Thursday, August 01, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (3): Dual Causality and Theistic Evolution

The second premise of Dilley's Syllogism is: "Darwinism denies Christianity."

I disagree.  Darwinian evolutionary science does not resolve the reason-revelation debate in favor of reason over revelation, because that science rightly understood (as I understand it!) recognizes that neither side in this debate can refute the other.  Darwinian evolutionary science also recognizes that there is a natural desire for religious understanding, and so atheism is contrary to our evolved human nature.

In taking this position, I am on the side of Charles Darwin as against Richard Dawkins.  Darwin never claimed, either in public or in private, that his evolutionary science proved atheism.  By contrast, Dawkins has proclaimed that the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 made it possible for the first time in history to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, because evolutionary science provided a rational refutation of revelation.  Remarkably, my nine critics who embrace Dilley's Syllogism agree with Dawkins that Darwinism is atheism, even though they think this Darwinian atheism can be refuted by revelation and intelligent design theory.

The religious appeal to God as the uncaused cause of nature cannot be refuted by reason. All natural explanations of the world--including Darwinian science--must assume that ultimately the order of nature is the unexplained ground of all explanation. But there is no way by rational proof to deny the possibility that nature itself is the contingent product of nature's God.

Darwin recognizes this in adopting the principle of dual causality, which originated in medieval Islamic and Christian theology.  He speaks of the laws of nature as manifested in evolution as "secondary causes," which leaves open the possibility of God's creative power acting through "primary causes" to create the original order of nature itself.  I have elaborated this point in a previous post.

Darwin thus allows for theistic evolution, which has been adopted by a long line of Christian thinkers, including C. S. Lewis, Francis Collins, and Alvin Plantinga.  Darwin rejects the "theory of special creation," which sees God as having to intervene miraculously in nature to specially create each form of life.  But Darwin allows for God to be understood as the First Cause, the uncaused cause of matter and life.

Most of my critics in Dilley's book seem to recognize that Darwin adopted the principle of dual causality, with natural evolution working through "secondary causes" and the Creator working through "primary causes" (3, 25-26, 87, 275-77, 284, 290).  Bruce Gordon, however, seems to reject the principle of dual causality as a blasphemous denial of God's omnipotence (168), which could be interpreted as his endorsement of a radical divine voluntarism that would make natural science impossible by denying the lawful regularity of nature (87, 162).

Darwin's dual causality allows him to conclude The Origin of Species with this famous sentence:  "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, are being evolved."

Dilley suggests that Darwin was not really serious in thus writing about life as "originally breathed by the Creator" into the first organisms, because he believes that for Darwin this language was merely a dishonest rhetorical gesture to placate his Christian readers (25).  Dilley quotes from a letter that Darwin wrote to Joseph Hooker in 1863: "I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion & used Pentateuchal term of creation, by which I really meant 'appeared' by some wholly unknown process.--It is mere rubbish thinking, at present, of origin of life; one might as well think of origin of matter."  But notice what Darwin is saying here.  He regrets that using the "Pentateuchal term of creation" might be read as endorsing a literal reading of the Creation story in Genesis, which is what Biblical creationists have done.  And yet he wants to recognize the ineluctable mystery of how matter and life originated "by some wholly unknown process." 

Like C. S. Lewis, Darwin probably saw the Creation story in Genesis as a "myth" or "Hebrew folk tale."  (I have written about Lewis's position here and here.)  But he also saw this story as pointing to a mystery--the problem of ultimate explanation--that might be beyond the limits of natural reason.

All explanation depends on some ultimate reality that is unexplained.  All explanation presupposes the observable order of the world as the final ground of explanation that cannot itself be explained.  To the question of why nature exists or why it has the order that it does, the only reasonable answer is that we must accept this as a brute fact of our experience.  That's just the way it is

Now, of course, some religious believers will argue that we can reason to the existence of God as the simplest way of explaining the existence and the order of the natural world that is presupposed in all scientific explanations.  But those like David Hume can insist that there is nothing in our ordinary experience of the world that would make it likely, or even comprehensible, that something would have the power to create everything in the world out of nothing.  Moreover, the religious believers might admit that they cannot explain why God is the way He is.  Thus, in looking for ultimate explanation, we must stop somewhere with something that is unexplained--either an uncaused or self-caused Nature or an uncaused or self-caused God.  I have elaborated this thought in a previous post.

In response to such mystery, Darwin suggested in The Descent of Man, religious belief might have evolved through the natural tendency of the human mind to project intelligent agency and design onto the world by analogy with our experience of human intelligence.  Intelligent design theory is founded on such reasoning by anthropomorphic analogy.  In recent years, evolutionary theorists like Pascal Boyer, Justin Barrett, and Jesse Bering have elaborated Darwin's thought into a general theory of religious belief as an evolutionary expression of the human mind's propensity for detecting intelligent agency.  This leaves open the question of whether religious belief is an adaptive truth (as Barrett believes) or an adaptive illusion (as Bering believes).  But in either case, religious belief belongs to our evolved human nature.  Thus, as I reported in an earlier post on the MPS conference in the Galapagos, Leda Cosmides and Father Robert Sirico agreed that atheism is unnatural, because it is contrary to our evolved human nature.  Some previous posts on this can be found here, here, here, and here.

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