Evolution is true: Hebrew Bible scholar, Bruce Waltke, speaks truth to power—and is fired for it

A prominent scholar of the Hebrew Bible, and an Evangelical, Bruce Waltke recently stated the obvious—that evolution is true—and lost his teaching position at Reformed Theological Seminary for it. Here’s Inside Higher Ed today:

When it comes to incriminating videos these days, the one of Bruce K. Waltke might seem pretty tame. It shows the noted evangelical scholar of the Old Testament talking about scholarship, faith and evolution. What was incriminating? He not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical Christianity could face a crisis for not coming to accept science.

“If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness,” he says, according to several accounts by those who have seen the video. Those words set off a furor at the Reformed Theological Seminary, where Waltke was — until this week — a professor.

Religious groups that reject the findings of science—such as that evolution occurred and continues to occur—are properly designated cults.

Tough medicine.

And true.

And unspeakable in some institutions supposedly devoted to liberal study, learning, and free inquiry.

This sorry incident recalls for me another Evangelical censored for stating the obvious: Richard Colling. Read about what happened to him here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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36 Responses to Evolution is true: Hebrew Bible scholar, Bruce Waltke, speaks truth to power—and is fired for it

  1. Pingback: In the firing of Bruce Waltke, Michael Milton endorses intellectual hiding and self-censorship « Prometheus Unbound

  2. TomH says:

    Let’s suppose that a biology professor at Cal Tech said that creationism was true and that the continuing to hold to evolutionism would continue to expose science to ridicule. Would you care if that professor was fired?

    Bear in mind that professors at some seminaries are hired with the understanding that they endorse the positions of the seminary, which is not the case for public universities, at least explicitly.

    Is it more honest if the agreement to support a position is explicit or implicit?

    Firing this guy isn’t likely to cause a reduction in enrollment, but will likely cause lines to be drawn more clearly, which I support. I like clear distinctions, where possible.

  3. santitafarella says:

    TomH:

    The problem with your argument is that it contains no symmetry: Cal Tech is a place where science is studied; a seminary is a place where religion is studied. The proper analogy is if a biologist at Cal Tech, making a public comment concerning religion, got fired for it.

    And we all know exactly why someone going through tenure might be fired from a biology position for affirming young earth creationism or the existence of, say, Bigfoot or alien life at Roswell. It is for the same reason that no self respecting university could house a geologist affirming that the Grand Canyon is the product of Noah’s flood (or an astronomer affirming that the Earth is flat or at the center of the universe): these positions are wildly and absurdly contrary to the converging lines of evidence that science has built up on these matters over the course of more than a century. Your very demonstrated competence as a scientist, and your ability to judge scientific evidence, are at stake. A university incapable, at this late stage, of distinguishing scientists from pseudoscientists, and determining its science staff on the basis of whether one is a scientist or a pseudoscientist, is not really an institution of higher learning deserving of the name. There are ways of making these distinctions in a non-subjective way, and so treating candidates for science positions fairly. In these instances, free speech is retained—but if you are a pseudoscientist you have to work outside of the scientific departments of serious universities because that is not what they are doing. No respectable university has an obligation to retain in its employ pseudoscientists within its science departments.

    By contrast, a seminary is not engaged in science, and where it constrains the expression of scientific statements among its faculty, it sets the mind against reason and reality testing and so takes on the characteristics of a cult. I think that Waltke’s use of the word “cult” is informative and helpful.

    At Cal Tech reason, freedom of thought, critical thinking, and the life of the mind are being defended and practiced against the inertia of pseudoscience and pseudoscientists. By contrast, at Reformed Theological Seminary pseudoscience is being shielded from scrutiny and a person is being fired for critiquing pseudoscience. Cal Tech is in the humanistic tradition of the liberal arts, the sciences, and higher learning; Reformed Theological Seminary is in the tradition of cultic isolation and psychological enclosure.

    —Santi

    • Jeff says:

      Bruce Waltke, in his commentary on Proverbs, explains, “This direction or bent of the heart [wise, pure or perverse] determines its decisions and thus the person’s actions….Since the heart is the center of all of a person’s emotional-intellectual-religious-moral activity, it must be safeguarded above all things.”

  4. Pingback: “We cannot allow Christianity to become a cult”: Biologos on the censorship of Dr. Bruce Waltke’s statements concerning evolution « Prometheus Unbound

  5. andrewclunn says:

    When I first started reading this blog I thought you had sympathies with the ID community from the posts you were making. Did I misread them or have your views since changed?

  6. santitafarella says:

    Andrew:

    You ask a fair question. I have some sympathy for moderate theists who wish, by faith, to affirm that God is functioning in the gaps of our knowledge. I don’t know if the ontological mystery really is a mystery or just an unsolved problem, but our very existence is more than curious. And I think that the gaps in our knowledge are where one might make inductions (not unreasonable) about the existence of a telos behind things.

    In short, I’m still an agnostic and don’t see strict naturalism as the only reasonable inference one can make about the universe.

    But I part company with anyone who makes large or confident theistic claims that clearly contradict what science, over the last two centuries, has reasonably established: the earth is old and plants and animals, by a process largely—if not totally—driven by natural selection, have changed over time. To move away from so well established a theory as evolution—and reject, say, common ancestry—at this late date is to drift into the realm of pseudoscience. ID, in my view, skirts the boundary, but deserves a hearing. Young earth creationism, on the other hand, is far on the pseudoscience side of the equation, with epistemic merit akin to, say, aliens at Roswell or belief in Bigfoot.

    —Santi

  7. santitafarella says:

    Andrew:

    One more thing: just as Richard Dawkins, in his God Delusion, (as I recall) had a one-six scale of where you put yourself on the atheist-theist spectrum (six being totally confident atheist), I think it would be helpful to generate a scale between science and pseudoscience. I think it might be a valuable thing to reflect on.

    Any thoughts about this?

    —Santi

    • andrewclunn says:

      I think that might be problematic, as I don’t see it a a binary scale. There are four ways that I personally use of ‘knowing’ things:

      1) Emotions
      2) Experience
      3) Experimentation
      4) Mathematical / Logical Proofs

      What’s the most important in understanding the world? Which ones can classify as ‘knowing’ something absolutely? How about ‘knowing’ things in practicum?

      I know that a lot of ‘skeptics’ and ‘naturalists’ disagree on whether experimentation can ever allow you to ‘know’ something. And though emotions are clearly heuristics, there can sometimes be real evolutionary advantages to quick action and group unity (that emotion or shared experiences allow for.)

      I also have some sympathies for religious views (being a reverend’s son) and in some moments wonder if a deistic world view doesn’t have some real advantages over the alternatives. What I enjoy about this blog is that you raise completely different questions than I would and though I don’t pretend that we have changed each others’ minds on much, it’s always a good thing to question an assumed premise now and then.

  8. I’m not sure if you read the higher ed article thoroughly or not (or other public information on the subject) but Waltke resigned, he wasn’t fired in any sense of the word.

    RTS knew about his views while he was a teacher there, they were published in writing as early as 2007, so it was no secret what Waltke thought about the interface of evolutionary theory and his understanding of the Bible.

    In reality, he already has a job at different Evangelical seminary, so as far as censorship is concerned, that has not really taken place either.

    I can see your overall point in favor of the truth of evolution, which if you mean micro evolution, natural selection, genetic drift and so on, that is certainly true. However, too many people think of macro-evolution in the same category of truth, when unfortunately as far as pseudo-science goes, it fits in that category. It’s simply an inference to unobserved data, which is no more scientific than inferencing the presence of an unobserved Designer.

    I may be wrong on this, but to my knowledge (including reading Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth), there is no conclusive evidence proving macro-evolution, only naturalistic inferences drawn from the data of micro-evolution. That was the case for Darwin and hasn’t substantially changed since, although the data of qualitative changes has since greatly increased. Is that a correct assessment? Do you know of any evidence to the contrary?

  9. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    Your hair-splitting is chilling. You are happy to make excuses for power arrayed against a man’s free expression? Lovely.

    Obviously, the professor was pushed out of his job. He was given the choice to submit a letter of resignation or be formally fired. You thus obfuscate the fact that he was not being given a choice, and that he did not leave willingly. That another college picked him up shows that there are sane colleges beyond the narrow cultic confines of Reform Theological Seminary, and they recognize the value of bringing aboard a respected and accomplished academic.

    As for your distinction between micro and macro evolution, you are talking nonsense. No biologist at any major university in the world seriously questions the macroevolution of species, over billions of years, via a common ancestor. The evidence is voluminous. The books supporting the theory of evolution are legion. Here’s a link to just one:

    http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-What-Fossils-Say-Matters/dp/0231139624/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271190138&sr=8-1

    Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True” is also good. But if the books and opinions about evolution, coming from the world’s leading experts in the field of evolutionary biology, are unconvincing to you, and you prefer, say, Duane Gish’s arguments and presentation of evidence to people like Stephen Gould, what can I say? You’ve put your intellectual money on the wrong team of horses. It’s as if you went to a team of expert physicians, learned you have a heart condition, and go to the local health food store employees for a second opinion on what your symptoms mean and what to do about them. Not smart.

    Here’s the reality: the earth is five billion years old and plants and animals have changed over time, sharing a common ancestor. Deal. With. It.

    —Santi

  10. NateClaiborne says:

    Santi,

    I appreciate your response, it is not every day I a see evidence and rational arguments dismissed by sweeping generalizations and biased conjectures. I can see you’ve already determined exactly why Waltke no longer is at RTS and that distinctions in biology are silly so I won’t bother you further with anything useless like quotes from scientists or evidence to the contrary. It would be unethical for the same reason that it is for professional soldiers to shoot unarmed civilians.

    Take care,

    Nate

  11. santitafarella says:

    Nate,

    Before you go, might you be a dear and tell us the following:

    1. What books by evolutionary scientists teaching at highly esteemed universities have you read?

    2. What epistemic status do you give to expert testimony that overwhelmingly leans to one side of an issue?

    3. What epistemic status do you give to the opinions of individual experts in their area of expertise if they also happen to be highly esteemed by their expert peers?

    —Santi

  12. NateClaiborne says:

    1. I’ve read Dawkins and had a semester of biology as part of a B.S. Neither were very convincing

    2. I don’t give it any preferential status, it is worth considering but it is not a priority correct just because of expert status. Expert status of the academy at Galileo’s time leaned overwhelmingly in one direction, and well, we see where that went. Doesnt mean it is the same here, but doesn’t mean experts are alwas right.

    3. I don’t give opinions any sort of preferential epistemic status. Opinions are still just opinions. I give preference to logically sound arguments, regardless of who offers them. Experts are rather more likely to get entrenched in the current paradigm regardless of evidence to the contrary, as Kuhn helpfully points out.

    I doubt you’ll find this either convincing or palatable, I’m not likely to wake you from your dogmatic slumber.

    Nate

  13. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    I’d ask you to reconsider your position on expert testimony. You say that you are committed to reason, but one of the ways that we arrive at a reasonable conclusion is to give proper weight to, and make distinctions between, sources. What, for example, is the value of this or that source?

    It matters a great deal, when we are not experts in a particular discipline, to weigh the value of our sources concerning it. NOT ALL OPINIONS ARE EQUAL WHEN IT COMES TO A COMPLEX SCIENCE. With regard to evolution, at the very least, as lay persons, if we are going to doubt a conclusion overwhelmingly preferred by experts, we ought not hold the opposite opinion with much confidence at all.

    If a discipline were sharply divided on a subject, it might make sense to have a strong opinion based on your personal perception of the evidence (though I doubt this). But when a discipline is united overwhelmingly in one direction on an issue, it suggests that experts have very, very strong reasons for this. Scientists are trained in the evaluation and weighing of evidence (just as physicians are trained in the evaluating and weighing of symptoms and body processes). In the case of evolution, numerous scientists of high esteem among their professional colleagues have written books for lay persons on the subject. I’ve referred you to two of them. My position is that such scientists deserve a full and fair hearing from lay people because they are far more likely to be correct than incorrect on the subject of their expertise.

    Another issue here is hypothesis testing. When you ask for an explanation of something (such as say, how a person died), you lay out all of the theories (accident, murder, illness etc.) and see which one accords best with the evidence available. In the case of evolution, scientists from numerous disciplines (from paleontology to biology to geology) insist that no hypothesis fits the data better than this: the earth is old and plants and animals share a common ancestor, and have changed over time.

    This is important: THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE SCIENTIFIC HYPOTHESIS THAT CLAIMS TO ACCOUNT FOR THE CONVERGING LINES OF EVIDENCE THAT THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION ACCOUNTS FOR.

    I’m sorry to put that in caps, but the combination of expert testimony, converging lines of evidence, and the lack of any plausible alternative hypothesis to “old earth evolutionary theory” are difficult for a resisting lay person to epistemically overcome.

    And so it’s simply not sensible, as a lay person, to be a confident evolution doubter given these three things. And what upsets me about creationism (especially of the young earth variety) is that it stunts intellectual progress for those who get stuck on it. The work is to absorb the conclusions of science and then ask this: “What shall I believe with regard to religion, and how might I make my religion fit within the framework of the realities discovered by science?” It is not: “How can I make science accord with my religion?” If the foot doesn’t fit the shoe, we don’t force the foot. We find a bigger shoe.

    Unfortunately, creationism arrests the difficult work of facing the world honestly and directly. That, in my view, and to put it in religious terms, is the work of the cross. Creationism is easy. It’s intellectual ice cream. That’s why people pick it over the harder work: to get on the existential cross and say, “What do I do with what science has revealed?”

    —Santi

  14. Santi,

    I appreciate your concern, and I thank you for actually arguing for your point instead making the initial generalizations you made in the beginning. Some of my tone was a reaction to that and I apologize for unnecessarily using rhetoric.

    That being said, my training in philosophy does not allow me to follow you in your conclusions. I do distinguish between sources, but there are philosophical issues at stake in this kind of debate and some of the experts I think you are referring to tend to have philosophic commitments that drive their interpretation of the evidence. This can be fairly clearly seen for instance in the writings of Dawkins.

    I appreciate the links to Coyne (and the other one on fossils), I’ve read things he has said but not read his book, I will make sure and do that as part of my research for my thesis.

    Macro-evolution (again, you should look into this kind of distinction) is logical inference from the evidence of micro evolution. It is not based on observation and has no evidence directly supporting it. Dawkins would have presented it if he had it. All his book demonstrated was the fascinating world of micro evolution and adaptation. He produced no evidence of evolution of a quantitative kind, only qualitative, which I have no qualms with.

    What I don’t think you realize is that macro evolution is just an inference from the philosophy of naturalism, which is the philosophical system that holds sway among many scientists. By naturalism, I am referring to metaphysical naturalism, as opposed to simply methodological naturalism which everyone assumes in order to conduct scientific inquiry. Holding to this kind of metaphysical commitment, it is no wonder many scientists who are experts will make claims in the absence of evidence, because, and this is key, given their philosophical presuppositions, that is the only option open to them. If you are naturalists philosophically, you have to believe in macro-evolution, regardless of whether or not there is concrete evidence for it.

    If you’d like I can cite experts for you on the matter, but unfortunately, appeals to authority to establish an argument is considered fallacious. If you’ll take the above argument in the mouth of an expert, but not from me, then it is a failure to actually be reasonable on your part.

    The discipline unity you keep citing is not as monolithic as I think you imagine. Some scientists are actually quite frank about the evidence, you might be surprised if you did some research beyond the popular level. Again, I’ll leave that for your to pursue.

    I don’t think you actually understand how hypothesis are chosen and tested. This is unfortunate that many lay people to not understand the logical issues at work and understand just exactly what constitutes a scientific hypothesis.

    Certainly one could argue that the hypothesis of macro evolution fits the evidence, but that is on a naturalistic assumption. If one is not a naturalist philosophically, there are other options open, because, and again this is key: Macro-evolution is not a scientific theory.

    When used as a theory of origins, it is no longer scientific because it is based on inferences to the unobserved, and is dealing with non-repeatable events. One could also mention that is fails Karl Popper’s criterion of falsifiability, which precludes it as a truly scientific theory.

    So in a sense, you are correct, and I would agree with you, there is no alternative scientific hypothesis to evolution. But this is because macro evolution itself is not scientific in its nature. People have wanted to believe it to be true for two centuries now since Lucretius, Darwin gave them a mechanism that works within a species, and everyone just made the inference that given enough time it could account for everything. But unfortunately, natural selection can only work with nature to select from, it cannot generate nature. Just like survival of the fittest is not a scientific theory, but more or less a tautology stating that “the ones that survive are the ones that survive.” It’s just an inference, it is illogical and unscientific in its nature (because of it’s lack of falsifiability and inability to be proven to have actually taken place in the past).

    Now given your status as a lay person, you seem to feel it is unreasonable to doubt evolution. But given my status as a trained philosopher, it still remains very reasonable to doubt because of the inherent issues with scientific hypothesis validation, the force that naturalism as philosophical construct exerts on the theory choice in science, the plain fact that statements made by scientists are not necessarily always statements of science (scientists say unscientific things regarding evolution), and the lack of concrete evidence that can prove evolution to have taken place in the past without depending on the assumption of metaphysical naturalism (again, in distinction to methodological naturalism).

    It would be helpful for you to realize that an inference to the unobserved (evolution in the past) no more scientific than any other inference to the unobserved (that everything was created in the past by God for instance, not necessarily as diverse as it is today, but to say that evolution has never crossed species).

    It would also be helpful for you to be aware that I am no young earth creationist (thanks for the stereotyping though). I would agree with Hawking’s cosmology (at least what I read in Universe in a Nutshell and Brief History of Time), so I have no problem with an old earth or an old universe. Having done doctoral work in Ancient Near East creation account and understanding their literary nature, I do not see (the Big Bang) conflicting with the Genesis accounts, because, and this is key, they are not scientific in nature and do not tell how or when anything was created, only who did it. I am only, by my training in Hebrew, committed to God creating, but have no Biblical reason to accept a young earth or any specific mechanism of creation. So my reasons for rejecting macro evolution are not Biblical, but are logical, scientific, and philosophical.

    I appreciate you taking time to reason things out, but I find your arguments fail to take into account all the issues at hand, and therefore somewhat shallow (though well formulated at least this time around). Ultimately I do not find them compelling in any way, although again, I appreciate your concern.

    Science unfortunately, does not always reveal so much as it simply finds what it set out to look for in the first place. It would be wise of you to not simply accept what science tries to tell reality is, especially on issues of origins, since the history of science more or less demonstrates its tentative nature. Maybe you will grow in your understanding by studying some philosophy of science like Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It might at least help change your paradigm, which is unfortunately impeding your ability to explore this topic at more depth.

    Again, take care,

    Nate

  15. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    Scientists have not visited the center of the sun, but they make reasonable inferences about what is going on inside it, right? It’s not a product of their naturalistic bias that they don’t hypothesize spirits or gremlins at work at the sun’s core. Physicists have a thoroughly adequate scientific theory for the sun’s core processes without directly visiting the center of the sun.

    It’s the same with evolution. The theory’s inferences are sufficiently plausible that scientists do not think it a great strain to believe them, and they are also based on converging lines of reasonable evidence from a wide range of disciplines. Could they be wrong in whole or in part? Yes. Are they? Given what we know, it is highly unlikely that the broad picture is wildly mistaken.

    I thus find your statements about macroevolution peculiar. Of course macroevolution is an inference from the data. All historical accounts of processes must rely on inferences from existing and partial data. The question is this: are the inferences reasonable, and if not, what are the alternative inferences available—and are they any more reasonable?

    You can’t, in other words, have a Kuhnian paradigm shift without a paradigm of equivelent quality to shift to. I’ve yet to hear of any scientific theory, offered by you or anyone else, that can account for the things that evolution so elegantly does.

    As for expert bias, you bet it is there and you have to take that into account. Dawkins is motivated, as is Coyne. That should certainly restrain your belief in their assertions accordingly. However, it is also the case that they happen to be respected by their colleagues, and their colleagues overwhelming support their conclusions concerning evolution.

    If you went to two doctors that you thought were not very nice, and they told you that you have nose cancer, but they gave you the same diagnosis as 20 other respected doctors, however much you dislike them you might think twice about switching to the diagnosis offered by that one nice doctor you know who works in a small midwestern clinic and says you’ve just got a sinus infection.

    And I have critiqued metaphysical naturalism at this blog many times. I’m an agnostic. You’ll get little argument from me concerning the fact that there are metaphysical premises underlying naturalism and that it is an inference beyond empiricism. Maybe a telos set the universe in motion. I don’t know. But the science points to the evolution of species from a common ancestor. You don’t have to be a metaphyisical naturalist to appreciate the numerous and compelling converging lines of evidence for evolution by natural selection. I have no quarrel with theistic or deistic evolution. My quarrel is with someone who denies evolution.

    I’m glad to hear that you think the earth is old. But I’m at a loss, after you have accepted the standard time frame, why you feel the need to question the broad transmutations of species. Why is that so important for you to deny (after conceding so much else)? Could you explain that? It’s odd to me.

    And can you put in a sentence the alternative hypothesis to which you wish to see science shift?

    Here’s the current hypothesis: the diversity of plants and animals that we see on earth came about by a process of evolutionary change from a common ancestor, and that change was driven largely, perhaps wholly, by natural selection.

    What’s your Kuhnian paradigm shifting counter-narrative?

    —Santi

  16. Santi,

    Comparing inferences about the sun, which is there to be observed, is different than making inferences about historical events. I would say whatever physicists have postulated about the core of the sun is probably accurate, but that probability does not transfer into evolutionary biology, simply because they are also making inferences to the unobserved.

    Given what we know, there is no evidence for the broad picture (evolution accounting for all of life). And since you keep referencing what scientists think in the place of actually demonstrating what they think, here are the thoughts of a few scientists:

    “Large evolutionary innovations are not well understood. None has ever been observed, and we have no idea whether any may be in progress. There is no good fossil record of any.” – Paul Wesson, astrophysicist, FRAS

    “Well, as common sense would suggest, the Darwinian theory is correct in the small [what I mean by micro evolution], but not in the large [what I mean by macro-evolution]. Rabbits come from other slightly different rabbits, not from either soup [primeval] or potatoes. Where they come from in the first place is a problem yet to be solved, like much else of a cosmic scale.” – Sir Fred Hoyle (astronomer)

    I’ll give you one more, this time from an actual biologist so we have at least one in the mix:

    “Although at the phenotypic level [referring to neo-Darwinian theory], it deals with the modification of existing parts, the theory is intended to explain neither the origin of parts, nor morphological organization, nor innovation. In the neo-Darwinian world the motive factor of morphological change is natural selection, which can account for the modification and loss of parts. But selection has no innovative capacity: it eliminates or maintains what exists. The generative and ordering aspect or morphological evolution are thus absent from evolutionary theory.” – Gerd Muller, theoretical biologist

    Now based on these, and others if you’d like (and bibliographic data if you want it), and the general sway of mathematicians, physicists and other cosmologists, I doubt very seriously that inferring that evolution accounted for both the origin of life, and for the various species of life. It certainly accounts for variations within species, but there is no account of it crossing species. If there is no proof of it now, why infer it into the past?

    Now, I am not a scientist, so I can’t offer a scientific paradigm. I can look at what’s out there and decide based on reason and my background philosophy whether or not to follow the mainline thought on macro-evolution. The fact that there are many more intelligent and reasonable people than I who also doubt it, makes me less the odd one (although I did just make an illegitimate appeal to authority).

    Saying that though, I’ll say again what I’ve said before. It is no more or less scientific to posit that a Designer created the entire universe via Big Bang, and then at some later point in time, fashioned the earth into a habitable place, then by divine fiat (word) created a certain number of animals and plant life and individual people, from which all current life has developed, within the innate capacity allotted to them, over how many years it has been since that time.

    You may or may not accept that as scientifically viable, but it carries the same credentials as evolution does in terms of a theory of origins. It has mathematics on its side because it is not so widely improbable as evolution is, and it does not have the problems evolution does with explaining why things as even Dawkins admits, appear to be designed, or the fact that the universe is an ordered, rational place, something evolution cannot explain, yet is something that science itself depends on.

    It is unscientific though I realize to comment much on the nature of the Designer, that lies beyond the realm of science, but to simply posit that a Designer designed life and the universe at some point in the past, again, carries the same scientific credentials as its competitor.

    Whether or not sciences shifts to readopt this principle or not, who is to say. I’m content to still deny the range of the mechanism of natural selection because of the nature of natural selection and because of the lack of evidence to the contrary. It strikes me as odd at least that given this entire conversation, and my bold claims about lack of evidence, you have not offered any counter evidence disproving my claims. You simply punt to what scientists tend to think and refer to converging lines of evidence. Make a more complete argument (cite a study demonstrating natural selection produces quantitative change or crosses species; quote a study that demonstrates that Dawkins’ and Coyne’s colleagues overwhelmingly support them, show what I’ve said to be illogical on its own right), and I guess we’ll see where that goes. I don’t mean to hijack your blog post at all, my original intent was mainly to point of the factual lapse with Waltke, but I did I guess start the argument. If you’d rather discontinue it, I understand, but if you want to keep going, I’ll press on with you.

    I appreciate your discussion on this,

    Nate

  17. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    I don’t mind the evolution of threads in contingent directions. And one reason I blog is to enter into Socratic dialectic with others: it’s a way to truth.

    As for the quotes that you offer, I’m not impressed with an astrophysicist commenting on paleontology. His opinion on such matters is no more credible than mine. It is not his area of expertise, and those who are experts in paleontology do not share his view. I have the same problem with Hoyle commenting on biology. And I would add that Hoyle was an atheist. I would also add, by way of analogy, that Nobel Prize chemist Linus Pauling used to go around the country advocating megadosing on vitamin C against the expert opinion of medical researchers. Of course, the experts proved right and Pauling wildly wrong. Being an expert in one area of science doesn’t magically convey to you expert authority to opine on other areas of science. And if you are contradicting the overwhelming consensus of experts in a particular field of science, the burden of proof falls heavily upon you. If you make an extraordinary claim, you better have extraordinary evidence. And if you have extraordinary evidence, then why oh why can’t you persuade experts in the subject that you are correct?

    As for Gerd Muller, he appears to be questioning the mechanism of evolution’s occurance, not its existence. My bet is that Muller accepts common ancestry but finds natural selection inadequate to account for it. Perhaps Muller is an evo-devo enthusiast:

    http://www.amazon.com/What-Darwin-Never-Knew-n/dp/B0031SZER2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1271292294&sr=8-1

    And Muller, in the quote that you offered, does not give any alternative hypothesis on which to begin work, nor does he account for the origin of species by the miraculous intervention of, say, angels.

    By contrast, I appreciate that you offered a counter-narrative.

    I’ll address your counter-narrative in the post below.

    —Santi

  18. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    Here’s your counter-narrative: “. . . a Designer created the entire universe via Big Bang, and then at some later point in time, fashioned the earth into a habitable place, then by divine fiat (word) created a certain number of animals and plant life and individual people, from which all current life has developed, within the innate capacity allotted to them, over how many years it has been since that time.”

    Now this is a real hypothesis; an alternative to three billion years of contingent and undirected evolution by natural selection. You are positing the direct intervention of God into an already existing universe at crucial moments in earth history (at the boundary where nonlife became life, at the appearance of phyla, at the appearance of humans etc.). Why God didn’t make the universe go of itself into its current form from the start—using natural selection as his/her mechanism—is, on your account, apparently a mystery. But you think that the universe shows signs of discontinuities unaccounted for by naturalism (life, the mind, phyla etc.), and that God intervened from outside of the system and performed miracles.

    Is that a fair summary?

    If so, I would ask this: how would you test your hypothesis? And on this I would say that it is exactly in the same way that science is already being conducted: you would throw all of your energy into disconfirming your hypothesis, looking for naturalistic ways to bridge the gaps in our knowledge to see if, indeed, they can only be accounted for by intelligent design. In other words, the creationist research program and the evolution research program are the same: vigorously trying to fill the gaps. If the gaps prove stubbornly resistent to naturalistic explanation, keep trying until you have exhausted all intellectual and experimental avenues for disconfirming your hypothesis. This, of course, might take another century (or more) of research before scientists give up, say, on a natural explanation for the origin of life or mind.

    But my bet is with the scientists who are experts in biology: the discontinuities that you place God in will probably yield to mechanism. They (the scientists) may be wrong and you may be right, but they are doing exactly what you should want them to do: throwing their energies into finding naturalistic explanations for phenomena. You shouldn’t be a critic of science’s naturalistic bias, but an endorser of it, for it will confirm or disconfirm, over time, your favored hypothesis.

    As lay people, our role is that of spectators waiting on news reports of their findings. Right now, biologists are ever more confident that evolution is true: plants and animals share a common ancestor. It’s not as if the past 30 years have been bad for evolutionary theory. My bet is that the next hundred years will contain surprises, but the basic framework of evolutionary theory will remain in tact (humans evolved from primates, and all animals and plants are related via a common ancestor).

    And if evolution is true, you’ve still got a great fall back position: God made the universe, from the beginning, as a mechanism producing his/her (mysterious to us) will, which included life and us. I personally think that is a better theistic narrative than a Designer jumping in periodically to tweak his/her system. I wonder why you don’t just go to that position now.

    —Santi

  19. ogatoprecambriano says:

    First I should say that Nat’s dicotomy between “macro” vs “micro” is blatantly false, nobody except creationists make this dicotomy, scientists surely do not.
    I would add that the “Designer Hypotesis” suffer form the same epistemic problems Nate’s claim to see in the ToE. After all nobody was here to see the “Designer” in action, right? And the “Designer Hypotesis” is the one that is unfalsifiable, as anything can be put in the account of the “Designer”. Even the evident <A HREF="http://oolon.awardspace.com/index.htm"design flaws in nature, as one can always say: ‘who knows the designer’s will?’
    So, anybody who which to seriously claim, on scientific basis, the “Design Hypotesis” should first define ‘design’ and ‘designer’, in such a way that it can be tested in nature. That means that we may be able to say what is a product of ‘Design’, and what is not. What we shouldn’t expect from a ‘Designer’.
    In the ToE for that matter we know what to expect and what to not expect, a so this theory have been chalenged over and over for the past 150 years. And it have passed. The claim that the ToE is unfalsifiable is, again, blatantly false, a product of ignorance. ToE is falsifiable, it just have survived all atempts.

  20. santitafarella says:

    Gato:

    I agree with you about the ability to falsify evolution. As Ernst Mayr famously said: “Rabbits in the Cambrian!”

    As for testing the design inference, since it is really more an inference than a formal hypothesis, the way to defeat it is by death from a thousand small wounds: closing a gap here, closing a gap there, until sensible people sensibly give it up.

    I really am increasingly persuaded that, if God exists, the wisest move for the theist is to posit God at the very beginning and leave it at that. If you are going to be a theist, you should posit no interventions of God tinkering in the current gaps of scientific knowledge because the progress of science will keep closing these gaps on you, and you’ll look to be in constant and embarrassing retreat.

    One physicist has written eloquently along these lines:

    https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/physicist-stephen-barr-on-natural-theology-vs-william-dembskis-intelligent-design/

    —Santi

  21. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    As for asking me to provide arguments for evolution, I’ll offer a couple of very, very simple—and to my mind, difficult to refute—ones off of the top of my head:

    —the appearance of teeth in embryonic whales, which are quickly lost in development (suggesting that whales evolved from a land dwelling animal with teeth)
    —the existence of the whale pelvic bone deep inside the whale’s body, but of no contemporary use to the whale
    —the wings of penguins (suggesting that these creatures evolved from birds that once could fly)
    —geographic radiation and isolation (primates appear to have radiated out from Africa and Marsupials evolved in isolation when Australia separated from Asia). You don’t find fossil homo habilises in South America or Marsupials in North America
    —the fossil record suggesting human evolution strikes me as convincing (from australopithicus through habilis to our Neanderthal cousins). In other words, humans appear on a continuum of evolving primates radiating through and from Africa, and taking on upright walking and increasing brain size

    Here’s more on whale evolution here:

    —Santi

  22. Santi,

    Where do I start?

    I would add to my original hypothesis, concerning the discontinuities, the following things unaccounted for by naturalism: the uniformity of nature, the rationality of the universe (meaning it can be rationally understood), the order present within the universe, the laws of logic, the existence of truth (in an absolute sense), the existence of morals (Again in an absolute sense), and the existence of God.

    Now some of those might be unfair to fault naturalism for lacking an explanation to, because several of those by nature are not within the domain of naturalistic studies, could never be explained by a mechanism like evolution, etc.

    Anyway, thought I would clarify. Also, again, I’m not offering a scientific hypothesis, that is, it’s not something science could validate. But my point has been neither is evolution when used as a theory of origins. When used to explain variations in life in the present, no problem, evolution can support that weight. It cannot however do so when asked to account for life itself or if illegitimately used to explain the formation of new species, etc. That was the point Muller was making, and yes, he is an expert on EvoDevo.

    As far as bridging gaps, there are no gaps to bridge in the hypothesis I offered. Unless I suppose you are looking for a naturalistic account of how God created the earth and its inhabitants. Were that to be accomplished, that wouldn’t eliminate God from the equation. The reason for that is that being able to explain the mechanism how something was done does not eliminate the existence of someone doing it.

    Here’s an example. With science, physics, math, etc. We can offer a purely mechanistic account of a Ford car. We can explain exactly how it works without invoking a higher power into the equation. We can even mechanistically explain how they were made (I’m assuming they use robotic machines, which we could explain as well). Now having done all that, we can then know for sure that Henry Ford never existed right? I mean we explained exactly how the car that bears his name both functions and was created. Therefore we have no need of Mr. Ford anymore and no proof in his cars that he ever existed.

    Please forgive such a crude analogy, but it seems to me that is what many biologists are aimed at doing. It will not hold at all points, but in general, they seem to not realize (well some of them) that explaining the mechanism doesn’t eliminate the designer since that is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

    You can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence via science because science is aimed at studying the natural world right? God is not a part of the natural world, so he is not part of science’s domain to study. I think it was Gould that commented on this fact, noting that it simply was not the place of the scientist to comment one way or the other on the matter.

    Were biologists to prove that evolution accounts for all of life (no special creation, everything evolved from primordial soup) then it wouldn’t eliminate my position on the existence of God, or that He started and superintended the process. However, I’m still skeptical of the data for that hypothesis actually proving it in its own right. I’m free to be skeptical, and at this point I feel that I would be stunting my intellect to just accept without further validation. I just don’t find the evidence convincing.

    Part of this is that you and I have a different philosophy of evidence, or a different epistemological approach to any evidence presented. In short we have different presuppositions we bring to any data. You seem to share one with the mainstream scientists, and I have the divergent one.

    I say this to point out that the arguments for evolution you presented are only arguments if I buy your presuppositions. For all the data you listed, there is an evolutionary explanation, but that explanation is brought by the interpreter to the data, it is not in the data itself. Noting this, I see that, ok, given a prior belief in evolution, what you presented would support that initial assumption, but it does not directly support it on its own right. The exception might be the fossil record, but I would dispute the legitimacy of that, I’ve seen most of those fossils, and I realize some (not all) have been doctored in hopes of bridging the gap. I do need to research in that area further, so I’ll leave it at that. My point is that given my presuppositions, none of the evidence you presented is convincing, for an infinite number of explanations is possible (which is true of every finite data set). In other words, there is always another available explanation, since data is not self explanatory. It is just hard for us to sometimes discern how many layers of assumptions come with scientific findings. This is not to say assumptions are wrong, science couldn’t go anywhere without them, but just many times the line between data and assumptions layered onto the data is hard to find.

    Having said all this, I think where we are now is simply going to be stand off. I can offer no evidence to you that you will find convincing because you will just reinterpret it in light of your presuppositions. The same is true for anything you offer me. If we want to make headway, the argument would have to shift into the more explicitly philosophical realm and question whose presuppositions (assumptions) actually can account for our ability to know anything.

    We obviously know things, so the question becomes, who can best account for that facet of our experience? I don’t think we are going to get anywhere further with data of evolution. I will certainly check into the resources you’ve offered, but I can’t do that until I finish up the semester. I’ve enjoyed dialoguing and look forward to doing so in the future, but unless you want to shift into a philosophical discussion of epistemology and metaphysics and philosophy of science more explicitly, I’m not sure they can be much fruitful dialogue for the time being.

    I appreciate your willingness to discuss all this rationally, I feel I understand the opposing viewpoint better. I’ll add your blog to my reader and maybe jump into further conversation. Hopefully our discussion will continue.

    Thanks for taking the time to reason,

    Nate

  23. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    Now we are making progress: your Ford analogy is agreeable to me. A Ford, in its operation, is wholly accountable for by mechanistic process, and yet a designer is behind it. Likewise, the scientist is accounting for every aspect of the machine of the universe on naturalistic terms, and, as you say, this doesn’t mean that a designer might not be behind it.

    Fine.

    But that wasn’t the hypothesis that you first posed. Instead of looking at the universe as a mechanistic whole created by God, you had God jumping in at choice moments to make life, species, and humans in special and separate acts of creation. My argument is that you should keep God out of the mechanism, assume that natural selection/evo-devo was created by God to make complex species, and simply leave it at that (if you are to be a theist). Otherwise, you’ve got to posit a tinkering God, and when you do that you are bound to end up embarrassed by the advance of science filling in the gaps in our knowledge (things we once thought could not be explained mechanistically are found to have a mechanism). Nothing in the Ford goes apart from the laws of physics and mechanism. The assumption of science is that the same is true of the universe. But that doesn’t mean there might not be something behind that first mechanism—the shiny new universe. Also, if God is God it seems to me a much more intelligent designer to have got it all right from the start, and not jumping in to insert things along the way.

    —Santi

  24. Nate

    As is so boring common among creationists, you conflates the ToE with The Origin of Life. ToE does not account for TOL. IT DOESN’T MEANT TO. As well as Quantum Mechanics doesn’t account for Gravity, nor vice versa.
    The origin of new species is perfectly and legitimaly explained by ToE. It’s observed right now in the lab and the field, it’s just that you are completely ignorant on the matter. You simply don’t know what you are talking about. Again, as is boringly usual among evolution denyalists.
    Your analogy with a Ford car is incredibly bad, as we know in advance by far, where the car came from, who design it, why, who made it, what it’s made of, and so on.
    What you should show is what a Universe without God would look like, and how do you know it. Do you know some different Universe to compare with?

    • santitafarella says:

      Gato:

      Don’t you think it is better to just let the theist have the Ford analogy? The theist can infer what he or she wants from the mechanistic universe, but at least they can also acknowledge that the universe is a mechanism that accounts for all things in it via its mechanisms (such as natural selection).

      I think the tinkering God is more problematic than the deist’s God.

      —Santi

      • Santi

        A bad analogy is a bad analogy, it don’t enlights but obfuscates, so I’m affraid I can’t let the theist have the Ford analogy. Sorry. Specially after his response to my point on this. He claims that he KNOWS that God-did-it, in the same sense as we know who made the Ford car, and how. He is pretending (and here I’m not implying he is doing it disingenuously) to know something nobody can possibly know.
        That BTW is a main difference between atheists and theists. Facing something unknown an atheist (the ones I know at least) would say “well this I don’t know…let’s work on it and try to figure it out”, facing the same a theist pretend to know it, whatever it is. And the atheists are the “arrogant” ones, go figure!

  25. Santi,

    I’m glad you find the Ford analogy agreeable. As far as the original hypothesis I offered, having God work in certain points, I am only following that because that is the framework the Bible uses. It has God creating the entire universe at some point in the past (unspecified by the text) and then it has God directly creating the plants and animals and man on the earth at a later time, which I think it really to just place God at two points (I realize I may have inadvertently implied a third). The first is the creation of matter itself, the second is at the creation of life itself. As a Christian that is all I am committed to, as far as what mechanisms science posits, I can only try to intelligently evaluate their findings and then form my own conclusions about their objective validity.

    That being said, I just don’t see sufficient evidence to posit that God created a primordial soup from which everything developed over time via natural selection. I am growing in my understanding of the biological explanations, and I suppose you could trust in the nature of evidence out there, that if I am honest in my inquiries and do as I said and read the material you offered, maybe eventually I will come around.

    Just thought I would clarify that I’m not positing a tinkering God, just one who accounts for the creation of life and matter. He got it right from the start both in the initial creation of the universe, and with the initial creation of life. I think this is what you were implying at the end, and I think we seem to be on the same page that that is the preferable position for the Christian.

    To Gato:

    When you say, “Your analogy with a Ford car is incredibly bad, as we know in advance by far, where the car came from, who design it, why, who made it, what it’s made of, and so on,” you are simultaneously pressing the analogy too far and missing the point. From a Christian perspective (which I realize you do not share) what you say of the Ford is true of the universe; we know where it came from, who made, and why it is here. You don’t care for our answers, but they are well reasoned and legitimate answers, given our presuppositions. You also mixed categories (probably inadvertently) as the first 4 items are not the realm of science to answer, whereas the last one is (who? and why? are not scientific questions when related to the natural order, whereas what? and how? are).

    I don’t need to show you what a universe without God would look like (since there are no other universes to observe, making that an impossibility), I can merely show you that you cannot make sense of this one unless God existed. Given this universe, the only (not just the best) sound explanation of it, and our experience in it, is possible only on the initial assumption that God exists.

    I realize you do not consciously buy that first assumption, but if one were to assume the contrary (God does not exist) and then try to reason from there, it would only serve to destroy the possibility of all knowledge. Since we actually have knowledge, an initial assumption that destroys the possibility of something we know to be true, cannot itself be true.

    That is the short, less persuasive version, but I can fill in all the details if you would like. It is an argument for God’s existence from the impossibility of the contrary, arguing for Christian theism (not just theism) via a reductio ad absurdum.

    Nate

  26. santitafarella says:

    Nate:

    To your matter and life, I would add consciousness to the list: matter aware of itself. These are the three great unanswered questions of science: where did matter and the laws of physics come from, how did life begin from nonlife, and how did consciousness and language ever get so ginned up among a group of shit-throwing naked primates fifteen billion years after the Big Bang (almost as if it were an afterthought of the creator)?

    But notice that, on this list there is not this question: “Where did the varieties of living species come from?” I think science has pretty much mastered that question: species share a common ancestor, and they evolved by natural selection. From my vantage, the safest bet for the theist is to posit a god that set a universe into motion that evolves matter into life, and life into mind. In other words, your best bet is to trust that behind the great mysteries of the universe are mechanisms not miracles, and to trust that those mechanisms were put there by God. This avoids the death wrestle with conventional science, and allows for a natural universe functioning on wholly natural mechanisms from tip to toe, AND behind it a wise creator. I think you are barking up the wrong tree doubting the current conclusions of science with regard to the origin of species: that’s a losing battle, in my view.

    —Santi

  27. Nate

    I think we are using the word “know” with very different meanings here, as you claim to know things that nobody can know. You don’t know that God exists in the same sense as you know your house exists. You can’t pretend to know things that you, and nobody FTM, don’t know.
    Your problem with the ToE and the Evolution, (and not only with them, but with all Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Geology, etc) in itself is that both contradict the book of Genesis as an historical, lyteral account for the formation of Earth and life on it. But what you should have it clear here is that are the data, the brute facts that contradict your particular relligious account. Scientific theories conform with the facts or they are not scientific.
    Your attempt to deny those facts, or to distort then to make a square block fit a circular hole, are not new, have failled over and over ad nauseum, and only give discredit to people like you, and to your beliefs.
    As for your claim that nothing makes sense without God (and let’s be clear that this ‘god’ are not necessaryly Yahwe), I really fail to grasp why God’s existence give any sense to anything. How would be a “senseless” world? And what you mean by sayng that THIS world have “sense”? What sense?

  28. NateClaiborne says:

    Santi,

    I understand where you are coming from, I just don’t agree. I will though continue to research the matter more over the summer so you might hear back from me one way or another. I appreciate your reasonableness in this discussion.

    Gato,

    You might look into to taking a formal class or two on logic and epistemology, especially covering the nature of knowledge and how it is validated. It might help you avoid fallacious logic and enlighten you about whether or not it is arrogant to make the claims I do.

    Nate

  29. NateClaiborne says:

    Gato,

    I didn’t see your second comment before responding.

    Actually I would claim to know God exists in a stronger sense than I know my house exists. And by God I explicitly mean God as Trinity revealed in the Bible (so in other words not just a god in a generic sense). It is only that conception of Gos and his specific attributes that furnish that necessary foundation for a coherent, interdependent metaphysic and epistemology, something the history of philosophy has failed to deliver.

    When I say nothing makes sense without this God, I mean you cannot ultimately account for anything. To do so, you would have to start with assumptions that rest on this God as their foundation. If I asked you to give me an account of the laws of logic for instance, you couldn’t do so without borrowing from my worldview.

    That being said, I’m going to have to be on my way now, you can bring the discussion to my blog if you want to continue it.

    Nate

  30. ogatoprecambriano says:

    Nate

    If I asked you to give me an account of the laws of logic for instance, you couldn’t do so without borrowing from my worldview.

    False. Logic and the laws of logic are human product. So what?
    Next one!
    Morals? Nope, we need no God to have moral intuitions. Those are the products of humans interacting with other humans.
    It’s funny that you, been ignorant in Biology, and Evolution have no problem prozelitizing about both, but think that yourself are in position to give me advices on logic and epistemology. You have no idea how funny it is.
    If you are tired of making assertions here, fine, but I’ve seen nothing substantive enough to make me follow this on your blog, as you give no sensible answer to the questions I pose. I have no reason to think it will be more enlightening there, au contraire.
    Oh..and yes, you keep pretending (maybe even for yourself)to know what you don’t. Just claiming otherwise doesn’t change this state of affairs.

    Good night, and good luck

    G.

  31. James Green says:

    As illustrated by Bruce Waltke, there is a pressing need within Christianity for a credible explanation of Genesis, one that respects the biblical text (1) yet allows for extensive time (backed by solid evidence) and (2) rejects evolution (random, undirected change) as a powerful constructive mechanism. Millions of years are not a cure for the severe limitations of random change.
    I have just finished reading The Real Genesis Creation Story: A Credible Translation and Explanation at Last by J. Gene White. Of all the books I have read on the subject that attempt to explain Genesis, this is the most comprehensive, lucid and logical. Based on solid scientific evidence and his in depth analysis of the Hebrew text, he appears to have a translation and explanation of Genesis Chapter 1 and 2 that finally makes sense. Without giving away the main thesis of the book, I will say that he does not focus on redefining the terms, “day, create, make, heaven or earth.” He does not treat any verses as metaphorical, mythological or untrue. He does not view evolution as a powerful constructive force. His book can be ordered from the publisher’s website at http://www.sunnybrookepub.com/.

    • santitafarella says:

      Thanks for the book recommendation, but just to be clear: you doubt natural selection is sufficient to account for evolution (you have some model of God-driven change), but you accept, as a Christian, that the earth is old and that plants and animals share a common ancestor and have changed over time, right?

      —Santi

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