Bill Hamilton The following communication appeared in Perspectives on Science and Christia

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Bill Hamilton The following communication appeared in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation) Vol 44 No 4, December 1992 pp253, 254 I thought the comments on the value of evolution as an explanatory framework, the nature of science and the need for an alternative model (i.e. a "Theory of Creation") if creationists expect creationism to be considered science are especially appropriate to some of the current discussions. Note that Gingerich is a Christian, and he has concerns about the potential for abuse of evolutionary theory to "support atheistic and social agendas." But he defends evolution as science because of its explanatory power. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Further Reflections on "Darwin on Trial" By Owen Gingerich Astronomy and History of Science Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Cambridge, MA 02138 For some of the ASA members attending the 1992 Annual Meeting in Kona, Hawaii, a highlight was a spontaneously organized discussion session following Phillip Johnson's paper. In the round-robin of correspondence that has ensued since the meeting, I realize that some of my own remarks at this session as well as my review of Johnson's Darwin on Trial (PSCF, June 1992) were not understood as clearly as I had hoped. On one point there was unanimous agreement: the issue is not evolution versus creation. The issue is design versus "accident." Phillip Johnson has impressively documented [sic] the extent to which much evolutionary teaching comes with philosophical baggage claiming that "accident" is a real feature of the world, "proven" by evolutionary doctrine. In the time since Newton, science has used mechanistic explanations that dispense with divine intervention (the "God of the Gaps"), and with considerable success. To the extent that design represents divine intervention and "accident" does not, the later explanation can be invoked as part of a mechanistic explanation. All too frequently teachers in their naivete, or because of a deliberate atheistic orientation, present their material as if such a mechanism describes the actual world rather than being simply a rule of science. Johnson and I both agree that the teaching must become more nuanced in its presentation, and we both reject evolutionism as a philosophy. [Evolutionary science, i.e. "evolutionism," isn't a philosophy.] But in my reading of Johnson, his strategy appears to invoke a frontal attack on evolution. I think this is misguided and ultimately fruitless. My brief is to launch the attack against the atheists who are using evolution to further their materialistic philosophies [sic], against those who raise a reasonable structure of scientific explanation into a naturalistic ideology. In an upcoming article ("Theistic Naturalism and The Blind Watchmaker," scheduled for the March 1993 issue of First Things) Johnson presents statistics to the effect that only a small minority of Americans accept the seemingly accidental, zig-zag pathways of evolution as being the wholly mechanistic way that brought intelligent life into existence. Part and parcel of Johnson's strategy is to define evolution in those terms, with the insinuation that anyone who thinks of evolution otherwise (in fact, the majority) is being duped. And, he maintains, the mechanisms that could build up the great chain of being, from microorganisms to fishes to mammals, are so flimsily and inadequately demonstrated that the whole structure should be dumped. My counterstrategy would be to accept evolution as a reasonable theoretical structure for explaining a great many relationships in the biological world. It gives a very sensible explanation of why the DNA in yeast is so closely related to the DNA in human chromosomes, or why the genetic content of chimpanzees is so similar to those of Homo sapiens. It explains numerous morphological patterns from the coelocanth to the gorilla. It provides an insight into the many examples adduced by Darwin for imperfect adaptation. It helps us understand why Hawaii has so few species compared to the older continental areas, and why there would be flightless birds on the islands (now, alas, extinct since the recent introduction of such predators as the mongoose [and humans]). Johnson's rejoinder is that distribution of species is not evolution. Of course not, and I never claimed so; but it is an excellent example of the sort of empirical evidence that remains mysterious and even capricious in the absence of some sort of explanatory structure, which the theory of evolution supplies. The theory of evolution requires two basic elements: variation and selection. Darwin was greatly baffled as to how variation could arise, and his theory was rejected in many scientific quarters until a much greater understanding of genetics, and ultimately of the chemical basis of genetics, was achieved. There still is no satisfactory detailed mechanism for producing large enough, non-lethal variation of the DNA to produce a new species in a single jump, and it remains an act of faith on the part of evolutionists that there is some way for it to have happened bit by bit. As a Christian theist, I believe that this is part of God's design. Whether God designed the universe at the outset so that the appropriate mechanisms could arise in the course of time, or whether God gives an occasional timely input is something that science, by its very nature, will probably never be able to fathom. But as a scientist, I accept evolution as the appropriate explanatory structure to guide research into the origins and affinities of the kingdoms of living organisms. In closing my review of Darwin on Trial, I expressed my frustration by Johnson's apparent lack of appreciation about how science works, and this seems to be the least understood statement in my review. In Kona I tried to illustrate what I meant by mentioning Foucault's pendulum experiment, carried out in Paris on the night of 7-8 January 1851. The next morning there was not dancing in the streets because finally experimental proof for the earth's rotation had been found and that Copernicus was right. It was a marvelous demonstration, but Foucault's pendulum hardly affected the status of Newtonian theory or heliocentrism. It made no difference: people were already convinced about a rotating earth because Newtonian physics connected so many observations together into a coherent structure. I firmly believe that science concerns itself mostly with building coherent patterns of explanation, and rather little with proof. Lawyers seek proofs, and that's why I said that Phil Johnson was approaching science like a lawyer, somehow supposing that if he could show that evolution has no proofs, it would crumble. That, I think, is misguided. [Johnson -IS- a lawyer, and has no formal training in science or biology.] In the discussion in Hawaii, John Wiester spoke well of the Science paper by Alan Lightman and me, in which we analyzed anomalies in science and the resistance of scientists to acknowledging them (Science, 255, pp. 690-695). But the essential, underlying thesis of the paper was that anomalies will generally pass unrecognized until the availability of an alternate theory in which they suddenly make sense. When I said above that Johnson's approach would probably be fruitless, I did so in this precise context. Until or unless there is another acceptable scientific explanation for the temporal and geographical distribution of plants and animals and their structural relationships, biological evolution will remain the working paradigm among scientists. To invoke God's active agency as the explanation for slow, long-term changes in the biological record will be no more efficacious as a scientific theory than to say that the moon orbits the earth or apples fall from trees because of God's sustaining activity in the universe. While I believe both to be true, they do not pass as scientific explanations. In reading Darwin on Trial, I am left with the impression that Johnson wishes they would. =================================================================== I don't much care what legal/rhetorical mumbo-jumbo Johnson may have concocted on this -- I was *not* impressed by his understanding of any scientific issues or discussions in his brief foray on the net. There is, at base, an issue of null hypotheses, which I do *not* think that the Johnsons (and, as it appears, the Gingerichs) of the world have managed to understand. What theists seem to have difficulty dealing with is the mere possibility that something could be unconstrained, random, accidental, or otherwise NOT SUBJECT to specific "directedness." If one wants (as I do, I should note) to "see" God as providently "directing" the course of evolution, then one has to ask, critically, "does this exhibit itself in any way that is objectively describable?" In this context, one ASSUMES (whether or not one "believes") variation to be "random" and then tests to see if there is any reason to reject that hypothesis. Without clear evidence of something NON-accidental, something that statistically *rejects* this null hypothesis, "accident" is sustained as the default, even if one has no particular thesis or objective or desire to "explain" anything by accidents. All of this is purely methodological -- it has ZERO implication about the beliefs of the people writing the papers in the journals. In order to have some "non-accidental" explanation, one MUST PROPOSE AND TEST FOR the explan- ation. With some very recent, very marginal (and as far as I can see, without any theological implications) instances, one finds evidence of a not-entirely-random distribution of variation: some populations of bacteria seem to be "reactively" generating variation in the "direction" needed to evolve themselves out a tight spots. Very interesting! but not (yet, at any rate) relevant to issues of theistic "design." Again, a null hypothesis has to intervene -- is this effect a "second order" perturbation of what is in most studied instances "accidental" in the sense of showing no biases to external teleology? >since Newton, science has used mechanistic explanations that dispense with >divine intervention (the "God of the Gaps"), and with considerable success. Yep; such success that we even have a "methodological null hypothesis" or rule of thumb that divine intervention is a LOUSY "explanation" in ANY given case -- simply because vastly more informative and fruitful explana- tions seem to emerge by ruling out that one, which by being taken seriously tends to UNDERMINE attempts to comprehend the world around us. As in the case of a normal, experimental null hypothesis, this one *could* be proven wrong by some clear demonstration that it fails in a public, demonstrable manner. As far as I know, there is NO SINGLE INSTANCE of what we regard as the precious residue of natural philosophical explanation of the world in which an hypothesis of divine intervention has contributed in any way at all. Given the VAST expansion of natural explanations in the last several centuries, this strikes me as rock solid support of that methodological null-hypothesis. Anyone who *wants* to argue otherwise (as Gingerich does) needs EXAMPLES, DATA, FAILURES of the naturalistic, null-hypothesizing mode of operation. Does he HAVE any such examples? Hah. >too frequently teachers in their naivete, or because of a deliberate >atheistic orientation, present their material as if such a mechanism >describes the actual world rather than being simply a rule of science. The "rule of science" is merely that without evidence to the contrary, one MAY NOT conclude that there is ANYTHING going on (let alone, "design" or "divine intervention." I don't care HOW unhappy that makes GIngerich -- he has ZERO grounds for complaint. >Johnson and I both agree that the teaching must become more nuanced in >its presentation, and we both reject evolutionism as a philosophy. I don't know what Gingerich means by "evolutionism as a philosophy." It seems to me, as a Christian, that I must acknowledge the force of empirical testing which CANNOT (as far as I know) distinguish "divine intervention" from "nothing at all is going on." If I am to see God as "intervening" in the "healings" of Revival Meetings, I am going to have to do it at a level of subtlety that is quite beyond the comprehension of the "evangelists" involved. I don't think any other conclusion is compatible with intellectual honesty. >My brief is to launch the >attack against the atheists who are using evolution to further their >materialistic philosophies, against those who raise a reasonable structure >of scientific explanation into a naturalistic ideology. Crap. The Christians have used, for millenia, a now known-bankrupt argument from design; they (we) are in no position at all to criticize a far more chaste extrapolation from serious natural science, that there is NO DATA which points to God. Have some atheists gone overboard on this basis? Probably. So what? Until Christians cease their FAR more extravagant and unjustified "use" of natural data, they have no standing to object to other ideological abuses of science. If I am to continue saying (as I will!) "The heavens declare the glory of God" I can hardly object if someone else makes an equally unjustified "leap" in an "opposite" direction! >My counterstrategy would be to accept evolution as a reasonable theoretical >structure for explaining a great many relationships in the biological world. How very nice of Gingerich -- he will defer to the obvious! What is weird is that he goes on to point out some of what makes evolution so convincing as a theoretical structure for biology. Pardon me for quoting it, as it is gratifying to see someone unhappy with "atheistic evolutionism" explicitly recognizing this basic truth: >It gives a very sensible explanation of why the DNA in yeast is so closely >related to the DNA in human chromosomes, or why the genetic content of >chimpanzees is so similar to those of Homo sapiens. It explains numerous >morphological patterns from the coelocanth to the gorilla. It provides an >insight into the many examples adduced by Darwin for imperfect adaptation. >It helps us understand why Hawaii has so few species compared to the older >continental areas, and why there would be flightless birds on the islands With this statement, Gingerich sets himself apart from the fraud and dissim- ulation of the ICR types, and I must salute him (despite finding him very muddled, otherwise :-)) BIll has split Gingerich's remarks over two postings. The central point I want to make is this thing about *not* drawing conclusions when none are justified -- and what appears to be a misunderstanding on Gingerich's part that terms like "accident" or "random" have any more specific force than the denial of non-null hypotheses. Sure, it may disappoint theists that there is no "objective" correlate to our psalmic or scriptural theme that God is "evident" in His Creation -- and the more quixotic may indeed still be *looking* for such correlates. Some may even go into scientific endeavors in hopes of finding such correlates. I hope they are not greatly distressed if none appear -- for there seems to be a misunderstanding at the very foundations if science is aimed at finding what ALWAYS occurs, while theology is directed at what occurs, in divine power, outside of expectation. I'll scan the second article, but forbear commenting unless something substantially different from the tone of this part of Gingerich's note should appear there. -- Michael L. Siemon I say "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless - or - you shall die like men, and fall like any prince." Psalm 82:6-7 ================================================================== Bruce Salem Apr-27-93 09:58PM Organization: Stanford Univ. Earth Sciences From: salem@pangea.Stanford.EDU (Bruce Salem) Message-ID: <1rl6df$> Newsgroups: In article <1rkqtn$> ( Tim Ikeda) writes: >From my readings, it appears that Phillip wants to invoke a highly >active creator/deity - one who participates intimately in the day-to-day >happenings of the universe. That is a definition of "Theism", you wouldn't be surprized if Johnson attends a church that pushes theism, they are rather common in this part of the world :-) > Perhaps this is why he suggests that >one cannot be a good Christian and be an "evolutionist" at the same time. The reason for this is that Johnson has said that one cannot allow for anything other than the transcendant moral authority of God in Special Creation. That is, that the acceptance of the theology defines who is a Good Christian for him. Johnson has posted here before and although I don't have his posts at my fingertips I do recall hearing this kind of argument. >For, if "chance" occurances are the rule and God truly does not know >where his "creation" will lead, then where is divine justice if evil >or immoral acts are not immediately censored? In other words, if God's >punishments or rewards (ie. intervention) are not actively metted out >in this world then much of the old and new testament stories must >be false. The underpinnings of evolutionary theory (and the rest of >science, for that matter), are based on the assumption that direct >divine intervention does not occur: There are no "signs" (like >loaves of bread), or direction from God. This scenario, I think, Phillip >would like to reject. Yes, this is pretty main stream control freak Christianity, you know. Now, of course, there are many fine people who profess Christianity who have no problem with evolution or its supposed implications for morals, they are not bothered by the appearent separation or origens from the moral messages of the Bible. Maybe this is because they are not trying to set themselves up as moral authorities attempting to get control over the conduct, or the minds perhaps, of other prople. >On the other hand, the possibility that God may have "started" the >world in a single, billiard-like push that eventually led to the evolution >of humans (and then backed off to watch the balls roll), might also >be objectionable to Johnson. In this case, there is no free will >because we are only part of a predetermined program. Divine punishment >or reward would be both meaningless and unfair in such a world. This is Deism. God starts the universe and its laws and backs off. The world is a rational mechanism, nature, natural. Evolution is possible. Johnson makes the mistake many people who are basically ignorant of science do in assuming that the world as described by science offers no degrees of freedom. This is clearely wrong. Many of the laws of science are statistical because we cannot characterize the universe in deterministic and linear terms and never will be able to. The free will matter is a staw man even in a completely nondeified universe. So God is not necessary to offer us choice and hence morality, we have choice by virture of our nature and our problem is not needing absolute moral standards given by force of authority. >Instead, it appears that Johnson is opting for a mechanism of "managed >humanity." In this case, God actively oversees the world. Free will >exists but divine feedback occurs at the individual level. Sinners >are blighted (eg. AIDS - nevermind spouses, children and hemophiliacs), >and the righteous are rewarded (eg. law degrees). So, in addition to >heavenly rewards, God also makes his will pretty damn clear while >people are alive. Free will and clear signs leave no excuses for bad >behavior. Yeah, there is a connection here with Johnson being a lawyer. Does anyone what kind of law he does. I'll guess contracts :-) This is the control freak litany. The basic idea if only we lay down the law, I'll bet J. sees the Surpreme Court Justices rendering their decisions on stone tablets :-), then everyone will fall into place. >This still leaves me at a loss however, as to why evolutionary mechanisms >are reviled by Phillip under this last scenario (which he clearly favors). >Why wouldn't the Big Bang and the rest of planetary evolution prove >equally problematic? I think that the reason Evolution gets so much negative attention from moralistic Christians is that it is the chief competition for the cherished teleology that gives them moral authority. Special Creation is about God giving to Mankind his transcendant law. Any competing explaination of origins which sidesteps this teleology is feared because with it the whole argument by appeal to authority in Genesis as used by the Christian control freaks is undermined. This has nothing to do whatever with the scientific merits of evolution, pro or con, although some facts and an argument based on emperical facts is an appeal to reason. I am not characterizing all Christians or people of other religions with this view, only a few, the Fundementalists, Inerrants, and some of the Law and Order sects and cults, one might have to include the Southern Baptist Convention, or have they come to their senses since 1985 when the fundies took over their divinity schools? This overgeneralization would be like calling all Christians members of the Davidian Branch. There is a deep connection between mainstream Christians and David Koresh when normal community leads to authoritarianism and isolation, and there are closer connections between small churches and the nature of the cult at Waco. I have commented before on the partiarchial and authoritarian tendancies common to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam where it concerns the use of Scripture primarily as law, as literal history, and the subsequent weakening of its spiritual message in favor of control over people. >Phillip Johnson continually mentions the underlying biases of evolutionary >theorists, but what are his? Is there any writing of his where he >describes his underlying beliefs and assumptions? I'd be very interested >in seeing this. There were a series of posts from within the year that cover the views you have mentioned and which I have been discussing. As one would expect, Johnson's writings here are brief tracts in which he presents his views more via rhetoric and invective than by comprehension. Most of his comments about evolution entail misunderstanding, but as it is pretty easy to see in his writings the underlying prejudices, one may identify them, as I think I have been able to do here. What I have said here is pretty much how I replied to Johnson's posts when I saw them. He posted here and did not reply to too much. I never got any direct reply, so I had free reign to pick Johnson's remarks apart. Bruce Salem


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