Evolution Intelligent Design

Question for George V. Coyne

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According to George V. Coyne: “In the third paragraph of his op ed article in the NY Times, 7 July 2005, Card. Schoenborn mistakenly defines neo-Darwinian evolution as ‘an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection’ and then condemns it. If you arbitrarily define something in a condemning way and then condemn it, you make dialogue pretty difficult.” [From circulated email.]

In neo-Darwinism, the raw material for innovation derives from changes in genetic material. According to the theory, those changes are NOT correlated with future benefit. Hence they are random, unguided, unplanned. Likewise, natural selection has no plan — it does not anticipate future functions that are not currently available. It can only take advantage of present function. That being the case — and it is the case — how can Coyne say that Cardinal Shoenborn was mistaken?

24 Replies to “Question for George V. Coyne

  1. 1
    Benjii says:

    I don’t think Coyne knows what he is talking about!

  2. 2
    IDEA_AASU says:

    maybe he believes in Intelligent Design and doesn’t know it!

  3. 3
    jacktone says:

    he certainly muddied the waters! i wonder if he’s got some kind of Theilhard de Chardin bug. certainly an odd brand of TE in any case.

  4. 4
    CPD says:

    Bill Dembski wrote: “In neo-Darwinism, the raw material for innovation derives from changes in genetic material. According to the theory, those changes are NOT correlated with future benefit.”

    It is important to keep in mind that some organisms have chosen to reproduce with each other. For instance, my parents chose to reproduce with each other. So each of my parents had a degree of control over what their offspring would be like.

    Moreover, certain kinds of environmental conditions have triggered some mutations. For instance, exposure to certain levels of radiation. Also, it is possible that, for some populations of organisms, there is a positive correlation between certain kinds of physical stress and higher mutation rates. It may be that some organisms had greater reproductive success when they experienced higher mutation rates when exposed to certain kinds of environmental conditions. These organisms may have produced more offspring than other members of the population. This might have resulted in some organisms having a predisposition to mutate more frequently during particular kinds of environmental conditions.

    It is also interesting that some parts of a genome tend mutate more frequently than others. These are called “hot spots.”

    And some organisms mutate more frequently than others. For instance, RNA based lytic viruses average 1 new mutation per division. Most, if not all, other asexually reproducing organisms mutate less frequently.

  5. 5
    dougmoran says:

    Father Coyne seems to be a bit confused.

  6. 6
    Qualiatative says:

    All (known) events are caused by either predetermined material laws/contexts OR intelligent causation. (If one is a materialist, these two kinds of causes are one in the same.) So where does the randomness come from in the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation/natural selection?

    Perhaps evolutionary biologists should be more accurate in their description:

    “Evolution proceeds through mutational events which can only be described by stochastic models because of our ignorance of the underlying system. [Although this model fails on a biochemical level, it is important to have faith in such a coherent and powerful theory.] Rare, fortuitous genetic mutations undergo selection – the contexts of which are inferred by ‘just-so’ stories. Next, the survivors are the most fit so the fittest survive.”

    (Note: If one is Richard Dawkins style evolutionist, he may add the phrase: “This proves that there is no god.”)

  7. 7
    Red Reader says:

    Prof. Dembski asked, “…how can Coyne say that Cardinal Shoenborn was mistaken?”

    I will refer to him as Fr. (Father) Coyne. The bio I found at the Vatican Observatory refers to him as “Fr George Coyne SJ”. If someone can tell me what SJ means, I would rather use the proper title. As head of the Vatican Observatory, I assume he has a doctorate, but I could not find that.

    I found Fr. Coyne’s article responding to Card. Schoenborn at http://www.thetablet.co.uk/cgi.....blet-01063 .

    With all due respect, it is a sad exposition. His purpose appears to be to apologize to the “scientific” (evolutionary) community for what he must believe is the “myths, mistakes and misunderstanding” of the church in general and Card. Schoenborn in particular. What he “says” he wants is to help believers reconcile “proven” science with religious belief.

    After a little hand-wringing about what he proposes is the church’s “fear” that God might not have dominion over a 14 billion year-old universe, he dismisses Card. Schoenborn’s op-ed as simply a denial “of today’s science on religious grounds…”

    At this point, and this will lead to the answer to Prof. Dembski’s question, Fr. Coyne leaves the known universe of scientific explanations for the origins of biological systems and advances a theory I have never heard before which I personally find absurd. (ID and evolution at least are based on observation.)

    Fr. Coyne writes to help believers understand how God works:
    ….
    Perhaps the following picture of God’s relation to the created universe….may help…. In the universe, as known by science, there are essentially three processes at work: chance, necessity and the fertility of the universe. (His 5th paragraph)
    ….

    The “fertility of the universe”? “As is known by science?” I think I have heard of something like this neither in science nor in Judeo/Christian theology, but in the mythology of the ancient Greeks. “Demeter has been represented holding branches of Corn, or Poppies. The symbols relate to Demeter’s nature as a goddess of fertility and divinity of the earth. She is often shown together with her daughter Persephone.” http://www.library.csi.cuny.ed.....kgods.html

    He continues
    ….
    The fertility of the universe, now well established by science, is an essential ingredient, and the meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in light of that fertility. Chance processes and necessary processes are continuously interacting in a universe that is 13.7 x 1 billion years old and contains about 1022 (sic) stars. Those stars as they “live” and “die” release to the universe the chemical abundance of the elements necessary for life. In their thermonuclear furnaces stars convert the lighter elements into the heavier elements. There is no other way, for instance, to have the abundance of carbon necessary to make a toenail than through the thermonuclear processes in stars. We are all literally born of stardust.
    ….

    Perhaps I am showing profound ignorance here–I admit I am a historian, not a scientist, but I do read–but frankly, I have never heard that stars “release the chemical abundance of the elements necessary for life.” That “information” is released from black holes is the latest I’ve heard; Hawking paid a bet on that.

    He continues in what I do not wish to be disrespectful to describe as “fantasyland”.
    ….
    Take one simple example: two hydrogen atoms meet in the early universe. By necessity (the laws of chemical combination) they are destined to become a hydrogen molecule. But by chance the temperature and pressure conditions at that moment are not correct for them to combine. And so they wander through the universe until they finally do combine. …Of course, by the interaction of chance and necessity, many hydrogen molecules are formed and eventually many of them combine with oxygen to make water, and so on, until we have very complex molecules and eventually the most complicated organism that science knows: the human brain.
    ….
    Poof! There you have it. It actually doesn’t look like fertility had much to do with the formation of the human brain. But THAT WAS THE SCIENTIC part of his article.

    Now he gets to the “faith” part where he attempts to “comfort” believers.
    Stand by to be comforted.
    ….
    But, if we confront what we know of our origins scientifically with religious faith in God the Creator – if, that is, we take the results of modern science seriously – it is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells us of a God who must be very different from God as seen by them [the scholastic philosophers].
    ….
    It goes on. But if you have fortitude, you should read if for yourself.

    What his article demonstrates is that there really is no way to maintain faith in an omniscient, omnipotent Creator/Designer and faith in Darwinism at the same time. It can lead one to lose one’s mind.

    Finally, back to the question, “…how can Coyne say that Cardinal Shoenborn was mistaken?”
    Because Cardinal Shoenborn gave an accurate accounting of the scientific theory of Darwinism. Fr. Coyne operates from a nether world that is neither Darwinism nor ID nor anything else I have ever seen or heard.

  8. 8
    Krauze says:

    Back in September, 38 Nobel Laureates signed an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, containing this statement:

    Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.

    I wonder if Coyne is going to take the Nobel Laureates to task as well?

  9. 9
    Josh Bozeman says:

    There is no way evidence could confirm anything if it was unplanned and unguided. Or even random for that matter. Even if you claim there’s lack of evidence that shows that it IS unguided, unplanned, etc. there’s no way you could ever confirm that to be the case- a lack of evidence doesn’t mean evidence that such a trait is, indeed, lacking. And it surely isn’t confirmation that such a trait is lacking.

    How you would ever confirm intent whether unguided, unplanned, or guided and planned- I’ve no idea. I don’t see anyway to possibly do this.

    I’m not surprised that Coyne seems to be unaware of what NDE actually means.

  10. 10
    keiths says:

    Red Reader writes:
    “I will refer to him as Fr. (Father) Coyne. The bio I found at the Vatican Observatory refers to him as “Fr George Coyne SJ”. If someone can tell me what SJ means, I would rather use the proper title.”

    The “SJ” means Coyne is a Jesuit (SJ = Society of Jesus), but it’s customary to leave that off when referring to him repeatedly. “Fr. Coyne” is fine.

  11. 11
    Josh Bozeman says:

    I should also say that, to me, there is no logical way that true NDE could fit with any Christian theology- maybe a front loaded or a series of special creation events, or even an ID take could make sense, but if mud to man is true and it’s totally unguided and unplanned, then you can’t turn around and claim God decided beforehand that man would be part of his world- that would mean it wasn’t unguided and unplanned with no purpose, no meaning.

  12. 12
    keiths says:

    Qualiatative asks:
    “So where does the randomness come from in the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation/natural selection?”

    Mutations caused by cosmic rays and other forms of radiation can be said to be truly random, with the randomness deriving from the inherent randomness of the quantum processes producing the radiation.

    Other mutations may not be truly random, being based on processes which in the final analysis are deterministic (though beyond our capacity to predict). But the lack of true randomness in this case is not a problem. Apparent randomness is sufficient, in the same way that the card shuffling algorithm in Microsoft Solitaire is sufficient for its purposes, though not truly random. The important point is that to maintain the “illusion” of true randomness, there must be no systematic correlation between the source of the pseudo-randomness and the system downstream which is “consuming” it.

  13. 13
    jacktone says:

    This bears repeating:

    What his article demonstrates is that there really is no way to maintain faith in an omniscient, omnipotent Creator/Designer and faith in Darwinism at the same time. It can lead one to lose one’s mind.

    Thanks Red Reader!

  14. 14
    Tiax says:

    To answer your question, natural selection is a guided process in that it uses present benefit in the environment to guide the selection of mutations. It is unplanned, but not unguided. It is also non-random. Mutation itself is all of those things (unplanned, unguided, random), but Natural selection is only unplanned.

  15. 15
    Josh Bozeman says:

    I wouldn’t call NS guided…you can’t really guide something along if you have no plan, nor a goal in mind. NS might select for mutations, but the mutations are still random, and since there’s no blueprint (under NDE), no goal, no purpose (ultimate purpose), etc. the selection isn’t much of a guiding factor…one selected mutation can lead to any number of future mutations and future possible selection scenarios (again, under NDE). Each new selected mutation makes no sense in any overall picture and it can’t see ahead into the future to plan any future mutation/selection combinations. So, I wouldn’t call that guidance as most would understand the term.

    It might sway things one way or another, but the possibilities are endless, there’s no ultimate map or blueprint (no plan at all), no meaning and no ultimate purpose (besides survive…then you get into what I still consider a tautology with the fittest being those who survive and the mutations that are selected are for the fittest, aka those who survive the best.)

    Coyne still doesn’t seem to understand NDE- then again, I think a lot of people say they have no problem with NDE, yet never realize that the constraints they’re trying to put on it (purpose, meaning, an ultimate goal) isn’t part of the theory- it’s just the opposite. Coyne might be making the same mistake, from his quote above (which I didn’t notice until this was posted and pointed out).

  16. 16
    Qualiatative says:

    keiths:

    Mutations caused by cosmic rays and other forms of radiation can be said to be truly random, with the randomness deriving from the inherent randomness of the quantum processes producing the radiation.

    Again, stochastic quantum processes are attributed to unknown causers. Invoking QM doesn’t circumvent the fact that randomness is not a coherent concept of causality.

    The important point is that to maintain the “illusion” of true randomness, there must be no systematic correlation between the source of the pseudo-randomness and the system downstream which is “consuming” it.

    I agree insofar as differentiating between systems that result from pseudo-randomness and systems that are caused by a purposeful agent is important.

  17. 17
    mmadigan says:

    This is the latest redefinition of the dawkinish darwinites:
    if you limit the target for random firing,
    the firing isn’t random.

  18. 18
    keiths says:

    Qualiatative,

    Why so hung up over whether mutations are, at bottom, truly random? Natural selection doesn’t “care”. It just needs variation as grist for the mill, distributed roughly evenly over the genome, in no obvious pattern. A good pseudorandom process will suffice.

    Could you explain why you are so focused on the source of the randomness or pseudorandomness?

  19. 19
    Qualiatative says:

    “…distributed roughly evenly over the genome, in no obvious pattern.”

    This is not the case with genetic mutations.

  20. 20
    keiths says:

    Qualiatative, your statement is ambiguous.

    If you meant that those mutations that persist in a population over many generations are unevenly distributed, then I agree. But we were talking about the raw mutations that are presented to the selection mechanism, not the ones that survive it.

    If you meant that certain mutations are more likely than others (i.e. purines tending to mutate into purines more often than they mutate into pyrimidines, and vice versa), then I would respond that this doesn’t affect the distribution of mutations over the genome, and furthermore there is no evidence (and no reason to expect) that on average, this biases the phenotypic effects toward or away from the direction of improved fitness.

    If you meant something else, please elaborate.

  21. 21
    keiths says:

    And again, why the focus on the source of the randomness or pseudorandomness?

  22. 22
    PhilVaz says:

    Dembski: “Likewise, natural selection has no plan — it does not anticipate future functions that are not currently available. It can only take advantage of present function. That being the case — and it is the case — how can Coyne say that Cardinal Schoenborn was mistaken?”

    One thing I’d like to add to this thead, is that Michael Behe himself has said that natural selection is no problem for a Catholic, and this is found in Dembski’s own book Uncommon Dissent:

    “The point I’m trying to drive home here by discussing my own work as well as the work of Miller and Haught, is that a very wide range of views about the mechanism of evolution is consistent with Catholic teaching, from the natural selection defended by Miller, to the intelligent design I have proposed, to the animated, information-suffused universe that John Haught sees. Those mechanisms are all proposed by persons who attach the same bottom-line philosophy to their ideas that Pope John Paul described: that ‘it is the God of Israel who acts’ and that ‘it is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Indeed, the range of possibilities that are available under a Catholic viewpoint is much wider than under a materialistic viewpoint.” (Michael Behe, from “A Catholic Scientist Looks at Darwinism” in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing edited by William Dembski [2004], page 143-144)

    Natural selection is “unguided” or “unplanned” in a scientific sense, but guided and planned by God in a metaphysical sense. This is outside of the scientific method. The International Theological Commission (paragraphs 62-70) says the same. A contingent natural process of evolution can nonetheless fall within God’s plan for creation.

    http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p80.htm

    Phil P

  23. 23
    jay says:

    While it would be possible that evolution by random variation and natural selection was planned by God in a metaphysical sense, what purpose would He have in such planning? To make it look as if we are all here due to a purely materialistic, unguided, and unplanned process? This would be a recipe for rampant disbelief in God. (It already has been for those who have truly understood and accepted it.) Darwinism has been a trigger and linchpin of atheism. The straightforward, simple interpetation of Darwinian evolution (if it were true) is that our creator is accident, hunger, and lust — not God.

  24. 24
    Tohu_wabohu says:

    Hi chaps!

    George Coyne: “God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution”.

    Hm, for me it is exactly the same point which made cardinal Schonborn (just maybe in diffrent words): in evolutionary process we can see God, or more precisely God’s design. If I well understood, Coyne view of evolution is that this process (unguided?) is (or rather was) designed by God for final purpose i.e. biological life. In my opinion it’s strange. From one side Coyne defends doctrine about God who created universe with His own purposes (biological life, humans etc.), from diffrent side he defends neodarwinism. Neodarwinism like God’s creation pathway? Tell it to Richard Dawkins 😉 If first true, second not, and vice versa. In my view Coyne paper is like mix water with fire – completely hopeless. Schonborn’s pointview is consistent, Coyne not, something like double talk.

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