I will now follow-up on my post from Tuesday. In that post I made some criticisms of a recent talk given by philosopher Elliott Sober at the University of Chicago, the video of which is available here. In the ensuing comments, couchloc linked to this paper that Sober had written, the early sections of which discuss essentially the same material as what was presented in the talk.

Since it seems to me that the paper confirms everything I said in my original post, I felt it was worth diving in once again. Let me preface this, however, with something that really should go without saying. Nothing that I’m writing here should be interpreted as personally acrimonious towards Sober. I would direct you to this post from May 6 (Jerry did not post the video until May 7), where I linked to an interview I recently did with Think Atheist Radio. After looking at the list of previous guests I mentioned that I was excited to be in such distinguished company. I singled out four names in particular. Follow the link and note the first name on the list if you want to know my opinion of Sober. It is just that I am annoyed with him at the moment, since I think he is being very cavalier with regard to issues I happen to care about.

Since this is going to be a bit long, I have divided things into four sections:

  1. Did I misrepresent Sober’s argument?
  2. Are there any scientists who hold the extreme view Sober argues against?
  3. Is it trivial to show that modern science does not rule out the possibility of God-guided mutations?
  4. Is evolution silent on the question of whether God is involved in evolution?

    Let us begin.


    (1) In my original post I wrote:

    [Jerry Coyne] embeds a video of philosopher Elliott Sober delivering a colloquium talk on the subject of whether it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution, even though biologists routinely describe those mutations as unguided.

    In the comments Sober showed up to say this:

    Jason Rosenhouse needs to read more carefully. The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.

    This is a charge I take very seriously. I do make an effort to present the views of others accurately, especially when I am criticizing them. In this case, though, I don’t understand the basis for Sober’s criticism. For example, in his talk (at the 8:10 mark, specifically) Sober says:

    So when I get started with the mutation issue, I’m interested in whether evolutionary theory is compatible not just with deism, which everybody thinks is true, but I’m interested in something that’s a bit more controversial, namely the question of whether evolutionary theory is compatible, logically compatible, with interventionism, and there I think a lot of people think, no way is that going to be true.

    I would also point out that late in the talk Sober presents a slide labeled “Goals.” Here are the two goals he listed:

    1. My goal is not to defend any theistic position, but to point out that the science does not rule out some of them.
    2. There may be good reasons to reject theism, but these are philosophical reasons, not consequences of evolutionary biology.

    Note that neither of those goals involves evolution being silent on the question of God-guided mutations, but the first goal sounds awfully similar to what I said.

    But the paper I linked to above makes everything so stark and clear that I don’t see how anyone can claim I am misrepresenting Sober’s point. He writes:

    Creationists maintain that the theory of evolution entails that there is no God. If they are right, then the theory has metaphysical implications. Atheistic evolutionists (e. g. Dennett 1995 and Provine 1989) often agree with creationists on this point. The conditional “if evolutionary theory is true, then there is no God” is therefore common ground. Where creationists have their modus tollens, these evolutionists have their modus ponens.

    Both sides are wrong. Theistic evolutionism is a logically consistent position (Ruse 2000; Sober 2008b).

    Skipping ahead:

    In saying that theistic evolutionism is logically consistent, I am not saying that it is plausible or true. I’m merely saying that it isn’t contradictory. Evolutionary theory is silent on the question of whether God exists. Even if you think the theory knocks the wind from the sails of the argument from design, you still need to consider the fact that there are other arguments for the existence of God. And even if you think that none of these arguments is rationally persuasive, you still need to consider whether belief in God must be based on evidence.

    On the subject of mutations specifically Sober writes:

    Theistic evolutionists can of course be deists, holding that God starts the universe in motion and then forever after declines to intervene. But there is no contradiction in their embracing a more active God whose post Creation interventions fly under the radar of evolutionary biology. Divine intervention isn’t part of science, but the theory of evolution does not entail that none occur.

    That’s all plain as day, and it all says precisely what I said he said. Sober couldn’t be clearer that he is making a bare logical point, and he is equally clear about attributing to others a contrary view. The charge that I misrepresented him is groundless.

    (2) In Tuesday’s post I asked

    Who ever claimed that science has shown that it is flat-out logically impossible that God could be directing the mutations in a manner that is invisible to science?

    In his talk, Sober provided no example. He simply asserted that this question causes controversy. In the paper he mentions Dennett and Provine. He specifically attributes to them the belief that, “if evolutionary theory is true, then there is no God.” I will show, however, that neither Dennett nor Provine believes this.

    The Provine reference is to his essay “Progress in Evolution and Meaning of Life,” published in 1989 in the anthology Evolutionary Progress, edited by Matthew Nitecki. Much of the essay discusses certain historical questions about the nature of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He also takes a dim view of theistic evolution. But does he hold the view Sober attributes to him? Referring to the narrowing of what were considered to be plausible mechanisms of evolution during the years when the synthesis came to be formed, Provine writes:

    The evolutionary constriction drove from evolutionary biology all of the purposive theories of evolution that had been so common and popular before 1930. After the constriction, evolutionary biology was utterly devoid of purposive mechanisms. Thus one effect of the constriction was to make the conflict between evolution and religion inescapable, or put another way, the previously respectable compatibility of religion and evolution became less tenable.

    Note that he says “less tenable” and not “untenable,” let alone “impossible.”

    I think the statement from Provine that Sober had in mind was this one:

    Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with deterministic principles or chance. There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable. The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.

    The key sentence there is, “There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable.” That leaves open the obvious possibility that God might be irrationally detectable. It seems clear to me that Provine’s point is that science has discovered not a shred of evidence to support the existence of purposive principles in nature, not that it is logically impossible that any such principles could exist.

    This impression becomes clearer when you consider the discussion that follows this quote. Provine notes that many people say they see no conflict between science and religion. He does not accuse such people of being illogical, he merely asserts (without evidence) that essentially no evolutionary biologists are traditionally religious. Later he writes this:

    Many theologians have reacted to the rise of modern science by retreating from traditional conceptions of God and its presence in the world, calling this a more sophisticated view. God used to be all around us earlier in our cultural history. It used to perform miracles. It used to guide its people. People could detect God’s presence all the time; but times have changed. God is more remote today. In fact, one cannot rationally discover anything that God does in the world anymore. A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable. But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism. To anyone who adopts this view I say, “Great, we’re in the same camp; now where do we get our morals if the universe just goes grinding on as it does?” This kind of God does nothing outside of the laws of nature, gives us no immortality, no foundation for morals, or any of the things we want from a God and from religion.

    There is certainly much to object to in that paragraph. For our purposes, though, the relevant part is that he plainly does allow for the logical possibility that God works through natural laws in ways that are too subtle for us to detect. Thus, he does not accept Sober’s stark conditional that, “if evolution is true then God does not exist.”

    Let us move now to Dennett. The reference is to Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. That is a very big book, and Sober does not provide a page number, let alone a quote, to show that Dennett holds the view he (Sober) describes. I have browsed through the book but have not found anything to justify Sober’s characterization of Dennett’s view.

    So I took the liberty of writing to Dennett to ask him about this. He replied that Sober has mischaracterized his view. He sent an e-mail to Sober, part of which I now quote with his permission:

    Can you cite any passage in DDI or elsewhere in which I accept this entailment? Consider the attachment, from my recent little book with Plantinga. The passages I quote therein from my earlier work make it quite clear, I would think, that I have never accepted the ENTAILMENT you say I do. The whole point of my “Supermanism,” as should be clear, is to agree with Plantinga about the logical consistency of evolutionary theory and theism–and then to show how negligible this undeniable fact is.

    In Chapter Two of his book with Plantinga he writes (this comes after a long self-quote from a 1990 paper):

    So I agree that contemporary evolutionary theory can’t demonstrate the absence of intelligent design, and any biologist who insists that we can is overstating the case. But Plantinga must deal with the implications of another sentence from that paper: “Prehistoric fiddling by intergalactic visitors with the DNA of earthly species cannot be ruled out, except on grounds that it is an entirely gratuitous fantasy.” Now we might draw the debate to a close right here. I could happily concede that anybody who wishes to entertain the fantasy that intelligent designers from another galaxy (or another dimension) fiddled with our evolutionary prehistory, or salted Earth with life forms, or even arranged for the constants of physics to take on their particular “local values” will find their fantasy consistent with contemporary evolutionary biology.

    So that settles that. Sober is wrong with respect to Dennett. Provine comes closer to saying what Sober needs, but it seems clear that he, too, would reject Sober’s stark conditional.

    The only other attempt to produce a scientist who would accept Sober’s conditional was provided by Nick Matzke in the comments. He quotes Jerry Coyne writing:

    The incompatibility between religious claims and scientific truths is most evident when it comes to evolution. As I noted above, not only do 40% of Americans hold the profoundly antiscientific view that humans were created within the last 10,000 years in their present form, but an additional 38% favor a form of human evolution guided by God. That’s also unscientific, since biologists see humans, like any other species, as having evolved by purely naturalistic processes. There’s a reason, after all, why Darwin’s greatest idea was called natural selection. Those who wish to harmonize science and faith tend to sweep this problem under the rug, but the fact remains that 78% of Americans disagree with the scientific view of evolution.

    I can’t even imagine what Nick is thinking here. Nothing in that paragraph comes close to saying that it’s logically impossible that God guides the mutations on which evolution relies. Coyne says it’s unscientific to think that evolution is guided. Does anyone disagree? He says that a large percentage of Americans disagree with the scientific view of evolution. Plainly they do, since the scientific view is that the theory works just fine without any sort of divine guidance. In context it seems clear that the “incompatibility” referred to in the opening sentence is not meant to refer to an actual logical contradiction. Moreover, we know from Coyne’s posts about Sober’s talk that he (Coyne) regards Sober’s point as trivial. Plainly, then, he does not think Sober has refuted some deeply held belief of his.

    Until someone can provide a counterexample, I stand by my statement that no scientist holds the extreme view Sober is arguing against.

    As an aside, I also don’t think there are many creationists who hold the view that theistic evolution is logically impossible. You could probably find some juicy quotes that seem to say otherwise, but I think that even when creationists use terms like “implies” or “entails” they often do not mean something as precise as what a logician or philosopher would mean. At any rate, a common mantra I have heard from creationists goes something like this: “If science managed to prove that evolution was correct, that would not affect my faith. But I think the scientific evidence is against evolution.”

    (3) Note that in the material quoted in the last section, we saw Dennett suggesting that it was trivially true that evolution cannot absolutely demonstrate the absence of intelligent design. That is my view as well. Sober writes very lucidly about what biologists mean when they say that mutations are unguided and about some of the evidence on which this conclusion is based. It seems to me, though, that he is working awfully hard to establish something that is genuinely obvious.

    If you want to accept everything modern science is telling us about mutations, and also want to believe that God personally guides some of those mutations, just hypothesize that God does not intervene very often. We could imagine that most of the time God is content to let familiar naturalistic causes play out, but periodically He intervenes to lead evolution down some preferred course. It is hard to imagine what empirical evidence we might collect that could ever refute such an idea.

    Most of Sober’s talk was centered around this point. His paper merely uses this discussion as a prelude to more technical questions (in the philosophy of mathematics, as it happens). But given that Sober seems genuinely to think he has resolved a question that causes controversy among knowledgeable people, I will need someone to explain to me what is difficult about establishing the logical possibility of divine intervention in the evolutionary process.

    (4) Let us recall the statement from Sober’s paper that I quoted earlier:

    In saying that theistic evolutionism is logically consistent, I am not saying that it is plausible or true. I’m merely saying that it isn’t contradictory. Evolutionary theory is silent on the question of whether God exists.

    I’m not sure if I agree with this. At the very least, there seems to be a big jump from saying theistic evolution is not contradictory to saying that evolution is silent on the question of whether God exists.

    Let us first conceive of God merely as some sort of superintelligence responsible for creating the world. Prior to Darwin’s work we had what most people regarded as a slam-dunk argument for God’s existence: Paley’s version of the design argument. After Darwin, that argument is completely dead. Does that not imply that evolution has something to say on the question of God’s existence? Evolution does not resolve the question of whether God exists, but it certainly must be included in any discussion of the question.

    If we add to our thinking the usual assumptions that are made about God, the he is all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing, then the situation becomes more stark. Evolution poses grave challenges to common beliefs about God. As an analogy, we might say that no amount of evidence presented at a courtroom trial could ever establish to a certainty that the defendant is guilty, but it would be strange to say that the evidence is silent on the question of the defendant’s guilt. That’s how I would describe the relationship between evolution and religion. Evolution cannot prove that traditional religion is false, but it certainly has some very loud and important things to say on the subject.

    Perhaps Sober has in mind some very precise notion of what it means to say evolution is “silent” on the question of God’s existence. For now, though, I’m inclined to say that evolution is definitely not silent on these questions, even though it ultimately does not resolve anything.

    So that’s it. Sorry for going on for so long. Feel free to have at it in the comments, but fair warning that it will take extraordinary provocation to get me to jump in. I have spent rather a lot of time on this already.

    Comments

    1. #1 eric
      May 11, 2012

      Re: argument (4), I would guess that Sober is thinking of a much more deistic God than your standard believer. His point about silence is just a rephrasing of what he said earlier and what we’ve all been agreeing to – that science is silent on the question of whether some minimally-interfering God exists.

      Sober and other pro-accommodation folk never seem to take on the issue of whether science is silent on the existence of humans who were born of a virgin, can walk on water, heal people with a touch, and who resurrect. Christians probably outnumber deists 10 to 1, yet all the philosophy seems focused on accommodating a deistic god.

      Strange, isn’t it?

    2. #2 Jerry Coyne
      May 11, 2012

      Ah, Jason, you needn’t establish that you have no animus against Sober. Nobody thinks you do: your critique was fair and dealt only with the scientific issues.

    3. #3 Kel
      May 11, 2012

      In saying that theistic evolutionism is logically consistent, I am not saying that it is plausible or true. I’m merely saying that it isn’t contradictory.

      I really don’t see why logical consistency is anything worth striving for. Plausibility ought to be the bare minimum target.

    4. #4 itchy
      May 11, 2012

      Logical possibility obviously is an essential component for an assertion to be true, but, too often, proponents of a statement do not recognize just what a low bar it is and how much further they must climb to reach plausibility.

      We can easily discount the plausibility of a nearly infinite number of logically possible events every moment. In fact, we can’t *not* do that.

      I can state with confidence that an event did not happen without treading anywhere near logical impossibility; at some point well before that, the likelihood of an event becomes so ridiculous as to deem it not worthy of credence.

    5. #5 Thanny
      May 11, 2012

      It seems to me that the mushy word “God” needs to be defined before even discussing the idea of logical compatibility with the findings of science.

      For I can say with absolute certainty that the Christian God, as generally understood, is logically incompatible with evolution (the problem of evil, naturally). Only if you leave the term “God” nebulous, where no one knows what you’re actually talking about, can you claim logical compatibility with anything.

      I maintain that there is no logically coherent definition of “God” at all, which obviates the need to consider the logical compatibility of its existence with anything at all.

    6. #6 ildi
      May 11, 2012

      Thanny:

      For I can say with absolute certainty that the Christian God, as generally understood, is logically incompatible with evolution (the problem of evil, naturally).

      Ah, but that’s because the generally understood Christian God is only folk religion; you need sophisticated theology to make it logically compatible. Just ask Verbose Stoic; he’s been explaining it for, how many comment threads now?

    7. #7 Russell
      May 11, 2012

      This is easy.

      It’s always possible to imagine a god consistent with what we know about the world. A god that created the exact starting conditions of the universe, with pre-knowledge of its trajectory. A god that laid out which way events would fall that are random as far as we can determine. A god that intervenes where we cannot see.

      We cannot disprove the various gods in the gap.

      What we can say is this: Once that becomes someone’s defense for their belief in a god, they have long since discarded any concern for rationality in that belief. When someone writes this:

      And even if you think that none of these arguments is rationally persuasive, you still need to consider whether belief in God must be based on evidence.

      The right response is: we know it’s not based on evidence. If it were based on evidence, you wouldn’t be making these silly possibility arguments that are the last refuge of those with no evidence.

    8. #8 D Bunker Monquis
      May 12, 2012

      The whole point of evolusionism is to escape the righteous rule of Jesus in our lives, to be our own gods. The whole basis of Darwinian thot is: 1. there’s noGod, 2. we are here, 3. therefore we made ourselves and can do exactly as we please. There is no scientific reality involved in this faith system of accidentalism. Probability is real math and math is the language of real science. The probability of any highly complex functional system falling together by itself in the longes possible age of our universe is nil. Darwin delivers us to our lusts by simply reversing roles: we, the thing made, rise up in rebellion and tell God we made Him so we can monkey around. Ever since DNA was elucidated in 1953, the door has been slammed on evol thinking, because there is writing in our cells. Language use implies a conscious mind to pick and place symbols acording to the rules to convey intended meaning. Mere mindless matter, minerals, rocks can’t write. First, they’re content doing rock things for very long periods. Second, should they long to be alive, they’d lack the IQ to get ‘er done. We are manufactured goods, responsible to Creator Jesus, but half of us are trying like hell to ignore the obvious and find a loophole through the power of rhetoric. But real science is more than forceful, repetitious say-so. Say-so science is silly-science and should have died with the author of it. Darwin was a talented fiction writer. He had no respect for the fundamentals of Science. He never knew Her much less loved Her.

    9. #9 Kel
      May 12, 2012

      The whole point of evolusionism is to escape the righteous rule of Jesus in our lives, to be our own gods.

      Poe?

    10. #10 NeverTheTwain
      May 12, 2012

      What Russel said.

    11. #11 SLC
      May 12, 2012

      I must say that I find this argument quite trivial. Of course, the intervention of a deity to produce favorable mutations cannot be ruled out. So what? The point is, to quote Laplace, we have no need of that hypothesis. The combination of random mutations and natural selection/genetic drift is quite sufficient to explain what is observed in the natural world as we sit here today.

      I also find the claim that the intervention of a deity can be ruled out because it can’t be observed a little lacking, given some of the conundrums of quantum mechanics. For instance, in the 2 slit example, quantum mechanics says that every photon that impinges on a surface with 2 slits that ends up on the other side must needs pass through both slits. However, this can’t be observed because any attempt to observe it causes the wave function to collapse and the photon in question will be seen to pass through one slit or the other.

    12. #12 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
      May 12, 2012

      Scientific evidence has no meaning in and of itself. Scientific evidence has to be interpreted, or it has no meaning at all. There are two basic worldviews: natural and supernatural. The real problem is not being able to separate your worldview from real science.

      Real science is neutral toward the supernatural, not anti. When anyone speaks in negative terms toward the supernatural, they are functioning according to their worldview, not according to science. Real science should be unbiased about the facts we have, you will find very little of that in the field of science today.

      In a debate over creation versus evolution, it will be called science versus religion, even if both sides are made up of scientists. Whenever scientific evidence points to the supernatural as the best possible answer, it will be labeled as religious in nature, when it is just evidence.

      Fact: Human artifacts have been found in every rock strata, clear down into the so-called Pre-Cambrian. That would disprove evolution. Whenever such evidence is discovered it is labeled as an anomaly and placed in the basement of a museum somewhere. It will never be used to test the theory of evolution.

      Question: Which came first, the belief that humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor, or the fossil of the ape-like ancestor on which the belief was based upon? Oh yeah, I guess that is why they are called “missing links.”

      The theory of evolution is a philosophical worldview, not science. It is just one way of interpreting the evidence. Both worldviews have the same evidence, your worldview will determine how you will interpret the evidence.

      “Once upon a time, long ago and far away, millions of years ago.” This is the opening line of “From the Goo to You, By Way of the Zoo.” It is the favorite Fairy Tale for people who don’t understand real science.

    13. #13 Richard Wein
      May 12, 2012

      Jason,

      On the subject of “logical possibility”, I think the problem is that you used the term in a much looser way than philosophers do. Sober then compounded the misunderstanding by quoting you out of context and expressing himself poorly.

      You originally wrote:

      He embeds a video of philosopher Elliott Sober delivering a colloquium talk on the subject of whether it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution, even though biologists routinely describe those mutations as unguided.

      The term “logically possible” is incorrect here, at least in philosophical usage. The question was whether the first proposition (“God could be subtly directing the mutations”) is logically compatible with the second proposition (“mutations are unguided”). I think the presence of the second proposition (albeit presented in an indirect way) shows that this was what you meant, and perhaps Sober would have spotted that if he’d read you more charitably. But his reading is understandable.

      Unfortunately, when Sober quoted you back he omitted the final clause, thus removing the evidence of your real meaning. Worse, in telling you what he’d really meant, he expressed himself poorly. He wrote: “The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question…”. This can easily be interpreted as a claim that no evidence from evolutionary biology has any bearing whatsoever on the question (of whether God is directing the mutations), a much broader claim than the claim that evolutionary theory is logically compatible with God directing the mutations.

      It seems to me that misunderstandings like this are the norm in casual philosophical discussions, and are not uncommon in more formal ones too. As Wittgenstein said, philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intellect by our language.

    14. #14 John Pieret
      May 12, 2012

      Who ever claimed that science has shown that it is flat-out logically impossible that God could be directing the mutations in a manner that is invisible to science?

      What, then to make of Coyne’s statement that:

      I argue again that if there should be evidence for God, but there isn’t, then we have more confidence that God doesn’t exist. And that existence is an empirical rather than a philosophical question.

      How is Coyne not making the claim that God can’t be directing mutations in a manner that is invisible to science if he also asserts that science should be able to see them? Yes, he couches it in terms of “confidence” but he is also asserting that it is logically possible to detect god(s), or their absence, through science. Sober’s point, it seems to me, is that it isn’t logically possible (given the logical premises of science) to use science in that manner.

    15. #15 Richard Wein
      May 12, 2012

      P.S. My last comment was too quick. I forgot, Jason, that there are other places where your references to “logical possibility” cannot be read as being really about logical compatibility. For example, you wrote in response to Nick:

      No matter how many times I read that quote I still can’t find the part where Jerry said it was logically impossible that God is guiding the mutations in ways scientists can’t detect.

      Here there is no mention of the proposition “mutations are unguided” or of evolutionary theory. Such sentences show that you have simply misunderstood Sober on this particular point. I don’t think your sentence can be read as being about anything other than logical possibility, and Sober did not make a claim of logical possibility.

      I hope it’s clear that the following claims are not generally equivalent:
      1. A is logically compatible with B.
      2. A is logically possible.

      In the current case, the two claims are:
      1. (Sober) That God is guiding the mutations is logically compatible with evolutionary theory [and specifically with evolutionary theory's statement that mutations are unguided].
      2. (Rosenhouse’s interpretation) It is logically possible that God is guiding the mutations.

      1 is about the logical compatibility (strict consistency) of two propositions. The question is whether theistic evolutionists can consistently accept both propositions at the same time. Surely it’s not trivially obvious that “God is guiding the mutations” is consistent with “the mutations are unguided”.

      I appreciate that Sober has confused the issue by making a number of different claims. And perhaps he has never stated 1 completely clearly. (I don’t recall.) But I don’t think you can make any sense of his argument from hidden variables without interpreting it as being an argument for 1. And he has not (to my recollection) used the term “logically possible” in this regard.

    16. #16 Russell
      May 12, 2012

      Dr. Arv Edgeworth:

      There are two basic worldviews: natural and supernatural.

      No. There are a multitude of worldviews. And people whose thinking doesn’t fall along the simplistic lines Edgeworth imagines. The dichotomy Edgeworth proposes is not fundamental for everyone. There is no logical reason it has to be. And there are many views of it. Including this one: that it can’t be logically sustained, that what gets labelled “supernatural” is merely a matter of tradition and that attempts to create a deep philosophical notion of that fail.

    17. #17 Richard Wein
      May 12, 2012

      P.P.S. All the quotes from Sober that you gave in your part (1) show him making claims of logical compatibility/consistency/non-contradiction, not logical possibility.

      I think the basic problem here is that you haven’t appreciated the distinction between logical compatibility and logical possibility.

    18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 12, 2012

      Richard –

      If you say A is logically compatible with B, and you also say that B is true, then you are, indeed, saying that it is logically possible that A is true. In this case B is the statement that the mutations are unguided (in the scientist’s sense) and A is the statement that God is guiding the mutations. Sober certainly does grant that B is true. So your distinction does not persuade me that I have misunderstood Sober’s intent.

      Moreover, in the sections I quoted from his paper Sober specifically contrasts his view with the idea that evolutionary theory logically implies that God does not exist. He emphasizes that theistic evolution is not logically contradictory, which I take to be equivalent to saying that it is logically possible. He says very similar things about mutations. Specifically, he says there is no contradiction in accepting evolution and also accepting that God is guiding the mutations. He says that evolution does not “rule out” the possibility of God-guided mutations. We can take it as given that Sober believes evolution is true. If those statements do not themselves imply that it is logically possible that God is guiding the mutations then you’re right, I really don’t understand what Sober is saying.

      Moving on, the only reason it might seem non-obvious that “God is guiding the mutations,” is compatible with “the mutations are unguided,” is that there is an equivocation in the use of the term “guided.” Of course, scientists have something specific in mind in the use of that term, and, as I said in the post, I think Sober is very lucid about explaining what scientists mean.

      But the correct way of stating the two propositions is, “God is guiding the mutations in ways scientists cannot detect,” and “Scientists have found no evidence that mutations are guided.” If you put it that way then it really is obvious that the statements are logically compatible.

    19. #19 Verbose Stoic
      May 12, 2012

      Jason,

      If you say A is logically compatible with B, and you also say that B is true, then you are, indeed, saying that it is logically possible that A is true.

      Well, sure, that would be the implication, but I think Sober’s complaint would be that while that’s true it isn’t, in fact, actually his point. His point, it seems to me, would be more that one can build a perfectly consistent worldview that contains both some form of a theistic God and some form of evolution. You might not be able to be a Darwinian evolutionist, and you might not be able to have a YEC concept of God, but you can indeed find perfectly reasonable conceptions of both evolution and God that can fit into a worldview without any cognitive dissonance whatsoever.

      Thus, the question will be: if you accept the above, what could you possibly mean if you claim that evolution proves science and religion incompatible?

      Think about it this way: I think — because it is consistent with how philosophy generally works — that Sober could deny or take no stance on whether evolution is true and STILL be making a meaningful point to say what he says. Your leap to logical possibility, it seems to me, relies heavily on whether Sober thinks evolution is true or not, and that’s why I think there’s a major problem here: Sober’s point does not depend on that at all.

      Taking Dennett’s comments in your post, it seems to me that Sober could quite well say that by saying that, Dennett has conceded that it isn’t evolution that might rule out religion, but at the very least it is things other than evolution that Dennett is appealing to. After all, Dennett’s comment is:

      Now we might draw the debate to a close right here. I could happily concede that anybody who wishes to entertain the fantasy that intelligent designers from another galaxy (or another dimension) fiddled with our evolutionary prehistory, or salted Earth with life forms, or even arranged for the constants of physics to take on their particular “local values” will find their fantasy consistent with contemporary evolutionary biology.

      If, then, Dennett is to criticize a worldview that includes that God or claim that science and religion are incompatible, it will be that “fantasy” part that will do the work, not evolution. And Sober might well argue that that sort of consideration is not, in fact, scientific except under exceptionally broad definitions of science.

    20. #20 Nick Matzke
      May 12, 2012

      “That’s all plain as day, and it all says precisely what I said he said. Sober couldn’t be clearer that he is making a bare logical point, and he is equally clear about attributing to others a contrary view. The charge that I misrepresented him is groundless.”

      But you originally phrased it as basically “it is logically possible, but trivial to the point of being dumb, that mutations could be directed” (I’m paraphrasing obviously), but Sober’s “logical point”, if you will, is about *evolutionary theory* (i.e. the formal modern science) and directed mutations, *not* just mere trivial abstract logical possibility and directed mutations.

      This is a big difference and is precisely the difference between Sober’s interpretation of his work, and your interpretation of his work. This looks to be the source of the whole misunderstanding.

    21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 12, 2012

      Nick –

      But you originally phrased it as basically “it is logically possible, but trivial to the point of being dumb, that mutations could be directed” (I’m paraphrasing obviously), but Sober’s “logical point”, if you will, is about *evolutionary theory* (i.e. the formal modern science) and directed mutations, *not* just mere trivial abstract logical possibility and directed mutations.

      No, that’s not an accurate paraphrase. I’m not even sure what it means.

      The thing that I am describing as trivial to the point of being dumb is the idea that modern evolutionary theory is entirely compatible with the idea that God is guiding the mutations. I think I was perfectly clear about that both in my original post and in this one.

    22. #22 NickMatzke
      May 12, 2012

      Jason, you’re defending Coyne and Provine (Dennett is consistently more careful, I think) with hairsplitting. People can’t rail on, year after year, about the incompatibility of evolution and theism, and then be defended from Sober’s argument on the grounds how they never got around to saying “there is precise logically entailed incompatibility” between the two ideas. Coyne uses the word “incompatible” and cognates probably dozens of times in his article, emphasizing evolutionary theory, and invokes methodological and philosophical incompatibility as well as asserting, without care or qualification, that anyone who voted *for* evolution in the Gallup poll, but who picked the god-guided evolution option, was part of the “78% of Americans [who] disagree with the scientific view of evolution.” That’s as clear as it could possibly get! He, and you, should own this statement, or retract it. Pick one.

      And Provine — see Provine 1998: http://eeb.bio.utk.edu/darwin/Archives/1998ProvineAbstract.htm

      Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.

    23. #23 NickMatzke
      May 12, 2012

      (Just for clarity, #22 was written before I saw #21, it’s a comment on the OP not #21.)

      Re: 21, this:

      The thing that I am describing as trivial to the point of being dumb is the idea that modern evolutionary theory is entirely compatible with the idea that God is guiding the mutations.

      …seems to be abandoning the distraction about “oh he’s just talking mere logical possibility” which was a major point Sober’s critics were relying on in the discussion until recently.

      If we want to actual deal with the meaty issues, I think it would be more productive to go back to the language using words like “tension” to describe e.g. evolutionary theory vs. scientistic and other philosophical views vs. various religious views. Tension is a more continuous variable, words like compatible/incompatible invite the interpretation of lumping everything into two categories and then reifying all statements into being philosophical absolutes.

    24. #24 John Pieret
      May 12, 2012

      The thing that I am describing as trivial to the point of being dumb is the idea that modern evolutionary theory is entirely compatible with the idea that God is guiding the mutations. I think I was perfectly clear about that both in my original post and in this one.

      Well, tit-for-tat, nobody, including Sober, is arguing that “evolutionary theory is entirely compatible with the idea that God is guiding the mutations” (Emphasis added).

      What those of us who aren’t philosophical naturalists are arguing is that you haven’t made the logical connection between science and the claims of people like Coyne (see 14 above).

      Citing those who haven’t made that claim, as if they aren’t any who do make it, is like the creationists quote mining scientists for the proposition that evolution is somehow unscientific.

    25. #25 couchloc
      May 12, 2012

      Jason,

      I think you make some good points and find your comments helpful. But let me make these observations. Your response about Dennett is fine in terms of showing that later Dennett doesn’t accept the view in question. But this doesn’t really touch whether the 1995 Dennett is committed to the entailment. I don’t know what passage Sober had in mind from the 1995 book, but would want to see this before deciding the matter (since the Dennett-Plantinga book was after Sober’s article). In the case of Provine, I think he is less clear to interpret than you make him out to be.

      I also think Matzske’s point about the incompatibility claims bandied around by Coyne and others is pretty appropriate. It brings to mind this complaint John Searle made years ago in response to the obscure language Derrida used:

      “With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he’s so obscure. Every time you say, “He says so and so,” he always says, “You misunderstood me.” But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that’s not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, “What the hell do you mean by that?” And he said, “He writes so obscurely you can’t tell what he’s saying, that’s the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, ‘You didn’t understand me; you’re an idiot.’ That’s the terrorism part.”

    26. #26 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 12, 2012

      Nick –

      Jason, you’re defending Coyne and Provine (Dennett is consistently more careful, I think) with hairsplitting.

      Sober described a specific view, that evolutionary theory logically entails rejecting God. Dennett, Coyne and Provine do not hold that view. Where’s the hairsplitting?

    27. #27 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 12, 2012

      couchloc –

      I also think Matzske’s point about the incompatibility claims bandied around by Coyne and others is pretty appropriate.

      No, Nick’s point is not appropriate at all. He’s just dishonestly twisting Coyne’s words to give them a meaning he knows full well Coyne did not intend. The word “incompatible” has meanings other than “logically contradictory.” The simple fact is that Jerry has told us, in his own posts on this subject, that he does not hold the extreme view Sober described. Why are we pretending that there is any ambiguity about Coyne’s view on this question?

    28. #28 John Pieret
      May 12, 2012

      He’s just dishonestly twisting Coyne’s words to give them a meaning he knows full well Coyne did not intend.

      That’s a rather serious charge. Do you have any evidence for it? If not, why sould we treat you differently han any creationist blowhard?

    29. #29 Michael Fugate
      May 12, 2012

      So billions of people believe in gods – or so we are told – yet not only is there no evidence for these gods, but there never can be any evidence. I find it remarkable that this is in fact true – people have to be using evidence of some sort and if one asked they would surely rattle off something. It may not be science as such, but we are told that science isn’t everything – so is it just observation – like how you tell someone is your friend, by how they act toward you? If people believe gods create mutations, I would like to know why they believe this.

    30. #30 couchloc
      May 12, 2012

      I don’t think that’s what Matzske’s doing really. He’s complaining that the history of the language in this area is ambiguous. I think this is part of the problem here. Those like Coyne have a duty to make themselves clearer on these issues themselves. This whole problem could be avoided if we distinguished between “empirical compatibility” and “logical compatibility” as philosophers do. I note that the situation we’re in with respect to Sober is pretty much the same situation for David Albert. Krauss wrote a book which was ambiguous about whether he was addressing the traditional problem of the origin of the universe. Albert called him out on this, and Krauss repled, “I don’t deny what you claim if you read very, very carefully. You don’t understand my view (you idiot).” Something similar is going on here with Sober who’s now being accused of making trivial points about some statements which are in fact ambiguous. (I’m not talking about Coyne’s recent clarifications, but the history of the language here). This is the truthful part in Matzske’s statement.

    31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 12, 2012

      couchloc –

      He’s complaining that the history of the language in this area is ambiguous. I think this is part of the problem here. Those like Coyne have a duty to make themselves clearer on these issues themselves.

      I’m all in favor of clear writing, and that’s why I personally don’t use the language of compatibility/incompatibility when discussing these issues. I always say there is “tension” between evolution and religion, as Nick suggested earlier in one of his better comments, precisely to avoid this confusion. As it happens, though, I don’t think Jerry’s writing really was ambiguous on this point. Even without his recent clarifications it would not have occurred to me to interpret Coyne’s statement the way Nick wants me to interpret it. Asserting a stark logical contradiction between evolution and religion is such a strong position to hold that I don’t assume anyone really does hold it until they tell me specifically that they do. And to assert, as Nick did, that Coyne and the others just “never got around to saying” there is a logical incompatibility, as though really Jerry believes that but just hasn’t said it for some reason, really does seem dishonest to me.

      But this is all beside the point. In his paper, which I assume is meant to be submitted to a professional journal at some point, Sober attributed a very specific view to Dennett and Provine, and Nick has attributed that view to Coyne. The reality is that none of these people hold that view and have never written that they do. Provine is the only debatable case, but even he, in the quote I provided in the opening post, explicitly leaves open the logical possibility that God intervenes in ways we can’t detect.

      If you think Coyne or the others should be more careful when they write about this, then that’s fine. But that’s not the issue we’re discussing.

    32. #32 John Pieret
      May 12, 2012

      Coyne and the others just “never got around to saying” there is a logical incompatibility, as though really Jerry believes that but just hasn’t said it for some reason, really does seem dishonest to me.

      But this is all beside the point.

      No, it isn’t. You can’t accuse Nick of dishomesty and then walk away from it. Nor does your thinking it “seems” dishonest justify what you said. We wouldn’t accept that from a creationist, why should we accept it from you? Back it up or apologize. Any thing less brands you as arational, if not irrational.

    33. #33 couchmar
      May 12, 2012

      I understand your point in this matter. I should maybe leave it to you and Nick to debate the merits of Coyne’s language specifically. I haven’t read all of his works and can’t speak to the history of his usage. What I have read more recently from him about philosophy (e.g.) is good. But Nick also has a point at least in the sense that there’s a broader context to these discussions involving vocal atheists where the language is often imprecise and breeds confusion. On the last point, I see where you are coming from with Dennett and Provine, as I said. But I would have to see the early Dennett book to see what he said there.

    34. #34 Kel
      May 12, 2012

      People can’t rail on, year after year, about the incompatibility of evolution and theism, and then be defended from Sober’s argument on the grounds how they never got around to saying “there is precise logically entailed incompatibility” between the two ideas.

      Of course they can, if they aren’t talking about logical compatibility but instead plausibility or reasonableness, then judging them by a criteria that they’re not promoting would be being uncharitable in one’s interpretation of the initial statements. If they aren’t talking about logic, but what’s scientifically reasonable to hold, then judging them on a logical basis is creating a straw man.

    35. #35 Michael Fugate
      May 12, 2012

      I wouldn’t accuse Nick of dishonesty, only adhering to the ignorance of the true believer. He thinks he knows, and only he knows, the proper way to address the issue of evolution education in the US. He doesn’t. He has been directed to resources on education best practices and chooses to ignore them.

      And Pieret is easily ignored as well a …. you fill in the blank. Threats really? Plus sarcasm does not take the place of an argument – which he never has.

    36. #36 NickMatzke
      May 12, 2012

      Jason et al.,

      Here’s another example. Coyne doesn’t interpret words like “random”, “purposeless”, “undirected”, etc., in the everyday, pedestrian scientific sense that one might say earthquakes or the wind are purposeless or random.

      For example, these words can be used in a statistical sense, or in an educational sense, for example to distinguish the Darwinian view from a Lamarkian view, which is an important thing to do because beginning students are almost instinctively Lamarkian when they start thinking about the evolution of adaptations.

      But Coyne is *far* more ambitious in his usage of these words than the everyday statistical or educational usage would be. E.g.:

      February 21, 2011: Natural selection and evolution: material, blind, mindless, and purposeless

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/natural-selection-and-evolution-material-blind-mindless-and-purposeless/

      Natural selection and evolution: material, blind, mindless, and purposeless

      I’m teaching undergraduate evolution this quarter, and right now am lecturing on natural selection. As always, I read the textbook along with the students, and this year’s textbook, as usual, is Evolution, by Douglas J. Futuyma. It’s a superb text, authoritative and well written. What struck me in this week’s reading were two statements. First this one:

      [Darwin's] alternative to intelligent design was design by the completely mindless process of natural selection, according to which organisms possessing variations that enhance survival or reproduction replace those less suitably endowed, which therefore survive or reproduce in lesser degree. This process cannot have a goal, any more than erosion has the goal of forming canyons, for the future cannot cause material events in the present. Thus the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology (or any other of the natural sciences), except in studies of human behavior. (p. 282)

      (I do take issue with the characterization of goals and purposes as limited to humans: there’s plenty of evidence that some other primates—and perhaps some non-primate animals—have goal-directed and purposeful behavior.)

      Here’s Futuyma’s second statement, referring to an experiment in bacteria:

      This experiment conveys the essence of natural selection: it is a completely mindless process without forethought or goal. (p. 285)

      And, indeed, this is what I teach—that natural selection, and evolution in general, are material processes, blind, mindless, and purposeless. (I also emphasize that—despite our shorthand characterization of selection as “acting” on individuals—it is not a “force” imposed on organisms from the outside, but simply a differential sorting of genes based on their contribution to reproduction.)

      But when reading Futuyma’s statements, I remembered that some people object to such a description as a needlessly “theological” assertion: a flat and insupportable claim that natural selection was not designed by, and is not being guided by, gods. How can you be so sure, some theologians say, that there really isn’t a goal, purpose, or mind behind evolution?

      You might remember that a while back the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) persuaded the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) to change its characterization of evolution, which originally read:

      The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.

      As NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott recounts, the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal” led to pushback from the faithful:

      As one Christian said to me, defining evolution as “unsupervised” and “impersonal” implied to many Americans that “God had nothing to do with it and life has no meaning.” Reflecting these public concerns, two distinguished theologians, Cornell’s Huston Smith and Notre Dame’s Alvin Plantinga, wrote a polite letter to NABT’s board of directors, asking it to delete the two words “unsupervised” and “impersonal”. They specifically noted that the use of the two words has two unfortunate and unintended consequences. It gives aid and comfort to extremists in the religious right for whom it provides a legitimate target. And because of its logical vulnerability, it lowers Americans’ respect for scientists and their place in our culture.

      Scott also considered such language to be a pollution of science with philosophical naturalism. And so she persuaded the NABT to drop the two offending words. (I’m baffled why they weren’t asked to strike out “natural” as well!)

      In my classes, however, I still characterize evolution and selection as processes lacking mind, purpose, or supervision. Why? Because, as far as we can see, that’s the truth. Evolution and selection operate precisely as you’d expect them to if they were not designed by, or steered by, a deity—especially one who is omnipotent and benevolent. And, more important, the completely material nature of selection is of great historical and intellectual importance. After all, Darwin’s greatest achievement was the explanation of organismal “design” by a completely naturalistic process, replacing the mindful, purposeful, and god-directed theory that preceded it. That was a revolution in human thought, and students should know about it. (This achievement is also why Dawkins claimed, in The Blind Watchmaker, that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Perhaps Darwin did not mandate that evolution ineluctably proves the absence of God, but he kicked out the last prop supporting the action of a deity in nature.)

      Evolution and selection lack any sign of divine guidance. Earlier teleological theories based on divine or spiritual guidance, such as orthogenesis, have fallen by the wayside. Natural selection is a cruel and wasteful process. 99% of the species that ever lived went extinct without leaving descendants. There is no sign that evolution always goes in a fixed direction. Do primates always get bigger brains? There is some suggestion that orangutan populations evolved smaller ones. Fleas lost their wings; tapeworms lost nearly everything when evolving a parasitic lifestyle. There is no sign that the goal of evolution was Homo sapiens (if that were true, why the virtual extinction of Neandertals or the robust australopithecines)?

      Now you can always say, along with many liberal theologians, that god just created the world, knowing that life would eventually arise and evolve largely by natural selection. If you add the caveat (viz. Kenneth Miller and Simon Conway Morris), that god made sure that evolution coughed up a complex and intelligent primate that would apprehend and worship him, then you have modern theistic evolution. But even liberal theologians have no explanation why God would use such a wasteful and tortuous process to produce humans. (Curiously, while they claim absolute knowledge that god used evolution to produce humans, these theologians bail when asked why he did it that way).

      In the end, the absence of evidence for a godly hand in evolution is evidence of godly absence, for evolution and selection show precisely the characteristics they would have if they were purely material, mindless, and purposeless processes. There is no sign of orthogenesis, directed evolution, or a one-way march to Homo sapiens. There is no more evidence that god directed evolution than there is that god keeps the engine working in your car—and yet nobody keeps an open mind about the possibility that god is pushing their pistons.

      To withhold from students the evidence that natural selection is purposeless—lacking direction, guidance, or goals—is to cheat them of the very essence of that process. It is part of the wonder and beauty of selection that this purely material process can produce species so exquisitely attuned to their environments. That is why Futuyma—and I—emphasize the undirected, material, and blind nature of selection and evolution.

      (formatting removed)

      It’s not even clear that Futuyma would support this kind of atheism-is-basically-require- interpretation of common textbook language about random mutations.

      (Coyne uses a similar strategy of quoting Futuyma in parts of his new article in Evolution)

      The only other people I’ve ever seen to argue from textbook language like this in a similarly wooden fashion — almost like a Biblical literalist would argue from a Bible — are the creationists, people like Casey Luskin. Luskin argues the science textbooks are full of metaphysical atheist indoctrination. This is not at all a necessary or fair interpretation of what those textbooks mean to say, as I argue here:

      Casey Luskin: the new Wendell Bird?

      http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2010/08/casey-luskin-th-1.html

      I recently read Casey Luskin’s article (“Zeal for Darwin’s House Consumes Them: How Supporters of Evolution Encourage Violations of the Establishment Clause”) in the Liberty University Law Review. Most of it is tendentious as usual, and Tim Sandefur makes an excellent reply (PT: Luskin, laws, and lies).

      However, I think it may be important for us to read Luskin’s article, as it looks like it is laying out a new lawsuit strategy for the ID movement, which would be to provoke parents into suing school districts that use a textbook that has some smidgen of (alleged) materialism, (alleged) endorsement of theistic evolution or accomadationism, or critique of ID/creationism somewhere within its hundreds or thousands of pages.

      In support of his argument, Luskin pulls out all of the various (alleged) anti-religion, pro-materialism, pro-theistic evolution, etc. passages that the DI guys have dug up in textbooks over the years, and traces some of them to e.g. statements by major popularizers like Dawkins & Gould.

      Luskin has a lot of examples, and when he strings them together he gives the impression that students are being drowned in various antireligious or religious indoctrination (many of the statements he cites contradict each other, but oh well). He entirely forgets that a biology class is very unlikely to use more than one textbook, and probably will only use portions of that. Also, some of his “textbooks” aren’t textbooks. (Sociobiology, E.O. Wilson 1975?!? In what sense is this a relevant “textbook”? It’s a famous book that founded an area of study, and might be used as a text in an advanced college course or seminar, but it’s a textbook only in the vaguest sense at best.) Some of them are upper-level college texts, some of them are decades old and out of circulation.

      But more importantly, most of the quotes Luskin drags up are, well, quote mines. Once you’ve looked up a few of these passages in textbooks, you realize that many of the quoted statements have alternative, much less nefarious interpretations, compared to the interpretation they provoke in a naively ideological fundamentalist reader like Luskin or other ID promoters. To list some of the options:

      [...]

      Luskin’s article was a law review article, building a legal strategy for a lawsuit challenge *against* evolution based on the Establishment Clause. I don’t think such a challenge has much of a shot — although you never know what will happen with SCOTUS appointments — but the weird thing is that Coyne seems determined to help Luskin out! And if Coyne’s view on this matter did become dominant — I don’t think that’s likely, either, but stranger things have happened — it might well be a problem, since one could argue that the textbooks violate the “purpose” prong of the Lemon Test if they teach atheism. You can be sure that Coyne’s post and Evolution article are already in Luskin’s file.

      With this kind of stuff being issued by a major figure in evolutionary biology, it seems perfectly legitimate to me to have someone like Sober take a nice close look at whether or not we can really get from the scientific/educational/statistical meaning of “random”, “undirected”, etc., to the interpretation of these worlds as absolute metaphysical truths.

    37. #37 NickMatzke
      May 12, 2012

      worlds –> words

    38. #38 Mike Magee
      May 12, 2012

      The theory of evolution does not disprove God but has no need of Him. So, who cares what theologians, philosophers or any other nitpickers think? What might be (however unlikely) is irrelevant, but only what must be. The basis of the scientific method is skepticism. It rejects hypotheses that cannot yield adequate evidence. The scientific method shows it can explain the natural world successfully without recourse to the hypothesis of God. So long as scientists, biologists or physicists can explain the world naturally, God is unnecessary, and the proof or logic of His existence, or otherwise, is irrelevant. The rest is wind, and believers will continue to believe, and may do so, if they are happy to accept that God has determined to keep Himself invisible to science. And, if that is so, they can also believe science.

    39. #39 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 12, 2012

      couchloc –

      I understand your point in this matter. I should maybe leave it to you and Nick to debate the merits of Coyne’s language specifically. I haven’t read all of his works and can’t speak to the history of his usage. What I have read more recently from him about philosophy (e.g.) is good. But Nick also has a point at least in the sense that there’s a broader context to these discussions involving vocal atheists where the language is often imprecise and breeds confusion. On the last point, I see where you are coming from with Dennett and Provine, as I said. But I would have to see the early Dennett book to see what he said there.

      Fair enough. And since I’m not going to wade through that novel Nick jut posted (sorry, Nick), maybe this is a good place to leave the discussion for now. I seem to recall saying something about not getting drawn into the comments!

    40. #40 John Pieret
      May 12, 2012

      And since I’m not going to wade through that novel Nick jut posted (sorry, Nick), maybe this is a good place to leave the discussion for now. I seem to recall saying something about not getting drawn into the comments!

      That’s a pretty lame excuse for not addressing how Nick was “dishonest”. If that is how you want us to judge you, so be it!

    41. #41 eric
      May 12, 2012

      Nick @36 – that is a great quote, and shows exactly why you are wrong to say that Coyne is somehow supporting logical incompatibility. Read this part of your quote again:

      In my classes, however, I still characterize evolution and selection as processes lacking mind, purpose, or supervision. Why? Because, as far as we can see, that’s the truth. Evolution and selection operate precisely as you’d expect them to if they were not designed by, or steered by, a deity—especially one who is omnipotent and benevolent.

      Two points should spring to mind, if you want to fairly characterize Coyne’s position. The first is that the “as far as we can see” and the ‘operate as you’d expect if not steered’ is perfectly consistent with Sober’s claim. Coyne is saying essentially the same thing Sober is saying – that if there’s a God doing anything, science can’t detect it. And later in your quote, Coyne says “Evolution and selection lack any sign of divine guidance” (my emhpasis). C’mon man, that’s not logical incompatibility, that agrees with Sober.

      The second point is the “omnipotent and benevolent” one. While this could be taken multiple ways, I think the most normal reading is that Coyne is going after a Christian conception of God, not a deist one. The god Coyne thinks is incompatible is the one with lots of properties like benevolence and omnipotence (and probably omniscence). The god of Abraham; the god who interferes regularly throughout the ~40 books of the old testament and (for Christians) throughout the gospels in the personage of Jesus. This is not Sober’s god, hiding in statistics.

      So I think you’re really wrong here, and your own quote shows why. Coyne is clearly discussing an evidence incompatibility, not a logical one. And Coyne is (less, but still reasonably) clearly discussing a biblical god, not a deist one.

    42. #42 John Pieret
      May 12, 2012

      And Pieret is easily ignored as well a …. you fill in the blank. Threats really? Plus sarcasm does not take the place of an argument – which he never has.

      I don’t care a whit whether you think I’ve somehow “threatened” Jason by asking if he really thought that Nick was “dishonest”.

      And is sarcasm somehow bad when turned againt Gnus but fine when they so often use it against theists? Can we say say “double standard” boys and girls?

    43. #43 Kel
      May 12, 2012

      With this kind of stuff being issued by a major figure in evolutionary biology, it seems perfectly legitimate to me to have someone like Sober take a nice close look at whether or not we can really get from the scientific/educational/statistical meaning of “random”, “undirected”, etc., to the interpretation of these worlds as absolute metaphysical truths.

      So it’s more important to see whether or not you can take someone’s words to mean something over whether or not they actually intended it to mean that?

    44. #44 NickMatzke
      May 12, 2012

      Let’s let the dishonesty thing go, in general we do OK at dialog here, this one got terminologically complex quite quickly which makes it hard to avoid misunderstandings.

    45. #45 NickMatzke
      May 12, 2012

      Nick @36 – that is a great quote, and shows exactly why you are wrong to say that Coyne is somehow supporting logical incompatibility.

      But as has been pointed out again and again, portraying Sober’s argument as being about bare logical compatibility misses the mark. Paragraph #1 of Sober’s paper:

      Evolution without Naturalism
      Elliott Sober
      Philosophy Department
      University of Wisconsin, Madison

      “… any confusion between the ideas suggested by science and science itself must be carefully avoided.” – Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, p. xiii.

      Does evolutionary theory have implications about the existence of supernatural entities? This question concerns the logical relationships that hold between the theory of evolution and different bits of metaphysics. There is a distinct question that I also want to address; it is epistemological in character. Does the evidence we have for evolutionary theory also provide evidence concerning the existence of supernatural entities?

      He makes some logical points, but actually he makes them in a Bayesian framework which also makes the points about evidence. And a whole chunk of the paper is about whether or not the evidence for evolutionary theory — undirected mutations being part of this — is evidence against God. Sober even addresses the Ockham’s razor argument (God is unnecessary in the theory, therefore he probably doesn’t exist) and concludes that doesn’t work either. He even makes the same point I made a thread or two back (independently, although I may have picked it up from Sober years ago, I’m not sure) about how if you are theist who thinks God controls everything, including the random results of gambling, it is not evidence against God that your statistical description of the results of gambling does not include God. And there is some stuff about numbers as metaphysical entities which I have never quite gotten.

      E.g.:

      I conclude that the fact that mutations are undirected is not a problem for theistic evolutionism. Maybe God arranged for mutations to be undirected. And if some mutations do turn out to be directed in the sense described here, that is no threat to atheism. Atheism has no more of a stake in mutations being undirected than it has in organisms being unable to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. Ernst Mayr (1961) emphasized the importance of distinguishing proximate from ultimate causation. Mayr’s point can be illustrated by considering the question of why sunflowers turn towards the sun. One answer to this question cites the proximate mechanism inside each sunflower that causes it to do so; the other points to the reason the trait evolved, presumably natural selection. There is no conflict between these two “levels” of explanation. The theistic evolutionist should embrace Mayr’s pair of concepts and add a third, maintaining that there is, in addition, a still more distal level of divine causation. God can direct the evolutionary process in an ultimate sense, though mutations are undirected in a proximate sense. Biology says nothing about the former and theism says nothing about the latter.

      Does this mean that evolutionists overstep what they know when they say that evolution is an undirected process? No more than experts on gambling devices overreach themselves when they say that a roulette wheel obeys a certain probability model. In both cases, there is evidence that favors the probability model in question over competitors — this is what is behind the scientific pronouncement. Those who hold that everything that happens is due to the sustaining power of God can accept what experts say about gambling devices; they should take the same view of what evolutionists say about the evolutionary process.

      There have been many versions of “the theory of evolution;” some have been more metaphysical while others have been more austere. The present inquiry does not require that one version must be the “real” theory while all the others are inflated or deflated pretenders. Hull (1988) argues that theories are historical entities, like biological species; theories are not defined by their including this or that essential proposition, but by their historical relationships. Hull’s main example is “Darwinism. For Hull, what makes people Darwinians is their relationship to others, not their assent to a list of required beliefs. I have argued that “evolutionary theory” is silent on the question of whether there is a God, but that it entails the existence of numbers. This pair of claims does not require an essentialist view of what evolutionary theory is. Whether atheistic evolutionism is the “real” theory of evolution does not matter. The point is that evolutionary biology provides no evidence that there is no God. The same point holds of theistic evolutionism; whether or not this is the “real” evolutionary theory, it includes an element for which evolutionary biology provides no evidence. Similar remarks pertain to the question of whether numbers exist. Mathematical evolutionary theory entails that there are numbers, but nonmathematical propositions about evolution (e.g., that humans and chimps have a common ancestor) do not. Without having to decide which of these is the “real” theory of evolution, we can simply note that there is no biological evidence that numbers exist. So what is the difference between God and numbers? You need numbers to do science. But that isn’t evidence that numbers exist and that God does not.

      So, he is arguing that evolutionary theory, undirected mutations included, is silent on the existence of God. This is a much broader argument than mere logical compatibility. Coyne, on the other hand, clearly thinks that evolutionary theory and undirected mutations point straight at atheism, and he pretty much tells his students and the world so. Sober disagrees. One or both of them could be wrong, but those who disagree with Sober would do better to list all of his points and address each one that they want to argue with.

    46. #46 eric
      May 12, 2012

      Nick quoting Sober:

      God can direct the evolutionary process in an ultimate sense, though mutations are undirected in a proximate sense. Biology says nothing about the former and theism says nothing about the latter.

      Okay Nick, if he and Jerry are saying different things, describe for me the difference between Sober’s “mutations are undirected in a proximate sense” and Coyne’s “Evolution and selection operate precisely as you’d expect them to if they were not designed by, or steered by, a deity.”

    47. #47 NickMatzke
      May 13, 2012

      Okay Nick, if he and Jerry are saying different things, describe for me the difference between Sober’s “mutations are undirected in a proximate sense” and Coyne’s “Evolution and selection operate precisely as you’d expect them to if they were not designed by, or steered by, a deity.”

      Posted by: eric | May 12, 2012 10:26 PM

      How does Coyne know precisely what a deity guiding mutations in an ultimate sense would look like? Why wouldn’t it look like a natural process, just like a huge list of other natural processes that Christians fully accept without denying God’s guidance of them?

      Basically all Christians think that at least most things, most of the time, are operating by natural law. Yet they also think God is guiding all of these things at the same time, and they don’t think this contradicts the statement that they are operating by natural law. This is a totally prosaic and obvious Christian belief which usually barely even discussed because it is so bloomin’ obvious that Christians think God is in control of everything. Not even the Gnus bother to complain about it 99 times out of 100. No one is going around bashing the Christians over the head about meteorology or chemistry or stream hydrology or electromagnetism — even though the Christians think all these natural processes are under the ultimate control of God, while simultaneously being random, undirected, purposeless, etc., in the everyday way that any natural process is considered to be so. Even the Gnus give them a pass on this — apparently what is going on is that people think is something like: hey great, I don’t buy the theology one bit, but it’s not causing problems here, so who cares?

      What is weird is that when the exact same logic is applied to evolution by the theistic evolutionists, the Gnus call out the hounds and start sounding like they’ve got special access to the ultimate fundamental truths about existence itself. Strangely, though, the Gnus’ evidence for their beliefs is just the usual statistical evidence, molecular evidence, paleontological evidence etc., about mutation and evolution. We have basically the same sort of evidence indicating that meteorology, or solar system orbital dynamics, or whatever, are natural, proximally “undirected” process. Yet there aren’t a lot of meteorologists and meteorology fans out there spending their days and nights heresy-hunting meteorologists who happen to be theists and writing articles advocating this approach in meteorology blogs and journals.

      It’s true that the creationists/IDists, who fundamentally are obsessed with wanting to have science “prove” miracles (and thus “prove” not just the existence of God, but the existence of their theology’s humanlike, interventionist God), often give the impression that they think God isn’t doing anything unless miracles are happening. But that’s basically a belief specific to fundamentalists, and even they won’t back it in any direct way when they are challenged on it, because it would go against the whole history of Christianity to assert that God isn’t active when natural processes are going on.

      It’s bizarre for Gnus to take a nonstandard position which Christians formally consider heretical (the idea that God isn’t active when things are running according to natural processes), paste that position onto not just fundamentalists who kinda-sorta do this but onto all Christians whatsoever, and then try to bash all Christians over the shocking fact that things like evolution appear to run according to natural processes. It’s like criticizing the British for being against representative democracy – not quite completely absolutely without merit, but mostly.

    48. #48 Kel
      May 13, 2012

      How does Coyne know precisely what a deity guiding mutations in an ultimate sense would look like?

      If it would be indistinguishable from no God at all, then what would talking about ultimate causation add to the description? i.e. if God is indistinguishable from no God at all, then it favours atheism for reasons that are philosophical rather than biological. “God-guided” would become a trivial truism rather than saying something meaningful about the process.

    49. #49 John Pieret
      May 13, 2012

      Let’s let the dishonesty thing go

      As you wish, Nick … but not forgotten … to Jason’s detriment.

    50. #50 Verbose Stoic
      May 13, 2012

      Kel,

      i.e. if God is indistinguishable from no God at all, then it favours atheism for reasons that are philosophical rather than biological.

      Which, if you’ll recall the initial discussion’s starting point, is precisely what Sober is trying to argue: that there may be philosophical reasons for atheism related to evolution, but that the biology itself can’t settle it and is thus silent — in that regard — on the issue.

    51. #51 Kel
      May 13, 2012

      Which, if you’ll recall the initial discussion’s starting point, is precisely what Sober is trying to argue: that there may be philosophical reasons for atheism related to evolution, but that the biology itself can’t settle it and is thus silent — in that regard — on the issue.

      But the evolution is not silent on the issue, the biology informs the interpretation. That’s not silence, just not logically necessary.

    52. #52 Kel
      May 13, 2012

      In other words, I don’t see how Coyne’s statement is incompatible with Sober’s.

    53. #53 Verbose Stoic
      May 13, 2012

      Kel,

      But the evolution is not silent on the issue, the biology informs the interpretation. That’s not silence, just not logically necessary.

      Ultimately, though, this seems to get into quibbling over Sober’s rhetorical flourish; I doubt Sober denies what you are saying here, but that isn’t what he’s describing with “evolution is silent on the matter”. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

    54. #54 Kel
      May 13, 2012

      Fair enough. My issue is purely whether or not Nick Matzke is fairly representing Coyne in saying that Coyne’s rhetoric fits the case Sober is arguing against.

    55. #55 couchloc
      May 13, 2012

      Nick raises the issue that “evolutionary theory is silent on the existence of God.” This relates to Jason’s point number 4, which I didn’t address before but will here. It seems to me that Sober does not understand this issue in the way Jason understands it (and Coyne also), and the point is getting obscured. Jason writes:

      “Evolution poses grave challenges to common beliefs about God. As an analogy, we might say that no amount of evidence presented at a courtroom trial could ever establish to a certainty that the defendant is guilty, but it would be strange to say that the evidence is silent on the question of the defendant’s guilt. That’s how I would describe the relationship between evolution and religion.”

      This isn’t what Sober means by saying evolution is “silent” on God’s existence. The evidence itself does not speak to the defendant’s guilt unless it is joined with other statements. Consider the classic argument from evil.

      1. God is all powerful.
      2. God is all good.
      3. Evil exists.
      4. An all powerful, all good God would want no evil.
      5. God doesn’t exist.

      Evolutionary theory informs us about premise 3. But notice that you can’t get to the conclusion 5 without going through premise 4, which is philosophical.

      In other words, list all the problems about evil created by evolutionary theory: evil occurs, humans and animals die frequently, these are horrible deaths, this has been going on for thousands of years, this is hugely wasteful of life, etc. Evolution helps us to understand all of these points. But this list does nothing to inform us whether God exists. This is because it’s free to the theist to deny premise 4 and that’s where the debate centers. Must an all powerful, all good God want no evil? little evil? maybe just enough evil to make us appreciate life? All these questions fall outside evolutionary theory and are philosophical. There is simply no way to get from the evolutionary facts to the conclusion 5 without a lengthy philosophical discussion.

      I think this is what Sober means by saying that evolution is silent on God. The argument from evil is a philosophical argument, not biological. It includes an empirical premise which biology has something to say about, yes. But this doesn’t mean “evolution points to atheism” itself. Coyne likes to put it this way because he wants to claim that “science can provisionally rule out the existence of God,” but this is misleading. The premise 3 is supported by biology; but the argument against God is philosophical.

      Finally, it’s worth noting that strictly evolutionary theory isn’t needed for the argument even. Many people like to make evolutionary theory central to these debates, but the problem predates Darwin. Hume’s Dialogues were written in 1777. Voltaire’s Candide took the Lisbon earthquake as his example (1759). Evolutionary theory helps to problematise certain kinds of evil, to be sure, but the argument itself doesn’t require this.

    56. #56 Richard Wein
      May 13, 2012

      If you say A is logically compatible with B, and you also say that B is true, then you are, indeed, saying that it is logically possible that A is true.

      You seem to be conflating two meanings of “say” (claim and entail) and consequently jumping from 1 to 2:
      1. Sober has made claims X and Y, and (X&Y) entails Z. (True*)
      2. Sober has made claim Z. (Not true)

      (* I’ll accept the entailment for the sake of argument, though I think it’s questionable.)

      Perhaps Sober has made claims which together entail that A is logically possible. It doesn’t follow that that’s the particular claim he’s made here. We don’t go round claiming every proposition which is entailed by our other claims. Our claims entail any number of trivial propositions. Remember, you’re not accusing Sober of making a false claim. You’re accusing him of making a trivial claim. You can’t reasonably accuse someone of making a trivial claim on the grounds that his claims entail a trivial proposition.

      Consider these analogues:

      Sober: “There’s life on Mars” is logically compatible with “Mars has no atmosphere”. And BTW Mars has no atmosphere.
      Rosenhouse: Sober is just making the claim that it’s logically possible for there to be life on Mars.

      Sober: “Mars has an atmosphere” is logically compatible with “Mars has no atmosphere”. And BTW Mars has no atmosphere.
      Rosenhouse: Sober is just making the claim that it’s logically possible that Mars has an atmosphere.

    57. #57 Chris Schoen
      May 13, 2012

      I think Fisher and Dobzhansky, who each did more to advance the modern synthesis than any other scientist in their century, would be surprised to learn that their view of evolution as ultimately (if not proximately) guided was “unscientific.” Talk about “sweeping things under the rug”!

    58. #58 Richard Wein
      May 13, 2012

      Jason,

      In case it wasn’t clear, my last comment (#56) was addressed to you.

      Also, on re-reading I see that you consider the compatibility claim trivial too, so my point about triviality was misguided. The problem is that Sober and I don’t see the logical compatibility claim as trivially true, but we do see the logical possibility claim as trivially true. So to Sober and me it makes a difference when you conflate the two claims. But you wonder what we’re complaining about, since both claims seem trivial to you.

      You wrote:

      Who ever claimed that science has shown that it is flat-out logically impossible that God could be directing the mutations in a manner that is invisible to science?

      So you implicitly attributed to Sober the claim that

      “it is flat-out logically impossible that God could be directing the mutations in a manner that is invisible to science”

      Can you really not see that this claim is different from

      “God directing the mutations is flat-out logically incompatible with evolutionary theory”

      Your version does not even mention evolutionary theory.

      Anyway, this will be my last post on the subject, you may be pleased to hear. ;)

    59. #59 Chris Schoen
      May 13, 2012

      Perhaps Sober has in mind some very precise notion of what it means to say evolution is “silent” on the question of God’s existence. For now, though, I’m inclined to say that evolution is definitely not silent on these questions, even though it ultimately does not resolve anything.

      The question is not whether biology brings anything to the conversation. The question is whether biology itself, without any additional appeals to metaphysics, can make a pronouncement on the question of God. What Sober means by “silent” here isn’t all that rarified. It’s simply that evolution does not say yea or nay on the question of theism; that it “ultimately does not resolve anything.” So you agree!

    60. #60 NickMatzke
      May 13, 2012

      Finally, it’s worth noting that strictly evolutionary theory isn’t needed for the argument even. Many people like to make evolutionary theory central to these debates, but the problem predates Darwin. Hume’s Dialogues were written in 1777. Voltaire’s Candide took the Lisbon earthquake as his example (1759). Evolutionary theory helps to problematise certain kinds of evil, to be sure, but the argument itself doesn’t require this.

      Excellent comment couchloc. I myself have never really seen the appeal of making the argument from evil about evolution. Evil exists and is equally evil for all of human history whether or not some theory about origins is true or even known.

      I guess the argument might be that evolution suggests a lot more evil in toto over the course of history than we previously knew about? I don’t know about anyone else, but after contemplating a few cases of genocide my evil-ometer is pretty much pegged, and piling on animals eating each other doesn’t seem to make things a whole lot worse.

      Or perhaps the argument is derived from Darwin, who said that his theory meant that the war of nature was the creative force that produced us:

      “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”

      But almost all of this death was just more animal death, and I just have a hard time getting depressed about animal death, maybe because I’m a hunter, maybe because I’m a member of People For the Eating of Tasty Animals. I know the Victorians allegedly got the vapors at the contemplation of such things, but that’s pretty culturally specific.

      So I think the Argument From Evil (Evolution Edition) mostly relies on emotion and rhetoric for whatever appeal it has. For it to be invoked as a “scientific” or “empirical” argument, then, is quite odd.

    61. #61 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 13, 2012

      Richard –

      I think you’re splitting hairs to an absurd degree. The difference between (1) Sober claimed that it is logically possible that God is guiding the mutations and (2) Sober is making certain claims which trivially and immediately imply that it is logically possible that God is guiding the mutations, is too subtle for me. And since nothing in my argument is riding on this distinction, feel free, upon rereading my post, to just interpret claim (1) as a shorthand for claim (2).

      Also, in the paper Sober notes that theistic evolution is not logically contradictory, and says his critics take the opposite view. As I understand the terminology, saying that theistic evolution is not contradictory is just equivalent to saying that theistic evolution is logically possible. And since the only reason under consideration for why anyone would think theistic evolution is logically contradictory involves the undirectedness of mutations, I think we’re talking about the tiniest of baby steps to go from what he explicitly said to what I described.

      Consider these analogues:

      Sober: “There’s life on Mars” is logically compatible with “Mars has no atmosphere”. And BTW Mars has no atmosphere.
      Rosenhouse: Sober is just making the claim that it’s logically possible for there to be life on Mars.

      Sober: “Mars has an atmosphere” is logically compatible with “Mars has no atmosphere”. And BTW Mars has no atmosphere.
      Rosenhouse: Sober is just making the claim that it’s logically possible that Mars has an atmosphere.

      In your first analogy you inserted a “just” into my statement that does not belong. So let’s delete that.

      More to the point, though, your analogy does prompt me to revise what I said earlier. The statements that A and B are logically compatible coupled with the statement that B is true do not imply that it is logically possible that A is true, because there could be reasons totally unrelated to B that show A not to be logically possible. My bad. But that doesn’t change anything here. In the context of Sober’s presentation the clear implication was that the only reason anyone would think evolution is logically incompatible with an interventionist God is the problem of mutations.

      In your analogy, it would be as if Sober had said, “Mars has no atmosphere. Many people believe that it is logically impossible that there could be life on Mars based solely on the fact that Mars has no atmosphere. Actually, though, Mars not having an atmosphere is logically compatible with the idea that there is life on Mars.” In this scenario I would not consider it unfair to say that Sober is claiming that it is logically possible that there is life on Mars. (And no, I’m not going to add a caveat that there could be reasons why it is logically impossible for their to be life on Mars that the “Many people” haven’t thought of!)

      I don’t understand your second analogy. “Mars has an atmosphere,” is not logically compatible with, “Mars has no atmosphere.” As I understand the term “logically compatible,” to say that two propositions are logically compatible is to say that no contradiction is entailed by assuming both are true. Is that your definition?

    62. #62 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 13, 2012

      couchloc and Chris Schoen –

      Please note that my discussion of what it means for evolution to be silent about God was far more tentative than what I said in the rest of the post. And yes, Chris, given the definition of silent you describe I do agree with Sober that evolution is silent on the question of whether God exists. If this discussion were going on entirely within the confines of a philosophy department I would not have a problem with this. But I do have a problem with any notion that this technical definition is any help in allaying the fears of religious people with respect to evolution.

      What I was getting at in the post is that I think this technical definition of silent actually is pretty rarefied. Go back to my courtroom analogy. It is certainly true that you must add certain assumptions to go from the evidence itself to the conclusion that the suspect is guilty. But it is equally true that in everyday usage absolutely no one would think it’s correct to say that the evidence is silent on the question of the suspect’s guilt. The reason is that the sorts of assumptions you have to make to go from the evidence to the conclusion of guilt are so natural and obvious that it would just be silly to stop and point them out.

      Likewise here. The reason so many books get written about how to reconcile evolution and Christianity is because the jump from evolution to anti-Christian conclusions is so small and is bridged by assumptions that are so widely held that everyone can see the problems with a few moments of thought. Basically no one thinks religious people can just ignore evolution even though in some strict sense evolution is silent on the God question. There is a reasonable definition of the word silent with respect to which saying that evolution brings something to the conversation is just equivalent to saying that evolution is not silent. And that definition is the one that any non-philosopher is likely to have in mind.

    63. #63 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 13, 2012

      Nick –

      Evolution is a contribution to the problem of natural evil, not the problem of moral evil. So your remarks about genocide are not to the point. Also, the issue has more to do with animal suffering than animal death, and while you may not get depressed about it I’m sure you consider it a bad thing that should be avoided.

      The problem of natural evil existed before Darwin, but evolution shows that any response to it based entirely on human needs or human concerns is going to be inadequate. The questions, “Why does God allow people to do bad things to each other?” and “Why does God allow great suffering in the biosphere from animals preying on each other?” are different from the question, “Why does God do his creating through a mechanism that entails millions of years of suffering, savagery and bloodsport?”

      A common answer to the first question is the free will defense, while a common answer to the second one is that you can’t have a functioning biosphere without animal suffering and death. Even if we accept both of those claims, neither is an adequate answer to the third question. Plainly, then, evolution make a contribution to the problem of evil.

      To answer the third question you pretty much have to assume that God’s goals in creating the universe could only have been realized by creating through evolution. John Haught and Michael Ruse both make this argument. They are not very convincing in doing so, alas. Such an assumption also does not solve the problem since, as theologian Christopher Southgate points out in his book on this subject, God would not allow a creature to experience great suffering simply as a link in an evolutionary chain. (He hypothesizes animal heaven to try to get around this problem, so that an animal whose earthly life was all suffering and no richness will receive some justice in the afterlife.)

      My point is simply that you can not be cavalier about the effect of evolution on the problem of evil. The problem of evil as faced by theologians before Darwin is not the same problem they face after Darwin.

    64. #64 couchmar
      May 13, 2012

      Richard writes:

      “The problem is that Sober and I don’t see the logical compatibility claim as trivially true, but we do see the logical possibility claim as trivially true. So to Sober and me it makes a difference when you conflate the two claims.”

      This is a good point. Jason has made clear he thinks that both claims are trivially true. I take it Sober thinks the problem of logical compatibility is only apparent (and not real), and what makes his paper worthwhile is his explanation of this point. Now, note that Richard has indicated before that “many people find them [the claims in question] inconsistent” and I indicated that not having worked through this issue myself I see the prima facie difficulty here with the compatibility claim. So, this is what’s behind our different judgments of the worth of Sober’s paper. Jason thinks the accomplishment is trivial because there’s no problem here. But even if we agree with his analysis of Dennett and Provine (about which there are a few questions open, in my mind, although I see Jason’s point), it seems fair to say that Sober sees Dennett and Provine as representative of a more pervasive view. If that’s the case, and Richard is right that he and others find the logical compatibility claim nontrivial, then there’s something useful about Sober addressing this issue.

    65. #65 couchloc
      May 13, 2012

      @59

      “The question is not whether biology brings anything to the conversation. The question is whether biology itself, without any additional appeals to metaphysics, can make a pronouncement on the question of God. What Sober means by “silent” here isn’t all that rarified.”

      Exactly.

    66. #66 couchloc
      May 13, 2012

      Jason @62

      We’re in agreement then. As long as we don’t conflate the two definitions of “silent” I have no problem with this.

    67. #67 Tulse
      May 13, 2012

      One problem with Sober’s argument is that he is getting a lot of implicit connotative mileage out of the term “God”. I think that most folks would be far less sanguine about the claims (or at least, about their import) if he asserted that “it is logically possible that magic pixies guide evolution”, or “Quetzacoatl”, or “Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones”, even though the structure of the argument is precisely identical in all those cases.

      When one is discussing an abstract entity, it is very dangerous to apply a specific label, with specific conceptual baggage. Sober’s argument is not dependent on any particular Christian conception of a supernatural entity (indeed, i don’t see why it is limited to a single entity — it would also apply to a gaggle of invisible nano-gnomes, or an infinity of efreets, or a large lot of leprechauns). So using the term “god”, especially capitalized in the Christian manner, is at best confusing, and at worst disingenuous.

    68. #68 Chris Schoen
      May 13, 2012

      Jason,

      I know you can’t be proposing that we interpret Sober as arguing that evolution does not or cannot influence theological thinking. Could anyone reasonably deny that evolution “brings something to the conversation?” The fact that the Catholic Church, for example, now endorses most, if not all, the basic tenets of the modern synthesis, would suggest that evolution has never been “silent” in the way you want to read Sober. There would be no point in his mounting such an obvious and easily refutable absurdity.

      To your courtroom analogy: when the facts equally support the defense and prosecution, the jury has a responsibility to acquit. It may seem self-evident to those of a naturalist persuasion that the facts of evolution support the conclusion of naturalism, but Sober’s argument is that when you examine the matter more closely, it’s harder to justify this self-evidence. Evolution may suggest atheism, but it does not entail it. You’ve already agreed with this assertion above (“I do agree with Sober that evolution is silent on the question of whether God exists”), which leaves me confused about what your actual objection is. If it’s simply that theists might take aid and comfort from Sober’s argument, that’s an understandable concern, but Sober is answering to significant concerns if his own, among them that if we take evolution to entail atheism, we risk disallowing it to be taught in publicly funded schools, something the ID crowd is champing at the bit for. How do you propose he advance this concern?

    69. #69 Peter Beattie
      May 13, 2012

      Not sure how well-frequented the older post is, so I’ll cross-post this here:

      Interestingly, what Sober says (that science cannot disprove some godly ideas about the world, and that this is per se of interest) appears to be totally ignorant of the insights of one of the greats of the philosophy of science, Karl Popper. In the words of Ian Jarvie:

      Popper discovered that in purely logical or methodological terms the problem of demarcation was insoluble. (The Republic of Science, p. 13)

      Which means that it is not possible, by purely logical means, to separate ideas that contribute to the growth of knowledge from those that don’t. And that is because it is always possible, in a move that Popper called a “conventionalist stratagem”, to evade a logical conclusion—by denying the premises, by introducing ad-hoc auxiliary hypotheses, by obfuscation. The solution, then, cannot in any case be to try to make the logic watertight: logic cannot force me to accept the truth of any proposition; at best, it can force me to make a choice between accepting a conclusion and rejecting a premise. The best we can do in the search for growing objective knowledge is to make a methodological decision:

      What characterises science on this view is a social decision to allow the world to correct our ideas, and collateral decisions to eschew attempts to insulate those ideas from inconsistency and counter-example. (TRoS, p. 20)

      This is kind of my specialty, so I am continually astonished when fellow philosophers seem not to be aware that these thoughts even exist.

    70. #70 Michael Fugate
      May 13, 2012

      Pieret, sarcasm is still not an argument, neither is indignation, nor is claiming something is philosophy or theology instead of science.

      I certainly don’t disagree that a god could be compatible with anything, how could it not when we are making it up as we go along? If one creates a god that can do anything and everything, why is one surprised when someone concludes that it did any one thing?

    71. #71 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 13, 2012

      Chris –

      You’ve already agreed with this assertion above (“I do agree with Sober that evolution is silent on the question of whether God exists”), which leaves me confused about what your actual objection is.

      Once we understand the very narrow sense of the word “silent“ that Sober has in mind, we realize that once again he is making a trivial logical point that has never been in dispute. But he presents this point as if he is correcting some pervasive logical error from those on the other side. That’s my objection.

      Also, the statement, “Evolution is silent on the question of God’s existence” is true with respect to a very narrow definition of the word “silent”, but it is false with respect to a far more common and natural meaning of that word. So I would object that Sober is expressing himself in a way that is tailor-made to cause confusion.

    72. #72 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      May 13, 2012

      A claim that science makes or can’t make (is silent) logical statements on existence (whether of gods or of atoms) is, as Rosenhouse identifies, besides the point. The more interesting point is whether science can make empirical claims (whether of gods or of atoms).

      Famously, an empirical claim is not based on logical exclusion but empirical exclusion. Such exclusion is almost always done by way of a generally accepted degree of certainty (“rejected beyond reasonable doubt”). Rejection is almost always provisional at first, it is often the case that competing observations or theory have to be compared by way of measures such as parsimony. The rare exception is when mathematical comparison between accepted theories’ structures (Noether’s theorems) can make exclusion non-provisionally.

      The state of biology is that creationistic evolutionism, such as agency directing mutations for a purpose, can be rejected in the same way creationistic atomism or creationistic falling is.

      But here is where the gap between apologetics and science grows to be unbridgeable, as philosophy hasn’t kept up with the advances of science. It is no longer enough to tease out the difference between “directing” and “intervention” to push your gods into!

      The problem is as far as I understand it as follows. Quantum mechanics specifically forbids hidden variables. This means that even an exchange of times, say for radioactive decay, which keeps the distribution intact breaks energy conservation. Energy is an expression for the microstate permutations a system can undergo without interaction with the environment.

      Meaning that if there was no change in the environment, the laws of physics were locally interrupted. Well, duh – except that “local” means a tie to special relativity. Nothing, not laws nor gods can keep such a local event from unraveling the light cone physics.

      We can see that the claim to “intervene” explodes to forcing a Last Thursday rewrite and reboot of the universe, or today likely the multiverse by way of that energy condition.

      This is of course logically possible, but it is also empirically impossible to entertain. A more unparsimonious, outright ridiculous theory can’t be constructed. You would be laughed out of academy trying to support that one. And rightly so.

      @ Chris Shoen:

      Is evolution “atheist”?

      Not by logics, but by observation. It is certainly not in effect making a theological agnostic claim that it can’t tell whether gods are more likely or not. It is in effect making the atheist claim that gods are unlikely.

      _Obviously_ all of science is “atheist”, not “agnostic”, nowadays. The question is if it is “adeist”, a deism which is either trivially boring or trivially excluded with theism depending on your definition of deism.

    73. #73 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      May 13, 2012

      @ Chris Shoen:

      “Sober is answering to significant concerns if his own, among them that if we take evolution to entail atheism, we risk disallowing it to be taught in publicly funded schools, something the ID crowd is champing at the bit for. How do you propose he advance this concern?”

      Not by obfuscating on the science, obviously. It is immoral, easily revealed and exploitable, much as ID already do.

      Why would evolution be singled out except by religious exceptionalism? Math and other science are as much non-magic as regards mechanisms, and the latter as much non-magic as regards the likelihood that magic exists.

      And if religious exceptionalism is claimed to be the problem, is it an actual problem? Teaching religion is not allowed in science class, last I looked.

    74. #74 Gregory C. Mayer
      May 14, 2012

      Sober’s paper, ‘Evolution Without Naturalism’, has been published, in 2011 in an Oxford University Press volume: http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199603213.001.0001/acprof-9780199603213-chapter-10

    75. #75 Jason Rosenhouse
      May 14, 2012

      Thanks for providing the reference. It’s interesting that the paper was published as a contribution to the philosophy of religion.

    76. #76 Wow
      May 14, 2012

      “There are two basic worldviews: natural and supernatural”

      Supernatural isn’t a worldview. It’s a wish.

      Heaven, a supernatural realm, is not of this world, nor even of this reality. It is not a worldview.

    77. #77 Verbose Stoic
      May 14, 2012

      Jason,

      Thanks for providing the reference. It’s interesting that the paper was published as a contribution to the philosophy of religion.

      Why? It’s philosophy and it’s about God. What else should it be classified under?

    78. #78 Verbose Stoic
      May 14, 2012

      Jason,

      A few big issues here:

      The difference between (1) Sober claimed that it is logically possible that God is guiding the mutations and (2) Sober is making certain claims which trivially and immediately imply that it is logically possible that God is guiding the mutations, is too subtle for me.

      Well, think about it this way: (1) states that the point of Sober’s paper and the point he was trying to get across and prove was that it is logicaly possible that God is guiding the mutations, while (2) states simply that some of the things Sober says entail that without clamining that that is what Sober is trying to convey. Most of the objections to your statement seem, to me, to be aimed at denying that it is this trivial point that everyone agrees with that Sober was trying to convey in his paper. It simply does not seem to be the case that Sober was hoping that, at the end of the day, everyone reading his paper would come to that conclusion, and if that’s true, then we need to figure out what he was really trying to get at. Which, from the abstract posted, seems to be about challenges to metaphysical naturalism.

      Also, in the paper Sober notes that theistic evolution is not logically contradictory, and says his critics take the opposite view. As I understand the terminology, saying that theistic evolution is not contradictory is just equivalent to saying that theistic evolution is logically possible.

      Well, it implies it but is not equivalent to it, and more to the point does not need to be the point Sober is trying to convey. It seems to be more the case that you can say that theistic evolution is, in fact, evolution, which at least some people — Stenger tends to be the strongest on this — sometimes deny. It also can be used to convey the idea that someone can indeed believe both in God and in evolution without having any contradiction — or, at least, any important one — in their worldviews, and so you can have a worldview that is both theistic and includes evolution without any necessary fear of cognitive dissonance, which it seems to me many of the incompatibilists at least partially deny (see Coyne’s responses to claims that there are theistic scientists, for example).

      In your analogy, it would be as if Sober had said, “Mars has no atmosphere. Many people believe that it is logically impossible that there could be life on Mars based solely on the fact that Mars has no atmosphere. Actually, though, Mars not having an atmosphere is logically compatible with the idea that there is life on Mars.” In this scenario I would not consider it unfair to say that Sober is claiming that it is logically possible that there is life on Mars.

      But that’s still working off the “implication” line. There’s nothing in that that actually claims that. All it says is that while many people think that there being no atmosphere on Mars ENTAILS that there can’t be life on Mars, the evidence doesn’t actually support that. So, then, a claim COULD be made that it implies that it is indeed logically possible for there to be life when there is no atmosphere, but that seems a secondary point to the actual claim that the argument that there can’t be life if there is no atmosphere is at best under-evidenced.

      Go back to my courtroom analogy. It is certainly true that you must add certain assumptions to go from the evidence itself to the conclusion that the suspect is guilty. But it is equally true that in everyday usage absolutely no one would think it’s correct to say that the evidence is silent on the question of the suspect’s guilt.

      I think it would be useful here to talk about “circumstantial evidence”. Circumstantial evidence can raise questions about certain claims and certain other evidence, but cannot in and of itself prove the guilt of the party. Sober’s claim here, I think, would be more that the evidence given is circumstantial, without denying that it does limit the interpretations you can have and that it may eliminate some theories altogether. And so, no, Christians can’t ignore the circumstantial evidence of evolution, but neither is it justified in saying that this is non-circumstantial evidence either.

      As for the use of the word “silent”, one of the first things you learn in doing philosophy is that you really need to look at the context to decide what words mean, because in philosophy almost every term can become a technical term. For example, try using the term “happiness” in the same way when dealing with Utilitarians and Stoics and you’ll see that they use essentially the same word in completely different ways.

    79. #79 Claudiu Bandea
      May 14, 2012

      Elliott Sober’s argument for the logical possibility of God-guided mutations has ignited a lot of ink and mental effort, both here and at other sites.

      I wonder if Environment-guided mutations, a more down-to-Earth presumption, can get a fraction of that attention. As a primer, I’m posting here as very shot paper I published two decades ago:

      Bandea, CI. A Mechanim for Adaptive Mutagenesis. Medical Hypotheses, 31:243, 1990

      Can organisms mutate adaptively in response to a selective agent? Four decades ago, Luria and Delbruck (1943) showed that in bacteria, and presumably in all organisms, mutations appear to be random. This notion is one of the basic principles of modern evolutionary theory.

      Recently, Cairns, Overbaugh and Miller (1988) challenged this notion by suggesting that “cells may have mechanisms for choosing which mutations will occur.”

      In this paper, I propose that transcription might be a mechanism by which organisms could discriminately increase the mutation rate of some of their genes in response to changes in the environment. An increase in the mutation rate would generate the genetic diversity necessary for rapid adaptation and evolution.

      Cells possess several repair mechanisms for reducing the mutation rate (3). A decrease in the repair efficiency would result in an increased rate of mutations. Transcription may interfere with the repair process by obstructing the activity of repair enzymes. Transcription interference has been reported in other cases (4, 5).

      During transcription, the DNA template becomes locally single stranded which makes it more susceptible to attack by some mutagenic agents. This is another way in which transcription may increase the rate of mutation.

      Therefore, the environment, by controlling the transcription rate of some genes, may influence their mutation rate and evolution.

      References
      1. Luria SE, Delbruck M. Mutations of bacteria from virus sensitivity to virus resistance. Genetics 28:491, 1943.
      2. Cairns J, Overbaugh J, Miller S. The origin of mutants. Nature 335:142, 1988.
      3. Sancar A, Sancar GB. DNA repair enzymes. Annula Reviews of Biochemistry 57:29, 1988.
      4. Bateman E, Paule MR. Promoter occlusion during ribosomal RNA transcription. Cell 54:985, 1988.
      5. Brewer B, Fangman WL. A replication fork barrier at the 3’ end of yeast ribosomal RNA genes. Cell 55:637, 1988.

    80. #80 Dan L.
      May 14, 2012

      This seems pretty simple:
      1. What is Sober trying to say? That the notion of God-guided evolution is not contradictory as long as we accept the premise that God is doing it in such a way as to be completely undetectable.
      2. Who denies this? No one at all. It would be foolish because, by assumption, we cannot demonstrate that it is not true.
      3. What positive reasons can be adduced for the truth of such a proposition outside of received religious traditions which are clearly biased sources? None whatsoever.

      Sober’s argument is trivially true and does not affect any part of the debate in the least.

    81. #81 Verbose Stoic
      May 14, 2012

      Dan L.,

      1. What is Sober trying to say? That the notion of God-guided evolution is not contradictory as long as we accept the premise that God is doing it in such a way as to be completely undetectable.

      This is too strong a claim. Sober is likely simply saying that based on the evidence we have we can’t decide one way or another, not that it must be in principle undetectable. You need not accept as an axiom that there is no way to detect it, or make that an unchallengeable premise, but merely not that based on the current evidence we have wrt mutations we simply cannot decide the question.

      2. Who denies this? No one at all. It would be foolish because, by assumption, we cannot demonstrate that it is not true.

      Sober certainly is not saying that it must be done by assumption, but rather by argument, since he thinks that he, at least, must argue for that.

      3. What positive reasons can be adduced for the truth of such a proposition outside of received religious traditions which are clearly biased sources? None whatsoever.

      Which, it seems to me, is in fact the actual irrelevant thing here. This is the dishonest retreat from a stronger claim of “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist” to a weak “Well, you haven’t proven that God exists yet”. Few dispute that biology has not proven that God exists, but do dispute that it has proven in any sense — weak or strong — that He doesn’t.

    82. #82 Dan L.
      May 14, 2012

      This is too strong a claim. Sober is likely simply saying that based on the evidence we have we can’t decide one way or another, not that it must be in principle undetectable. You need not accept as an axiom that there is no way to detect it, or make that an unchallengeable premise, but merely not that based on the current evidence we have wrt mutations we simply cannot decide the question.

      I think you mean the axiom need not be explicit.

      Put it this way. What evidence would convince you that interventionism is false? If there is none whatsoever, or if it requires an unreasonable degree of certainty, then the distinction you’re trying to make here is insubstantial. More importantly, all evidence — all empirical claims — entail myriad implicit ceteris paribus clauses. No matter what evidence is produced, theists can always challenge that evidence by claiming one of these clauses is false. If they insist no evidence is required for such an argument then naturalists can only insist they are being unreasonable; there is no other way to advance the argument from this point.

      At that point, why not just say “well it’s a matter of faith” and stop worrying about compatibility entirely?

      Sober certainly is not saying that it must be done by assumption, but rather by argument, since he thinks that he, at least, must argue for that.

      No, the assumption is explicitly part of his argument. I don’t know why he thinks he has to argue this, but he doesn’t because so far no one has disagreed with him.

      Which, it seems to me, is in fact the actual irrelevant thing here. This is the dishonest retreat from a stronger claim of “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist” to a weak “Well, you haven’t proven that God exists yet”. Few dispute that biology has not proven that God exists, but do dispute that it has proven in any sense — weak or strong — that He doesn’t.

      It’s not dishonest or a retreat. “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist” is still true. The fact that we cannot eliminate some logically possible harmonization of evolution and theism doesn’t mean that evolution gives us no good reasons to think God doesn’t exist.

      “Well, you haven’t proven that God exists yet” must be a stronger argument than you admit considering how often i’ve encountered “Well you haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist” posed as a completely serious argument against atheism. “God hasn’t been proven” is at least as good as that one, but many logical arguments about parsimony and burden of proof suggests that it’s actually MUCH, MUCH better.

      I don’t think logical proof is actually possible outside purely constructed domains such as formal systems in mathematics so your last point is not interesting or relevant.

    83. #83 Wow
      May 14, 2012

      “Sober is likely simply saying that based on the evidence we have we can’t decide one way or another”

      If he is, he’s wrong.

      We CAN decide that God is working at a level indistinguishable from no action, therefore he’s deliberately hiding his ministrations (after the big showpieces of “creating everything”, “flooding everything” and “making that bush burn and speak”, he decided that, as soon as we could detect whether he was doing something, he’d scale back so we couldn’t.

      Is he chicken or something?

    84. #84 Dan L.
      May 14, 2012

      @VS:

      Let me be perfectly clear. I agree with Descartes that I cannot be sure that I am not a brain in a vat — and that this is the absolute limit of my certainty.

      So I would not say (echoing our last discussion) that I know God doesn’t exist. I’m simply almost as certain God doesn’t exist as I am that I’m not a brain in a vat.

      I’m just saying this so that you know logical possibility is a red herring from my perspective. There’s very little that I would rule out as logically impossible. So “logically possible” is an incredibly weak evidential status from my perspective.

    85. #85 Chris Schoen
      May 14, 2012

      But he presents this point as if he is correcting some pervasive logical error from those on the other side. That’s my objection.

      Perhaps the precise point is not in dispute, but given how often prominent biologists and educators appear to legitimize the idea that biology has falsified theism (for example by saying as Coyne does that an absence of evidence is evidence of absence), it seems an important reminder that this does not logically follow, that such statements are not philosophically consistent with our “trivial, logical point,” which renders it suddenly a whole lot less trivial.

      You seem to feel this is pedantic but the point is not an exercise in ivory-tower hair-splitting, but rather a tactical move in the debate on how we sell evolution to a skeptical public. I don’t ask you to agree with Sober’s argument or strategy, but it does not seem accurate to me to cast his reasoning as “esoteric” in this context. It is meant (or so it seems to me) as a direct response to the oft-implied argument that evolution entails philosophical naturalism. If our concern is what might “cause confusion,” it seems legitimate to counter the argument that theism and science “cannot be reconciled” (Coyne), that they “have totally opposing views of the world” (Stenger), with the observation that there is nothing to logically demand this.

      Coyne likes to complain that when the NSCE promotes compatibility between science and religion, they are being “theological.” Sober’s reply is that they are merely making a logical observation. One would think that this wouldn’t need pointing out, given that modern evolutionary theory was in large part invented by theists (Fisher, Dobzhansky, Wallace) and other non-naturalists (Haldane).

      As long as a biologist does not challenge the principle that mutations are statistically random, and as long as she takes pains to aver that her theological beliefs are not in any way empirical, there need be no conflict on a scientific level. On the metaphysical level, of course, it’s World War Three, but that’s a horse of a different color. Do you not agree?

    86. #86 eric
      May 14, 2012

      Nick @47:

      No one is going around bashing the Christians over the head about meteorology or chemistry or stream hydrology or electromagnetism — even though the Christians think all these natural processes are under the ultimate control of God, while simultaneously being random, undirected, purposeless, etc., in the everyday way that any natural process is considered to be so. Even the Gnus give them a pass on this

      What are you talking about? Nobody gives Christians a pass on claims of guided meteorology – not even other Christians!! When folks like Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson claimed that God guided hurricane Katrina, lots of people – not just gnus – rejected that outright. We get told (by other Christians) how attributing Katrina to God’s hidden guidance is terrible theology.

      Same thing in epidemiology: when some preacher says AIDS is sent by god as punishment, again, religious moderates get up in arms about how that’s not so. They complain that someone would dare attribute God’s hidden guidance to the apparently unguided physical process of microorganism evolution.

      Yet when it comes to human evolution, moderate Christians change their tune, and demand everyone respect a position that they themselves attack when the subject isn’t humans.

      You’re just wrong, Nick. Almost everyone bashes Christians who claim secret guided weather control – even other Christians. And I’d be perfectly happy if scientists gave claims that God guided evolution the exact same reception that moderate Christians gave claims that God guided hurrican Katrina – namely, a big, fat, raspberry.

      ***

      And at the risk of beating my pet horse half to death, you’ve still got the exceptionalism problem. Nobody thinks the lack-of-evidence-against or logical-compatibility or whatever you want to call it is a good reason to accommodate fairies or leprechauns or Thor the way you think it is a good reason to accommodate Christianity.

      You have yet to give ANY response to why this is so. Sober’s argument supports accommodation of bigfoot, fairies, and Thor just as much as it supports accommodation of Yahweh. Why should scientists accommodate these entities differently? Why should science accommate a hiddenly guiding Yahweh any more than it accommodates a hidden galactic dictator Xenu?

    87. #87 Wow
      May 14, 2012

      “but given how often prominent biologists and educators appear to legitimize the idea that biology has falsified theism”

      Why is this to be “given”?

      It’s not true.

      Prominent biologists and educators may appear TO YOU to be doing that, but that’s because you xtians love the persecution complex.

      What is happening in the real world is that these biologists and educators falsifies the story of the creationists.

      Falsified the claims in the bible that are, frankly, wrong.

      Falsified many forms of theistic postulation, indeed every single one that has been sufficiently explained to make any prediction whatsoever.

      But NONE OF THEM say it falsifies any God whatsoever.

      Because they aren’t falsifying God. That’s your persecution complex showing. They’re proving biology.

    88. #88 Dan L.
      May 14, 2012

      ober’s argument supports accommodation of bigfoot, fairies, and Thor just as much as it supports accommodation of Yahweh. Why should scientists accommodate these entities differently?

      Because millions of people have believed in Yahweh for thousands of years, which is completely unlike your examples because…

      …oh wait, that’s not really any different than any of your examples except Xenu. Carry on.

    89. #89 Deepak Shetty
      May 14, 2012

      @Kel
      I really don’t see why logical consistency is anything worth striving for. Plausibility ought to be the bare minimum target.
      Heh exactly. Sober has to admit that there is a logical possibility that he is wrong(or ofcourse provide irrefutable proof). Which would mean, by his own admission, that there is a logical possibility that evolution is not silent over God guided mutations. So it is logically possible that evolution is and is not silent about God guided mutations.

    90. #90 eric
      May 14, 2012

      Dan – snark aside, there’s a good point in what you say. As far as I can tell, Nick is sticking to philosophical and scientific arguments for accommodation, because those are strong points. He could, at any time, give the weaker socio-political reason. I.e., we (should) accommodate Yahweh-belief more than others because Christians have more numbers, money, and political power – both inside and outside the scientific community. If science wants to promote sound science education, we need those numbers, money, and political power. I.e., that politics makes strange bedfellows.

      To my mind, that would be a much more honest justification for accommodationism. It does come with a huge disadvantage, though – admitting its your reason could very easily tick off the very people you want to enlist as allies.

    91. #91 Phil
      May 14, 2012

      “Evolution and selection operate precisely as you’d expect them to if they were not designed by, or steered by, a deity.” (Jerry Coyne)

      NickMazke asks a very good question in post #47: “How does Coyne know precisely what a deity guiding mutations in an ultimate sense would look like?”

      And I think Coyne’s statement and ones like it are the kinds of views that inspired Sober in the first place. It’s actually a vacuous, pointless statement, if you think about it.

      Jason writes in #63 “Evolution is a contribution to the problem of natural evil, not the problem of moral evil.”

      I don’t think I understand this. Evolution pretty much destroys the Christian concept of Original Sin, for one thing, and thus obviates a need for Christ’s sacrifice. That’s kind of Ground Zero for moral evil for a lot of people, isn’t it? Further, there are evolutionary explanations (whether they are true or not is another question) for moral systems. Maybe I just misunderstood what you were trying to say ?

    92. #92 Dan L.
      May 14, 2012

      He could, at any time, give the weaker socio-political reason. I.e., we (should) accommodate Yahweh-belief more than others because Christians have more numbers, money, and political power – both inside and outside the scientific community.

      Yeah, Chris Shoen seems to be pretty much arguing (supportively) that this is in fact a PR move, not a principled argument for the possibility of theism — and I tend to agree. That’s what Sober’s argument seemed to me from the get-go.

      Which is frustrating to those like me who are sincerely interested in the question of whether atheism or theism is more plausible. From a political point of view, it’s better for accomodationists if this question isn’t honestly explored — simply because of the mere possibility that good arguments might be adduced against theism. Better for the accomodationists that the whole issue be hidden in a cloud of dirt. And it seems to me that’s exactly why Sober, Matzke, and others are trying to kick so much of it up.

      I don’t care about politics. I care about what’s true. I really wish we could have a serious epistemological discussion about whether theism could be true and how we could know if it is but we can’t because that’s exactly what certain participants in this discussion seem to be trying to avoid.

    93. #93 Tulse
      May 14, 2012

      I really wish we could have a serious epistemological discussion about whether theism could be true and how we could know if it is

      Surely just one major Old Testament miracle (e.g., parting seas, destroying cities, flooding planets) would be significant evidence for theism, no? The only reason we are having this debate is precisely because we don’t have any such evidence. Theists have had to retreat to the realm of mere logical possibility because epistemically they have nothing.

    94. #94 Dan L.
      May 14, 2012

      @Tulse:

      Well, you can probably guess that I personally agree with you. But I’m willing to entertain a wide variety of arguments and I’m willing not to hold theism to quite the degree of empirical skepticism that I might maintain for bigfoot sightings.

      In other words, I’m bending over backwards to admit arguments for theism and I still haven’t seen any worth the time it takes to read them.

    95. #95 eric
      May 14, 2012

      Phil @91:

      NickMazke asks a very good question in post #47: “How does Coyne know precisely what a deity guiding mutations in an ultimate sense would look like?”
      And I think Coyne’s statement and ones like it are the kinds of views that inspired Sober in the first place. It’s actually a vacuous, pointless statement, if you think about it.

      Christian theologians should be telling scientists what God’s action on the world look like. This is a very basic responsibility of anyone making an empirical claim – it is your job to articulate your hypothesis in a clear manner.

      Nor does uncertainty absolve theologians of this responsibility. If they aren’t sure about how God would act, then they should give us their best hypothesis first. If it turns out to be wrong, we can move on to less biblically-well supported variants.* But not knowing which variant may turn out to be right is no excuse for not articulating the variants clearly.

      “Step 1, give a vague or contradictory definition of your concept. Step 2, any time someone comes up with an argument against one variation of your concept, claim they got the concept wrong” is right from the ID/creationist playbook. I doubt he’s thought about it this way, but Nick is defending God using the same strategy IDers use to defend ID.

      Let’s be honest here, Coyne is not positing any unusual or out of the ordinary when he posits Yahweh acting in discernable and obvious ways. The god of the old testament and new testament does not behave in a particularly hidden manner. Many or most of his followers today do not believe in a deistic sort of God indistinguishable from instrument noise, either. If Coyne is making an error in implying that nature-with-God would look different from nature-without-God, well, this is an error supported by multiple biblical events and the beliefs of a plurality of believers.

      *Arguably, we are already 90% of the way through this process, having eliminated all the notions of God which act in reproducible and obvious ways. Like, um, parting oceans, blasting cities, and ressurrecting people. We have already been through the top umpteen variants of god-concepts, and are down to the barebones, deistic ones.

    96. #96 Chris Schoen
      May 14, 2012

      Dan L. @92,

      In what way are “politics” and “truth” quarantined from each other? It seems true enough to me that there is an ongoing need for good scientists, and furthermore that good scientists need not be metaphysical naturalists. It’s also true that fundamentalist Christians would love to promulgate the idea that evolution is inherently atheistic. Do you really not care for the “politics” of this situation?

      None of this means that a contemporaneous conversation about theism versus naturalism can’t also take place. We can all walk and chew gum here, right? Why must “adducing good arguments against theism” and acknowledging that theists can make good biologists be zero sum? Why must we accuse philosophers of being indifferent to any problem they aren’t currently arguing for?

      Most importantly, perhaps, why must it be “unprincipled” to argue something that is true–logical compatibility–in the service of good ends, while presenting no conflict with other equally good ends? Why presume subterfuge and deceit, rather than a disposition for a pragmatic approach? I see nothing in this that “accomodates” belief any more than it accomodates conservativism any time a Republican gets cast in a Hollywood movie. Good acting is good acting, good science is good science. There will always be doctrinal disputes. Setting up ideological purity tests in advance just feeds the persecution complex, and then we never get to even have the conversations about truth you say you want.

    97. #97 eric
      May 14, 2012

      Chris Schoen:

      Most importantly, perhaps, why must it be “unprincipled” to argue something that is true–logical compatibility–in the service of good ends, while presenting no conflict with other equally good ends? Why presume subterfuge and deceit, rather than a disposition for a pragmatic approach?

      I’m not Dan, but here’s the way I see it. One can argue like a lawyer or debater: present the absolutely best case for the position you take, and let your opponents worry about pointing out any potential holes in it. There’s nothing necessarily unethical about this, it’s just the way those sorts of professions work. They are adversarial.

      Science is not. In science, the PI is supposed to include in their argument (journal article) all the important caveats and boundary conditions. All the problems; all the dirty laundry. If their argument leads to a problem with some other experiment or theory, they are supposed to point that out. Whereas giving the jury the best arguments against your case would be unethical for a lawyer, its expected of a scientist. (Likewise, not mentioning important evidence that didn’t fit your preferred conclusion would be unethical for a scientist, but its practically expected of a lawyer).

      Sober is leaving out things that would be very important to his audience. He’s leaving out that science is equally ‘logically consistent’ with a lot of other beliefs which we don’t give any credence to. Like Leprechauns. Don’t you think people should be told that – by Sober? He’s also leaving out that the God he’s talking about bears practically zero resemblance to the fundie god, and precious little resemblance to even a mainstream Christian God. Sober’s God does not perform detectable miracles. Yet Christians who don’t accept evolution are the very people he’s specifically trying to reach! Don’t you think THEY should be told that the God he’s talking is one that never caused a flood, never got born of a virgin, never walked on water or rose from the dead?

      So, Sober is arguing like a lawyer. I’m not accusing him of behaving unethically, but he is certainly leaving out a lot of important stuff that – if this was science we were talking about – we scientists would expect the PI to bring up themselves. He’s presenting the very best case for his position he can, without the dirty laundry. Which is okay in a debate, but not okay in science.

    98. #98 Verbose Stoic
      May 15, 2012

      eric,

      The problem is that you are claiming that Sober leaves out important things only because YOU think they’re important. Sober likely thinks that they’re tangential to his actual point and so likely to either be distractions or irrelevancies. Thus, instead of simply complaining that he leaves them out and so is simply not addressing challenges, more effort should be spent on figuring out what he’s actually saying and if it matters.

      To go through your points:

      He’s leaving out that science is equally ‘logically consistent’ with a lot of other beliefs which we don’t give any credence to. Like Leprechauns. Don’t you think people should be told that – by Sober?

      Why? Sober’s not saying that that argument means that the belief in God should be given credence. He’s simply saying that it isn’t the evidence for or the theory of evolution that does this, but it is instead other things that do that. He explicitly denies that this consistency makes belief plausible or true, as Jason quoted:

      In saying that theistic evolutionism is logically consistent, I am not saying that it is plausible or true.

      So, then, how is that different from saying the same thing about Bigfoot or leprechauns, and why should he be explicit about your sort of examples when he states quite clearly that it is not plausibility or truth that he is defending here?

      He’s also leaving out that the God he’s talking about bears practically zero resemblance to the fundie god, and precious little resemblance to even a mainstream Christian God.

      While the former is likely true, the latter is highly debatable considering the mainstream Christian views — like Catholicism — that support at theistic evolutionary line. He is fairly clear, as far as I can tell from Jason’s quotes, how God has to be interacting in the world to be consistent with evolution. Those concepts that can fit it will — like Catholicism — and those that can’t won’t. End of story.

      Sober’s God does not perform detectable miracles.

      Do you have a quote for where he actually says that? Since he allows for God to actually interact in the world, there is no reason for him to argue that God performs no detectable miracles at all, nor for him to take any naturalistic stance. All he’s saying, as far as I can see from the quotes that Jason and Coyne have posted, is that in evolution God-guided mutations and random ones are indistinguishable based on the evidence we have. You seem to be taking his point further than at least he needs to take it, and likely further than he himself intends to take it.

      Don’t you think THEY should be told that the God he’s talking is one that never caused a flood, never got born of a virgin, never walked on water or rose from the dead?

      Again, where does Sober say this?

      So, for many of them you seem to be reading into his points your views and not his. That’s the sort of thing that leads to replies like “You really need to read more carefully”.

    99. #99 Verbose Stoic
      May 15, 2012

      Dan L.,

      Put it this way. What evidence would convince you that interventionism is false? If there is none whatsoever, or if it requires an unreasonable degree of certainty, then the distinction you’re trying to make here is insubstantial.

      Well, I think that by asking this question you simply miss my point. I’m simply saying that you don’t have to think that it is undetectable in principle to argue that as things stand right now we can’t tell the difference. So, to cast it more as “What would prove interventionism true?”, I can think of, say, statistical analysis of cases where mutations were introduced just in time to propogate before a major environmental shift. Too many of these and interventionism becomes the more plausible explanation. Or mutations that occur and propogate despite not being overly beneficial, because they attach to traits that are. Again, while we might expect this occur occasionally, this happening too frequently seems to suggest active intervention. And so on and so forth.

      Now, we don’t have this data, and don’t seem to have any way to actually get this data. We have no records and no way, as far as I know, to get this sort of information. So we can settle it. But we can see from this that the “random” theory is actually pretty weak, as it’s a “this just happened” argument … which may be true, but is itself really hard to prove and even harder to falsify.

      It’s not dishonest or a retreat. “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist” is still true.

      If it is, then you don’t need to turn around and demand extra evidence from theists, as you can then simply demonstrate that your claim is true and theists can still simply argue against that.

      “Well, you haven’t proven that God exists yet” must be a stronger argument than you admit considering how often i’ve encountered “Well you haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist” posed as a completely serious argument against atheism.

      I’m really not sure why you think I’d have to accept that it’s a good argument because other people do and use it …

      Anyway, arguments of that type are good arguments in specific cases: cases where someone is claiming to have either proven that God exists or that God doesn’t exist. Then, pointing out that all they’ve done is shown that God may or may not exist but haven’t actually proven their claim is a very valid and proper response, keeping the burden of proof on the person making a claim. However, it is a TERRIBLE response when you are, in fact, the one making the strong claim. In this case, Sober is replying to people who he at least perceives as making a claim like “Evolution shows that God doesn’t exist” and is simply saying “No, it doesn’t.” Demanding that Sober prove that God exists is a terrible response as it does nothing to buttress that initial claim, and merely shifts the burden of proof, or at least attempts to. And Sober and others can quite rightly say that since they didn’t make the strong claim that you are asking them to defend, they have no obligation to defend that claim.

      This is why I call it dishonest: it’s shifting the debate ground despite the fact that the other side is the one who was making a stronger claim, which they are now retreating from in order to force their opponents to accept the burden of proof. And it’s bad no matter who does it in those cases, like the one I think Sober is in.

      I’m just saying this so that you know logical possibility is a red herring from my perspective. There’s very little that I would rule out as logically impossible. So “logically possible” is an incredibly weak evidential status from my perspective.

      But Sober isn’t using it as evidential status. He’s using it as a reply to people who he thinks are making stronger claims about God and the relation between God and evolution.

    100. #100 Phil
      May 15, 2012

      eric@95

      Christian theologians should be telling scientists what God’s action on the world look like. This is a very basic responsibility of anyone making an empirical claim – it is your job to articulate your hypothesis in a clear manner.

      I disagree. It is Jerry Coyne making an empirical claim. He says he knows — with precision! — how the world would look without the interventions of a designer. A designer he not only doesn’t define, but one he doesn’t believes exists. It is an empty claim.

      “Let’s be honest here,” when you try to put the onus on unnamed theologians to back up empirical claims they did not make, you are giving Jerry Coyne a free pass to bloviate with impunity. The funny thing is, I agree with Coyne that there almost certainly is no deity, but I would never assert that the world looks precisely as it should absent a deity, because how the hell would I know?

    101. #101 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      I would never assert that the world looks precisely as it should absent a deity, because how the hell would I know?

      Exactly! I mean, it is completely conceivable that Thor is undetectably responsible for lightning, rather than purely naturalistic conditions — how the hell would I know? And maybe Poseidon is the actual unseen hand that actually causes drownings and shipwrecks — it’s possible, right, and how should I know he doesn’t? And we can assert that it is at least a hypothesis that invisible pixies paint on each dewdrop in the morning, and that rainbows really do end at pots of leprechaun gold, because hey, how would we know what the world would look like if it did?

      Your argument essentially ignores the fact that the interlocking web of non-supernatural explanations we call science has done a remarkably brilliant job at describing the world. Any possible gods have been chased into ever smaller gaps. The notion that the success of a purely naturalistic science gives us no confidence that the world involves no supernatural entities seems like willful blindness.

    102. #102 eric
      May 15, 2012

      VS:

      The problem is that you are claiming that Sober leaves out important things only because YOU think they’re important.

      Well, of course. It would be hypocritical for me to argue that leaving out something I find trivial was a grave error on Sober’s part.

      So, yes, its my personal opinion that evangelical and mainstream christians that don’t yet accept evolution (accommodationist’s target audience) would find it significant and important that when Sober talks about “God,” he’s really talking about a God that only affects evolution via statistically undetectable tweaks (and I hope this rephrasing better captures the narrow claim of Sober’s we are arguing about).

      Its also my personal opinion that saying “God is logically consistent with science” sends a very different message to your audience than saying “God is as logically consistent with scence as invisible leprechauns.” Sober is saying the former but his argument implies the latter. I personally think he should explain the full context up front.

      Here’s why: I presume that accommodationists want to educate their audience. I presume they want evangelicals to make a fully informed and rational choice to accept evolution. I presume their objective is not to win evangelicals over by being better at using debating tricks and being good at sweeping positional issues the evangelicals might find important under the rug. If those presumptions are correct, then accommodationists should argue like scientists; they should bring up the caveats and implications of their arguments that evangelicals might object to, not just the parts of the argument evangelicals might like. And if there is some debate and question about whether some issue might be important to this audience, accommodationists should err on the side of caution and bring it up. Because if your goal is informed choice, it is better to inform them of some caveat they don’t care about, than not-inform them of some caveat they would care about.

    103. #103 Verbose Stoic
      May 15, 2012

      eric,

      I really think you should take a look at your own responses before criticizing anyone else’s style of argument, because your reply to my entire post is aimed entirely around this sentence:

      The problem is that you are claiming that Sober leaves out important things only because YOU think they’re important.

      And your reply is a sophistic (read: like a lawyer):

      Well, of course. It would be hypocritical for me to argue that leaving out something I find trivial was a grave error on Sober’s part.

      It’s sophistic because it replies as if that was the entire point and thrust of my reply. Which, as we can see in the original context, it wasn’t:

      The problem is that you are claiming that Sober leaves out important things only because YOU think they’re important. Sober likely thinks that they’re tangential to his actual point and so likely to either be distractions or irrelevancies. Thus, instead of simply complaining that he leaves them out and so is simply not addressing challenges, more effort should be spent on figuring out what he’s actually saying and if it matters.

      So, I pointed out, essentially — and politely — that just because YOU think these things are important doesn’t mean that Sober does, and so you need to spend more time trying to figure out what he’s actually saying and thus arguing that they really do matter. You don’t, in fact, do that. You move to rhetorical flourishes about wanting to educate their audience and about not using debating tricks or sweeping things under the rug, none of which do one whit to establish that for the point Sober is trying to make those things are relevant. You base most of your rhetoric on both assuming that he is in an important sense an accommodationist, and that he’s an accommodationist of a sort where these things need to be said, none of which you establish.

      Which is particularly bad in light of the fact that it’s a complete 180 from your initial post and what I criticized, where you were very specific about his claims and why it supposedly mattered and where my reply was very specific about challenging that, including asking you on no less than TWO specific occasions to demonstrate that Sober is saying what you claimed he was saying. You, of course, completely ignored that, without even a “I’ll get to this later when I’ve had the time to look it up”. As such, it would be easy for me to simply accuse you of not even reading my reply before attacking it, and thus replying with utter irrelevancies with rhetorical flourish instead of addressing points. Or, in other words, debating.

      So, then, why should we take you as someone who can proclaim on Sober what he is and isn’t doing and what model he is or isn’t following when you seem to violate your own standards?

    104. #104 eric
      May 15, 2012

      Phil

      It is Jerry Coyne making an empirical claim. He says he knows — with precision! — how the world would look without the interventions of a designer.

      He’s saying that because people have proposed a designer.

      Now it’s true that as long as theologians stay vague about the who, what, where, when, and hows, Jerry can only make educated guesses about the designer they are proposing. A theologian can always retreat by saying ‘the god you’re arguing against is not my god.’ But the problem (of Jerry getting it wrong) only arises because the person making the God-claim is either incapable of, or unwilling to, provide a clear and detailed hypothesis. What their designer is, what it did, how it did it, and what evidence might distingish their hypothesized entity from the null hypothesis.

      Now to be fair, Sober has made a pretty clear claim. That gave Jason and Jerry a legitimate opening to discuss that claim. They came back and said they agree that Sober’s god is not logically inconsistent with evolution. But they also said they find Sober’s god to be somewhat trivial.

      ***

      Now, if religious folk didn’t make stronger claims (than Sober’s) about God’s nature or actions, then you’d be right, Jerry and Jason would not have much to object to.

      But religious folk do make stronger claims. Tri-omni is a stronger claim than just deism, and people make it. Jason is responding to a common conception of God when he attacks the tri-omni deity, not just making up a straw man. Turn on the TV after any disaster, and you’ll find stronger claims about God – both as causer of the event, and as savior from the event. Your run of the mill believer does not believe in Sober’s god, they believe in a much more interventionist deity.

      I would never assert that the world looks precisely as it should absent a deity, because how the hell would I know?

      You don’t know that a deity couldn’t look like a non-deity. But you can, like Voltaire, point out that science has no need of that hypothesis. And you can, like Tulse, point out that it is irrational to give more weight to one such hypothetical deity than all the others. The rational thing to do is to treat all such hypotheses the same. Treat Yahweh as you do leprechauns – or treat leprechauns with the same respect you treat Yahweh. Do either, I don’t really care which – but be rationally consistent about how you treat such entities.

    105. #105 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      just because YOU think these things are important doesn’t mean that Sober does

      Sober seems to think it important to refer to the singular Christian deity by name, rather than frame his argument in its most general terms. As I noted earlier, he is getting a lot of mileage out of borrowing the connotations associated with the Christian deity, rather than making clear that his argument also covers magic invisible pixies and Quetzacoatl. In other words, it isn’t an actual argument for “God” in specific, and so shouldn’t be presented as such

      If I said that “you can’t discount the possibility that Verbose Stoic is an axe murderer and cheats on his or her taxes”, it would be disingenuous of me if the arguments made could apply to anyone, including Gandhi and Harry Potter.

    106. #106 eric
      May 15, 2012

      VS – I think I did respond to your other points, albeit I didn’t include blockquotes. My ‘here’s why’ is a direct response to your second and third paragraphs in @98. You don’t think Sober needs to make the comparative statements I think he should. You asked why he should do that. So I told you why. And in response to your points about this being about evolution (4th, 5th and 6th paragraphs of @98), I narrowed my argument back to evolution.

      just because YOU think these things are important doesn’t mean that Sober does, and so you need to spend more time trying to figure out what he’s actually saying and thus arguing that they really do matter.

      Okay, let me rephrase my point slightly. The things I’m mentioning really do matter IF one’s goals are to help Christians who currently object to evolution make a well-informed decision to accept evolution. IF one is trying to lay out ‘warts and all’ case for theological evolution, rather than the ‘best case’ for it.

      If those are not one’s goals (and I’m not claiming they are or are not Sober’s – I’m reducing my argument to a hypothetical here), then you’re right, there is no reason to mention any of this. If Sober’s goal had nothing to do with social acceptance of evolution and (illustrative example) he was writing a ‘pure philosophy’ paper for the consumption of other philosophers, I retract all my complaints. Do you agree with this rephrasing? Or do you still think its entirely unnecessary to mention these issues even if one has the goals I mention above?

    107. #107 Verbose Stoic
      May 15, 2012

      Tulse,

      Sober seems to think it important to refer to the singular Christian deity by name, rather than frame his argument in its most general terms.

      Perhaps because the people he’s arguing against in fact refer to the singular Christian deity by name? It isn’t fair to accuse him of getting mileage out of the connotations of that word when the people he’s replying to are the ones doing it first. Plus, Sober would not necessarily argue that his argument applies to those cases, but would instead almost certainly argue that that would have to be settled in a separate debate. Again, Sober is clear that he is not talking about plausible or true, which seem to be the biggest objections people have to pixies and the like … except here, where somehow “compatibility” is a major concern beyond plausibility or truth.

    108. #108 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      Perhaps because the people he’s arguing against in fact refer to the singular Christian deity by name? It isn’t fair to accuse him of getting mileage out of the connotations of that word when the people he’s replying to are the ones doing it first.

      So if I say “Verbose Stoic couldn’t be an axe murderer”, and my opponent says, “Of course Verbose Stoic can, since Verbose Stoic is a carbon-based life form”, you would find that a fair response?

      Besides, as I’m sure you’re aware, the argument Sober is opposing is about any supernatural action by any entities — it isn’t specific to the Christian deity, and no atheist scientist would claim otherwise.

      Sober would not necessarily argue that his argument applies to those cases, but would instead almost certainly argue that that would have to be settled in a separate debate.

      There is nothing that I see in his argument that applies only to a Christian deity — it seems to be a general argument about the possibility of undetectable supernatural action. And, further, the kind of deity that he characterizes (acting undetectably) is itself at odds with many Christian sects, so it is not even a generic “Christian” god, but one that follows certain limited theological constraints.

    109. #109 Raging Bee
      May 15, 2012

      The whole basis of Darwinian thot…

      Sometimes, the proper response to creationist morons is just to point and laugh. Now back to work…

    110. #110 Steve Smith
      May 15, 2012

      Elliott Sober: “The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.

      Sober is flatly incorrect–evolutionary biology is not silent on this question. No less than R.A. Fisher wrote explicitly about why a god cannot guide evolution or design by tweaking mutations: because the designer’s efforts would be rendered “futile and inoperative” by evolution:

      If we imagine, then, some extra-natural agency endeavouring to influence the organic evolution of mammals and birds by the production, on millions of different occasions, of this single mutation, we can recognise that its efforts were futile and inoperative. –R.A. Fisher, Creative Aspects of Natural Law

    111. #111 couchloc
      May 15, 2012

      Score one for the Sober team!

      (Jason, comments on Smith’s post?)

    112. #112 Chris Schoen
      May 15, 2012

      Eric @97,

      Even granting your distinction between “lawyerly” arguments and scientific propositions (the latter of which seems highly idealized to me), I believe it would be more accurate to characterize Sober’s elision of leprechauns and other magical beings as a function of their irrelevance to his argument, rather than a self-serving concealment of “dirty laundry.” The number of evolutionists who believe in fairies is vanishingly small. Outside of Iceland, it may be an empty set.

      More broadly speaking, Sober has, in fact, indicated the “boundary conditions” of his argument at the outset: it applies to those variants of theism that contend that God works through the proximate vehicle of evolution. (“Theistic evolutionism (TE) says that God made organisms and their complex adaptive features by setting the evolutionary process in motion.”) Is it really necessary to catalogue every counterexample? Any reasonably intelligent reader can easily ascertain whether or not this argument applies to his or her beliefs, given this definition.

      I don’t think anyone who has read the paper could say that “Christians who don’t believe in evolution are the ones [Sober] is trying to reach.” The correctness of evolutionary theory is taken as a given. Rather he’s trying to reach those who believe that “evolutionary theory is a conjunction of metaphysical and empirical elements,” proposing (provisionally) that in fact the theory has no intrinsic metaphysical elements, and can be embraced by theists and atheists alike, provided that any such theism is of a type not to comment on proximate explanations that inhere to the empirical elements of evolutionary theory.

      In short, I think you misread who Sober’s audience is, and what the nature of his argument is. Have a second look at the paper and tell me if you really think he’s trying to sell evolutionary theory to people who believe in “the fundie god,” or indeed to any audience with any particular theological beliefs whatsoever. I think you’ll find that he’s concerned rather with refuting the idea that the empirical elements of evolutionary theory entail specific metaphysical facts. Jason’s argument is that this is a straw man, that no incompatibilist literally believes in the logical impossibility of theistic evolution, just in its rank unlikeliness. True as this may be, it overlooks the question of whether our job is to foster the acceptance of evolution wherever it may take hold, or to forebear until the whole metaphysical package can be delivered in one lump sum.

    113. #113 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      @Chris Shoen:

      I already explained this quite clearly. Politics are irrelevant to what is true. The converse is not true. If the truth is politically harmful then partisans will try to obfuscate, obscure, or otherwise conceal the truth. I don’t like that. You may think you have some wonderful motives for kicking dirt but I’m not on board with your agenda so there’s no reason for me to concede that your good intentions make everything A OK.

      So my reasoning has nothing to do with “walking and chewing gum.” Some political positions necessitate obscuring or covering over the truth — because in politics arguments are soldiers. Arguments on your side are “good” arguments and arguments against your side are “bad” arguments — even if those are the valid, evidence-based arguments.

      Most importantly, perhaps, why must it be “unprincipled” to argue something that is true–logical compatibility–in the service of good ends, while presenting no conflict with other equally good ends?

      It’s unprincipled — notice no scare quotes — to argue that truth is equivalent to logical compatibility. It’s disingenuous to imply others are arguing against logical compatibility when they are not. It’s disingenuous to offer logical compatibility as the goal post here, and it’s disingenuous to single out evolution when the same argument applies to literally any other hypothesis you could possibly make.

    114. #114 Chris Schoen
      May 15, 2012

      Steve Smith, that’s a decent point–although I guess one could respond to Fisher that God, being omniscient, might know in advance which mutations were likely to be fixed in the population by Natural Selection. Either way, God’s “directing” the mutations is not prohibited by the theory, even if the effectiveness of that direction may be hard to fathom.

      I myself don’t personally find the idea of a God directing individual mutations all that interesting or compelling. But let’s not forget that Fisher was a “theistic evolutionist,” (an Anglican, specifically) and that later in the piece you link to, after an extended section on Faith and Works, he engages in a bit of theodicy, defending against the “problem of evil” in evolution by observing that any such problem long predates Darwinian theory. His meditation on “creation” in nature to me comes across as something akin to panentheism or Whiteheadian process philosophy:

      To Smuts, in particular, I should have liked to submit that it is a view even more in harmony with his own concept of holism, that creative causation should be a function of every organ through the entire life history, of the brain in devising, and of the hands in execution, than that it should be confined to the fertilised ovum.

      But the exact nature of his metaphysical view is not important; all that pertains is that it does not directly follow from evolutionary theory itself.

    115. #115 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      Well, I think that by asking this question you simply miss my point.

      You keep saying this. It’s getting boring. Can you just pretend to say this every time? It will cut some precious figures off your word count.

      I’m simply saying that you don’t have to think that it is undetectable in principle to argue that as things stand right now we can’t tell the difference.

      This would obviously be true for something other than God. But God is undetectable in principle. Because no matter what evidence is adduced, God’s omnipotence trumps it. God can always hide. So unless you can tell me up front what sort of evidence might be adduced against your God’s existence and then stick to it I’m simply not going to take this sort of argument seriously.

      More significantly, you seemed to have missed the point about ceteris paribus clauses being implicit in any empirical claim. “We can’t tell the difference” means, ceteris paribus, “there is no difference.” Further evidence or new measurement techniques can change the evidential status of these clauses and that’s how theories get overturned at all.

      So, to cast it more as “What would prove interventionism true?”, I can think of, say, statistical analysis of cases where mutations were introduced just in time to propogate before a major environmental shift. Too many of these and interventionism becomes the more plausible explanation. Or mutations that occur and propogate despite not being overly beneficial, because they attach to traits that are. Again, while we might expect this occur occasionally, this happening too frequently seems to suggest active intervention. And so on and so forth.

      Now, we don’t have this data, and don’t seem to have any way to actually get this data. We have no records and no way, as far as I know, to get this sort of information. So we can settle it. But we can see from this that the “random” theory is actually pretty weak, as it’s a “this just happened” argument … which may be true, but is itself really hard to prove and even harder to falsify.

      In other words, we need perfect knowledge. That is unreasonable. I already told you I would not accept unreasonable tests. Making unreasonable demands for evidence and then not having them met does not justify calling the “random” theory weak. Note your “‘random’ theory” is just ceteris paribus again.

      It’s not dishonest or a retreat. “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist” is still true.

      If it is, then you don’t need to turn around and demand extra evidence from theists, as you can then simply demonstrate that your claim is true and theists can still simply argue against that.

      Non sequitir. You argued that gnu’s admission of Sober’s trivial point contradicts the following proposition:
      “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist.” I pointed out that, logically speaking, no it doesn’t. The fact that evolution doesn’t render God a logical impossibility in no way whatsoever implies that evolution does not provide good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist. The set of “good reasons” is not identical to the set of “logical disproofs”.

      Anyway, arguments of that type are good arguments in specific cases: cases where someone is claiming to have either proven that God exists or that God doesn’t exist.

      As I already pointed out, I think neither proof is actually possible so this is entirely irrelevant to the conversation. We all agree with Sober, we just don’t think it’s an interesting point. So I’m not sure what you’re even arguing about at this point.

      Demanding that Sober prove that God exists is a terrible response as it does nothing to buttress that initial claim, and merely shifts the burden of proof, or at least attempts to.

      But no one is doing that. You are like the king of non sequitirs. Sober doesn’t need to prove that God exists. Sober just needs to adduce some interesting reasons to even suppose God might exist in the first place. Merely demonstrating logical possibility doesn’t make it an interesting possibility, and that is what’s missing from Sober’s “argument.”

      This is why I call it dishonest: it’s shifting the debate ground despite the fact that the other side is the one who was making a stronger claim, which they are now retreating from in order to force their opponents to accept the burden of proof. And it’s bad no matter who does it in those cases, like the one I think Sober is in.

      This is all happening in your head, dude. no one is shifting burden of proof. No one is demanding proof. I am even asserting that proof in this matter is impossible, and therefore that the burden of proof is irrelevant. in fact, my entire argument here is that this entire argument is irrelevant and therefore frustrating.

    116. #116 eric
      May 15, 2012

      Chris:

      I believe it would be more accurate to characterize Sober’s elision of leprechauns and other magical beings as a function of their irrelevance to his argument,

      I would argue that they are revelant precisely because the claim “God is not logically inconsistent with science” sends a very different message to most listeners than “God is not logically inconsistent with science the same way leprechauns aren’t logically inconsistent with science.” The elision is only irrelevant to audiences who would take those messages to be the same. Would even professional philosophers get that? Maybe.

      Certainly now that it’s being bandied about by uncouth scientists and laypeople, if Sober expands on or explains what he meant with other articles etc., I’d like to see him discuss the warts that non-philosophers might naively miss. Let’s stay away from saying he should, or ought to, or must; can we agree that this would at least be a non-obligatory good idea, given that doing so will stop a miscommunication we strongly suspect might occur?

      Is it really necessary to catalogue every counterexample?

      No, of course not. One or two key ones should do. By key, I mean examples for which the audience would not equate “X is not logically inconsistent with Y” to “Y accommodates X.” Because the point is to show that that leap is somewhat tenuous and unwarranted. At the very least, it gets the audience thinking about what they really mean by accommodation. I pick fairies and such because most western audiences would not equate “fairies are not logically inconsistent with science” with “science accommodates fairy-belief.”

      In short, I think you misread who Sober’s audience is, and what the nature of his argument is. Have a second look at the paper and tell me if you really think he’s trying to sell evolutionary theory to people who believe in “the fundie god,” or indeed to any audience with any particular theological beliefs whatsoever.

      Well, at the risk of complicating things, at least some of this fracas started with Coyne’s response to the presentation Sober gave on 4/13. That presentation was open to the public. It is part of the Debating Darwin lecture series at U Chicago, said lecture series being co-funded by the Templeton foundation.

      This says nothing about who the intended audience of Sober’s paper was. But when he stepped onto that podium, it became reasonable to criticize how well (or poorly) his presentation accurately portrayed his own argument to laypeople. You may not be responsible for making sure Joe sixpack understands your Nature article, but you are responsible for the Joe Sixpack messaging if you then call a press conference about it.

      I think you’ll find that he’s concerned rather with refuting the idea that the empirical elements of evolutionary theory entail specific metaphysical facts. Jason’s argument is that this is a straw man, that no incompatibilist literally believes in the logical impossibility of theistic evolution, just in its rank unlikeliness. True as this may be, it overlooks the question of whether our job is to foster the acceptance of evolution wherever it may take hold, or to forebear until the whole metaphysical package can be delivered in one lump sum.

      I admit, I’m a ‘lay it all out, up front’ kind of person…but it’s not my job. Organizations and people who do see this as part of their job may put different emphases on which warts to reveal, and when to reveal them.

      ***

      Since you think that Jason’s criticism is true, why do you think Sober spends so much time making a trivial point? Why do you think Sober is concerned about a misbelief that, practically speaking, nobody actually has?

    117. #117 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      I’m simply saying that you don’t have to think that it is undetectable in principle to argue that as things stand right now we can’t tell the difference.

      A little more on this. VS, this is absolutely worthless as an argument. I don’t understand how you could even begin to think you have a point here. The same could be said of any “theory” I might like to make up off the top of my head.

      Interesting theories — theories worth considering — involve predictions that can be used as observational or experimental tests of the theory. Hence the controversial nature of string theory. Even then, string theory does make predictions, just none we can test.

      If you want me to take the possibility of God seriously then you have to explain to me how a world with God is different from a world without God so that I can see whether those differences pertain. The arguments about “metaphysical naturalism” are a red herring. I am not presupposing that the supernatural does not exist. I just haven’t found any supernatural concept to be useful explanations of anything at all.

    118. #118 Michael Fugate
      May 15, 2012

      One of the issues here is that one can understand an argument perfectly well and not accept it as being correct. On the other hand, one can accept something as correct without understanding it very well or even at all. As an educator, I would like students to understand the evidence for evolution and how selection works, but have no control over whether they accept it as true. I don’t really see myself in the evolutionary apologetics trade where I should be willing to use any argument if it will lead someone to accept evolution.One such tactic is to claim that religion and science are both “ways of knowing” – separate, but equal. I take issue with the use of “ways of knowing” arguments because religion can’t explicitly show how it manufactures truth claims.

    119. #119 eric
      May 15, 2012

      VS (in comment to Dan L.):

      So, to cast it more as “What would prove interventionism true?”, I can think of, say…mutations that occur and propogate despite not being overly beneficial, because they attach to traits that are…

      Just a quibble, but as far as I know this is actually a prediction of evolution, not interventionism. Evolution predicts such ‘riders’ will occur, because of the net benefit to the organism.

      An intervening deity would not need to attach nonbeneficial mutations to some beneficial trait to get them to propagate; it just sticks the mutation into the population’s genome wholesale.

      So, evidence of intervention would be a well-propagating negative mutation not attached to a positive trait.

    120. #120 eric
      May 15, 2012

      Michael Fugate:

      One such tactic is to claim that religion and science are both “ways of knowing” – separate, but equal. I take issue with the use of “ways of knowing” arguments because religion can’t explicitly show how it manufactures truth claims.

      Yes, the ‘other way of knowing’ argument is often used in a way very analogous to the false dichotomy used by early creationists. Holes in evolution is not evidence for creationism. Likewise, holes in science’s methodology is not evidence for revelation’s methodology.

      Another way of putting it: I can accept there are other ways of knowing in principle. But if you want me to accept your way of knowing, specifically, then you’re going to have to do a lot better than ‘science can’t answer question x.’

    121. #121 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      Elliott Sober: “The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.”

      Sober is flatly incorrect–evolutionary biology is not silent on this question. No less than R.A. Fisher wrote explicitly about why a god cannot guide evolution or design by tweaking mutations: because the designer’s efforts would be rendered “futile and inoperative” by evolution:

      If we imagine, then, some extra-natural agency endeavouring to influence the organic evolution of mammals and birds by the production, on millions of different occasions, of this single mutation, we can recognise that its efforts were futile and inoperative. –R.A. Fisher, Creative Aspects of Natural Law

      If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters, well then, you’ve got to deal with the fact that he was a Christian and presumably therefore did not see a conflict between his religion and evolution (seeing as he as much as anyone founded the modern mathematical version of evolutionary biology). Quoth wikipedia:

      He knew the scriptures well and H. Allen Orr describes him as “deeply devout Anglican who, between founding modern statistics and population genetics, penned articles for church magazines” in the Boston Review.[22] But he was not dogmatic in his religious beliefs. In a 1955 broadcast on Science and Christianity,[23] he said:

      The custom of making abstract dogmatic assertions is not, certainly, derived from the teaching of Jesus, but has been a widespread weakness among religious teachers in subsequent centuries. I do not think that the word for the Christian virtue of faith should be prostituted to mean the credulous acceptance of all such piously intended assertions. Much self-deception in the young believer is needed to convince himself that he knows that of which in reality he knows himself to be ignorant. That surely is hypocrisy, against which we have been most conspicuously warned.

      I haven’t looked into it in depth, my sense of it is that rather than talking about God guiding mutations (although I doubt he thought that randomness was true absolute metaphysical randomness), Fisher argued that selection was the dominant process, effectively a natural law, such that given any reasonable amount of mutation, selection would produce the same sorts of things, including humans. Modern versions of this selection-and-convergence-dominate thesis include Simon Conway Morris, and ironically Richard Dawkins, although of course they are at opposite ends theologically. Ken Miller has also suggested this as a possibility, although he sometimes also goes for the Gouldian approach. (Conway Morris was explicitly reacting against Gould’s heavy-stochasticity view of evolution.)

      All which goes to show, the scientific questions and the theological questions are pretty much orthogonal…

    122. #122 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters, well then, you’ve got to deal with the fact that he was a Christian and presumably therefore did not see a conflict between his religion and evolution

      C’mon, Nick…seriously? How is this not the standard “some scientists are Christian, so science and religion are compatible” argument? You know, the argument that is equivalent to “some priests are pedophiles, so Catholicism and pedophilia are compatible”?

    123. #123 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters, well then, you’ve got to deal with the fact that he was a Christian and presumably therefore did not see a conflict between his religion and evolution (seeing as he as much as anyone founded the modern mathematical version of evolutionary biology).

      Does not follow. That he believed both does not mean that he saw no conflicts, only that he was able to harmonize them to his personal satisfaction.

      No one in this discussion has ever denied the possibility of scientists doing so and continuing to do good science. I think the gnu argument has been elucidated clearly enough that I can safely ignore anything you have to say here — at least until you catch up with what is actually being argued.

    124. #124 Michael Fugate
      May 15, 2012

      This would also mean that RA Fisher is a suitable authority on theological matters. Is this what you are claiming?

    125. #125 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      Sober is leaving out things that would be very important to his audience. He’s leaving out that science is equally ‘logically consistent’ with a lot of other beliefs which we don’t give any credence to. Like Leprechauns. Don’t you think people should be told that – by Sober? He’s also leaving out that the God he’s talking about bears practically zero resemblance to the fundie god, and precious little resemblance to even a mainstream Christian God. Sober’s God does not perform detectable miracles. Yet Christians who don’t accept evolution are the very people he’s specifically trying to reach! Don’t you think THEY should be told that the God he’s talking is one that never caused a flood, never got born of a virgin, never walked on water or rose from the dead?

      Ugh. God != leprechauns. God is supposed to be the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc. It’s fine if you don’t believe in God, but it’s a much different idea than what is effectively an undetected species with a few magical powers. When this point came up before, a previous commenter raised some other possibilities for more valid comparisons. These are vaguely legitimate comparisons, although I tend to think that aliens or other beings with well-controlled universe-creating powers are effectively gods, whatever words get used for them.

      He’s also leaving out that the God he’s talking about bears practically zero resemblance to the fundie god, and precious little resemblance to even a mainstream Christian God. Sober’s God does not perform detectable miracles. Yet Christians who don’t accept evolution are the very people he’s specifically trying to reach! Don’t you think THEY should be told that the God he’s talking is one that never caused a flood, never got born of a virgin, never walked on water or rose from the dead?

      Sober never says any of those things in his article (have you read it???). All traditional Christians, even the fundamentalists, already believe that God usually operates through natural processes (which are nevertheless fundamentally under the control of God) and then on rare occasions performs miracles, mostly to reveal things to humans. Sober is just explaining one way how the God-operates-through-natural-processes thing might work in the case of mutations, and whether or not this conflicts with evolutionary biology.

      Yet Christians who don’t accept evolution are the very people he’s specifically trying to reach!

      It’s pretty clear that he is just as much trying to reach the atheists, or at least people who might be subjected to crude, old-fashioned science-religion-warfare rhetoric.

    126. #126 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      All which goes to show, the scientific questions and the theological questions are pretty much orthogonal…

      Only in those cases where theologians have worked fastidiously to render their pet god invisible to questions of fact. Many questions considered theological hundreds of years ago have in fact been answered by science.

      This is exactly what makes theology look like post hoc face-saving dribble to me. If you want me to consider your hypothesis you need to demonstrate that the world implied by the truth of your hypothesis differs somehow from the world implied by the falsity of your hypothesis. Otherwise you’re not saying anything at all. Christians protect their God by whittling Him thinner than a toothpick. I can’t stop them but I see no reason to take them seriously.

    127. #127 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      122 If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters, well then, you’ve got to deal with the fact that he was a Christian and presumably therefore did not see a conflict between his religion and evolution

      C’mon, Nick…seriously? How is this not the standard “some scientists are Christian, so science and religion are compatible” argument? You know, the argument that is equivalent to “some priests are pedophiles, so Catholicism and pedophilia are compatible”?

      Give ME a break. I wasn’t the one who first invoked The Great Authority of R.A. Fisher to try to make a point against Sober’s thesis. I was responding to the guy who did, pointing out that, actually, that particular authority clearly would have gone the other way.

      If you are officially abandoning arguments from authority, that’s great, but the rule has to apply to all sides.

    128. #128 eric
      May 15, 2012

      If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters, well then, you’ve got to deal with the fact that he was a Christian and presumably therefore did not see a conflict between his religion and evolution…

      All which goes to show, the scientific questions and the theological questions are pretty much orthogonal…

      By this logic, Coyne is living proof that they are dependent and overlapping.

      Which is flat wrong; the existence of scientists on both sides of this debate is not, in itself, evidence for one side or the other. They could be orthogonal and Coyne is mistaken. Or, they could be overlapping and Fisher is mistaken.

      C’mon man, you would never accept the proposition that the existence of creationist biologists means biology is consistent with creationism. So why use that exact argument to support any other religious position?

    129. #129 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      Ugh. God != leprechauns. God is supposed to be the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc. It’s fine if you don’t believe in God, but it’s a much different idea than what is effectively an undetected species with a few magical powers. When this point came up before, a previous commenter raised some other possibilities for more valid comparisons. These are vaguely legitimate comparisons, although I tend to think that aliens or other beings with well-controlled universe-creating powers are effectively gods, whatever words get used for them.

      This is special pleading, plain and simple. There’s no prime facie reasons why leprechauns COULDN’T be “the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc. ” and that’s exactly the point. Perhaps our Irish forebears merely misunderstood the true nature of leprechauns.

      God doesn’t have a monopoly on any of those properties. I can posit any number of entities that aren’t the Christian God that nonetheless may exhibit, separately or combined, all the properties you named and more. “Leprechaun,” “FSM,” “teapot” etc. should be understood to simply be handles for an idea — the idea of an unfalsifiable concept. Which is exactly what God has become. And the only answer ever given to the burden of proof problem is “Oh, but OUR teapot is special!”

      Not buying it. WHY is your universe-creating teapot more special than my universe-creating percolator? Because it says so in an old book with a very dubious provenance?

    130. #130 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      This is exactly what makes theology look like post hoc face-saving dribble to me. If you want me to consider your hypothesis you need to demonstrate that the world implied by the truth of your hypothesis differs somehow from the world implied by the falsity of your hypothesis. Otherwise you’re not saying anything at all. Christians protect their God by whittling Him thinner than a toothpick. I can’t stop them but I see no reason to take them seriously.

      Posted by: Dan L. | May 15, 2012 4:18 PM

      This is just old-fashioned logical positivism, which was abandoned decades ago.

    131. #131 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      This is just old-fashioned logical positivism, which was abandoned decades ago.

      No it’s not.

    132. #132 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      Ugh. God != leprechauns. God is supposed to be the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc.

      And what do any of those qualities have to do with Sober’s actual argument? The claim is that “God” could undetectably affect mutations. That is the only quality that is being argued. You’re making exactly the point I raised earlier, which is that by using the term “God”, Sober is importing a huge number of implicit connotations that are simply not justified by the actual argument itself.

      So yes, one could claim that pixies and fairies and Azathoth and Ahura Mazda also might undetectably affect mutations. At least, that is what I would argue Sober’s argument demands. What is your argument to the contrary?

    133. #133 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      It’s sensible epistemology. If you can’t answer that simple question then there is no possible way to know whether a proposition is true or false.

      Unless you’re a rationalist and believe that such knowledge can be derived from first principles rather than empirical observation. A position which was abandoned by sensible people decades ago.

    134. #134 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      This is special pleading, plain and simple. There’s no prime facie reasons why leprechauns COULDN’T be “the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc. ” and that’s exactly the point. Perhaps our Irish forebears merely misunderstood the true nature of leprechauns.

      God doesn’t have a monopoly on any of those properties. I can posit any number of entities that aren’t the Christian God that nonetheless may exhibit, separately or combined, all the properties you named and more. “Leprechaun,” “FSM,” “teapot” etc. should be understood to simply be handles for an idea — the idea of an unfalsifiable concept. Which is exactly what God has become. And the only answer ever given to the burden of proof problem is “Oh, but OUR teapot is special!”

      Not buying it. WHY is your universe-creating teapot more special than my universe-creating percolator? Because it says so in an old book with a very dubious provenance?

      Posted by: Dan L. | May 15, 2012 4:23 PM

      You are just talking nonsense now. Universe-creating teapot? C’mon. Words have meanings. Gods are the sorts of things that are supposed to be able to create universes. Teapots aren’t.

    135. #135 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      Nick, you’re not engaging with my arguments, you’re trying to brush them aside with petty sneers.

      I’m using metaphors. You know what metaphors are, right Nick? Do you need me to explain that too?

      Finally, I’m not going to accept stuff like “this is just logical positivism D000000D” as valid arguments. If you think there’s something wrong with the position tell me specifically what. Arguing by catch-phrase is exactly what you seem to be calling me out on so I don’t understand why it would be OK for you to do.

    136. #136 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      131

      This is just old-fashioned logical positivism, which was abandoned decades ago.

      No it’s not.

      The idea that the only meaningful statements are empirical, “Otherwise you’re not saying anything at all”, was the essence of logical positivism. It only had a few problems, like being self-refuting.

    137. #137 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      The idea that the only meaningful statements are empirical, “Otherwise you’re not saying anything at all”, was the essence of logical positivism. It only had a few problems, like being self-refuting.

      Did I say the only meaningful statements are empirical?

      No, nowhere did I say that. My position is that only empirical statements can be demonstrated true or false. Only empirical statements are fallible.

      Fallible does not mean the same thing as meaningful.

      I’m truly sorry for the confusion, Nick, I’ll try to go slower.

    138. #138 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      Gods are the sorts of things that are supposed to be able to create universes.

      Gods, plural? So Sober’s argument could indeed apply to entities other than the Christian God? And indeed could apply to multiply existing supernatural entities, like a pantheon?

      And who said anything about “universe-creation” being a necessary feature of Sober’s argument? Surely a less-than-omnipotent being could nonetheless undetectably manipulate nucleotides, no? Couldn’t angels be deployed to do this? Or sprites? Or efreeti?

    139. #139 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      I want to head off this empiricism/logical positivism thing right now. Nick, name for me one proposition of reliable knowledge that is not derived empirically. I will not accept the standard examples of “a bachelor is an unmarried man” or “2+2=4″ because each of those has been rebutted umpteen times and the status of either as “analytic truth” is contested. Give me something that is unambiguously true and unambiguously not empirical or concede the real possibility that all knowledge is in some sense empirical.

    140. #140 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      132

      Ugh. God != leprechauns. God is supposed to be the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc.

      And what do any of those qualities have to do with Sober’s actual argument? The claim is that “God” could undetectably affect mutations. That is the only quality that is being argued. You’re making exactly the point I raised earlier, which is that by using the term “God”, Sober is importing a huge number of implicit connotations that are simply not justified by the actual argument itself.

      So yes, one could claim that pixies and fairies and Azathoth and Ahura Mazda also might undetectably affect mutations. At least, that is what I would argue Sober’s argument demands. What is your argument to the contrary?

      Posted by: Tulse | May 15, 2012 4:27 PM

      The “you could say the same about pixies, duuude” is just another of those silly cheap-shot arguments so common with the gnus. Pixies are supposed to be critters running around inside the universe, critters which people sometimes see just like they see monkeys and frogs, although pixies have some spiffy powers like turning invisible or whatever. Repeated failure to find the pixies in British gardens or wherever, plus some documented cases of fraud, leads to legitimately powerful reasons to think they aren’t there.

      God, on the other hand, isn’t supposed to be running around inside the universe. He/she/it is supposed to be running the universe. And the universe appears to be running. No one expects to be able to catch God on film in a well-manicured English garden. It’s true that there are all sorts of pious frauds and cases of wishful thinking in religious history, and these are legitimate reasons for skepticism of those who push them, but reasoning from charlatans and wishful thinkers to Confident Ultimate Conclusions about the Nature of Existence Itself is a much more ambitious project than reasoning to a confident conclusion about alleged pixies in the garden.

      I am skeptical about all such Confident Ultimate Conclusions about the Nature of Existence Itself, the weird thing is that Gnus are so bloomin’ sure they’ve got it figured out.

    141. #141 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      137

      The idea that the only meaningful statements are empirical, “Otherwise you’re not saying anything at all”, was the essence of logical positivism. It only had a few problems, like being self-refuting.

      Did I say the only meaningful statements are empirical?

      No, nowhere did I say that. My position is that only empirical statements can be demonstrated true or false. Only empirical statements are fallible.

      Fallible does not mean the same thing as meaningful.

      I’m truly sorry for the confusion, Nick, I’ll try to go slower.

      Posted by: Dan L. | May 15, 2012 4:38 PM

      I guess you’re retracting the bit about how if it’s not empirical, “you’re not saying anything at all”, then. Fine by me, but you should cop to it.

    142. #142 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      God, on the other hand, isn’t supposed to be running around inside the universe. He/she/it is supposed to be running the universe.

      First of all, you ignored the point Tulse was actually making — which is that Sober’s argument doesn’t even require the God you’re talking about. Pixies suffice in this instance. More importantly, I’ve already explained to you why this business is special pleading and ultimately irrelevant to the argument. You decided not to actually read and address that argument but it’s still upthread if you want to keep flogging this moribund equine.

      I am skeptical about all such Confident Ultimate Conclusions about the Nature of Existence Itself, the weird thing is that Gnus are so bloomin’ sure they’ve got it figured out.

      Funny. I’m not the least bit sure I’ve got it figured out. In fact, I don’t think I have it figured out at all. Exactly as you are, I am skeptical about all such Confident Ultiamte Conclusions about the Nature of Existence Itself.

      And that is EXACTLY why I’m a gnu.

    143. #143 Michael Fugate
      May 15, 2012

      I love it when you capitalize words, it make them so much more important and meaningful.

    144. #144 Tulse
      May 15, 2012

      Pixies are supposed to be critters running around inside the universe

      And where in any of Sober’s argument is the claim made that the entity/s must be “outside the universe”?

      Honestly, Nick, you’re still not engaging with the points being made here — indeed, you just keep demonstrating that the complaint about the term “God” is valid, because of the qualities irrelevant to Sober’s argument that it connotes.

    145. #145 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      I guess you’re retracting the bit about how if it’s not empirical, “you’re not saying anything at all”, then. Fine by me, but you should cop to it.

      “You’re saying something whose meaning is irretrievably locked up in your head and therefore meaningless to me, who has no access to what is in your head. Only if you can explain how my world – i.e. my perceptions and background knowledge — would differ based on the truth or falsehood of your proposition will I be sure I understand what you’re talking about.”

    146. #146 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      138

      Gods are the sorts of things that are supposed to be able to create universes.

      Gods, plural? So Sober’s argument could indeed apply to entities other than the Christian God? And indeed could apply to multiply existing supernatural entities, like a pantheon?

      I think that’s a fair extension of Sober’s argument, which he would probably agree with. He’s not trying to prove Christianity or monotheism or anything, after all. He’s just trying to assess whether one specific idea, namely God-guided mutations, is compatible or incompatible with evolutionary theory.

      People are trying to argue that his argument is trivial by arguing that you might as well say that evolutionary theory is compatible with fairies undetectably directing mutations. I’m pointing that this doesn’t work, because of the huge disanalogy between fairies and God.

      And who said anything about “universe-creation” being a necessary feature of Sober’s argument? Surely a less-than-omnipotent being could nonetheless undetectably manipulate nucleotides, no? Couldn’t angels be deployed to do this? Or sprites? Or efreeti?

      I have no idea. It would all depend on what rules such critters would follow, what their motives, means, etc. are. Certainly, undetectably deciding the results of mutations and other random events is not in their usual job description. God, on the other hand, is allegedly the guy who makes the rules in the first place, and is the guy who allegedly decides everything that happens in reality, which is a different thing.

    147. #147 eric
      May 15, 2012

      one could claim that pixies and fairies and Azathoth and Ahura Mazda also might undetectably affect mutations. At least, that is what I would argue Sober’s argument demands. What is your argument to the contrary?

      Exactly. There is no reason to treat Yahweh differently than any other not-logically-ruled-out but no-evidence-of entity. At least, none than I can see.

      Nick:

      Universe-creating teapot? C’mon.

      Nick, I think you’re essentially just using the argument from incredulity. Leprechauns! Magical teapots! Nobody takes such things seriously!

      Can I step away from your preferred entity, and ask what criteria you think scientists should pay attention to when deciding which hypothetical but unevidenced entities are more consistent with scientific conclusions? I.e., does omnipotence make an entity more consistent – or does ‘obeys the laws of physics?’ Does eternal make it more consistent, or does a limited lifespan? How about mechanism – does a proposed mechanism for how the entity interacts with the physical world make it more consistent, or less? Those are just examples.

      Rather than start by defending specific entities, tell me what criteria you use to come to the conclusion that Yahweh = not ridiculous, leprechauns = ridiculous.

    148. #148 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      I love it when you capitalize words, it make them so much more important and meaningful.

      I write exactly as my voice sounds like in my head. I suspect that italics and caps in my head are quieter than how they come across to everyone else, though.

    149. #149 couchloc
      May 15, 2012

      Nick,

      Smith writes: “Sober is flatly incorrect–-evolutionary biology is not silent on this question. No less than R.A. Fisher wrote explicitly about why a god cannot guide evolution or design by tweaking mutations….”

      I’m not sure how you are responding to Smith here. Are you suggesting that Smith is wrong to attribute this view to Fisher? I was looking at Smith’s post differently. If you take the quote from Fisher at face value, and it is true that Fisher believed evolution rules out god-guided mutations, then this would supply an answer to at least some of Jason’s original post (#2 and #3). Namely, this would be an instance which shows that Sober’s thesis is not trivial because Fisher would deny it.

    150. #150 Michael Fugate
      May 15, 2012

      Dan L, I was really reply to Nick and his use of CUC and NoE – sorry that wasn’t clear.

    151. #151 NickMatzke
      May 15, 2012

      Can I step away from your preferred entity, and ask what criteria you think scientists should pay attention to when deciding which hypothetical but unevidenced entities are more consistent with scientific conclusions?

      That’s easy — consistency of the postulated entity with the evidence.

      The problem is that fairies/pixies and God are not the same, or even close, sorts of postulated entities. Dismissing God on the same/similar grounds you dismiss pixies doesn’t work. Pixes are supposed to follow some rules of the world, and leave some evidence within the world. God leaves…the world itself, and makes the rules. Seeing as the world is existing and all, and no one’s got a satisfying ultimate explanation of why, and the rules keep working as well, similarly without a good explanation, I’m not going to advocate putting science’s authority on the line against God, like I would against pixies. Putting science’s authority on the line *for* God would be equally problematic, of course.

      But the Gnus think they know that God doesn’t/almost certainly doesn’t exist, and claim this is a conclusion of science, whereas to me it looks like science is probably silent on such ultimate questions, stuck as it is studying what’s here in the world.

      If that’s all the disagreement was, that would be no big deal, but on top of this, many of the gnus think it’s just swell to be gnasty to those who disagree on these highly debatable matters, even and perhaps especially to people who are pro-science but also religious. They pile the scorn and vitriol high, and try and tar them with the sins of the fundamentalists. It’s sloppy and unseemly. Which is probably why gnus get so much pushback from academics, who value being careful and scholarly, and making careful distinctions.

      Dan L. seems to now be talking to himself, so I think I’ll leave the thread for awhile and see what else develops.

    152. #152 ildi
      May 15, 2012

      Evolution is evidence for Loki; look at all the crazy pranks he’s pulled on the human body! There’s the appendix – no longer needed for digestion, but still hangs around to get infected and burst like a party balloon, and the relative positions of the esophagus and trachea – that one is a knee-slapper: choking hazard, anyone?

      Loki must have been a stoner roadie: the optic nerve bundles in front of the retina instead of the back, creating a blind spot. Lucky for squid he must have sobered up by the time he got to them. Loki also must have been playing cat’s cradle with the laryngeal nerve – it runs from the vagus nerve, down the neck, into the chest, under the aorta, around a ligament in the lung, then back up to the larynx in the throat. Awesome!

      For the gentlemen there’s the prostate (let’s put a squeeze on that urethra) and while we’re at it, let’s have the testes form inside the abdomen and then drop through the abdominal wall into the scrotum, leaving two weak areas that often herniate and cause pain – such fun! All the Christian God did was make Eve suffer pain in childbirth for tempting poor hapless Adam; otherwise I’m assuming humans are still made in his image? God is an AMC Pacer?

      I suspect what Sober really wants is leeway to allow God to touch Adam with his noodly appendage and insert a soul at some point in evolution.

    153. #153 Chris Schoen
      May 15, 2012

      Dan L. @ 139

      2+2=4 has been rebutted? What?

    154. #154 Phil
      May 15, 2012

      @ eric
      But you can, like Voltaire, point out that science has no need of that hypothesis.

      eric, I get all this, and you’re still ignoring Coyne’s assertion. Even if it’s true that the sneaky theologians won’t define their deity, it’s not up to Coyne to set up straw men (he’s doing it again today with his post on Van der Waal. I love Jerry but he’s kind of a pain in the ass.) He’s the one who should say what Voltaire said and not make unsupportable claims like, “the world behaves exactly as it would without a (-n undefined) deity.” Precisely as it would, no less.

    155. #155 Deepak Shetty
      May 15, 2012

      @NickMatzke
      Ugh. God != leprechauns. God is supposed to be the ultimate reason for reality itself, omniscient, omnipotent, created and upholds the universe, etc., etc. It’s fine if you don’t believe in God, but it’s a much different idea than what is effectively an undetected species with a few magical powers.
      Boy , do you need to get out and meet people who aren’t Christians or Jews. if you aren’t familiar with Eastern Religions , you can atleast acquaint yourself with native American lore.

    156. #156 Chris Schoen
      May 15, 2012

      Eric @116

      Since you think that Jason’s criticism is true, why do you think Sober spends so much time making a trivial point? Why do you think Sober is concerned about a misbelief that, practically speaking, nobody actually has?

      I can only speculate; I don’t know the man. But first I’ll reiterate that I’m not sure I’d call the question of whether you can have evolution without naturalism “trivial.” The creationist lobby has a very dangerous contrary view, and riding on the answer is not just the question of whether theists are inclined to embrace evolution regardless of their metaphysical outlook, but also whether or not we can continue to teach evolution in public schools.

      The paper itself gets into much more than this question, of course. Broadly speaking, the question of whether any scientific theory comprises “a conjunction of empirical and metaphysical elements” has long been an interest of philosophy of science. How we reconcile methodological naturalism with a plurality of metaphysical perspectives is a particular concern of our time: we live in one world, with one set of facts, and yet the political reality we inhabit must tolerate a heterodoxy of religious and other non-naturalist claims. That’s just a fact, and how we proscribe the way we do science will bear upon our solutions to this problem.

    157. #157 Verbose Stoic
      May 15, 2012

      Dan L.,

      You keep saying this. It’s getting boring. Can you just pretend to say this every time? It will cut some precious figures off your word count.

      Well, stop missing the point and I’ll stop talking about it. If it’s getting boring for you to keep hearing me tell you that you’re missing the point, imagine how boring it is for me to have to read you continually missing the point.

      This would obviously be true for something other than God. But God is undetectable in principle. Because no matter what evidence is adduced, God’s omnipotence trumps it. God can always hide. So unless you can tell me up front what sort of evidence might be adduced against your God’s existence and then stick to it I’m simply not going to take this sort of argument seriously.

      If you really think that God’s omnipotence trumps any possible evidence, then that’s a perfectly fine position for you to take, but it will leave you in a very bad position if you want to be an atheist, as you will, in fact, be unable to advance any strong atheist claims. I’m not sure I agree, but this is a philosophical question, and part of the reason you might argue this is because you are so tightly attached to empirical data.

      But, at any rate, this is besides the point. I’m arguing a conceptual point that saying that we can’t know now based on the evidence we have is not the same thing as we can’t ever know in principle. Sober seems to be arguing the former, and his arguments as far as I can see don’t imply the latter. I believe the latter — for different reasons — but it’s also not, in fact, the point I was trying to make there. If you really want to get into discussions of if there can be any evidence at all for God, that’s probably something that will have to wait for another discussion.

      More significantly, you seemed to have missed the point about ceteris paribus clauses being implicit in any empirical claim. “We can’t tell the difference” means, ceteris paribus, “there is no difference.” Further evidence or new measurement techniques can change the evidential status of these clauses and that’s how theories get overturned at all.

      And I disagree. Imagine that a group of people in a room where they can’t see outside are arguing over whether or not it is raining outside. There is a clear difference between “raining” and “not raining”, but they simply don’t have the evidence to decide between the two. So, then, what position should they take on it? I doubt you’d want to claim that one side is more reasonable just on the face of it, and so either people can choose to believe what they want or remain neutral. However, when you talk about this case you seem to want to argue that the “no God” side should be preferred, but just like in my example it’s not going to be the evidence that settles it, but other factors. And that’s all Sober is saying.

      In other words, we need perfect knowledge.

      No. Look at the room example again. There is no demand there for perfect knowledge, but there is an acceptance that some evidence would settle it but that for various reasons it simply can’t be gathered. If you accept that we don’t have perfect knowledge, you have to accept that sometimes we simply can’t get the data we need to settle questions. And that’s all I claim.

      Non sequitir. You argued that gnu’s admission of Sober’s trivial point contradicts the following proposition:
      “Evolution gives us really good reasons to think that God doesn’t exist.”

      I think it does, although that was a loose phrasing. We can argue over that. But recall that my claim there was about your point 3):

      3. What positive reasons can be adduced for the truth of such a proposition outside of received religious traditions which are clearly biased sources? None whatsoever.

      Which I called irrelevant and beside the point, because it does nothing to support the contention that evolution provides such evidence. When you challenged that by saying that evolution does give good reasons, I pointed out that then what you needed to do was mention them, and not ask for positive reasons. So, I stand by my claim.

      As I already pointed out, I think neither proof is actually possible so this is entirely irrelevant to the conversation.

      Recall, please, that this was a reply to my calling out the third point reproduced above as a bad argument and your defending it at least sarcastically by saying that theists used it against you. My reply was that it works against claims that you’ve proven one side or the other, but it doesn’t work against arguments that merely reply to such claims. Thus, it is relevant to what you said, which means it is not irrelevant to the conversation. If you want to back away from trying to defend your point 3, I am willing to accept that and move on.

      But no one is doing that. You are like the king of non sequitirs. Sober doesn’t need to prove that God exists. Sober just needs to adduce some interesting reasons to even suppose God might exist in the first place.

      I find it odd that I am being accused of stating non sequiturs when replying directly to what you said. As for that last part … why does he have to do that? He may not even think God exists at all. His whole point is that the evidence we have wrt evolution is not what will make that case. He need not provide any evidence whatsoever that God exists or even to suppose it to make that claim.

      This is all happening in your head, dude. no one is shifting burden of proof.

      Your point 3 strikes me as such, as well as your demand for positive evidence. And please get over your phobia about the word “proof”; I am using it in a standard way that can be easily applied to your “positive evidence” claim, so it is useless for you to keep jumping on that as if I’ve made some major faux pas.

    158. #158 Verbose Stoic
      May 15, 2012

      eric,

      Just a quibble, but as far as I know this is actually a prediction of evolution, not interventionism. Evolution predicts such ‘riders’ will occur, because of the net benefit to the organism.

      I know!. That’s why I added this that you snipped out and ignored as you butchered the actual quote:

      Or mutations that occur and propogate despite not being overly beneficial, because they attach to traits that are. Again, while we might expect this occur occasionally, this happening too frequently seems to suggest active intervention. And so on and so forth.

      Replace the “seems” above with “would seem” for clarity.

      Why is it that every time you start hacking up comments it seems to be for no other reason than to misrepresent what I actually said?

    159. #159 couchloc
      May 15, 2012

      Nick Matzske,

      Maybe you missed it. Any chance you have an answer to my @149? I’m not an expert on Fisher.

    160. #160 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      Well, stop missing the point and I’ll stop talking about it.

      As I’ve already explained, not agreeing with you is not the same as missing the point. If you’re just going to assume I’m missing the point regardless of whether or not I actually do save yourself the time.

      If you really think that God’s omnipotence trumps any possible evidence, then that’s a perfectly fine position for you to take, but it will leave you in a very bad position if you want to be an atheist, as you will, in fact, be unable to advance any strong atheist claims.

      Perhaps that is true by your definition of “strong atheist claims.” Obviously we disagree on some more fundamental level because neither of us seems to believe that the other is understanding our position.

      A strong atheist position to me is: “I am slightly less sure there is no God than I am that I am not a brain in a vat.” And that is true for me. From my perspective, this is the absolute limit of certainty. Atheism cannot get any stronger.

      I’m arguing a conceptual point that saying that we can’t know now based on the evidence we have is not the same thing as we can’t ever know in principle. Sober seems to be arguing the former, and his arguments as far as I can see don’t imply the latter.

      I understand what you are saying. That’s why you should really stop saying I don’t understand what you’re saying. I understand the distinction here. But I object to the notion that this is the correct framing of the problem.

      You provided a test that might help to confirm the directedness of evolution. But due to the underdetermination of evidence by theories that is not very helpful. I would like a test that could falsify the directedness of evolution. That is, not necessarily eliminate the logical possibility, but offer solid evidence against such a proposition.

      You see the impossibility here, right? There is nothing that could ever be counted as evidence against theism (according to theists), while there is plenty that could be counted as evidence FOR theism — if it ever occurred (so far, no). From my perspective, this justifies a default “no theism” unless really good positive evidence can be adduced. Ceteris paribus, baby.

      Re: point 3

      You’re confusing two separate issues. I concede that evolution is logically consistent with theism. I have never denied this — in fact, I’ve repeatedly said it’s trivial. So how could I be shifting the burden of proof on a question I’ve already conceded?

      Where you think I am “shifting the burden of proof,” I am really just maintaining what I think the burden of proof should be, as I described above. Since there is nothing that will ever be accepted as evidence against theism (go ahead and prove me wrong — what would YOU accept?) the burden of proof is on theism. Always and forever. Sorry.

    161. #161 Dan L.
      May 15, 2012

      @Chris Shoen:

      2+2=4 has been rebutted? What?

      Yes, whether mathematical statements are truly analytic is a matter of debate in philosophy of mathematics. I’d consider 2+2=4 a model, a construction of simpler elements that are used as idealizations of real physical conditions. The point being that the model imitates nature, it doesn’t have any validity in and of itself. I don’t know that mathematical truths aren’t analytical but I don’t think they are for a number of reasons.

    162. #162 eric
      May 15, 2012

      Nick:

      Dismissing God on the same/similar grounds you dismiss pixies doesn’t work. Pixes are supposed to follow some rules of the world, and leave some evidence within the world. God leaves…the world itself, and makes the rules.

      Pixies are like Jesus. They occasionally do magic, but they also generally eat and walk (or fly via wings) around. So if you want to use ‘follows some rules of the world’ to dismiss them, then you should dismiss Jesus using the same criteria, yes?

      And who says God doesn’t follow rules? ‘I will never cause another worldwide flood’ = rule. ‘Whosoever believes in me will have eternal life’ = rule. And so on.

      Obviously these are not rules that Sober’s God necessarily follows. They require, as Tulse says, sneaking in a whole lot of Christian baggage. So I won’t claim this is the God Sober argues is consistent. But I will ask you to say whether you think – applying your criteria – a God who follows such rules is thus less consistent with science than Sober’s God.

      But the Gnus think they know that God doesn’t/almost certainly doesn’t exist, and claim this is a conclusion of science, whereas to me it looks like science is probably silent on such ultimate questions, stuck as it is studying what’s here in the world.

      The way I see it, science can say that if F=ma+kX, where X is ‘God’s action,’ then the best value for k we can determine is 0. The proportionality constant related to ‘God’s action’ for every equation of science is zero.

      In my opinion, that is not being silent on ultimate questions. Saying ‘the best fit to what we know is zero’ is not silence. However, if someone says zero /= doesn’t exist, okay, that’s fine with me.

      If that’s all the disagreement was, that would be no big deal, but on top of this, many of the gnus think it’s just swell to be gnasty to those who disagree on these highly debatable matters, even and perhaps especially to people who are pro-science but also religious.

      If I have been gnasty, I apologize. I have not intended to be. I think you’ve made great contributions to supporting sound science education in the US already, at a young age, and I hope you’ll make more in the future. But I also think you are being blind to an obvious bias in favor of one unproven entity over others. You have yet to make any convincing argument why science should accommodate belief in Yahweh any more than it accommodates belief in an infinite number of other magical unevidenced entities.

    163. #163 eric
      May 15, 2012

      VS:

      Or mutations that occur and propogate despite not being overly beneficial, because they attach to traits that are. Again, while we might expect this occur occasionally, this ha’ppening too frequently seems to suggest active intervention. And so on and so forth.
      Replace the “seems” above with “would seem” for clarity.
      Why is it that every time you start hacking up comments it seems to be for no other reason than to misrepresent what I actually said?

      Dear mother of God. I didn’t hack it up, misrepresent it, or anything else. I knew exactly what you said and I responded exactly on target. And no, your ‘change for clarity’ doesn’t clarify anything, it just makes it obvious you don’t know what the frak you’re talking about.

      Evolutionary theory predicts that a deleterious mutation being propagated when its attached to a positive trait will happen a lot. Pretty much every time a deleterious mutation occurs with a positive trait. There is no “happening too frequently.” Intervention is never supported by this happening, because its exactly what selection would do without intervention.

      Trying to be as generous as possible, I suppose that maybe what you were trying to say is that if some type of mutation occurred more often than the known physical mechanisms causing it would indicate it would happen, then that would be an indication of intervention. But that is not really what you wrote.

    164. #164 Chris Schoen
      May 15, 2012

      I’d consider 2+2=4 a model, a construction of simpler elements that are used as idealizations of real physical conditions. … I don’t know that mathematical truths aren’t analytical but I don’t think they are for a number of reasons.

      OK, that’s a little different than being “rebutted umpteen times.” Yes, there’s debate on the matter, debate which has been going on since at least the time of J.S. Mill. But it’s hardly a settled matter, and I think that the notion that “2+2=4″ is a contingent fact, subject to falsification by empirical findings, is still a minority position.

      Suffice it to say in any case that “mathematical statements are not analytic” is not a reference to empirical data, nor an artifact of pure logic. It needs a fully philosophical defense, and that’s going to include both rational argument and reference to observed fact.

    165. #165 Dan L.
      May 16, 2012

      @Chris:

      OK, that’s a little different than being “rebutted umpteen times.”

      I meant rebut in the sense “plausibly criticized”, not in the sense “definitively refuted.”

      It needs a fully philosophical defense, and that’s going to include both rational argument and reference to observed fact.

      Emphasis clearly mine. I agree completely.

      @VS:

      I see I’ve been letting you put a few words in Sober’s mouth. Let me quote some relevant points from the paper.

      I conclude that the fact that mutations are undirected is not a problem for theistic evolutionism. Maybe God arranged for mutations to be undirected. And if some mutations do turn out to be directed in the sense described here, that is no threat to atheism. Atheism has no more of a stake in mutations being undirected than it has in organisms being unable to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight

      God can direct the evolutionary process in an ultimate sense, though mutations are undirected in a proximate sense. Biology says nothing about the former and theism says nothing about the latter.

      To me, this seems to be a disavowal of your position that there is in principle some evolutionary test that would provide evidence against atheism — or for it. I’m not sure I agree, but I think this at least vindicates me in challenging your interpretation of Sober’s argument. Sober here seems to argue specifically that even under your test — the detection of directedness in mutations — atheism would not be discredited. When he says “silent” he means “silent”!

    166. #166 Wow
      May 16, 2012

      “Only in those cases where theologians have worked fastidiously to render their pet god invisible to questions of fact.”

      And then these same fundie idiots get their panties in a bunch because their “god” is referred to as “the god of the gaps”.

      It’s OK for their god to exist only in the gaps, as long as it is because THEY put him there.

    167. #167 Verbose Stoic
      May 16, 2012

      Dan L.,

      I’ll concede that Sober is using a stronger argument than the weak one I’m defending, but I don’t think that quote rises to the interpretation that I was arguing against. You said in 80:

      1. What is Sober trying to say? That the notion of God-guided evolution is not contradictory as long as we accept the premise that God is doing it in such a way as to be completely undetectable.

      I countered in 81:

      This is too strong a claim. Sober is likely simply saying that based on the evidence we have we can’t decide one way or another, not that it must be in principle undetectable. You need not accept as an axiom that there is no way to detect it, or make that an unchallengeable premise, but merely not that based on the current evidence we have wrt mutations we simply cannot decide the question.

      Thus, the “accept as a premise that God must be acting in ways that are completely undetectable” still seems like far too strong a claim. All he says here is that mutations being guided or unguided isn’t itself the argument that will prove or disprove atheism, but it doesn’t say anything about it being undetectable — which was your starting point — or that that must be accepted as a premise. As Sober did say, there are other reasons why one may be an atheist or theist, but evolution itself will not settle the issue.

    168. #168 Steve Smith
      May 16, 2012

      Chris Schoen: one could respond to Fisher that God, being omniscient, might know in advance which mutations were likely to be fixed in the population by Natural Selection.

      Then, again, there is no role for god in evolution because it is selection that determines the outcome, not god, which was Fisher’s point: a god must fight against selection to achieve its goal, and that is “futile”.

      NickMatzke: If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters, well then, you’ve got to deal with the fact that he was a Christian and presumably therefore did not see a conflict between his religion and evolution

      This is no more relevant than Fisher’s involvement with eugenics. The point is that evolution is not silent on the question of whether “God could be subtly directing the mutations.” Paraphrasing Fisher’s point: “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Given the way evolution works, any supernatural designer is doomed with the Sisyphean task of constantly tweaking genetics to achieve their supernatural goal, which is exactly the same reason we don’t see packs of chihuahuas hunting in the tundra. It’s trivially true that such is logically possible, but that’s the best that can be said.

      And I don’t understand why NickMatzke would make the (absurd) qualification “If you acknowledge that R.A. Fisher is a suitable authority on evolutionary matters”.

      NickMatzke: I wasn’t the one who first invoked The Great Authority of R.A. Fisher to try to make a point against Sober’s thesis. I was responding to the guy who did, pointing out that, actually, that particular authority clearly would have gone the other way.

      You did not respond to Fisher’s scientific point, but rather changed the subject to discuss Fisher’s Christianity and other non sequiturs.

      couchloc: this would be an instance which shows that Sober’s thesis is not trivial because Fisher would deny it.

      Denying a trivial argument doesn’t make it nontrivial.

    169. #169 Dan L.
      May 16, 2012

      @VS:

      Thus, the “accept as a premise that God must be acting in ways that are completely undetectable” still seems like far too strong a claim. All he says here is that mutations being guided or unguided isn’t itself the argument that will prove or disprove atheism, but it doesn’t say anything about it being undetectable — which was your starting point — or that that must be accepted as a premise.

      I’m going to allow Sober to respond to that one too.

      Theistic evolutionists can of course be deists, holding that God starts the universe in motion and then forever after declines to intervene. But there is no contradiction in their embracing a more active God whose postCreation interventions fly under the radar
      of evolutionary biology
      . Divine intervention isn’t part of science, but the theory of evolution does not entail that none occur.

      Emphasis mine.

      While we’re on the subject of your misinterpretations of Sober, remember in the last thread when I defended my assertion that Sober’s arguments apply equally well to the telephone system? I read the following as supporting that interpretation:

      Does this mean that evolutionists overstep what they know when they say that evolution is an undirected process? No more than experts on gambling devices overreach
      themselves when they say that a roulette wheel obeys a certain probability model. In both cases, there is evidence that favors the probability model in question over
      competitors — this is what is behind the scientific pronouncement. Those who hold that everything that happens is due to the sustaining power of God can accept what experts say about gambling devices; they should take the same view of what evolutionists say about the evolutionary process.

      I’m not walking anything back. I’ve already second guessed my reading of Sober more than I should have.

    170. #170 Dan L.
      May 16, 2012

      I have more Sober quotes to support my position. For example, here’s the crux of his argument. As you can see, it’s based on the notion of different “levels” of explanation — in this case, Sober is trying to point out that empirically-confirmed undirectedness of evolution is nonetheless consistent with a theistic ultimate cause.

      Ernst Mayr (1961) emphasized the importance of distinguishing proximate from ultimate causation. Mayr’s point can be illustrated by considering the question of why
      sunflowers turn towards the sun. One answer to this question cites the proximate mechanism inside each sunflower that causes it to do so; the other points to the reason the trait evolved, presumably natural selection. There is no conflict between these two “levels” of explanation. The theistic evolutionist should embrace Mayr’s pair of concepts and add a third, maintaining that there is, in addition, a still more distal level of divine
      causation. God can direct the evolutionary process in an ultimate sense, though mutations are undirected in a proximate sense. Biology says nothing about the former
      and theism says nothing about the latter.

      If Sober was arguing as you maintain, that direct empirical evolutionary evidence for theism is possible then this would seem to be a non sequitir to me. Instead, it’s the centerpiece of his argument. It’s really the only part of the paper where he argues directly that evidence for undirected evolution is not evidence against theism.

      And note that all along Sober argues that evidence about proximate causes has no bearing on the truth status of claims about ultimate causes. Nowhere in this paper do I see Sober admit even the possibility of empirical evidence against for or against theism. Please cite anything I may have overlooked along these lines.

    171. #171 eric
      May 16, 2012

      Dan, re: the telephone system, you might also look at Prof. Sober’s letter back to Jerry Coyne, published today on Jerry’s blog. Sober reiterates that his point applies equally well to “probabilistic theories generally (setting aside for now the possibility that quantum mechanics is a special case),” and mentions gambling devices several more times.

    172. #172 Michael Fugate
      May 16, 2012

      How is theistic evolution any less religious than creationism? It is not like creationists reject all science and TEs accept all science. How is tying evolution to naturalism any different than any other science? Is it only because some people object to evolution being undirected, but not for instance chemical-bonding? Would or should a teacher be barred from telling students that their god could possibly have mutated some genes sometime in the past, when asked? Shouldn’t we be leaving religion out completely in public schools – which is the argument I see coming from the new atheists – not that evolution is compatible with religion (some of the time?). As has been shown here, god or gods mean very different things – so how can you conclude compatibility (whatever that means) when you don’t know what gods we are talking about? Don’t we need to ask what god you believe in before we can tell someone it is compatible with science?

      Given that evolutionary theory without new and improved added god action works just fine as a predictive theory, why try to stick something else on? Won’t you just further confuse people already confused about evolution? Doesn’t it undermine science, given we have no mechanism(s) through which supernatural entities can tweak the evolutionary process.

      When scientists were contemplating transmutation in the late 18th and early 19th c what they lacked was a mechanism. Without a plausible mechanism the theory was incomplete and widespread acceptance was minimal. Natural selection supplied a that mechanism and the rest they say is history. Given that we have a mechanism that works, why would we retreat to one that is at best mysterious? Why bother with science at all?

    173. #173 couchloc
      May 16, 2012

      Jason,

      I’ve just finished reading the D/P book, and have some further thoughts which haven’t been made before. These are relevant to the points in your original post and seem worth making.

      Your #2 asks, “Are there any scientists who hold the extreme view Sober argues against?” and then follows a long discussion of Dennett’s views in the D/P book. You do a good job of making it clear that Dennett in his recent book denies the claims Sober makes (which is fair enough). But it is worth noting that Sober was replying to Dennett’s 1995 book in his paper, and what Dennett says there is what’s relevant to evaluating the “Sober-doesn’t-have-any-targets” charge. What’s worth noting is that Plantinga also says he interpreted Dennett’s 1995 book as saying that science and religion are incompatible (p.39). So Sober’s complaints about the 1995 book are not coming out of thin air.

      Next, your #3 asks, “Is it trivial to show that modern science does not rule out the possibility of God-guided mutations?” Then later you go on to say

      “Note that in the material quoted in the last section, we saw Dennett suggesting that it was trivially true that evolution cannot absolutely demonstrate the absence of intelligent design. That is my view as well. Sober writes very lucidly about what biologists mean when they say that mutations are unguided and about some of the evidence on which this conclusion is based. It seems to me, though, that he is working awfully hard to establish something that is genuinely obvious.”

      But Dennett himself states in the D/P book that the notion that mutations are unguided “is often misunderstood” (p.29). Dennett then goes on to state that “even so great an evolutionist as Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod could make the mistake of thinking that evolution could not occur in Laplace’s world….” So it appears that Dennett holds that the point is *not* genuinely obvious to everyone too. This appears to be all Sober needs to justify his view that there is a nontrivial issue here worth discussing, no?

    174. #174 Verbose Stoic
      May 16, 2012

      Dan L.,

      As I said previously, I have not read the paper and don’t think I have access to it, so I will try — and think I have tried — to be fairly vague in what I ascribe to Sober. Based on these comments, I still think your charge is too strong, but that’s because I take you as saying that the claim is that ONLY a God that does not intervene at all fits this separation, and the quotes don’t support that. For example, the last quote is Sober summarizing Mayr’s point, but without reading more of the context I can’t tell if he’s claiming that this is the way it has to work or using it as an example.

      Note that for anyone who has ever claimed that the conception doesn’t fit the God people believe in, the God described in that section is essentially the Thomistic — and thus Catholic — God, as has been repeatedly pointed out by people like Edward Feser. Thus, if Sober really is trying to narrow in on that concept, it’s a very well-represented one.

      (BTW, on the telephone example I think my comments generally were that they were different philosophically, not empirically, and Sober leaves the philosophical difference explicitly open).

    175. #175 Dan L.
      May 16, 2012

      This appears to be all Sober needs to justify his view that there is a nontrivial issue here worth discussing, no?

      It’s moot since Coyne just put up a letter by Sober explaining his motivation for making this particular argument. It’s not for purely philosophical reasons.

      He also addresses the Dennett issue — by apologizing for misrepresenting Dennett’s views. He didn’t bother equivocating as you did on his behalf.

    176. #176 Verbose Stoic
      May 16, 2012

      Dan L.,

      Oh, and I meant to reiterate the comment I made before that Sober is indeed, it seems, making a stronger claim and slightly different claim than the one I defended. I concede that completely.

    177. #177 Dan L.
      May 16, 2012

      @VS:

      The paper is linked in the OP. Here it is again if you’re feeling lazy: Sober

      For example, the last quote is Sober summarizing Mayr’s point, but without reading more of the context I can’t tell if he’s claiming that this is the way it has to work or using it as an example.

      Then you can either trust me that this IS the argument — this is the part of the paper where he explains why interventionism is consistent with biological evidence. OR you can read the paper yourself.

      I’ve read the paper a few times now and I see nothing to support your contentions. It seems to me Sober is arguing that empirical evidence is simply irrelevant to the question of theism. That no evidence could ever be adduced for or against theism because he doesn’t think that’s how empiricism works.

      Now you might not agree. I’m not even sure I do. But I’ve spent way too much time arguing against your rather implausible interpretation of Sober’s argument. The paper is not hidden, it’s not behind a paywall. If you want to keep arguing this, cite evidence from the paper in question for your contentions.

      If you want to go back to burden of proof I have some more juicy quotes from the Sober paper on THAT topic. He is not as kind to theism as you seem to want him to be.

    178. #178 Dan L.
      May 16, 2012

      @VS:

      because I take you as saying that the claim is that ONLY a God that does not intervene at all fits this separation, and the quotes don’t support that.

      I don’t think I ever claimed that only non-interventionist deities are being discussed here. You were objecting to my point that Sober is arguing about hidden deities but after rereading the paper I’m rather certain I was right about that. His “fly under the radar” comment I think strongly implies that he is talking about hidden interventions.

    179. #179 eric
      May 16, 2012

      Given that half of Sober’s paper is on mathematics and numbers, I’d also be interested in hearing what Jason has to say on the part of the paper that starts on the bottom of page 12.

    180. #180 Chris Schoen
      May 16, 2012

      Steve Smith,

      Then, again, there is no role for god in evolution because it is selection that determines the outcome, not god, which was Fisher’s point: a god must fight against selection to achieve its goal, and that is “futile”.

      My point is that this is a bit of a Pyhrric victory for you.

      Sober is not out to show that God guides mutations. He is using this example as one illustration of how evolutionary theory could be “causally incomplete.” Fisher’s observation makes this particular example implausible, yes, because introducing new mutations into a population does not in itself entail they will be favored by selection. (And furthermore the question of why an omniscient god would ever allow mutations to be created that had no survival benefit is a troubling one.) But the main point that the empirical facts of evolution do not logically rule out competing metaphysical contexts is not harmed by this observation.

      Furthermore, if we take Fisher’s lecture as a whole, it’s clear that the overall point of it is to try to reconcile naturalist science with non-naturalist metaphysics.

      Is there anything for us in these writers [Jan Smuts and Henri Bergson]? That is what I want to discus. Is there anything for us as men of Science, and again anything for us as what I may call, without narrow limitations, religious men: men who earnestly wish to live their lives to good purpose? I believe that there may be, but it will need a good deal of disentangling.

      His conclusion is that we don’t need an anti-Darwinian science (such as Bergson proposed) in order to rescue the notion of what today would be called a “purpose driven” life, in which the “service of God” (Fisher’s words) is not rendered meaningless. The distinction he makes between empirical and metaphysical elements of evolutionary science is almost exactly the same one outlined by Sober.

    181. #181 Steve Smith
      May 16, 2012

      Then Sober’s argument is simultaneously trivial and silly. So what if one crazy thing or another is logically possible? As for the possibility of hidden variables in evolution, every fact and observation about evolution is rooted in physics, specifically quantum electrodynamics. You cannot bring hidden variables into evolution and then pretend you haven’t also brought them into QED, with all the technical and observational pitfalls this is known to have. That Sober outright omits QM from his argument means that they can be dismissed out of hand and conclude that he really doesn’t understand the science he’s writing about.

    182. #182 Wow
      May 17, 2012

      “My point is that this is a bit of a Pyhrric victory for you.”

      I do not think it means what you think it means.

      Your reading of Sobel is basically that God is hiding from science deliberately.

      Science is compatible with the same indetectable mechanism applied to healing crystals and the position of the planets in the sky.

    183. #183 Verbose Stoic
      May 17, 2012

      Dan L.,

      Ah, that link worked. I think the only other link that I’d actually really noticed was one to a chapter in a book that I didn’t have. Anyway, honestly, you seem have far more of an interest in the precise interpretation than I do, but since you asked so nicely [cracks knuckles]

      Let’s start with what Sober is trying to get across in the paper, since it’s important for what comes later and really defines the “burden of proof” point:

      Creationists maintain that the theory of evolution entails that there is no God. If they are right, then the theory has metaphysical implications. Atheistic evolutionists (e.g., Dennett 1995 and Provine 1989) often agree with creationists on this point. The conditional “if evolutionary theory is true, then there is no God” is therefore common ground. Where creationists have their modus tollens, these evolutionists have their modus ponens.

      Both sides are wrong.

      Sober’s goal here is to demonstrate one thing: that it is not the case that if evolutionary theory is true then there is no God. Or, to put it better, his goal is to demonstrate that evolutionary theory does not entail atheism. These, then, are the people he is targetting, and the point he is trying to get across. Thus, your point 3 asking him to provide positive evidence is shifting the burden of proof, because it demands that he provide something that someone giving a POSITIVE argument for God should give, but that is clearly not his purpose.

      Now, the best case in support of your position, it seems to me, is this definition of theistic evolution:

      Theistic evolutionism is a logically consistent position
      (Ruse 2000; Sober 2008b). This is the idea that God uses the evolutionary process to make organisms. The difference between creationism and theistic evolutionism is depicted in Figure 2. Creationists don’t limit themselves to the assertion that there is a
      God who is responsible for the living things that we observe. They additionally maintain that the evolutionary process is inherently incapable of producing the complex adaptations that organisms have and that these are due to God’s direct intervention in
      nature. According to theistic evolutionism, God produces organisms indirectly, by setting the evolutionary process in motion.

      This would seem to suggest that only a God that did not directly intervene is theistic evolution, and that would suggest that only an undetectable God is consistent. Except that when he talks about mutations, he says this:

      The thesis that mutations are undirected is sometimes presented as a rock-bottom “philosophical” commitment of evolutionary biology, akin to materialism and just as central to the scientific worldview. This is a mistake. The thesis is certainly central to biology, but it is important to see that it has nothing to do with materialism or theism. It is like the thesis that an organism can’t synthesize vitamin D from sunlight or can’t
      regenerate lost limbs. It is an empirical question whether the mirroring relation obtains for a given organism with respect to a given set of mutations in a given range of environments. If it does, that is something that evolutionary biology needs to explain.
      Mutation rates vary among and within species and it is a good question why they do so. Explaining patterns of variation in mutation rates is a problem within evolutionary biology, not a challenge to evolutionary biology.

      I conclude that the fact that mutations are undirected is not a problem for theistic evolutionism. Maybe God arranged for mutations to be undirected. And if some mutations do turn out to be directed in the sense described here, that is no threat to atheism. Atheism has no more of a stake in mutations being undirected than it has in
      organisms being unable to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.

      So, here, specifically, he talks about the case of directed and undirected mutations, and points out that whether mutations turn out to be directed or undirected is indeed a problem for evolutionary biology, but it is in fact the case that evolutionary theory will and can accept either directed or undirected mutations. From this, he points out that for undirected mutations you could still have a theistic God, and for directed mutations you could still have atheism. As he says earlier in the paper:

      Even if you think the theory knocks the
      wind from the sails of the argument from design, you still need to consider the fact that there are other arguments for the existence of God. And even if you think that none of these arguments is rationally persuasive, you still need to consider whether belief in God must be based on evidence. … Atheistic evolutionists may scoff at these other arguments and at those who believe in God while admitting that they can offer no compelling argument that there is such a being. But this is not the theory of evolution talking.

      But to get back to the previous quote about what theistic evolution is, surely Sober would accept that if we found directed mutations in evolutionary theory that this would, indeed, be consistent with and would be theistic evolution. In fact, it seems that he clearly would consider this sort of mutation part of evolutionary theory and so would constitute God using evolutionary theory to produce complex organisms, and so would be theistic evolution by his definition. And yet this is clearly a detectable difference; it is a major difference to have a guiding hand in mutations producing them for the purpose of benefiting the species versus not having it. This wouldn’t prove God — as he notes — but surely this must conflict with your “undetectable” line.

      Now, if you argue that you can show that mutations are indeed undirected, this would eliminate some conceptions of God, but only those that require direct intervention in the evolutionary process. But this is not a problem for Sober:

      Although evolutionary theory is silent on the question of whether there is a God, it is not neutral with respect to logically stronger hypotheses about God. Consider, for example, the statement

      Life appeared on earth about 10,000 years ago due to divine intervention.

      This statement is inconsistent with evolutionary theory.

      Note that it seems to me that Jason — and maybe your — comments on the silence of evolutionary theory seem to be aimed at arguing that evolutionary theory is not neutral … but Sober clearly and explicitly distinguishes “silent” and “neutral”.

      So, on this, you would be right that at the very least if we could establish that mutations were all unguided it would eliminate all Gods that are detectable by guiding or directing evolution. That is a trivial point. However, it does not eliminate God or eliminate Gods intervening directly elsewhere. Just not in evolutionary theory. And the paragraph you quoted of Mayr’s view seems to indicate the “different level of explanation” God that people like Haught advocate, and it’s debatable if that counts as “undetectable”. Take Haught’s “boiling water” example. At the physical level, you won’t see any of the intentions, and so won’t answer the “Why?” question of “Why did someone put the kettle on?” At the intentional level, the physical view is irrelevant but it CAN answer the question of intentions. Does that make it undetectable? In this case, God could be undetectable at the scientific level, and detectable at other levels. None of this, then, would support your strong claim.

    184. #184 eric
      May 17, 2012

      VS (quoting Sober):

      The thesis that mutations are undirected is sometimes presented as a rock-bottom “philosophical” commitment of evolutionary biology, akin to materialism and just as central to the scientific worldview. This is a mistake. The thesis is certainly central to biology, but it is important to see that it has nothing to do with materialism or theism. It is like the thesis that an organism can’t synthesize vitamin D from sunlight or can’t regenerate lost limbs. It is an empirical question whether the mirroring relation obtains for a given organism with respect to a given set of mutations in a given range of environments. If it does, that is something that evolutionary biology needs to explain.

      That part somewhat bothered me in the paper. Sober seems to understand that, statistically speaking, its entirely possible for us to find the occasional mutation that matches a fitness need. In fact this happens all the time, and is how, for example, bacterial resistance to antibiotics propagates: you have a source population, a small amount of which has a random mutation that just happens to give it resistance to next month’s antibiotic, and so that strain propagates better.

      So far so good. But then he goes on to talk about directness as if he doesn’t understand just how much it would violate what we understand about nature. Observed directness (beyond the statistical sense described above) could likely only be explained by an entity. Stronger directedness would be a major problem for evolution.

      Just think about all the steps that go between DNA mutation in a germ cell and birth of the resulting organism; to be directed (without God), the DNA strand undergoing mutation would have to see all that future. It would have to see how that mutation is going to affect the other regulatory or coding jobs the gene does (beacuse its not one-gene-for-one-thing). It would have to see how sexual reproduction (combining two sets of DNA) is going to impact the desired change. It would have to see the developmental and epigenetic factors that will impact how the gene gets expressed. In short, it would have to be able to see future events that require information not contained in the DNA strand itself. There is no physical process for it to do this.

      Discovering directedness would not just be like discovering vitamin D manufacture or some other biological trait. It would be like discovering some person who could flap their wings and fly: it would present a major challenge to our fundamental ideas of how biology, chemistry, and physics works because the theories and laws it would violate would be extremely wide-ranging.

      So IMO, Sober is wrong: mutations being undirected is a pretty rock-bottom commitment of evolutionary biology – and physics, and chemistry to boot. Becuse mutations being directed would require us to rethink how causality itself works. It would demand ‘quantum eraser’ type effects on a wholesale, macroscopic level: macromolecular and possibly even whole-organism behavior today being influenced by what happens tomorrow.

    185. #185 Verbose Stoic
      May 17, 2012

      eric,

      Sober might well concede entity, or at least agent that can direct. But he’d likely say — and be right to — that that wouldn’t necessarily be GOD. Atheists, then, would still be okay even if that was shown.

      Thus, it’s only if you think that evolution must entail atheism that you think that this must be a commitment of evolution.

    186. #186 NickMatzke
      May 17, 2012

      So IMO, Sober is wrong: mutations being undirected is a pretty rock-bottom commitment of evolutionary biology – and physics, and chemistry to boot. Becuse mutations being directed would require us to rethink how causality itself works.

      Ever since Hume, I believe, “how causality itself works” has been something of a mystery. And it got worse with quantum mechanics. Or can you tell me the cause of why a radioactive element decays at time t and not t+0.0324?

    187. #187 eric
      May 17, 2012

      VS:

      Sober might well concede entity, or at least agent that can direct. But he’d likely say — and be right to — that that wouldn’t necessarily be GOD. Atheists, then, would still be okay even if that was shown.

      Sober:

      I conclude that the fact that mutations are undirected is not a problem for theistic evolutionism. Maybe God arranged for mutations to be undirected.

      Seems pretty clear that Sober is arguing about God, that he’s interested in demonstrating that TOE is consistent (or ‘not logically inconsistent’) with theism. He does not seem particularly interested in the question of whether the TOE is consistent with (example) naturalistic space aliens.

    188. #188 eric
      May 17, 2012

      Nick:

      Or can you tell me the cause of why a radioactive element decays at time t and not t+0.0324?

      Nope, I can’t. Can you tell me what that has to do with the proposition that the likelihood of a mutational event in my germ cell at time t is affected by how my (future) kid will develop at time t + 5 years?

      Are you seriously on Sober’s side in this, that you think a discovery like that would not be a huge, radical discovery for all of science? Do you really think, like Sober, that it would be like finding a chimp population that can make vitamin C or something equivalent?

    189. #189 eric
      May 17, 2012

      And Nick, since you’re lurking, would you care to respond to the first part of @162? Arguendo, I’ll say you’re right – in terms of accommodation with science, pixies and leprechauns aren’t like Yahweh. They eat, drink, run around, mostly obey natural laws but occasionally do some magic. They are like Jesus. So science’s accommodation of Jesus-belief should be similar to its accommodation of pixie-belief. Yes? No?

    190. #190 Tulse
      May 17, 2012

      Ever since Hume, I believe, “how causality itself works” has been something of a mystery.

      Right, but any argument against evolution that depends on that is going to be ridiculously broad to the point of intellectual dishonesty. If the best argument that one can muster against evolution also undermines all of science, then there’s a problem with the argument.

    191. #191 Wow
      May 17, 2012

      “Or can you tell me the cause of why a radioactive element decays at time t and not t+0.0324?”

      Because it only gets the one chance to decay.

      Once it decays at time t, it has finished.

      If it didn’t decay at time t, then whatever time it DID decay would then become your “t” and you could ask the same question.

      PS do you think the answer to that is “God made it decay then”?

    192. #192 Tulse
      May 17, 2012

      do you think the answer to that is “God made it decay then”?

      I vote for pixies — special nano-quantum pixies.

    193. #193 Wow
      May 17, 2012

      Only if they look cute in their pixie dresses…

    194. #194 Claudiu Bandea
      May 17, 2012

      If non-random mutations arise, and there is some evidence they do, then the scientific/philosophical/theistic question should be: what are the forces/mechanisms behind their origin and how do we approach this inquiry experimentally? See post #79.

    195. #195 Verbose Stoic
      May 17, 2012

      eric,

      In the very next part of that paragraph, he says this;

      And if some mutations do turn out to be directed in the sense described here, that is no threat to atheism. Atheism has no more of a stake in mutations being undirected than it has in
      organisms being unable to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.

      Thus, by implication he’d have to concede some sort of entity, likely, but he explicitly says here that direction in evolution would not entail it being GOD that did it. And he might be able to deny entity as well. If he wanted to. Which he doesn’t.

    196. #196 Michael Fugate
      May 17, 2012

      Selection is directed and requires no entity. If mutations were directed (for which we currently have no evidence – in 79 they still occur randomly only the rate differs among loci), then they wouldn’t necessarily require an entity. If an entity were involved, it doesn’t appear to be paying much attention.

    197. #197 eric
      May 17, 2012

      VS, I know Sober thinks some form of directedness would not be a problem any bigger than vitamin D synthesis. I think he’s wrong about that, for the reasons I laid out in @184; any non-entity direction mechanism is going to have implications far beyond the TOE. Any magical entity mechanism is also going to have implications far beyond the TOE.

      I guess that leaves us aliens. Okay, I’ll agree that if non-magical, perfectly natural aliens inserted a gene into hominids 50,000 years ago, using nothing more unusual than 21st century bioengineering, that this would be (as Sober describes it), a problem within evolutionary biology but not a challenge to evolutionary biology. And no problem for atheism. Is that the point you are trying to make? If not, can you try and articulate your point better?

    198. #198 Verbose Stoic
      May 17, 2012

      eric,

      My point is that Sober is, in fact, not saying at all what specifically that thing that directs and is not God would be. He’s simply saying that that would be internal to evolutionary biology, but would not mean that atheism is false. Why? Because it doesn’t have to be a God. So as evolutionary biology does not entail atheism, and directed mutations do not entail theism, then those who think that evolution or mutation entail either atheism or theism are, in fact, wrong.

      So, then, what’s YOUR point? What are you trying to get across from your initial comment that undirected mutations are a rock-bottom commitment in evolutionary biology, that you then defended by quoting Sober saying that undirected mutations don’t disprove God?

    199. #199 eric
      May 17, 2012

      VS:

      My point is that Sober is, in fact, not saying at all what specifically that thing that directs and is not God would be.

      I think he’s implying its the theistic evolutionist’s God. Middle of page 10, he says this:

      It is consistent for theistic evolutionists to claim that there is more going on in the evolutionary process than is dreamt of in evolutionary biology, just as a friend of determinism can consistently maintain that there is more involved in the process of flipping a coin than is described in a simple probabilistic model…

      Theistic evolutionists claim there is more going on. What “more” do theistic evolutionists claim, hmmm? What differentiates them from atheistic evolutionists? (Sober then talks about probabilistic vs. underlying deterministic models and how saying mutation is probabilistic is consistent with their being a deterministic cause.) He ends the section with:

      Theistic evolutionists can of course be deists, holding that God starts the universe in motion and then forever after declines to intervene. But there is no contradiction in their embracing a more active God whose post Creation interventions fly under the radar of evolutionary biology. Divine intervention isn’t part of science, but the theory of evolution does not entail that none occur.

      It is God who is flying under the radar; God the hidden deterministic cause behind the probabilistic distribution of results, and the directing mechanism he’s talking about is divine intervention.

      Now, you could certainly apply Sober’s argument to other possible sources of directedness. But it’s not Sober who is talking about those other possibilities, its VS.

    200. #200 Tulse
      May 17, 2012

      In thinking about all this, I’m curious as to how this discussion might relate to human-produced genetic engineering. We don’t tend to think that this form of “direct intervention” somehow undermines the Theory of Natural Section, but that’s largely because we don’t think that the theory even applies to such artificial cases. (One could also argue this is the case for plain old selective breeding.) And it is certainly possible that some secret lab could intentionally produce specific mutations and release those organisms into the wild, and as long as such mutations were not “obvious” in some fashion, such effects could also “fly under the radar of evolutionary biology”.

      I’m not sure what the implications of this are — my inclination is to say that it indicates that, in a narrow sense, (and it pains me to say this) Sober is right, in that ToE is not automatically rendered void if directed evolution occurs, but such rectitude is fairly narrow, because it only means that ToE doesn’t actually apply to those cases. I suppose that Sober could say that this is precisely what he means by ToE being “silent” on directed mutation.

      To be honest, I think that, as stated, Sober’s argument is a red herring, since the issue raised is really the broader one of methodological naturalism, and applies far more widely than just to evolutionary theory (and just to the Christian “God”).

    201. #201 Verbose Stoic
      May 17, 2012

      eric,

      Now, you could certainly apply Sober’s argument to other possible sources of directedness. But it’s not Sober who is talking about those other possibilities, its VS.

      And you say this despite the fact that SOBER says that if we established directedness in evolution it would not be an issue for atheism? You know, that part of the paragraph that you keep ignoring?

      If establishing directedness wouldn’t be a problem for atheism — which, again, [b]Sober explicitly says[/b] — then doesn’t that imply that there’d have to be some other possible mechanism/entity/whatevah there other than God?

    202. #202 Verbose Stoic
      May 17, 2012

      Tulse,

      Well, first, many people do think that artificial selection and natural selection are at least continguous, in that they can use the same mechanisms. It’s only the unguided assumption, really, that would cause us to in any way divide the two.

      Which leads to the second point, which is that Sober is not, in fact, presuming the unguided assumption. He’s saying that whether or not they are guided is PART OF evolutionary theory, and fairly reasonably that if we proved that there was guidance evolutionary biology would simply update its theory to reflect that and go on its way. What would likely happen is that the division you talk about would simply vanish … but it would still be evolution. It might not be Darwinian, depending on how tightly Darwinian assumes unguided. But it would still be evolution.

    203. #203 Michael Fugate
      May 17, 2012

      VS – natural selection is no less unguided/directed than is artificial selection. It is whether the mutations are unguided – that is the issue. By doing gene trees, we can see if genes have been inserted – say from viruses – de novo into a genome. None of this requires a conscious director.

    204. #204 Traces
      May 17, 2012

      Can someone explain to me why any theologian would want to advance an argument for god-driven evolution — problem of evil and all, I mean — ?

    205. #205 Wow
      May 18, 2012

      “If an entity were involved, it doesn’t appear to be paying much attention.”

      Or, indeed, doing much work.

      He’s pretty damn lazy this God of the Gaps, isn’t he.

      Either that or chicken.

    206. #206 eric
      May 18, 2012

      VS @201:

      And you say this despite the fact that SOBER says that if we established directedness in evolution it would not be an issue for atheism? You know, that part of the paragraph that you keep ignoring?

      Alright VS, I’ll partially concede the point. Sober’s paper makes one indirect reference to the possibility of non-God directors. Sure, as a philosopher I’m sure he’d concede that there could be non-god directors.

      But he also spends the bulk of this paper talking about God the hidden director using divine intervention to direct. About the consistency of theism with science. That’s the focus of the paper. That’s the theme, the message, the point he wants to get across. Do you agree, or not?

    207. #207 Verbose Stoic
      May 18, 2012

      eric,

      Actually, the point of Sober’s essay is simply to argue — as he says repeatedly — for evolutionary theory not, in fact, having dire consequences for the God debate, or any at all. He talks about the metaphysics and it not having metaphysical consequences early, and carries that on in the mathematical session which has nothing to do with God. So I must ask you again: what point are you trying to make here?

    208. #208 Wow
      May 18, 2012

      “for evolutionary theory not, in fact, having dire consequences for the God debate”

      Why?

      It doesn’t have dire consequences for the FSM debate either. Nor the Invisible Pink Unicorn In Sock Drawers debate.

      Nor, indeed, Thor.

    209. #209 eric
      May 18, 2012

      VS – I think I was pretty clear about my point, in @184 and @197. Sober does not understand the wide-reaching consequences of discovering directed mutation.

      It means either agency, or something happening in the future affecting the present (outside of the odd quantum eraser effect). And if Sober or anyone else is claiming that directedness is ongoing (rather than limited to minor adjustments in the deep past), that pretty much rules out non-godlike natural agents, too.

    210. #210 Verbose Stoic
      May 18, 2012

      eric,

      Sober says:

      The thesis that mutations are undirected is sometimes presented as a rock-bottom “philosophical” commitment of evolutionary biology, akin to materialism and just as central to the scientific worldview. This is a mistake. The thesis is certainly central to biology, but it is important to see that it has nothing to do with materialism or theism.[Emphasis added]

      Sober doesn’t deny that it would have implications beyond evolutionary biology, and in fact suggests it would. But it wouldn’t undermine either materialism or theism, and likely wouldn’t impact naturalism either. It wouldn’t, thus, impact science either; the implications of the directedness, then, would simply be things that science would have to adjust to, as opposed to forcing us to completely reconsider science, theism, atheism, naturalism, materialism, etc as we know it.

    211. #211 eric
      May 18, 2012

      It is good to know that finding out that mutations were directed by non-God agents would not force us to reconsider theism. For a moment there, theism risked making a claim about the world and becoming testable. Whew, dodged that bullet!

    212. #212 Michael Fugate
      May 18, 2012

      Actually, the point of Sober’s essay is simply to argue — as he says repeatedly — for evolutionary theory not, in fact, having dire consequences for the God debate, or any at all.

      Only if you don’t understand evolutionary theory. We know nobody understands god – how could you? – so I don’t think you can make that claim.

    213. #213 Michael Fugate
      May 18, 2012

      I was also thinking, since we have the genome sequences for humans, chimpanzees and gorillas shouldn’t we be able to find all the changes the gods made to make humans extra-special? This sounds like a Templeton-funded post-doc for someone. Did they insert a few new genes or did they tweak thousands of genes to change timing and efficiency? I would opt for the 2nd; it makes it much easier for them to remain hidden from view.