Evolution and God....Again

With prominent conservatives like George Will and Charles Krauthammer speaking out strongly in favor of evolutionary theory and against ID lately, you knew there would be a reaction from some of their ideological brethren. George Neumayr, executive editor of The American Spectator, offers this commentary in an attempt to argue that evolution and atheism are one and the same. He begins by trying to poison the well with a false charge of disingenuousness:

Only a small percentage of the American people support the evolutionary claim that life arose through purely material causes. Consequently, many Darwinists, recognizing that they need to win new converts lest they completely lose control over the debate, now loudly argue that Darwin's theory harmonizes with religion. As Brown professor Kenneth Miller put it in the New York Times recently, Darwin's theory isn't "anti-God." But this PR strategy of emphasizing the compatibility of Darwinism and religion is running into a problem: Darwinism's most celebrated experts -- that is, the scientists who understand the theory most purely and deeply -- admit that it is an intrinsically atheistic theory.

Notice how he automatically assumes that Ken Miller argues that evolution is not anti-God purely because of "PR strategy"? This is an example of what I call the preemptive accusation - if you accuse your opponents of doing the very thing that you yourself are doing, it puts them on the defensive and distracts attention from your own behavior. He has not a shred of evidence that Miller is not entirely sincere, nor does he attempt to produce any. I don't know Miller personally, but we have many mutual friends. To a person, all would testify to his integrity and sincerity. Indeed, even the most deeply convinced IDer would not stoop so low as to claim that he is not entirely sincere both in his advocacy of evolution and his deeply held Christian faith.

On the other hand, there is solid evidence that tying evolution to atheism is an integral part of the PR strategy of the intelligent design movement. The Wedge document, for example, is full of arguments conflating evolution and atheism. It's also important to note that it is the ID movement's main thinktank, the Discovery Institute, who has hired a PR firm to help shape their arguments, not Ken Miller or evolutionary scientists.

Edward O. Wilson's introductions to a newly edited collection of Darwin's writings, From So Simple A Beginning, is newsworthy in this respect. Wilson argues very straightforwardly that the attempt to reconcile Darwinism with religion is "well meaning" but wrong. The theory excludes God as a cause of nature, he writes, and any "rapprochement" between science and religion is not "desirable" and not consistent with Darwin's thought.

"I think Darwin would have held the same position," Wilson writes. "The battle line is, as it has ever been, in biology. The inexorable growth of this science continues to widen, not to close, the tectonic gap between science and faith-based religion."

Several things need to be said here.

A. E.O. Wilson does not speak for all evolutionary biologists, nor does he speak for evolutionary theory itself. Wilson has in fact been highly criticized by many scientists for reading his atheism into evolutionary theory and not distinguishing between the science itself and the inferences he is drawing from it.

B. Wilson is clearly speaking of something broader than evolution, at least as Neumayr is representing him. Notice that Wilson refers not to a specific battle between evolution and the existence of God, but between "science and faith-based religion" in general. This is a common argument among the more dogmatic atheists, that the battle is between two different epistemologies, one based on reason and one based on faith. But this argument has little to do with evolution itself, as all scientific theories are equally "atheistic" on that premise. Evolution is "naturalistic" in precisely the same sense that the theory of relativity, the kinetic theory of gasses, or plumbing is naturalistic.

C. Notice that Neumayr doesn't include a full quote from Wilson but instead paraphrases him. I suspect he is doing so inaccurately, making the statement more broad than it likely is. For instance, Neumayr paraphrases Wilson as saying that evolutionary theory "excludes God as a cause of nature." But evolution doesn't speak to the causes of "nature", but of the causes of biodiversity within nature. Nature includes the entire world around us, living and non-living. Evolution does not speak to the origins of rivers or mountains or other non-living things, nor to the origin of nature itself, but to something limited within that subset. Wilson may well believe that science, through other constructs, explains the origin of non-living things in nature, but he is surely educated enough not to believe that evolution attempts to explain the origin of nature itself.

Buttressing his argument that Darwinism is a godless account of nature, Wilson reminds readers that Darwin rejected Christianity, and that this "shedding of blind faith gave him the intellectual fearlessness to explore human evolution wherever logic and evidence took him." (Wilson's anti-religious prejudice is so strong he doesn't even consider the possibility that love of God might inspire a scientist to study carefully and reverently God's handiwork in nature.)

If Wilson indeed argues that evolution is inherently atheistic because Darwin rejected Christianity (I highly doubt he's actually arguing that; I suspect Neumayr is paraphrasing inaccurately in order to beat up a straw man), then Wilson is making an astonishingly illogical argument. By extension, Neumayr appears to be blindly accepting that illogical argument. Whether this genetic fallacy is being committed by Wilson or by Neumayr (or both), the argument is still illogical. Darwin's personal beliefs have no more to do with the logical implications of evolutionary theory than the personal views of Einstein have to do with the theory of relativity, or the personal views of any other scientist for that reason. Would anyone seriously argue, for instance, that if Alfred Wegener had been a Buddhist, his theory of continental drift would be an "inherently Buddhist" theory? One would certainly hope not.

Theories are discrete explanations for specific sets of data. One may use them to infer support for any number of philosophical viewpoints from them. William Lane Craig infers support for Christian theism from big bang cosmology; Quentin Smith infers support for atheism from big bang cosmology. So is big bang cosmology inherently theistic or atheistic? Neither, of course. Big bang cosmology is a discrete explanation for a particular set of data that we observe about the universe. Any inferences one may draw from it are extrinsic to the theory, not intrinsic to it.

Theistic evolution -- the idea that an omnipotent God could use random mutations and natural selection to produce life; in other words, create not by his intellect but by chance -- is no more meaningful of a concept than a square circle. Wilson doesn't say this but he would agree with it.

Then Wilson would be wrong, just as Neumayr is here. What Neumayr is doing here is confusing his particular concept of how God created with theism in general, as though his conceptions exhaust the full range of possibilities. But this is clearly absurd. If you don't start with any particular conception of how God may have created life, why is it out of the question that he would have created through the process of evolution? Perhaps God wanted to see how things would turn out once he set this very complex universe in motion. The only way to deny that this is a possibility is to rule it out based upon one's preconceived notions. But Ken Miller clearly does not share Neumayr's conception of God's creative power. Evolution may be inconsistent with Neumayr's theistic conceptions, but that doesn't mean it's inconsistent with all possible theistic conceptions. Thus, it dramatically overstates the case to claim that theism, rather than Neumayr's particular brand of theism, is inconsistent with evolution.

It also needs to be said that Neumayr's conception isn't even the only, or even necessarily the dominant, Christian conception of God. Every mainline Christian denomination (Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian) has issued formal statements endorsing the validity of evolution and stating firmly that evolution is entirely compatible with Christianity. So has the American Scientific Affiliation, a large group of Christian scientists in the US. So have the American Jewish Congress, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and many others. Most recently, a group of American clergy have come together and issued a statement strongly supporting evolution and its compatibility with their faith. It says, in part:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God's loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

As of today, that letter has been signed by almost 10,000 Christian clergy from around the country. Some of the most prominent and influential evolutionary biologists have in fact been Christian, from Theodosius Dobzhansky to Fransisco Ayala to Ken Miller today. And this goes back all the way to Darwin's day. His good friend, the Harvard naturalist Asa Gray, was a Christian and a staunch advocate of evolution.

Neumayr then goes on to deliver his theories on how Darwin himself was anti-Christian, but that is of course quite irrelevant to the question of whether evolutionary theory is incompatible with Christianity. If it was true that Einstein hated Judaism (it's not, of course, but if it was), it would not follow logically that therefore the theory of relativity was an anti-Jewish theory. Again, a blatant example of the genetic fallacy. Following that, Neumayr simply declares victory as though he had actually supported his argument:

Critics of evolution who observe that Darwin's theory is an account of nature that negates any role for God in life stand on very solid ground. They are not twisting the theory; they are stating it.

Utter nonsense. Please, Mr. Neumayr, tell us how evolution is any more "naturalistic" than, say, meteorology? Like evolution, meteorology is a collection of theories (yes, evolution is not merely one theory but many, all supporting a general model of the natural history of life on earth) that explain particular sets of data. Like evolution, meteorology posits a natural explanation for what had previously been thought of as explainable only by God (for eons, it was thought that bad weather was sent by God as punishment; now we know that it is simply a result of the interplay of atmospheric forces and we can predict with incredible regularity what will occur).

The same is true of the germ theory of disease, plate tectonics and celestial mechanics, for that matter - all are "naturalistic" theories that explain phenomena that had previously been assumed to be divinely caused, signs of God's wrath or pleasure, depending on one's perspective at the time. All were hailed by some religious folk at the time of their establishemnt as being "atheistic", of attempting to explain away that which cannot occur without the will of God. The hardcore geocentrists, a good many Calvinists among them in this country, still rant endlessly about Copernicus and Galileo and their pernicious "anti-Christian" theory of heliocentrism. They are wrong, and so is Neumayr.

Theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller, who has said that his Catholicism gives his Darwinism "strong propaganda value," are misrepresenting the theory for rhetorical reasons. Were they really serious about their position, they wouldn't spend their time browbeating figures like Austrian cardinal Christoph Schonborn for stating that Darwinism and religion are incompatible; they would spend their time debating fellow Darwinists on the theory's real meaning. Schonborn merely understands evolutionary theory the same way its most exalted exponents do.

The more one reads this essay, the more one is convinced that Mr. Neumayr is playing word games and that he damn well knows it. First of all, if the only evidence that he has that evolution is "intrinsically atheistic" is that some of evolution's "exalted" proponents are also atheists, then why does he ignore all of the devoutly religious evolution proponents? Is Richard Dawkins more "exalted" a proponent of evolution than Theodosius Dobzhansky, merely by being a bestselling author? Dawkins may be a household name as a science popularizer, but he has done virtually nothing in his career to actually advance our scientific understanding (as opposed to the public's understanding) of evolution. The men who are truly "exalted" in evolutionary biology are men like Mayr, Fisher, Wright and Haldane. Do not confuse popularity among the general public with real scientific achievement.

Secondly, Ken Miller does devote a good bit of time to refuting the claims of evolutionary atheists. He devoted all of Chapter 6 of his book Finding Darwin's God to refuting the views of Dawkins, Wilson and Provine, among others, the very same people that Neumayr cites. It's a fairly weak argument in the first place to say that if one's opponents really believed X, they would engage in behavior Y; it's downright preposterous when one has to ignore the fact that they do engage in behavior Y in order to make that argument.

Neumayr's flailing and desperate attempts to make his case ultimately fail miserably, buried under a mountain of logical fallacies and citations of irrelevant fact. The irony, in my view, is that one of the few things that the evangelical Christians and evangelical atheists agree on is that evolution is tantamount to atheism. Both sides have to ignore the reality that is apparent to so many reasonable people in between those two extremes, that just because evolution may conflict with some particular views of God does not mean it must conflict with all of them. The refusal to even consider that others might have a different view that is not so easily susceptible to such disproof is, I would argue, the hallmark of the fundamentalist mindset, of whatever stripe.

P.S. I should probably note that I am neither a Christian nor even a theist myself; I am a deist. But not agreeing with theistic evolutionists does not require that one believe that theism and evolution are inherently incompatible. Because I regard evolution as no more naturalistic than any other scientific theory, I cannot accept that it is any more incompatible with theism than the kinetic theory of gasses or the theory of gravity.

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I do tend toward the incompatibility side of the debate, in that I find the god of the gaps that science's ever-encroaching advance leaves after most of religion's empirical claims are shattered to be utterly pointless. But I can't deny that a non-empirical, ultimate cause type god is compatible with evolution, or any other branch of science. I just don't see why anyone would want such a god.

And

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 21 Nov 2005 #permalink

Ed:

I've seen a number of people claim that deism is not a species of theism, most recently your statement that you are not "even a theist" yourself, but a deist. Isn't theism a belief in *any* kind of god, of which a deistic God is one specific kind? On *my* notion of what theism means, deism and pantheism are both kinds of theism, even though neither postulates a personal relationship with a god. What is your definition of theism that doesn't include deism as a subset?

Jim Lippard wrote:

I've seen a number of people claim that deism is not a species of theism, most recently your statement that you are not "even a theist" yourself, but a deist. Isn't theism a belief in *any* kind of god, of which a deistic God is one specific kind? On *my* notion of what theism means, deism and pantheism are both kinds of theism, even though neither postulates a personal relationship with a god. What is your definition of theism that doesn't include deism as a subset?

I have always seen theism defined more as a belief in a personal or provident God, as opposed to the blind watchmaker type of god common to deism (though historically, deism has evolved greatly - the deists of the 18th century surely did believe in a provident and personal God, just not the Christian one). I suppose one could argue over this, much like the argument over whether agnosticism is a subset of atheism (strong atheism vs. weak atheism), but I'm not terribly inclined to do so. The label is not terribly important. Deism is conceptually distinct from theism (or at least, my version of deism is); if you wish to put that under the same category as theism, that's fine by me.

Atheism is tied to the theory of evolution only in the most general sense, with biology being no different than physics, chemistry, or meteorology. There's little controversy over the fact that we can study hurricanes without arbitrarily inserting some vague version of Divine Will as our scientific explanation on why they travel the paths they do. But just because those who study the weather don't throw up their hands and claim that gaps of ignorance are signs of supernatural intervention doesn't mean that meterology is atheistic. A weatherman who believes in God will simply import his belief that God somehow guides the weather into his personal views, and leaves them out of his science. The public seems to understand this just fine.

Bottom line, if you do science *all the way down* you get atheism. A world view which provisionally formulates itself out of scientific theories will be non-theistic only as long as God's existence isn't the conclusion of a science theory. And so far, God is as much a no-show as the paranormal.

However, most people do not do science *all the way down.* They stop when they want to begin with their important personal stories and "other ways of knowing."

I think Intelligent Design creationists are showing humanist-envy. They want to take their science straight -- but they can't. So instead, they play head games. Not just with tyhe general public, but with themselves.

The clergy statement brings up an excellent point, one that seems to get lost on the ID and Fundie crowd. That is, humans have one of the greatest "gifts" in all creation: our ability to evaluate evidence and think critically. You'd think that He (She, whatever) would bloody well want us to *USE* our gift to the best of our ability, rather than turning it off and willfully ignoring the story that nature is trying to tell us.

Seems to me that the Fundies are guilty of an arrogant attempt to force God into their mold - who the hell are they to decree how God can and cannot operate?

By ZacharySmith (not verified) on 21 Nov 2005 #permalink

While it may be true that Darwin's religious beliefs, or lack thereof, have no impact on the actual theory of evolution (i.e., a person of almost any religious belief could still have proposed evolutionary theory based on the phenomena that Darwin observed), it is true that science often forces people like Darwin to forego their previously held religious beliefs that conflict with their science. So anyone proposing evolution as a means to life on this planet has to abandon the idea of the "tinker toy" God playing with life at a minute scale on this planet. That does not mean, of course, that evolution is entirely incompatible with all religions, but it is incompatible with any religion that claims the stories in Genesis as irrefutably true. Of course, these are often the same people that blame hurricanes on gay people or gambling interests, so the whole meteorology analogy may not be the best.

However, as the true nature of God is unknowable to mere humans, why is evolution described by conservative religious people as "random" or "chance"? It is entirely possible that evolutionary mechanics are a part of the mind of God - it is entirely possible that we have evolution because of God.

Some of the most prominent and influential evolutionary biologists have in fact been Christian, from Theodosius Dobzhansky to Fransisco Ayala to Ken Miller today. And this goes back all the way to Darwin's day. His good friend, the Harvard naturalist Asa Gray, was a Christian and a staunch advocate of evolution.

In the future you can add late 19th early 20th century paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn who famously bickered with William Jennings Bryan in the lead up to the Scopes trial.

By Troy Britain (not verified) on 21 Nov 2005 #permalink

Thanks for the clarification, Ed. The way I use the terms "atheism" and "theism," they are contradictories that cover the entire space of alternatives on the issue, and everything else is a subset of one or the other (or both--there can be atheistic or theistic agnostics, with CPT_Doom giving an example of the latter when he says "the true nature of God is unknowable to mere humans").

I read the article the other day and was impressed (if I recall it correctly) with the insinuation that to posit a deity behind undirected processes is to be dealing in the absurd.

Something I don't think the article got into is attempts at actually defining a deity. Transcendent categories, semantically speaking, yield no useable, substantial concepts. The deity in question would be an empty category. To speak anything about it is to speak gibberish. As Wittgenstein noted, to speak about transcendent things is to break the rules of sensibleness. One must remain silent about them. One may ponder them in contemplations of the sublime or speak around it through the gauze of poetry and art, but that's it -- the essence of meaningful discourse precludes talking about something beyond the capacity of words and inherent grammatical rules.

To posit a deist entity that unfolds an originary algorithmic process, one working itself out blindly and purposelessy, is to have said nothing meaningful about that entity. It gets even stranger when theistic evolutionists think that talking about a God working through undirected processes is semantically coherent.

Now, I'm sure the above will sound strident. I'm just offering the product of my thoughts about the topic. I welcome any arguments against it, so I can continue to learn.

This is my first comment, although I have lurked here for awhile and enjoyed it.

The evolution = atheism equation is an old an effective one and is easy to make since some of the most prominent and articulate popular spokesmen writing about evolution make no bones about their atheism: Dawkins, Provine, Wilson, Dennet, etc. I consider these people to be self-indulgent when it comes to mixing their (lack of) religion and science.

As a practical strategy, it would obviously be good to note the MANY evolutionary biologists with some sort of religious faith. This has nothing to do with the science, of course, but it is germane in dispelling the atheism = evolution equation that keeps otherwise intelligent people from learning about evolution. In addition to Dobzhansky, Ken Miller, Ayala, and Asa Gray (as noted above), you might as well include:

RA Fisher: Anglican

Sewell Wright: Unitarian (loosely)

JBS Haldane: No good label, but he did seem pretty attracted to Indian spiritualism

David Lack: Christian (and has a very nice little book "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief")

Tielhard de Chardin: Catholic (Dobzhansky loved him).

Anybody care to add to the list?

TimB wrote:

I read the article the other day and was impressed (if I recall it correctly) with the insinuation that to posit a deity behind undirected processes is to be dealing in the absurd.

But bear in mind that the argument here is that "evolution = atheism", not that "the total sum of all scientific theories and the implications behind them provides support for atheism." Evolution does not explain, nor attempt to explain, anything beyond the biodiversity of life on earth. It simply does not logically follow from evolutionary theory that therefore there is no possible need for God as an explanation elsewhere, for instance in creating the conditions that make such evolution possible. I'm not arguing that this is true, only that it's not ruled out by evolution itself. If you want to argue against it, you have to do so on the basis of things far outside of evolutionary theory. Thus, it's simply not logical to claim that evolution is inherently atheistic. There are many possible and logically consistent permutations between the two ideas.

Thus, it's simply not logical to claim that evolution is inherently atheistic.

I'm curious -- do any of the above mentioned (Dawkins, Wilson, etc.) actually claim this, or is this a distortion of what they say? I've never directly read any such statement. Anyone familiar with the actual writings in question?

By Tanooki Joe (not verified) on 22 Nov 2005 #permalink

Ed,

You may be correct, but I was under the impression that the undirected, algorithmic process of evolution underwriting biodiversity involves the same blind principle that underwrites pre-biodiversity chemical and physical processes (like what occurred between the Big Bang and any planets yielding of life).

If I'm permitted the conflation of biology, chemistry, and physics according to a unitary underlying blind process, it is then conceptually unviable (to me) to think anything is being said when attributing it all to a precursor or involved deity. It seems to logically yield an empty semantic category.

The essence of what I'm getting at is that whatever set these blind forces in motion leaves us with only the shadow of blindness into which to step philosophically. To say anything about any kind of deity, given the effects of any such deity, is to speak about a deity of undirectedness. What could that possibly mean? A dice-rolling gambler? Or, perhaps less straining of language, a transcendent and blind mathematical feedback system?

If the above still strikes you as logically deficient, I'm all ears. This is a topic that has really stressed me out the last few years, and I would be particularly pleased to learn that my thinking is wrong. In fact, my diagnosis of deity makes me miserable.

Just one more note in an effort to be precise:

I think what Neumayr is getting at has to do with preceding centuries of theological and philosophical argument to the effect that God works in mysterious ways -- has a bird's-eye view, so to speak -- that transcends mere human reason. What we perceive as a random, quantum, stochastic process is perceived by God as a purposeful process. I think the author is simply challenging this view. Is anything actually being said that has the resonance of reason when speaking of a God beyond the human reach of conceptual categories?

TimB, I pretty much agree with you, but I think the theistic argument is that God set in motion these blind forces knowing and thus intending that they would eventually result in humans on earth (or, for less anthropocentric theists, beings capable of appreciating God's works). Many would argue more strongly that God "fine-tuned" the rules of physics and the nature of the universe during the Planck epoch to ensure said result.

Intervenionist theistic evolutionists might argue that while the process of mutation and natural selection (plus other evolutionary mechanisms) is blind, God is specifying which mutations arise to be acted on by selective pressures.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 23 Nov 2005 #permalink

Ginger Yellow,

Thanks for the input. I read it several times, trying to penetrate how it would supersede my problems with a teleological deity.

Either I'm dense or there is still energy in my argument. Language is all we have to hold our formal conceptions. If one speaks of a process as being "blind," then that word must not be artificially healed of its infirmity. Blind is blind for human meaning. To posit an entity for whom blindness is a vehicle for sightedness is to speak, it seems to me, unintelligibly. A process involving unseeingness would imply unknowingness and purposelessness, wouldn't it?

Regarding theistic evolutionists' idea of God tinkering with mutations, my main reservation has to do with an alien agency becoming entangled in the web of life, leading to a logical entanglement with human consciousness arising from that web of life. In short, the problem of persistent dual-agency, therefore, closing off human experience from the mode of freedom.

Like I say, I basically agree with you. Without philosophical training however, I'm not really equipped to judge fine distinctions between "meaningless", "impossible" and "wrong". So I think it's possible that there's meaning in the theistic evolutions I've described, although I think they're bollocks and just attempts to cling on to a role for God in a universe that doesn't need Him. But I could be wrong.

Would you not describe an algorithmic process as blind? Is not natural selection "blind" in that sense, even if God knows the result of the process, or even if he feeds it the necessary inputs?

"Regarding theistic evolutionists' idea of God tinkering with mutations, my main reservation has to do with an alien agency becoming entangled in the web of life, leading to a logical entanglement with human consciousness arising from that web of life. In short, the problem of persistent dual-agency, therefore, closing off human experience from the mode of freedom."

Well I've got my own issues with the mainstream Christian idea of free will anyway. Doesn't strike me as particularly "free" to be created sinful and then told that you do what the Big Man says or you burn for eternity. And even without invoking God or other "alien agency" there are problems with the conventional idea of free will in a (possibly) deterministic universe.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 23 Nov 2005 #permalink

TimB wrote:

You may be correct, but I was under the impression that the undirected, algorithmic process of evolution underwriting biodiversity involves the same blind principle that underwrites pre-biodiversity chemical and physical processes (like what occurred between the Big Bang and any planets yielding of life).

This is really too vague for me to get a handle on; I don't know what you mean by "blind principle". I presume by "blind", you really mean "undirected" or "not resulting from willful processes", but I would argue that science really has no way of verifying that a given process is truly blind in that sense. The mere fact that the universe acts in accord with natural law does not mean it is not directed in some sense, at least by the design of those natural laws to allow the later, undirected process to go its merry way.

The essence of what I'm getting at is that whatever set these blind forces in motion leaves us with only the shadow of blindness into which to step philosophically. To say anything about any kind of deity, given the effects of any such deity, is to speak about a deity of undirectedness. What could that possibly mean? A dice-rolling gambler?

Well, why not? I have no problem at all with the notion of something creating the universe with certain parameters and saying, "Let's see where this leads." Humans do it all the time in science experiments. I agree with you that it becomes very difficult to say anything about such a creator in the absence of revelation (which I reject). You've summed up the essence of my deism, actually, the notion that while it's a reasonable guess that the universe was created by something, we can't say anything beyond that with any certainty at all, about the nature of that creator. Heck, for all we know that creator may be dead by now. Or I could be wrong and no such creator ever existed. I'm perfectly fine with all of those possibilities; I'm also perfectly fine with the fact that I don't have a really good means of distinguishing which one might be true and am left with little more than guesswork. To some degree, I think that very mystery at the core of existence is what tilts me toward deism (as opposed to theism); I rather like the idea that there is at least one question we can't get a good answer to (other than "How did Scott Baio have a career?").

Ginger Yellow,

You wrote: "Would you not describe an algorithmic process as blind? Is not natural selection "blind" in that sense, even if God knows the result of the process, or even if he feeds it the necessary inputs?"

But isn't it a sleight-of-tongue to speak of God as knowing the result of a blind process? I think it only appears to carry some grain of real information, only appears to salve the collision of undirectedness and intentionality. It strikes me more as a subtle-seeming blather.

Hey, I'm not disagreeing with you on the big picture. I don't buy the whole "God knows the future but that doesn't mean it's predetermined" thing either. I'm just saying the process itself can be blind even if the context in which the process occurs is teleological.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 23 Nov 2005 #permalink