Michael Ruse almost gets it

Michael Ruse has written an essay entitled, “Does Darwinian Randomness Make Christianity Impossible?

Ruse lays out the problem as follows:

The problem is this. If Christianity is true, then the existence of humans cannot be a contingent matter….But Darwinian evolutionary theory flatly denies that any species, including humans, must appear. The process is random, not in the sense of uncaused, but in the sense of unguided, without direction. Natural selection gives no guarantee that any particular direction will be taken, and Mendelian/molecular genetics backs this up, by insisting that new variations, mutations, do not appear to needed order.

He then considers and dismisses one such possible solution

Now there are ways you can try to get around this clash, starting with the supposition that somehow God puts in enough guidance to get the job done. Perhaps down at the quantum level, God gives mutation a shove every now and then.  Logically, given the existence of God, I suppose this is possible. But it is to make religion mess with science, and Coyne is rightfully scornful of such a move.

This is simply false.  Elliot Sober has nicely demonstrated that the notion of God “putting in enough guidance to get the job done” is beyond the reach of science and therefore does not “mess with science.”  Coyne tried to refute Sober but failed miserably. 

But let’s get to the meaty part of Ruse’s essay.

He writes:

I think, along with Augustine and Aquinas, at times like this, because it is a theological problem and not a science one, we need a theological solution not a scientific one. So if I invoke, as I will, the notion of multiverses – other universes either parallel to ours or sequential – I am doing so not on scientific grounds (although I know there are those who would defend them on scientific grounds) but on theological grounds. The God of Christianity can create these if He has a mind to.

Since we humans have evolved by Darwinian processes, then we could have evolved by Darwinian processes. Just keep creating universes until it happens! And don’t put any direction into the process.

You might think that this is an awful waste, but as God told Job, His ways are not our ways. In any case, as philosopher William Whewell pointed out in 1853 in his Plurality of Worlds, judged this way there is already an awful lot of waste in this universe. Think of the zillions of uninhabited globes out there.

Ruse comes close to the correct answer, but misses it in a major way.  He is correct in invoking multiverses, but misses the point in thinking they have to exist.  Given the omniscience of God, the multiverses need only be possibilities known by God and He chose to bring one of these possible universes into existence precisely because human beings evolved in this one.

Later in the essay, Ruse correctly notes God is “outside time and space” but he fails to consider the implications of this theological insight.  For when Ruse argues that God could “just keep creating universes until it happens!” he is thinking of God as a being held hostage by time – “until it happens.”  No, God being outside of time can choose the one universe where it happened and bring it into existence.  When considering God’s omniscience and that He is outside of time, there is no “waste problem.”

We need to rearrange our thinking such that God is not held hostage to time.   God stands outside of time.  As such, there is no reason to think God had to create with “an eye toward the future.”  There is no reason God had to “wait” for the right universe to unfold. God could simply choose any possible universe among an infinite set, and he when he chooses, he sees all – beginning AND END.  It’s the “and end” part that helps us rearrange our thinking.  When thinking of God choosing to create a particular universe among an infinite set of possible universes, think of him as choosing a particular end state.  To bring that end state into existence is to bring all of its history into existence.

Again – think of God as choosing a particular end state.  To bring that end state into existence is to bring all of its history into existence.

Once this is realized, the challenge posed to Christianity by “Darwinian Randomness” crashes and burns.  It has been refuted.

Or make it more personal.  What if God wanted you to come into existence?  Not just some human, but YOU.  If God chooses to bring YOU into existence, then more than you has been chosen.  Your parents, and all the people who helped to shape your identity, have also been chosen.  You would not exist without them.  And your parents parents.  And their parents parents.  All the way back to our first human ancestors.  And their non-human ancestors.  All the way back to the origin of our universe.  Y’see, if God chose YOU to come into existence, He also chose your history to come into existence.

We are all part of creation for we are all Creation.  We are all connected (think of the butterfly effect in scifi).  So there is no need for God to tinker.  God has brought it all into existence and sustains its existence.  All of it.

Why?  Because of us.

 

 

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25 Responses to Michael Ruse almost gets it

  1. Bilbo says:

    Mike : ” Given the omniscience of God, the multiverses need only be possibilities known by God and He chose to bring one of these possible universes into existence precisely because human beings evolved in this one.

    This is the solution that Behe offered in EoE. But unless we adopt strict determinism, I think it fails. Here’s why:

    Not just some human, but YOU. If God chooses to bring YOU into existence, then more than you has been chosen. Your parents, and all the people who helped to shape your identity, have also been chosen. You would not exist without them. And your parents parents. And their parents parents. All the way back to our first human ancestors. And their non-human ancestors. All the way back to the origin of our universe. Y’see, if God chose YOU to come into existence, He also chose your history to come into existence.

    Did God force my parents to choose each other have sex? Or did they have free will? If they had free will, then how did God guarantee that the universe He created would have my parents have sex with each other? Likewise with the rest of the physical universe. Is it deterministic? Then God wouldn’t need to intervene. But if it is non-deterministic, then it seems to me that either God would need to intervene in order to bring about exact outcomes, or He would need to create many universes until the exact outcomes occur.

  2. Crude says:

    More comments later, but Mike, maybe you should put any evolution-related posts crossposted to Design Matrix as well. Just a thought.

  3. Michael says:

    Did God force my parents to choose each other have sex?

    No. And keep in mind it would not simply be forcing your parents to have sex; God would need to force them to have sex at a particular time. This is because Bilbo exists as a consequence of the fusion of one particular egg and one particular sperm. ANY OTHER egg or sperm would not have caused Bilbo into existence – they would cause Bilbo’s brother or sister to come into existence.

    Or did they have free will?

    Yes.

    If they had free will, then how did God guarantee that the universe He created would have my parents have sex with each other?

    Because God is outside of time and omniscient. He knows what your parents would freely choose to do.for it was part of the history that was behind the End State He brought into existence. You are still thinking of creation from the perspective of the starting state, as if God sets it in motion and then has to guide it toward a chosen end. Think of creation from the perspective of the end state, where God brings the end state into existence and then simply rewinds the tape.

  4. Michael says:

    More comments later, but Mike, maybe you should put any evolution-related posts crossposted to Design Matrix as well. Just a thought.

    With the DM, I try to consider design and evolution from a neutral, secular-like perspective. For example, front-loading was not derived from any theological consideration; it was derived from thinking about how humans might direct evolution. Yet I have been pondering front-loading from a theological angle lately, so I may post about this here. My own views, however, are pretty much as I spell out in last part of this blog entry.

  5. Because God is outside of time and omniscient. He knows what your parents would freely choose to do.for it was part of the history that was behind the End State He brought into existence. You are still thinking of creation from the perspective of the starting state, as if God sets it in motion and then has to guide it toward a chosen end. Think of creation from the perspective of the end state, where God brings the end state into existence and then simply rewinds the tape.

    Just curious, Michael, are you a Calvinist? What are your views on divine foreknowledge? You seem to be thinking that God’s action of ensuring human beings come into being (i.e. evolve) on Earth is on the same level as God ensuring that someone’s parents have sex (or “ensuring” that World War II happened, that Obama got elected as POTUS, etc.). Equating something which has been depicted in Genesis as a deliberate act on God’s part (creation of the universe, the Earth and human beings) to other things which have been depicted as depending on human choices and free will (e.g. the Fall, Israel relapsing into rebellion against God) seems wrong, from a Biblical perspective at least.

    While I don’t shy away from the idea that God might have definite foreknowledge of everything that would happen on Earth, it seems funny to think that He would act based on this foreknowledge beyond merely ensuring that humans would evolve on Earth (which is why I tend to not agree with this entire “universe choosing” argument).

  6. Bilbo says:

    Mike: “Think of creation from the perspective of the end state, where God brings the end state into existence and then simply rewinds the tape“.

  7. Bilbo says:

    Oops. Forgot my response: Interesting idea. I’ll think about it.

  8. Bilbo says:

    I’ve thought about it. I don’t think it works. I think we would still have determinism, only in reverse: God creates Z. But in order for Z to exist, event Y must have existed. In order for Y to exist, event X must have existed…until we finally get to event A, which also must have existed. There doesn’t seem to be any room for contingency

  9. The Deuce says:

    Actually, what Mike has laid out here is standard Christian theology, though it’s not usually put in terms of possible universes. What is explicitly taught is that God is outside time, that He created time itself, that he sees all of history from the “outside” with all moments being present to him, and that he actualizes the whole universe at all moments of time simultaneously rather than creation being merely a one-time event in the past for him. At the same time, things play out within time by cause and effect according to their natures, and this includes our free choices. Put it all together, and it essentially adds up to what Mike is saying here: God actualizes an entire universe, beginning and end, that accomplishes His goals.

    This, in fact, is how Christianity generally resolves free will vs divine omniscience. Recall that Scripture teaches explicitly that God makes all things work together for good, that He foreknew each of us before the beginning of the world, that he appoints the times of nations, etc. Divine omniscience (which includes perfect foreknowledge) is a non-negotiable to Christian theology. It’s also made very clear that, for instance, the bad actions of Judas Iscariot, the Pharisees and Romans, etc, were part of God’s plan of salvation, but that they also were responsible for their actions. This is a mystery that is beyond our finite, time-bound minds to fully comprehend, but understanding that God is outside time goes some way to illuminating how it’s possible.

  10. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Bilbo:

    Imagine that the universe is one-dimensional and it is inhabited by a single rational dot. Alas, its only choice is to move either left or right. In order to make the mental experience somewhat more concrete, pick up a white sheet of paper and draw a single point. Now extend the point upwards into a curve — you can only go left or right, not up or down — but you are free to choose going left or right. I will impose the technical condition that you cannot lift the pen from the paper. In mathematical jargon, the curve is continuous. This is a stand-in for a kind of “natural law” in this one-dimensional universe.

    Once the drawing is finished you have a continuous curve, the would-be path traced out in space-time by our imaginary dot friend. You can see at a glance all of its history, from beginning to end, in other words you have a God’s eye-view of the dot’s entire history. Is there any inconsistency with free will? No. The microbe (in this case you) chose wherever it went, subject to the constraints of its own universe (continuity of the curve, can only go left or right).

    Analogically with God. God could at view all the possible scenarios (wrt our dot: all possible “upwards” continuous curves in the plane) and among them, will the one that He wills. There is no inconsistency with Free Will because God is timeless or out of time; while our free actions are the cause of His knowledge of them, His knowledge has no causal relation (*) with our actions. To assert that there is, is to equivocate an efficacious causal relation with a temporal relation, that simply does *not* exist.

    (*) Actually, things are slightly more complicated… but never mind.

  11. Michael says:

    Bilbo,

    God creates Z. But in order for Z to exist, event Y must have existed. In order for Y to exist, event X must have existed…until we finally get to event A, which also must have existed. There doesn’t seem to be any room for contingency

    You can make the same argument for any plain ol’ part of history. For example:

    Mike created Z (this blog entry). But it order for Z to exist, Y (Ruse’s blog entry) must have existed. In order for Y to exist, X (Coyne’s blog) must have existed…….

    So none of us had any free will in writing up our blog entries?

  12. Bilbo says:

    Mike,

    Let’s assume that God wanted your blog entry (Z) to exist. So he creates that version of you that chooses to write Z. There were other possible versions of you that would have chosen not to write Z. But God didn’t want those other versions. Now were you free to write Z or not? I’m inclined to say no, you wouldn’t be, and that you could only be free to write Z if you are also free not to write Z. But any version of you that would choose to write Z would not be allowed to exist. You might think you are free to not write Z, but in reality I would say that you are not. Because only the “you” that chooses to write Z is allowed to exist.

    This is pretty much my response to G.Rodriguez. The dot may think it is freely choosing to curve right, but it really has no choice to curve left, since God has eliminated all those possibilities.

    As to Deuce, yes Judas, the Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate were free to do as they did. But now we are talking about a universe where God intervenes in history and interacts with human beings. Knowing that Judas would choose to betray him, Jesus can choose Judas to be one of his disciples. Knowing that given the right opportunity Caiaphas would choose to arrest and try Jesus, Jesus can spend the night in Jerusalem and wait in isolation in the Garden. Knowing that Pontius Pilate, if given no strong defense by Jesus, would eventually choose to put Jesus to death rather than obey his wife’s wishes, Jesus can remain silent.

    So here we have people who are free to choose or not to choose what they do. God knows what they will choose to do if such and such a situation is presented. All God has to do is present the situation. This is different that God only allowing a Judas to exist that will betray Jesus, etc.

  13. Bilbo says:

    Oops. Typo: should have been “…any version of you that would choose not to write Z would not be allowed to exist.”

  14. The Deuce (07:43:04) :

    Actually, what Mike has laid out here is standard Christian theology, though it’s not usually put in terms of possible universes. What is explicitly taught is that God is outside time, that He created time itself, that he sees all of history from the “outside” with all moments being present to him, and that he actualizes the whole universe at all moments of time simultaneously rather than creation being merely a one-time event in the past for him. At the same time, things play out within time by cause and effect according to their natures, and this includes our free choices. Put it all together, and it essentially adds up to what Mike is saying here: God actualizes an entire universe, beginning and end, that accomplishes His goals.

    This, in fact, is how Christianity generally resolves free will vs divine omniscience. Recall that Scripture teaches explicitly that God makes all things work together for good, that He foreknew each of us before the beginning of the world, that he appoints the times of nations, etc. Divine omniscience (which includes perfect foreknowledge) is a non-negotiable to Christian theology. It’s also made very clear that, for instance, the bad actions of Judas Iscariot, the Pharisees and Romans, etc, were part of God’s plan of salvation, but that they also were responsible for their actions. This is a mystery that is beyond our finite, time-bound minds to fully comprehend, but understanding that God is outside time goes some way to illuminating how it’s possible.

    This seems reasonably coherent to me. But it seems to me that similar logic can be applied to say that even if standard mainstream evolutionary theory by natural processes is true, there is no theological problem. Yet lots of people seem to have theological problems with evolution. Partially this is due to atheists trying to use evolution against religion, partially this is due to Paley’s design argument, partially this is due to Biblical literalism, I guess, but still, it seems like if the above were widely accepted by Christian leaders, evolution wouldn’t be such a theological issue.

    Or am I missing something – does a theological problem with evolution still remain after the above standard Christian theology is accepted?

  15. Crude says:

    Nick,

    But it seems to me that similar logic can be applied to say that even if standard mainstream evolutionary theory by natural processes is true, there is no theological problem.

    Really? Because last I checked, guys from Jerry Coyne to PZ Myers say otherwise on this very subject. Also, last I checked, the NCSE generally – and you particularly – keep very quiet when they do say otherwise. Coyne and company (and in this case, “company” includes Ruse) say explicitly that ‘mainstream evolutionary theory’ is that evolution is unguided, period. The outcomes are not known, selected, or determined in advance.

    In fact, according to them, this is wrong:

    Partially this is due to atheists trying to use evolution against religion,

    They don’t consider this merely ‘atheists using evolution against religion’. Their claim is that this is what science itself establishes.

    I take it your response is that they’re wrong, and anyone who claims that science shows evolution is unguided and undirected in this sense doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or is abusing science when they say science shows evolution’s direction and outcomes are neither foreknown nor preordained by God?

  16. Gregory says:

    Yes, Michael Ruse is clearly ‘almost.’

    Thanks to Jon G. for the link to this message.

    Glad to see you again after a gap, Mike Gene.

    Gregory

  17. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Bilbo:

    “This is pretty much my response to G.Rodriguez. The dot may think it is freely choosing to curve right, but it really has no choice to curve left, since God has eliminated all those possibilities.”

    I explicitly said that the dot was a rational and endowed with free will (after all, the dot is *you*), so how has God “eliminated all those possibilities”?

  18. Bilbo says:

    G.R.: “Analogically with God. God could at view all the possible scenarios (wrt our dot: all possible “upwards” continuous curves in the plane) and among them, will the one that He wills.

    G.R.: “I explicitly said that the dot was a rational and endowed with free will (after all, the dot is *you*), so how has God “eliminated all those possibilities”?

    I would say that since, according to your scenario, God is the one who chooses which of the dot’s choices becomes real, all the other possible choices the dot could have made have been eliminated.

  19. The Deuce says:

    IMO, the primary culprit to blame for the philosophical misapplication of Darwin’s theory is Charles Darwin. He saw that living things appear to have purpose and function (and indeed that it’s impossible to even usefully describe them without such teleological concepts), and he knew about Paley’s philosophical watchmaker argument extrapolating from the appearance of purpose to actual purpose. He was attempting in part to give a philosophical counterargument to Paley, which was meant to show how the appearance of purpose could be explained (away) via blind mechanistic means, and thus subsumed within a blind mechanistic picture of the world. Hence his analogy between “artificial” selection and natural “selection”, where the latter is supposed to be devoid of purpose but to create the same appearance of purpose as the former.

    If the history of life is actually guided by God, and if we’re here because God chooses to actualize the universe in which the events happen that accomplish His purposes, then the purpose is real and Darwin’s philosophical argument/”explanation” fails. I think Coyne/Ruse/Myers/etc understand that, and as atheists they’re philosophically invested in it. But just because a philosophical argument was put forth by a famous scientist doesn’t somehow turn it into a scientific claim. “God didn’t intend the events that brought humans into existence” is not a scientific assertion, certainly not under the definition of science we’re using when we talk about physics.

    Furthermore, the philosophical aspect of Darwin’s argument is incoherent. The problem ever since Darwin has been that, if the purpose/functionality of living things (which is their defining feature and without which we can’t even usefully describe them) is an illusion, then it’s all in our minds and not a real, objective thing to be explained in the first place. This implies a deeply anti-realist, constructivist view of science, in which the entire discipline of biology is basically a game of make believe where we actually make up all the functional patterns we seek to describe and explain, and it implies that there’s no function or purpose for natural selection to explain in the first place, making the argument self-defeating.

    This has given us all sorts of poor philosophical attempts by scientists to have their cake and eat it too (ie have the purpose be real and illusory at the same time). Darwin himself often spoke of natural selection as if it were a real, intentional agent with purpose, and was vague over whether it was supposed to be only a metaphor or not. Likewise, you continue to have many scientists make use of functional or purposeful language (as, again, it’s impossible to usefully describe biology without it), while insisting that they only mean it metaphorically, but without specifying what it’s supposed to be a metaphor of exactly. And then there are dubious notions like “teleonomy”, as if making up a word to mean “like teleology only different” solves the underlying conceptual problem. Imo, biologists are much better served by the practical work of describing the functions they see, and mapping out the genetic/physiological/evolutionary relationships between organisms as best they can, without delving into the philosophical weeds of the ultimate origin of the function and whether or not it’s real – which I think is what most biologists without a major axe to grind actually do.

  20. The Deuce says:

    Btw, lest anyone think that the idea presented by Mike, G-Rod, and myself is “Calvinist”, or that it’s a recent invention, check out this Catholic Encyclopedia entry from 1909, and in particular the “Catholic doctrine” section: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm

    “But God possesses an infallible knowledge of man’s future actions. How is this prevision possible, if man’s future acts are not necessary? God does not exist in time. The future and the past are alike ever present to the eternal mind as a man gazing down from a lofty mountain takes in at one momentary glance all the objects which can be apprehended only through a lengthy series of successive experiences by travellers along the winding road beneath, in somewhat similar fashion the intuitive vision of God apprehends simultaneously what is future to us with all it contains. Further, God’s omnipotent providence exercises a complete and perfect control over all events that happen, or will happen, in the universe.”

  21. Michael says:

    check out this Catholic Encyclopedia entry from 1909, and in particular the “Catholic doctrine” section

    Wow. A couple years back, a very similar analogy came to me:

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/he-does-he-see-us/

    Maybe that subjective thinking isn’t so subjective afterall.

  22. Michael says:

    This seems reasonably coherent to me. But it seems to me that similar logic can be applied to say that even if standard mainstream evolutionary theory by natural processes is true, there is no theological problem.

    Can be applied? It has been applied. I made the argument in the OP. I made it in the very first entry on this blog. I made it several times over at BioLogos. I have always argued that standard mainstream evolutionary theory by natural processes poses no theological problem.

    Yet lots of people seem to have theological problems with evolution. Partially this is due to atheists trying to use evolution against religion, partially this is due to Paley’s design argument, partially this is due to Biblical literalism, I guess, but still, it seems like if the above were widely accepted by Christian leaders, evolution wouldn’t be such a theological issue.

    For one thing, if you attended several different churches, you’d find that problems with evolution rarely get talked about. See for yourself:

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/sunday-sermons/

    Secondly, most Christians don’t really have “leaders.” It’s more akin to a bottom-up situation, where the “leader” of any church is more like a wise representative of that church. Take a typical small church of 50-100 Biblical literalists. If their pastor came out against creationism and for Darwinian evolution, chances are that he would eventually lose his leadership role. That’s the power of “leaders” in many Christian churches.

    The creationism problem is little more than a nuisance and is small potatoes compared to the many serious problems our society faces. Nevertheless, this problem exists because of the way our public school systems are set up. Try to put yourself in the creationist’s shoes. The government says to you – “You must send your kids to our school and we will use your money to teach your children something you reject.”

    Gee, wonder why there is a problem with that.

  23. camelhump says:

    “Can be applied? It has been applied. I made the argument in the OP. I made it in the very first entry on this blog. I made it several times over at BioLogos.”

    Me too, Mike – I came to BioLogos with Nick’s “revelation” as my basic position, and found only Penman there had the same understanding (missed your contribution). I have been extremely frustrated by the preference of BioLogos for boldly going where no classical theology has gone before to accommodate to current science when it was sorted centuries ago.

    Where there is still (for me) still a problem with Neo-darwinism is not in theology, nor in its ateleological metaphysic (which can and should be jettisoned) but merely in its explanatory power – a lesser matter. Unlike some multiverse solutions (anything can happen at any time, eg Koonin) God creating atemporally but teleologically leaves cause and effect intact. From his viewpoint, maybe, he views the end and the means flow towards it. But in time, efficient causes still operate rationally, not by pure luck.

    Underlying that is that other bit of theology – that God has created a world of order for us. Both work at the same time – but events can’t be properly understood without teleology.

    Thanks for picking up my comment, Mike.

    Jon G

  24. Gregory says:

    If you don’t mind, Michael, I’d like to link to the previous thread which discussed your ‘Because of Us’ approach. There were some comments you made that are worth following-up on, now that you’re more willing to speak about theology and metaphysics than previously at ARN or Telic Thoughts. I applaud the more holistic approach to ‘design/Design’ that you are now taking!

    http://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/it-doesnt-matter/

    Thanks also to G. Rodrigues for the ‘extension’ of choice, ‘single, rational dot,’ thought-experiment.

    In response to Nick, the theological problem is mainly with evolutionism, as an ideology, rather than with evolution as a natural scientific theory. If ‘standard Christian theology’ is accepted (what ‘standard’ means is of course debated – the Catholic Encyclopaedia was cited in this thread), then I don’t see why there should be a problem with most evolutionary theories. Do you view evolution as necessarily creating a problem of science vs. theology/religion or can the two realms peacefully coexist in the hearts and minds of people?

  25. mijnheer says:

    Essentially, I agree with your argument — even though I don’t believe in God. I posted my brief comment at Brainstorm before reading your post here.

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