Monday, December 19, 2011

Matthew and Geoff Discuss Evolution and Creationism

Matthew has offered to tell me why he feels creationism is valid. Feel free to follow us in the comments.


Matthew said...

I hold to a fairly loose definition of creationism. Basically, creationism based on the first two chapters of the Bible would be Creationism, with a big C. That sort of Creationism would be more likely to be 6 day Creationism and young earth.

I don't hold to that position. Nor am I committed to a gradual creationism, with a little C. I'm not committed to any popular position. Why should I be?

Rather, I think the best explanation from my point of view is that the biological world was created. Just how long this process took, how it happened, and when it happened is an open question. I just do my best to follow the best arguments from the evidence. That is what I mean by a loose definition of creationism. It might actually be compatible with theistic evolution, depending upon how that is defined.

Anyway, the particular point where I have a problem with evolution is actually a philosophical position that can be called naturalism. It's when evolution is offered as an explanation that must necessarily rule out God's intervention--that's where I get off the boat. Because I don't think the evidence fits--molecular, genetic, biochemical, etc.

(And I'm willing to explore the arguments based on the evidence with you and anyone else who doesn't resort to ridicule and personal attacks.)

Matthew said...

I guess I need to open with a statement about why I think creationism is valid.

As most people are aware, science is a human enterprise that investigates the natural world. This is a well recognised limitation or focus of science. And it is perfectly consistent with a creator God. But it also means that if there is a creator God who intervened, that intervention will never be something that science can directly test.

Therefore, say some, science cannot allow any non-natural or Goddidit explanations. But I don't think that logically follows at all.

Imagine a world in which there was a God who did create that world. That would be the truth in that world. Now imagine science in that world. If it's inhabitants refused to allow God explanations, they would never come to the truth. Their science would be constantly leading them away from the truth.

So also, in this world, as a scientist, I'm interested in the truth. I cannot use science to rule out God's existence. I think that means God's existence might be true. Does it not then follow that I had best allow my scientific conclusions, e.g., how bacteria got his amazing flagella and an enormously fine-tuned flagella-regulating system, to reference God? Given the strict limitations of science, e.g., we can only investigate the natural world, then one indication that Goddidit is that all known naturalistic explanations fail. This would be a God-of-the-gaps argument. And that is why I must go further. Because if my (tentative) conclusion is that Goddidit, I can actually test this hypothesis. For starters, I would expect that the parts of the flagella and its regulating system would exhibit attributes of exquisite design principles. If I do find such design principles, it won't completely rule out naturalistic explanations, but it would certainly favour a creator.

I'd like to get into some details of what I mean by design principles, if you are willing. It would mean talking about protein-DNA binding sites, timing of transcription and translation regulation, nutrient responses and things like that. But only if you are willing. If you are not familiar with biology, then I'd probably best leave it, and just continue on with general arguments. What say you?

Sonderval said...

Hello Matthew,

As a scientist myself, and as an objective reader of your comments, you essentially answer the question yourself quite clearly - you point out that you cannot use science to rule out God's existence, ergo his existence must be a fact. The first statement, that science cannot be used to disprove God, is correct. Science is an empirical study.

Your second statement, however, is a pure leap of faith (as I am sure you are aware). It is dangerous to imply that because an organism exhibits exquisite design principles there must be some guiding creator. Within one of my areas of research (crystallography), I am frequently confronted with amazing complexity arising from very simple empirically derived rules. Its science at its best - and it doesn't require invoking any deity in order to describe.

In many ways, you are being extremely honest in admitting you have a foundational bias in your reasoning (kudos!). As such, this basically boils down to a fundamental question of your personal belief.


Matthew said...

Hi Aidan,
I think you have misunderstood my position. I don't think my statements implied that because science cannot rule out God's existence that this means his existence must be fact. Rather, because science cannot rule out God, then we must not rule out his existence. This means that the question of God's existence must remain open. Do you see the difference? I say don't rule either way, just keep the question open.
That might mean that, for example, when we want to explain how, say a protein complex came to be, we should be able to think of it as possibly being explained by naturalistic mechanisms OR by a creator. To help us decide which explanation is the better one, we should then look further, and ask the relevant questions, e.g., what characteristics of a protein complex fit better with a creator explanation (and also from a naturalistic perspective). In other words, just follow the evidence.

If an organism exhibits exquisite design principles, why is it dangerous to play with a God hypothesis? I don't follow your reasoning here, nor why it should be such a great leap of faith. Sure, amazing complexity is everywhere in nature. Some of it can be attributed to natural forces, energy equilibrium, etc. Others, such as the sentences you are now reading, cannot, or should not be solely attributed to natural forces. Complexity in crystals hardly needs a God hypothesis. Complexity in logical arguments need at least a mind.

Nor do I see any justification of your claim that science is at its best when it doesn't require a deity. Is that your personal preference (if it is, then that is fine by me), or is that something you think I should also aspire to in my science? If the latter, then please justify this.

Yes, I do have a bias, as does everyone. But when it comes to explaining something in biology, I'm not committed to a Goddidit explanation. Rather, I'm committed to the search for truth. I leave the question of God open, and look where the evidence points.

But if you must rule out God, then you are not committed to the truth. At your best, you are committed only to the truth that supports, or does not conflict with, your bias against God.

In that sense, I hold my bias in check. But you are restricted by your bias. For you cannot possibly allow a Goddidit explanation. As such, this basically boils down to a fundamental question of your personal belief. If the truth is that God did create the world, it would be a truth that you would never discover. But if the truth is that God did not create the world, I'm open to it.

Geoff said...

Hi Matthew,
Sorry I haven't had time to come back to you on this. I'm away from full-sized keyboards for Christmas. If you subscribe to my comments feed you should get a notification when I reply.
Hope you and your family are enjoying the break.

Matthew said...

Hi Geoff,
OK, good that you wrote, because I was wondering if you were avoiding the topic.
I am curious as to how you would criticize my position.
Happy new year to you,

Geoff said...

Say something controversial :) as it stands you could be a theistic evolutionist,and while I don't share that position it's not one I rally against.
If you prefer, let me know your thoughts on my reviews of Signature in the Cell and God's Undertaker.

Matthew said...

Not controversial?! OK, well, I've never been told that before.

So, I don't know where your review to God's Undertaker is, but I found your review of Signature in the Cell--part 1. Unfortunately, I've never actually read the book. It's on my 'to read' list, but way down near the bottom. Not because its unattractive, but because I think I'm already familiar with the material and his arguments. I find more profit from reading literature from Meyer's critics.

Firstly, just let me say that I think you are a fine writer. As soon as you set your mind to write something controversial :) and with a well prepared set of reasons, I think I should like to read it.

Secondly, I'm not a theistic evolutionist because I think the biological data is at odds with this position. Theologically, I could accept theistic evolution as a possibility. But I've almost ruled this option out because the more I look, the less likely it seems, primarily for biological reasons, but also for theological ones.

As for your review on SIC......

Your complaint about Meyers' meandering style is probably not very relevant or controversial.

Your comment that Meyers thought that Marx and Darwin corresponded and that Darwin greatly influenced Marx is also probably not so very relevant. And the link that you provided at talkorigins did not show that Meyers was wrong, only that the situation was not 100% certain. That Darwin had an unread copy of Das Kapital is not good evidence that Darwin didn't know what was in it, or hadn't read another copy. This is hardly evidence that Meyer got it all wrong, as you declare.

I also disagreed with your assessment that Meyer was arrogant. His comparing of his own situation with that of greats like Watson and Crick was in their being 'relatively unknown and certainly undercredentialed'. In that sense, both you and I might also qualify for such a comparison--but that is hardly a compliment. I don't see how you get from Meyer's implication that he is relatively unknown and certainly undercredentialed to the implication that he is arrogant.

You also imply that the scientific greats of the rise of science, who frequently held an ID-like position as Meyer claims, would probably not have had such a position were they provided with modern scientific knowledge.
However, as a defeater to your claim, I suggest the name of Edmond Halley's, from whom we have the name Halley's Comet. He was a contemporary of Newton. Apparently, he was refused the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford because of his well-known atheism. This at least shows that there were scientists at that time who were both brilliant and atheists.

Finally, you suggest that IDers are playing coy when it comes to naming the Designer. But I don't see it that way. I think it is more because the ID camp has a big umbrella. Some think the designer is Jesus, others Allah or Jehovah or some other supernatural figure. And you should know how well these folks all get along, even in our modern era!
But perhaps a more important reason is that by not naming the designer, the focus is turned to the process and methods of inferring design rather than on the designer. But for obvious reasons, their critics will look for dishonesty as the preferred explanation. All I can say is that if it is a dishonest tactic, it would hardly be an intelligent one.