Edge of Evolution

by Brian 7. August 2010 21:40

I recently finished The Edge of Evolution by the author of Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe. Although I enjoyed the book and learned more about the debate; Behe will appear to readers to have wandered further into no man's land between literal Creationism and neo-Darwinism. As such, I suspect he will not find much company there. I say this realizing full well Intelligent Design (ID) from a theoretical standpoint is agnostic regarding the Designer and therefore wandering from Creationism is somewhat of a non sequitur. We have to remember the theory itself is coincidental to Behe’s theology, and his Christianity. Dembski’s explanatory filter, a core component of ID, is a mathematical approach to detecting design causation. We use it all of the time without even thinking about it. It’s when the filter is applied to microbiology things get dicey - and that is what ID proponents like Behe are trying to unravel. When skeptics conjoin ID and Creationism, the debate gets muddled – and that is what the critics are doing.

I went online to find a single reasonable critical review of the book and was disappointed by all of the ad hominem rubbish out there. As much as I don’t care for Dawkins, his review was the best I could find, and it was poor to say the least. The bottom line: There are gaps in the Darwinian synthesis. Darwinists say Behe appeals to God, and they appeal to current evidence and future scientific discovery. Behe appeals to probabilities too insurmountable for current Darwinian mechanisms to ever overcome, and says Darwinists wave-off the problem with “just-so” stories. Apart from Behe appealing to God (which he does not do in this book), both sides show verisimilitude. I just wish Darwinists would put forth a well-argued critique of work like Behe's instead of mere bad-mouthing.

Behe’s book read like a slight retreat from "Black Box" by moving the beachhead a little closer to orthodox Darwinism. I think everyone was a bit surprised by his position on common descent which is clearly more at home with Darwinists than many ID supporters. For those open to theology where the Creator front-loads design at the singularity, Behe’s view is workable. But integrating such a theology into the Christian worldview is not trivial. Where do material processes stop and design start? Behe tries to answer this question in the book by looking at real-world examples of evolution in action and showing how ineffectual material mechanisms are in obtaining significant change. His arguments are forceful, but not conclusive in my opinion. The real theological challenge remains open for Christians like myself. Where does episodic-supernaturalism end and God’s creative unfolding process begin.

 

Kagin's Corner

by Brian 24. July 2010 18:42

I recently watched an ABC news video showing Edwin Kagin performing de-baptisms with a hair dryer labeled “Truth and Reason.” Just when I was about to dismiss this guy’s theatrics, a couple of his comments caught my attention. When he was asked why his form of activism uses such offensive mockery, Kagin replied: “Atheists have no chance of prevailing in a direct confrontation” because “there are just too many [believers.]”

What does Kagin mean by prevailing? Does he mean: to triumph in the battle of ideas so that atheism becomes the predominate worldview? If this is what he means, surely Truth and Reason ought to be the focus instead of mockery and theatrics. But maybe Kagin is right when he says, atheists have no chance. He and others like him would say truth and reason are not given the opportunity to prevail. I’m sure Kagin thinks that if believers would only drop their dogma and listen, then atheists would have a chance. But if this were his view, it would be out of touch with reality and a convenient excuse to opt out of the discussion.

 

Where do you think Kagin might look for truth and reason – in academia? In the last forty or so years; theism has seen a radical resurgence within philosophy departments in academia. The April 8, 1966 Time Magazine article describing the death of God movement in contemporary theology was close to a low point. Since then, theism has been on the rise.

So perhaps Kagin believes truth and reason would be found in dialog and debate amongst the highly educated. Yet one only need watch the debate between William Lane Craig (a top Christian philosopher) and Christopher Hitchens (one of atheism’s leading spokespersons) to see the disparity. Kagin would like you to think truth and reason are on his side, but he’ll have to do a lot better than a sticker on the side of a blow dryer.

Kagin’s second comment worth noting was leveled at believers at the end of the interview. He said: “Why are they [believers] the least bit concerned by some little old atheist mocking them?” and his answer… “The reason they are worried and concerned is the deep fear that if everyone doesn’t believe it [what believers believe], maybe it isn’t so.” Now that’s interesting. Surely we Christians have no good reason to find a de-baptism offensive, but rather our worry and concern stems from lack of certainty - or so Kagin would like you to think. Yet I always found the more defensive a person is, the more likely they are to resort to mockery and insults.  

Now that Christopher Hitchen’s cancer is public knowledge, in all of the comments and discussions from Christians I’ve noted, prayer for Hitchens recovery is the central focus – not mockery. This kind of response comes from individuals who are confident in the hope they have; not from insecurity. Perhaps if Kagin followed the advice labeled on the other side of his blow dryer he might better understand believers – it read explore and learn.

Hawking Disappoints

by Brian 12. June 2010 17:12

Diane Sawyer interviewed one of the renowned contemporary physicists of our day during the ABC Nightly news this week. Due to ALS, Stephen Hawking PhD had to answer Diane through his cheek-controlled speech synthesizer. What an opportunity! I’m sure millions of viewers were poised to hear what the master-scientist had to say about life, the universe, and everything. When asked about the biggest mystery he would like solved, Hawking replied: “I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something greater than nothing.” A perfect start to a perfect interview! – So I thought. Hawking started with with one of the greatest metaphysical questions. As Leibniz said, “nothing exists and nothing happens without a reason why it is so, and not otherwise.” Since the universe began to exist, it does seem fitting to ask “why” it came into being rather than to merely assume its existence as brute fact. So how might Hawking enlighten us here?

Unfortunately he didn’t as the interview proceeded off the edge of a cliff into utter irrelevance and deceptiveness. Hawking continued:

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

When considering the metaphysical challenge “why is there something rather than nothing” Hawking says we are to assume two approaches: religion or science. Wait a minute; I thought metaphysics was one of the main branches of philosophy – not science or religion. Science may help see the problem from the bottom-up and religion may help to see it from the top-down; but ultimately this is a philosophical question. Here is what I think Hawking should have said, Christianity somewhat aside:

“Science will never on its own be able to answer ‘why’ something exists rather than nothing. But if a Creator exists, He would be in an authoritative position to answer the question of ‘why.’ We should seek to find this Authority, and if He can be found, then seek to know Him.”

Hawking is a physicist – not a theologian or philosopher. Asking him about the great metaphysical questions of reality, or his views on science versus religion, is like asking Kobe Bryant to play in the World Cup. He would probably do a better job than your average Joe, but frankly, is not qualified. However John Polkinghorne, former professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge; Anglican priest; former president of Queen’s College; and winner of the Templeton Prize in 2002, is qualified – at least by comparison. What does Polkinghorne say about the so-called conflict between science and religion?

We must take account of what science has to tell us about the pattern and history of the physical world in which we live. Of course, science itself can no more dictate to religion what it is to believe than religion can prescribe for science what the outcome of its inquiry is to be. The two disciplines are concerned with the exploration of different aspects of human experience: in the one case, our impersonal encounter with a physical world that we transcend; in the other, our personal encounter with the One who transcends us. They use different methods: in the one case, the experimental procedure of putting matters to the test; in the other, the commitment of trust which must underlie all personal encounter, whether between ourselves or with the reality of God. They ask different questions: in the one case, how things happen, by what process?; in the other, why things happen, to what purpose? Though these are two different questions, yet, the ways we answer them must bear some consonant relationship to each other.

Polkinghorne has written much on the consonant relationship between science and religion. He describes one objective World unmoved by our interpretation. Science is able to peer into the World as well as religion.  As a critical realist, Polkinghorne takes issue with the idea:  What is – is reduced to the question of how we know what is.” Yet Hawking seems to fall right into this fallacious trap. He appears to think as Edward Weiler that if you know ‘how’ something works, then you necessarily can answer the questions of ‘why.’ But as I said, Hawking is simply unqualified and can offer us little more than his opinion.

The world would have been far better served if Diane had interviewed John Polkinghorne instead of Stephen Hawking. If asked whether or not science will win over religion, he might have responded as he has in similar interviews with one of his favorite quotations from a great Thomist thinker of the last century, Bernard Lonergan. He once said this: 'God is the all sufficient explanation, the eternal rapture glimpsed in every Archimedean cry of eureka'. And conclude: “The search for understanding, which is so natural to a scientist, is, in the end, the search for God. That is how religion will continue to flourish in this Age of Science.”

 

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

On Facebook
On GoodReads