Mount Everest and Evolution


(Retired Professor & Minister.) #53

No, I’m not introducing any sort of vitalism. If you find the statements like “the powers of molecular bonding” or “the powers of protein-folding” potentially misleading, I could easily replace them with different wording: “the capabilities of molecular bonding” or “the potentialities of protein-folding.” The English idioms involving “the power(s) of ____” does not require some sort of personal agency. Thus, we can speak of “the powers of photochemical technologies”, for example.

Thus, you are reading into my words ideas which aren’t there—just as you did when you claimed that Dan Eastwood had stated that science had established that natural processes were inherently insufficient to produce the first living organisms. (He later posted his clarification that he certainly did not make that claim.)

This is a common linguistic confusion brought about by the fact that the English language combines under a single word (“life”) what the Koine Greek of the Bible carefully distinguishes by means of several very different words. See my summary at:

Are Plants Alive?

…where I discussed just a few of the various words and distinctions the Bible uses when addressing this topic.

God is not biologically alive—so the BIOS in the word abiogenesis does not regard whether or not God was involved in the non-living materials which came together to form the first living organism. A “linguistic accident” whereby modern English (and not necessarily earlier versions of English) lumped together very different ideas and classifications under a single word: life. Even many people who speak modern languages today would be perplexed by your statement—unless someone explained to them how the underlying semantic domains operate in English.

(Guy Coe) #54

Of course science could never exclude God. You’d have to have infinite, perfect knowledge to even begin to pretend to attempt that.
The suffiency argument is not marginal, because I am not denying evolution, as described procedurally, exists --just that it is sufficient to explain the forensic evidence of life and it’s history.
Remember the forest for the trees problem? God is not only giving input into the system, from beyond time, but actively managing whole ecosystems and habitats in the process.
Some want to conceive of God as having set up one pool shot, but that would make this a determinstic universe, not a moral one in which free choices are made and accountability for them part and parcel of living.
Molinism, or whatever-ism aside, this is a moral universe.
Hope you’re enjoying the discussion, otherwise don’t get frustrated with a different perspective. Viva la difference.

(John Mercer) #55

Why did you shift the goalposts from evidence to explanation? As in:



Is your back OK?

(John Mercer) #56

To make such a claim without an encyclopedic knowledge of the forensic evidence makes your argument very marginal.

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #57

Perhaps I can clarify further:

From a philosophical and theological perspective, I consider scientific explanations of abiogenesis not all there is to know about the origin of biological life. Of course, that shouldn’t be surprising because the Scientific Method doesn’t claim to answer all of the questions humans ask. Philosophy and theology are broader domains of academic investigation. Philosophers and theologians address questions which are outside the purview of science.

Yes, as a Christ-follower I believe that God played an essential role (philosophically essential role) in non-living materials forming the first biological life. Nevertheless, I would never claim that I can establish that affirmation by means of the Scientific Method.

(This is similar to my position on “ID Theory”. I certainly believe that God intelligently designed everything that we observe in the universe—but I’ve not yet seen anyone use the Scientific Method to make that assertion. That is why, thus far, I know of no valid “Intelligent Design Theory” which has ever been formally published with any reasonable rigor and which has survived peer-review within the science academy. However, I do wish them the best in that pursuit!)

(Guy Coe) #58

The Hebrew terms behind “the powers” questions is, as @Philosurfer says, ambiguous. Heiser takes a spiritual view of this, in “divine councils,” and whatnot. Ralph Winters, for the U.S. Center for World Missions, was developing an apologetic concerning the idea that would grant “fallen angels” and “demons” the power to influence the material world in invasive or maligning ways --like the advent of biologically mutant bacteria that introduces disease. Others have merely politicized the notion. It would seem that @AllenWitmerMiller is exploring a meaning with regards to “creative influence upon” evolution. That these can be descibed as a kind of “vitalistic” notion of the material world, is clear to me, but perhaps not to the tastes of the various advocates.
As a matter of secondary causation, at best, I’m comfortable with remaining investigatory.
These former ideas are, indeed, “alive,” but not in the biological sense --at least not primarily.
Perhaps they could be applied to protozoa, for whom we would not normally grant conscious sentience, but which are alive.
In any case, God is sovereign over them all, and even, whenever or however He chooses, acts immanently within nature to restrain moral evil.
See the thread Brian Curry: Christ, Creation, and the Powers: Elements in a Christian Doctrine of Creation started by @Philosurfer and joined by @jongarvey for more on these questions. ERRATA : I mistakenly attributed the new thread to @AllenWitmerMiller , initially. Sorry!

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #59

I was not referring to “powers” in the Hebrew Bible. I was talking about the meaning in English, because that was the language of my statement which you misunderstood.

If you mean “the powers of natural processes” is a way to describe the capabilities of natural processes to build impressive structures, including living ones, then I’m fine with that. And even if I don’t frequently call evolution a “creative process”, evolutionary processes certainly create new things, so the word is not necessarily out of place.

I’m not certain that I understand you on this one.

I certainly do not embrace vitalism. For those who are not familiar with vitalism from philosophy courses, vitalism holds that there is some non-physical element in all biological life and/or that living things are governed by laws or principles different from those which govern non-living things.

(Guy Coe) #60

Vitalism is not confined to living things, but ascribed to all of nature, including matter. The “vibratory energy” of atoms as orbited by electrons, and other such notions. I kid you not. I used it in a shorthand, non-technical sense, and illustrated what I meant by that. What term would suggest I use instead? I am open to your suggestions.

(Dan Eastwood) #61

The replies have become somewhat muddled. :slight_smile:

Having established that God cannot exclude God. There is no reason why God (or the belief in God) should exclude the possibility of a scientific understanding of abiogenesis.

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #62

Of course, I did not say that vitalism is confined to living things, so I want to emphasize that. I focused on the relevance of vitalism to living things because that was the topic I was addressing.

(Guy Coe) #63

Good; we have both now clarified our intentions. Doesn’t seem muddled to me… but, I’ve been wrong before.

(Guy Coe) #64

Agreed, generally, but to quote Jay Richards, “not even God can create a non God-governed process.” : )

(Dan Eastwood) #65

Who died and made Jay Richards God? '-)

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #66

I hope all is well in this thread that I have unable to participate in. I just had one comment. @Guy_Coe, didn’t most people during Jesus’s time believe in spontaneous generation? Why would we think that abiogenesis is the Judeao-Christian assertion?

(Guy Coe) #67

Okay… before this turns into a giant game of “telephone,” here’s what I said:
“To deny that abiogenesis occurred absent God’s purposeful and intentional activity IS THE Judaeo-Christian assertion. That’s the one vital “ingredient” you can’t leave out. I do not deny evolution’s action, only its sufficiency. The evidence clearly shows that, as well as the text of the Bible.
Some Christians use the phrase “God-guided evolution” to account for that aspect; others, like me, speak of the combined activity of God “creating” AND evolution merely operating afterwards, since while I see some adaptive changes within the ken of evolutionary processes, I do not see true innovation arising from them.”
Life did not arise spontaneously; it was created by God. This is what the Bible clearly states. Do you want verses? Maybe take a look at the section from Paul I cited above, from Acts 17, e.g. And, of course, Genesis chapter one.

(John Mercer) #68

But that doesn’t make sense, because abiogenesis and evolution aren’t the same thing.

It also doesn’t make sense because you repeatedly talk about the evidence but never AFAIK cite any evidence.

(Mikkel R.) #69

Plainly false. We don’t have much evidence of how the flagellum DID evolve (as much of that evidence has, as John T_aquaticus says, been erased by time), but we do have lots of evidence that a flagellum COULD evolve. These two types of evidence (evidence of HOW it did, and evidence that it COULD) are not the same thing.

The evidence that the flagellum COULD evolve is simply the observation that the flagellum is made of proteins, and proteins can evolve for example by gene duplications, just to pick one mechanism. Furthermore there is evidence that exaptation and cooption of disparate genetic elements (such as different protein coding genes involved in totally separate organismal functions) can be coopted in a way that brings them into functional association, or direct contact and binding.
As these are chiefly the kinds of mechanisms by which the flagellum would have evolved, we have all the evidence that is needed to show that it could. There is no in principle barrier to the flagellum’s gradual evolution by a combination of gene duplications and exaptations.

Again look at the analogy to plate tectonics. We have very little evidence of how SPECIFICALLY the Mt Everest came to take the particular, size and shape it has with all it’s trillions of microscopic peculiarities, but we have knowledge of the kinds of mechanisms that would in general be capable of producing a mountain like the Mt Everest. So we can explain the Mt Everest in broad strokes by appealing to some general mechanisms like erosion, pressure, continental drift and so on.

In the same way, we can explain the flagellum in broad strokes by appealing to some general mechanisms gene duplications, exaptation, natural selection, genetic drift and so on.

This is how science in general explain events in the deep past. There’s nothing unusual or different from how it is done in geology, or astronomy, or physics, in how evolutionary biology explains extant structures or entities as particular instantiations of mechanisms observed in the present also having operated in the historical past to create the things we see.


Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You can’t go from “no evidence of flagellum evolving” to “flagellum didn’t evolve”.

(Mikkel R.) #71

Absence of evidence can be evidence of absence if you have reason to expect there to be evidence. In that situation, if you have reason to expect the evidence to exist, then not finding that evidence is now itself evidence against the hypothesis.

For example, the hypothesis “an asteroid impacted here a few hundred years ago” naturally implies we should find an impact crater where the hypothesis claims. Looking for that impact crater and not finding it is then evidence against the hypothesis. So that is a situation in which absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.

But evolution does not entail that ancestral states should be preserved indefinitely into the future (after all extinction, and genetic deletions, not to mention the eventual accumulation of substitutoins are observed facts), so the absense of data that is good enough to infer ancestral states cannot constitute evidence that such ancestral states didn’t or couldn’t exist. So the absence of evidence for HOW the flagellum evolved cannot constitute evidence that it DIDN’T or COULDN’T evolve when in fact evolution predicts that over sufficiently long periods of time, such evidence will eventually erode away.


It still amazes me that people think this way.

I happen to have a lot of experience in the field of infectious diseases, and one of the earliest pioneers in the field was Robert Koch. He came up with these famous postulates:

There have been a few adjustments to these postulates over the years, but the general scientific approach still applies today. Most would agree that germs cause disease.

However, you will notice that none of those postulates require us to determine the origin of germs. We don’t have to come up with experiments and evidence for how the first life arose from non-living matter in order to determine that germs cause disease. And yet, you are claiming that we should have to figure out abiogenesis in order to also accept the Germ Theory of Disease. This is ludicrous.

We don’t have to know ultimate origins in order to determine proximal causes. This is true throughout the sciences. We don’t have to know the origin of the Earth in order to determine how carbonate rocks form. We don’t have to know the origin of the universe in order to figure out how a white dwarf can produce a type Ia supernovae by stripping material from a companion star.

I would strongly suggest that you sit down and think about what you are claiming. It isn’t logical and it isn’t reasonable.