Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
The Beauty of Creation?
I’ve finished rereading The Open Secret by Alister McGrath. It presents a powerful picture of natural theology as touching every aspect of life.
One of the branches of evidence for the argument from design is the notion that the world in which we live is beautiful. However, many have rightly noted that there seems to be a disconnect between this picture of the world as beautiful and loving and the reality that nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yet Christian natural theology has a more complete view of the world:
…[N]ature as presently observed, cannot be assumed to be nature, as orginally created… The creation stands in need of renewal from a God who will create all things anew… There is a profoundly eschatological dimension to an authentically Christian natural theology… The fading beauty and goodness of the world are to be interpreted in light of the hope of their restoration and renewal. (208; 206, cited below)
Christianity does acknowledge the notion that creation is “groaning” and that nature may show much disorder and vileness alongside beauty and transcendence. The former attributes are results of the fall, but as McGrath noted, Christian natural theology is eschatological: it looks ahead to a future where all things will be renewed and consummated God’s divine plan.
It seems to me this vision of the future is something which gives natural theology within Christianity a broader explanatory scope which may not be matched by other systems. By orienting this world as it is in between a broader historical scheme of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, this vision of natural theology allows for and even expects many of the observed phenomena.
What do you think? What is your view of how the beauty of creation may be balanced with some of its ugliness?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
“A New Vision for Natural Theology” A Book Review of “The Open Secret” by Alister McGrath– I review the book discussed in this post. It presents a vision for natural theology and apologetics.
Elves, Orcs, and Freaks: The Shared Authorial Vision of JRR Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor– Garret Johnson has written a very interesting look into the works of Tolkien and O’Connor. He notes that they viewed fiction as reality from a different outlook. It’s a fascinating post, and there is a second part, which can be viewed here.
An Encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness– It is easy for Christians to slam their doors on those who come door-to-door. What if, instead, we engaged them? This post is a model for engagement and provides some ways forward to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Day After: My Thoughts on the Presidential Election– Michael Licona, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, one of the best books I’ve read on the resurrection of Jesus, offers his thoughts after the election.
Human Footprints in Dinosaur Footprints– Over at GeoCreationism (a highly recommended site), Mike addresses the notion that human and dinosaur footprints have been found together or side by side. Some argue that this supports young earth creationism. Mike explores the paleontological evidence.
Meet the Multiverse– Edgar Andrews, author of what I think is the best introduction to Christian apologetics with a scientific emphasis, Who Made God?, explores the notion of the multiverse and whether it offers a challenge to the Fine Tuning argument for the existence of God. Regarding said argument, I’ve written on it in my post on the teleological argument.
Did Jesus Claim to be Divine? (Answering Islam)– I found this look at answering Muslim objections to the deity of Christ refreshing. It offers an essentially presuppositional approach, which I have found to be very useful when engaging with Muslims. Check it out.
This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.
Intelligent Design (hereafter ID) is a theory that suffers a lot of critique from all sides of the life dialogue within Christianity, as well as the secular world. Just a google search can bring up thousands of images ridiculing the theory, both from an evolutionist standpoint (often calling it creationism in disguise) and from a creationist standpoint (calling it evolutionism in disguise). I find that, too often, those criticizing the ID movement present a caricature of its arguments, without ever addressing the relevant issues it raises.
Creationists often attack ID for trying to sneak some kind of atheism into theology. I simply don’t find this to be true. The ID movement would have many theological implications, but atheism is definitely not one of these. Theistic Evolutionists criticize ID for being just creationism in disguise. I simply can’t see this as anything but a non sequitur of the greatest proportions.
Recently, an article in Philosophia Christi (cited below) by Warren Shrader discussed ID’s mechanisms of detecting intelligence. Shrader writes that the Explanatory Filter utilized by Dembski (discussed briefly here) can be strengthened by considering the epistemological tools of cognitive abilities in determining whether there is a specification condition (which would therefore justify a “design inference”).
The way we can utilize epistemology within the ID hypothesis is “…given an event E and a pattern D, we say that D is a specification of E if and only if the following conditions are satisfied.” These conditions are: 1) Tractability (essentially meaning it is possible for a cognitive agent to produce the pattern D), 2) The probability of E given H (“the hypothesis that the event in question was a product of chance” 383) and J (information) = the probability of E given H “for any information J generated by I“, and 3) D delimits E (392-393).
Armed with this capacity for determining design, ID avoids the objection that patterns can be replicated by computers. This is done by criterion 1), which restricts patterns to our finite cognitive abilities. This of course means that it is very possible that many “positive” results will be thrown out, but this only strengthens those positives that do result, because they are irrefutable evidence for ID. In other words, when we tighten the design criteria such that we guarantee the patterns were produced by a cognitive agent, we have guaranteed that intelligence has been detected.
Combine these tools with those mentioned in my previous posts on ID, and there is a functional system for detecting intelligence in biology, cosmology, etc. Reading about ID has me excited to read more. I cannot emphasize enough how much readers who have not explored the issue themselves should try to do so.
Shrader, Warren, “Dembski’s Specification Condition and the Role of Cognitive Abilities,” Philosophia Christi, volume 11, number 2, 2009, 377-396.
There was a video I found online of Dawkins talking about his latest book, “The Greatest Show On Earth.” Naturally I had to watch it and I honestly found myself laughing out loud at a few points. Dawkins is surely a good speaker. I find him quite a natural at sounding amiable despite spitting blasphemy and utter illogic the entire time.
Now I have not read the book. I cracked it open at Borders recently, but that’s about it, so these comments only come from the video.
Dawkins’ brand of argument is one that I am honestly baffled by. Basically, what Dawkins says, is that the reason we see so much apparent design in the universe is because it could not have failed to be any other way, given the fact that we are here to observe it. I have heard this argument before but never really reflected on how ridiculous it is before now.
“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful… The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise, given that we are capable of noticing our existence at all and of asking questions about it.”- Dawkins, in the interview at the link above.
The argument seems at first to be as follows:
1. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.
2. We exist.
3. The reason we see apparent design in the universe is because we exist.
What!? I don’t even want to delve into the depths of how many fallacies there are in this argument, as I may have constructed it wrong. Perhaps the argument is, instead:
1. We exist
2. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.
3. Therefore, we are here to observe that design.
But on further reflection, perhaps these arguments are unfair to the original statement. It may be that the argument is not meant analytically, and instead should just be seen as a brute statement of fact:
Conclusion : The apparent design we see in the universe is observed simply because we exist to observe it.
Another way to state this could be:
Conclusion : We read design for our existence into the universe because we exist to do so.
I still can’t get over how utterly question begging all of these assertions are. Perhaps I could answer with a parody that begs the question in favor of teleology:
Conclusion : We read design for our existence into the universe because it actually is there.
I think that my conclusion has about as much [or more] validity as the argument Dawkins [and others] makes.
Basically what Dawkins and others who make this argument have done is acknowledge the tremendous weight that the teleological argument brings to the table, and then decide to beg the question against it in their own favor by saying, “Well of course it seems designed for us, we’re here, aren’t we?”
But let me be perhaps more fair. Maybe Dawkins is really trying to say that:
Conclusion : Because we are here to observe all of these things, it follows that they should appear to be designed for us, for we could not have come about if such conditions had not occurred.
This may, at first glance, seem more valid. But let us examine it further. How is it that it somehow follows from this conclusion that the design is not in fact intelligent design? How does it follow that the design does not point specifically to creation? I don’t think there is any good way to try to exclude either of these alternatives. What Dawkins has in fact done is not eliminate design from the equation, but introduce evolution as an alternative explanation. He acknowledges design, and then throws evolution into the mix as a possible explanation (“How is it… it could not have been otherwise”). It’s essentially giving up on trying to explain away design and instead admitting it and trying to explain it within evolution.
It follows that such people have been thrown into a trilemma:
1. Admit design and then beg the question against it
2. Admit design and modify the theory of evolution in an ad hoc manner [which again begs the qeustion]
3. Deny design entirely
The third option has become increasingly untenable, so people like Dawkins have tried the first two. Unfortunately, in doing so they have abandoned the very logic they claim to cling to.
But again, perhaps I may be accused of erecting a straw man. “It’s not that Dawkins is saying there is design, just that there appears to be design, because we are here.” I answer again by saying that this is completely question-begging against teleology. It smacks of a complete ad hoc modification of one’s view.
But I think there is a stronger argument I have left out. Perhaps Dawkins means to argue:
1. If some species X exists, then the universe would appear designed for X.
2. X exists.
3. Therefore, the universe appears designed for X.
Okay. How does this in any way eliminate or discredit design? I don’t see any reason to accept the view that it does. All it states is what is obvious. It doesn’t, however, eliminate the following argument:
1. If some species X exists, then the universe is designed for X.
2. X exists.
3. Therefore, the universe is designed for X.
Nor does it do anything to somehow discredit this latter argument. All it’s done is formulate a weaker version of the teleological argument, which is the argument many theists are using nowadays to begin with.
But there is even one more argument I have forgotten:
1. If species X exists, then it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.
2. X exists.
3. Therefore, it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.
I think this is perhaps the strongest form or Darwins’ argument. According to this argument, it simply follows that if any one species (or probably, any being whatsoever) exists, then conditions could not have been anything but what they are. I believe this is not a straw man largely because it is formulated almost exactly from what Dawkins says (see quote above, specifically “The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise…”). In other words, if something exists, then it is simply obvious that conditions would have to be such that that thing exists. I would answer:
There are major problems for the evolutionist holding to this view. For in stating that it would be impossible for conditions to be otherwise, one making this argument has made it necessarily true that every species that does exist, exists. In other words, the universe exists in such a fashion that it is necessarily true that humans came to exist. Similarly, it is necessarily true that walruses, cardinals, and the like came to exist. But what does that say about evolution? Where did the natural selection go? Where did the random chance go? What has happened to those conditions that factor into making species diverse? For if the species that exist today exist because of a necessary chain of events leading up to the species that currently exist, it follows [due to necessity] that the speceis that exist now could not have failed to exist, nor could there have been other species. I think that this kind of argument should make the atheistic evolutionist quite uncomfortable, for if it is necessarily true that humans exist, all they’ve done is actually acknowledge that the universe was arranged in such a way that humans would actually exist.
And I see no way to make this argument without including necessity in it. For if necessity is left out of argument  above, then it suffers from the problem of not actually eliminating design. But if necessity is included in the argument, then it follows that species that exist now exist necessarily, and therefore the universe is such that humans have come about necessarily because of pre-existing conditions, which many theists would gladly acknowledge, and perhaps even cling to.
I conclude with restating my exact quote from Dawkins’ mouth. I leave out his paltry answer this second time, for his question remains unanswered in light of his illogic. Thank you, Dawkins, for acknowledging that the universe was specifically designed for us.
“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful?”
I answer: God.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.