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Sorry Dr Barr, “Chance By Design” is an Oxymoron

Christians have traditionally believed that the design of living things is evidence of God’s handiwork.  For millennia they agreed with the psalmist who gave thanks to God for the obvious and exquisite design of his body:  “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . .”  Psalm 139:13-14. 

Honest atheists do not dispute the Christian belief that living things appear to be designed.  Even world famous arch-atheist Richard Dawkins concedes this point, writing that “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.  Dawkins does not mince words.  According to him the appearance of design in living things is not subtle, but rather is “overwhelmingly” impressed on us.  Id.  To be sure, Dawkins goes on to explain why he believes the appearance of design is an illusion and that natural selection combined with random chance are sufficient to account for the appearance of design without having to resort to a designer.  

And then you have theistic evolutionists like Stephen M. Barr who want to have it both ways.  Barr has an article in the December issue of First Things entitled Chance, By Design in which he rehashes arguments in support of theistic evolution that he has made a number of times before.  See here and here.  Even though he is a Christian, Barr is perfectly happy to accept Darwinian evolution.  So how is Barr different from Dawkins?  In one sense, he is not.  Christian Barr and atheist Dawkins both assert that mechanical necessesity and random chance are sufficient to account for the apparent design of living things.  Both Dawkins and Barr hang a sign on the front door that says “no designers need apply.”   

The difference is that Barr is willing to crack the back door open just a little and let God in so long as he behaves himself and doesn’t make a ruckus.  Barr does this by asserting that when he uses the word “random,” he is not using it in the same way Dawkins does.  Dawkins would say that, by definition, a “random process” is undirected, but Barr says that when he uses the word random he means “only apparently random but really directed at a deeper level of existence.”  As I have written before: 

Barr believes that, in Einstein’s famous phrase, God really does play dice with the universe. But according to Barr, God, has loaded the dice so that they rolled “life,” however improbable that might have been (like a thousand 7′s in a row with real dice), and God’s dice loading is so clever that the “fix” can never be detected empirically.

 

In this way Barr maintains membership in the academic cool kids club by espousing a Darwinian account of origins that is indistinguishable from the account of origins atheists Dawkins and Dennnett espouse. Yet he keeps the “T” in his “TE” by saying that at a wholly different level of existence God fixed the game so that “random” is not really random but directed.

 

Both Barr and Dawkins appeal to random chance to explain the apparent design of life.  The only difference is that Dawkins believes the dice are fair and Barr believes they are fixed.   

The interesting thing about Barr’s argument is that it cannot be refuted by appeals to either logic or evidence.  It is not logically impossible for God to create through a process that appears to be random but is in fact directed. And no amount of evidence for design can undermine Barr’s position.  I assume Barr would concede with Dawkins that the appearance of design in living things is “overwhelming,” but to Barr the overwhelming evidence of his own eyes is irrelevant.  Because no matter how overwhelming that evidence may be, Barr can always follow Dawkins in asserting it is an illusion.  

In summary, there are three positions in play here. 

(1) The traditional theist observes the overwhelming appearance of design in living things and is content to conclude that things are they way they appear to be, i.e., that living things appear to be designed for a purpose because they are in fact designed for a purpose. 

(2) The atheist admits that the appearance of design in living things is overwhelming but asserts that the appearance of design is an illusion and in reality natural law and random chance combine to produce a result that only appears to be designed.   

(3) The Barr-type theistic evolutionist admits that the appearance of design in living things is overwhelming but asserts — like the atheist — that the appearance of design is an illusion and in reality natural law and random chance combine to produce a result that only appears to be designed.  The TE then goes one step further by asserting that the explanation of the illusion of design is itself an illusion, because the randomness of evolution is in fact directed.   

Barr says that the appearance of design must give way to an appeal to random chance which in turn must give way to design.  Why go through this convoluted process?  If you are going to conclude “design” at the end, why not just stick with the conclusion of “design” at the beginning?  The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that Barr is a Darwinian true believer.  He really does believe the evidence compels him to concede that the Darwinian evolution is true.  Yet as a Christian he also feels compelled to concede that God created living things.  And when people feel compelled to believe contradictory things there is no end to the linguistic knots they will tie for themselves (like saying that “random” means “directed”).   

If the empirical case for Darwinian evolution were unanswerable one might be tempted by Barr’s position (though it seems to me that if that were the case Dawkins’ position would be even more tempting).  But the empirical case for Darwinian evolution is far from unanswerable.  In fact, while it will probably remain textbook orthodoxy for some time, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Darwinian evolution is an analog relic of the Victorian steam age trying (and not succeeding very well) to find its way in a digital information age.  As we have discussed several times in these pages recently, even thoughtful atheists are starting to doubt whether Emperor Charles is quite so fully clothed as they once thought.  And just at a time when even atheists are starting to jump ship, TE’s like Barr come along to double down on their commitment to a failing theory.   

I miss Richard John Neuhaus.  When he ran the show First Things was always willing to give ID proponents a fair hearing.  Barr and his ilk now control the FT editorial board, and, sadly, that once great journal is sliding slowly into irrelevance.  I will leave it to others to judge whether there is a connection between those two facts. 

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66 Responses to Sorry Dr Barr, “Chance By Design” is an Oxymoron

  1. I would think that Dawkins’ “weasel” is an example of chance by design- that is random mutations constrained to produce a designed effect. GAs and EAs work like that- no one knows how the problem will be solved, that’s the random part. The design part is that the random part is directed towards a solution/ goal/ target.

    But anyway TE’s are weird in that they say that we cannot possibly detect and understand God’s handy-work- too mysterious and anyway trying to understand how God works is blasphemy or something like that. They are the ultimate ostrich…

  2. The difference is that Barr is willing to crack the back door open just a little and let God in so long as he behaves himself and doesn’t make a ruckus.

    Reminds me of Kenneth Miller who let’s God come in via quantum events.

    But seriously, how is Christ’s death, burial and resurrection not the making a ruckus? From reading the NT texts, it’s goal was to turn the whole world upside down and inside out. To overthrow and replace an entire world order.

    These TE’s kill me.

  3. 3
    Kantian Naturalist

    The problem with “saving the appearances” is that it also appears that the sun revolves around the earth and that sweetness is an intrinsic property of sucrose. So one can’t merely assert that how things appear is how things are; one needs a theory as to how it is that appearances are credible. Perhaps design theory provides that, or could provide that, but in any event, that explanatory task can’t be neglected.

    On another point, I found Plantinga’s version of theistic evolution intriguing:

    You might wonder whether random genetic mutations could be caused by God: if these mutations are random, aren’t they just a matter of chance? But randomness, as construed by evolutionary biology, doesn’t have this implication. According to Ernst Mayr, the dean of post-WWII biology, “When it is said that mutation or variation is random, the statement simply means that there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism is a given environment. Elliott Sober, one of the most respected contemporary philosophers of biology, puts the point a bit more carefully: “There is no physical mechanism (either inside organisms or outside of them) that detects which mutations would be beneficial and causes those mutations to occur”. But their being random in that sense is clearly compatible with their being caused by God. (Where the Conflict Really Lies, pp. 11-12)

    In other words, theistic evolution requires only that the sense specified by evolutionary biology for “random” does signify or entail “unguided” or “by chance alone”. I think that’s quite right. Taking “random” to mean “unguided,” as Dawkins does, steps over the boundary between science and metaphysics.

    One thing I really appreciate about theistic evolutionists is their insistence on a distinction between science and metaphysics. I think that’s why they get caught as playing “monkey-in-the-middle” between creationists and materialists — because what creationists and materialists have in common is a refusal to make that distinction, and that is why theistic evolutionists are criticized from both directions.

    (My own view is that, while I’m not a theistic evolutionist, I do think there is a distinction to be drawn between science and metaphysics. So in that regard I’m an ally of theistic evolutionists.)

  4. (2) The atheist admits that the appearance of design in living things is overwhelming but asserts that the appearance of design is an illusion and in reality natural law and random chance combine to produce a result that only appears to be designed.

    So they have an explanation for why things appear to be designed, but they don’t have an explanation for why things appear to be designed.

    Chew on that one. ;)

    On their view, there is no reason at all that anything should appear to be designed. They need to show that design is not real on any level. They need to argue that there isn’t even the appearance of design, because you cannot have the appearance of something that doesn’t actually exist.

    Oh, look! It appears to be a flumagarstigus!

  5. Oh, look! It appears to be a flumagarstigus!

    On the contrary, good Sir. That only appears to be a flumagarstigus. But I have an explanation for that!

  6. In classical theism, as per Aquinas and as inherited by the Protestant Reformers like Calvin, to say that something happens by chance is to accept that it is ultimately ordered by God’s providence, like sparrows that fall the ground, the cast of a lot etc. So, so far, no problem with Barr’s position.

    The problem comes with the claim that God’s activity would be undetectable, because though Aquinas’ definition of chance was the simple “unforeseeable”, we now have a science of statistics that can tell us how “unforeseeable” that means.

    1000 coin tosses with 490 heads and 510 tails is “random”, but quite within forseen limits. God’s providence is much in action if one of those tosses decides your future. But 1000 heads and no tails is statistically so unlikely as to imply a fix. If it turns out not to be fixed by intervention here and now, then God’s design looks very likely.

    The same is even more true if life starts with a spontaneous sequenced polymer with odds of 1:10^80. The degree of chance, then, is itself evidence for providential activity, where it is a matter of mere faith when it comes to accepting the cast of a lot as the levitical priests did.

    Darwininian’s original theory could deliver “God’s design” if every possible mutation happened and the environment was 100% able to act by adaptive selection. Chance then gets completely constrained by a determined environment. But that’s not the way evolutionary theory currently stacks. So design is still evidential for divine activity.

    Looked at another way, if a series of events of ultra-low probability occur “naturally” to produce something that looks designed (or actually a whole world that looks designed), you’ve just described a miracle.

  7. Semi OT: Dr. Craig weighs in on Neo-Darwinism:

    Why Is Evolution So Widely Believed?
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org.....y-believed

  8. Particularly this part about the former priest Ayala:

    Why Is Evolution So Widely Believed? – William Lane Craig
    Excerpt: I was intrigued recently to learn that Ayala has apparently since given up on the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanisms. Lyn Margulis, one of the so-called Altenburg 16, a group of evolutionary biologists who met in 2008 at a conference in Altenburg, Austria, to explore the mechanisms behind evolutionary change, reported, “At that meeting [Francisco] Ayala agreed with me when I stated that this doctrinaire neo-Darwinism is dead. He was a practitioner of neo-Darwinism, but advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism’s now dead” (Suzan Mazur, The Altenberg 16 [Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2010], p. 285).
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org.....y-believed

  9. Hi Barry Arrington

    The TE then goes one step further by asserting that the explanation of the illusion of design is itself an illusion, because the randomness of evolution is in fact directed.

    So Barr affirms the reality of design, via a mechanism of directed, non-random mutations. Isn’t this an ID position?

    If you disagree with the mechanism of directed mutations, what is your proposed alternative mechanism for the implementation of biological design? I’m all ears.

    Cheers

  10. Jon

    …to say that something happens by chance is to accept that it is ultimately ordered by God’s providence, like sparrows that fall the ground, the cast of a lot etc. So, so far, no problem with Barr’s position.

    There are two ways of looking at chance, epistemologically (how it appears to us) and ontologically (how it is really happening). So, it is unwarranted to use Aquinas’ quote in an evolutionary context without making that calculation, especially since he was, in fact, a Young Earth Creationist. We can be absolutely certain that Aquinas, Mr. Design, would never have supported Darwin, Mr. No Design Necessary.

    According to Darwinian evolution, which is, by definition, an unguided process, the finished product is solely a matter of ontological chance, so much so that man’s appearance here is thought to be only one of perhaps trillions of possibilities, all of which had an equal chance of becoming manifest. With this paradigm, evolution doesn’t, so to speak, know where it is going or where it will end. It is not a goal-directed process. Quite the contrary, it was conceived as a substitute for a goal-directed process.

    According to Theism, an evolutionary process must be guided, meaning that the specific end result (homo sapiens) would conform to God’s apriori intent, the finished product for which the process was intended. With this paradigm, evolution does know where it is going and where it will end. It is a goal-directed process.

    I submit that these two visions are incompatible. A process cannot be both goal directed and not goal directed. It’s product cannot be both intended and not intended. Yet this is precisely what Barr (and the typical Theistic Evolutionist) is proposing. For Barr, evolution was goal directed and its finished product was intended, but it was also not goal directed and its finished product was not intended after all. Evolution knew where it was going, except that it didn’t That is exactly what Barr is saying. Barry is right. It makes no sense.

  11. Completely off topic to this thread but I came across this article today and found it quite interesting, “Popular physics theory running out of hiding places.”

    The link is below..

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/scie.....t-20300100

  12. Just to note — there are many definitions of random floating around. Some of them are perfectly compatible with design. In fact, “random” *can* mean “non-mechanistic”…

    I doubt this is how Barr is using the word, but in any case, I wanted to point that out.

  13. StephenB

    According to Darwinian evolution, which is, by definition, an unguided process, the finished product is solely a matter of ontological chance.

    Who says biological evolution (descent with modification via selection, drift etc.) is “by definition” unguided? You? Atheists? Why should we accept a definition based on atheistic assumptions?

    Michael Behe doesn’t accept that the scientific theory of evolution is by definition unguided. Alvin Plantinga doesn’t either.

    In fact it has been stated repeatedly, here at Uncommon Descent, that ID does not deny the science of evolution; ID only denies the philosophical assumption that evolution is unguided and purposeless. So ID proponents at Uncommon Descent do not accept that the science of evolution is by definition unguided.

    So I don’t accept your definition. Why should anyone?

    Cheers

  14. 14

    CLAVDIVS @ 13. In responding to StephenB’s comment you have failed to grasp the distinction between “evolution” and “Darwinian evolution.” StephenB is careful to state that his comment concerns the latter. He states, “According to Darwinian evolution . . .”

    As you note, certain theories of “evolution” can be reconciled with ID. “Darwinian evolution” is, as StephenB points out, an unguided process. If you don’t understand that point, I recommend that you read some of the elementary texts on the subject.

  15. 15
    Kantian Naturalist

    What “elementary texts” say is often quite different from what experts in the field say — otherwise one is put in the position of using an elementary text to refute Mayr and Sober, who are quite right to distinguish between the randomness of variation — in the sense of “random” that evolutionary theory requires — and unguidedness, in the strong metaphysical sense that denies teleological realism.

    I think this is just one of those issues that Mayr and Sober get right and Dawkins (and Monod) get wrong, because Mayr and Sober is being much more careful than they are. (Interestingly enough, Mayr read Hans Jonas, a fascinating philosopher of biology I cannot recommend highly enough.)

  16. Hi Barry Arrington @ 14

    CLAVDIVS @ 13. In responding to StephenB’s comment you have failed to grasp the distinction between “evolution” and “Darwinian evolution.” StephenB is careful to state that his comment concerns the latter. He states, “According to Darwinian evolution . . .”

    As you note, certain theories of “evolution” can be reconciled with ID. “Darwinian evolution” is, as StephenB points out, an unguided process. If you don’t understand that point, I recommend that you read some of the elementary texts on the subject.

    So, clearly, Barr does not subscribe to unguided “Darwinian” evolution. He subscribes to guided “scientific” evolution.

    Therefore, there’s no contradiction in his views, and StephenB’s comments to that effect are wide of the mark.

    Cheers

  17. 17

    CLAVDIVS @ 16: “So, clearly, Barr does not subscribe to unguided “Darwinian” evolution.” Wrong. Barr says he does subscribe to unguided Darwinian evolution.

    “He subscribes to guided “scientific” evolution.” Wrong. Barr says he subscribes to scientific unguided evolution.

    The problem, as StephenB points out, is that Barr then says he believes evolution was guided. There is an obvious contradiction there.

  18. 18

    KN, one of us does not understand Mayr very well. I take him at his word when he says of the neo-Darwinian synthesis: “The new explanatory model replaced planned teleology by the haphazard process of natural selection.” Ernst Mayr, Nature of the Darwinian Revolution, Science 176 (June 2, 1972): 988, 987-81.

    or this:

    “The proponents of teleological theories [of evoluion], for all their efforts, have been unable to find any mechanisms (except supernatural ones) that can account for their postulated finalism.” Ernst Mayr, “Evolution,” Scientific American 239 (September 1978): 42, 39-47.

  19. Hi Barry Arrington @ 17

    Wrong. Barr says he subscribes to scientific unguided evolution.

    Here are your own words on the matter:

    But according to Barr, God, has loaded the dice so that they rolled “life,” …

    “Loading the dice” to ensure a particular outcome sure sounds like guidance to me. What else could it mean?

    And here are Barr’s words on the matter, quoting Catholic doctrine:

    Communion and Stewardship settles this point. “Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality,” the document observes. “But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a purely contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan. According to St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency.’ In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.”

    It sure doesn’t sound like Barr subscribes to unguided scientific evolution to me.

    Cheers

  20. Obviously, people here dont understand that when atheistic evolutionists pronounce that evolution is unguided, that they are making a metaphysical pronouncement that does not necessarily follow from the scientific evidence garnered for the theory of evolution. IOW, The scientific evidence brought forth in favor of the modern synthesis of evolution is not of the type that can establish a philosophical conclusion, regardless of the claims of philosophically inept biologists. The question of purpose and whether evolution is guided falls outside of the resources of science to answer. People who say otherwise are conflating science and philosophy, something that dawkins and his ilk are guilty of.

  21. 21
    Kantian Naturalist

    Kuartus @ 20: for whatever it’s worth, I agree entirely!

    Arrington @ 18: I concede the point with regards to Mayr, insofar as he thought that external teleology was not empirically detectable. But I take that to be consistent with affirming external teleology on other grounds, e.g. in light of theological considerations.

    Here I think that Sober is also quite clear: the theory of evolution entails that there is no empirically detectable way for the sources of variation to anticipate the adaptive needs of the organism. But that’s consistent with holding that the variation is guided by some means that is not empirically detectable.

  22. How can something be a random process, yet still be a directed process?

    Just curious…

  23. 23
    Kantian Naturalist

    How can something be a random process, yet still be a directed process?

    As I understand theistic evolution, it is random with respect to what we humans can observe and measure and directed with respect to divine activity.

    So, it is both random and directed because the former refers to ‘the human perspective’ and the latter to ‘the divine perspective’.

  24. CLAVDIVS @19, kuartus @20:

    According to the Darwinian scheme, described by “scientists” who call themselves evolutionary biologists, evolution is a purposeless, mindless, unguided process. This is the common theme that young skulls full of mush read in their biology textbooks. It is also the position held by Francis Collins, Stephen Barr, Ken Miller, and most of the prominent Theistic Evolutionists.

    Not only do these Theistic Evolutionists subscribe to the unguided process proposed by evolutionary biologists, they do not hesitate to call it a scientific fact. As Francis Ayala puts it, “It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the complex organization and functionality of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process–natural selection–without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. … The scientific account of these events does not necessitate recourse to a preordained plan, whether imprinted from the beginning or through successive interventions by an omniscient and almighty Designer. Biological evolution differs from a painting or an artifact in that it is not the outcome of preconceived design.”

    Theistic Evolutionists have a hard to reconciling this Ayala’s brand of evolution with God’s purposes, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Typically, they write like schizophrenics. On the one hand, they dogmatically preach on the science of this purposeless, mindless process; on the other hand, they piously appeal to God as its purposeful, mindful agent. How they manage to maintain their mental health is a mystery. Most Darwinists, at least those that are honest, laugh out loud at their TE lapdogs. A few of them, though, like Eugenie Scott, Daniel Dennett, and Francis Ayala, recognize the potential for using these double-minded saps as potential agents for recruiting Christians, acting as partners to promote the contradictory notion that Darwin can be reconciled with God.

  25. Kantian Naturalist: “As I understand theistic evolution, it is random with respect to what we humans can observe and measure and directed with respect to divine activity.”

    “So, it is both random and directed because the former refers to ‘the human perspective’ and the latter to ‘the divine perspective’.”

    Not really. Darwinian Evolution, as adopted by Theistic Evolutionists, is perceived to be both directed and undirected from a Divine perspective, which is why it is a self contradictory position. If it were merely a case of being directed from a Divine perspective and perceived as undirected from a human perspective, the contradiction would not be so stark. Darwin did not merely propose epistemological randomness; he proposed ontological randomness. Random variation and natural selection are supposed to represent reality. It is the so-called “appearance of design” that is to be relegated to perception.

  26. “According to the Darwinian scheme, described by “scientists” who call themselves evolutionary biologists, evolution is a purposeless, mindless, unguided process.”

    And when they say such things, they are going BEYOND the scientific evidence. For the sake of argument, lets say that random mutation and natural selection is responsible for producing all the variety of life on earth.
    Would it follow that the whole evolutionary history is wholly unguided and purposeless? The atheist would certaintly think so, but from a scientific point of view, such a conclusion cannot be ascertained from the scientific evidence because science is not equipped to tackle those types of issues. The minute the atheists says that mutations are unguided, he is going beyond the evidence and making a philosophical claim, since demonstrating that mutations are statistically random does NOT demonstrate that mutations were not planned or guided in a way that did not conform to any statistical pattern. The atheist biologist might say that the history of life doesnt exhibit any sort of pattern or guidence, but then he would be making a subjective judgment. Its important to distinguish between the philosophical musings of materialist biologists and the conclusions that can be appropriately drawn from the physical evidence. Its bad enough the atheists conflate these things with impunity, but we dont need to follow in their trail.

  27. Hi StephenB @ 24

    According to the Darwinian scheme, described by “scientists” who call themselves evolutionary biologists, evolution is a purposeless, mindless, unguided process. This is the common theme that young skulls full of mush read in their biology textbooks. It is also the position held by Francis Collins, Stephen Barr, Ken Miller, and most of the prominent Theistic Evolutionists.

    Yet Barr denies that evolution is unguided – as I quoted above. He said, quoting Aquinas:

    ‘The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency.’

    So with respect to Barr – whom this thread is about – you’re just plain wrong. That is all I’m pointing out.

    Cheers

  28. @ KN

    “As I understand theistic evolution, it is random with respect to what we humans can observe and measure and directed with respect to divine activity.

    So, it is both random and directed because the former refers to ‘the human perspective’ and the latter to ‘the divine perspective’.”

    But wouldn’t any directed process by the divine eliminate the randomness of evolution regardless of whether we as humans can measure or observe it? I guess I view evolution as random, only if it has been a long natural process in which no divine hand was ever required, i.e. Neo Darwinian Evolution.

    No one who designs and builds, say a car, will suggest they directed the process, but yet still say the end product was the result of a random process. I just don’t see how the two processes can coexist with one another.

  29. 29
    Kantian Naturalist

    And then there are the folks who are both atheists and Darwinists who think that theistic evolution does not transgress against either evidence or logic.

    I’m in a league of my own! :)

  30. CLAVDIS: Yet Barr denies that evolution is unguided – as I quoted above. He said, quoting Aquinas:

    In the above guote from Aquinas, Barr did not say that he believes in “guided evolution.” He simply provided a quote from Aquinas, a quote that could easily be interpreted as an argument for guided evolution or for unguided evolution. Take your pick. Barr is trying to make it appear as if Aquinas would support Darwin’s notion of randomness, which is nowhere close to the truth. Darwin is referring to ontological chance; Aquinas was referring to epistemological chance.

    “So with respect to Barr – whom this thread is about – you’re just plain wrong.”

    No, I am not wrong. Barr associates himself with the same Darwinian science that Ayala, Miller, and Collins subscribe to. Barr argues for non design, but he uses the rhetoric of design when it serves his purpose.

    You need to grasp the level of dishonesty involved in the earlier statement that precedes Aquinas’ quote:

    Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality,” the document observes. “But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence.

    Notice in the first sentence they are describing a RADICALY CONTINGENT MATERIALISTIC PROCESS. This is pure unguided Darwinistic evolution. Do you know what “radically contingent” means? It means pure chance and nothing but chance, without any direction. It means a process that is not goal directed. Do you know what “materialistic” means? It means composed solely of physical and chemical processes. This writer is making the outrageous claim that such a process can be reconciled with God’s purposeful design and, to make matters worse, they are implicating implicate Aquinas and the Catholic Church in this outrage. They found the word “contingent” in one of Aquinas’ passages and tried to associate it with Darwin’s notion of radical contingency. Naturally, Stephen Barr is happy to partner up with them. Why people feel the need to promote this kind of dishonesty is beyond me.

  31. ..that should read, “and to make matters worse, [he] is implicating Aquinas and the Catholic Church in this outrage.”

  32. 32

    Darwinian Evolution, as adopted by Theistic Evolutionists, is perceived to be both directed and undirected from a Divine perspective, which is why it is a self contradictory position. If it were merely a case of being directed from a Divine perspective and perceived as undirected from a human perspective, the contradiction would not be so stark. Darwin did not merely propose epistemological randomness; he proposed ontological randomness. Random variation and natural selection are supposed to represent reality. It is the so-called “appearance of design” that is to be relegated to perception.

    If this is really the TE position, then I shall defer to your authority on the matter. I had thought, perhaps naively, that the TE position was to agree with Darwin on the epistemology (hence the E) but to disagree with Darwin on the ontology (hence the T).

    I can say with some confidence that “really directed from a Divine perspective but perceived as undirected from a human perspective” is a position that Plantinga regards as intellectually coherent, though he is much warmer to design theory than theistic evolutionists usually are. (Notice, of course, that “intellectually coherent” and “intellectually satisfying” are not the same thing!)

  33. Kantian Naturalist, there is an interesting back and forth between Jay Richards and Alvin Plantinga that touches on the periphery of this topic that you might find interesting. Richards critiques Plantinga’s book, “Where the Conflict Really Lies.” I take Richards’ side, but Plantinga gets a good chance to make his case in the interchange which, as I recall includes two or three responses from each man.

  34. KRock@28

    No one who designs and builds, say a car, will suggest they directed the process, but yet still say the end product was the result of a random process. I just don’t see how the two processes can coexist with one another.

    No one who designs and builds a car is the Eternal God. If we forget the philosophy and just think biblically a moment, a man draws a bow “at a venture” and executes God’s prophesied judgement on King Ahab. Complete chance in earthly terms, but fully designed in God’s eternal, providential will. The Bible’s full of it, so nature probably is too. But it’s one way God is radically different from us.

    That’s different from saying, as Ayala and some other TEs seem to, that God achieves his will by himself tossing dice, as it were hoping against hope that the archer’s arrow might happen to hit Ahab. As a TE I’ve argued long and hard against that view, which as has been rightly said is logically contradictory. It also often ends up changing theology to make a God easily pleased by whatever a divinely-undirected evolution turns up. Folks at BioLogos have told me that God didn’t plan mankind, but was pleased to relate to (and die for) the first intelligent species that turned up. That is a travesty of the Christian doctrine of Creation, in which God’s will is enacted every second of every day everywhere.

    However, whether Stephen Barr is actually saying that is, from the posts above, doubtful. He sounds to me quite clear that “random” to him means “random to man, determined by God” – somebody should ask him. Though when I’ve asked at BioLogos more often than not I’ve been stonewalled.

    My original point, apparently missed by StephenB, was that if God’s will is behind earthly chance (eg through determining quantum events as R J Russell or J Polkinghorne seem to suggest), the very existence of improbable outcomes is actually evidence for it. In your terms, cars simply don’t assemble without a mind in the process somewhere, even if the mechanics of the assembly line are throughly understood. Chance is never a cause of anything, as B B Warfield rightly said a century ago.

  35. Hi StephenB @ 30

    CLAVDIVS: Yet Barr denies that evolution is unguided – as I quoted above. He said, quoting Aquinas:

    STEPHENB: In the above guote from Aquinas, Barr did not say that he believes in “guided evolution.” He simply provided a quote from Aquinas, a quote that could easily be interpreted as an argument for guided evolution or for unguided evolution. Take your pick. Barr is trying to make it appear as if Aquinas would support Darwin’s notion of randomness, which is nowhere close to the truth. Darwin is referring to ontological chance; Aquinas was referring to epistemological chance.

    Who cares what Darwin’s notion was? This thread is about Barr’s notion.

    And how can you possibly interpret Barr and Aquinas as supporting unguided evolution? They were crytal clear that they opposed the idea. Barr criticises those who claim evolution is unguided as “straying beyond” science, and he cited not just Aquinas but Catholic doctrine:

    “Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality… Thus, even the outcome of a purely contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan.”

    Then you say:

    STEPHENB: This writer is making the outrageous claim that such a process can be reconciled with God’s purposeful design and, to make matters worse, they are implicating implicate Aquinas and the Catholic Church in this outrage.

    Your outrage is irrelevant. Barr cites Catholic doctrine and Aquinas and they completely support the orthodoxy of his view that God works providentially through contingency.

    Here’s Aquinas again, in relevant part, as cited by Barr:

    “Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency.”

    Aquinas couldn’t have been more crystal clear.

    Cheers

  36. 36
    Kantian Naturalist

    there is an interesting back and forth between Jay Richards and Alvin Plantinga that touches on the periphery of this topic that you might find interesting. Richards critiques Plantinga’s book, “Where the Conflict Really Lies.” I take Richards’ side, but Plantinga gets a good chance to make his case in the interchange which, as I recall includes two or three responses from each man.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention! I found Richards’ review and criticism, along with one of Plantinga’s replies. I suppose it will not surprise you to learn that I thought Plantinga makes a stronger case.

    In fact, I very much enjoyed Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies and learned a lot from it. For one thing, it gave me a deeper appreciation of Paley, and that’s important. The only part of the book I found flawed is the “evolutionary argument against naturalism.” So now I’m reading Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism to figure out what exactly is going on with that argument.

  37. CLAVDIVS

    Who cares what Darwin’s view was?

    Barr claims that the science of Neo-Darwinism is correct. So, it matters what Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism means.

    Your outrage is irrelevant. Barr cites Catholic doctrine and Aquinas and they completely support the orthodoxy of his view that God works providentially through contingency.

    Aquinas does not support the view that God works providentially through RADICAL contingency, which is the position that is being outrageously attributed to him. Aquinas was a Young Earth Creationist and would never have supported Darwin. It is also irresponsible to say that Catholicism supports the notion of radical contingency in evolution.

  38. ‘But anyway TE’s are weird in that they say that we cannot possibly detect and understand God’s handy-work- too mysterious and anyway trying to understand how God works is blasphemy or something like that. They are the ultimate ostrich…’

    I don’t know how they can say that. Before they can pass a judgement like that, they need to be able to explain why the findings of quantum physics show that the speed of light is personalised to (and only measurable at) the speed of travel in the same direction of an observer.

    This personally-oriented agency needs to be explained. Right at the outset Planck did precisely that, in essence, when he said that consciousness (inevitably personal, pace the believers in computers threatening to take over the world) is fundamental, that matter derives from consciousness.

    It attests that, at the quantum level, we each inhabit a world of our own, while, given that that is the case, at the classical level, the world appears as a seamless and coordinated, living composite.

    bornagain77 seemed to this layman to be pointing out that the double-split paradox disappears, when not considered from the viewpoint of classical physics, from that of the observer in quantum physics.

    None of that can make any sense at all to materialists, but why would it? Their paradigm has been barren, indeed totally fallacious beyond trivial levels, while quantum physics has just been consistently pushing back the boundaries of physics.

    They need to stand in the corner, like the dunces they are, until they are prepared to tell us why they won’t take Uncle Max’s words at face value. Mind and, ipso facto, the ‘personal’ are the primordial reality, and they need to ask themselves why they cling so tenaciously to fundamental beliefs which have not only NOT been proven, but have been utterly discredited by quantum physics.

    Looking for answers in the wrong places, they remind me a bit of a cartoon of an alien at a petrol station, asking a petrol pump (the old standard type, a bit like a matchstick man): ‘Take me to your leader.’

  39. Jon

    My original point, apparently missed by StephenB, was that if God’s will is behind earthly chance (eg through determining quantum events as R J Russell or J Polkinghorne seem to suggest), the very existence of improbable outcomes is actually evidence for it.

    With respect to Russell, Polkinghorne et al., I have always wondered how they reconcile their notion of creation with God’s apriori intent. I would be interested in your interpretation because you appear to have read some of their work. When they say that God designed nature with the “freedom to create itself,” does this freedom allow nature the flexibility to produce more than one possible outcome? If not, then how can nature really be free since God, not nature, is calling the shots? If so, that is, if nature is really free to call the shots, then how can the multiple possible outcomes that nature might happen to produce (alternatives to homo sapiens) be reconciled with God’s purposeful plan (homo sapiens)? If nature is, indeed, calling the shots, what happened to God’s plan? If nature is not free to call the shots, then in what way is it free?

  40. StephenB

    I’ve read more Russell than Polkinghorne, and they differ in a number of ways. The latter, I know, espouses open theism in some form and so some idea of “freedom in nature”, but I think retains some idea of divine action in there via quantum events (originally he was keener on chaotic events as the locus). But I’ve not looked at his ideas in detail, and vide infra on my impression.

    Russell denies open theism, and I think the “freedom of nature” idea with it. He’s happy for God actually to do stuff via determining quantum events, but restricts it to that because they’re not determined by science (in the classic view). He goes along with the idea that God is “bound” by natural law except for Biblical miracles, unlike Plantinga of course who sensibly sees that laws are only binding in a closed system, and God is not within such a system. So his evolution is, or may comfortably be, directed by God to whatever ends he intends.

    To me “nature free to create itself” is completely incoherent from many angles. Its popularity with BioLogians, I think, comes from Howard van Till, who got it from Ian Barbour’s Process Theology. I don’t think it makes any sense apart from that, which explains why van Till has gone in that direction and BioLogians clam up completely when you ask them to justify it – believe me, I’ve been trying to do that for over a year there.

    I’ve blogged on it extensively, eg here, and did a whole series on points from Russell’s book starting here, if anyone’s interested.

  41. Jon

    To me “nature free to create itself” is completely incoherent from many angles.

    To me as well. From my readings and listenings, they both espouse the idea.

    Robert Russell:
    “From a theistic point of view, God allows the world to create itself. So there’s freedom built into the process of the world and that ultimately gives us our freedom to be who we are and to come into community of love.”

  42. CLAVDIVS;

    Barr cites Catholic doctrine and Aquinas and they completely support the orthodoxy of his view that God works providentially through contingency.

    Let’s take part of the above quote from Barr’s definitive article at First Things and break it down:

    Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality,

    Notice the words, “radically contingent” because they have a precise technical meaning: it is “the power of accidents and happenstance to shape the course of evolution.” In using this language, Stephen Jay Gould said that if the evolutionary tape could be replayed, it would produce a different result. Radial contingency means that the outcome is, well, radically contingent. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Radical contingency is inseparable from multiple possible outcomes. This is unguided evolution.

    The quote continues:

    But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence.

    Do you see what has happened here? The kind of contingency that can legitimately be reconciled with Divine providence (apparent coincidences) has been quietly reframed as “radical contingency,” which cannot.

    Thus, even the outcome of a purely contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan.

    Notice, now, that the author has become so comfortable reframing contingency as radical contingency, that he feels free to interject the more useful and less technical synonym, “pure contingency,” which is the informal expression of radical contingency (the chance and happenstance of unguided evolution, not purpose or design, shapes the course of evolution).

    Now that the verbal contortions have served their purpose, all that is left is to find the word “contingent” in one of Aquinas’ passages, and dishonestly associate his “contingency” with Darwinian “radical contingency,” as if they were compatible.

  43. StephenB

    Interesting quote from Russell, and surprising to me. He’s been reading too much of the science-faith community’s stuff, which loves its democratic Deity. Do you have a source?

    It’s all just froth and buzzwords, though – otherwise someone at BioLogos would have been happy to spell out just what “Freedom to create oneself” actually means if you’re not a conscious agent, and why that’s in some way better than being created by someone who knows what they’re doing and loves you enough to do a good job. And why whatever-that-freedom-is leads in a mysterious way to human freedom that God creating us with a rational will doesn’t. And why freedom, aka “randomness”, in evolution in any way whatsoever enables us to enter the community of love, unless that community’s a casino.

    Other writers talk about creative freedom being God’s greatest priority, which maybe sits well in a US setting that’s obsessed with liberty – but actually has no basis in Scripture whatsoever, which is what matters to me. I’m working at the moment on the thesis that the theme of “freedom” actually depends mainly on Renaissance humanism’s attempt to oust God from his throne and put man there, and it fits well. Only for some reason it’s been extended so as to put “Creation” there as well.

    “Viruses of the world unite, and create yourselves – you have nothing to lose but the coersive chains of God.” Tosh with ketchup.

  44. Jon

    “Viruses of the world unite, and create yourselves – you have nothing to lose but the coersive chains of God.” Tosh with ketchup.

    That’s cute. Marx and Engels never had it so good.

  45. Jon, since it appears to be just you and I hanging out here today, I would be interested in your take on another Robert Russell moment. As you may know, I think he is very conflicted as a thinker.

    From Uncommon Knowledge: (Guests included William Dembski, Robert Russell, and Eugenie Scott).

    The program begins—

    Peter Robinson: George Gaylord Simpson, author of The Meaning of Evolution: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” True or false? Bill?

    William Dembski: There’s no way he could know that.

    Peter Robinson: There’s no way he could know that? Bob?

    Robert Russell: From the point of view of science, true. From the point of view of theology, false.

    Peter Robinson: Oh, you’re engaging us in contradictory truths.

    Robert Russell: No.

    Peter Robinson: True and false?

    Robert Russell: No. There’s a truth that can include a truth. My bathroom scales can’t tell me what I’m thinking. That doesn’t say I’m not thinking.

    I can usually grasp the relevance of an example as the concrete solution to an abstract puzzle, but I cannot understand how Russell’s example justifies the notion that Simpson’s claim is true from a scientific perspective and false from a theological perspective or that such a notion is not a contradiction.

    You’re an honest guy. How do you interpret this interchange. It seems to me that if something is true from a scientific perspective and false from a theological perspective, then truth is not unified and rationality has gone out the window.

  46. nullasalus, welcome to the party. I gather that you meant to post your comment here concerning the Uncommon Knowledge program. You are another TE that is capable of making a positive contribution to this abstruse subject matter. Can you make any sense out of Russell’s example, relating it to the principle that it is supposed to illuminate?

  47. I have no idea how that mistake was made – pardon the error. Probably just me not paying attention.

    As for interpreting Russell, I have no idea. Dembski’s response on that specific question seems correct to me. In fact, I believe Barr would say the same, probably along the lines of ‘Science can’t tell. Yes according to theology.’ But what Russell is saying there is just nonsense to me. His scales example would seem like he’s going in the direction of saying ‘Science can’t tell us this. The question isn’t even scientific.’ But Dembski already covered that ground, or close enough to it.

    So I really have no idea and would take it at ‘he’s just confused’. Maybe more statements from him would help sort things out, but that one on its own is just baffling.

  48. There might be a way to justify Dembski’s surprising thought experiment in this sense: Whether Darwinian evolution is compatible with Theism or Christianity depends solely on the way each concept is defined. If one applies the definition of random that evolutionary biologists themselves use, that is, as unguided processes, then God and Darwin cannot be reconciled. If one quietly changes the definition of random as used by life scientists to the definition used by mathematicians, then that would be a different matter. Perhaps this is the distinction Dembski has in mind without making it explicitly. If that is not what he has in mind, then there is a problem with the way he is expressing himself.

    With Russell, however, there is no such confusion because the question was put to him in terms of a “purposeless, natural process that did not have man in man.” That formula, the same “radical contingency” proposed by biological scientists, is the one he says can be reconciled with Theism on the grounds that “purposeless” can be true from a scientific perspective and false from a theological perspective. As Robinson rightly perceives, more than once, this violates the principle of the unity of truth, though he is diplomatic enough not to express it in such stark terms. Russell responds by insisting that there is no contradiction and offers an example that is supposed to resolve the issue. I am asking someone—anyone– to show me how that example settles the matter or even addresses it.

    Barr officially associates himself with the mathematical definition, which is neutral, providing some justification for his position, but then he also promotes, supports, and defends the “science” of evolutionary biologists, who aggressively, and with his blessing, define randomness a purposelessness. This, of course, is my problem with him. He benefits by that misunderstanding and appears to hide behind it.

  49. Barr officially associates himself with the mathematical definition, which is neutral, providing some justification for his position, but then he also promotes, supports, and defends the “science” of evolutionary biologists, who aggressively, and with his blessing, define randomness a purposelessness.

    Where? Seriously, where does Barr do this? My understanding is that Barr does the opposite – he says, ‘Well, here’s the strongest thing science can say regarding randomness. So when these guys talk about random, this is the only way to square their words with science.’

    Granted, Barr doesn’t seem enthralled with the ID movement, so I can understand that being a source of tension. But Barr’s take on randomness isn’t some great secret.

    I suppose you could always apply the BioLogos test to Barr: ask him point blank his view on the matter, see what he does. Or lacking that, look through the archives for people who’ve asked him this in the past. My own experience is that Barr when asked won’t even blink – he’ll just say, ‘Yes, God knew and preordained the results of evolution’ or words to that effect. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t hold him in high esteem, frankly.

    Russell’s clearly another matter.

  50. StephenB

    Good morning. Band rehearsal got in the way of replying last night.

    “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”

    Well, my real answer is that Russell is so steeped in the science and faith enterprise that its abstruse takes on things like divine action prevent his talking sense.

    But one way of understanding his answer would be thoroughly orthodox, ie, “the natural process, which science can uncover, didn’t have man in mind because it has no mind (but God, ultimately orchestrating it, did, because he has.”

    Since that would have been so much clearer for him to have said, I guess he didn’t mean that, but it would make sense of his bathroom scales example: science hasn’t the tools to detect God’s thought. Arguable philosophically, but theologically OK.

    Some discussion of Barr’s piece by Ted Davis on BioLogos just now. I’m going there next to explore.

  51. nullasalus @49. You ask a fair question. Here is my answer.

    In 2006, Barr responded to one of Cardinal Schornborn’s comments by saying that the latter did not understand how the term “random” is used in evolutionary biology. This suggested to me that Barr did know, which would indicate that he also knows that, for evolutionary biologists, it means unguidedness. To be fair, though, he went on to insist that any such interpretation could not be reconciled with the Christian faith.

    Perhaps he didn’t know that evolutionary biology propounds that view even though he implied that he knows what evolutionary biology propounds. So, we can give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

    In 2009, though, when John West asked Barr why he didn’t repudiate the undirected models proposed by Miller, Coyne, et al, Barr pleaded ignorance about their views and didn’t care to hazard a guess about Miller. He chose not to comment on Coyne. Frankly, I find his claims of ignorance difficult to believe. This was three years after the Schornborn affair. And, as West pointed out at the time, Miller, Coyne, and John Haught, are open and assertive about their views of unguided evolution and its alleged compatibility with Catholicism. Further, Barr endorses Francis Collins, who in turn, praises and draws on the Miller’s work. How can Barr not know these things?

    In 2011, Barr says this: “It is possible to believe simultaneously in a world that is “shaped by chance” and one following a “divine plan.” Clearly, this is a contradiction in terms, which is the same error he made in the above quote alluded to earlier on this thread, where he refers to “radical contingency” and “pure chance’ in conjunction with “God’s providence.

    Does he know that he is, in each case, using the formal language of unguided evolution? Or, is he, once again, ignorant about what he is saying. Yes, I know he claims not to believe in unguided evolution, and that may well be the case, but why does he keep using words that mean exactly the opposite of what he claims to believe?

    Are all these examples of confusion and chaos, supported by misplaced technical terms, an unlucky accident? Could his ignorance about what evolutionary biologists really believe remain unattended to for more than half a decade? Is he yet ignorant about it and is this why he has not yet repudiated them? He sure seems to not know a lot of things that he ought to know.

  52. StephenB,

    Perhaps he didn’t know that evolutionary biology propounds that view even though he implied that he knows what evolutionary biology propounds. So, we can give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

    The problem is that it’s not ‘evolutionary biology’ which does it, but particular biologists. Eugenie Scott will (disengenuously or not) say that science can’t say anything about guidance or its lack in evolution. Coyne will disagree. And where’s the judge that decides which one speaks for biology on this case?

    In 2009, though, when John West asked Barr why he didn’t repudiate the undirected models proposed by Miller, Coyne, et al, Barr pleaded ignorance about their views and didn’t care to hazard a guess about Miller.

    Are you saying Miller’s made his views crystal clear? Let’s be frank – Miller is cagey to an extreme. Ask Jon Garvey what it’s like to get a straight answer out of people at BioLogos, and you’ll see the problem.

    In 2011, Barr says this: “It is possible to believe simultaneously in a world that is “shaped by chance” and one following a “divine plan.” Clearly, this is a contradiction in terms, which is the same error he made in the above quote alluded to earlier on this thread, where he refers to “radical contingency” and “pure chance’ in conjunction with “God’s providence.

    Reading this thread, Barr doesn’t refer to ‘pure chance’ unless I’ve missed something. He does refer to radical contingency, but that’s something different. The outcome of a dice roll, I believe, is radically contingent. But God can know the outcome of a dice roll.

    And keep in mind, we have many cases of Barr explicitly talking about God’s knowledge of and control over evolution. Even West seemed to concede that.

    Are all these examples of confusion and chaos, supported by misplaced technical terms, an unlucky accident? Could his ignorance about what evolutionary biologists really believe remain unattended to for more than half a decade? Is he yet ignorant about it and is this why he has not yet repudiated them? He sure seems to not know a lot of things that he ought to know.

    Well, I explained some of them. As about ignorance of what evolutionary biologists really believe, that gets into the question of whether they have a philosophical belief on the matter, or think theirs is the scientific view. You can pull up Coyne and I can pull up Scott. You can bring out PZ Myers, I can produce Elliot Sober.

    That’s not to say I don’t think there’s a lot of BS going on with teaching and describing evolution. But frankly, there are a lot of smokescreens too.

    With Barr, however, he makes his views clear. Here he is from 2005:

    We cannot settle the issue of the role of “chance” in evolution theologically, because God is omnipotent and can therefore produce effects in different ways. Suppose a man wants to see a particular poker hand dealt. If he deals from a single shuffled deck, his chance of seeing a royal straight flush is 1 in 649,740. So he might decide to stack the deck, introducing the right correlations into the deck before dealing. Alternatively, he might decide to deal a hand from each of a billion shuffled decks. In that case the desired hand will turn up almost infallibly. (The chances it will not are infinitesimal: 10 to the -669 power.) In which way did God make life? Was the molecular deck “stacked” or “shuffled”?

    This poker analogy is weak, of course. We don’t know the order of a shuffled deck—that’s one reason we shuffle it. But God knows all the details of the universe from all eternity. He knows what’s in the cards. The scientist and the poker player do not look at things from God’s point of view, however, and so they talk about “probabilities.”

    People have used the words “random,” “probability,” “chance,” for millennia without anyone imagining that it must always imply a denial of divine providence. “I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all,” as Ecclesiastes notes. Or, to make the point in dry technical terms, there is not a perfect correlation between being strong and winning or between having bread and being wise.

    Why is there statistical randomness and lack of correlation in our world? It is because events do not march in lockstep, according to some simple formula, but are part of a vastly complex web of contingency. The notion of contingency is important in Catholic theology, and it is intimately connected to what in ordinary speech would be called “chance.”

    Really, I have to ask – what more is required of Barr here to make his views known? Okay, say he’s making a mistake by not focusing enough on the excesses of some evolutionary biologists. I can call that reasonable. But I have to give the man credit – he’s explicit, he’s orthodox, and I think on the subject of God and chance, he also happens to be right. He’s not pretending that Jerry Coyne’s idiotic inability to even know when he’s stopped talking science and started talking philosophy is valid, much less correct.

  53. StephenB:

    Here is what’s wrong with Russell’s explanation of his response –

    The original question from Peter Robinson was:

    “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” True or false?”

    Russell replied:

    “From the point of view of science, true. From the point of view of theology, false.”

    And when asked to explain his reply, he said:

    “There’s a truth that can include a truth. My bathroom scales can’t tell me what I’m thinking. That doesn’t say I’m not thinking.”

    Note that his explanation does not properly parallel his original assertion. We can see this by imagining a parallel question from Peter Robinson:

    “Is Bob Russell thinking?”

    And a parallel answer from Russell:

    “From the point of view of metaphysics, yes; from the point of view of the bathroom scales, unknown, since bathroom scales are not designed to measure thinking.”

    Once we see this, we see that Russell’s answer to the actual question should have been:

    “From the point of view of theology, false; from the point of view of science, unknown, since science has no tools for measuring purpose (or the lack thereof) in nature.”

    In other words, Russell should have agreed with Dembski.

    Why did Russell say what he said? Was it a careless slip, in the pressure of an interview situation? That seems unlikely, given how much Russell has published on the subject. He surely would have worked out a summary *bon mot* like that (“in science X, in theology not-X”) well in advance of delivering it. Or was he exaggerating the theology/science difference for rhetorical purposes, to get one up on Dembski? Or does he really believe that in some contexts natural scientific investigation *can* rule out purpose? I have no idea. I do know that, based on Russell’s words in the context given, I agree with Dembski, and disagree with Russell.

  54. OT to StephenB: I think this may interest you if you have not seen it yet:

    Twin fetuses learn how to be social in the womb – October 13, 2010
    Excerpt: Humans have a deep-seated urge to be social, and new research on the interactions of twins in the womb suggests this begins even before babies are born.,,,
    The five pairs of twins were found to be reaching for each other even at 14 weeks, and making a range of contacts including head to head, arm to head and head to arm. By the time they were at 18 weeks, they touched each other more often than they touched their own bodies, spending up to 30 percent of their time reaching out and stroking their co-twin.,,,
    Kinematic analyses of the recordings showed the fetuses made distinct gestures when touching each other, and movements lasted longer — their hands lingered. They also took as much care when touching their twin’s delicate eye region as they did with their own. This type of contact was not the same as the inevitable contact between two bodies sharing a confined space or accidental contacts between the bodies and the walls of the uterus,,,
    The findings clearly demonstrate it is deep within human nature to reach out to other people.
    http://phys.org/news/206164323.....-womb.html

    Of note: the same caring, loving, touch from the baby towards its twin is found when the baby strokes the mother’s uterine wall:

    Wired to Be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction – 2010
    Excerpt: Kinematic analysis revealed that movement duration was longer and deceleration time was prolonged for other-directed movements compared to movements directed towards the uterine wall. Similar kinematic profiles were observed for movements directed towards the co-twin and self-directed movements aimed at the eye-region, i.e. the most delicate region of the body.
    http://www.plosone.org/article.....ne.0013199

  55. 55
    CentralScrutinizer

    KRock: How can something be a random process, yet still be a directed process?

    If I load a pair of dice so that it is biased to favor “snake eyes” 200% percent more than fair dice will the obviously biased results of 1000 tosses be purely random, purely directed, or a combination of both?

  56. I think Russell’s response was probably more rhetorical than anything else. He probably saw his role as one in which he would take the middle ground, the “intellectual high road” as it were. one one hand, we have Wm Dembski. On the other hand, we have Eugenie Scott. Neither believes the two views can be reconciled. RJR thinks they can be. etc

  57. nullasalus, thanks. I will be as brief as possible.

    The problem is that it’s not ‘evolutionary biology’ which does it, but particular biologists. Eugenie Scott will (disengenuously or not) say that science can’t say anything about guidance or its lack in evolution. Coyne will disagree. And where’s the judge that decides which one speaks for biology on this case?

    The judge is in the definition used in the textbooks prepared for young skulls full of mush. Do I think that Scott’s policy change from a clear position on unguided evolution as science to a more neutral position was a calculated tradeoff for recruiting Christians into the God/Darwin synthesis? You bet.

    Are you saying Miller’s made his views crystal clear?

    Absolutely. For him, evolution is totally contingent, the results were not pre-ordained, and God did not know what they would be. Collins has to know this.

    Ask Jon Garvey what it’s like to get a straight answer out of people at BioLogos, and you’ll see the problem.

    It would be like trying to get a straight answer out of its founder.

    Reading this thread, Barr doesn’t refer to ‘pure chance’ unless I’ve missed something. He does refer to radical contingency, but that’s something different. The outcome of a dice roll, I believe, is radically contingent. But God can know the outcome of a dice roll.

    It’s in the comments section, which includes CLAVDIVS’ reference to Barr’s quote and my rather detailed response to it.

    And keep in mind, we have many cases of Barr explicitly talking about God’s knowledge of and control over evolution. Even West seemed to concede that.

    Yes, but why does Barr (and Collins) make such a big deal out of saying that “God knows the outcome?” I can tell you why Collins does it because I read “The Language of God” twice just to make sure I was getting his drift. (I have since sent he book back to the library). To put it simply, he wants to have it both ways. First, he associates the science of evolution with a radically contingent process, which is the way the majority of evolutionary biologists define it. Then he asks, in effect, how such a process is compatible with Theism. He answers by saying that God knows the outcome–as if God’s foreknowledge could rescue what God’s omnipotence had failed to provide for. It’s his way of saying, I suppose, that foreknowledge of an unguided process can compensate for its lack of teleology. Radical contingency, however, cannot be separated from multiple possible outcomes (Miller is right about that). Multiple possible outcomes cannot be reconciled with God’s specific purpose. Collins is pretty cagey himself. More so than Miller, I would say. His fog is more difficult to penetrate.

    As about ignorance of what evolutionary biologists really believe, that gets into the question of whether they have a philosophical belief on the matter, or think theirs is the scientific view. You can pull up Coyne and I can pull up Scott. You can bring out PZ Myers, I can produce Elliot Sober.

    According to Jay Richards and just about all the authors in “God and Evolution,” the majority of evolutionary biologists are proponents of unguided evolution. I would describe it as the official view and the one that is “enforced” by the academy. Without that majority, there would be no institutional power to persecute ID.

    With Barr, however, he makes his views clear.

    I have read Barr’s definitive statements, and I don’t doubt that he believes in guided evolution. What I do doubt is that his refusal to repudiate the position of a vast majority of evolutionary biologists is based on ignorance of their position or on an ignorance of what is in the majority of biological textbooks. I also doubt that his private and convenient definitions of “randomness” and “Darwinism” could be so conveniently contrived in the context of such ignorance. He has to know why ID proponents use the word “Darwinist” and what they mean by it. He also has to know that his private and novel definition of “Darwinism” muddies the waters and makes it more difficult to pin down supporters of unguided evolution.

    Thanks again for weighing in.

  58. I will add this: While I don’t doubt that Barr believes in guided evolution, I do doubt that he always knows what that means and that, at times, he unwittingly articulates both the unguided view and the guided view in the same context. Hence my point to CLAVDIVS. Hearkening back to the First Things article:

    (Capitals are mine)

    (Communion and Stewardship)

    Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that if evolution is a RADICALLY CONTINGENT, MATERIALISTIC process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality,” the document observes. “But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence.

    Notice the association between radical contingency (unguided evolution) and Divine providence. Also note that the definition of the kind of evolution that is compatible with Divine providence now begins to morph.

    Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a purely contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan. According to St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency.’ In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.

    Does he know that the phrase radical contingency used in the first sentence means unguided and that he has reversed himself?

  59. Does he know that the phrase radical contingency used in the first sentence means unguided and that he has reversed himself?

    Google for “radical contingency”. Tell me what definitions you turn up.

  60. Google for “radical contingency”. Tell me what definitions you turn up.

    I have done that many times in the past. The main point of using the term contingency in the context of evolution is to set a counterpoise to the notion of algorithm or necessity. Most Darwinists who have ever thought about the matter come down somewhere in the middle, ie. evolution is algorithmic insofar as its results are predictable and contingent in the sense that it is not. Some, like Dennett emphasize the former over the latter; others like Gould, emphasize the latter over the former. Mortimer Adler defines radical contingency as allowing for multiple outcomes. Radical contingency for Gould, who was the one most responsible for the advent of the term, conceived it, as one Gouldite expresses it, “the power of accidents and happenstance to shape the course of evolution.” As opposed the distinction between contingency and algorithmic, there is a sub-distinction between radical contingency and superficial contingency (Mortimer Adler). When someone uses radical contingency in an evolutionary context, he is referring to a fundamentally directionless process that can produce multiple possible outcomes, which is also what the term “pure contingency” means, which is also what the term “shaped by chance” means.

    Is that what you had in mind? Or, were you thinking of something else?

  61. Is that what you had in mind? Or, were you thinking of something else?

    I’m pointing out that the sense of ‘radical contingency’ that Barr uses is pretty easy to square with divine omnipotence/omniscience, and pre-ordained unfolding. Evolution is ‘radically contingent’ in the sense that a series of one-off events are required to get some particular results, according to some views. But that’s entirely compatible with God having known and even selected those results.

  62. Nullasalus,

    I am glad that you added the word “selected,” to the word “known,” because both would be required components of guided evolution and pre-ordained unfolding, a point that Collins misses rather spectacularly. So, I am with you all the way on that one.

    However, I am sorry to say that I cannot support your private definition of the phrase, “radically contingent,” which has a precise, technical, and common meaning that is the very opposite of the notion of a preordained unfolding.

    A process can be defined as guided, in which case the outcome is preordained; or it can be defined as radically contingent (unguided), in which case multiple possible outcomes are possible. In the first instance, a replayed evolutionary tape would produce a similar outcome; in the second case, a replayed evolutionary tape would produce a different outcome. The former can be reconciled with God’s purposeful creation; the latter cannot.

  63. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot support your private definition of the phrase, “radically contingent,” which has a precise, technical, and common meaning that is the very opposite of the notion of a preordained unfolding.

    Alright, I’m calling this one: where is this ‘precise, technical’ meaning stated? If you google for “radical contingency” and “evolution”, 99% of the results are Barr himself. When you drop evolution, you start getting cosmological arguments where the radical contingency of the universe is cited as a reason to conclude God’s existence.

    I’d like to see where “radical contigency” is defined in this technical way. I even question whether the phrase is common in this context.

  64. Radical contingency, as an evolutionary concept, has been well defined and compared to alternate paradigms. Radical contingency, as a metaphysical concept, refers to the relationship between God and his creation and is a different idea altogether, having nothing to do with the development of life. Let’s return to evolution.

    Earlier, I pointed to the distinction and the tension between Daniel Dennett (leaning toward necessity and predictability ) and Gould (leaning toward radical contingency and [unpredictability]). If you want to read about that tension and observe how the word is used, its all there waiting for you and, yes, the word radical contingency will be there and there with no confusion about its meaning

    Or, again, the notion of radical contingency has been a part of the dispute between Gould’s notion of radical contingency and Simon Conway Morris’ notion of inevitability. (Would the tape of life produce a different result or wouldn’t it)? Gould says yes; Morris says no. As before, the phrase radical contingency will be there. As before, the meaning will be clear.

    Gould’s book, “Wonderful Life,” which was inspired by a movie of the same name (starring Jimmy Stewart) dramatizes the theme of having a life do over, or getting a second chance, which is a metaphor for expressing the tape of life argument, a kind of evolution do over that gets a different result. This is what Gould himself and even his critics refer to as radical contingency, the possibility of multiple outcomes, any of which will be determined by chance and happenstance.

    It is not, in any case, or in any context, consistent with guided evolution or preordained outcomes. That is why evolutionists who push the hegemony of natural laws and necessary consequences do not like it. Remember, we are talking about a continuum here that entails a kind of golden mean (some contingency, some necessity) and extremes at the outer edges. Few who argue on behalf of algorithms will go so far as to deny contingency altogether; few who argue on behalf of contingency will go so far as to deny the power of law to produce some predictable outcomes.

    The point is that when you see the word radical contingency applied to evolution, it means the very opposite of a guided process that produces a preordained outcome. In that context, then, radical contingency is not compatible with God’s preordained plan for life. So, when people use the words “radical contingency,” “pure contingency,” or “shaped by chance,” they either know what they are saying or they don’t. If they know what they are saying, they also know that their ideas are not consistent with guided evolution. If they don’t know what they are saying, they shouldn’t use those words.

    If, therefore, Barr, as a self-professed Catholic Christian, uses those words, or approves of those who do, and he clearly does, he either knows what he is doing, in which case, he is doing sophistry, or he doesn’t, in which case, he should refrain from commenting.

  65. If, therefore, Barr, as a self-professed Catholic Christian, uses those words, or approves of those who do, and he clearly does, he either knows what he is doing, in which case, he is doing sophistry, or he doesn’t, in which case, he should refrain from commenting.

    Or he’s trying to explain his thoughts on the matter clearly, and explaining why randomness and chance – insofar as it must be defined in science, given scientific limitations – are compatible with guidance, which he affirms explicitly.

    I’ll tell you what. Barr’s article is referred to in this OP. I’ll look at it once I get access to it. If Barr’s failing to be clear, I’ll say as much. But honest to God, this seems an awful lot like ‘Barr is being clear, but he’s not on the attack enough, therefore everything he says is totally suspect’. I’m reminded of when Ed Feser was being lambasted as some philosopher functioning as an apologist for Darwinism when, frankly, anyone who has read his books will know that materialists and atheists are bothered one hell of a lot more by what Feser argues than most of what ID proponents argue.

  66. 66

    I AM CLOSING COMMENTS ON THIS POST. FUTURE COMMENTS ON THE SUBJECT SHOULD BE PLACED IN THE “GOD-OF-THE-GAPS ROLLED INTO THE CHANCE-OF-THE-GAPS” POST.