Archive for November, 2010

November 8, 2010

Design and Natural Evil

by Max Andrews

In an early post I discussed the issue of “bad design” in nature and how that objection is often coupled with the problem of evil.  One of my friends posed the question as to whether or not this could be a result of demonic activity and some natural evils really are evil.  (I deny natural evil).  I have reservations about attributing natural evil (I’ll simply refer to the claim as such) to demonic activity.  My reasons for doing so are twofold:  a Scriptural/theological and scientific basis.

An easy illustration would be earthquakes.  Earthquakes have recently killed thousands of people and , I would venture to say, have killed millions throughout history.  Are earthquakes then evil for causing the death of so many people?  Sure, it’s responsible, but no moral attributes can be attributed nature in this fashion.  I’d simply say it’s design.  The same water that hydrates you can drown you.  Earthquakes are a result of tectonic shifting, which is a result of activity in the iron core of the planet. The iron core is what produces the poles and the movement within that core is what protects the planet for certain solar radiation.  If there were no tectonic or core activity, we wouldn’t be alive.  It’s design.

On a Scriptural/theological basis, you won’t find God allowing any other agents to create (or create design).  From a biblical witness, God seems to be the one who creates and designs nature and I haven’t found an instance where God gives this ability to do so.  The demonic activity wouldn’t be a mere manipulation but it would have to have creative abilities to create new information (in the case of biology).  In any other case, tampering with the fine-tuning would not permit life.

I know there’s much more to be said with this and perhaps I’ll elaborate on this in the future.


November 8, 2010

Bad Design

by Max Andrews

The following objection to intelligent design is from observing the natural data and claiming that it could not have been designed because there are some things that lack proper function or there could have been a better way for a certain [i.e. organ] to function.  This objection is often made by many theistic evolutionists, though, still non-theists object as well, is based on an inappropriate and misconceived understanding of design.[1] The design hypothesis merely states that there is intelligent causation that permits the existence of life (a probability factor).  Optimality of what has been designed is not a criterion for design.  Motor vehicles break down and computers crash.  With comparing motor vehicles to design, there is a natural decay and effects of heat, friction, and weather decay.  What is interesting about the comparison to malfunctioning software is that a frequently known cause of malfunction is an intentionally designed malware or virus, which has been designed for the primary purpose of malfunction, it is designed to break down or decompose a previous design.  Where this analogy fits with the argument, primarily in the claim of vestigial organs or other less-than-optimal structures, is that that the appearance of other bacteria, disease, or even cancer could be the case that such were designed for a purpose of breaking down other design components.[2]

[1] The theistic objection from bad design, most notably made by Francisco Ayala, is usually coupled with the problem of evil objection.

[2] I understand this analogy and point invites the problem of evil to wreak havoc on the argument.  I personally deny the existence of so-called “natural evil.”  Cancer, disease, infection, certain bacteria, etc., are either designed with that function and are mislabeled as “bad.”  It may also be the case that mutations have changed living organisms from their initial functions (a claim entirely consistent with the design hypothesis).


November 7, 2010

Design by Divine Cognitive Relations

by Max Andrews

This argument is within the confines of theism.  My case is that Darwinism entails design by the notion of purposive permission via God’s knowledge.  For any X, if X is a possible circumstance, which is then actualized even by the natural order of cause and effect relations within the natural system, then X is permitted to happen.  If X is permitted to happen it has a purpose.  If X has a purpose it holds teleology.  In other words, this is any argument from cognitive relations, omniscience, or providence.  This is still in its infancy and since this was originally formulated, more has been developed within the argument that I will share later.

Asa Gray (1810-1888) was a proponent of evolution who suggested that God guided evolution.  The problem for the theistic evolutionist at this point is that if God guides evolution, it is design.  Guidance implies purpose and involvement.  The theistic evolutionist, so defined as God guiding evolution, is not really a detractor from design, rather he would be a proponent of common decent, which is entirely compatible with design.

It was not until the early twentieth century when a movement that emphasized Darwinian natural selection did theistic evolution attempt to reconcile unguided evolution with God.  The following theistic evolutionist present an appropriate summation for the current understanding:

“An evolutionary universe is theologically understood as creation allowed to make itself.”[1]

“Mankind’s appearance on this planet was not preordained… we are here… as an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.”[2]

“Evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God’s perspective the outcome would be entirely specified.  Thus, God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process.”[3]

It may be important to distinguish the last quote from Collins from the former quotes.  It is difficult, even impossible, to distinguish Collins’ position as not being intelligent design.  Why would Collins use the human perspective as the objective standard for whether or not there actually is design?  He willingly concedes that God could be intimately involved in creating yet it is illusory to the human perspective.

The argument from cognitive relations may be understood as an argument from omniscience or providence.  If God allows any state of affairs to be actualized, and knows that it will happen, and then there is a teleology in that events actualization.  The underlying principle is what is called “purposive permission.”  This principle makes a minimal commitment to any event X, such that X will come to be either by it being permitted to occur or by being strongly actualized to occur.  Purposive permission assumes that if any event is permitted to happen then it is within the will of the knowing agent that the event be actualized.  If the event were known that it would come to pass and it was not desired to come to pass, then it would not have been permitted to be and would not have happened.  Under the current understanding of unguided evolution, the only way to reconcile that with theism is to adopt process theology, an understanding that God is not ontologically perfect and is literally evolving with the world.[4]

[1] John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science, and Understanding (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2000), 23, 111, 197.

[2] Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God (New York:  Harper Perennial, 2000), 272-273.

[3] Francis Collins, The Language of God (New York:  Free Press, 2006), 205.

[4] Even weak understandings of cognitive relations, or interactions, would still render design (categorically defined from an orthodox perspective).  All that would require from the knowing agent (God) is that, within the mind, there must at least be two moments of knowledge:  natural knowledge (the first logical moment) and free knowledge (the last logical moment).  In the first moment the agent must know all tautologies and every possible circumstance.  The final moment is knowing the actual world, the current, past, and future state of affairs.  The only theistic model that does not hold to these two moments would be the process model.  I want to note, that open theism would not even be compatible with a Darwinist understanding of evolution because God would only be ignorant of future contingencies that involved human freedom.