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Re: debating intelligent design
Gasper says
 we have plenty of compelling evidence against the theory that conscious design played any role in the development of life on earth.

        The immediate point is the striking refusal of atheists like Gasper to discuss these matters.  They sloganeer onwards, simply ignoring reason.  Refusal to discuss is a cardinal sign of fanaticism, and of paradigms in deep trouble as neoDarwinism has been for a decade or more.
        The simplest summary is that evolution is compatible with mainstream religion.  The use of evolution to club religion is a tired, and dishonest, old ritual from which we should move on.
        I hasten to add that IDT is scarcely more reasonable.
 
For all those who tooned in late, here's what I posted here a year ago.

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I doubt we will get to grips with the monstrous hubris of gene-tampering until we get across at least this much philosophy to those fanatics e.g W Parrott, R Beachy et al  who intone in Nature Biotech
                "The reality is that "unintentional consequences" are much more likely to occur in nature than in biotechnology because nature relies on the unintentional consequences of blind random genetic mutation and rearrangement to produce adaptive phenotypic results, whereas GM technology employs precise, specific, and rationally designed genetic modification toward a specific engineering goal."



          Clarifying "the" theory of evolution

                L. R. B.  Mann
                        Real World  35    Nov  2005


        Which aspects of the theory of evolution are in dispute?  A thickening fog of verbiage now makes it more difficult than ever for students to discover fact, and to understand theory, regarding evolution.
     
Fact as distinct from Theory
        What does the term 'evolution' mean? The OED tells us it comes from the Latin noun evolutio 'unrolling'   and means:
                1. The process by which different kinds of living organisms are believed to have developed from earlier forms, especially by natural selection. 
                2. Gradual development.
        Evolution is the appearance over time  of new life-forms  -  new species, and larger taxa (genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom).  Science has inferred{1} from a large body of observations that life appeared on our planet as blue-green algae 4 x 10^9 year BP; later emergences include complex animals 1 x 10^9 y, mammals 2 x 10^8 y, and man somewhere in the region 10^6 -10^4 y BP.   Most species were created much later than the first. Thus, insofar as facts can ever be confirmed regarding pre-human processes, evolution is a fact  -  in the sense that new life-forms have appeared over billions of years.
        However, evidence for change in descent from one to another has been difficult to come by and is sparser, at least to date, than sometimes assumed.
       
Theory
  To explain evolution, as to explain any process in nature, will require theory  -  some model of how organisms could have evolved.  (The question of how the first  organism came to be is a largely different matter.)  All categories of cause will be required for any such theoretical model.  The 4 categories of cause, originally defined by Aristotle (trans. Flew{2} ), hold key potential for improving evolution theory.  The recent restricting by e.g. Dawkins of causality in evolution theory to only two categories of cause is a main confusion in evolution theory.  
The biologist John Morton {3}, noting that at Aristotle's period in the development of science he was in no position to understand chemical process, offered a more modern version of the 4 causes which I précis and commend for wide spreading:
 
        What are the causes of the bottle of claret I'm now decanting?
        The material causes include the grape juice and the yeast, materials transformed by the efficient cause into this peculiar substance claret.           
        The efficient cause, as in Aristotle's prototypical example 'the making of a statue', is the action of the yeast on the grape sugars and some minor components, a process resulting in aqueous ethanol and some minor chemicals characteristic of claret.
        But my bottle of claret has also a final cause: a person (named Babich) willed to organise suitable vessels & conditions for the substances which are the material causes, and planned a sequence of operations, for the purpose of making claret by maximising the likelihood that the efficient cause for claret would operate i.e. the particular biochemical action of the yeast on the grape juice leading to claret.
        Aristotle's formal cause is in this example the 'claret idea' in Babich's mind.

                       
        Some rationalisation for the label 'final' is offered by Temple{4}:
                This is the essence of "intellection" or science, that it asks "why" perpetually; as soon as it is answered, it asks "Why?" again   ...   But if from some other department of Mind's activity an answer is suggested, the intellect (if not impeded by "intellectualist" dogmatism) will gladly accept it.  And Mind does accept as final an explanation in terms of Purpose and Will; for this (and, so far as our experience goes, this alone) combines efficient and final causation.  "Why is this canvas covered with paint?"  "Because I painted it."  "Why did you do that?"  "Because I hoped to create a thing of beauty for the delight of myself and others."

       I believe the Categories of Cause  -  surely among the most important ideas in the whole of philosophy  -  constitute the lever to break the confused logjam of "creationist"® fundamentalism, 'intelligent design theory' IDT®, and neoDarwinism.
      IDT, a very restricted phenomenon, is a modern version of Paley's 1802 natural theology, insisting that biology bears the marks of design.  IDTers refuse to discuss the character, or even the number, of the designer(s).
     NeoDarwinism, the current mainstream scientific theory, purports to explain change in descent by mutation (usually said to be random) followed by natural selection which narrows the variance among the mutants by selecting against the less fit. 
    Those two processes, involving only material causes and efficient causes, are necessary, but not sufficient, to explain evolution. 
     What can be said to explain  -  ascribe all the causes of  -  an organism and its evolution?
    DNA is a material cause of all (so far as is known) organisms, and operates as parts of efficient causes through the several types of RNA and the many enzymes essential for biosynthesis of proteins & other biochemicals; but DNA is surely not a Final cause. As Morton has recently put it, DNA is not the kind of thing that can cause other things as if paints could leap from tubes to create a Turner, or vibrations & percussions form themselves into a work of Mozart. A person implementing a plan  - a final cause  -  is a prerequisite for such things to come into existence.  The point which IDT® emphasizes is more clearly put: no amount of explanation in the categories of material & efficient causes can suffice to explain life.  The OED's attempt to privilege natural selection as a theoretical approach is questionable. Similarly, megatime is no substitute for purpose in the emergence of new species.
     
        Technology  -  and more widely, all human acts willed to modify the universe  -  cannot be explained without using the concept Final Cause.  The only type of final cause  -  person acting with a purpose  -  is, in the militant atheist Dawkins' approach, human will.  Thus "who designed this watch?" would be an allowed question, but "who designed this frog?" disallowed  -  as an assumption  of atheism. 
    But ecology, and evolution of ecosystems, are purposeful, and Dawkins' descriptions of evolution turn out to be always laden with the language of purpose.
        How is a modern biology to deal with Final cause?  A conservative answer today could be to continue the methodological convention that science will pursue only material and efficient causes, but also to advocate that science be taught & practised in a context of philosophy acknowledging all the categories of Causes.  (This can be readily done consistent with the USA constitutional amendment so misrepresented by USA courts this last half-century; there need be no tendency to establish  any church with legal privileges.) 
        If science consists in discovering materials (e.g. chemical elements & compounds), energies (so far just 4), and forms (e.g. species of organism) and elucidating qualitatively & quantitatively the processes  -  including energy conversions  -  which result in new physical situations, then material and efficient causes are the only causes science can study.  But this methodological restriction in the scope of scientific theory does not constitute any reason to say that no final causes operate in evolution.  How much science can hint about these final causes remains to be seen, but will not amount to much; natural theology  -  the study of nature, without recourse to revelation, with intent to infer who created it  -  is only a small part of comprehensive theology.  Philosophy and theology will have to revive to give us the metaphysics needed to study final and formal causes in evolution.
        The mainstream Christian doctrine is that evolution is God's process for creating new types of organism.  Less than a century old, eccentric, and mischievous, is the fundamentalist claim that evolution is refuted by Genesis 1-3  (the creation stories of Judaism & Christianity) & 6-9 (the Noah story).  These very figurative sections are among the most myth-laden biblical texts and were written long before science emerged as a way of knowing.  Their theological wealth is neglected by the novel mischievous pretence ("creationism") to understand them as literally contradicting science.
    Discussion of final cause in biology may well begin with Hume's quip "[t]his world, for aught [any man] knows, is very faulty and imperfect compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance."  As a Christian, I'm willing to discuss starting as far back as that ultra-sceptical position.  But anyhow, let's keep moving, shall we, IDTers?  It is not realistic to stand pat on your one little point, Paley's Argument to Design, waiting for Dawkins, S. Weinberg, Wolpert etc to concede its logic.
        The only theory of evolution anywhere near explaining that marvellous process comes to us by the Christian tradition  -  today Morton, Broom, and Sheldrake; in the previous generation Sir Alister Hardy and Archbishop Wm Temple.
     I would relish a public debate against Dawkins about his depauperate 2-causes philosophy. 

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     References

1 Margulis, L. & Schwartz, K. V., 1998. Five Kingdoms   New York: Freeman.
2 Flew, A., 1989. Introduction to Western Philosophy p.159  London: Thames & Hudson.
3 Morton, J.,  1972.  Man, Science and God    Auckland & London: Collins.
4 Temple, W., 1923 . Mens Creatrix  -  an essay    Macmillan.
              
                                  
     Further Reading

Broom, N., 1998. How Blind is The Watchmaker?  Aldershot: Ashgate ; rev edn IVP 2001.  
Temple, W., 1934. Nature, Man and God   Macmillan.

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