So I hear, via the Panda’s Thumb, that Uncommon Descent has a new
poster. And he’s off to a rollicking good start, with a post
explaining why Christians who accept the fact of evolution are
incoherent and deluded. (As usual, I don’t link to UD, due to their rampant
dishonesty in silently altering or removing links.)
I am, perhaps, not the best person to respond to his claim, given
that I’m not a Christian. But his argument is so inconsistent, and so
typical of a type of argument that constantly occurs in fundamentalist
gibberings that it doesn’t take a Christian theistic evolutionist
to point out its glaring errors.
One of the things that has always struck me as very odd about many
fundamentalists is that they insist on an omniscient, omnipotent deity
- a deity without any limits of any sort; and yet simultaneously, all
of their discussions of this supposedly limitless being are based on
such a limited notion of what their deity can do.
Cudworth’s argument is based on the idea that religious
evolutionists view evolution as God’s tool for creating life – and
then requiring God’s use of “tools” to be incredibly limited:
I would not have a problem understanding evolution as God’s “creation
tool,” if TEs conceived of evolution as a “tool” in the strict sense.
A tool in the strict sense is fully in the control of the tool-user,
and the results it achieves (when properly used by a competent user)
are not due to chance but to intelligence and skill. But Darwin’s
mechanism leaves room for neither intelligence nor skill; it is the
unconscious operation of impersonal natural selection upon mutations
which are the products of chance. It follows that Darwinian evolution
is not a tool, but an autonomous process, and therefore out of God’s
This has a theological consequence. If evolution is out of God’s
control, it is incompatible with the notion of providence – the notion
that God provides for the future needs of the earth and its
inhabitants. God can hardly, for example, provide for the need of
Hagar in the desert, if he can’t even guarantee that the human race,
of which Hagar is a member, will ever emerge from the primordial seas.
(The radical contingency of the Darwinian mechanism is captured well
by Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould, when he wrote that if the tape of
evolution were rewound and played again, the results would be entirely
different. Once God sets a truly Darwinian process in motion, he has
no control over whether it will produce Adam and Eve, a race of
pointy-eared Vulcans, or just an ocean full of bacteria.)
A non-providential God is clearly not an orthodox Christian God, and
it therefore appears that theistic evolutionism generates heretical
Christianity. As I see it, the only way for theistic evolutionists to
escape this consequence is to argue that mutations seem like chance
events from the human perspective, but from God’s perspective are
foreordained. But in that case, “evolution” is really just the
actualization of a foreseen design over a very long time frame; the
“purely natural causes” spoken of by the TEs are really just the
unrecognized fingertips of the very long arm of God. This view, which
we might call “apparent Darwinism,” fails to get God out of the
process of natural causation, which was (as Cornelius Hunter has
argued) Darwinism’s historical raison d’etre.
So – Cudworth’s problem is that when a theistic evolutionist
refers to evolution as “God’s tool”, they’re being incoherent -
because an omnipotent deity’s use of tool is inherently constrained to
the simple human version of a tool, where a tool is something directly
manipulated by the human being, and produces a predictable
deterministic outcome, leaving clear markings indicating its use.
Suppose you’re an omniscient, omnipotent deity. And suppose that
you want to create a self-sufficient system of living beings. Why
would you be constrained to the same kinds of decisions, devices, and
processes as your limited creations?
I argue that Cudworth is the one who’s incoherent. Let me pick out
one line that I think does a particularly good job of describing not
just the problem with his argument, but of the problem with so many
fundamentalist arguments: “Once God sets a truly Darwinian process in
motion, he has no control over whether it will produce Adam and Eve, a
race of pointy-eared Vulcans, or just an ocean full of bacteria.”
Cudworth argues for an omnipotent deity – and in support
of his omnipotent deity, he argues that the omnipotent deity
cannot do something relatively simple!
To make matters worse, Cudworth’s definition of “tool” doesn’t
even work for human beings!
One thing I’ve been working on for fun, and which I’ll eventually
post to the blog, is an evolutionary programming system. It’s a simple
programming language, where each language construct can be mutated.
You provide an initial input (in the form of a simple program), and
an evaluation function (another simple program), and let it go.
Eventually, you’ll get a result that satisfies the evalution function
amazingly well. I’ve used my little toy to create things like a square
root function, using the following evaluation function: (The
system tries to minimize the result of the evaluation function.)
# A minimizing evaluation function which puts an "input" into # register 0, and reads a result from register 1. It produces a 0 # result when the program generates the square root of register 0 # in register one for all values. def Eval(prog): # dev will be the sum of the deviation between the # result squared and the target number for the first # 20 primes. dev = 0 for i in primes(20): prog.reset() prog.setRegister(0, i) prog.execute() result = prog.getRegister(1) # Add the difference between squaring the "result" dev += (result * result - i) return dev
No two runs produce the same result. I’ve gotten a simple
binary search like square root; something close to newton’s method
(basically computing a slope, and using that to converge faster),
and some things that only work for limited ranges of values
(which was cool – it “found” the limits of the evaluation function
and produced something that worked specifically for the stuff that the
I’d call my evolutionary programming system a tool, and I’d say
that I’ve used my tool to generate interesting programs. According to
Mr. Cudworth, my system isn’t a tool at all. How can Cudworth describe
what I built? It’s clearly not a tool, because like his
description of evolution, it doesn’t produce a specific result – in
fact, it produces a different result each time I run it on the same
input. And yet, it’s not truly random, either. If I give it the
evaluation function above, I can absolutely guarantee that it
will eventually produce something that computes square
Evolution is an amazing tool. Set up correctly, it can be used to
produce an adaptive, self-regulating system with pretty much any
desired set of properties. Why would an omnipotent deity not
make use of such a great tool? And if I am not constrained to
Mr. Cudworth’s definition of tool, then why would an omnipotent
deity have to work within those constraints?
If Cudworth (or any other fundamentalist) wants to make arguments
in favor of an unlimited deity, then he really needs to
stop basing his arguments on the inherent limits of what said
unlimited ominpotent deity can do.