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Jon Garvey on Michael Denton’s Evolution Still a Theory in Crisis


At Hump of the Camel:

Not that Denton’s thesis is entirely new. Perhaps the simplest summary is that it is a re-affirmation of his first book questioning the Neodarwinian Synthesis thirty years ago, now strengthened by much work in biology since, combined with a new structuralist viewpoint which he inherits from Richard Owen before and during Darwin’s time.

I might add (because Denton doesn’t stress it) that structuralism – the idea that much of biological form depends on lawlike constraints, rather than adaptive contingency – was the prevalent theory of evolution, in the form of orthogenesis, at the time when Darwinism was found wanting in explanatory power at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was only the Neodarwinian Synthesis that rehabilitated Darwinism, and it was the hegemony of that Synthesis within western biology that not only wrote the case for structuralism out of science, but virtually out of history as well. The replacement of Owen’s statue in London’s Natural History Museum, which he established, with Darwin’s, is the epitome of that rewriting of history, as Denton mentions.

Denton’s structuralism is a well-argued return to the reality of essentialism in biology: there are indeed true discontinuities between taxa that simply cannot be explained by natural selection. If so, then Aristotle was actually observing nature more accurately than we have for the last century or so, in our dogma that all life is a continuum of contingently changing components. Because these discontinuities constitute some of the most significant features of living things, they radically relativise the significance of natural selection. To a large extent, selection becomes the tinkerer that merely fine-tunes microevolution, whereas what Denton argues to be natural laws of emergence are what paints the grand picture of life.More.

Yes, it’s true. Just like the precious little asshats of Asshat U, Darwin’s boys got Owen’s statue moved out of the Natural History Museum, to be replaced with a statue of Their Glorious Fave.

See also: Michael Denton on the uniqueness of human language

Anaxagoras We're agreed entirely on that. I was only ribbing you in suggesting you ought to be a total clone of your namesake! But our conversation so far has also cast doubt on whether the word "natural" can even carry the weight put upon it by materialism (and by most of us when we don't think to challenge the spirit of the age). Jon Garvey
Jon, My pseudonym wants to pay tribute to the pioneer philosopher that Aristotle considered “the most reasonable of all men” for positing that order and beauty in Nature must have had an intelligent cause. I am also a proponent of arguments for an intelligent cause of the design and teleology observed in natural objects, mainly in living organisms. But I don´t think this kind of inference has to necessarily address the issue of God´s sovereignty. I prefer to stay aside from theological debates, a realm that I consider beyond my capacities and my strictly rational understanding of reality. Intelligent Design, as I see it, is not so much about HOW a transcendent personal cause interferes with the course of Nature but about the necessity of assuming a complete causal approach of the physical world, where efficient and material causation must accommodate formal and finalist views in order to give a full account, not only of how things came to be in the first place, but simply of “WHAT THINGS ARE” now. ID is not therefore an alternative explanation of mechanisms and processes but an issue about causes. That is why I (also) consider “common descent” a quite irrelevant question. ID is mainly an intuitive (abductive) inference from the observable order in Nature to an intelligent Agent as the first principle of all natural things. ID, it is true, does not explain how natural things came to be in the first place, but I think it is also part of the argument to show that natural processes alone, according to the most advanced scientific evidence, can not sufficiently explain the emergence of living organisms, taking into account the integrative complexity of biological structures and their immanent teleology. Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras Worthwhile answers from BA above. This isn't the column to try and explore issues of God's sovereignty (I got enough stick for that recently on BioLogos!). But it is a necessary issue to work throughg in discussing divine action in nature, because aversion to "God's calling all the shots" is the reason why very much modern theistic evolution revolves around the insistence on the autonomy of nature - the very issue of design v non-design. John Polkinghorne, for example, rails against the idea of God being a "divine puppetmaster" and creating everything himself - which is really only an effective critique of parts of Islam, rather than what any developed Christian theology has ever said about God's sovereignty. Very briefly, the common Islamic position is Occasionalist (God is the only true cause in the universe), and also embraces a version of God's sovereignty that places his power over his goodness, arbitrariness being part of omnipotence - and that's why one can roughly equate "sovereignty" with "fate" in that context. McCann deals with occasionalism in depth, only to reject it. And he, like other Christians, rejects the concept of "fate", though perhaps less vehemently than John Calvin (whom I happened to be reading on the matter this morning), who positively hated the concept of fate. Fate is a blind determinism riding roughshod over everything (interfering with nature, contradicting human will). But God's will works secretly from his wisdom, love and justice within creation, governing law as law, chance as chance, and free will as free will. In the question of design, that means that nature works (by whatever means) towards God's good ends: the human race therefore came to be, despite (or rather through) all the events of earth's history - I'm quite pleased about that, rather than threatened by it. And God was also able to make each individual within the human race come into existence in their season - a matter in which I have a large personal stake! But I suppose if you're the Anaxagoras (respect!) the idea that God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph 1.11) may not appeal, because I gather the later philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were disappointed to find Anaxagoras didn't venture fully into teleology, though he saw mind as both the creator and governing principle of the world. Jon Garvey
One thing that greatly helped me to reconcile God's omnipotence with the presence of evil in the world is to realize that God is omniscient and we are not. i.e. While many things in this world may appear evil from our finite limited view of reality, from infinite God's omniscient and 'eternal' perspective "our present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18). At around the 15:00 - 17:00 minute mark of the following Near Death Experience testimony, Dr. Mary Neal spoke about how she, when in the presence of God, and from being able to see things from that much higher 'omniscient' perspective, finally understood why God allows evil in the world (i.e. she finally ‘got it’) and understood how our limited perspective on 'evil' severely clouds our judgements and our reactions to those 'evil' tragedies in our lives.
Dr. Mary Neal's Near-Death Experience - (Life review portion starts at the 13:00 minute mark) - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHXW1erHMtg
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
of related note, here is an excellent sermon by Tim Keller that gets this 'God is omniscient we are not' point across very well.
Does God Control Everything? - Tim Keller - (God's sovereignty, evil, and our free will, how do they mesh? Short answer? God's Omniscience!) - video (12:00 minute mark) https://youtu.be/MDbKCZodtZI?t=727
When the Bible speaks of God, it speaks of Him as being all-powerful or omnipotent. The word omnipotent comes from two Latin words, omnis, meaning all, and poetntia or potens which means power. Hence the God of the Bible is the God of all power. The Bible says. And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns (Revelation 19:6). He Upholds All Things Scriptures says that He upholds all things. And he is the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power. When he had made purification of sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus Christ is said to hold together all forces of the universe. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1275.cfm bornagain77
Jon 5 "Hugh McCann (in Creation and the Sovereignty of God) puts it thus: “the creative activity of God is alone responsible for the existence of the world in its entire history [my italics]”, by whch he means that God creates, in eternity, not only the things that come to exist in time, but the things that happen in time." Perhaps I misunderstand, Jon, but this sure seems like Islamic theology. Whatever happens was fated to happen. This seems to be problematic for the Judeo-Christian God who frequently does NOT get His way: Adam & Eve eat the fruit, Cain slays Abel, Israel worships idols, the Jews reject Jesus, people abuse children, etc, etc. In fact, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He said, "Thy (God's) will be done on earth as it is in Heaven", clearly implying that God's will might NOT be done on earth. Again, I may have misunderstood your point. But it does seem strange to me that God would cause to happen things that run against His will. Allow in some cases, yes; cause, no. anthropic
Of note, when the agent causality of Theists is rightly let ‘back’ into the picture of physics, as the Christian founders of science originally envisioned, (instead of the self refuting ‘blind’ causality of atheists), then a empirically backed unification between Quantum Theory and Relativity is readily achieved by the resurrection of Christ from death:
(Centrality Concerns) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from Death as the “Theory of Everything” – video https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1143437869002478/?type=2&theater
Verses and Music
Colossians 1:15-20 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Philippians 2: 6-9 Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, Hillsong United - Lord of Lords https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFkY5-Xp710
Quite so. Outside the early modern idea of inert particles guided by some simple rules (and even inside it when followed through) "law" is really just a convenient way of abstracting the common properties of entities (which actually are - self evidently - guided by the fact one can abstract universal pronciples from them. When one is dealing with uncommon properties - like being a sabre tooth tiger with cubs, for example - then the abstraction becomes useless, if not impossible. Jon Garvey
Jon, Thank you for your answer, You address the key point: What a law is. As an essentialist I consider that laws can not be understood as real entities, as true forces that act upon passive natural objects from outside. What we call natural laws are not true causes, they are nothing but the abstract expression of regularities that we observe in the way natural bodies relate to each other. They relate according to the powers and potentialities that correspond to their own essences. From that point of view it makes very little sense to talk about unknown, never observed and complex “natural laws” as the cause of evolutionary saltationist processes. The reason is that what has to be explained is precisely the fact that those leaps that we observe do not correspond to the natural process of change, adaptive responses, development and reproduction of living organisms. And that the process of unfolding a vast array of different biological form does not correspond to the traditional concept of a law as the description of repetitive aimless, unguided events. Anaxagoras
Of related interest to this Theistic claim,,,
“the creative activity of God is alone responsible for the existence of the world in its entire history [my italics]”, by which he means that God creates, in eternity, not only the things that come to exist in time, but the things that happen in time.
,,,is this experimental verification:
Reality doesn’t exist until we measure it, (Delayed Choice) quantum experiment confirms - Mind = blown. - FIONA MACDONALD - 1 JUN 2015 Excerpt: "It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it," lead researcher and physicist Andrew Truscott said in a press release. http://www.sciencealert.com/reality-doesn-t-exist-until-we-measure-it-quantum-experiment-confirms New Mind-blowing Experiment Confirms That Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It - June 3, 2015 Excerpt: The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts. “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release.,,, “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said. Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer. http://themindunleashed.org/2015/06/new-mind-blowing-experiment-confirms-that-reality-doesnt-exist-if-you-are-not-looking-at-it.html
further notes: due to advances in quantum mechanics, the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:
1. Consciousness either precedes all of material reality or is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality. 2. If consciousness is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality. 3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality. 4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality. Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uLcJUgLm1vwFyjwcbwuYP0bK6k8mXy-of990HudzduI/edit Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
BA Thanks for the links, which repay careful consideration in the "origins debate" for all sides. The question, to me, isn't just whether God is "necessary" as Creator - the atheists have really spent all their ammunition regarding that and hit no targets. Nor is it just whether God sustains the universe in existence, for the Deists and semi-Deists believe that - but they make an artificial division between the bare "existence" of things, and everything else about them, as if anything at all could happen apart from God's creative power(touching on that idea of "mechanical causality" implying volition under the "law" metaphor in your Budziszewski quote). Hugh McCann (in Creation and the Sovereignty of God) puts it thus: "the creative activity of God is alone responsible for the existence of the world in its entire history [my italics]", by whch he means that God creates, in eternity, not only the things that come to exist in time, but the things that happen in time. Of course, he then has to write a book to begin to explain and justify it! There's a column on BioLogos http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/divine-action-naturalism-and-incarnation at the moment by Christopher Knight which, if I read it correctly, is saying something similar to all this in an attempt to bring God into an active relationship with a world that is still scientifically investigable. But by sticking with the concept of "law", it seems to me that the effect is unwittingly to tend to depersonalise God's involvement by subordinating it to "naturalism", rather than subordinating "naturalism" to God's dynamic personal involvement. Personally i think the Aristotelian category of "natures" helps us to see that the "laws" are not ... written on tablets of stone. That people generally are really not ready to change their way of seeing things is apparent by the way that only in the last hour or two (after a couple of days) have any comments been made that show his point has been understood. I anticipate the same kind of things amongst many IDers and Creationists. Jon Garvey
Jon as to:
"“Nature” is actually a description of God’s governing of his creation: and “laws” could equally be described as “divine customs”, or as “the powers God has put into created things to do his will”.
This may be of interest for you:
BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010 Excerpt: ,,,The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy. This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world,,, Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.,,, For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science. Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/oct/1/hawking-irrational-arguments/ A Professor's Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist - University of Wyoming - J. Budziszewski Excerpt page12: "There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition. If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don't know. "But there is gravity," you say. No, "gravity" is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. "But there are laws of gravity," you say. No, the "laws" are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term "laws"; they prefer "lawlike regularities." To call the equations of gravity "laws" and speak of the apple as "obeying" them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the "laws" of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more. The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn't trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn't have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place." http://www.undergroundthomist.org/sites/default/files/WhyIAmNotAnAtheist.pdf Physicist George Ellis on the importance of philosophy and free will - July 27, 2014 Excerpt: And free will?: Horgan: Einstein, in the following quote, seemed to doubt free will: “If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the Earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord…. So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.” Do you believe in free will? Ellis: Yes. Einstein is perpetuating the belief that all causation is bottom up. This simply is not the case, as I can demonstrate with many examples from sociology, neuroscience, physiology, epigenetics, engineering, and physics. Furthermore if Einstein did not have free will in some meaningful sense, then he could not have been responsible for the theory of relativity – it would have been a product of lower level processes but not of an intelligent mind choosing between possible options. I find it very hard to believe this to be the case – indeed it does not seem to make any sense. Physicists should pay attention to Aristotle’s four forms of causation – if they have the free will to decide what they are doing. If they don’t, then why waste time talking to them? They are then not responsible for what they say. https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/physicist-george-ellis-on-the-importance-of-philosophy-and-free-will/ Einstein vs. "The Now" of Philosophers and Quantum Mechanics – video https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1129789497033982/?type=2&theater
Dr. Craig Hazen, in the following video at the 12:26 minute mark, relates how he performed, for an audience full of academics at a university, a ‘miracle’ simply by raising his arm,,
The Intersection of Science and Religion – Craig Hazen, PhD – video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=xVByFjV0qlE#t=746s
What should be needless to say, if raising your arm is enough to refute your supposedly ‘scientific’ worldview of atheistic materialism/naturalism, then perhaps it is time for you to seriously consider getting a new scientific worldview? Also of note:
The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings - Stephen L. Talbott - 2010 Excerpt: Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary. ,,, the question, rather, is why things don’t fall completely apart — as they do, in fact, at the moment of death. What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer? Despite the countless processes going on in the cell, and despite the fact that each process might be expected to “go its own way” according to the myriad factors impinging on it from all directions, the actual result is quite different. Rather than becoming progressively disordered in their mutual relations (as indeed happens after death, when the whole dissolves into separate fragments), the processes hold together in a larger unity. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-unbearable-wholeness-of-beings Scientific evidence that we do indeed have an eternal soul (Elaboration on Talbott's question “What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?”)– video 2016 https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1116313858381546/?type=2&theater
Anaxagoras Thanks for your fair assessment of one of the main thrusts of my review. The subsequent posts are intended to play around with the idea of what, if anything, is actually entailed by the concept "natural law" (on the assumption that the impression that "stuff has changed over time" is true). The whole idea that the world is separated into the "natural" (autonomous of God) and "supernatural" (interference with that autonomous world) is based on a way of seeing the world that only appeared in early modern times. In my view, to argue with the atheists and semi-deists about whether God is needed or whether nature can do it alone is to get the whole biblical concept of the creation wrong. "Nature" is actually a description of God's governing of his creation: and "laws" could equally be described as "divine customs", or as "the powers God has put into created things to do his will". I conclude at one point that emergent laws may well exist, as Denton says, but that they would have to be so complex and applicable to special circumstances as to look more like a word of creation than a simple rule of thumb. Jon Garvey
A very interesting post by John Garvey where he addresses a crucial issue and announces a follow-up. A comment on the post goes : “What I admire about the book is Denton’s willingness to forgo a strict ID interpretation of biological development, once he could see an alternative, satisfying approach focused on the concept of law.” And John Garvey answers: ? “Well, I’m going to be arguing in the next post for some degree of inscrutability in natural laws (and even more so as they apply to life – that’s the following post, I think).But that doesn’t detract from the main point of your post (or of your research), since my main aim is to suggest that there is a closer relationship between God’s personal activity and involvement and the regularities of nature than is usually granted. Of course, that’s a fairly safe activity whilst nobody has yet bottomed out how complexity laws in life might work out, or even if they truly exist!” That is the point. Common descent could be a good explanation for observed similarities but it certainly does not explain what needs to be explained: differences. Garvey argues in his post that because specific differences need to be explained, common descent becomes to some extent irrelevant. Other causes must be at work, and they must have a creative capacity to generate new complex organized systems and forms, body plans and so on… Garvey seems to be quite reluctant to accept that just “natural laws” (as Denton purports) can account for this emergence. So I am. Anaxagoras
Of related interest:
What Do Organisms Mean? Stephen L. Talbott - Winter 2011 Excerpt: Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin once described how you can excise the developing limb bud from an amphibian embryo, shake the cells loose from each other, allow them to reaggregate into a random lump, and then replace the lump in the embryo. A normal leg develops. Somehow the form of the limb as a whole is the ruling factor, redefining the parts according to the larger pattern. Lewontin went on to remark: "Unlike a machine whose totality is created by the juxtaposition of bits and pieces with different functions and properties, the bits and pieces of a developing organism seem to come into existence as a consequence of their spatial position at critical moments in the embryo’s development. Such an object is less like a machine than it is like a language whose elements... take unique meaning from their context.[3]",,, http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/what-do-organisms-mean The face of a frog: Time-lapse video reveals never-before-seen bioelectric pattern - July 2011 Excerpt: For the first time, Tufts University biologists have reported that bioelectrical signals are necessary for normal head and facial formation in an organism and have captured that process in a time-lapse video that reveals never-before-seen patterns of visible bioelectrical signals outlining where eyes, nose, mouth, and other features will appear in an embryonic tadpole.,,, "When a frog embryo is just developing, before it gets a face, a pattern for that face lights up on the surface of the embryo,",,, "We believe this is the first time such patterning has been reported for an entire structure, not just for a single organ. I would never have predicted anything like it. It's a jaw dropper.",,, http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-07-frog-time-lapse-video-reveals-never-before-seen.html The Insurmountable Problem of “Form/Shape” for Darwinian Explanations – video (2016) https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1138468566166075/?type=2&theater

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