Naturalistic Evolution: Underdetermined By the Evidence

Reading the NAS book on Science, Evolution, and Creationism, I was struck by the fact that naturalistic evolution is underdetermined by the evidence. That is, one cannot validly conclude, just from evidence in nature, that everything can be explained only and exclusively in terms of natural causes and effects. There is always a background perspective.

How, for example, does one treat the incomplete fossil record? Do we see Tiktaalik (discovered in 2004 in northern Canada, with features combining those of fish and of four-legged animals) as a strong confirmation that land animals evolved out of the sea? Or do we ask why, of all the millions of transitional forms there must have been over the eons, so terribly few have been found? If transitional forms are like rafts for a swimmer across a sea, do we pay more attention to the few rafts or the long water?

But for science, only one perspective is allowed in the debate. As the book said,

In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and trying to write on it for a long time today, and I’ve just recognized I’m not going to do any better this time than I did in previous postings on this. So I’m re-publishing something I first wrote in December 2005, with some edits and updates. As we’ll see, the NAS’s naturalistic position can only lead to one conclusion, but it’s a position (and therefore a conclusion) that precedes the evidence rather than following from the evidence.

To put it another way: how we interpret the evidences of natural history is inevitably colored by the presuppositions we bring in to the question with us. The NAS position is functionally one of ontological materialism (also known as philosophical materialism, or philosophical naturalism). It does not go so far as saying there is nothing but natural phenomena, but it only admits natural phenomena into discussion. But this is not a position that flows out of science or out of the evidence; it is a position by which one interprets science.

Everybody starts with some opinion on these philosophical and theological issues. The following chart shows how different initial viewpoints will color one’s interpretations. It is not intended to cover all options exhaustively. It’s focused on the major players in the debate. I’ve left out the impersonal pantheistic and polytheistic views of deity, which don’t seem to be involved in the discussion. Pantheists (or panentheists) of the New Age variety typically land in the Neo-Darwinian camp anyway, and other eastern religions do not seem to propose creation stories with any real attempt at credibility. I’m not qualified to speak on their views, at any rate, nor am I qualified to speak on the Muslim form of theism. Panspermia is not included here because it seems to be another version of the ontological materialist view, and this is more about the development of life than its initial origins on earth anyway.

Also, I’m not suggesting that every contributor to this discussion does or should approach it this way. There are Darwin skeptics who haven’t done much metaphysical work, at least not publicly; they’re primarily concerned about empirical (scientific) problems they see in evolutionism. This chart is designed to fit only those who approach it from a particular perspective, and that within limits.

And a final disclaimer: because it is not exhaustive, this chart only works from top to bottom, not in reverse. A philosopher like Antony Flew can accept Intelligent Design and yet have problems with Biblical revelation.

(Update February 2014: My chart should account for the partial overlap that exists between ID theorists and Young-Earth Creationists. I’ll leave the chart as is, with this note as a correction.)

Chart on Approaches to Origins

Much of the debate on ID centers on whether it’s credible even to consider the possibility that the development of life has been purposefully guided. That’s where this chart begins. Those who say “no” are ontological materialists/naturalists: they are convinced that nothing at the ground of existence (ontology) has purpose or can act as a guiding agent; all there is, is matter and energy and their interactions. The only option on the table for materialists is neo-Darwinism and/or its intellectual descendants.

Belief in purposeful guidance, on the other hand, is typically tied to belief in a personal God. God’s guidance may conceivably have been entirely contained in “seed” form from the moment of creation, such that God has not intervened since then. This is a generally deistic view, which leads also to something like a neo-Darwinian conclusion, though its assumptions may not be as strictly materialistic as those of many neo-Darwinians.

Among those (including myself) who believe in a personal God who intervenes (the theistic view), some are young-earth creationists who view Genesis 1 as being literally true. Others view Genesis 1 as not being literally true in that sense; most of these hold what I call the figurative/literal view. It’s possible to believe that the Bible is literally true according to the authors’ original intent, and that Moses, the author (under the Spirit’s inspiration) intended the creation story to be viewed in a poetic, figurative sense. There’s no need to discuss that at length; the point is that it’s possible to believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible and yet not believe in a literal 6-day creation.

Thus there are those who believe in a personal God who may have intervened in the development of life since creation, and who do not ascribe to the young-earth view. This group may further divide into two sub-groups, based on their theology or their view of the evidences. The determining question at this stage is whether God’s intervention was hidden or discoverable. Theistic evolution believes God was present and involved in the development of life, but his work was hidden, perhaps even tucked away on a quantum level, so that we will not discover his intervention through empirical means. The final group is that of Intelligent Design theism, those who believe that God’s intervention left traces that scientists can discern today. (Remember where this flow chart begins and how it progresses. It leads to a theistic version of Intelligent Design, but that does not mean that all ID is theistic. ID research that sticks with empirical evidences in nature leads toward intelligence as a conclusion, not toward God. To move to God from ID is to move from science into philosophy and theology. That’s a legitimate move to make, as long as one has recognized the shift in methods and disciplines employed.)

The first octagonal box on the chart points out that neo-Darwinism and theistic evolution are empirically indistinguishable. There is no science that can discern between God being absent or having just hidden his interventions. This contributes to answering whether evolution science and religion are necessarily incompatible. They are not, if this box represents any possible reality. Neither can disprove the other, so neither need view the other as enemy. It also demonstrates that atheistic evolutionists like Dawkins, Dennett, Wilson, etc. have not arrived at their dogmatic atheism through evolutionary science (as they claim) but through other prejudices. Their position is not determined by the evidences.

The second octagonal box asks whether there is any theological need to choose between ID and a form of theistic evolutionism.* The question mark is there for a reason. Our friend and former commenter here Mike S. has said there is nothing unbiblical at all in theistic evolution. Young-earth creationists strenuously object. For me, this is a matter that requires more work, yet for now I lean toward a figurative-literal interpretation of Genesis 1, after the hermeneutic suggested by Lee Irons, and an old-earth version of Intelligent Design with God as creator. But it may be that for theists the only way in the end to choose between theistic evolution and ID will be the empirical method.

Interesting, isn’t it, that empirical methods are more determinative for theists than for naturalists! We do not have all our answers pre-determined regardless of evidences; but a strong case could be made that naturalists do.

*There is a version of “theistic evolution” that amounts to Darwinism with God sprinkled on top. Kenneth Miller’s views fit that category, when he says that if the whole thing were rewound and the play button were hit again from the beginning, there’s not much chance we would have ended up with humans the next time around. Here I’m thinking instead of something that is more on the theoretic lines of a process that was definitely directed by God while retaining some aspects of process such as evolutionary theory describes.

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Comments

  1. econ grad stud

    I question whether theistic evolution and intelligent design are more like opposing ends of a spectrum.

    We see in the Bible that God works through intermediaries. He uses Angels, Evil Empires, prostitutes, and many other tools to accomplish his purpose.

    This gives the superficial appearance of a hidden God. It also leaves us open to which events we ascribe to God’s providence and what we ascribe to miracle.

    I suspect that in theistic evolution we see biological history entirely ascribed to providence and in intelligent design we see it ascribed to providence and miracles.

    Given a certain view on determinism I could see a type of Christian deism that affirmed all miracles but ascribed them to natural causes predetermined by God at creation.

  2. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    I’m seeing a pattern here.

    Or do we ask why, of all the millions of transitional forms there must have been over the eons, so terribly few have been found?

    Fossilization is extremely rare. A tiny fraction of all beings get fossilized and a fraction of those get preserved through geologic changes. So the answer to your question is well understood by biologists.

    The pattern here is a lack of scientific understanding. It’s not what I expected when I first arrived at this blog. I expected the differences to be primarily philosophical.

    Here’s another example. We’ve talked about co-optation before, but I must conclude that you and other theists who support Behe have failed to understand the concept and its implications. When I explained it way back, I got the virtual equivalent of blank looks.

    Behe would be right if evolution was unidirectional and one-dimensional. If evolution were that way, then you would need multiple simultaneous mutations for evolution to proceed. However, Behe is flat wrong about this. Evolution borrows from one utility and uses it for other things. As soon as you see this, you see that Behe’s strong argument for why evolution cannot work becomes a strong argument for why evolution can’t work one-dimensionally. And the evidence shows (indeed, common sense shows) that evolution is not one-dimensional. Look at it this way. What if humans were not allowed to borrow ideas from other goals when solving a problem? What inventions would not exist? The classic example in my mind is the cat’s eye. But it’s likely that most of our creative ideas don’t spring from nowhere, but are borrowed from other domains of problem solving. Fans were not invented to cool computers. The compass was not invented for navigation. Minoxidil was developed as a treatment for hypertension, but is now used to cure baldness instead. This is what is meant by co-optation.

    We have also discussed genetic algorithms. You say you’re not qualified to answer questions about GA’s, and prefer to toe the DI line. Well, GA’s are not that hard to understand. If you can build a web site, you can understand GA’s. I encourage you to read more on the topic and perhaps download a toolkit so you can experiment with them. GA’s really do invent things, and they do so in much the same way we do. When I dream up a solution, I pull components from what has worked in the past, throw in random ones, and simulate or experiment with potential solutions. I then keep the solutions that are most successful, while reserving the option to go back and work with another line of solution.

    We also talked about intentionality, and how neural networks can learn and generalize. Again, this isn’t that hard a topic to understand. It doesn’t require any heavy mathematics to see it work. Numenta.com as a software development toolkit you can download and play with. You don’t have to take my word for this. If you think the question is important and relevant, why not check the facts for yourself?

    Given all these easily verifiable facts (not philosophical claims!), it’s impossible to hold many of the views that you have supported on this blog regarding minds and ID. With a bit more study, you would appreciate that Behe is deceiving people, and deserves the scorn he has received from the scientific community. You would appreciate know that computers can learn and invent for themselves, and that arguments about intentionality are gap arguments (and very likely false ones).

  3. Jake

    Tom,

    I have enjoyed your thoughtful posts for many months now, and I finally feel compelled to contribute to the discussion. First, I commend you on the excellent chart. I think you have captured the essence of the different philosophical viewpoints on life’s development very well. I agree that NDE and theistic evolution are empirically indistinguishable, but I would also argue that intelligent design is ultimately indistinguishable from these as well, for a subtle reason that I don’t think you or any ID proponents have grasped. The reason I say this has to do with methodological naturalism, which I think you are conflating with philosophical naturalism (although maybe it’s just a difference in your semantics).

    Philosophical naturalism is the view that the physical world (matter, energy, and space-time) is all that exists, and that all phenomena in the universe can be explained through natural (deterministic or random) causes. It is a metaphysical viewpoint. Methodological naturalism, on the other hand, is simply the method by which science is done. The scientific method is to assume that a given phenomenon has a natural explanation and to seek to verify a possible natural explanation through empirical methods. The difference is subtle, but important. A true, open-minded scientist would never claim that a naturalistic explanation always exists. In fact, it seems clear to most people, both inside and outside the scientific community, that there are questions that can never be answered by science. Unfortunately, a few particularly vocal scientists have crossed the boundary into philosophical naturalism. People need to understand, however, that philosophical naturalism is not science.

    What methodological naturalism means for intelligent design is that scientists will always look for a natural explanation, whether one exists or not. If science succeeds in developing a theory for life’s development that stands up to all the empirical evidence, then science has succeeded. If not, scientists will keep tweaking their theories in hopes of achieving this success. The worst that can happen (from the scientific point of view) is that no truly satisfactory theory will ever be found, in which case most scientists may give up the struggle and pronounce the problem unsolvable. Intelligent design proponents seem to be asking for more than this, though. They want science to admit that a supernatural solution is the correct one. This will never happen, for the reasons spelled out here, and in this sense ID is not a true science.

    I do, however, applaud the efforts of the ID community in pointing out the deficiencies of NDE. I don’t believe that NDE provides, at this point, a complete explanation of life’s development, and pointing out the deficiencies of the theory is a healthy thing. But as I said, even if the ID community is correct, the most they can ever hope for from science is a stalemate.

  4. Charlie

    DL,
    I too am seeing a pattern; a couple, actually.
    Like many an atheist you mistakenly equate accepting Darwinism with understanding it and questioning it with ignorance.
    You also ignore the point of posts to make your own points.
    You also rely upon Darwinism of the gaps to support a theory which was derived 2000 years ago by philosophical conjecturing.

    On the fossil record you cling to the artefact theory that Darwin offered to explain the point of Tom’s post: that the theory is underdetermined by the evidence. Darwin did not have the transitionals at the time necessary to draw the inference and the situation only gets worse and worse. Gould told us that we had to accept that the fossil record is an accurate account of history and Elderidge that we can’t go on pretending that evolution has always taken place somewhere else.
    You may wish to use these as excuses, but you cannot rely upon them as evidence.

    Here’s another example. You claim that exaptation can overcome Behe’s project. But exaptation is Darwinism of the gaps, once again. A problem is identified (IC) and a story is made up for how it may be overcome. A story, by the way, underdetermined by the evidence and with little to no empirical support. When we ask for examples of cop-option/exaptation we get back from you the equivalent of blank stares.
    Think about manufacturing for a second and imagine how much more design would be required to have created a mechanism for one purpose and then to take that mechanism, whole, and incorporate it into an entirely different, more complex, mechanism.
    As I read further I see you do analogize to the design necessary in human manufacturing when discssing co-option. That’s good, at least.
    But why just hand-waving when you describe the multi-directionality of evolution?
    No real examples from observation?

    We’ve also discussed GAs and you pretend you are qualified to toe the Darwinian line that they can somehow reflect what goes on in nature. I encourage you to read up on the subject. Claiming that evolutionary, trial and error, programs invent things is to say nothing about Darwinism. It is the equivalent of Darwin’s own misapplied analogy to artificial selection. When the claim is that blind forces with no foresight can create the information and complexity that we see in nature you can not use a process (GAs or breeding and purposeful selectivity) which inputs the information, creativity and complexity at the front end as examples.

    You have no idea whether or not Behe is deceiving people and you have not done the necessary studying to determine this, let alone claim it in public.

    Your entire comment is conjecture and appeals to ignorance in support of your philosophical position.

  5. Charlie

    Hi Jake,
    Nice comment. Tom has discussed PN and MN several times on this blog, but your exposition is good.
    I agree with your ending, about ID and a stalemate and the good that has come from the discussion already. One good I see is that people are alert to the peddling of PN under the guise of MN. This smuggling, however, is not the sole fault of a few individual and vocal scientists. This smuggling shows up (but is now being removed) in text after text, and was obvious in the previous booklet that the NAS sent out to educate our educators.
    Exposing philosophy that rides the coat-tails of empirical, authoritative science, is very good.

  6. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    You beat me to it again, Charlie! Excellent words.

    Jake, I can echo what Charlie wrote in response to your comment. (Thank you for the encouraging words, by the way.) The distinction between PN and MN is problematic. It’s not so hard to tease them apart conceptually, but when you add into the mix an assumption that there is no knowledge except scientific knowledge, then you get something rather stronger than MN out of it. You get a functional PN, that says that MN may not be true in all respects but we must make all our judgments as if it were.

    So I appreciate your points, because we need to pay close attention to what the real distinction is.

    And yes, I agree we’ll never likely get past a stalemate on the ID/evolution controversy, because ID will also always be underdetermined by the evidence as well. That is, there will always be the possibility that science someday will solve its riddles, and more importantly, there will always be those who cling to naturalism as the only cause and effect that can be considered.

    Case in point: the fine tuning of the universe sure looks like evidence for a designer. Many well-qualified cosmologists say so. But there’s a way out: many universes. Never mind that it’s complete conjecture, completely untestable, and (in at least one common form) leads to incoherence and absurdities worthy of the funny papers. It still gets a lot of attention, because it’s an escape from Lewontin’s infamous “divine foot in the door.”

    And thus will it ever be.

  7. doctor(logic)

    Charlie,

    Like many an atheist you mistakenly equate accepting Darwinism with understanding it and questioning it with ignorance.

    No, Tom admitted he lacks the understanding.

    On the fossil record you cling to the artefact theory that Darwin offered to explain the point of Tom’s post: that the theory is underdetermined by the evidence.

    What is that supposed to mean? Just about every theory obtained by inductive inference is underdetermined. So what?

    You claim that exaptation can overcome Behe’s project. But exaptation is Darwinism of the gaps, once again.

    You just don’t get it. If you’re going to attack NDE by proving that it is impossible, then you will fail if you don’t look at the complete space of possibilities, or if you childishly oversimplify the problem. Behe’s claim is that NDE will never solve this problem, and he says this at a mathematical level. However, his argument is broken once co-optation is considered. Behe fails at the mathematical level without any need to look for actual co-optation because his argument is supposed to prove NDE impossible, and it cannot do that when there are huge gaps not sealed shut by his argument. And co-optation has been found, e.g., in bacterial flagella.

    NDE is based upon extremely powerful general evidence, most especially common descent. NDE predicts it, design does not. Given NDE, there are indeed lots of things that are underdetermined. If you are going to rule out all those underdetermined and as-yet-undetermined mechanisms, you have to have a strong argument. Behe has no such thing. He assumes the mechanism is a simple 1D mechanism, and he’s just wrong about that. It onus is on Behe to prove that biological research will be fruitless, because that’s the strategy he’s taking. He failed miserably, and the Kitzmiller trial soundly established that fact.

    Think about manufacturing for a second and imagine how much more design would be required to have created a mechanism for one purpose and then to take that mechanism, whole, and incorporate it into an entirely different, more complex, mechanism.

    Why does that take any more powerful “design” than it took for construction of the original product? The design may be easier at the compound level. Creating a system that relies upon cell phones does not necessarily require more “design” than the original cell phone. Is it harder to design a weaved basked than the plant you make it from? No. We requires only tiny, incremental advances in design.

    We’ve also discussed GAs and you pretend you are qualified to toe the Darwinian line that they can somehow reflect what goes on in nature.

    Um, how does one qualify to toe a line?

    When the claim is that blind forces with no foresight can create the information and complexity that we see in nature you can not use a process (GAs or breeding and purposeful selectivity) which inputs the information, creativity and complexity at the front end as examples.

    Then you are admitting that GA’s work, that NDE works, but you just don’t know where the original, primordial GA came from. Thank you.

  8. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic),

    Additional to what Charlie has already contributed: I would never say I know all I need to know about these topics, and I’m certainly willing to check out a book or two on them. I’ve read my Dawkins and Mayr and Gould and Dennett and Forrest and Gross and Harris and Hitchens and Ayala and I-don’t-know-how-many articles, but I haven’t read a book specifically on genetic algorithms yet. I’d prefer not to do it by downloading a program, though, since I have enough to do at the computer desk as it is.

    I’m not that unfamiliar with the evolutionists’ views on missing fossils. I referred to it. Your response might have been appropriate if I had said evolution was disproved by it. I said evolution was underdetermined by the evidence. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, but it is nevertheless absence of evidence, isn’t it?

    Charlie answered the co-optation issue quite adequately, I think.

    We also talked about intentionality, and how neural networks can learn and generalize. Again, this isn’t that hard a topic to understand. It doesn’t require any heavy mathematics to see it work.

    Mathematics are irrelevant to the question anyway. What does aboutness mean? If a computer can manipulate data and produce an output, does that constitute aboutness? Does the computer experience being a subject? Can it self-reflect? Can it self-reflect on its self-reflection? This is not a matter of scientific knowledge or ignorance. It is, just as you expected it would be on this blog, a matter of philosophy. To think otherwise, my faithful and friendly scientific and philosophical nemesis, is to display philosophical ignorance.

  9. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Tom admitted he lacks understanding.

    At some levels and on some topics, on which I have avoided making Pronouncements.

    If you are going to rule out all those underdetermined and as-yet-undetermined mechanisms, you have to have a strong argument.

    If you are going to rule that every cause without exception is natural, you’re also going to have to have a strong argument. (And don’t forget, even if common descent is not predicted by design theory, it’s not the least bit inconsistent with it.)

    Then you are admitting that GA’s work, that NDE works, but you just don’t know where the original, primordial GA came from. Thank you.

    Huh? Are you turning into an advocate of front-loaded design on us? Remember he said, “information, creativity and complexity.”

    As I said, I have things to learn about GAs (do you have a book you recommend?). But what I’ve seen so far is that there’s no such thing as a pure algorithm generating daughter algorithms in a void. There is a computer. There is an operating system. There are initial instructions, including definitions of “fitness” or “survival” and how to reproduce. There is considerable intelligent input into the process. I’ll accept that as an analogy.

  10. Holopupenko

    Tom:

    Just how silly and anti-scientific are the ideas of the multi-verse proponents? Here’s an example that almost sinks to DL’s illogic:

    “Dr. Martin Rees, a University of Cambridge cosmologist and the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain noted that it is not necessary to observe other universes to gain some confidence that they may exist. He was referring to certain solutions of string theory equations that allegedly indicate a range of other universe actually exist.” [Dennis Overby, “A New View of Our Universe: Only One of Many,” NY Times, 20 October 2002]

    Now, let’s leave aside the underlying foolishness of Rees trying to foist upon critical thinkers the suggestion that mathematics somehow actualizes reality. Notice what Rees jettisons: the sine qua non of the modern empirical sciences, namely observability and verifiability, i.e., he wants us to believe it simply because the math “shows” it. No confirmation needed, and how dare you challenge us Gnostic physicists!

    Memo to Rees: ya’ll ain’t doin’ physics.

    To the materialist mindset, one extra immaterial dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are infinite numbers of universes that cannot be detected gives no pause. Yet, which idea sounds more far-fetched: one unseen mode of reality (which can nevertheless be reasoned to if one doesn’t restrict oneself to the anti-scientific ideology of DL’s scientism) or billions of universe with no hope—nay, no need—of detection? And realize this utterly simple fact: if anything is detectable with the five primary senses—even these mathematical universes—then it is part of ONE thing, i.e., our UNI-verse. It’s amazing these people are granted degrees…

    I’m not going to chase DL on the mistakes he makes, because we’ve been over them before and Charlie did a fine job… but this one was too good to pass up: don’t you find it interesting that, when necessary, DL will claim (as a non-biologist, I might add) that “… fossilization is extremely rare. A tiny fraction of beings get fossilized…” in order to come to a vast, theoretical conclusion (descent with modification)? Let’s leave aside the fact that there are real biologists agreeing that the fossil record is lacking. If DL were in ANY science classroom and tried to draw a curve to fit “fractional” data, he would be failed in a heartbeat. Why? No scientific or mathematical justification to do so: he’d be projecting his own, unscientific vision of reality onto the paper and making the “extremely rare” points fit it. Oh, but it gets worse: when that side of the argument doesn’t work and when convenient, the usual neo-Darwinian mantra to those who point out the obvious gaps in the fossil record (which DL just did, ironically enough with his claim of “extremely rare” fossilization) is that there is “plenty of fossil evidence” to draw a conclusion. So which is it?

    And this one’s cool as well: why is it that a program can supposedly “prove” (it doesn’t, and Dawkin’s “weasel” example has been roundly rebuffed, as has AVIDA) descent with modification can be sufficiently explained by merely material entities and physical phenomena, when the 800-lb gorilla in the room is the program needed a… programmer! Leave aside DL’s usual gross error of equivocating over kinds of being (i.e., that computer program IS and DOES the same kind of thing real entities do), the truer test would be to see if letters on a page can formulate themselves into a program by themselves (I’m baiting DL on this one—let’s see if he can pick up on it with the blatant hint I just provided). If they can’t, and yet a program is needed to “prove” material-only descent with modification, then how are real entities (from primordial soup all the way up to us) supposed to accomplish this? Seems like DL is trying to sneak in a little magical (superstitious!) gremlin to do his dirty work.

    Memo to DL: ya’ll ain’t doin’ science… and ya’ll ain’t doin no good philosophy neither…

  11. SteveK

    Holo:

    Let’s leave aside the fact that there are real biologists agreeing that the fossil record is lacking. If DL were in ANY science classroom and tried to draw a curve to fit “fractional” data, he would be failed in a heartbeat. Why? No scientific or mathematical justification to do so: he’d be projecting his own, unscientific vision of reality onto the paper and making the “extremely rare” points fit it. Oh, but it gets worse: when that side of the argument doesn’t work and when convenient, the usual neo-Darwinian mantra to those who point out the obvious gaps in the fossil record (which DL just did, ironically enough with his claim of “extremely rare” fossilization) is that there is “plenty of fossil evidence” to draw a conclusion. So which is it

    I tried to revisit another of DL’s unscientific beliefs beginning here and ending here

    All empirical observation and testing says that the formation of a living being requires input in some way, shape or form from another living being.

    P.S. – Good to hear from you again.

  12. doctor(logic)

    To the materialist mindset, one extra immaterial dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are infinite numbers of universes that cannot be detected gives no pause. Yet, which idea sounds more far-fetched: one unseen mode of reality (which can nevertheless be reasoned to if one doesn’t restrict oneself to the anti-scientific ideology of DL’s scientism) or billions of universe with no hope—nay, no need—of detection?

    If a multiverse theory can predict things that are observable in our own universe, then we have good reason to infer that other universes exist. It’s a lot better than capricious magic, which makes no predictions. And whether an idea sounds far-fetched to the likes of you (who doesn’t understand these issues) is hardly the point.

    Oh, but it gets worse: when that side of the argument doesn’t work and when convenient, the usual neo-Darwinian mantra to those who point out the obvious gaps in the fossil record (which DL just did, ironically enough with his claim of “extremely rare” fossilization) is that there is “plenty of fossil evidence” to draw a conclusion. So which is it?

    More stupidity. Tiktaalik was predicted in advance. So, even with fossilization being rare, NDE still predicted what was observed. And you still fail to see how the inference works.

    Let me put it in terms you can understand. Design does not predict Tiktaalik, nor does it predict common descent. Design may be compatible with those things, but its equally compatible with not those things. Comprendez?

    Your comments about GA’s reflect exactly the same thing I keep seeing over and over from your side of the aisle. You accept GA’s work, but correctly say that all man-made ones needed a programmer at some stage, i.e., something has to create the encoding mechanism and environment. That proves nothing of course, because man-made stuff requires a man, but it does show that you have already made the key concession. The external programming is not performed continuously. Once the system is set up, it creates new structures and algorithms by itself. So even stipulating that there had to be an initial programmer for the first replicating life does not threaten NDE in the slightest. Indeed, by accepting that GA’s work at all, you already accept that NDE works, even if you believe the OOL had to be divine.

    Holopupenko, the aspersions you cast on my scientific and philosophical abilities are really quite pathetic in light of all the silly misunderstandings propagated in your post.

  13. SteveK

    Tiktaalik was predicted in advance.

    How specific was the prediction? Do you have a reference paper or quote?

    Edit:

    Design may be compatible with those things, but its equally compatible with not those things.

    I bet NDE would be equally compatible without the discovery of Tiktaalik. In other words, NDE would survive without ever finding Tiktaalik.

  14. Post
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  15. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Tiktaalik was well predicted. The team that found it was looking in far northern Canada for just such a fossil, because that’s where strata of the right geological age were accessible. (This is according to the NAS book.)

  16. Charlie

    Hi DL,

    Tom admitted he lacks understanding.

    Tom demonstrates the appropriate humility in discussing topics about which he is not an expert. Unlike you, who take advantage of his caution with your inappropriate hubris.

    What is that supposed to mean? Just about every theory obtained by inductive inference is underdetermined. So what?

    1) Darwinian evolutionary theory was not obtained through induction. Since there is no evidence of gradual, step-by-step evolution by random variation culled by natural selection, from simple to complex forms, with the complex replacing the simple ancestors, with forms appearing and branching radially into the higher taxa, etc.
    Rather, it was obtained philosophically.
    2) Thanks for admitting that it is underdetermined by the evidence, as Tom said in the OP.

    On co-option, I am afraid, you are the one who just doesn’t get it. Behe made a logical case against NDE’s ability to arrive at IC linearly. One mutation, one change at a time, will not give the result needed as the steps along the way are not selectable. But Behe does not childishly claim that that is the end of the issue (nor do I childishly refer to him). From the very beginning Behe, a professional, published and employed molecular biologist, discussed NDE and indirect routes to IC. Here he asked the empirical question: where’s the evidence? His is not a childish unidimensional critique, but a nuanced critique based both upon logic and empirical failings. He also attacked the issue of getting several of the necessary mutations simultaneously enough to arrive at a selective advantage. He has covered all of the dimensions – including surveying the empirical data.

    Behe fails at the mathematical level without any need to look for actual co-optation because his argument is supposed to prove NDE impossible, and it cannot do that when there are huge gaps not sealed shut by his argument.

    False, see above.

    And co-optation has been found, e.g., in bacterial flagella.

    I am unaware of this. To what are you referring? Something other than the TTSS, I presume? And has this located co-option been able to explain IC?

    Behe has no such thing. He assumes the mechanism is a simple 1D mechanism, and he’s just wrong about that.

    No he doesn’t, so no he isn’t.

    It onus is on Behe to prove that biological research will be fruitless, because that’s the strategy he’s taking. He failed miserably, and the Kitzmiller trial soundly established that fact.

    What was that first thing you said about scientific understanding? Ironic that you now appeal to a court of law to settle the issue.

    Then you are admitting that GA’s work, that NDE works, but you just don’t know where the original, primordial GA came from. Thank you.

    No I am not. Evolutionary programs can work because they do not reflect NDE.
    =====
    Hi Holopupenko. Happy New Year!
    You refer to this quote in light of DL’s arguments.

    “Dr. Martin Rees, a University of Cambridge cosmologist and the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain noted that it is not necessary to observe other universes to gain some confidence that they may exist.

    Notice the exact same thing occurred above. We don’t need empirical evidence of co-option because the mere fact that we can postulate it sinks Behe.

  17. doctor(logic)

    Charlie,

    Darwinian evolutionary theory was not obtained through induction.

    All of science is induction. You look at the data. See a pattern. Create a predictive hypothesis. Look for data to see if the hypothesis is confirmed or falsified. It’s inductive inference, not deduction.

    Some form of evolution was known to have occurred before Darwin devised his theory of the mechanism. That’s induction.

    Behe made a logical case against NDE’s ability to arrive at IC linearly… Here he asked the empirical question: where’s the evidence? … He also attacked the issue of getting several of the necessary mutations simultaneously enough to arrive at a selective advantage.

    Which is it Charlie? If co-optation is the name of the game, you don’t need multiple simultaneous mutations.

    If Behe’s argument is that we lack all the details of evolution, then his argument is impotent. Thats like saying that we lack all the details of how stuff happened in World War II so maybe we should doubt World War II was instigated by humans and theorize it was caused by invisible demons instead. That’s not science.

    To what are you referring? Something other than the TTSS, I presume? And has this located co-option been able to explain IC?

    It is the TTSS to which I am referring. IC is explained in principle mathematically! Come on, Charlie! You can see it with your own eyes. Things get used for multiple purposes, and this results in bizarre, highly improbable, and difficult-to-explain configurations once the alternate and obsolete uses are lost to history.

    No I am not. Evolutionary programs can work because they do not reflect NDE.

    Be specific. In what particular way do GA’s not reflect NDE? Once a GA is set up, it creates new inventions and solutions never imagined by the programmer who set it up. You could argue that God set up NDE, but NDE is a GA, and is capable of invention all by itself.

  18. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    If co-optation is the name of the game, you don’t need multiple simultaneous mutations.

    That’s true if the co-opted fragment of DNA fits into the existing string without anything else being modified whatsoever.

    If anything else needs to be adjusted in order for the new gene to provide a selective advantage, that other adjustment has to be virtually simultaneous with the arrival of the new gene. Otherwise, the new gene will be invisible to evolution or will be selected out of the population as deleterious.

  19. Charlie

    Hi DL,

    Which is it Charlie? If co-optation is the name of the game, you don’t need multiple simultaneous mutations

    Behe covered the direct route, multiple simultaneous mutations, and co-option. What’s the problem? Anybody who claims to know NDE ought to know that there is a mechanism for all seasons. Behe has covered them.

    If Behe’s argument is that we lack all the details of evolution, then his argument is impotent. T

    If you’re going to set up your nickel-booth telling all and sundry that Behe is deceiving them then might I suggest you read him and find out what his argument is?

    It is the TTSS to which I am referring. IC is explained in principle mathematically! Come on, Charlie!

    That’s it, DL, substitute passion for evidence. One more explanation mark and I would have been convinced.
    Do you know what co-option/exaptation is?
    You think Behe’s been refuted by the idea and then go so far as to claim that it has been empirically observed. DL, your wishes are blinding you. Or were you merely hoping to bluff me, since I don’t understand science?
    TTSS is far from an observed instance of co-option.
    Now you backtrack to where you were before claiming that it is observed – to saying that the mere possibility is a defeater of the mathematical truth of Behe’s argument. Well, his argument doesn’t rely on the mathematical proof. Have you read him?

    Things get used for multiple purposes, and this results in bizarre, highly improbable, and difficult-to-explain configurations once the alternate and obsolete uses are lost to history.

    Sit back a second and examine your defence of NDE.
    This is the scientific fact you are claiming we don’t understand, and here is your explication. Things get used. That’s an explanation of design and adaptation in manufacture, not bacterial flagella. When did this happen in with the TTSS? The pump was not useful as an injector until after the existence of the flagellum. And it never became obsolete. Now, would you like to argue that the highly complex, IC, bacterial flagellum became obsolete and was stripped down to the injector pump, which then was adapted to a new and useful machine? Then explain the BF first.
    If you want to argue, against the evidence, that the TTSS, with 10-18 analogous protein products out of the 30-50 of the BF, is the precursor then show how NDE could have built it (not by stripping down a more complex machine), and then show how we could move along the way, step-by-selectable step, from it to the BF. Or account for the multiple mutations needed to get there when NDE fails.
    Otherwise you’ve got more just-so stories under-determined by the evidence.

    Be specific. In what particular way do GA’s not reflect NDE? Once a GA is set up, it creates new inventions and solutions never imagined by the programmer who set it up. You could argue that God set up NDE, but NDE is a GA, and is capable of invention all by itself.

    Selection.
    When they are used in practical, real-world searches for solutions the steps are selectable and the program tweaked at each step to keep moving toward a result.
    When they are used in Dawkinsian, “evolution works”, fashion then the goal is already determined before the start. In more sophisticated instances of programming (Lenski, for instance) the fitness parameters are pre-selected and the search for high fitness is directed.
    http://www.cs.vu.nl/~rmeester/preprints/nfl.pdf

    As a result of this discussion, I will argue that
    we learn very little, if anything at all, about biological evolution from
    simulations. This position is in stark contrast with certain claims in
    the literature that I will discuss.

    But
    what about the search algorithms? I do not think it is reasonable to sum-
    marise the extremely complex biology (and chemistry, physiscs . . .) that is
    associated to the process, into a single search algorithm. There are no real-
    istic models of evolution that render this approach reasonable, life is simply
    too complicated. Computing probabilities in a model is one thing, but for
    these computations to have any implication, the models had better be very
    good and accurate, and it is obvious that the various models do not live
    up to this requirement.
    … I will argue now that
    the arguments in this article show that simulations of evolutionary processes
    only demonstrate good programming skills – not much more. In particular,
    simulations add very little, if anything at all, to our understanding of “real”
    evolutionary processes.

    You could argue that God set up NDE, but NDE is a GA, and is capable of invention all by itself.

    You could beg the question some more. When did it do this and who demonstrated its capability? When was it demonstrated that natural selection was an algorithm, or that RM and NS are capable of invention as opposed to minor tweaks and, more often, dismantling? When we look at the actual evidence we find very little to support your claim. What we do find is the ability to interpret evidence as being consistent with this claim.
    You are making the same mistake over and over again. You are working from a philosophical framework – life evolved by chance – and fitting everything you see to this. You can’t presume the way you think real life works, then design algorithms that work in a way similar to what you think this way is, carefully ensure that they work, then say that this reflects the mechanism in question.

  20. doctor(logic)

    Charlie,

    There are two possibilities.

    1) Behe is making a gap argument about the evidence, i.e., evolution is flawed because it cannot yet explain how X evolved.

    2) Behe is making a strong argument that NDE can never explain what we see, i.e., that IC structures cannot evolve.

    (2) has been refuted. It is refuted mathematically because co-optation does not require simultaneous mutations. It is also refuted by looking at particular proteins in the BF and the TTSS. This shows that many of the proteins in the BF have other functions in other contexts. Even if we don’t know what they all do, we have good reason to believe that there is co-optation in evolution.

    (1) is a powerless gap argument. If all Behe can do is claim that evolution hasn’t explained some detail yet, then he has nothing to say that isn’t already acknowledged about every science (and could always have been said about discoveries before they were made).

    The pump was not useful as an injector until after the existence of the flagellum. And it never became obsolete.

    You don’t know in what order they evolved. And there’s no requirement that every intermediate function be made obsolete. Why would you think that was a requirement of co-option? That’s just a requirement for a system to appear to be IC!

    Here’s a plausible path for the evolution of the flagellum.
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB200_1.html

    If your claim is that we can’t prove these steps were the actual ones, then you’re right, but that is no threat to NDE. If you want to support ID, the onus is on you and Behe to show that there are no possible paths that allow NDE to build a flagellum. If you cannot do that then you’re just making an argument from ignorance or an argument from personal incredulity.

    When they are used in practical, real-world searches for solutions the steps are selectable and the program tweaked at each step to keep moving toward a result.

    This is a distraction. Real-world solution finders are subject to time and business requirements. This issue of fine-tuning affects convergence speed, not whether GA’s work at all, which is the subject of this discussion.

    When they are used in Dawkinsian, “evolution works”, fashion then the goal is already determined before the start.

    What is “determined” is the fitness function. That’s how a programmer sets the goal. If a human creates a GA, they have to create a fitness function as part of the process, and that means setting a goal. So what? Once set, the system evolves and invents new solutions. Indeed, it invents patentable solutions.

    My point is already won. GA’s create stuff that the designers never foresaw except to the extent that they wanted a solution.

    When John F. Kennedy set the goal to land on the moon, he did not do the work of inventing Saturn V. In the same way, a GA programmer who sets a goal does not do the actual work of finding the solution. Stating a fitness function isn’t the whole battle.

    Moreover, the fitness function for NDE is merely survival. That’s an extremely broad fitness function, and one that clearly needs no additional programming or fine-tuning.

    In more sophisticated instances of programming (Lenski, for instance) the fitness parameters are pre-selected and the search for high fitness is directed. http://www.cs.vu.nl/~rmeester/preprints/nfl.pdf

    So your counter is a cherry-picked preprint that you quote-mine? The preprint to which you refer pans ID. And the reason the author says that the cited GA’s don’t say anything new about biological evolution is that the author plainly thinks that a GA’s (and NDE’s) ability to create new inventions and information is old hat.

    When was it demonstrated that natural selection was an algorithm, or that RM and NS are capable of invention as opposed to minor tweaks and, more often, dismantling?

    GA’s prove it, or were you not paying attention? It is obvious that GA’s use the same mechanism as NDE (indeed, they are designed that way). It is obvious to anyone who has played with GA’s that they are creative and invent for themselves. So it is therefore a plain fact that NDE is in principle capable of invention (and not just tweaks and dismantling). You can cross your fingers and pray we don’t make any scientific progress on the details of biological NDE, but that’s not an argument for ID.

  21. The Christian Cynic

    If your claim is that we can’t prove these steps were the actual ones, then you’re right, but that is no threat to NDE. If you want to support ID, the onus is on you and Behe to show that there are no possible paths that allow NDE to build a flagellum. If you cannot do that then you’re just making an argument from ignorance or an argument from personal incredulity.

    Wait, wait, wait. You’re claiming, “I’ve given you a possible path, and until you prove otherwise, it’s an argument from ignorance.” Isn’t that totally backwards? An argument from ignorance results when a positive argument is put forth (as in “The BF was a result of evolutionary path E”) and the burden of proof is shifted to the other side. If you say that any claims to the falsity of E must be show it to be impossible, isn’t that precisely an argument from ignorance? For surely the positive claim that the BF evolved via path E (not just that it evolved) has a higher burden of proof than the claim that is typically put forth (that there is a gap in our knowledge of how the BF evolved, if it did). At very least, can’t we at least have some humility and admit, “Okay, we don’t have any evidence for an efficacious path for the evolution of the BF through exaptation, but it’s not impossible”?

    I’m not even that fond of the concept of IC, but that whole line of reasoning bothered me.

  22. Charlie

    Hi DL,
    Back to your famous dichotomies again, I see.
    Behe’s case is not one of two possibilities. Where’d you get that? – from Orr? At least you’re actually thinking about engaging the idea now and expanding upon your misrepresentations of Behe.
    Behe’s case is that IC cannot, logically, result from direct NDE processes: that being gradualistic, step by step changes through selectable intermediates performing the same function. That’s the logical part (I’ve already explained this, of course). It’s in his book as well.
    At the same time, improbability argues against the claim that the IC was accomplished in multiple simultaneous mutations.
    In addition, the indirect circuitous route (exaptation) is not ruled out logically. It is merely highly unlikely and, as Behe has said from the start, there are no examples in the literature. This is the empirical case. You think it is defeated by the conjecture about exaptation, but it is not. This absence exists not only for demonstrable cases, but even for speculative ones. Now I see you’ve dropped a link to a talkorigins explanation of the flagellum. I bet it doesn’t answer Behe on the “detailed and testable” criteria, does it?
    I’ll just have to check on that when I get that far in this comment and hope it’s not just a literature bluff.

    You don’t know in what order they evolved. And there’s no requirement that every intermediate function be made obsolete. Why would you think that was a requirement of co-option? That’s just a requirement for a system to appear to be IC!

    You’re right. I wasn’t there. But if either is ancestral to the other (and this much is disputed as well) the evidence indicates that it is more likely that TTSS was the descendent (its parasitic requirements, its being limited to gm -, its absence in the most ancient branches).

    If your claim is that we can’t prove these steps were the actual ones, then you’re right, but that is no threat to NDE. If you want to support ID, the onus is on you and Behe to show that there are no possible paths that allow NDE to build a flagellum. If you cannot do that then you’re just making an argument from ignorance or an argument from personal incredulity.

    Argument from ignorance? Incorrect. If you want to challenge Behe’s position you have to provide a detailed testable model.

    This is a distraction. Real-world solution finders are subject to time and business requirements. This issue of fine-tuning affects convergence speed, not whether GA’s work at all, which is the subject of this discussion.

    So real-world evolutionary algorithms which provide novel solutions do not apply and are not applicable to nature. That’s the subject of discussion, and the point is made.

    What is “determined” is the fitness function. That’s how a programmer sets the goal. If a human creates a GA, they have to create a fitness function as part of the process, and that means setting a goal. So what?

    Because if Dawkins selects the fitness function he is actually pre-targetting the letters he wants and preselecting the end result. He has actually just found a slow way to rewrite that which he’s already programmed his simulation to write.
    He could build the entire human genome in 80 tries this way. No dice.

    My point is already won. GA’s create stuff that the designers never foresaw except to the extent that they wanted a solution.

    Poor DL, always about winning. And never able.
    GA’s do create stuff. And the fitness function is predetermined, as in “select more complex”. You can’t say “look, it created a complex feature” when it was designed to create complexity and increasing complexity was selected at each step. You’ll recall that nature and NDE do not work that way.

    In the same way, a GA programmer who sets a goal does not do the actual work of finding the solution.

    Yes he does. He sets the solution for each step – more complexity – less resistance – spell weasel. Recall that NDE is supposed to be without a goal and without foresight.

    Moreover, the fitness function for NDE is merely survival. That’s an extremely broad fitness function, and one that clearly needs no additional programming or fine-tuning.

    That’s the point. Thanks.

    So your counter is a cherry-picked preprint that you quote-mine?

    Such negative and accusatory language. You need to read the paper again if you’re going to make such charges.

    The preprint to which you refer pans ID.

    You expected a bouquet of kisses?

    And the reason the author says that the cited GA’s don’t say anything new about biological evolution is that the author plainly thinks that a GA’s (and NDE’s) ability to create new inventions and information is old hat.

    False. As I said, you need to read it again. Here, I’ll help:

    4 Application to evolution
    What do we learn about evolution from this discussion? As already anticipated above, I do not think that we learn a lot about the real biological evolution. Apart from the problems that were noted by H¨aggstr¨om (2006), the ideas in No Free Lunch suffer from a too optimistic belief in the usefulness of mathematical models in biology (see also Olofsson (2007) for a similar conclusion), and this remains true in the context of the present article. The mathematical concepts that are used can of course be given a biological meaning; we already mentioned this before: the space V can be the space of DNA sequences (up to a certain length, say) and the fitness function f can be perhaps interpreted as a real fitness function. But what about the search algorithms? I do not think it is reasonable to summarise the extremely complex biology (and chemistry, physiscs . . .) that is associated to the process, into a single search algorithm. There are no realistic models of evolution that render this approach reasonable, life is simply too complicated. Computing probabilities in a model is one thing, but for these computations to have any implication, the models had better be very good and accurate, and it is obvious that the various models do not live up to this requirement. In particular, it is quite meaningless to compute the probability that certain aminoacids combine to produce a particular molecule, if there is no reasonable mathematical model around.

    …This means that the evolutionary picture is not nearly as simple and clear as suggested by Dembski, and I find it hard to imagine how the discussion in this article could apply directly to biology in any meaningful way. Mathematics is much less useful in biology than in, say, physics. This having said, I now want to argue that the algorithmic NFL-way of thinking about evolution is very meaningful when it concerns computer simulations of evolutionary processes. Unlike real evolution, computer simulations fit very well into the formal mathematical settting as discussed in this article, and the discussion applies to them directly. I will argue now that the arguments in this article show that simulations of evolutionary processes only demonstrate good programming skills not much more. In particular, simulations add very little, if anything at all, to our understanding of “real” evolutionary processes.

    http://www.cs.vu.nl/~rmeester/preprints/nfl.pdf

    Your turn. Now show me where he says that it is old hat that we know that NDE can produce new inventions and new information and that this is the reason GA’s do not tell us anything new.
    Feel free to quote-mine.

    It is obvious that GA’s use the same mechanism as NDE (indeed, they are designed that way).

    No they don’t. Pay attention. NDE does not have determined selectivity, it has no goal, it has no foresight, it has no built in complexity (right?).

    You can cross your fingers and pray we don’t make any scientific progress on the details of biological NDE, but that’s not an argument for ID.

    I like this last admission. Yes, progress is surely needed. And your hand-waving and speculations do not qualify.

    From your linked pathway from TTSS to BF:
    (keep in mind that this is a summary, and that each major co-option event would be followed by long periods of gradual optimization of function): How?
    The type-III export system is converted to a type-III secretion system (T3SS) by addition of outer membrane pore proteins (secretin and secretin chaperone) from the type-II secretion system. – How? Selectable because…?
    These eventually form the P- and L-rings, respectively, of modern flagella. – They do? How?
    After the evolution of the T3SS pilus, the pilus diversifies for various more specialized tasks by duplication and subfunctionalization of the pilus proteins (pilins). – Details?
    An ion pump complex with another function in the cell fortuitously becomes associated with the base of the secretion system structure, … Excellent. Some good luck was involved.
    Numerous improvements follow the origin of the crudely functioning flagellum. – Sweet.
    As I thought – nothing to do with Behe’s project at all:

    (In Darwin’s Black Box (page 176) I implied that many small details would be necessary for a real Darwinian explanation) nor is it unreasonable that’s simply what’ s necessary to actually explain the appearance of a complex, functional system in a Darwinian fashion, to show that it could indeed happen as Darwinists claim. Proteins change single mutation by single mutation, amino acid by amino acid, so that’s the level of explanation that is needed. What part of “numerous, successive, slight is so hard to understand?

    Are you going to link to Matzke next?

  23. Jacob

    On one hand, Gilson claims that the researcher has a “perspective,” which is a set of “presuppositions” that will “inevitably” shape “how we interpret the evidences of natural history.” On the other hand, however, Gilson claims that “empirical methods are more determinative for theists than naturalists!”

    I argue that Gilson’s argument risks being logically inconsistent. To be more precise, Gilson backs off the perspectivalist claim that he begins with and settles into a more modest, empiricist epistemology. Instead of one’s perspective constituting the empirical evidence, as his original trajectory would entail, Gilson concludes the post with the suggestion that empirical evidence is determinative of the ID perspective. It appears that Gilson affirms the primacy of both perspectivalism and empiricism, which is a logically questionable move.

    Perhaps I can explain my criticism this way. If someone speaks from perspective A, then it is possible for that speaker to see the empirical evidence only through that perspective A. Granted, perspectives do change. But whatever perspective you speak from is the perspective you speak from, or at least that appears to be logically the case. There is logically no way to break outside one’s perspective and peek at the pure and unadulterated evidence to confirm or disconfirm your perspective. To put it differently, no one has adequately explained how they broke outside their perspective and achieved some sort of unbiased position relative to the world in which they live, and then tested their perspective against the evidence. There is no way to get between the evidence and your perspective and then to test the correspondence between the two. In a very mundane and fundamental way, you are stuck in perspective A. Perspective A is what gives the empirical evidence its meaning.

    To be clear, I believe that Gilson’s inconsistency hinges on the unspoken presumption that underwrites his post. That is, Gilson does not follow through with the logic of perspectivalism when it comes to the presumption that empirical evidence is determinative of perspective. That empirical evidence is determinative of perspective, to reword it, is a starting presupposition that Gilson makes but fails to mention. Gilson would benefit, I think, by coming consistently and unequivocally down on the question of perspectivalism or empiricism. If empirics determine perspective, which is what I think he really desires to say, then perspective is only a faux perspective that doesn‘t mean a whole lot. If it’s the other way around and perspective constitutes empirics, then empirics are not so much a way to confirm an argument as they are a way of legitimating a set of claims to an audience.

  24. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I don’t see this as being that inconsistent. I do agree that it is possible that one could decide all the answers beforehand. That is what I believe the naturalist position forces one to do. A theistic starting point, however, could lead one to conclude that a) God has left his fingerprints in natural history, or b) God has not left his fingerprints in history. One of the strong determining contributors to that decision is whether there is anything apparent in the natural order that could be interpreted as God’s fingerprints. That, in turn, is partly a matter of deciding what kind of thing a natural feature would have to be in order to be so interpretable, and partly a matter of whether such natural features actually exist. That final question is empirical, and in the end it is what determines the outcome of the question.

    I can’t come down unequivocally on the side of either empiricism or perspectivalism. As a matter of psychological fact, both of these enter into persons’ decisions. A prior perspective of Christian theism cannot lead to naturalistic evolution as a belief about origins, and a prior perspective of naturalism cannot lead to anything but naturalistic evolution (at least as far as anybody has been able to propose so far.) That’s perspectival. But a prior adherence to theism (and openness to old-earth science) could lead to either theistic evolution or ID, depending on the empirical evidence.

    This need not be an either-or.

  25. Jacob

    When you begin with presuppositions and then end with empirics, you equivocate. Equivocation is a logical problem.

    Saying that you begin from a set of presuppositions logically entails that you presuppose consistently either perspectivalism or empiricism. It isn’t a matter of “psychological fact,” it’s a matter of following a consistent set of presuppositions to their logical conclusion.

    To be honest, I’m not sure why you even talk about perspectives–its sort of lip service to perspectivalism that doesn’t really follow through. The post you made is basically rooted in empiricism, which is attested to again by your appeal to “psychological fact.” Empiricism is the underwriting and unspoken presupposition that you make. Why even talk about perspectives when fundamentally what’s important is empirics?

    As a matter of logical rigor, you can and should come down unequivocally on empiricism or perspectivalism. Otherwise, your post risks being logically inconsistent.

  26. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Maybe you’re using a definition of perspectivalism that I’m not aware of. It would help to have it spelled out for me. It may be that when I said just now I had a partially perspectivalist approach, that meant something different to me than it does to you.

    When you begin with presuppositions and then end with empirics, you equivocate.

    Why would you say that? Where is the equivocation? Equivocation means using one term in more than one sense, while elsewhere treating it as if it meant the same thing in both places. I can’t find a place where I’ve done that, so it would help if you would show me that term.

    And why can’t an approach that admits presuppositions into it also admit empirics? What you’re saying almost sounds like, “You either get all your knowledge from your perspectives, or you get all your knowledge by observing the world, and there’s nothing in between.”

    Why do I talk about perspectives? Sure, there is empirical observation involved. I observe that people have different starting perspectives–different sets of presuppositions, that is. That’s why I talk about perspectives: because they exist and they matter. But they don’t determine all knowledge.

  27. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    And Jacob, have you changed your mind over the past several months about logical rigor? Or rather, should I be asking what kind of logical rigor we are concerned with here?

    In previous discussions (one starting approximately here, for example, you stood for a nonclassical form of logic that you said you didn’t feel able to explain to me. Apparently (though this was never made clear) your preferred logic had little to do with the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, the law of the excluded middle. In another comment, you wrote,

    As you said, we must part ways on this point.

    The Law of Noncontradiction….? How about empirical reality where things contradict all the time. Or better yet, you shouldn’t necessarily assume there is One Logic and Only One Logic. Perhaps there are multiple-logics at work in any given context.

    So have you decided non-contradiction is important to you now? If we talk about being logically consistent, are we going to be consistent about which logic we’re being consistent in?

  28. Jacob

    By equivocation, I mean that you are using perspective in two different and ambiguous senses. You begin your post by claiming that people have different starting perspectives, which I would agree with. But then by the end of the paper, you’re claiming that empirics are determinative of perspective. It seems to me that if you used perspective consistently, then empirics logically could not determine perspective. Perspective would determine empirics or, said differently, the set of presuppositions that you begin the study with would give the empirics meaning–they would fit into your perspective. You’ve equivocated by claiming you start from a set of presuppositions and then by claiming that empirics determine your perspective. In your post, what it means to have a perspective is a point of equivocation. By the end of the post, perspective doesn’t seem to mean much at all; rather, empirics seems to be the most important.

    You can admit both perspective and empirics. But the question is: how do you combine the two?

    If you begin from a perspective A, then there is no way to get outside your perspective A to see the unadulterated empirics. Empirics are seen through your perspective and the empirics are used to legitimate your perspective, not confirm or disconfirm it.

    If you begin from empirical claims about the world, then there is no point in talking about your perspective. Perspective, in this sense, is just epiphenomenal, or what I like to call a faux perspective. Empirics, which is what’s important, will confirm or disconfirm one’s so called perspective.

    Logically, putting perspective first or empirics first leads down two different roads. You’re ambiguity about perspective and empirics is the logical problem.

  29. Jacob

    Believe it or not, I’ve always been a fan of logical rigor–be rigorous to the perspective that you are applying to the world. I am not an empiricist. Empirics are read through perspectives and they legitimate or delegitimate them; they don’t confirm or disconfirm them as true or false. Or at least that’s what I would argue.

    Either way, this post isn’t about me. It’s about you and your logical rigor.

  30. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Jacob,

    By equivocation, I mean that you are using perspective in two different and ambiguous senses. You begin your post by claiming that people have different starting perspectives, which I would agree with. But then by the end of the paper, you’re claiming that empirics are determinative of perspective.

    I see the problem now. I used the term perspective in the beginning and in the end of the post, and I applied two different meanings to it.

    Except for one thing: I didn’t do that. I used the term perspective in the beginning of the article, and at the end I was speaking in terms of conclusions. These conclusions are drawn from empirical observations interpreted according to presuppositions (which I also called perspectives).

    This is not equivocation, Jacob.

    Let me suggest an edit, then, for this sentence of yours, in order to make it say what I said rather than what you think I said. You wrote,

    You’ve equivocated by claiming you start from a set of presuppositions and then by claiming that empirics determine your perspective.

    What I was saying in contrast was (borrowing as much of your wording as possible), You start from a set of presuppositions and then claim that empirics determine your conclusions. That statement is limited, of course, by the fact that one who starts from naturalistic presuppositions must come to a conclusion of naturalistic evolution, regardless of empirics. That’s a cause for concern relative to naturalism, but it’s not an instance of equivocation.

    You can admit both perspective and empirics. But the question is: how do you combine the two?

    Easy. Everybody has presuppositions, everybody observes the world. Toss that into a mind together and voila, out pops a set of conclusions. Now back to you: do you propose that this is an either-or, that one gains all one’s knowledge just from one’s perspective, or just from empirics?

    If you begin from a perspective A, then there is no way to get outside your perspective A to see the unadulterated empirics.

    Who said unadulterated?

    If you begin from empirical claims about the world, then there is no point in talking about your perspective.

    I didn’t begin with empirical claims. I began with presuppositions, added empirics, and proceeded to conclusions. Note (again) that I proceeded to conclusions, not to perspectives.

    Obviously there can be feedback there: one’s conclusions based on prior presuppositions and observations can cause one’s perspectives or presuppositions to be changed. This is not arguing in a circle, though, because this is a temporo-causal loop, not a logical loop.

    Either way, this post isn’t about me. It’s about you and your logical rigor.

    Then understand that since this is about me, I will deal with you this matter of logical rigor in terms of a logic that is grounded in the laws of noncontradiction, identity, and excluded middle. I will not repeat our earlier discussions about multiple kinds of logic, since we’ve already been there and done that. The links are there in my prior comment for you or anybody else to read if desired.

  31. Jacob

    That someone starts from a naturalist set of presuppositions and ends with naturalist conclusions isn’t really problematic in logical terms. It’s consistent. That is what is called working within the academic discipline of biology, or a naturalist paradigm.

    That you begin with presuppositions A and end with empirical conclusions B, seems to be a logical problem on your part. To be consistent, shouldn’t you start with presuppositions A and end with some conclusion A?

    In other words, if you start from a set of presuppositions about the world, how then do you propose to break outside those presuppositions to offer different empirical conclusions?

    It would seem that empirics are always already seen through your set of presuppositions and therefore any feedback will necessarily be seen in terms of your presuppositions. Feedback is not outside your presuppositions, it seems to me.

    You seem to be saying that, on one hand, you start with presuppositions but, on the other hand, you have access to empirical evidences that are not seen through your presuppositions. And these evidences will either confirm or disconfirm your starting presuppositions. I don’t understand how you can switch between claiming to have presuppositions and then claiming to have access to empirical evidences that will prove your presuppositions true or not.

    Can you explain how you get outside your presuppositions? What method or technique do you use to break outside your initial presuppositions to gain access to presuppositionless empirics?

    I do think that in terms of logical rigor, it is an either/or arrangement. We either take knowledge to be perspectival and thus based on a set of presuppositions that are rooted in certain times and places–which is a very postmodern way of thinking about knowledge. Or we take knowledge to be nonperspectival and based on the observation of empirical evidence, which is universally testable according to the scientific method–a very modern understanding of knowledge.

    In my view, your post is rooted in modern understandings of knowledge, but gives a brief tip of the hat toward postmodern criticism. In terms of rigor, I say your post would be stronger if you settled in one camp or the other.

    Or to frame it another way, your post is more in line with umpire two than it is in line with umpire one.

  32. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    To be consistent, shouldn’t you start with presuppositions A and end with some conclusion A?

    No. You start with presuppositions A, throw in observations O, proceed with reflections R and end with some conclusion C.

    If I start with “theism” as a presupposition, and somebody asks me whether I believe in an old earth or a young earth, I would not respond “theism.” That is starting with A and ending with A. I would respond with something consistent with theism, but including also what I have learned through observation and reflection. I might even change my presuppositional position to atheism (well, somebody might, and some have but I certainly haven’t 😉 ).

    What is complicated about this?

    I’m not tipping a hat toward postmodern criticism, by the way. I’m acknowledging presuppositions. Not everyone who acknowledges the importance of presuppositions is a postmodernist. I first encountered them in Francis Schaeffer.

    Let’s let the ump analogy die, okay?

    Oh, and by the way,

  33. Jacob

    If presupposition A is a founding presupposition, then whatever conclusion C is, must logically be seen in terms of presupposition A. C does not exist independent of A and C can only be seen in terms of A–insofar as A is the founding presupposition.

    Its complicated because we see through different sets of presuppositions, which yields different meaningful worlds. Your argument is as inconsistent to me, as my arguments are inconsistent to you. But that’s what you get when two different sets of presuppositions meet–the empirical evidence doesn’t solve the problem because the empirical evidence is seen in terms of the competing sets of presuppositions.

    Acknowledging that knowledge is based on presuppositions is a hat tip to postmodern criticism. Schaeffer was on the cutting edge of modern epistemological and theological arguments and was responding to postmodernism. You should take a look at James K. A. Smith’s Whose Afraid of Postmodernism. He explicitly takes up Schaeffer’s line of argument and pushes it into postmodern thinking.

  34. Jacob

    You still haven’t explained to me how you have presuppositions and presuppositionless observations. Or to put it another way, you still haven’t explained how you have presuppositions A and presuppositionless observations C. How do you break outside your presuppositions? How does that work?

  35. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    If presupposition A is a founding presupposition, then whatever conclusion C is, must logically be seen in terms of presupposition A. C does not exist independent of A and C can only be seen in terms of A–insofar as A is the founding presupposition.

    That’s what I said. Except I’m also open to the possibility of a paradigm-changing observation or experience. People do convert, after all.

    You still haven’t explained to me how you have presuppositions and presuppositionless observations. Or to put it another way, you still haven’t explained how you have presuppositions A and presuppositionless observations C. How do you break outside your presuppositions? How does that work?

    I’m not sure my position entails presuppositionless observations, depending on the presupposition. I’ll take myself as an example.

    (This is not an invitation for you to dispute my presuppositions. I don’t want to get on that rabbit trail, unless it specifically relates to the discussion previously in process.)

    My presuppositions on origins include:

    A. The Bible is trustworthy in all it affirms, when rightly interpreted, and there are principles that guide humans to correct interpretations.
    B. Scientific knowledge has the potential to lead us toward trustworthy knowledge when rightly interpreted, and there are principles that can guide humans in those directions. In terms of science I am a realist.
    C. Hermeneutical progress and scientific progress together contribute to moving us toward a true understanding of origins.

    My observations include:

    D. Scientific understandings regarding origins remain in significant dispute.
    E. Interpretations of Genesis remain in some dispute.

    Those observations are influenced by presuppositions. Granted.

    If, however, there were a different state of affairs, I would have the ability to see it differently. For example, if there were no dispute among any scientists whatsoever in the whole world, that fact would weigh heavily enough to cause me to have to adjust competing presuppositions, if I had any. (I’ve stated this in its most extreme form in hopes that the point could thereby be made more clear.) Presuppositions influence observations but do not absolutely determine them.

    My conclusions include:

    F. The question of origins is still open, and for me it is wise to suspend judgment until more hermeneutic and scientific clarity is achieved.
    G. Research into both should continue without hindrance.

    Note that you cannot jump from A,B,C directly to F&G, without D&E. Note that D&E are not determined by presuppositions, though they are certainly influenced by them.

    So one can recognize the strength of presuppositions and also allow empirical evidence into the epistemological scheme.

  36. Jacob

    You said that “I’m not sure my position entails presuppositionless observations, depending on the presupposition.”

    Let me try to show what I mean.

    Are you saying that the value you place on empirical evidence is part of your set of presuppositions, or would you say that empirical evidence is the determinate of perspectives?

    Think about a consistent logic of perspectivalism. There are multiple, struggling perspectives. Evidence does not settle the struggle. Rather, evidence is used by conversants in the struggle as a way to legitimate their perspective to an audience.

    Now think about the logic of empiricism. While there may be multiple perspectives on any given matter, ultimately empirical evidence and rational observers will settle any interpretational disputes.

    Two very different logics.

    Or think about it this way: In terms of reading the Bible, you draw a sharp distinction between the many possible interpretations and between the right interpretation. Is the right interpretation ultimately just an interpretation? Or is it solid and fixed? Similarly, you draw a sharp distinction between different scientific interpretations of origins and between right interpretations of origins. Is the right interpretation of origins still just an interpretation?

    Are you willing to say that right interpretations of the Bible and of Science are still ultimately just interpretations?

  37. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Interesting questions.

    I do not think we can shake loose of our presuppositions easily, though people do convert. There is a strong spiritual component to this, by the way. Without going into it in depth, the Bible teaches that those whom God has regenerated by the Holy Spirit will understand spiritual truth that others will not. So I would be contradicting my own beliefs if I were to hold that we only see and judge according to empirical evidence.

    But I’m still not sure you’re saying in regard to a “consistent logic of perspectivalism:”

    There are multiple, struggling perspectives. Evidence does not settle the struggle. Rather, evidence is used by conversants in the struggle as a way to legitimate their perspective to an audience.

    Are you saying that’s the only way persons use evidence? (As you know, I do not buy into your previously-stated opinion that – – in a simplified version – – everything we do is a language game.) What about using evidence to continually inform and shape their own beliefs? Presuppositions are firm, they have high inertia; but they are not immobile. You make it seem as if no one will pay attention to evidences except as hammers to hit others with. I’m probably misunderstanding you on that, though, so I invite you to clarify it for me.

    Now think about the logic of empiricism. While there may be multiple perspectives on any given matter, ultimately empirical evidence and rational observers will settle any interpretational disputes.
    Two very different logics.

    Different, and complementary, not contradictory.

    In terms of reading the Bible, you draw a sharp distinction between the many possible interpretations and between the right interpretation. Is the right interpretation ultimately just an interpretation? Or is it solid and fixed? Similarly, you draw a sharp distinction between different scientific interpretations of origins and between right interpretations of origins. Is the right interpretation of origins still just an interpretation?

    The right interpretation is that which tells the truth about the matter. In the case of origins, the right interpretation is the one that matches what actually happened. In the case of the Bible, the right interpretation is the one that rightly states the original intent along with contemporary applications that are consistent with that intent.

    The purpose of study, discussion, exploration, questioning, and so on is to move toward the right interpretation. This entails being aware of our presuppositions to the greatest extent that we can be, and even testing them in the light of logic and evidence.

    Presuppositions are informed by evidence, and may be adjusted in the light of experience (observation, reflection, existential situations, etc., in addition to spiritual experience). Experience is evaluated in the light of presuppositions. Neither is king over the other. The proper goal of interpretation is to arrive at what is actually true.

  38. Jacob

    Before I respond, I would like to hear your response to the question I asked above:

    Are you saying that the value you place on empirical evidence is part of your set of presuppositions, or would you say that empirical evidence is the determinate of perspectives?

  39. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Are those my only two choices? (Serious question.) Why would I limit myself to just these two?

    I thought I delineated my views on the relationship between these in my last post…

  40. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I posted those two questions just now in their own separate comment to highlight them. On the one hand I think there’s a false dichotomy there, and on the other hand I think I already answered them.

    But I’m not trying to play games with it, so I’ll actually try to answer again here now.

    Experience and presuppositions (I’m going to stick with that word instead of perspectives) work hand-in-hand to inform each other. “Empirical evidence” is a subset of experience, I suppose, though I don’t know exactly how you mean it. For some, empirical evidence means something like evidence obtained through a scientific approach. This approach is intended to reduce or eliminate the influence of personal presuppositions, and there was a time in science history when people thought it actually worked that way. No longer, however. There is no assumption-free science. And there is no presupposition-free experience.

    But there is also no experience-free set of presuppositions. The two complement one another, and together they produce beliefs, “perspectives,” opinions, expectations, and so on.

    The value I place on experience is part of my set of presuppositions, I suppose. I think it’s more direct and forthright to say I place value on experience because I could hardly help but do so!

    Experience is not what determines perspectives, if by that you mean it is the sole determinant of perspectives. It contributes to them.

    Now, I have a question for you: where are you heading with this? What’s the point of this series of questions?

  41. Jacob

    Where am I heading?

    I’m trying to flesh out what I think to be a logical problem in your post about ID.

  42. Tony Hoffman

    Tom,

    I think you are making things a lot harder than they need to be. Naturalist evolution cannot prove that everything can be explained in terms of natural cause and effect (the well established logical fact that one can’t prove the non-existence of God). So what.

    Naturalistic Evolution may be corrosive to religious convictions, but it is NOT a logical tool that one can use to prove the non-existence of God. Science relies on empiricism and a priori knowledge. Everything else (spiritual understanding, etc.) is not only superfluous, it is an impediment to science.

    You should be asking a different question: how would (should) belief in God affect the conduct of science? Because I think that is the point. And I think the answer is that should the two come in conflict we should prefer the knowledge provided by science.

  43. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Maybe there’s a problem of definitions here.

    Naturalistic evolution (as I use the term, and many others as well) doesn’t disprove God; instead, by definition, it assumes there is no God, or at least no involvement by God in natural history. What you have said here applies to evolution broadly speaking. When I use the term “naturalistic evolution,” I mean it in reference specifically to views of evolution that assume there is no God (or no involvement by God).

    Naturalism is the view that all that exists is matter and energy and their interactions according to law and chance. Naturalistic evolution is evolution under assumptions of naturalism. One could adhere to evolutionary theory without holding to naturalism. This post was directed just to those who do hold to naturalism.

    Your closing question is still a good one for future thought.

  44. Tony Hoffman

    I do agree that there is a problem of definitions here. I think that your seeing a null value as a negative value.

    An aside: I do some computer programming. Probably the most common mistake in computer programming is to perform a calculation on something that has a “null” value; variables can be assigned values (parameters), say true or false for the simplest forms (0 or 1). Or they can be unassigned, something called “null.” Computer programs rely on “methods,” in which the programmer states the variables, assigns values to the variables, then sets the rules for the actions that will be performed on the variables. With naturalistic evolution, because the proof of God’s existence cannot be determined (cannot be assigned a value of true or false), it simply can’t be used in the method. That is different than what you state — that naturalist evolution “assumes there is no god.”

    My point is that there’s a difference between assuming that there is no God, and saying that God has no place in the method. So that is where I disagree with your contention. I think you should amend your assertion to read “Naturalistic Evolution assumes that the existence of God has no place in its methods.” That is very different than taking a position on existence or non-existence.

  45. Tony Hoffman

    One more thing: “underdetermined” is a relative term. It does not mean unproven or undecided. It means that a scientific theory does a poorer job of explaining scientific facts than a competing theory. Theories are not underdetermined by the facts, they are underdetermined by other theories.

  46. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tony, I said that naturalistic evolution assumes either that there is no God or that he is not involved. I don’t know how that differs from what you wrote.

    I suppose you could infer it from my second paragraph. My first one is closer to the mark, in terms of the specific objection you raise.

  47. Tony Hoffman

    Tom,

    You wrote the headline:

    Naturalistic Evolution Underdetermined by the Evidence

    This implies that you are going to discuss a rival theory that explains biological organisms and their behavior at least as well as naturalistic evolution. You introduce no such competing theory. Instead you show how naturalistic evolution makes the assumption that God is not involved as evidence of… what?

    Naturalistic evolution makes its assumptions because that is what it does. It is not more or less close-minded than any other theory as a result — that would be like saying the Pythagorean Theorem is limiting because it fails to define Pi. It is far more productive as a science than theism, creationism, or intelligent design. How can you possibly imply that its economy, precision, and relative superiority are anything less than positive attributes to be counted in its favor?

  48. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    What I meant by “underdetermined by the evidence” is explained in the text:

    That is, one cannot validly conclude, just from evidence in nature, that everything can be explained only and exclusively in terms of natural causes and effects. There is always a background perspective.

    I went on to flesh out what I meant by that.

    If “underdetermined by the evidence” means something else in your mind, then you’re right, I probably did not address it.

  49. Tony Hoffman

    Tom,

    Two things:

    “Underdetermined” is an unusual word, but I do think my definition is the most common one, and I think the way your defining it in your text — as having presumptions that precede induction, is an obscure definition. So I thought the headline was misleading. (I actually had to read over a few times to make sure I wasn’t missing something.) I know it seems like I’m nitpicking, but your text and diagrams can be a little heavy, so I thought that it was ultimately misleading to not have the text reflect the headline. But now I sound like a little pedant, so I’m going to move on and stop bothering you about that.

    I think there’s a slightly insidious argument in this post, and in a lot of ID rationales, that posits that to not take the possibility of there being a God is an example of people being close-minded.

    I do think this is an effective trick — everyone wants to be on the side that’s open-minded. And while I agree that being a scientist or naturalist does not make one de facto open-minded, it does seem awfully odd to me that the ones who are doing the real science — the questioning, the hypothesizing, the research, etc., are the ones who are being accused of being close minded. I want to think about that more, and try to clarify my thoughts, but I think it comes back to my earlier point — what do we gain, what do we lose, by pre-supposing the existence of God when we conduct science.

    I’ll think about that one as well, but I wouldn’t mind hearing what you have to say on that topic, too.

  50. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tony,

    I do not mean to be insidious or manipulative at all.

    There are some scientists who have chosen a materialist/naturalist worldview. This is simply a statement of fact. I do not mean to say that all scientists have chosen that worldview. Agnosticism is obviously an option, as well as theism.

    Those who actually are materialists must also be evolutionists, regardless of the evidence. This is just as inevitable as that those who adopt a certain form of literal interpretation of Genesis must be young-earth creationists, regardless of the evidence.

    Note that one of those groups could be scientifically right, in a sense, even though their conclusions are entailed by nonscientific assumptions. The evidence might could conceivably line up with their assumptions. But members of both groups would be equally impervious to contrary evidence, to the extent that they were committed to their presuppositions. It’s the same for both.

    More importantly, though, note that I’m not saying that all evolutionists got to their conclusions that way. I’m only speaking about those who have a prior commitment to materialism. And not all ID proponents came to their conclusion via theology, either.

  51. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Also, that last comment stands side-by-side with the main point of this blog post, which is that if anyone concludes that evolution is just a natural process with no involvement whatever by God, that conclusion did not come from the evidence in nature. It came from somewhere else. The evidence in nature is not sufficient–cannot be sufficient–to show that there has been no involvement by God.

    In fact I think the evidence points the other way.

  52. Jacob

    Based on your diagram, is it not a possibility that someone would answer “yes, life is purposefully guided.” The purpose, however, is social purpose and not divine purpose.

    There would be a further split because to answer “yes” does not necessarily lead to a belief in “personal deity,” as you indicate.

  53. Post
    Author
  54. Jacob

    I guess for me it just doesn’t make much sense to talk “about the development of life before sentience arose.” It sounds like language gone on holiday to me.

    I prefer to say I have faith and trust that we and all that we imagine and talk about are creatures of God. There’s no proving or testing that claim. We might call it an interpretive perspective through which I see and understand life. It isn’t a hypothesis.

  55. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Then it is not possible to say the development of life is socially guided–because you are not willing or able to talk about the development of life. At least, not the development of life before social groups existed.

    But if “the development of life before sentience arose” is “language gone on holiday,” then every single textbook on evolution is “language gone on holiday,” and all discussions of the controversy are “language gone on holiday.”

  56. Jacob

    I’m willing to talk about the development of social life, which is all the life I think that we can talk about in any meaningful sense.

    And so while I think that biology offers empirically rich descriptions of life that are more or less useful for humans, I do not think that the discipline of biology or evolutionary theory offer any credible input into matters of ultimate concern.

  57. Post
    Author
  58. Jacob

    I agree, to a point. I still believe there are logical problems with the equivocation between perspectivalism and empiricism–which is an analytical dilemma that is ignored or left ambiguous at the expense of internal consistency and explanatory scope. That set of issues are still germane, it seems to me.

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