Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Science

One common alternative to the theory of natural selection is the theory of intelligent design. The intelligent design theory, however, is deliberately limited, as it does not attempt a causal explanation. It tries to develop techniques to examine physical organisms and then to determine whether or not that examination provides evidence for the existence of an intelligence in the coming to be (or design) of those organisms. Strictly, it is neutral on whether the intelligence is God or whether it might be previously-existing extra-terrestrial beings who have (say) genetically-engineered the organism. Because intelligent design theory does not produce causal accounts, it is often criticized as lacking in predictive power. It does make general ‘structural’ predictions about the forms expected to occur within living organisms, but it will never, it seems, yield the detailed prior and conditional probabilities necessary to form Bayesian arguments of the kind that many scientists use to assess the likelihoods of the hypotheses they are considering.

Intelligent design theory has generated an extraordinary amount of animosity from mainstream (naturalistic) scientists. They often accuse it of being false. Then they simultaneously accuse it of being non-scientific because non-falsifiable!  

By comparison, the theistic science that I advocate on this blog is advocating a much stronger theory than intelligent design since it cannot be neutral about ‘the nature of the designer’. We start from the assumption that God exists, as being itself and life itself, and argue that causal explanations of evolution cannot be purely natural.

Another common alternative to natural selection is creationism, where different species are created individually and specifically by God according to the first chapter of Genesis that culminates in the creation of man (and woman). These acts of creation, with apparently whole new populations of plants or animals coming into existence, would have been rather spectacular to watch!  Are such special creations possible according to theistic science?  The answer, I have argued, is no.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Evolution within Theism: a Summary of the Main Options

1. God cannot create self-sustaining organisms immediately: nothing else is life itself.

2. God cannot create robust theistically-sustained organisms immediately:
  •  God cannot create permanent beings that are fully formed, except insofar as there are prior physical events that form the foundation and outer framework for the dispositions of the new being. What God can immediately create are physical events themselves. Everything else takes longer. There are no instant adults.
  • To create permanent and robust individuals, they must be developed so that, at every stage of their life, they have a substantial history of physical actions in the past and mental and spiritual lives built on that.
  • Since not even God can create history afterwards, this means that a longer and slower process of creation is needed if a race of people is to be developed who have fully-developed and long-lasting characters to be loved and to love God in return.
  • Hence some process of ‘descent by modification’.
When spiritual or mental ideas are produced immediately, they do not ‘have a life of their own’. Rather, they disappear again when the attention goes elsewhere, unless some physical effect has been produced. (Our memory must involve such effects.)

Hence, for biological evolution, the main theistic options are:

Theistically-filtered evolution:
  • The very fact of discrete degrees means that plants and animals must receive specific cognitive and affective dispositions, according to their biological form.
  • Even if God took no active involvement in the history of our earth’s species (as Darwin wanted), beings will still be favored if their forms well receive mental life.
  • This gives a tendency of evolution to make beings approach full mental reception.
  • We hope that this is a tendency toward the human form. I think so.
Theistically-driven evolution:
  • If God took active involvement in biological history, then he could specifically change the genetic structure of species, so that new species were born. And do this widely, to make a new population. This is driving the production of new species.
Thus we have three competing theories:
  1. neo-Darwinian theory: random mutations, genetic drift and recombination, natural selection (no influence from God, except perhaps through physical laws),
  2. theistically-filtered evolution: random mutations, drift and re-combination, so there is both natural and theistic selection (God gives influx by laws of discrete degrees)
  3. theistically-driven evolution: preselected and random mutations, genetic drift and recombination, along with both natural and theistic selection.
To be decided between by comparing the observed evidence with the various predictions of the several theories.

Note that these theories 2 and 3 go beyond the avowed scope of Intelligent Design theorists. They want 'merely' to first establish that intelligence was involved in the production of biological species. Here, in 'theistic science', we want to go further, and investigate the causes that produced the species (whether divine and/or spiritual and/or physical).

More discussion in a previous blog post.
And see also discussions by Jon Garvey on Theoretical Preferences and related posts.

Points from Chapter 26: Evolution of the book Starting Science From God.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thinkers or Lovers? Anthropology for Persons

R.J. Snell, here, asks in the blog of the Society for Christian Psychology:
Is “love” enough around which to re-habilitate the necessary edifice of human self-understanding and normativity with any level of exactness and perspicacity?
I’d suggest yes, if, and only if, an exploration of love reveals something (1) intelligible, (2) normative, (3) structural, (4) self-referentially consistent, and (5) defining of our anthropology. To put it another way, I’m not suggesting we examine love abstractly, but that we examine our own concrete selves and subjectivity as the access point, and in so doing will discover human nature and human norms, but in a way less guilty of reifying our identity into “thinkers,” and without the tendency to force our own selves into correspondence with any theory about human nature. At the same time, it seems right to me that the basic impulse of the Western tradition—which is to identify a basic isomorphism between the way we are (our natures) and the way we ought to be (teleology)—is valuable and true. Ethics not rooted in the way we actually are is either groundless or ideological or both; politics out of keeping with our nature is either false or violent or both; accounts of flourishing unmoored from human nature tend to be unserious or oppressive or both.
The task, then, is to discover human nature as it actually is, and as it actually is in our own concrete empirical selves, and to rehabilitate normative accounts of our well-being and flourishing. And to do so by an analysis of love, but an analysis which is concrete, intelligible, and differentiated.
Something of a steep task, I suspect.

I have begun to describe work on this task:

And Section 20.4 (Persons and their Identity) of my book (Starting Science From God):

The system of discrete degrees that comes from an analysis of theism suggests a possible solution to the problem of continued personal identity. In Section 6.5 we saw that, within an ontology of multiple generative levels, there was a sense in which the continued identity of a person could be attributed to some prior degree, especially if this prior degree were relatively unchanging. So, if the prior degree were strictly unchanging during a person’s lifetime, then we would have a means of identifying our personal identity both during our growth and changes in this life and possibly also after the death of our physical bodies. There would then be a core in us that would be the basis of our continued existence, and that could said to be our ‘true self’.

This core, according to our basic theism, is our most fundamental love. For God this core is the divine love. That is clearly his core and the basis of his continued divine identity. For us, it is the love that is the most prior generative degree that can be said to be ‘us’ rather than ‘someone else’. That love is the most constant underlying disposition in our life. It is like Plato’s ‘self-moving soul.’ Let us call this most constant underlying disposition our principal love. Because the principal love produces our life, it is recognizable by its effect of producing a ‘theme of our life’. We agree with Hume that this identity is not immediately apparent to our introspection, but that does not make it any less real. Along with dispositions in general, our principal love can be tested by examining skills, character, and performances when there are few or no external constraints, by examining affections in action and in the voice, and so on. Just as physicists test dispositions by experiments and not by mere inspection, so our own identities could be inferred by examining all our characteristic actions more easily than by introspection.

This concept of personal identity as principal love would be most useful to psychology and theology if that love were completely unchanged during our lifetime: from birth to death and even after bodily death. This would require it to keep all the same intrinsic properties even though its effects and relations may vary. Its relation to us will certainly vary as we grow up and later die. It would also be most useful if we could assume that no two people had the same principal love. Then we could be sure not to confuse any two people. Theistic religions claim that we have some kind of continued identity that survives bodily death. I offer the concept of principal love as a candidate for the needed kind of identity.