Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God by Wayne Rossiter, a Review.

Author

Wayne Rossiter is Assistant Professor of Biology at Waynsburg University. He received his B.S. from Otterbein University, his M.S. from Ohio State University and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Dr. Rossiter teaches Principles of Biology, Ecology and Environmental Biology.

 

Synopsis

In Shadow of Oz, Rossiter argues that given the blatant incompatibility of Darwinian evolution and the Christian worldview, those who try to hold to both do so at the expense of the Christian worldview, and in the name of a paradigm that is in deep trouble.

The book is laid out in seven chapters. In Chapter one, Rossiter tells his own story, and that of the way Darwinian evolution undermines classical Christianity, and outlines the attempts of theistic evolutionists to hold to both. In chapter two, Rossiter argues that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. Chapter 3 is a brief(ish) explanation of the Darwinian model, as well as the problems with trying to reintroduce God into the picture. Chapter four focuses on the Christian view of man, which is the greatest area of incongruity between Christianity and Darwin. In chapter five, Rossiter argues that the theistic evolution would make God the creator of evil. In chapter six, Rossiter gives an overview of the newest findings of science, and the way they call Darwinism into serious question. Finally, chapter seven evaluates theistic evolution in light of the discussion of the previous six chapters.

 

Analysis

Rossiter’s approach is quite even-handed in that rather than evaluating theistic evolution from a particular sectarian point of view, he shows how incompatible it is with mere Christianity. Moreover, Rossiter’s critique of the neo-Darwinian synthesis is grounded in the latest research in the field of biology, not simply from the work of Intelligent Design proponents. His argument is that Christianity is not compatible with Darwinism, that holding to the best of science means one is justified in rejecting Darwinism, and therefore, theistic evolutionists are throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is, however, room for improvement.

 

In chapter 2, Rossiter notes the limited role granted by theistic evolutionists for God’s direct involvement in the world. I would add that they overlook God’s sustaining the universe in its regular adherence to the laws of physics, which itself demands an explanation.

 

While most of Rossiter’s arguments are cogent and well though-out, he seems to misunderstand the views of Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig. Plantinga and Craig acknowledge that “random” changes in an organism is compatible with theism just in case “random” is understood to mean “not occurring for the purpose of benefitting the organism.” Craig argues that for a scientist to go further, such as to say such changes are “undirected” is to step outside of their discipline. Both argue that such changes can look the same whether directed by God to degrade the organism, or truly undirected. Rossiter responds, “Apparently, suggesting that aliens are tinkering with mutations is fantasy, but supposing that a supernatural God is doing it behind the scenes is completely rational.”[1] Given that Craig and Plantinga can point to many points of evidence for God, while there is virtually no evidence best explained by aliens, it is in fact, rational. Rossiter goes on to claim “Craig concludes that it is logical to suppose that evolution is guided or directed by God.”[2] Actually, Craig concludes that it is logically possible that God could direct evolution, and that the scientist who denies this does so out of philosophical commitments, not scientific reasoning.

 

Recommendation

Rossiter’s book is an excellent primer on the latest in findings in the literature and why holding to Darwinism is not only unnecessary, it is ultimately a dead end. Shadow of Oz is accessible for readers with a high school education, and highly useful for understanding how a Christian ought to think about these issues.

 

 

 

[1] Rossiter, Wayne D. (2015-12-08). Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God (Kindle Locations 2149-2150). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

[2] Ibid., 2155-2156

Meaningful World By Benjamin Walker and Jonathan Witt: A Review

With a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, Benjamin Wiker lends his expertise along with the literary insights of Jonathan Witt, Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, to the question of just what kind of world we live in. Wiker and Witt do not simply disagree with the reigning paradigm of metaphysical naturalism found in science. They see it as harmful. They have written this book as an antidote to the “poison” that is “the assumption that science has proven that the universe is without purpose, without meaning—proven it so clearly that one need not even produce an argument.” (Wiker and Witt, Location 61.)

The question of meaning has implications for how all of reality is seen. For Christians concerned with preaching the gospel, juxtaposing a divine creator with a meaningless universe is incoherent. This is one of the reasons why the apologetic project is needed in order to make Christianity a live option in the marketplace of ideas. In this particular case, the meaningfulness of the universe needs to be recognized. The poison must be counteracted. Recognizing the fact that human beings are an integral part of the universe, and that we have lived, acted, and created as though the world has meaning, Wiker adds his analysis of the works of Shakespeare which are best understood if meaning were central to human understanding of the world, as well as a comparative analogy to the creativity found in nature.

“The book’s central claim is clearly stated: the universe is meaning-full.” (63) The authors make it plain that they reject the nihilistic paradigm that is claimed to be “proven” by science. They build their case beginning with a historical overview of how the idea of a random, meaningless world goes back to the ancient Greeks and found resurgence in Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx. The assumption of meaninglessness began to lose momentum as discoveries of order and specified complexity began to emerge such that even a hardened skeptic like Antony Flew was moved to theism. From this background, Wiker and Witt note that just as parts of the cosmos made sense in light of the whole, and perhaps only so, the same is clearly so in literature. Shakespeare’s works are examined to illustrate the point, showing that contrary to Dawkins’ illustration of “Methinks it like a Weasel,” the parts fit the whole, but also that the whole makes no sense if the works and their author are nothing more than matter in motion, or animals driven by the urge to procreate. The genius exhibited by Shakespeare is then used to illustrate the genius Euclid points to in mathematics. The authors show how on a materialist worldview, the existence of mathematics makes no sense, much less its applicability to the material universe. From mathematics, the order and intelligibility of the cosmos, chemistry (especially the periodic table) and biology is examined. Through each discipline, the antidote of structuralism is counteracting the poison of reductionism. Structuralism approaches these questions from the top-down, parts-to-whole view. Such a view is not even considered a live option if one starts from meaninglessness. In fact, it is the only way scientists can discern “the meaning of the data they gather.” Wiker and Witt present case after interrelated case for the meaningful whole of the created order into which each of its parts –matter, energy, chemistry, life in general, and humanity in particular– fits. While so many books of this type focus on particular arguments for God’s existence from specific areas such as cosmogony, fine-tuning, or information theory, Meaningful World looks at the big picture. If the other works study the trees, Wiker and Witt look at the whole forest. They show not only that these things fit, but also that they are made to be discovered as such. They do so with a clear, accessible style and a refreshing dose of humor. While their arguments are logically cogent, their discussion of Shakespeare’s literary acumen appeals to aesthetics. Moreover, while they mention some of the astronomically high levels of improbability of the world being the way it is by chance, they do not hang their whole case there. Another way the thesis of the book can be stated is, “Intelligent design? More like creative genius.”

The literary element they introduce by way of analogy and as a particular example is a rarity in books on this subject. Their use of Shakespeare to illustrate their point is not only a novel way to argue in this arena, but they inspire a new appreciation for the literature itself. Their presentation reaches the reader at the cognitive as well as the intuitive level. Moreover, they present a strong case in favor of their thesis, rather than simply relying on defeaters for its negation. They do more than show that reductionism is false. They present a powerful case for a meaningful world. More than merely meaningful, the authors offer a case for elements of genius in the created order that is analogous to the creative genius of Shakespeare. Wiker and Witt argue that the knowledge offered by the study of mathematics, cosmology, chemistry and biology have the depth, clarity, harmony and elegance one would expect to find in the works of geniuses. This is not design by a minimally intelligent mind, but a designing Genius.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or the history of the controversy over the Intelligent Design hypothesis. The book is accessible to the layperson without dumbing down the content. While the scholarship of the authors is evident in the content, the engaging style of the prose has none of the dryness that can come from the subject matter. The integrated approach will inform a more fully orbed apologetic than those books that focus on a narrower topic such as the origin of information or the complexity of the living cell. As important as these details are, this book will help you see the forest and the trees.

Bait and Switch

In my last post, I discussed a skeptics forum in which there was a dialogue between two scholars from Reasons to Believe, and one from the New England Skeptical Society. The skeptic, Dr. Steven Novella, made an interesting remark. He opened his comments with a joke about someone breaking into his house in the middle of the night and stealing all the furniture, and replacing it with exact replicas. He then claimed that those who hold to some sort of creationism do the same thing by taking the world that just happens to look like it developed by purely natural means and posit a God to explain the gaps in our knowledge.

This seems to be the kind of charge that works for whoever makes it first. It is similar to a corrupt politician accusing others of corruption before he gets caught so it looks like his critics are just saying, “Not me, you!” Do not misunderstand. I am not calling Dr. Novella corrupt. In fact, I think Novella really believes what he says. My point is that theists hold to God’s existence and role in the creation and sustaining of the universe for a variety of reasons. While it may be that there are some who hold to a “god-of-the-gaps,” the arguments presented at the forum were not arguments from ignorance. In fact, from a theistic worldview, and this is relevant because  the scientific revolution was started by theists, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Part of our worldview is that the universe exists and operates as it does because of God’s creation and providence. Two important ideas stem from this. Theism is not a “science stopper,” and it is just as likely that the materialist is the one “stealing the furniture and replacing it with exact replicas.”

Science stopper?

Materialists claim that appealing to a creator puts an end to inquiry, and therefore is a “science stopper.” This claim is patently false. It was theists, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, etc who launched the scientific revolution because they believed that God had created the world, and since God was a rational being, his creation should be rationally ordered and could be studied; therefore such study was an act of devotion. It was not enough for them that God had created the world. They wanted to know how he did it, and how it works. They believed, as materialists do, that the world is governed by regular and predictable laws. The difference is that for the materialists, these laws are mere brute fact. Both the theist and the materialist are interested in seeing how much creative power is in these laws. The important distinction is that for the materialist, supernatural intervention is not possible even in principle. The theist allows for such a possibility. This does not mean, however, that the theist is willing to punt to miracles to fill gaps in knowledge. Arguments for design are made from what is known about designers and their activity. Arguments for the origin of information are based on all of our knowledge about information.

Where’s the furniture?

Scientists, regardless of worldview, operate on a principle of “methodological naturalism.” (MN) On this method, investigations of causes assume a natural cause. This is really not controversial. Where the furniture is switched is when scientists conflate MN with philosophical, or metaphysical, naturalism. MN assumes a natural cause but is blind to supernatural events. philosophical naturalism holds that the material universe is all that exists. It is rare that this bait-and-switch is intentional because very few scientists seem to be well educated when it comes to philosophy. (Not to mention some politicians, but that is another story.) Consequently, many of them are ignorant of philosophical arguments for God from the origin of the universe, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. (KCA) Basing our assumptions on the KCA and other arguments, it is not hard to think that a God that created the universe could engage in other acts of intervention. However, materialists will just assume the universe to be a brute reality, and when pressed on its origin, they will appeal to some future discovery that will explain it. In other words, they engage in materialism-of-the-gaps.

It seems to me, materialism tends to be a metaphysics-stopper. Whose furniture is it anyway?

Reflections on the Skeptics Forum

Tonight, I attended a panel discussion between neurologist Steven Novella and RTB‘s Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana. Ross gave a presentation defending Biblical theism from the origin and design of the universe, galaxy and solar system, and Rana did so from the origin of life. Novella then offered a rebuttal. After some dialogue among the panelists the floor was opened for a brief Q&A.

The Good

Ross is second to none when it comes to explaining all of the parameters that must be fine tuned in order for life to be possible anywhere in the universe, and how these parameters point to a creator who seemed to want organisms a lot like humans to live on earth. Likewise, Rana presented a strong case for a sudden origin of life which is inconsistent with typical naturalistic models. Novella’s critique of Ross and Rana’s Biblical concordism was also informative. (More on that below.) Concordism in this context means the idea that there is a strong (in the case of strong concordism) correlation between scientific discoveries and Bible passages.

The Bad

There is a well respected principle of Bible hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) that says “A passage can never mean what it never meant.” Isaiah 45:12 says, “It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. “Ross claims that this and other verses that say similar things, is a reference to the expansion of the universe. There is no good reason to think the Israelites to whom Isaiah was writing 2700 years ago would have understood him to be speaking of the expansion of the universe. This strongly suggests Ross is mistaken. Moreover, Rana, who in my opinion destroys naturalistic origin of life hypotheses in his written work, tried to tie Genesis 1:2 to the origin of life. Now THAT was stretching on a cosmic scale. (Sorry, guys. I couldn’t resist.) For his part, Novella trotted out the “god-of-the-gaps” charge against Ross and Rana, while appealing to naturalism-of-the-gaps to explain the lack of scientific answers to the question of the origin of the universe and of life. He claimed that all scientific adjustments to models accommodated new evidence while anything tied to a theistic model adjust to avoid evidence.

He also claimed Ross and Rana, and those who think like them, are guilty of what he called “retroactive continuity.” This is similar to the “humans are pattern recognizing organisms” claim. He accuses creationists (in the broad sense) of taking what we know now and applying Bible texts to it retroactively to harmonize them, as if Darwinism does nothing similar. In conversation afterward, Novella denied Darwinism is vulnerable to the same charge because it made successful predictions. He claimed Darwinism predicted DNA because it posited heredity. This is another cosmic stretch, since even the simplest organism has an incredibly complex genome, not to mention Darwinism’s inability to account for the origin of information. (For the purposes of this article, I am using Darwinism and neo-Darwinism interchangeably since the difference is not relevant to the point.)

The Christian worldview holds that God created the universe out of nothing. Genesis 1:1 is consistent with this, even if some would argue it is not stated there, and Hebrews 11:3. However, the Christian worldview does not stand or fall on a particular interpretation of Genesis or other passages with respect to science, since it is not a science text. For example, C. John Collins notes the style and structure of Genesis 1 is distinct from straightforward historical narrative. He calls the style, “exalted prose.”[1] This is part of an argument he makes for an interpretation of Genesis 1 that shows it was not intended to teach how or when God created the universe. This is just one of several interpretations of Genesis, and related texts, that make better sense of the texts.

Ross and Rana do great work on scientific evidence that is consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent in the design and creation of the universe and life. I wish they would apply more care to hermeneutics.

For his part, I am sure Dr. Novella is a fine neurologist. However, this is only possible because he is made in the image of God. His own worldview cannot account for how he could have a reliable understanding of his discipline.

[1] C. John Collins. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, And Theological Commentary (Kindle Location 530). Kindle Edition

Is There a Pattern Here?

Is there intelligence out there?

Today I was listening to Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast and during the conversation between Jonathan McLatchie and Corey Markum, Markum raised the claim that humans were “pattern-recognizing creatures,” and offered an evolutionary account of this idea. While the claim makes for a nice just-so story that fits into the evolutionary paradigm, as several others, such as Tim Stratton, have pointed out, such a scenario does not show how rationality could develop. Moreover, there is no reason to argue an equally plausible just-so story that humans are “religious-truth-denying” creatures. After all, just as the fact that humans have the rational capacity to recognize patterns, and to infer explanations from them does not tell us whether those patterns are really what we think they are, likewise, the impulse to reject religious claims does not tell us they are false.

Sorry, you have reached your bag limit for Red Herring

Frankly, in the context of a debate on the design inference, raising the “pattern-recognizing creature” line is meaningless at best, and question-begging at worst. When ID proponents point to evidence in nature of design, and the Darwinist plays the “pattern recognition” card to explain it away, why does this not also apply to the neo-Darwinian hypothesis? For whatever reason, humans have the capacity to recognize patterns and draw inferences from them. The only difference between ID and the Darwinist is the philosophical presuppositions.

Method to their madness

Scientists operate on a principle known as methodological naturalism (MN). On MN, the scientist operates on the assumption that some feature of the natural world under investigation will have a natural cause. This is all well and good, until it becomes a science-stopper. After all, several scientific disciplines diverge from this approach by necessity. Fornesics, archaeology, and SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)  are three such disciplines. Markum’s claim to the contrary, these disciplines do not presuppose intelligent agency as a cause, but intelligent agency is a live option. They investigate sets of evidence to see if they have a natural or intelligent cause. However, since MN is often conflated with metaphysical naturalism, intelligent causes are not considered a possibility. On Metaphysical Naturalism, the natural world is all that exists. This a philosophical approach to science, not a scientific approach to the data.

Designer Genes?

The bottom line is that those who support Intelligent Design theory simply note that the natural world contains evidence of the activity of an intelligent agent. While the evidence they present can be used to support the Design Argument for the existence of God, ID and the Design Argument are not the same thing. Those who are skeptical of ID should deal with it on its merits instead of trying to confuse the issue by accusing ID proponents of trying to sneak religion into science.