Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I.D. Isn't “God of the Gaps:” A Rumination


When Darwinists criticize Intelligent Design, one of their chief lines of attack is that I.D. is basically a modern-day regurgitation of the “God of the Gaps” argument.

What’s “God of the Gaps?” Per Wikipedia...

The phrase God of the gaps refers to a view of God as existing in the "gaps" or aspects of reality that are currently unexplained by scientific knowledge...

The term "God of the gaps" is sometimes used in describing the perceived incremental retreat of religious explanations of physical phenomena in the face of increasingly comprehensive scientific explanations for those phenomena. An example of the line of reasoning starts with the position that early religious descriptions of objects and events (such as the Sun, Moon, and stars; thunder and lightning) placed these in the realm of things created or controlled by a god or gods. As scientific explanations were found for observations in the realms of astronomy, meteorology, geology, cosmology and biology, the use of supernatural explanations for phenomena was progressively reduced, occupying smaller and smaller 'gaps' in knowledge…

One example of such an argument, which uses God as an explanation of one of the current gaps in biological science, is as follows: "Because current science can't figure out exactly how life started, it must be God who caused life to start." Critics of "intelligent design", for example, have accused proponents of using this basic type of argument.

On the surface, equating I.D. with “God of the Gaps” is a fair criticism. Considering everything we’re learned about the material world in the last few centuries, equating a lack of knowledge about physical phenomenon (weather currents, the shifting of tectonics plates, the power of magnetic fields, etc.) to divine intervention seems a tad odd. We can explain patterns in non-living matter fairly well without resorting to the possibility of a supernatural agent.

However, biology – “Life” itself – is fundamentally different from non-living matter. Life is a true mystery, and any honest scientist will admit as much. What is "Life" – the mysterious essence which turns inert matter into volitional consciousness (and keeps that consciousness churning every second of every day until death)? We don’t know. In his solid book, The Vital Dimension, Carl Gunther examines the awe-inspiring mystery of Life in exquisite detail. We aren't even close to explaining
what "Life" is - never mind its origin. So while it's fair to reject a “God of the Gaps” argument for purely material phenomenon, when it comes to Life we shouldn’t automatically reject it because Life itself strongly suggests at least a partly non-material dimension. We have to keep our minds open to the possibility of a divine origin and plan. Based on what we know about “Life” (which is practically nothing) it would be irresponsible to rule out a divine source automatically.

Consider this: Everything in the Universe – all matter, all life, everything - started with the Big Bang. But when scientists are inevitably asked, “What caused the Big Bang?” their typical answer is, “We don’t know and we may never know.” That's a fine answer. And an honest one. So why can’t we ask the same question about Life itself: “What caused Life?” Given what little we know about Life, why is it unthinkable to answer – in light of the failure of Darwinian theory - “We don’t know and we may never know.” On such a question, the materialist framework fails us. And thus we come to the possibility of an Intelligent Designer – the same Designer who instituted the “fine tuning of the Universe (as demonstrated in the “Anthropic Principle"). The fine-tuning of the Universe began with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. So why can’t there be a fine-tuning of Life with the creation of the first cell 3 billion years ago? And once we accept
that possibility, it becomes OK to consider the chance that there was some monkeying around with the creation of human beings (this would go against the concept of “Common Descent” – perhaps the only part of Darwinian theory that seems plausible given the evidence at hand).




If we accept this possibility – this distinct possibility, this likelihood, in fact – that doesn’t mean science comes to an end. Centuries ago, when God-believing scientists (Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, and others too numerous to count) worked to understand the laws of matter, they accepted the inherent “mystery” of the true source of matter, but out of a spirit of curiosity, they still groped to understand the mystery, and through that process, they advanced our knowledge and – through technical innovations – they improved our quality of life enormously. Why can’t we recapture that same attitude toward God as we work to say to unlock the mysteries of Life? We can. And we must. Because it’s true.


10 comments:

Justin said...

Brilliant post. Life is ultimate "Ghost in the Machine". The fact that some matter decided to start moving itself around according to its own will, frankly, makes no sense. The sheer marvel of that fact does not seem to penetrate the popular mind, I think the mindset is called essentialism, people just don't tend to think of themselves or other living things as collections of matter.

Far from the shrinking God of the Gaps in the physical sciences, the more we know about the universe, the more mysterious and unexplainable it becomes. Even our most basic mathematical models of the universe are acknowledged to be totally wrong. So they invent ghost particles like dark matter in the attempt to paper over the flaws. Reminds me of the ancient mathematicians, having to add more and more cycles to save the circle.

Todd White said...

Thanks, Justin. You’re absolutely right: “The more we know about the universe, the more mysterious and unexplainable it becomes.”

I’m currently about halfway through a new book, "Why Us: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves.” It’s on that very same topic. And the author – James Le Fanu – isn’t someone the Scientific Establishment can so easily dismiss. He’s a doctor who’s written weekly columns for The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph. And he’s come to the same conclusion about Darwinism, string theory, and everything: While science is a worthy endeavor, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we understand anything. Indeed, the scientific evidence from the past few decades shows more than ever that many of our most cherished materialist assumptions are unproven at best, bogus at worst.

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Us-Science-Rediscovered-Ourselves/dp/037542198X/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1

Justin said...

Todd, could you comment on an essay I wrote a couple years ago. You are far more knowledgible about the intricacies of the ID debate, I would like your opinion:

http://religionnewsblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/science-religion-and-intelligent-design.html

Justin said...

Oh, and here is my essay on life as the Ghost in the Machine. You might enjoy:

http://religionnewsblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/life-ghost-in-machine.html

Todd White said...

J: "Todd, could you comment on an essay I wrote a couple years ago. You are far more knowledgeable about the intricacies of the ID debate, I would like your opinion."

T: Sure, I'd be glad to - although I wouldn't necessarily say I'm more "knowledgeable" about ID; just more "obsessed" - and that probably ain't a good thing ;)

Todd White said...

Also, I wanted to bounce an idea off you: I forget the context of that picture I posted in the article, but isn't uncanny how much a snake looks like the DNA double helix? Do you think there's any possibility that - as far Genesis is concerned - the serpent is an allegory for DNA? In this case, maybe DNA was the means by which human souls were trapped in matter after The Fall. Yes, it's a wild theory, and I'm not advocating it by any means, but the thought entered my head yesterday.

Justin said...

That helix-snake is pretty eerie when you look at it like that. When was the painting done? Maybe an archetype, in the Jungian sense?

I know many people, historically and today, view the world as the lowest plain/a prison/hell itself, in which our souls are trapped (common to Gnosticism, Buddhism, Theosophy, Scientology, others I'm sure). Frankly, looking at the condition and rules of existence, that idea has a certain merit, and your DNA/serpent connetion could gain some traction today, no doubt. Coast to Coast AM radio show would probably love you! Do you have a good speaking voice?

The idea is heterodox, however. The first chapter of Genesis describes a good world, one of intended perfection and harmony. In this view, life is a blessing and a gift, and we bring about suffering because of our own free will, not because we are trapped in a hellish prison. I prefer to affirm that more optimistic version of existence!

Todd White said...

Justin: I just posted this comment on your I.D. essay...

Justin: I like your thoughts on this subject, and I have no inherent disagreements. However, I’d like to add a few points…

1) While I agree that “there is no inherent conflict between science and religion,” I think there IS an inherent conflict between Christianity and Darwinism, and Christians don’t do themselves any favor by pretending the conflict isn’t there.

2) When you say, “Intelligent Design is the idea that random chance cannot explain the rise of complexity of the universe,” I would say, “Yes, but it’s more than just an idea. It’s an extrapolation of the evidence of the material world using the scientific method.” For example, I.D. proponents harp on the idea of “irreducible complexity” in nature. For example, even a simple mousetrap is “irreducibly complex.” While it has only 3 parts, if you remove 1 of those parts, you don’t have a worse mousetrap; you have no mousetrap at all! The same principle applies to biology – even the simplest organisms, such as the bacterial flagellum. Remove a few parts and the whole thing falls apart. How could such an organism arise via blind chance? Darwinists have theories of course, but they're not proven, and a true skeptic would say they're not even theories; they're materialist wishful thinking.

The modern I.D. movement is basically a rebirth, in my humble opinion, of what was the conventional scientific view was for almost 2 thousands years going back to the time of the Ancient Greeks: Looking at the evidence objectively, life shows more evidence of design than it does of blind random chance. That makes I.D. more than just a criticism of Darwinism, but also a true substitute of Darwinism based on the available evidence.

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/05/life-is-about-choices.html

http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2009/09/narcissism-of-evolution.html

Todd White said...

Justin:

I just posted this comment on your "Ghost of the Machine" essay...

Justin: This is an excellent essay. Sometimes people (myself included) let the debate over Darwinism obscure the fundamental mystery of Life itself. As you wrote, "How do we account for this breath of life?" The truth is, we can't. It's almost as big of a mystery as, "What caused the Big Bang?" And the implications of our ignorance are enormous. How could anyone - especially "objective" scientists - insist there is NO God and NO spiritual realm - when the existence of life itself is so inexplicable. Heck, the existence of matter is also pretty damn inexplicable, but that's a subject for another time... ;)

Todd White said...

J: When was the painting done?

T: I think it’s a modern painting, but I’m not positive. The website I got it from doesn’t explain the context beyond saying it’s of Moses and a serpent.

J: I know many people, historically and today, view the world as the lowest plain/a prison/hell itself, in which our souls are trapped (common to Gnosticism, Buddhism, Theosophy, Scientology, others I'm sure). Frankly, looking at the condition and rules of existence, that idea has a certain merit.

T: Yeah, that how I feel too.

J: Coast to Coast AM radio show would probably love you! Do you have a good speaking voice?

T: Ha. Well, if you asked my mother, she would say, “No.” But I’d like to think I’m OK.

J: The idea is heterodox, however. The first chapter of Genesis describes a good world, one of intended perfection and harmony. In this view, life is a blessing and a gift, and we bring about suffering because of our own free will, not because we are trapped in a hellish prison. I prefer to affirm that more optimistic version of existence!

T: Yes, me too. Sounds like we’re simpatico on this.