Giving Up Darwin

Today’s video is a long one. It is an examination of David Gelernter’s article in the Claremont Review of Books entitled Giving up Darwin.

From the article:

There’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether he can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture—not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. The origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.

David Gelernter

(All quotes are taken from Gelernter’s article unless otherwise specified)

James Mallet at the Galton Laboratory, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London says that many in Darwin’s time understood species to mean “members of real groups related by means of descent: all members of a species were related by descent, whereas no individual was descended from members of another species.” But, many today are disagreed as to what exactly constitutes a species.

Darwin tended to try to explain big things by generalizing small things. Darwin can explain these small things, says Gelernter. Where he disagrees with Darwin is his inference from these small variations to a generalization that is used as an explanation of speciation. In other words, Darwin was arguing that the explanation for small changes in fur density between domesticated sheep and wild sheep, due to selective breeding, explains why a sheep is not a whale. It is this leap with which Gelernter has a contention.

According to Stephen Meyer, the book The Origin of Species is well-argued. However, it is well argued based on a 19th century understanding of archaeology and paleontology. In light of what we have learned in the 20th and 21st centuries, says Meyer, the argument begins to break down.

The following is a list of Gelernter’s issues with the theory of evolution, which lead to his rejecting the idea as laid out in his article Giving Up Darwin.

1. The Fossil Record

Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. Yet in the “Cambrian explosion” of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms—including the first-ever animals—pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70-odd million years.
From Giving Up Darwin

According to Meyer, in the “Cambrian Explosion,” you get a considerable number of “animal body plans.” Animal body plans are unique configurations of body parts and tissues. Darwin was concerned about such findings but was certain future fossil discoveries would fill in the gaps. This has not been the case. There seems to be no connection between the pre-Cambrian and post-Cambrian body types.

Given the age of the earth and the time at which life began, there does not seem enough time for evolution to have happened by chance, according to Meyer. He mentions a branch of mathematical Darwinian theory called “Population Genetics.” This allows us to calculate how much change we ought to expect in a given amount of time. Seventy million years is the blink of an eye. Meyer says the waiting time we should expect to see is hundreds of millions if not billions of years.

2. Molecular Biology

What does generating new forms of life entail? Many biologists agree that generating a new shape of protein is the essence of it. And inventing a new protein means inventing a new gene.

In other words, if we want to have a new form of life, we need new proteins. In order to get those proteins, we need new genes. New genes entail a new code, a new set of information to code for those proteins. The Cambrian Explosion, in that it is an explosion of new forms of life, is an explosion of new information. Darwin could not have known this as molecular biology, and the concept of genetic coding and information were not known in his time.

Berlinski says the more we learn about the cell, the more complex it becomes. In the time of Darwin, the cell was believed to be quite simple, and it was easy to image simply arranging them in different forms like Lego blocks. However, we now know that is no the case at all, and the more we learn about cells, the more we realize how much we do not know.

They then get into the numbers. In order to code for a protein, you need a specifically ordered string of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, and these strings can consist of over 100 of them in a row. A short sequence which codes for a protein is 150 amino acids long. So, the chance of stumbling upon that specific useful sequence is 150^20, an exceedingly large number.

Additionally, the number of useful sequences are exceedingly small. Stephen Meyer points out that for a sequence 150 amino acids long (some are far longer) for every one useful sequence you will have 10^77 gibberish ones that will not do anything. The probability of this information happening by chance is vanishingly small.

Gelernter says in his paper concerning this paradox of probabilities:

But neo-Darwinianism understands that mutations are rare, and successful ones even scarcer. To balance that out, there are many organisms and a staggering immensity of time. Your chances of winning might be infinitesimal. But if you play the game often enough, you win in the end, right?

In the 70 million years since life started, have we had enough chances to get this right? Gelernter looked into Biology, and Biologists say no, there has not been enough time. Meyer mentions that it is estimated that there have been 10^40 organisms, or chances of mutations, set against 1/10^77 chances of a useful protein, this has given the possibility of searching only one ten trillion trillion trillionth of the available possibility space. Searching by chance is overwhelmingly expected to fail, even taking into account every living organism which has ever existed.

To help create a brand new form of organism, a mutation must affect a gene that does its job early and controls the expression of other genes that come into play later on as the organism grows. Evidently there are a total of no examples in the literature of mutations that affect early development and the body plan as a whole and are not fatal.

If genetic modifications come late, it doesn’t make a difference as far as what the animal is. A Shetland pony and a Clydesdale are both horses, although one is certainly taller than the other. Genetic modifications which come early enough to change the creature into a different species invariably kills it.

Francis Crick explains the functioning of DNA in terms of code. It is not the chemical makeup of the DNA, which causes it to function as it does. It is the specific sequence which provides the functionality of DNA, much like the ones and zeros of computer code. This is information. When we find information and trace it back to its source, “we always find a mind not a material process,” says Meyer. The Darwinian explanations cannot explain how information arose. This leads Meyer to propose the concept of Intelligent Design (ID) as the answer.

Gelernter, not agreeing with Meyer’s hypothesis, responds in his article:

If there was an intelligent designer what was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job? Why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on?

Gelernter seems to be a bit contradictory in his rebuttal of ID in that the idea he rejects in Darwinism is then used to reject ID. He says that life cannot arise by chance, but given life, it appears to be a result of chance. The world is in chaos and, therefore, cannot have been designed by a mind, according to him.

Meyer responds that even when we see things designed by a designer, there is still entropy and decay. Further, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, we expect to see both design and a “fall” of nature. He explains that virulent bacteria that can make people extremely sick are a result of a loss of information in the genetic mutation process. In that way, the evidence for design is also the evidence for decay. These diseases are a result of a corruption of nature as designed by God. The evil of disease does not exist independently of the good of creation. It arises as a result of the corruption of a good thing. This is precisely what we would expect given a Judeo-Christian worldview.

Gelernter says that his argument is not necessarily against Stephen, but against those who dismiss the idea of an intelligent designer as non-scientific. He says it has to be dealt with intelligently and not subjected to the anti-religious bigoty (his words) that pervades academia.

Stephen says his ideas are not necessarily based on a religious text but are an inference from biological data. In that way, they are scientific claims.

From the article:

Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but the basis of a worldview, and an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one.

Gelernter mentions that the intellectual response, in academia, to any sort of questioning of Darwinism betrays a religious devotion to the theory. He says there is nothing approaching free speech when it comes to evolution. You either agree with it or you are attacked. And the attack does not approach an intellectual discussion. It is a bitter and outraged rejection. If you do not agree with them, they will not listen to you.

The conversation then moves very rapidly through consciousness, to the establishment of a materialist worldview. This materialistic worldview is established on the backs of past thinkers and writers. Meyer very adeptly points out that most scientists equate a scientific materialist worldview with science itself. To question the thinkers who have established this worldview, in their minds, is to question science itself. This leads to a very emotive response from those who subscribe to that worldview.

Meyer goes on to claim that the Darwinian approach of trying to explain life through a bottom-up process is holding science back. As an example, he recounts the former theory that the non-coding sections of DNA were evolutionary left-overs labeled “junk DNA.” It turns out these sections are functionally important. A top-down, or design approach, could have allowed scientists to arrive at this conclusion much sooner. Meyer says, “Looking at life as a designed system is yielding insights into how life works.”

Berlinski says that Darwin was successful at answering the small question of variation in beak sizes and wing length. However, he was unsuccessful in answering the question he thought he was asking, which was the explanation of the complexity of life. “It was a premature question,” says Berlinski. According to him, Darwin was speaking of things about which he could not know. The same goes for us in this century, he says.

Questions:

  1. Does this cause you to doubt the validity of Darwinian Evolution?

  2. Is evolution and the Biblical account of creation mutual exclusive in your mind?

  3. Do you find the idea that scientific materialism is just as much a religion as Christianity?

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Great video. Answers:

  1. Already had doubt about D.E. This helped inform and confirm those doubts.

  2. There is at least one way they could be reconciled, but it is a stretch.

  3. I think Ravi gives four types of questions/answers a religion tries to specify: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. If scientific materialism teaches that everything comes from nothing, all meaning is relative, all morality is man-made and destiny is nothingness, then it could almost be a religion.

On the other hand, the Baker Bookhouse DIctionary of Theology, if i memorized it correctly, defined “religion” as:

a. A belief in a higher power.
b. A desire to seek knowledge of the will of that power in order to do it.
c. A set of principles and practices to carry out that will.

By that definition, i think scientific materialism falls short.

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Great video and I’ve watched more of Meyer’s stuff, and he’s an interesting speaker. That said, some thoughts:

  • the overwhelming number of Introns are not “gibberish” in that they mean nothing at all. In fact, many can be compared to coding sequences and found to be the same except for one base pair. (see “The Language of God” by Francis S. Collins) The benefit is that we can see how errors in transcription are made that result in new/different genes, but also how a simple one-codon error can render an entire gene inoperable. SO many potential fatal errors, and SO FEW errors that could ‘work.’

-The video does fall into one of the frustrating pitfalls I often see in such arguments that they suggest Darwin’s theory is insufficient, but then offer no alternatives. I get the arguments against darwinistic speciation, but they generally rely on statistics, which leaves the possibility open that it DID happen that way, albeit unlikely. I want to see the alternatives. How did dinosaurs become birds if not by evolution?

That said, to answer the questions:
1- No. I’m not aware of any serious arguments against Darwinian evolution (insofar as it relates to changes to a population over time, since we’ve observed it). Though it’s good food for thought in regards to critiques of Darwinian evolution’s ability to explain speciation.

2- No. First, I am compelled by William Lane Craig’s (and others, such as RC Sproul) approach to biblical interpretation that takes into account the kind of literature found in a given book to provide hints as to whether the book is to be taken literally or figuratively. In such a reading, Genesis’ story of creation was presented in a nonliteral literary style. (I recognize not all will agree here, but the question was a personally directed one). This is something I’m working through right now myself, so I don’t have the alternative answer (insert hypocrite here), but reading this recently has me working in new directions.

3- FOR SURE> Having come from that world, it is SO easy to adopt scientism, or scientific materialism, as a world view. The proponents, and the literature, and the professors you learn from (in many cases unintentionally) portray the idea of Darwinism as an explanation for EVERYTHING. ALL human behaviors can be tied to reproduction, essentially (See The Moral Animal, Why We Are the Way We Are). But, at least for me, it didn’t satisfy, because there are so many things that cannot hold in that structure. Why, for example, do we find images of mountains aesthetically appealing? Religious imagery? Why would we have developed a common thread of celibacy in our religious leaders for a time? Why in the WORLD are we capable of advanced mathematics? Being able to count past a few hundred and do basic adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing has no reproductive value whatsoever, and should therefore be a complete nullity.
But proponents are blind to the criticisms in most cases. These serious issues are dismissed as edge cases, or as the video suggests, serious challenges are derided as backdoor theology “making an illegal move.” Instead of dealing with them using the same rigor and consideration as other scientific questions, they are dealt emotional responses instead, hallmarks of defending a worldview, not a cold process.

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Hi @EvoFaith! Thank you for your well considered response.

My aim in putting forward the summary of the video was to present the information for consideration. I, like you, it appears, am not quite settled on where I land on this particular topic. I appreciate your nuanced responses to the questions.

  1. Do you have an example of an observed change in speciation due to evolution? I know you mentioned that dinosaurs evolved into birds, but that is a contested claim if you are using Archaeopteryx as an example. Additionally, this would not be an observation of speciation change but an inference from the observed fossil record. Have we observed the change in species in our modern era? I ask these questions in earnest.

  2. I, too, am open to a non-literal interpretation of some of the Genesis passages. I am not necessarily saying that is the proper reading, but, I see that this way dealing with those scriptures has explanatory power. I, also, do not believe the Bible is meant to be a scientific text. I do not think the Bible was communicate to us by God through human writers to reveal scientific truths. Although it is rather uncanny how often they line up.

  3. I often find those with this particular worldview, scientism, often fail to examine their beliefs with the same critical eye they use to criticize others. It is a fault we must all look out for.

As for the objection of using statistics in your first paragraph. I would not consider it a pitfall necessarily. There is a danger in using statistics for the reason you mentioned. Just because there is a one in a billion chance of something happening does not mean that it doesn’t happen. Just look at the lottery.

However, when you are making inferences, which is what the theory of evolution mostly is, you have to rely on statistics to test the validity of your theory. You have to rely on the probability your explanation is correct when you cannot observe what you are testing and you also cannot repeat the experiment. This is why Bayesian inferences are so commonly used in such circumstances.

Just some additional thoughts. It is a very interesting conversation.

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@Joshua_Hansen For sure. EVERYTHING I type needs to be taken with a heavy dose of “still doing my due diligence and still learning.” Coming from a background of an MS In evolutionary biology, I am still trying to synthesize what I learned versus my more recent conversion and bible-reading. And based on the video, above, and organizations like Reasons to Believe and BioLogos, it’s a fruitful and common struggle these days!

1- I have a hard time giving a direct answer because the language you used is somewhat sideways within the science. If you are asking whether a speciation event has ever been observed, that’s actually a very complicated question. In general, two organisms are of differing species if they cannot (physiologically, genetically, geographically or behaviorally) successfully mate. For example, a Mule. A mule is the offspring of a horse and donkey and is sterile. So while the horse and donkey CAN reproduce, it is unsuccessful (from evolutionary terms) and therefore they remain separate species.

So the question is, how can you actually, affirmatively determine in real time whether two groups of organisms that were once one are separate species? It is very difficult or impossible in real time. For example, the Galapagos finches are on islands so distant from one another that they cannot mate with one another. Not only that, but these islands have been populated as we have observed them (maybe because we observed them). Genetic testing has shown they are very closely related (separated by a matter of a few genes at most), and have been artificially mated. But because they cannot mate, they are separate species. THis is, in effect, a speciation event. Similar events have been observed as a result of global warming, where high-altitude species become isolated on mountain tops as the temperatures at lower altitudes rise, and migration between mountains becomes impossible.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304333727_Topography-driven_isolation_speciation_and_a_global_increase_of_endemism_with_elevation

Speciation has also occurred in the lab, particularly in the realm of plants and bacteria. New varietals of plants are created all the time that breed true. In fact they are recognized as different species when approved for a US Plant Patent or GMO approval.

That said, the time span of speciation, unless tied to truly catastrophic events, is almost always longer than the time in which the theory of evolution by natural selection has existed.

2- Agreed 100%. The epic “I told you so” when scientific materialists had to admit the universe had a beginning cannot be understated.

3- And it is one I still struggle with, to be honest. When I read the first post, prior to listening to the video, I could feel my defensive hackles rising instinctively in response to nits that I thought needed picked rather than the overall, detailed message and point. I deleted two posts before setting it aside for a while to return to it. IT’s shocking how easy I fell into those old ways, making assumptions and falling back on the universality of scientism’s assumptions rather than treating honest challenges as the FUN, EXCITING, and potentially REWARDING opportunities they represent. Shoot, and in this case I even agreed from the get go!

Have to give props to the RZIM materials I found a few years ago when I began reading the Bible (and Francis Collins’ works) in providing some of the materials that were fundamental in at least getting me to the point that I can catch myself when I fall into the old ruts.

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i always doubted it, having grown up in a denomination that holds to a literal 6 day creation. Of course, you could argue I like this video due to my own confirmation bias.

to me; yes.

I thought the quote by David Galanter was interesting:

“If there was an intelligent designer, what was his strategy. How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms. What was his purpose and why did he do such a slip slip shod job why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on” - David Galanter

Host question to Galanter: aren’t you setting a pretty high standard; aren’t you saying in effect either Steven Mayer can explain all the mysteries of the human heart, or he’s not allowed to say anything; that is to say the difference between a purely materialistic view that all that we see around us came about purely as a matter of chance, and Stevens view that there is intelligence however little we can say about it however little we understand what we mean by that that’s still a fundamental finding the question is whether the world around us that you’re pointing at meets your standard of intelligence whether whether the design that we see is in fact an intelligent design or a total mess

Galanter: when I look at the world at large I see a mess. when I look at the mind of man I see a worse mess. I see a creature as likely to do bad is good, or more likely I see many creatures who were who were fated to die out without leaving any contribution that we can associate with value; not even becoming oil or something like that. I don’t look at I don’t look at the world as we know it as more likely the result of intelligence than random playing around then just random taking your chances…

Galanter If we had to go back and do it all again how to tell the Almighty. Don’t do it, the suffering outweighs that go all right.

(Stephen Meyer responds with a long answer)

If there is no God, upon what basis does Galanter note the ‘bad’ or ‘good’ of the world? Isn’t he relying on the moral law or a source of objective truth to make a judgement as to what is bad or good with the world? Without God, the world just ‘is’, there is no bad or good to it.

I think Galanter has hit the nail on the head; if there is an Intelligent Designer; why did he make such a mess of things prior to the fall of man?

This is one of the big issues I have: death before the fall. In Genesis, God declared things ‘good’. What exactly is ‘good’ about theistic evolution?

I don’t mind how old the rocks (or the planets) are; they are rocks, and feel nothing. I have a problem with death of so called ‘nephesh-chayyal’ animals before the fall. I personally think it may introduce problems to God’s character who we know to be supremely good to use this method of creation.

I found it interesting the grouping together of Darwin, Freud and Marx to form the basis of a materialistic worldview; by Stephen Meyer.

Darwin tells us where we came from;
Marx has a utopian vision of the future;
Freud tells us what to do about our guilt;

In between the three of these great materialistic thinkers of the nineteenth century and early 20th century, they form a the basis of a kind of comprehensive materialistic worldview. They answer all the same questions that traditional judeo-christian religion is addressed, and so it’s understandable when we talk about some of the the intense opposition that Darwin’s skeptics often face that it’s understandable when you realize that you actually it makes sense because you’re challenging a fundamental plank in the worldview of many of the scientists. Many scientists equate their worldview of scientific materialism with the practice of science itself and when you challenge one of the thinkers that is that supports that worldview you’re going to get a very kind of emotive reaction

This very much is a worldview, a religion; and if it’s not a religion/worldview, then why get so upset when someone starts to question it?


I thought Berlinksi was a very interesting character; and noticed how he didn’t bother addressing the CS Lewis quote, but went off in some weird direction about that he was quite happy to have his friends as automata and selling his own consciences for $50, . I personally think he avoided the question; because it fell under the ‘Meaning’ category question: What is the purpose of human life?

anyway, really thought provoking video… :slight_smile: :+1: The next one on my ‘to watch’ list is a John Lennox one I stumbled upon seems to be a little related:

Would love to continue this conversation some time. I am not necessarily closed to the idea. Some of the professors at Oxford were proponents of it and it was interesting hearing their perspective. Doesn’t mean it’s right of course. But, maybe it’s not as mutually exclusive as I once thought.

@matthew.western, I do find the idea that there was possible predation before the fall and God calling creation “good” and interesting topic. I have done a little reading and have heard lectures on it. I am still formulating my opinion. So, is it possible that the cycle of life in the animal world is a good thing and not necessarily contradictory to a good God? In other words, if it did exist and God called it good, wouldn’t it be good? We do see predation in the fossil record which predates humans. I would love to hear your thoughts more fully.

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Hi @Joshua_Hansen,
it is interesting to consider. Basically, I’m coming from a young earth background, and by default look for information to reinforce my position (the confirmation bias we all struggle with).

So when I say that pre-fall animal death is not good; it’s because I don’t really like animal death and imagine a better future where there is no death or decay and everything is perfect (heaven). Something inside me thinks ‘death = decay and is bad’, as opposed to ‘design = beauty and is good’. Now what is really interesting (and I had this discussion with @SeanO a while ago); I read Genesis where God said creation was ‘good’ at the end of each day, I assume (as in I’m in some sort of YEC paradigm pressure) YEC is what God was talking about when He said ‘good’.

So while still in the YEC camp, I’m also always learning new information, and especially since I have no qualifications in any of these specialist disciplines, and quite obviously way out of my depth (geology - age of the earth, biology - how animals were formed historically and how they are built currently), I have to ‘rest on the shoulders of giants’ and listen to what experts say. So it’s really interesting to listen to geologists / biologists who are from a different view point (old earth creationism, theistic evolution) and thinking through things to the best of my ability, but as part of watching that video, I looked up the worldview of each of the speakers to see where they were coming from before I watched the video.

If that doesn’t make sense or is too wordy; basically it’s quite hard and challenging to ask questions of your own worldview. It’s easy to ask questions of others from the ‘safety’ of your own worldview. :slight_smile:

So in answer to your question:

absolutely; God called it good, therefore it was good.

So when Galanter (who is a secular Jew) who has presumably turned away from the existence of an Intelligent Designer; is saying ‘when I look at the world I see a mess’, and ‘If we had to go back and do it again, he would tell the Almighty: don’t do it’. He’s putting himself over God and making a judgement call on How God created. I personally agree with his question as a Christian, it doesn’t make sense to me either that God would create this way. I thought Meyer’s observation of both design and decay being evident was a good one.

this statement I would have to go and think about and look for evidence either way; to try and summarize:

(you can see my bias quite clearly :slight_smile: :slight_smile: ) On a side note; is it interesting how much time is spent by both YEC and OEC articles trying to disprove each’s others position, sometimes in heated language. :slight_smile:

I did find it interesting the reference in the video to the sudden explosion of life in the Cambrian period; and the lack of time available for gradual evolution to take place. The other thing in the video that was interesting was that genetic mutations had to happen very early in the piece to have any effect of the design of the creature. Late term mutations would only cause things like longer beaks or ‘superficial’ changes. The point was made that the probabilities of chance finding the right combination early in the evolution of a species that didn’t kill it seem fairly remote.

so in terms of the science;

Galanter: so I’ve got to act early now if I’m going to now if I’m going to create a new species. I’m going to mutate, and instead of building a sheep I’m going to build a little horse because horses come in cheap size what are they called well anyway Shetland ponies. I got to do that; there may be a mutation that makes me order purple wool or or the wrong color hooves or a stomach that won’t quite fit but a mutation that is going to recreate the creature in such a way that it’s a different creature is biologists tell me in Forrest County almost certainly likely to be fatal I mean they’re a that makes a huge difference and that starts putting the head on backwards it starts starts giving him 17 tails or or too many internal organs or fur, or gets the blood or something like that because this is right early on that I’m acting when I’m doing tremendously important things and if I make a slip at this all-important stage not gonna make a little error in the density of the fur it’s gonna be a big error in the design of the internal of the external that makes its creature what it is that’s a that’s an informal report.

Berlinski: a good argumentative disjunction if you talk about major changes if they come late in development they’re not gonna make a difference the the organism is already constructed may have no Shriver eyes okay if they come early they can’t make a difference because inevitably they destroy the organism too many things downstream depend on those early cell divisions so what we’re faced with a real destructive dilemma late no good early no good well when we’ve sort of exhausted the possibilities

both of these gentlemen are secular Jews - they are not Christians asking the questions; they are asking the hard questions of the science itself.

If I was hard pressed, I’d probably say I’m a current mixture of John Lennox OEC and YEC, but realistically the amount of scientific information to process is overwhelming. The facts are: God created the universe; declared it ‘good’, and most importantly Jesus, who is God in the flesh, died on our behalf, rose from the dead and ‘now ever lives to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:23-25). That’s the important part!

I would echo Lennox and say as new discoveries are made ‘isn’t it amazing that God did it that way!’ (ie, God of entire creation, and not ‘god-of-the-gaps’ as the god the atheists reject)

(I watched the Lennox video, and it was from 2009. I found it hard to process in a lecture format; but it seems that most of the video content is covered in his books ‘Gunning for God’ and ‘God’s Undertaker’ both of which are very good)

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Hello Joshua/Fellowship,

An interesting video and discussion topic, thanks for posting/commenting.

For me, the key take-aways from the scholars’ discussion include: 1) neo-Darwinism is beginning to fail critical scientific scrutiny from the materialist academy; 2) no alternative to unguided evolution was posited; and 3) Intelligent Design (ID) is beginning to be seen as a legitimate scientific approach. Although, it was intimated that ID was the best case as an alternative to neo-Darwinism.

Another significant question/issue not discussed (besides item 2) includes not bringing up arguments against questionable propositions, such as (paraphrased), “the world is totally messed-up,” “creation is designed very sloppily,” and “ man is as likely, or more than likely to do evil as opposed to good.” While no one would deny evil is replete, these prepositions are not unchallengeable. The most compelling challenges to Gelernter’s propositions will be saved for a later time and place, but I will quote Einstein to seed thought, “Did God have any choice in the creation of the universe.”

The Einstein quote may seem trivial, but its depths are profound, and it’s directed towards the question of how much choice (degrees of freedom) did God have in creation. For example, human beings can only exist within certain values of ambient temperature, within certain values of atmospheric oxygen concentration, within certain long-term ionizing radiation levels (any many, many more factors). Just these three factors alone invoke dependencies on dozens of related factors, such as the mass, density, and age of our sun; the earth’s magnetic field strength, mass, and age; the requisite proliferation of plant life for a minimal duration to generate sufficient atmospheric oxygen. The point being, that if God operates on the basis of “law,” and all evidence ever observed reinforces (or is neutral wrt) this position, then God would not or (could not) design and create a man that breaths methane rather than air or that weighed > 20,000 Kg while living on land, as these departures violate known laws and dependencies.

So, if God had explicit teleological intent when He designed humankind, it may be argued that everything down to the fundamental constants of the universe had to be exactly what they are, and to an extremely precise resolution (eg, anthropic principle); hence, God may have had very little choice in creation. And if He had little choice, why should we condemn Him as an incompetent Intelligent Designer?

My point, in summary is, it is possible that the universe is the way it is, humankind is the way it is, and animal-kind (and life and death) is the way it is because it has to be.

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This raises the simple question in my mind; where did the laws come from. Did God also create laws themselves (in this case the physical laws of the universe), or are they eternal and God is subservient to them?

I would say that God is eternal, and created the laws themselves as part of creating the physical universe ‘ex nihilo’; out of absolute nothing.

God could have created in any infinite number of alternative possibilities; and creation of methane breathing humanity would not be a problem;

the reason I raise this is because Stephen Hawking possibly suggests that laws created the universe; as Lennox points out this has issues.

Take, for instance, Hawking’s statement quoted above: “Because there is a law of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Clearly, he assumes that gravity (or perhaps only the law of gravity?) exists. That is not nothing. So the universe is not created from nothing.

Worse still, the statement “the universe can and will create itself from nothing” is self-contradictory. If I say, “X creates Y,” this presupposes the existence of X in the first place in order to bring Y into existence. If I say “X creates X,” I presuppose the existence of X in order to account for the existence of X. To presuppose the existence of the universe to account for its existence is logically incoherent. One might add for good measure the fact that when physicists talk about “nothing” they often mean a quantum vacuum which is manifestly not nothing. Could this be “much ado about nothing”?
(from: https://www.rzim.org/read/just-thinking-magazine/stephen-hawking-and-god)

My simple order of hierarchy would be:

  1. God (the Trinity in Eternity past)
  2. Physical universe and it’s laws (both physical and moral)
  3. Mankind

thus, when God steps into history and inserts a miracle; He is simply ‘pausing’ the physical laws for a moment, inserting new ‘historical’ information/events, and then the laws ‘resume’. It’s obvious that God has worked (virgin birth, dead raised to life), because we know from experience these things don’t happen normally.

in the above simple list; God could have done whatever he liked at point 2, but as you say, He may have designed point 2 for the good of point 3…?

(apologies if this is a little basic, and/or I didn’t fully understand your flow of logic; I confess I had to look up the definition of ‘teleological’ :slight_smile: - very thought provoking)

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Good points thanks for considering and responding. Please don’t apologize for your cognition, contemplating, and communication of your ideas—they are good and important thoughts, thanks.

First, I posit that the natural laws are derived from God. That God would have created laws as His seminal act of creation, because w/o laws, matter and energy would only be chaotic attributes and not the highly ordered and useful substances that they are. Further, I would contend that God employed laws to create matter and energy (not just govern once created), so in that way, the spontaneous creation of energy and matter from quantum vacuum fluctuations may not be as ludicrous as it sounds (though, I do not personally espouse this mechanism, but my mind is open).

Second, I would disagree that God could have created anything in any arbitrary way, there could be many gross inconsistencies that would be mutually incompatible, such as a bird with gills or a fire breathing penguin. But more importantly, there are vastly more disallowed states than allowed states in nature—this is due to the fact that God employs laws to govern His creation. I hastily chose the example of a methane breathing mammal because methane could not support aerobic respiration (electron transport chain) because it cannot directly accept the electrons generated in cellular respiration at the right electrochemical energy level. In order for God to create an organism that could employ methane to respirate, virtually all biochemistry would have to be so significantly altered that life would not be possible—this is in no small measure due to the innumerable dependencies of one biochemical process on another and on material states to others, and even on inter-dependencies on quantum mechanics. The point is that everything affects everything else and if there are laws and order in creation they must be followed (obeyed). This means that God does not have infinite degrees of freedom in His choices, if He has very many choices at all. God is not and can not be arbitrary.

Third, I obviously can’t read Hawkins’ mind, but I believe he was positing (as you stated) quantum vacuum fluctuations may be the origin of the universe, and more precisely the multiverse. One aspect of this theory is (supposedly) that matter and energy can be created (in contradiction to the Conservation Law of Matter and Energy), but just for very brief durations. A corresponding aspect is that matter and energy both represent “positive” energy and gravity represents “negative” energy. A final position is that the positive and negative energies of the observable universe cancel out so that our universe is a net zero energy universe (dark energy and dark matter withstanding). The results of these three materialist premises are that: 1) if the net energy of the universe is zero then the Conservation Law is not violated; and 2) since all created universes may also be net zero energy, an almost infinite number of universes (multiverse) may spontaneously slip into and out of space-time without investment of any kind (the grandest free-lunch of all time). However, even Hawkins, just before he died, stated that he was never a fan of the multiverse. The multiverse is an obvious ploy, a get out of jail free card for materialists (a means to avoid a definite beginning to the one and only observable universe as this is uncomfortably close to Genesis 1).

Fourth, I would not agree that God pauses, interrupts, or suspends, and I would certainly not admit that God breaks any law at any time for any reason. All observational evidence strongly indicates God is a God of law and order. And if God breaks or suspends His own laws, why does He hold us guilty if we break one of His moral laws? It would not be consistent of God to condemn us for what He Himself does with impunity.

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I would also argue that to state that God could create any combination of physical laws and creature with any possible number of physical attributes to accommodate such universes, this would undermine arguments such as the Fine-Tuning Arguments. Just because, if I want a tuna sandwich, I must include tuna, bread, and mayonnaise, can this really be an argument against my free will? Or even a limit to my free will? I don’t really think that an argument against my freewill on such a premise could stand. Therefore, I do not think God choosing to create a universe, but that universe having to conform to specific conditions, is a limit to his free will.

My thought on miracles, is not that God “breaks” the laws, but that he uses a higher law which does not naturally occur. By “not naturally occur” I mean that it is a law of volition. For instance, a jet plane should not fly. Yet given a jet engine it can fly, according to the laws of lift and thrust. But, since a jet engine is not a naturally occurring device, it is a device of volition, it would not be something which occurs in “nature.” I put nature in quotes because we, as humans, are part of nature. Yet my point is that without volition a multi-ton piece of metal would not naturally fly. This is a simplistic example, I know. My point is, if we are able to add volition to higher-order laws of the universe to create a seeming “miracle” can God do the same thing?

Some would say that an act that conforms to the laws of the universe, then is not a miracle. I disagree, it is the volitional nature of the act which creates the classification of a miracle under this paradigm (Swinburne mentions this in his essays on miracles). In this case, God does not violate a law, yet the act would not have occurred without his intervention. Further, to claim that a miracles breaks the laws of the universe would also be to admit that we know of all of the laws of the universe and can determine what is and is not a violation of them. This is hardly the case.

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Hello Joshua/Fellowship,
Thank you for the thoughts. You make some interesting points. My rebuttal is made in the interest of advancing dialogue under the position of humility and my utmost respect to you and the fellowship.

I believe your point about free will in general and God’s free will in particular (viz. the tuna sandwich—you can choose the mayonnaise-to-tuna ratio and what kind of bread, but you can’t choose not to have tuna in a tuna sandwich, so there are some limits to your free will in making a tuna sandwich) may not fully apprehend the significance that no one, not even God, has unlimited degrees of freedom to choose; that there are bounds, limits, dependencies, and conditioning criteria that cannot be violated. But some say, “God can do anything, and He know everything.” But God does not know evil, nor does He know any sin, so there are things that God clearly does not know. Further, our Lord prayed in the garden that night “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” yet we know the cup did not pass Him by. Thus, it is clear that God could not make a way where there was no way (the contravening position is that God failed to honor His Son’s desperate plea when He was in fact able to do so—not a loving Father). So, there are definitely things God does not know and cannot do—this does not diminish God in any way, but it does mean that even God may have limits to His free will (subject to avoidance of contradictions and violation of His laws).

Your point about the law of volition is very interesting and profound. CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams (and other Inklings) posited a similar idea—Aslan’s teaching about the “deeper magic” (of which the witch was not aware), etc. However, I believe you may be confounding intelligent agency with a law of volition. It is true that these two terms are related, intelligent agency (IA) requires volition as a necessary precondition, but IA is not considered a “law” but rather a faculty. Also, there is only intelligent agency involved in going from ore in the ground to a jet fuselage/engine; no miracles, just science and engineering—flight violates no natural laws. Nonetheless, you may be correct in positing that God may employ laws unknown to man for a variety of purposes; I think of cosmogony (origin of the universe) as just one example where God may have employed higher/deeper laws unknow to humankind. Another place where God may have done this is in abiogenesis (creation of life from non-life).

Finally, on miracles, according to the above, it is intelligent agency not a law of volition (or even volition itself) that is responsible for any modification of reality. Although, I do admit that in the case of God that He can indeed employ laws unknown to us that may appear as miracles, yet because they conform to His law(s), my original premise stands that God cannot/does not break His law(s).

Thank you again, your review and position were interesting and challenging, you’re a deep thinker, well organized in the development of your thoughts, and an articulate communicator. I will seek out and enjoy your communications as often as I can.

9 posts were split to a new topic: Does God have free will?

Hey @klineeric!

Thank you for your kind words! I have very much enjoyed our back and forth here. It has been challenging and enlightening as only the best conversations are!

I hope you did not read my last post as a rebuttal to your arguments. I was agreeing with your idea that God’s freewill is limited in that if he were to create the universe there are few if not only one way he could do it. William Rowe tries to avoid this dilemma by positing that God has an infinite number of equally good worlds from which to choose. He was responding to Leibniz position that God can only choose the best possible world, of which there can only be one, and therefore God is limited in that way. Of course, Plantinga picks this up and uses it in his moral argument to say that God chooses who is placed in this world and in that way exercises his free will in a universe where the physical constraints are fixed so that there is a confluence of determination and free will. My main point in the tuna sandwich is that I have the ability to choose whether or not to have one. But, once that decision is made there is only one real way to do it (debatable I know, it is not a perfect analogy). Likewise I was positing that God could have the free will to choose whether or not to make the universe, but once that exercise in free will was complete, the way the universe would have to be is fixed and determined. If the universe’s values were not fixed you would lose the strength of the fine-tuning argument (which lets be honest has some flaws as pointed out by McGrew). But, beyond that it agrees with the science that we understand today.

On the idea of the jet engine, I suppose I was analogizing and popularizing. Perhaps expanding my thoughts a bit would make this more clear. To a monkey, the idea of a non-bird or winged creature flying would be considered impossible. He has no knowledge of the law of lift and thrust. He suffers from a lack of knowledge. Additionally, he suffers from a lack of power. He does not have the brain power to design tools and work equations effective for, as you mention, mining ore, smelting, forging, designing, and building a jet engine. This of course, does not break any natural laws. But, it would be a miracle from the perspective of a monkey because it is impossible for him to do. Take the brightest monkey and make him immortal, you will never have a jet engine designed by him. Similarly, to God we are but monkeys (Darwin raising his ugly head, lol). He has powers and knowledge which we do not possess, nor do we have the power to possess it. Even if we had the knowledge we would not how the power to carry out what that knowledge would entail. In this sense a miracle, to us monkeys, would be that which can only be performed by God. Just as to a monkey, in this analogy, a miracles is that which cannot be done by a monkey but only by man. I am pushing back on Hume’s definition of miracles because it is unhelpful. Defining it as a violation of a law of nature and then defining that as impossible is such a limiting view of the concept. I am hoping to expand it some.

But, with this line of thinking we run into the issue of highly improbable events happening and being called miracles. This is something Hume would call a marvel. I believe it was Swinburne who argued that the differentiator in these instances would be the appearance of purpose and volition. Walking out on your front porch and finding a birthday cake would be really strange. However, if it is your birthday you would be safe to assume there is some intent behind its being there.

Agreeing with you, I certainly believe that God is limited in what he can do. I know this may shock some, but this is a refutation of Mackie who tries to claim that God is not a perfect moral being because he can stop bad things from happening and doesn’t. If his premise that God can do anything is true then he is right. However, God cannot do the logically incoherent. In this instance he cannot create non-free moral beings. That is a contradiction in terms. The only way to be a moral being is to be free. Free to choose right or wrong and suffering the entailments of those choices. In this sense God is limited in that if he wants to create moral being then they must be free definitionally. Just like God cannot create married bachelors. This is not a limitation of his power. He cannot create nonsense.

However, I am not sure that God not “knowing” evil means that he has no knowledge of it. I think the word “know” means to have intercourse or an intimate relationship with. Just as Adam “knew” his wife. Or I know my friends. I can have knowledge of someone I do not “know”. I do not “know” Queen Elizabeth but I have knowledge of her. In this way, I do not believe God’s knowledge is limited. I would even posit that he can know what is and is not nonsense.

Would love to hear your thoughts further!