Friday, 21 November 2008

Creation or evolution - chapter 6 continued ("Objections to evolution")

So, what of the posited objections and their answers themselves?

1. "Evolution is a chance process and this is incompatible with the God
of the Bible bringing about his purposeful plan of creation."

There are some bits I like about the answer offered here, and some bits
I don't. I do like some clarifications about the idea of chance in
general. I don't like the way that the issue regarding evolution is
side-stepped with yet another word game.c

Christians do need to think through their ideas about "chance". I hear
phrases like "good luck" and "I was lucky" tripping readily off the lips
of believers, yet I know they don't really believe in the idea of luck.
They mean "God be with you" or "I was blessed", or somesuch. There is no
luck, because a sovereign God oversees the casting of the lot, the
fallowing of a sparrow to the ground, and so on. If people and events
are predestined (which they are, e.g. Proverbs 21:1, Romans 9:1, Isaiah
44:28ff, Daniel 4:34-35), then that means that God has overseen and
guided things at the most minute of levels. Alexander points out that
even in the event of fertilisation, it was millions to one that the
particular sperm that made you, you should be the one - and yet we
confess that it happened exactly according to the will of God. So far,
so good.

The problem with DA's answer, though, is that he then avoids sharpening
the objection a little to work within this framework. The fundamental
problem is that the Darwinian theory leaves no place for the idea of
final purpose. Random mutations and natural selection work together at
each stage, but without any knowledge of the end goal. There is no
inevitability to the rise of man or the world as we know it. For the
theistic evolutionist to say, "Ah, but God had that in mind and so
guided it in that direction" is a logical contradiction - Darwinism, if
guided according to an overall plan, cannot then be Darwinism. Either
natural selection selects merely for survival potential, or it selects
according to the climax of God's will for man with his immense
intelligence and abilities far beyond what is necessary for survival. If
the process was divinely superintended, then it was not a Darwinian
process at all, because the lack of superintendence is the essence of
the theory - the selfish genes just do what's needed for their survival.
What the theistic evolutionist is basically left doing is just making
the empty assertion that, well, it was a nice happy event that that
turned out to be exactly what was needed anyway to bring God's plan about.

Dr. Alexander's theory could explain how a deistic-type God could have
created through a Darwinian process; but the God if deism is not the God
of the Bible. The Bible's creation account is of a God who
supernaturally intervened - an immediate event, not a multi-age process.
That's why Richard Dawkins is willing to concede that a serious case can
be made for a God of the type conceived in deism. Some Christian
commentators seem to think this indicates a softening of Dawkins'
atheism in his old age. Not so. Deism posits a God whose influence is of
no practical effect - it makes no difference whether the Deistic God did
something, or if nature had inherent powers to work out its own way
according to immutable laws; the outcome is the same. No atheist is
worried about such a "God" - one whose existence has no cash value in
the real world. That, though, is the kind of God that Dr. Alexander
leaves us with.

As DA develops his answer, it goes off the rails. We meet again a line
of reasoning that he uses rather frequently - divide and conquer. Make
some subtle distinctions, blow some smoke, and do a runner before it
clears. Now, don't get me wrong. The making of careful distinctions is
the very essence of proper argument and logical inquiry. My problem is
that DA doesn't use this tool - he abuses it. The answer to this
objection is a case in point. DA proceeds to clarify that there are
three things that we might mean by "chance", so we must be clear. OK.
What are those three things? Firstly, events that are predictable in
principle if not in practice. Secondly, events such as quantum events
which are not predictable even in principle. Thirdly, "metaphysical
chance" - events without any ultimate metaphysical cause. This third
one, says DA, is the one whose existence, were it real, would concern
Christians But, there's nothing in the Darwinian theory that would imply
metaphysical chance, so all is well.

What, though, is actually the difference between the second and third of
those meanings? It's not a settled matter amongst physicists that
quantum events are actually inherently incomputable. Is DA actually
suggesting that not even God can know when an atom will undergo nuclear
decay? By saying that some events are not predictable even in principle,
does he mean to include God too amongst those unable to predict them?
This is now the horns of a dilemma. If he does, then aside from being
outside of theistic orthodoxy, then this makes this meaning the same as
the third - an event of metaphysical chance which is not controlled by
any agent or other cause. If, though, God can predict such events, then
this merges the meaning into the third: it is in fact an event
predictable in principle after all: it's just that our minds aren't big
enough to do the predicting like God's is.

DA never explains what an event of genuine "metaphysical chance" would
look like, or how we'd know we'd come across one. He simply asserts,
ipso facto, that Darwinism doesn't include any such events, so there's
nothing to be worried about in there. We are told that it does include
"meaning two" events, but we are simply told that this has no
implications: we're not told why not. Actually I think if even God
cannot predict the effects of radiation on DNA (because they're
inherently, according to DA, unpredictable), leading to mutations and
evolutionary development, then we do have a serious problem; but DA
never considers this. We're simply assured that there are no "meaning
three" events, so we shouldn't worry - but not informed how we know
there aren't any such events, even if we knew what one would look like
to begin with.

So, the distinction which DA brings in to answer this objection does not
ultimately clarify, it obfuscates. The distinction made is not
well-defined, and not explained - but some hands are waved and we're
told all is OK.

An objection DA might have put, but didn't, is to point out that
evolution is a multi-million year process in which imperfection
gradually improves (but never reaches a state of perfection); whereas
Biblical creation was an event in immediate response to the Word of God,
such that all that was made was "very good", but then fell. Evolution is
a slow rise from chaos; Biblical creation is a complete event that is
then spoilt by sin. Such, though, is the luxury of the author who
chooses his own objections and never quotes from any literature from his
real-life opponents - you can pick and choose what things to answer and
if your reader is new enough to the subject area, he'll not know you've
sold him a dud.

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