Introducing Bilbo

Continuing the discussion from Requesting Help from ID Leaders:

@Bilbo welcome to the forum. I’m glad to see you here. Can you please tell us about yourself? I’m curious to know more about you. What is your position in all of this?

Thank you also for raising concerns about how ID was represented. As you can see, I’ve requested some help to address the concerns you’ve raised: Requesting Help from ID Leaders.

Also, you probably remember, this but you earned a spot in my history with BioLogos with a well timed question on their forum:

That turned out to be a very important thread, that nearly 1K people have read, and it is a key place I refer people who want to know what happened. What is your view of what happened there? You were obviously watching closely. What did you learn?

Hi Dr. Swamidass,

I approach the whole ID/Evolution issue from the point of view of a layperson, which I am. I’ve been involved in the debate/discussion since 2001. After a while, it seems every facet gets brought up and re-debated again. The repetition makes it a bit boring and I lose interest. Occasionally, I take a look around to see if there is anything new and worthwhile to add my two cents to.

Ken Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God, helped me to see that theistic evolution could be completely consistent with Christianity. If God is sovereign over human beings who have free will, then God could be sovereign over a random universe. I realize Jon Garvey will get upset when he reads that, but someday he might see the truth.

So since reading Miller’s book, I don’t have a theological bone in this fight. However, I do have an intuitive bone in this fight. It looks to me as if biological organisms have been designed by somebody. But I try to keep an open mind, though I admit to being biased.

Enough about me. I think the best book on this issue was written by Mike Gene, The Design Matrix. It might be out of print. If so, too bad. Time for a reprinting, maybe with an update.


Or, another way of phrasing the issue of God’s sovereignty might be to say that God restrains Himself from ordering a deterministic universe, so that He can preserve moral independence and accountable choice. Rather like (analogy alert! By nature the insufficient is being used to illustrate the ineffable!) a parent ordering and running a household in which children are nurtured to maturity, not micromanaged into soulless complicity.

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Red rag to bull time :grinning: Would you care to help me out by showing in what specific sense random process are analogous to children being given responsible choices? Rather than, say, the analogy of a scientist training pigeons to operate levers which unpredictably reward them or kill them?

Ah, the drama of dire contrasts proposed by false analogies and forced dichotomies. Now, instead of trying to denigrate the thoughts, try to defend them, and see what happens. Help yourself out! Cheers, my friend!

I agree, but I think there now some new big things on the table.

I would be curious your thoughts on this: Would God's Guidance Be DNA-Detectable?. I think it is a third way middle ground, eminently defensible, between atheistic evolution and ID, which preserves the neutrality of science. What do you think?

Obviously, also. there is the work on Genealogical Adam that has non-interventionist theologians twisting themselves in knots over the de novo creation of Adam, and atheists shrugging and saying “works for me.” Who would of thought that was possible a few years ago.

I suppose I’d agree with your intuition entirely here. Life looks designed because it was designed by God. However, the ID arguments I’ve seen to scientifically demonstrate this fail. Your intuition is correct, but that does not mean I must agree to 1+1=3. Right?

How have you thought about Adam?

I’m saying that in a deterministic universe, choice is an illusion, the product of biochemicals sloshing in predetermined fashion through our brains according to inviolable laws, creating the illusion of independent thought.

Ah - that’s easy. Add “choice” to your universe, but not “chance.”

The Analogy of the Adolescents is of some value in human affairs - though the kind of relationship to “autonomy” the Son of God practised has a radical effect on ehat we mean by “freedom”.

But apply it to evolution, which is what is at issue in Bilbo’s citation of Ken Miller (and me!) and I don’t think many of the elements of the analogy are easy to apply.

So, applied to “randomness”, we have:

  • The parent with his household - God and his universe, presumably.
  • Children - ? Nature? Evolution? Molecules? Organisms?
  • Nurturing - ? (There probably is a valid analogy here, but how exactly does randomness figure?)
  • to maturity - ? What does a “mature” organism, or a mature molecule, look like? And how does randomness get it there.
  • not micromanaged - ? So they are self-managed? And what concept of “self” are we envisaging?
  • “soulless” - Do molecules, or mutations, have “souls”. If so, how does randomness propser them?
  • “complicity” - now that’s an interesting one. Let’s change it to “compliance” and avoid criminality! :grinning: But is it better for the Universe not to comply with God’s will? Is it better for our own creations, like aircraft, to comply with our wishes, or to reach maturity by acting randomly from time to time?

The bottom line is that as soon as you remove human free will from the analogy, it doesn’t appear to make sense at all. And it’s powerful and persuasive (enough to be repeated over and over down the years) simply because that human free will is a trump card that makes God’s creation of his world seem like a moral contest, and randomness like freedom.

I’ve been asking people to explain it for 8 years now, and nobody has been able to do so without actualising the analogy, as you have, in terms of human autonomy.

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But, it’s relevant exactly because humans are made of the same stuff that everything else is. So, either we have some kind of, dare I use the word, “supernatural” aspect added to us, or some kind of vitalism pervades nature --or, at least, biology. Star Wars wanted to call such a thing “midichlorians” and we have recently come to appreciate the role of nematodes, gut biota like bacteria and other seemingly non-sentient critters that pervade our being and greatly influence our health… is that more like what you are looking for? And then there’s, for the Christian, the claim that they are now a new creation, because of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It’s all very, well, infused with vitality, so to speak. Having fun with the idea, that’s all.
BTW, it’s not “randomness” that’s the source of freedom, but “non-determinism.” Think those might be different.

What does “non-determinism” mean? A lot of people think that free will is an incoherent concept, precisely because there appears to be no definition of “non-determinism” that is neither deterministic nor random.

The presence of an ordered universe is one thing; that such order extends to predetermining the actions of every atom or quantum phenemonon within it would be another. We live in a universe that allows for the unexpected to result from interactions or instantations at this level. So, it is somewhat unpredictable, but not really in the aggregate, usually.

Was this intended as a reply to me? If so, I can’t interpret it. Are you saying that the combination of deterministic and random events can result, at a higher level, in a distinct third sort of thing? Or what?

Yes; I rarely target my responses, as this is a public forum, inviting all comments. The third sort of thing could depend on a non-deterministic source of novelty at the heart things. If the universe is made of legos, so to speak, we have to remember there’s a Child in the room with us. But that won’t be a satisfactory assertion for many.

Might I suggest that an untargeted response needs more context than you tend to give, in order to be understood? Fewer pronouns without antecedents, more explicit explanation of the point, recapitulation of the question you intend to answer, and so on.

So what does “non-deterministic” mean here? How can one describe the third thing? “A child” won’t do it, as your understanding of the child apparently assumes an undefined third thing, while mine would claim that the child’s actions are a combination of deterministic and random events. Again, I am unable to envision a third thing. If you can, please explain.

Well, that’s the other thing. Precision in language is good in many cases, but not all.
I am thereby inviting you to awaken your imagination as to what might be true, by remaing brief and somewhat vague.
If you noticed, I capitalized “Child” because I’m using that metaphorically. Now, why would I do that?
It doesn’t merely “assume” a third thing, it begins to describe it, as you’ve asked.
At your own admission, you see a child as operating somehow between determinism and randomness; haven’t you already answered your own question?
Not meaning to be exasperating, honestly.

But unless organisms plan their own evolution (which isn’t what’s generally considered the case, even by Jim Shapiro), the level at which that would be operating would be the molecular - or even the toitally inanimate.

Which leads us to panpsychism - and that’s not entirely irrelevant, because the idea first arose in theistic evolution amongst process theologians, amongst who panpsychism was foundational.

Even assuming such vitalism at any level, though, one has to ask how it governs the results of evolution. Where is the degree of intelligence required to decide, say, that okapi would do well as a giraffe? Or (in John’s department) that passerines are the next big thing?

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And yet you achieve that effect. I will admit that as a scientist I’ve been trained to value precision and clarity. You are not convincing me to abandon that standard. If you have any interest in me understanding what you say, then I suggest that precision and clarity will be helpful rather than otherwise. If you aren’t interested in communicating, that would explain much, but it would be sad.

If you have described a third thing, I have not noticed the description. No, I don’t see a child as operating between determinism and randomness; I see a combination of determinism and randomness, which I do not see as a third thing, and I don’t know if you intend that as the third thing.

It’s not clear to me that current ID arguments fail. If I have time, I might address some of your objections. But not here. This thread is all about me, after all.

Yes, I have thought about Adam. There seem to be two theological problems for someone who believes in a random universe:
How did God create a physical creature in his own image? And what about the fall?

So producing a human being in a random universe is only a problem if the probabilities are too large for the size of the universe. But are they? That is the question.

And the fall? C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, suggests that the fall could have taken place in a large number of people, not just two. So I think that problem is not a major obstacle.

I’ll take a look at the thread you suggested.

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Guy, having slept on this, I would like to stress the value of your post(s) to critiquing the way the “caring household” analogy is commonly applied in Evolutionary Creation, however it applies to your own.

On your own position, I’m not sure we’ve yet worked through to clarifying exactly what that is, and so I’m unclear the extent to which I agree or disagree on its internal consistency, let alone its content.

But I agree with you that the analogy applies very badly to randomness, and only makes any sense of divine indeterminacy via the medium of some kind of free and responsible choice (whoever or whatever is thought to be exerting it).

Yet as used by people like Darrel Falk or other BioLogians, the underlying aim of the co-creation trope is to affirm mainstream evolutionary theory, by allowing evolution to be at least partly open-ended and so “free” of the “puppetmaster God who calls all the shots”. In other words, the analogy is usually employed so that the evolutionary process can remain scientific and “natural,” and not directed by God.

But as you rightly say, since the analogy doesn’t work with the concept of randomness, what is actually being proposed is some form of vitalistic teleology in the evolutionary process. Whilst one could make some kind of case for that via (at one extreme) Shapiro’s natural genetic engineering or (at the other) panpsychism, it is nothing to do with how “mainstream™” science understands evolution, whether that be classical adaptationism or neutral theory.

So it is actually making theistic evolution into a new variation of a long-discarded Lamarckianism or vitalism that is heterodox scientifically as well as theologically novel. It makes “Evolutionary Creation” a new theory altogether, which I’m sure is not what was intended by its proponents - or in other words, as I’ve been saying for years, it’s incoherent.

And it still does nothing to explain the current BioLogos position that mankind was always intended by God to arise: an end determined from the beginning of creation arrives via a process (whether random or vitalistic) that is insisted to be undetermined. As Aquinas said, even God cannot make “Yes” be “No.”