Friday, May 07, 2010

John C. Avise has a new paper, basically summarizing the more detailed points of his book, Inside the Human Genome, that will no doubt be keeping some of the folks in Seattle busy. I've been in contact with Avise, hoping to do a review and interview about it, for this blog if not another journal.

10 comments:

The Deuce said...
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The Deuce said...

Gross imperfection at the molecular level presents a conundrum for the traditional paradigms of natural theology as well as for recent assertions of ID, but it is consistent with the notion of nonsentient contrivance by evolutionary forces. In this important philosophical sense, the science of evolutionary genetics should rightly be viewed as an ally (not an adversary) of mainstream religions because it helps the latter to escape the profound theological enigmas posed by notions of ID.

So, he's not just arguing against Paleyist ID, but against traditional natural theology (which, if I'm not mistaken, would include Thomism). In the abstract, he appears to be making the philosophical argument from imperfection that humans are a cosmic accident - body, "soul", and mind - that wasn't intended to exist by God. This would appear to me to be a direct contradiction to any religion (such as Christianity) that holds that we were intended to exist by God, but he actually goes on to say that this is somehow good for mainstream religions!

Am I off-base here? I haven't read the book, so maybe you can fill me in. Is this what he's saying? Can you make sense of this?

John Farrell said...

I think you should read the whole paper. Given Signature in the Cell, and the other books of the ID movement, Avise is taking aim primarily at the modern form of natural theology.

The Deuce said...
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The Deuce said...

I just read the relevant section on page 8, in which he tries to reconcile evolution and theology. It's exactly identical to Fransisco Ayala's position. It's even more explicit than the abstract. His "resolution" to the problem of evil is simply to say that we came about unintentionally, and God had nothing to do with it and so isn't responsible for the bad things (or of course, the good things, or anything else about us). Hell, why not go all the way and say that all of existence is an accident, and get God off the hook for everything unpleasant, not just the biological things? That would be great for "mainstream religion"!

This makes things better how? It flatly contradicts even the most metaphorical interpretations of Scripture. You don't have to be a fundamentalist to see that this is a poorly-disguised philosophical argument for naturalism. John, if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion: please don't take this "enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach to ID - by all means criticize it, but remember that there are more heretical things than it in existence.

John Farrell said...

Deuce, you've now removed two of your comments, so I suspect you are writing in way too much of a hurry. You simply assume rather than show that Avise says anything about existence as a whole, and God's role in creation.

He's saying evolution emancipates religion from the shackles of theodicy. Given that the problem of evil, or more accurately the mystery of evil, does not admit a rational explanation (that doesn't turn God into a sadistic monster), I quite agree with him.

The Deuce said...

Hey, John, the first comment I deleted because the blog threw an error when I posted, so I thought the comment hadn't gone through, and so reposted. The second one was because of a misspelling.

I'm not assuming that Avise is saying anything about existence as a whole, rather than simply the biological facets of existence. I know he's only talking about biology.

I'm merely pointing out the implications of his reasoning. If the denial that God intended humans is good for religion because it gets God off the hook for all the unpleasant things in biology, then denying that intended the entire universe must be even better, since it gets him off the hook for *all* bad things.

In fact, this "escape from theodicy" only works if you deny God's purpose for the entire universe, because many of the unpleasantries of life are intrinsic to the universe and the laws of physics themselves rather than our genomes.

When you say you agree with Avise, could you please clarify? Are you truly saying that God didn't bring humans into existence on purpose?

John Farrell said...

If the denial that God intended humans is good for religion because it gets God off the hook for all the unpleasant things in biology, then denying that [He] intended the entire universe must be even better, since it gets him off the hook for *all* bad things.

Agreed.BUT--I don't see how you can claim that, because Avise is pointing out how the crappy, kludgy pasted together nature of our genes argues against a Paley style craftsman God, it then follows that God did not intend humans AT ALL.

Simon Conway Morris I think argues convincingly for convergence in evolution. But how pristine or kludgy the genetic foundation of the process is has no relevance to the fact of convergence.

I would never argue God did not bring humans into existence on purpose. But the microscopic level at which the IDers try to make the design case I think is just too fraught with mind fields.

The Deuce said...

Agreed.BUT--I don't see how you can claim that, because Avise is pointing out how the crappy, kludgy pasted together nature of our genes argues against a Paley style craftsman God, it then follows that God did not intend humans AT ALL.

Because if He did intend humans (or, as I pointed out, the universe) at all, then the problem of theodicy remains. This isn't just an argument against a Paley-style God-tinkerer. Avise is explicitly making the philosophical argument that God simply didn't intend us, which is what supposedly gets Him off the hook for all the bad stuff. The net he's casting certainly catches Paleyism (the idea that design can be empirically verified via probabilistic methods or analogical reasoning), but it's so wide that it captures pretty much any coherent theistic position with it.

Also, the coherence of the idea that God brought us, but not our genomes, into existence on purpose is questionable at best. What the genetic imperfections show (assuming you don't go so far as to toss out theodicy by tossing out God's sovereign purpose in the origin of man as Avise does) is that however (and for whatever reason) God designed us, it wasn't in the manner of a typical human designer only bigger.

Again, please, please don't take what appears to me to be a "whatever sticks to the wall" stance on ID criticism. I know you don't like ID. I know you think the DI are the most dishonest bunch of jerks since ever. But that doesn't mean every argument against them should be endorsed. Among other things, Avise's arguments are at odds with those of Ed Feser, who's (far better, imo) arguments you also cite against ID. As Christians of an intellectual bent, we have higher loyalties, and we especially have an obligation to not risk leading other Christians astray by endorsing positions that may be at odds with the faith, or even seeming to endorse them. At least in situations like these, we need to be careful to delineate which parts of the argument we find acceptable and which parts we don't.

John Farrell said...

Because if He did intend humans (or, as I pointed out, the universe) at all, then the problem of theodicy remains. This isn't just an argument against a Paley-style God-tinkerer. Avise is explicitly making the philosophical argument that God simply didn't intend us, which is what supposedly gets Him off the hook for all the bad stuff.

Deuce, I know you are predisposed to think that, but it just doesn't follow. Avise is not explicitly saying the problem of evil goes away; he's saying that Christianity need not be burdened with the problem to the degree that Paley's natural theology (the traditional natural theology) and the modern ID movement so obviously is, because ID insists on evidence of God-as- engineer, micromanaging every element of the world. I take Avise to be arguing only that this need not be the case with other branches of Christianity. Certainly not with Thomism, which regards even the attempt to define what God is, in any positive sense, as questionable at best. Aquinas' is a negative theology. And the doctrine of secondary causes clearly allows that random events not undercut final causality.