienna. Here is one of those three examples, a quotation from the American scientist Will Provine: ‘Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with deterministic principles or chance. There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces rationally detectable.’

    The Cardinal then writes that it can be argued that such ‘theological’ claims are separable from a more modest science of neo-Darwinism. I agree that there is a difference between a modest science of Darwinism and the broader metaphysical claims frequently made on its behalf. But which of those two is more properly called ‘neo-Darwinism’ in an unqualified way, as I did in my essay?

    FWIW, the three examples the Cardinal cited in his 2005 catechesis:

    In 1959, Sir Julian Huxley gave a speech at the centennial celebration of the publication of the famous work: “In the Evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created, it evolved. So did all animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion. Evolutionary man can no longer take refuge from his loneliness in the arms of a divinized father figure-”

    Thirty years later, in 1988, the American writer Will Provine wrote in an essay about evolution and ethics: “Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with deterministic principles or chance. There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable.”

    3) Four years later, the Oxford chemistry professor Peter Atkins wrote: “Humanity should accept that science has eliminated the justification for believing in cosmic purpose, and that any survival of purpose is inspired solely by sentiment.”

    “I think what seems to bother you is that scientists don’t need to bother with Final Causes in order to study the natural order. They content themselves with efficient causes and build from there.”

    Well, that scientists don’t need to bother with Final Causes doesn’t bother me at all. That Darwinian scientists don’t content themselves with efficient causes does bother me, and so does Darwinian logic / explanatory vacuity, etc.

    “In fairness to James,

    I’ve been unfair to James?

    “randomness was never the linchpin of Darwin’s original theory. It was natural selection.”

    It seems to me that it is the aimless, blind, random genetic variation / mutations that are the teeth, natural selection being the pawl, of “Darwin’s ratchet.” No teeth [no aimless, blind, random genetic variation / mutations], and the pawl [natural selection] is utterly powerless.

  27. Clare W. Parr said,

    February 8, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    James Chastek wrote:

    “What’s wrong with randomness anyway? Assume that in a perfect, complete biology, human beings arose by sheer chance, along with all other natural species, and the “broader sweep of things” reveals nothing. So what? Are chance events now somehow outside of providence? If I flip a coin, or play bingo have I leapt outside the order of providence?”

    It seems to me that making an analogy between human beings having come to be by sheer chance and the “chance” [more accurately] probability a coin-flip or a bingo game entails is absurd.

    “Even if the first man arose by chance, it doesn’t follow that “what a man is” is a chance thing. If letters fall on the ground and spell randomly spell CAT, they spell the same word CAT that I just spelled intentionally. Likewise, a man that arose by chance is just as much a rational animal, called to virtue and holiness as much as a man who comes about in any other way.”

    If a person standing next to you closed his eyes, reached in a container full of letters, removed three of those letters at random and dropped them to the floor, and those letters spelled CAT, then he turned to you, pointed at the word and declared, “That word, CAT, is made in the image and likeness of God!”, you’d surely think that person more than a few bubbles off plumb. The question isn’t whether man is a rational animal called to virtue and holiness if he’s a creature that came to be by blind chance, just as he would be had he been God’s intention, but whether it’s even possible that a rational animal called to virtue and holiness could come to be by blind chance and then whether such a creature is actually, truly rational and actually, truly called to virtue and holiness. [See, for instance, Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), chap. 7; or Knowledge of God (Blackwell, 2008).]

    Thank you and John for having been so pleasant.

  28. John Farrell said,

    February 9, 2009 at 8:14 am

    It’s been an enjoyable discussion, Clare! And I appreciate your graciousness.

    I also appreciate your concern about the bad philosophizing of Dawkins. He clearly wants to conflate efficient causality with final causality in that quote from Blind Watchmaker. But… that doesn’t mean biologists operate on the working assumption that genetic variation is metaphysically uncaused as Cardinal Schonborn does.

    Here’s Larry Moran:
    “Before continuing, we have to address another semantic issue. Philosophers will argue that there is no such thing as chance, randomness, and accident. They will point out, quite correctly, that almost everything has a cause. For example, if the allele for O-type blood became fixed in some native North American populations by random genetic drift—as it did—then this is not really a “random” event. Each and every step in the process had a cause even though it may have been as subtle as a tribe that had a favorable corn crop or a single tuberculosis bacterium that killed off a small child. The net result of millions of caused events was that the A and B alleles were eliminated from the population and everyone has O-type blood.

    “The point about every event having an ultimate cause is true. Taken to its logical conclusion, this is the line of argument that leads to the denial of free will and the triumph of determinism. While it’s fun to argue these points over a few beers—and I don’t deny that I’ve engaged in those arguments—it doesn’t really impinge on the real world that we are dealing with here. After all, if we are going to deny that anything is random then we have to stop talking about the outcomes of coin flips and the spin of the roulette wheel. But that would be silly. We all know what we mean when we talk about chance events or accidents. We mean that such events are not predictable by any means at our disposal. We are contrasting such events with those, such as natural selection, that have an obvious cause and a (mostly) predictable outcome.”

    BTW–here’s a nice article on Chance from a theistic perspective that you may also enjoy:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/chance/chance-theistic.html

    Best regards.

  29. John Farrell said,

    February 9, 2009 at 8:58 am

    By the way, this was well said:
    That Darwinian scientists don’t content themselves with efficient causes does bother me…

    Bothers me too.

    Cheers.


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