A Better Way to Reject Common Descent


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Continuing the discussion from One Way to Reject Common Descent:

I’m all for creating as many options for people as possible. I personally affirm Common Descent(*), as most scientists do. The evidence is overwhelming (http://peacefulscience.org/evidence-and-evolution/), but is there a peaceful way for old earth creationists to reject it? Is there is a theologically and scientifically valid way to reject common descent…

A while ago, I proposed one way a special creationist (such as RTB) might come to peace with evolutionary science, without affirming physical common descent. I’m curious everyone’s thoughts, especially @Revealed_Cosmology, @Guy_Coe, @jack.collins, @rcohlers, @jongarvey, @kkeathley and @AJRoberts.

My first attempt used language that triggered poor @jongarvey (sorry!), so let me try again. He thought I was arguing that common descent was reality. That is not what I am doing. I’m trying to present a scientifically and theologically viable way to reject common descent, for those who (independent of science) feel they must. For those who feel compelled by Scripture to rejection common descent, this may be helpful, even though I see nothing in Scripture that conflicts with common descent.


Depending on the exact manner in which God does this type of special creation, it is possible that this could be consistent with the data (not indicated by the data). God would have to be creating us from lower species, using transformations of our genomes that are readily understandable by known biochemical mechanisms (like point mutations, chromosome fusions, neutral drift, and transposons). Perhaps these special creation events were periodic “guidance” of these processes.

Is this possible? Absolutely. He can do all things. Perhaps this model is even true. All findings in science come with an asterix ( * ), because science does not consider God’s action. It is the task of theology to consider God’s actions, with all due diligence that theological models (outside of science) of divine action in the world, such this model, are theologically warranted and justified. Though these models will never enter a scientific textbook, the are legitimate, dignified, and are equally valid as models that affirm common descent, especially for those of us in the Church.

Let us see how far we can get. Here are predictable objections and their dismissal:

  1. This model rejects the clear findings of science, which include common descent. This is not necessarily true. If the mechanism of God’s special creation is not expected to be visible, it would expect that science (which does not consider God) would incorrectly conclude that common descent is true. Science only tells us that, without considering God, it appears that life on earth shares common ancestry. Within the limits of science (and not outside it), this model affirms the appearance of common descent as a legitimate and correct finding. Remember the 100 year tree? http://peacefulscience.org/100-year-old-tree/

  2. God creates with the appearance of common descent, so this makes God a liar. This objection is equally predictable and incoherent. One of the key lessons of theology is that “things are not always as they appear.” It appears, sometimes, that God is absent and does not care about our suffering, but in fact He is present and mourns with us. One of the key lessons of science, also, is that " things are not always as they appear." It appears, for example, that the sun moves in the sky, but the earth actually orbits the sun. If reality were always as they seemed, there would be no need for science or for theology.

  3. God would not choose a creative process that appears like common descent, because evolution is a lie to be disproven. This seems intuitively true, but we have every reason to doubt it. The God we find in Jesus is not intuitive. The Father God, my intuition tells me, would never give His Only Son over to be lynched to love His enemies; He is God and would find some another way. Unlike the man-made god of my imagination, God loved the world so much to give us His Only Begotten Son. For this reason, we should doubt that our intuitions of God’s action.

  4. God wants to reveal Himself in all things, so there should be strong evidence that common descent is false. God does want to reveal Himself in all things, and He does, even if common descent is true. Christians that affirm evolution see God revealed in the appearance of common descent. It is beautiful, as variants on common themes emerge in the world. God does not need to disprove common descent to reveal Himself.

  5. This model abandons evidence that the Bible (and therefore Jesus) is true, because evolution is false. In honesty, we need to acknowledge that we’ve been scientifically arguing against evolution for a long time, and it has largely unsuccessful among everyone except the already convinced. Anti-evolution arguments are not God’s sign to the world that He exists. Signs are miracles with public evidence, and skeptical people often ask for signs. However, Jesus offers only one sign to the skeptics (Matthew 12:38-45), the Resurrection: Peace Be With You. Perhaps He did not care to leave strong evidence of evolution so that said evidence would distract from the Empty Tomb. The proof of the Resurrection is, after all, the reason we know that God exists, is good, and wants to be known. The Resurrection is the Gospel epistemology, not anti-evolutionism.

  6. This model brings old earth creationists to peace with science, instead of confrontation. Some argue that Christians should oppose mainstream science on origins, and confronting the lie of evolution. Once again, God is not intuitive. “If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18). If this is a valid path to peace, it seems, it would be a good thing. If there is a theological problem, then resolve the problem or reject the model. If the only objection, however is because it maps out a path to peace, then such an objection should be rejected.

  7. This is not a scientific argument so it can’t be taught in public schools. That is right! We have to give up on that unsuccessful battle if this argument is valid. This is not, however, surrender. We get something back of greater value in return. This type of old earth special creationism, when properly held outside of science (rather than within it, is acceptable to scientists. It follows The Rules of the Game ; scientists do not care what we believe outside of science. Scientists, including non-tenured faculty and students, could publicly confess their rejection of common descent, without violating the rules of science, without conflict. This new freedom is so much more valuable than altering textbooks. It would grant safety to a new generation of scientists.

  8. This silences our public voice on science, which has been defined by anti-evolution arguments. Is this not a good thing? Would it not be better to point people to the One Sign, instead of arguments that have largely only reached the already convinced? Our public voice could become a confession of the Gospel by scientists in the public square (http://peacefulscience.org/category/projects/confession/). Seeking peace, pulling back from these long arguments, we might return to a more compelling voice in the public square. We’ve tried anti-evolution arguments for so long, why not give the Gospel, the One Sign of Jesus, a try now?

  9. There is no Scriptural, theological, or scientific justification for rejecting common descent, so this is just an ad hoc model. I personally see no reason to reject Common Descent. Others, however, are different. Perhaps they are wrong, but if rejecting Common Descent is warranted doctrine, from their point of view, they should be true to their conscience here. It is not ad hoc to honestly follow one’s convictions.

These are all the objections I can imagine. Can you think of any other objections? How would you answer them?

To be clear, this is not a scientific theory precisely. It is a type of evidence driven theological model, much as is the Genealogical Adam. Such models are legitimate, and should be taking seriously, but they are not science as I understand it. Breaking free of scientific strictures, we are still constrained by theological reflection.

One way I identify this as a desirable model is this: it draws the focus back to Jesus, encouraging us to find a public voice centered on Him. I hope it might embolden some old creationists to be more open about their view in the public square. If the right distinctions between science and non-science can be made in rhetoric, there is no reason to think it will be unacceptable in the scientific world.

I want to offer this as one viable option for old earth creationists that cannot personally accept common descent (i.e. evolution) for some reason. Is this not theologically sound? It seems to me, also, that this is a scientifically sound position, even if it extends beyond the limits of science.

Old earth creationists honestly explaining their beliefs to their colleagues, without repercussions, and confessing Jesus in the public square. This might be a path to peace.

The Creation War is tiresome.

Why not choose peace?


Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action
One Way to Reject Common Descent
Ashwin's Interesting Story
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

So relevant to this thread is the upcoming conversation with @rcohlers, Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action. I hope you can join us this coming Tuesday.

Enter the waking world. Come seek peace.


Is Evolution a Sub-Category of Progressive Creation?
(Jon Garvey) #3

Much more tightly formulated, Josh. Congrats.

Agree almost 100%. Two caveats only spring to mind.

(1) One of the reasons for taking this position is that the kind of God we worship in Christ is less likely to create entirely through “laws of nature” than, at least in some cases, by imminent, contingent acts. It’s the old Leibniz v Newton position, and it’s essentially a metaphysical difference as much as is that of there being no God or a God. It would be good to get that angle more clearly represented in presenting the model.

(2)

Much of it isn’t to be sure (and specifically my point (1) above). And we may grant, in the current state of the discussion, the inadmissability of “doing God” in science (grumble, grumble :frowning_face:).

But one aspect of taking the position is surely scientific, ie coming to the conclusion that the proposed mechanisms are intrinsically inadequate for the job in hand, like protesting that Galileo’s rotational explanation of the tides couldn’t work. This is James Tour’s line on abiogenesis (accepting your description of him as a prog. creationist). It would surely be wrong for the scientist who takes this position in part because of his/her critique of current evolutionary theory is silenced because their religious reasons are deemed to be the “real” issue and excluded from debate.

It’s rather like the discussion between Patrick and I on quantum events, were it to be scaled up to a proper scientific venue: I point out that there is no explanation for the statistical ordering of quantum events within the scientific realm, suggesting there must be causes outside it, and Patrick diverts to all kinds of interesting factoids about QT, before foreclosing the unananswered question by saying “Faith is irrelevant in science”. In that way, a question of logic, and the limits of physical science, becomes verboten by deeming it religious.

You ask about other objections. One would be the common TE Leibniz objection to all “directed evolution” - that God who set up the laws of nature would not Be stupid enough to need to interfere with them, or if he did, only at some “permitted” level of rarity (such as the origin of life, the orgin of man, etc). The kind of response to that is that once one allows an immanent God to open up the closed causal system of nature, you have no grounds for saying how often he will do so, any more than you can say what percentage of prayers for healing he may answer.


#4

This was ReMine’s argument in his “Biotic Message theory”. His claim was that the pattern of life was created so as to defeat evolution as an explanation. The problem with his idea was explaining why so much actually looked like evolution if the ‘Biotic Messenger’ was committed to making it look otherwise.


(George) #5

@Argon

Bingo!


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #6

No, that is not true. ReMine argued that evolution would not produce perfect clades (he was right), but the nature would be in perfect clades (he was wrong). So he was really arguing that at first glance it would look like common descent, but ultimately the nested clades would be too perfect to arise by evolution.


#7

In his book and in all his subsequent internet discussions, he was adamant that the design pattern was specifically made so as not to be confused with common descent. It’s true that Remine believed nested clades were the optimal means of transmitting the message that life was the product of a single designer and not natural mechanisms (Aside: That was not true, but he created an number of weak, post hoc explanations as justifications as to why hierachies were ‘best’). However, the “defeater” against natural mechanisms being the cause of nested hierarchy was not perfection of grouping but the inability of observers to establish a line of ancestor/descendent relationships among and within the groups. In internet boards he recognized and dismissed horizontal transfer and the ‘occasional’ deviation from the design ideal as possibly necessary for some forms of life (another of his design targets was ability to survive) and not significantly prevalent to obscure the ‘message’ pattern.

Today, we may say that Remine at least made an attempt at a positive, predictive design theory but in reality it was pretty weak sauce. Even among other ID proponents it barely registered for long. I don’t think it justified spending thousands to self publish a book about.


(Intelligent Design Deist) #8

I reject Common Descent because there isn’t any way to scientifically test the concept. Dr Joshua said there is a mechanism to produce all of the anatomical and physiological changes required but he has failed to say what that mechanism is and how to test its capabilities.

Real scientists- genetic researcher Dr Michael Denton and geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti have made it clear that there isn’t any evidence that genomes determine form. So what else is there if genetic changes cannot do it?


(Intelligent Design Deist) #9

This is what Dr. Denton has to say:

"To understand the challenge to the “superwatch” model by the erosion of the gene-centric view of nature, it is necessary to recall August Weismann’s seminal insight more than a century ago regarding the need for genetic determinants to specify organic form. As Weismann saw so clearly, in order to account for the unerring transmission through time with precise reduplication, for each generation of “complex contingent assemblages of matter” (superwatches), it is necessary to propose the existence of stable abstract genetic blueprints or programs in the genes- he called them “determinants”- sequestered safely in the germ plasm, away from the ever varying and destabilizing influences of the extra-genetic environment.

**Such carefully isolated determinants would theoretically be capable of reliably transmitting contingent order through time and specifying it reliably each generation. Thus, the modern “gene-centric” view of life was born, and with it the heroic twentieth century effort to identify Weismann’s determinants, supposed to be capable of reliably specifying in precise detail all the contingent order of the phenotype. Weismann was correct in this: the contingent view of form and indeed the entire mechanistic conception of life- the superwatch model- is critically dependent on showing that all or at least the vast majority of organic form is specified in precise detail in the genes. **

Yet by the late 1980s it was becoming obvious to most genetic researchers, including myself, since my own main research interest in the ‘80s and ‘90s was human genetics, that the heroic effort to find information specifying life’s order in the genes had failed. There was no longer the slightest justification for believing there exists anything in the genome remotely resembling a program capable of specifying in detail all the complex order of the phenotype. The emerging picture made it increasingly difficult to see genes as Weismann’s “unambiguous bearers of information” or view them as the sole source of the durability and stability of organic form. It is true that genes influence every aspect of development, but influencing something is not the same as determining it. Only a small fraction of all known genes, such as the developmental fate switching genes, can be imputed to have any sort of directing or controlling influence on form generation. From being “isolated directors” of a one-way game of life, genes are now considered to be interactive players in a dynamic two-way dance of almost unfathomable complexity, as described by Keller in The Century of The Gene- Michael Denton “An Anti-Darwinian Intellectual Journey”, Uncommon Dissent (2004), pages 171-2"


(George) #10

@JoeG

Your assertion that common descent is untestable is the logical equivalent to asserting that forensic scientists cannot determine whether a crime scene blood trace is from the grandfather or from the grandchildren of the murder victim.

Common Descent is the most tested of all aspects of evolutionary theory.


(Intelligent Design Deist) #11

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(Intelligent Design Deist) #12

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(George) #13

@JoeG

Your script is one that you have used with many an Atheist.

But PeacefulScience embraces fully the idea that God can use both Evolution and Special Creation to create species… where the evidence of nature helps us decide how God handled each phase of creation.

Are you ALLERGIC to the idea that God can use natural means for speciation as well as miraculous means?


(George) #14

@JoeG
You think it is ONLY genetics that is used for evidence? We have timelines associated with fossil layers… converging intersections of various chemical and physical tests.


(Intelligent Design Deist) #15

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(T J Runyon) #16

Joe, pretty much every post you have written has said the exact same thing. People have tried to explain why you are mistaken and you just reply with the exact same thing. It’s getting old and repetitive. May I suggest taking the rest of the weekend off? I don’t want to put a daily post limit on you so I suggest taking a break and try to come back with something new. You aren’t helping the conversation progress at all.


(Intelligent Design Deist) #17

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(Guy Coe) #18

I think what you want to explore is the existence, and coherence, of “gene regulatory networks,” which goes into how the same genes, or even pseudogenes, result in very different outcomes when the usual biochemical regime changes. My two cents!


(George) #19

@JoeG

You aren’t making much sense at this point. I don’t need to produce an exact mechanism … as long as I allow God’s full handling of the problem … using either or both natural and supernatural means.

Your counters only make sense against the Atheist position.


(Curtis Henderson) #20

That’s my question for you, Joe. What do you propose determines phenotype if not genes?