Evolution and Teleological Arguments
September 29, 2010 — 23:39

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Books of Interest Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 28

Over on my personal blog, I have, for the last six weeks or so, been reflecting on Jordan Howard Sobel’s 2003 Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God, and I have been invited to continue my series here at Prosblogion. Earlier posts have discussed, among other things, a variety of ontological and cosmological arguments. We join the discussion in chapter 7, Sobel’s critique of teleological (design) arguments.
Much of this chapter is devoted to Hume interpretation and to explaining Bayesianism. The latter seems to be one of several places where Sobel has not decided whether he is writing a textbook or a monograph. As for the former, the ‘analogical’ version of the teleological argument is, I think, not the strongest version and, although I haven’t conducted a survey of the various treatments, I would be surprised if Hume’s version turned out to be the best. After all, Hume is at most a half-hearted supporter of the argument; even he doesn’t think his argument is all that compelling. (Because the argument is contained in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, there are even some who doubt whether Hume means to endorse it at all.)
The first really interesting thing in this chapter is the discussion of whether the appearance of design in the biological world, or other facts about biology, might manage to make theistic evolution more probable than unguided evolution (pp. 272-277). Sobel makes essentially two points: first, with the possible exception of pre-biotic evolution (the development of the first life forms) there aren’t really any ‘gaps’ left for a God to plug, and, second, that given what we now know, evolution really doesn’t look planned or, at least, whoever was doing the planning could’ve done a better job of it.
The first point, I think, is completely misguided, but I am not inclined to blame Sobel because so many of his opponents are misguided in this way. Hume (according to Sobel) believed that some kind of indefinite and probably imperfect designer was needed to bring about life. ‘Intelligent Design’ advocates frequently claim that there is some feature of the world that must have happened by a supernatural entity interfering with the course of nature. Hume didn’t mean to be defending the religious tradition, but many of the ID folks are trying to do just that. Now, a frequently cited problem with ‘God-of-the-gaps’ arguments is that history shows that ‘gaps’ have a tendency to get plugged with perfectly naturalistic solutions. Some ID folks have tried to solve this by giving some kind of reason for thinking that some of the ‘gaps’ are special and unlikely to be plugged. For those who are trying to defend the religious tradition, however, there is a bigger problem: the doctrine of divine sovereignty. The God of western monotheism can never be a ‘God-of-the-gaps’: either he is Lord of all creation, or he does not exist. This is not, in itself, an argument against law-breaking miracles (though I’ve got some of those); it is just to say that, from the perspective of the religious tradition, we must attribute the whole natural order to God, rather than only crediting God with deviations from the natural order. In my view, then, the plugging of ‘gaps’ should not be troubling to traditional theists, though it might be troubling for non-traditional theists/deists such as Hume might have been. This, let it be stressed, is because even if there were unfillable ‘gaps,’ this would not help to support theism. I would even go so far as to say that such ‘gaps’ would be evidence against the existence of God, as traditionally conceived. (In addition to my paper, see Christine Overall, “Miracles as Evidence Against the Existence of God,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 23 (1985): 347-353. Also, I recently stumbled upon this short news item which quotes Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer, comparing ID to Paganism, on the same grounds I’ve mentioned.)
Sobel’s second point is more interesting. Although Sobel doesn’t consider a theory that has God accomplishing his purposes through natural evolutionary processes without law-breaking interventions (this is the account I favor), he does point to some issues that should trouble evolutionary theists. The evolutionary process is brutal and seems to proceed by fits and starts. Many species die out; many animals have useless organs of various kinds; the system depends crucially on death and suffering. Wouldn’t we expect God to do better?
On the other hand, from an engineering/design principles perspective, evolution is really quite pretty: it’s a self-improving system. And not just self-improving like Bayesian learning for artificial intelligences; self-improving like going from ooze to the human brain. That’s quite an improvement! There are problems about a benevolent God accomplishing his purposes through death and suffering, and I don’t mean to minimize those. But they may be counter-balanced, at least to some degree, by the sheer impressiveness of the system. Furthermore, since Sobel is interested in considering non-traditional gods (p. 259), we might consider a designer who doesn’t care about pain and suffering and just wants to generate sophisticated and intelligent creatures from the simplest basic principles possible. Such a designer would, it seems, be very likely to choose a process like evolution.
It seems to me, then, that evolutionary theory has two effects on the debate at this point: (1) it rules out some, but by no means all, non-traditional gods, and (2) it introduces some new complexity to our treatment of the problem of evil. However, contrary to Sobel’s assertions (pp. 272-274), it has not undermined any argument for the traditional God which was any good to begin with.
[cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]

Comments:
  • Evolution and Teleological Arguments

    Much of Sobel’s chapter on teleological (design) arguments is devoted to Hume interpretation and to explaining Bayesianism. The latter seems to be one of several places where Sobel has not decided whether he is writing a textbook or a monograph. As for…

    September 29, 2010 — 23:58
  • Blake

    I know this was only a small part of your post, but I think it’s a mistake to couple the I.D. theory with “a supernatural entity” and “God-of-the-gaps” in that way (just as much as it would be to couple the Big Bang theory with such things). It doesn’t matter if the theory in question has theistic/supernatural implications. Whether an intelligent cause is located within or outside nature (i.e., is respectively natural or supernatural) is a separate question from whether an intelligent cause has operated. So, the references to I.D. or specifically “I.D. proponents” are unnecessary to make your point and potentially misleading. Better to have left them out (imho).
    Of course, if its a mistake to couple I.D. theory with “a supernatural entity”, its a serious mistake to associated it with “God-of-the-gaps”. I.D. theory is supposed to be an inference to the best explanation, and it’s based on what we do know rather than what we don’t know. As philosopher Stephen Meyers puts it, “We are not ignorant of how information arises. We know from experience that conscious intelligent agents can create information sequence and systems […] Experience teaches that whenever large amounts of specified complexity or information are present in an artifact or entity whose causal history is known, invariably creative intelligence-intelligent design-played a role in the origin of that entity. […] Premise One: Causes A through X do not produce evidence E. Premise Two: Cause Y can and does produce E. Conclusion: Y explains E better than A through X.” A far cry from God-of-the-gaps.

    September 30, 2010 — 1:18
  • Hi Blake,
    I am aware that there are many varieties of ID, and that proponents take different stands on a variety of issues. However, I think that any view that begins with ‘irreducible complexity’ and ends with God (as, for instance, I believe Michael Behe does) will be executing the sort of strategy I criticize: namely, trying to get to God from particular gaps in nature which are unlikely to be filled in the future.
    The Meyers quote you bring up appears to me to be closer to the Dembski version of ID than the Behe version. The Dembski version is, I agree, the better version. I tried not to lump all ID proponents together, and also to make it clear that not everything I was saying was necessarily a consequence of (minimal) ID as such. Rather, I note that many of the proponents of ID think that there is a chain of reasoning which starts with ID and leads in the end to the traditional God. This chain of reasoning, which involves but is not identical with ID, is in real danger of leading to a God who is God only of the gaps. Now, for a variety of reasons, many ID proponents think it is important to keep ID proper separate from the part where we infer the existence of the traditional God, and that’s fine. What I mean to comment on is just a particular pattern of reasoning that might be used by someone who thought that ID ultimately supported some sort of traditional theism. I think that on versions of ID that rely on irreducible complexity, there is a definite problem here. On versions which rely on “specified complexity or information’, the issues are more complicated.
    Of course, if I am simply making a mistake in my characterization of ID proponents I am happy to be corrected by those who are more familiar with their writings than I.

    September 30, 2010 — 1:39
  • Mike Almeida

    There are problems about a benevolent God accomplishing his purposes through death and suffering, and I don’t mean to minimize those. But they may be counter-balanced, at least to some degree, by the sheer impressiveness of the system.
    Hi Kenny,
    I don’t see the counterbalance at all, though I grant that the system is impressive. Let’s say that it is vastly impressive. So long as there is a way to achieve the same results with much less suffering–and that is the entire point of the objection–then it won’t matter how impressive the system happens to be, it won’t do any counterbalancing. That impressive outcome is achieveable in less morally abhorant ways. Maybe by ‘impressive system’ you’re talking about an aesthetic property of the system. But this is like saying that an instrument of torture–say some version of the rack–is an engineering marvel and that counterbalances the horrible purposes to which it has been put. Scary argument.
    Furthermore, since Sobel is interested in considering non-traditional gods (p. 259), we might consider a designer who doesn’t care about pain and suffering and just wants to generate sophisticated and intelligent creatures from the simplest basic principles possible. Such a designer would, it seems, be very likely to choose a process like evolution.
    Why do you say this would be ‘very likely’? Why bring it about this particular way rather than countless other possible ways? Surely there are any number of ways that are just as impressive. Surely there are other ways that have the theoretical virtue of being simpler, less wasteful, more efficient, etc. Even if the creator does not care about suffering, he might care about other such virtues. No?

    September 30, 2010 — 7:57
  • Dan

    Kenny,
    (QUOTE)Now, a frequently cited problem with ‘God-of-the-gaps’ arguments is that history shows that ‘gaps’ have a tendency to get plugged with perfectly naturalistic solutions. Some ID folks have tried to solve this by giving some kind of reason for thinking that some of the ‘gaps’ are special and unlikely to be plugged. For those who are trying to defend the religious tradition, however, there is a bigger problem: the doctrine of divine sovereignty. The God of western monotheism can never be a ‘God-of-the-gaps’: either he is Lord of all creation, or he does not exist.(ENDQ)
    You seem to assume that if we have a God who is a God-of-the-gaps, then this God is not Lord of all creation. I don’t think this follows. It would only follow if we character this God as a God-*only*-of-the-gaps. But first, has any ID proponent actually claimed this; and second, is there any reason why one should? Perhaps God is sovereign over all creation, and yet there are some event that occur in the universe that God has not sovereignly superintended through the operation of created, secondary causes (or laws of nature). Such gaps could provide evidence for His existence, and (imo) this would imply neither that (i.) God is not the ultimate cause of the “non-gappy” parts nor that (ii.) the non-gappy parts of nature provide no evidence for His existence.
    (QUOTE)This is not, in itself, an argument against law-breaking miracles (though I’ve got some of those); it is just to say that, from the perspective of the religious tradition, we must attribute the whole natural order to God, rather than only crediting God with deviations from the natural order.(ENDQ)
    And believing that there are gaps in nature that God “plugs” without secondary causes does not imply that one *only* credits God with plugging the gaps. To appeal to a gap is not to deny God credit to the non-gappy parts; it is to deny (even partial) credit to a natural cause/law in the gappy parts.
    (QUOTE)In my view, then, the plugging of ‘gaps’ should not be troubling to traditional theists, though it might be troubling for non-traditional theists/deists such as Hume might have been. This, let it be stressed, is because even if there were unfillable ‘gaps,’ this would not help to support theism. I would even go so far as to say that such ‘gaps’ would be evidence against the existence of God, as traditionally conceived.(ENDQ)
    I agree that gap-plugging should not trouble a theist; but I fail to see why one should think that gaps would not support theism; and, a fortiori, why one should think that they would be evidence against God’s existence. “Traditional” theists fall under specific “revealed” religions, all of which (I believe) explicitly have a view of God as one who works miracles. As a Christian, it seems completely consonant with the view of God as presented in Scripture that God would “punctuate” the natural history of the world with miraculous events that cannot be predicted by prior obtaining laws and initial conditions (e.g., the resurrection, the eschaton).

    September 30, 2010 — 8:56
  • Kenny Pearce

    Mike,
    I think that beauty, regularity, comprehensibility by finite minds, etc., are values that God would care about. I find it hard to buy what I take Leibniz’s view to be (at least in the late work Theodicy), namely, that these values completely outweigh the evils we observe, but I think they are values. In fact, I think it is better for human beings to experience small amounts of pain and live in a world they can understand whose beauty they can appreciate, etc., than to live in an incomprehensible world filled with a disorderly variety of pleasures. But in fact, many human beings experience very large amounts of pain and suffering, so I would tend to think that their lot is not so good as those in the pleasurable and disorderly world.
    As far as what the non-traditional disinterested engineer god would do, I’m not familiar with any other ways of starting with very simple ingredients operating according to simple laws and ending up with complex entities like us. Being unable to so much as conceive of another way of doing this, I can’t say whether another way would be better, less wasteful, etc.
    Dan,
    I used perhaps a little bit of rhetoric in that part of my post, but what I mean is this: we need a stronger doctrine of providence. A doctrine according to which the world God created does what God wanted it to do. Here’s Leibniz:

    A true providence of God requires a perfect foresight. But then it requires, moreover, not only that he should have foreseen everything but also that he should have provided for everything beforehand with proper remedies; otherwise he must either want wisdom to foresee things or power to provide for them. (Second Letter to Clarke, sect. 9, tr. Ariew and Garber)

    I find this line of reasoning very convincing. As a result, I think that unpluggable gaps might well be evidence for the supernatural, but they can’t be evidence for a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly wise – that sort of God is not likely, as far as I can see, to leave gaps. Note that these arguments appeal to the best explanation, so if they are going to give us reasons to believe, we have to stick with the predictions that we can derive from the theistic hypothesis, so even if God might have reasons for leaving gaps that we can’t possibly fathom, that won’t help.
    As far as miracles, I agree that it is part of the tradition that they occur, and I agree that they in fact occur. I do not agree that they violate natural laws. The law-breaking account of miracles is due to Hume. Aquinas has a more complicated account which still, in my view, amounts to ‘gappiness’. I find no definition of ‘miracle’ in the Bible or in any confessional documents with which I am familiar; even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a very long and detailed document, I could not find a definition of ‘miracle’. As a result, I think that, as far as the religious tradition goes, any definition that (1) is extensionally adequate, and (2) serves the epistemic and devotional purposes miracles are normally thought to serve, should be fine from the perspective of the Christian tradition.
    I have presented these arguments in greater detail and developed such a definition in the paper I linked in the text.

    September 30, 2010 — 11:09
  • “The first really interesting thing in this chapter is the discussion of whether the appearance of design in the biological world, or other facts about biology, might manage to make theistic evolution more probable than unguided evolution”
    Apologies for the daft question, but this has been bugging me for a while. What do philosophers mean when they talk about things being more or less “probable”?
    I’m all too familiar with how mathematicians handle probability. But I often see philosophers use the term in ways that would make a measure theorist break down in tears, so I assume there’s a difference in idiom here.

    September 30, 2010 — 12:48
  • Kenny Pearce

    Hi Lifewish,
    That’s a good question, but a very difficult one. Sobel is here using a Bayesian theory of probability, which means that he takes probabilities to be something like degrees of rational confidence. (This isn’t always what philosophers mean.) So in the quote there, the question is whether coming to know the biological facts should make us more confident in theistic evolution and less confident in unguided evolution.
    Bayesians believe that our levels of confidence (“credences”) should be governed by the mathematics of probability theory, but in order for the Bayesian theory to work you have to have an initial probability distribution, and you can’t set that by frequentist means.

    September 30, 2010 — 14:45
  • Dan

    Kenny: we need a stronger doctrine of providence. A doctrine according to which the world God created does what God wanted it to do. Here’s Leibniz:

    A true providence of God requires a perfect foresight. But then it requires, moreover, not only that he should have foreseen everything but also that he should have provided for everything beforehand with proper remedies; otherwise he must either want wisdom to foresee things or power to provide for them.

    I find this line of reasoning very convincing.

    If by “provided for everything beforehand with proper remedies” Leibniz means foreordaining secondary causes to govern everything in nature, then I reject his inference (“otherwise he…”). If there are some events in nature that God brings about without doing so through secondary causes (i.e., if we have a “gap” in nature), this implies neither that God did not foresee the gap nor that God lacked the power to arrange for secondary causes to do what He chose to do without secondary causes. To get the conclusion that such a God would lack the relevant power, we need a premise to the effect that, if God could have (i.e., had the “power”) superintended the relevant events (in the gap) through secondary causes (such that there would be no gap), then he would have done so – a premise that strikes me as something in need of defense. Further, even if there are events in the universe that God lacks the power to bring about through secondary causes, this does not necessarily imply any defect either in God or in His power; for some such events may be necessarily such that God could only bring them about directly.
    If, on the other hand, “providing for everything beforehand with proper remedies” simply means arranging for whatever happens in nature beforehand (without implying whether these “remedies” are secondary causes in the natural world), then I can agree with him; and note that this poses no problem for the view that we have gaps in nature.

    Kenny: As a result, I think that unpluggable gaps might well be evidence for the supernatural, but they can’t be evidence for a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly wise – that sort of God is not likely, as far as I can see, to leave gaps.

    First, I don’t see why one should think that this sort of God is not likely to leave gaps (i.e., gaps that are unpluggable by secondary causes in nature). Second, I think the Christian has very good reasons to deny that God is like this. First, we have Jesus’s resurrection. This was not merely a re-animation of a corpse, but a transformation of his body into a new kind of body peculiar to the mode of human existence in the “age to come;” and as such it is very hard to see how this resurrection could have been brought about by any sort of secondary causes in nature (one would need to account not only for the resurrection-event itself but for the nature of the post-resurrection life). Second, there is the eschaton, i.e., the second coming of Jesus. This will involve a number of events each of which seem to deny explanation in terms of natural causes. E.g., the resurrection of human beings, and the transformation of the created order. These are “gaps,” one of which is in the “middle” (roughly) of history, the other of which is at its “end” (of history as we know it). With beliefs like these in place, it seems quite natural to suppose that history has been marked by other “intrusions” of divine action that are not mediated by secondary causes (e.g., the creation of life, the elevation of certain primates to man, the Genesis flood (which Peter likens to the eschaton)). I’m not arguing here that such events (and others could be added) are in fact gappy, but trying to dispel the presumption that they are not.
    I haven’t tried to present reasons for thinking that the sort of God in view would leave gaps, but have just tried to show that it is plausible to think that, whatever the reasons, He has. Because of the length I’ll just leave it at that; but I do think there are some interesting potential answers to the issue of why He would leave gaps. It still seems to me that a gap in nature (a salient gap, pertaining to, e.g., the origin of life itself) confirms theism (though admittedly not a kind of theism front-loaded with an assumption that God brings about everything that He does in the universe through secondary (and natural) causes) and disconfirms naturalism; and that a proponent of ID is in no way committed to endorsing a God-only-of-the-gaps view that severely truncates the extent of divine sovereignty. (ID proponent Jay Richards has made this point, saying that the ID thesis that there is special evidence of design in the natural world does not imply that aspects of nature that do not exhibit the relevant features are undesigned.)

    October 1, 2010 — 11:02
  • Kenny Pearce

    Well, it all depends on what you think “secondary causes” amount to. One of Leibniz’s core principles (I am generally a follower of Leibniz in matters of philosophical theology), which seems quite plausible to me, is that rationality has to do with having rules in mind and consistently acting according to them. The rules God acts according to, might well be called laws. If God is perfectly rational, then everything is lawful.
    Now, I’m willing (and Leibniz is willing) to allow for the possibility of supernatural (non-physical) laws. Maybe once we’ve done this, you won’t disagree with us any more. But it would be very odd if God’s laws were set up in such a way as to conflict with one another. It would be much more sensible for him to make harmonious laws. These sorts of harmonious laws are, I take it, what traditional theism predicts. If this prediction is false, that’s evidence against theism, not evidence for it. (Evidence against, not decisive disproof – God may have reasons unknown to us.)
    On the other hand, Leibniz is willing to allow two exceptions: the creation of the world, and the incarnation. On Leibniz’s theory it is logically impossible for either of these events to have secondary causes. But there are very good reasons for God to do these things, so it makes sense that he will do them without secondary causes. For all we know, there may be more events like this. But theism doesn’t predict that there are more events like this. On the contrary, it predicts that there are very few if any of them, and that they are only in cases where it is logically impossible that God’s purposes be accomplished according to the laws. There are a lot of surprising hidden connections in logical space so, for all I know, it is logically impossible that life arise without such a law-breaking intervention, but I find this hard to believe.

    October 1, 2010 — 11:46
  • Dan

    Well, it all depends on what you think “secondary causes” amount to.

    You spoke of the danger (for some views) of alleged gaps in nature being eventually plugged with naturalistic explanations. So what I have in mind by a gap in nature is an event or series of events for which, in principle (not merely relative to our current state of knowledge), there is no good naturalistic explanation (where by a “naturalistic” explanation I do not mean one that entails naturalism, but one that makes no mention of the supernatural, even implicitly). I suppose there are a number of possible accounts of a secondary cause (depending on one’s view of divine conservation/providence), but for now just let it be a placeholder for a naturalistic explanation (though the use of ‘secondary’ obviously indicates a belief in an ultimate supernatural cause “behind” the secondary/proximate naturalistic one).

    Now, I’m willing (and Leibniz is willing) to allow for the possibility of supernatural (non-physical) laws. Maybe once we’ve done this, you won’t disagree with us any more. But it would be very odd if God’s laws were set up in such a way as to conflict with one another. It would be much more sensible for him to make harmonious laws. These sorts of harmonious laws are, I take it, what traditional theism predicts. If this prediction is false, that’s evidence against theism, not evidence for it. (Evidence against, not decisive disproof – God may have reasons unknown to us.)

    It’s not clear to me how to understand a supernatural law, but I’m wondering how it would be relevant to your criticism of ID (and, more generally, your claim that gaps in nature would disconfirm, though not disprove, theism). Can a supernatural law be cashed out in terms of a naturalistic explanation (or at least be judged logically equivalent with such an explanation)? If not, then I don’t see how it’s relevant to the ID criticism and the more general claim, since these criticisms (as I understood them) rested on the alleged problem with there being gaps in nature – areas in principle recalcitrant to good naturalistic explanation.

    On the other hand, Leibniz is willing to allow two exceptions: the creation of the world, and the incarnation. On Leibniz’s theory it is logically impossible for either of these events to have secondary causes. But there are very good reasons for God to do these things, so it makes sense that he will do them without secondary causes. For all we know, there may be more events like this. But theism doesn’t predict that there are more events like this.

    Theism doesn’t predict the incarnation; only Christian theism does. And I have explained (in prior posts) how, if we are making predictions on the basis of Christian theism (rather than some bare theism), we have positive reason to think there are gaps in nature (whether or not they are like the creation and incarnation in being such that God could not possibly bring them about through secondary causes).

    October 1, 2010 — 14:01
  • Here is the central claim: since rationality involves rule-following, a world created by a perfectly rational God would be highly regular. Any exception to natural laws is an irregularity. Therefore, a world created by a perfectly rational God would have few if any exceptions to natural laws.
    Now it may be (indeed probably is) the case that not all of the regularities are natural laws. (For instance, some of them probably have to do with immaterial substances.) Nevertheless, the natural laws ARE regularities, so insofar as we think God is rational, we have reason to believe that these regularities will be followed. (As I said, I discuss these issues in more detail in my paper.)
    As for predicting the incarnation, this depends on the sense of ‘predict’. For instance, generic theism predicts that God acts benevolently toward creatures. The incarnation was an act of benevolence. Of course, human beings couldn’t guess that God would perform this particular benevolent act simply because they knew that there was a benevolent God.
    I deny that Christian theism provides reasons for believing in gaps. First, Christian theism includes generic theism and, I am arguing that generic theism predicts that there are very few or no gaps. Furthermore, there are no particular Christian doctrines that require gaps. There are Christian doctrines which say that certain events have happened and will happen such that we have not discovered and are unlikely ever to discover any naturalistic explanation for those events. However, on the basis of thoughts about divine rationality and the doctrine of providence/sovereignty, I think we should hold that those events nevertheless HAVE naturalistic explanations (unknown to us). Admittedly, I haven’t laid out detailed arguments for this position, but I don’t see that you have made any argument against it, and I also don’t see that you have made any objections to the general considerations (admittedly falling short of detailed arguments) which I have presented in its favor.

    October 1, 2010 — 19:42
  • Dan

    I deny that Christian theism provides reasons for believing in gaps. First, Christian theism includes generic theism and, I am arguing that generic theism predicts that there are very few or no gaps.

    I assume that by generic theism you mean the existence of one all-powerful, all-knowing (and all-wise), morally perfect deity. I don’t think it follows from the idea that christian theism includes generic theism as a (proper) part that christian theism does not predict gaps (events in nature in principle recalcitrant to good naturalistic explanation). If a whole has a part that necessitates a state of affairs, then the whole (provided it is coherent), likewise does; not so with mere probabilistic prediction. One part may predict X, another part predict ~X to a greater degree, such that, on the whole, ~X is predicted more than X. This principle, as applied to the case at hand, depends on the idea that generic theism’s “no gap” prediction (assuming for the sake of discussion that it has such a prediction) is such that it can be undermined by conditionalizing on more information that is consistent with generic theism.
    If, however, generic theism is construed such that any further information that would jeopardize the “no-gaps” prediction is inconsistent with generic theism (rather than merely a supplement to it), then it would be question-begging to assume as you do that christian theism includes generic theism. I have argued that the christian has good positive reason to believe God has ordained gaps. If generic theism’s inclusion in a broader theory suffices for the whole’s predicting no gaps, then this is tantamount to an argument that christian theism does not include “generic theism” (so construed).

    Furthermore, there are no particular Christian doctrines that require gaps.

    You claimed above: “I deny that Christian theism provides reasons for believing in gaps.” This is not supported merely by the fact (if it is a fact) that no christian doctrine requires (epistemically necessarily, given what we know) gaps. It could be that no such doctrine requires, in this sense, a gap, and yet that certain doctrines provide good reason to believe there are gaps; or that the probability of there being gaps is greater than less, given such doctrines plus everything else we know.

    There are Christian doctrines which say that certain events have happened and will happen such that we have not discovered and are unlikely ever to discover any naturalistic explanation for those events. However, on the basis of thoughts about divine rationality and the doctrine of providence/sovereignty, I think we should hold that those events nevertheless HAVE naturalistic explanations (unknown to us). Admittedly, I haven’t laid out detailed arguments for this position, but I don’t see that you have made any argument against it, and I also don’t see that you have made any objections to the general considerations (admittedly falling short of detailed arguments) which I have presented in its favor.

    First, there may be a methodological dispute here: does one have a general theory about divine rationality, from which one believes it probable that certain doctrines (e.g., resurrection, eschaton) instantiate a certain character that they appear to lack (i.e., having a naturalistic explanation); or does one start with the doctrines (with their apparent character) and let that shape one’s view of what is (not) mandated by divine “rationality”? I certainly have argued in prior posts that, given christianity, it is plausible that there are gaps; though I admit I haven’t argued against your view of divine rationality from which you (seem to) generate the conclusion that there are (probably) no gaps (more precisely, gaps that are not logically necessarily gaps). I simply haven’t read your paper and am not aware of the intricacies of the theory of rationality from which are working.
    Second, even if your prediction is right, that events that appear to lack naturalistic explanation in fact have such explanation, this seems insufficient for your purposes. For, the challenge to ID, and the more general challenge that a view of nature on which there are gaps poses problems for theism, depends on the idea that we have a way of distinguishing (at least roughly) between what kind of explanation would be a naturalistic one, and what kind would be a “god-of-the-gaps” one. For example, presumably you think that ID implies that, in some cases, events in nature have a god-of-the-gaps explanation rather than a naturalistic explanation. If ID’s explanations could be construed as naturalistic ones, then your objection to them (as I understand it) would be otiose. However, if we are willing to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes a “naturalistic” explanation so that Christ’s resurrection (and, more saliently, His present mode of life) and Second Coming (along with all it will entail) have a “naturalistic” explanation, then I don’t see how one could not also take any sort of divine intervention dreamt up by an ID proponent and maintain that it too has a naturalistic explanation (simply one which we currently have no knowledge of).
    In other words, if there are christian doctrines implying that there are plausibly gaps (which I have argued in prior posts), then generic theism (insofar as it is conjoined with christianity) does not predict no-gaps; and if such events are not in fact gaps, then I don’t see any basis upon which one could legitimately attempt to disconfirm theism by identifying a gap in nature (i.e., an area in which a “rational” God, were He to exist, would have done things differently); because, on such a view of gaps, we would have no reason to believe we are in a position to identify a genuine gap. Of course, someone, like an ID theorist, might claim that, on his theory, event E is a “gap.” But, if we get clear on what we mean by “gap,” he could easily revise his theory and just say that E is a “gap” in the sense that Christ’s resurrection is a “gap,” and that E might very well not be a “gap” in the sense that the resurrection could conceivably turn out to not be a “gap.”
    You might challenge the connection between specially revealed “gaps” (however one reads ‘gaps’) and the conceivable “gaps” relevant for a critique of ID or, more generally, a certain mindset, of which ID partakes, when it comes to understanding natural history (with respect to, e.g., the origin of Earth, life, man, etc.). But prima facie it seems that there is a connection. I’m not claiming revealed doctrine makes extra-biblical conceivable “gaps” in nature more probable than not, but that revealed doctrine defeats presumption (and any theory implying such presumption) that there are no such “gaps.”

    October 4, 2010 — 10:33
  • Kenny Pearce

    Here’s what I’m thinking. Consider just the conjunction of generic theism with the resurrection. I would claim: generic theism predicts that there are no genuine gaps. The resurrection is an apparent gap. But we already know that some apparent gaps are not actual gaps. So the resurrection is probably one of those. (I would say the same for the other Biblical miracles.) Once we realize that we already have good reason to believe that there are laws more fundamental than the ones we (that is, not you and I in particular, but humans generally) know, and that the laws we do know do not always allow us to reliably predict events occurring in complicated systems, I start to think that it’s not THAT implausible that ANY of the Biblical miracles could turn out to be lawful. Now, I admit that they do APPEAR to be unlawful, so in that sense I guess I’m willing to concede that Christianity gives SOME reason to believe in gaps, I just think it’s a very weak reason, and that there are overriding reasons not to believe in gaps which are internal to Christianity.
    On ID. Call the following thesis ‘Behe Intelligent Design’:

    (BID) Evolutionary history contains ‘jumps’ which could not have occurred without the intervention of an intelligence.

    This is the only part of the view under discussion that actually IS Intelligent Design and, as ID supporters are quick to point out, it doesn’t mention God. But I think a lot of people who support ID also support an argument like the following:
    (1) BID
    (2) If the intelligence in BID was natural or contingent, another intelligence would be required to explain it.
    (3) There cannot be an infinite regress or cycle of intelligent designers.
    :. (4) There is a supernatural necessary intelligence.
    (5) If there is a supernatural necessary intelligence it is God.
    :. (6) God exists.
    Do you agree that some ID proponents would think that this was sound reasoning (as long as we made it clear that only step (1) was part of ID)?
    Anyway, the problem I have with this is that it’s got God mucking about with things to get the outcome right, instead of just making a world that got the outcome right in the first place. According to your view, why does God do this? Now, it is certainly true that God frequently does things for reasons we can’t understand. But here’s the thing: if there is some intelligence mucking about in evolutionary history then, based on what we know about God (e.g. that he designed the laws of nature and set up the initial conditions by himself, that he can foresee all the consequences of his actions, that he never changes his mind, etc.) it is far more likely that it’s someone else. Once we allow that, then the argument becomes just a modified cosmological argument with more controversial premises. Furthermore, we conclude that the intelligence involved in BID is, as Consolmagno says, a “pagan god of thunder and lightning” – that is, a lesser supernatural intelligence introduced just to explain a handful of particular phenomena.

    October 4, 2010 — 12:35
  • “As a result, I think that unpluggable gaps might well be evidence for the supernatural, but they can’t be evidence for a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly wise – that sort of God is not likely, as far as I can see, to leave gaps.”
    Plausibly, certain kinds of complexity are such that it is logically impossible that they be reliably achieved except through (a) complex laws of nature, (b) simple laws and supernatural intervention, (c) front-loading of complexity in the initial conditions or (d) massive amounts of stochasticity via a multiverse or a very large universe. (The “reliably” is tied to the possibility of stochastic processes that have a small probability of producing such complexities. Producing them through such processes wouldn’t count as reliably producing them, because God would likely have to intervene to ensure that the stochastic processes went in the direction he needed.) Now it is far from clear that (b) is a worse option for an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly wise God than either (a), (c) or (d). There is a value to the world growing in complexity, whether with or without divine help (that there is divine help does not remove the value of growth, just as the value of our moral development is not removed by the development being made possible by grace), and that isn’t served as well by (c). And there is a value to having simple laws of nature, which isn’t served by (a). And (d) is messy.
    Furthermore, (a) may also result in the appearance of gaps, since one kind of complex laws that would do the job are laws that contain explicit exceptions for particular situations, and those situations will look like gaps.
    Let E = God has a goal that requires the requisite kind of complexity and that he wants to be reliably produced. Let gap be the existence of the sorts of complexity-productive gaps that ID theorists talk about. It seems plausible that the probabilities of (a), (b), (c) and (d) given E are all on par. Then, approximately, P(gap|E) = P(b|E) + P(gap|a&E)P(a|E) = 1/4 + (1/2)(1/4) = 3/8 (1/2 is my estimate of P(G|a&E), in light of the preceding paragraph). I think P(E|God exists) is high, maybe 3/4. So, P(gap|God exists) is about (3/8)(3/4) = 0.28. That is by no means a small number. On the other hand, P(gap|naturalism) is astronomically small, say 10^(-50) (the gaps that ID folks are talking about are such that it is astronomically unlikely that they occur given the laws of nature–whether they’re right about this is, of course, another question). So, the existence of a gap of the sort ID folks mention very strongly supports the existence of God over naturalism.
    But maybe it supports the existence of a finite deity even better than it supports the existence of God. I don’t know that that is true. First of all, the probability that a finite deity would have the sorts of goals, like the production of intelligent life, that require complexity like that in E is going to be smaller than the probability that a perfect being has those sorts of goals. A finite deity is less likely to control the laws of nature, which lowers the relative probability of (a). Moreover, to the extent that a finite deity is less likely to control the laws of nature, that deity is also less likely to be able to do miracles, and that somewhat lowers the relative probability of (b) (maybe it lowers it a bit less than it lowers the probability of (a), because maybe it’s easier to break the laws than to make laws, but that isn’t all that obvious). Putting all this together, it seems to me that P(gap|finite deity exists) is not going to be significantly higher than P(gap|God exists), and may even be quite a bit lower.
    Consequently, the existence of a gap does not provide significant evidence for a finite deity over God.
    Taking as our three serious options God, finite deity and naturalism, it seems that the existence of gaps of complexity would raise the probability of the first two options significantly and significantly lower the probability of the third. In particular, the existence of gaps raises the probability of the existence of a God who is Lord not only of the gaps but of everything.

    October 5, 2010 — 9:47
  • Dan

    Kenny,

    Consider just the conjunction of generic theism with the resurrection. I would claim: generic theism predicts that there are no genuine gaps. The resurrection is an apparent gap. But we already know that some apparent gaps are not actual gaps. So the resurrection is probably one of those. (I would say the same for the other Biblical miracles.)

    Now, I admit that they do APPEAR to be unlawful, so in that sense I guess I’m willing to concede that Christianity gives SOME reason to believe in gaps, I just think it’s a very weak reason, and that there are overriding reasons not to believe in gaps which are internal to Christianity.

    Here I’m inclined to return to the dilemma I gave last time. Even if I grant that it is plausible that, e.g., the resurrection is not a gap, not unlawful, we now have a situation wherein certain things that appear unlawful are in fact lawful; in which case, on what basis can one justifiedly claim that ID appeals to unlawful events (instead of merely apparently unlawful events, like the resurrection)?

    Call the following thesis ‘Behe Intelligent Design’:
    (BID) Evolutionary history contains ‘jumps’ which could not have occurred without the intervention of an intelligence.

    I’m fine with operating with this thesis, provided that ‘intervention’ is not understood stipulatively to have tendentious connotations (e.g., an intervention due to an imperfect lack of foresight, etc.).

    Do you agree that some ID proponents would think that this was sound reasoning (as long as we made it clear that only step (1) was part of ID)?

    Yes, provided (2) was weakened so as to not assume there is just one designer, and it is added that there can be no more than one supernatural necessary intelligent substance.

    Anyway, the problem I have with this is that it’s got God mucking about with things to get the outcome right, instead of just making a world that got the outcome right in the first place.

    First, “mucking about” seems tendentious, and I don’t see why an ID proponent need think of it in those terms. Second, how does your reasoning not prove too much, not generalize to specially revealed miracles (whether or not they are construed as lawful)? For example, consider the eschaton, and suppose that it will be a radical transformation of the created order that occurs in a relatively short amount of time. (This is a plausible interpretation of the christian doctrine). Would not you have to say, by the same reasoning: “On this doctrine, God is mucking about [in performing the transformation] to get the outcome right, instead of just making a world that got the outcome right in the first place [e.g., by having a natural law that gradually transitioned the created order into the transformed state; or, perhaps, by just creating in the first place a universe with the basic character that the transformed state will have]”.
    Just as one might complain about a “jump” in evolutionary history, one might complain about a jump at the eschaton. If the latter kind of jump is “lawful” (despite appearing not to be) why not the former (despite appearances)? If the latter kind of jump is “unlawful,” why should the Christian presume, given his belief that such a jump will occur, that God would not ordain an “unlawful” jump in evolutionary history too?

    According to your view, why does God do this?

    My main point is that the christian has excellent reason (God’s testimony) to think God will bring about a “jump,” and hence has a defeater for presuming that God has not performed “jumps” in the past that are not communicated to us in special revelation – regardless of whether one can identify a reason for why God would do this.
    But some potential reasons come to mind: to provide evidence for His existence, to provide a special kind of evidence for His existence not provided by the ostensibly more “orderly” aspects of his sovereignty over creation, for aesthetic reasons (perhaps God values a kind of world punctuated by certain ostensibly unpredictable and anomalous events more highly than a world with more “monotonous” natural events). The evidential reasons would be more applicable in the case of ID (and not the eschaton), whereas both the putative ID cases and something like the eschaton could fall under aesthetic factors. I think it’s plausible that God values both smooth, orderly transitions, as well as punctiliar, sudden transitions. God made man in His image, to follow His sabbatarian pattern of work followed by sabbath rest; and the unfolding of this process in redemptive history (a movement from created glory to consummate glory in an “upgraded” heavens and earth) seems to involve both gradualistic and punctiliar aspects.

    Now, it is certainly true that God frequently does things for reasons we can’t understand. But here’s the thing: if there is some intelligence mucking about in evolutionary history then, based on what we know about God (e.g. that he designed the laws of nature and set up the initial conditions by himself, that he can foresee all the consequences of his actions, that he never changes his mind, etc.) it is far more likely that it’s someone else.

    I concede that evidence of an intelligence “mucking about” in history would confirm a demi-god hypothesis (make it more probable than it would be otherwise); but I don’t concede that such evidence would, in principle (things could shift in particular cases; e.g., if the mucking about were to involve inscriptions in the clouds of ‘I’m Zeus!’ etc.), disconfirm christian theism (make it less probable than it would be otherwise).

    October 5, 2010 — 12:02
  • Kenny Pearce

    If there are versions of ID that can make due with apparent lawlessness, rather than true lawlessness, then my objections do not touch those versions. I never claimed to provide an objection to all versions of ID or all ID proponents. It seems to me that some versions are presented in such a way that it’s important that there could never be a lawful explanation of the ‘jumps,’ but I’m willing to admit that there may be other versions that don’t have that feature.

    October 5, 2010 — 14:58
  • DL

    Wouldn’t we expect God to do better? Maybe we would, but then we’re foolish, fallible, finite creatures. The catch with looking for signs of deliberate planning is that you need to know the planner’s goals. (Who’d guess that manufacturers would purposefully make jeans that are faded and full of holes?) God could be responsible for lots of things that appear poorly designed to us simply because we don’t appreciate his true motives. Engineers know that everything is a trade-off: as has been pointed out, some things may just not be possible without miraculous “gaps”, at least not if natural laws are at the same time to possess a certain limit on their complexity, etc.
    I think strictly speaking, ID works where there aren’t gaps. (And I thought that Michael Behe actually does not believe there are any “gaps” himself.) The idea that some things are too unlikely to happen randomly or non-purposefully relies on natural laws working a certain way with a certain probability. (A gap in nature still points to something supernatural, but that’s not the same as the argument from probability to design.) Of course, if an occurrence is impossible physically, then the odds of it happening by chance are exactly 0%, which certainly qualifies as “too unlikely”, but you need a resulting pattern to infer intelligence, not the gap itself.
    The Leibnizian or Scholastic notion that God doesn’t “break” nature because there are in effect higher laws of which physics is a subset is to look at things in such a way as there can be no gaps, absolutely speaking. But a “relative” miracle can still be reasonably described as a (relative) gap. But to say that something “breaks a law of nature” as we use that phrase now does not imply that there is no higher law or pattern that is not broken; only that the lower sub-law does not apply at that point. That no more denies God’s sovereignty or providence than a discordant note or a plot-twist denies the author’s skill. Bad notes or plot holes can of course be the sign of incompetence, but there are perfectly good reasons to include them in a piece of music or a story. In fact, music or stories, etc. that create tension in certain places so that it can be resolved later are considered to be better than very simple works that do not deviate from one basic pattern. So even if there were engineering trade-offs that made everything God wanted to have happen possible according to simple physical laws, there are still aesthetic (or other) reasons to depart from those laws. (An obvious example seems to be God’s demonstrating that He is master above and beyond creation by acting in such a way as to obviously control nature rather than letting it seem that He is bound by it.)

    October 7, 2010 — 11:35
  • Hi Kenny,
    Thanks for your response. You said:
    Sobel is here using a Bayesian theory of probability, which means that he takes probabilities to be something like degrees of rational confidence.
    My understanding of Bayesian probability is mostly from practical situations, where we’re applying Bayes’ Rule P(A|B) = P(B|A).P(A)/P(B) to calculate actual numbers. I’m training to be an actuary and this sort of thing comes up a lot in mortality investigations.
    I have no problem with this when B is a set of data (mortality in the past year, for example). But are we sure it is meaningful to use similar logic when B is a proof or argument?
    For example, in my day job, someone could present the argument “world population is increasing, therefore population density is increasing, therefore we’d expect quality of life to drop, therefore we’d expect mortality to rise”. I can see how this could be used to pick a prior distribution. But I’m not entirely clear what it would mean to construct a Bayesian posterior based on this “information”.
    My background may be the problem here. As a mathematician by training, I tend to think of “proofs” as being absolute. So P(A|B) will either be 1, if B is a valid proof of A, or P(A), if B is not a valid proof. How can we justify taking any other posterior probability based on the existence of an argument?
    And how could we, even in principle, calculate the posterior distribution? The Bayesian formula makes perfect sense when A is a parameter and B is a data set. But how can we calculate P(B) and P(B|A), as required by the formula, when B is not a data set but a chain of logic?
    I raise this because I’ve seen this sort of post-Bayesian logic used a lot in philosophical texts (also by Dawkins), and it’s been bugging me for a while. I assume that this is just ignorance on my part – is there a textbook that covers this stuff?

    October 8, 2010 — 12:45
  • Kenny Pearce

    Hi Lifewish,
    You need to distinguish the probability calculus, which includes Bayes’ Theorem/Rule, from the Bayesian theory of probability. The former is a formal system which everyone agrees on; the latter is an interpretation of that system which is more controversial. According to the Bayesian theory of probability, we have degrees of confidence, or credences, in various propositions, ranging from being certain that they are true (credence 1) to being certain that they are false (credence 0). Our credences, it is thought, should conform to the probability calculus, and, indeed (according to the theory) this is what a probability is: a credence. (This is not to say that, e.g., the frequentist notion of probability is invalid; there might be more than one kind of probability.) Then there are these formal rules for updating our credences in light of new evidence.
    As I said, this is somewhat controversial. Here are some considerations for and against.
    For: Bayesian learning computer programs are pretty much the best we’ve been able to do at simulating human reasoning at its best.
    For: Agents whose credences don’t conform to the probability calculus are subject to Dutch books.
    Against: People don’t (and can’t) really have perfectly determinate real number credences.
    Against: The theory requires us to assign ‘prior probabilities’ to propositions, and there doesn’t seem to be any way around just making these up completely arbitrarily.
    I am not familiar with a particular textbook on this subject, but if you get any book on formal epistemology it should be covered.

    October 8, 2010 — 13:01
  • Modern Cosmology and Theology

    At the end of his discussion of fine-tuning arguments, Sobel briefly, and somewhat indirectly, discusses issues arising from attempts to combine theism with modern cosmology (pp. 285-287). In particular, many cosmologists now believe that the fundament…

    October 8, 2010 — 21:50
  • Kenny,
    Thanks, that answers my question precisely. I’ve grabbed a textbook on debates in epistemology off my philosophy-student sister and will have a look through.

    October 11, 2010 — 1:58
  • Jeremy Pierce

    I wonder if you may have misrepresented some of the ID people, at least some of their arguments. One way to read an ID argument is to see it as claiming that it’s impossible for the result we see in front of us to have come about without some non-naturalistic efficient cause interfering with the natural order. That seems to be how your taking these gaps. But I’ve long thought it a better argument to develop it in terms of final causes, and I think several of the ID people do exactly that. Some of the arguments are fully compatible with doing it this way, at the very least.
    So the idea is that naturalistic efficient causes can and do explain how it comes about that, say, the eye forms the way it does (or whatever example we’re going to talk about). The ID argument then comes along and claims that it’s very unlikely that such a succession of efficient causes would occur in that particular way, resulting in that particular effect, unless an intelligent mind had been guiding along the efficient causes with a final cause in mind — that particular result as it fits into a broader plan.
    When you do the argument that way, you don’t get any efficient-causal gaps. The gaps the argument relies on for its inference to the best explanation are final-cause gaps. There are plenty of final-cause gaps if there’s no divine providence or incomplete divine providence, and yet these particular proposed final-cause gaps seem very unlikely (according to the ID argument) and don’t have a good final-cause explanation. Since we should believe in one, we should then accept the existence of an intelligent mind who ordered the universe according to final causes. The resulting view is a mind that orders and controls all things. The gap in question is a final-cause gap IF ID IS WRONG. Since such a gap, according to the argument, is unlikely, we shouldn’t believe there’s no final cause and should believe in an intelligent mind. I think this entirely gets around Leibniz’s worry without abandoning some sort of God-of-the-gaps argument.

    October 13, 2010 — 22:54
  • Only Necessarily Self-Limited Power

    After considering arguments for the existence of God, Sobel has a brief interlude on the divine attributes, before going on to arguments against the existence of God. Chapter 9 concerns omnipotence and the famous Stone Paradox. Sobel defines omnipotenc…

    October 17, 2010 — 18:37
  • Steve Jeffers

    “evolutionary theory … has not undermined any argument for the traditional God which was any good to begin with”
    There are modern arguments for God that can survive evolutionary theory, but aren’t these precisely arguments that have had to emerge in light of the challenge evolutionary theory represents?
    Evolutionary theory simply rules out the Adam and Eve story as anything approaching fact. It means the Bible now starts with a glaring non-truth. That undermines Biblical authority, an argument that across Christendom was considered ‘good to begin with’ until Darwin.
    Evolutionary theory, properly understood, utterly removes any notion of humans as somehow set apart from nature or as the ultimate expression of any goals.
    Evolutionary theory shifts the focus from the human scale to the gene scale, the timeline from the human scale to millions of years – a focus not just unaddressed but undreamed of by people in the Bronze and Iron Ages.

    October 18, 2010 — 6:06
  • Kenny Pearce

    Jeremy – Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier; I don’t get emails for comments that don’t need my approval (I should see if I can figure out how to change that). Anyway, I myself am quite favorable to that kind of argument, and maybe some people who consider themselves part of the ID camp do make an argument like that. It’s just that many of the arguments I have heard associated with ID have this other structure, which I find problematic.
    Steve – We should distinguish difficulties about the existence of God from difficulties about some particular revealed religion. Also, not all mainstream interpretations of evolutionary theory rule out the possibility that at some time in the distant past there were exactly two human beings from whom we are all descended. (Of course, no interpretation of the theory currently suppports that claim; according to the latest DNA analysis the mitochondrial ‘Eve’ and the y-chromosomal ‘Adam’ did not live at the same time. But not supporting it is much different than ruling it out.)
    Evolutionary theory also does not by any means rule out the possibility of some kind of ‘directedness’ whereby nature is intended to lead to human beings. Finally, it is not clear to me how the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than were dreamed of in Bronze Age thought is supposed to pose a problem.

    October 18, 2010 — 11:06
  • DL

    Steve Jeffers: aren’t these precisely arguments that have had to emerge in light of the challenge evolutionary theory represents?

    Not even close. Even casual arguments like Payley’s aren’t really hurt by evolution, let alone the technical arguments of Scholastic philosophy, or even ancient philosophy going back to Aristotle. I’m no expert on Bronze-Age dreams, but Medieval theologians weren’t fazed by puny timescales of mere millions of years — they more typically produced arguments that worked even if the universe were infinitely old, just to make sure all avenues were covered.

    properly understood, [it] utterly removes any notion of humans as somehow set apart from nature…

    For a second there I thought you were referring to Genesis 1! But again, nothing in biological evolution per se undermines Biblical authority, seeing as metaphorical interpretations of Genesis were known and taken seriously thousands of years before Darwin came along.

    October 19, 2010 — 10:44
  • Jeremy Pierce

    I’m not sure how the efficient-caused evolutionary explanation affects one way or the other whether there are final causes in nature. If God designed the evolutionary process and guided it along, then there are final causes in nature. That’s independent of how you explain what caused what to happen in terms of efficient causes.
    Even someone taking the ordering (if not the time periods given) of primordial figures in Genesis to be correct should expect mitochondrial Eve and y-chromosomal Adam to have lived at different times. Mitochondrial Eve, according to Genesis, would have to be Eve, unless by chance (and it is possible) some woman after her did happen to be the matrilineal ancestor of everyone still alive today. But Eve would be the most likely choice. For y-chromosomal Adam, there’s a more recent figure — Noah. According to the text, Noah and his wife and his sons and their wives are the only survivors of the flood. That makes him the patrilineal ancestor of everyone who followed (although, again, it’s possible someone down the line intersects with all the lines, but it gets less likely the more branching occurs). Noah’s wife is not as likely a candidate.
    The only traditional argument for God that is affected by evolution is the particular version of the design argument that goes something like the following:
    1. There is the appearance of design in the biological variety and complexity of nature.
    2. There is no plausible and likely enough naturalistic explanation for such variety and complexity.
    3. So we should infer a designer for such apparent design.
    With evolutionary theory, we have something that serves as a counterexample to the second premise. But plenty of other arguments are untouched by evolution. Even sticking just with design arguments, evolution doesn’t touch Thomas Aquinas’ contention that final causes in nature don’t make sense without God, and thus we should believe in God to account for the Aristotelian final causes in nature that Aristotle had no ground for. It also wouldn’t touch the contemporary fine-tuning design arguments. Then there are all the non-teleological arguments such as the various cosmological arguments, the moral argument, the ontological argument, and so on. Whether any these arguments is successful is completely independent of the issues raised by evolution for the design argument.

    October 20, 2010 — 0:14