vendredi 28 mars 2014

Two Points on Asher’s Book – and a Third One

1) Φιλολoγικά/Philologica : Does Steven Dutch Know History?, 2) Creation vs. Evolution : Two Points on Asher’s Book – and a Third One

The first point is from CMI’s review of the book Evolution and Belief. I am even repeating an argument from John Woodmorappe, only adding myself that Dawkins has actually given an observation supporting it. The other one is from reading the excerpts on Cambridge University Press site. Or two actually.

Several recent studies show that enamel-encoding genes in toothed animals exist as pseudogenes in toothless mammals. Asher blows the trumpet of evolutionistic triumphalism, and then pontificates that God would not make it that way (pp. 137–138). Apart from its theological presumption, Asher makes some other tacit assumptions. He supposes that, since they cannot encode for enamelin, the pseudogenes are therefore useless. Actually, there is evidence, from a more recent work,11 that at least one of the parent genes, MMP20, has multiple functions, and therefore possibly its pseudogene ortholog has at least one. If so, this ‘absolves’ God of creating non-functioning genes.

Second, the enamelin gene is just as incapable of producing enamelin if partly omitted during Creation as it is incapable of producing enamelin if omitted entirely during Creation.

Asher presumes that a de novo design is always the most intelligent solution. It may actually make more sense to create, for a toothless mammal, the same genome as for a toothed one, except for built-in intentionally inactivated enamelin genes, than to design quite different genomes for toothless and toothed mammals.

Woodmorappe gives even more details, I will leave the reader to his review:

CMI : A theistic paleontologist with dubious theology and little-better science
A review of Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist by Robert J. Asher
Cambridge University Press, New York, 2012
by John Woodmorappe

However, as I promised, I will give you a Dawkinsian support for this:

Creation vs. Evolution : On Reading The Greatest Show by Dawkins - Parts of it! : Not blueprint but recipe.

Quoting myself from my summaries of the chapters I had read (since I do not have Dawkins' book at hand):

Saying as Dawkins does that our genes do not give a blueprint but a recipe for our bodies, one that is followed step by step during pregnancy, does not dispense of a wisdom ordering the process.

Here my point is not about the wisdom, but about the fact it is a recipe rather than a blueprint. Since Dawkins knows this, he would not have written that in the book if he hadn’t, I suppose he is able to refute for himself the argument from pseudogenes.

Now, to the distinction that Asher makes:
Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-19383-2 - Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist
Robert J. Asher

Please note that this process explains how biological change occurs. It does so in the same way that you might explain how a steam engine works, or the process by which its action is caused: water heated to 100 °C boils into steam, which rises and powers the rotation of a turbine, which then generates electricity at the local power plant, and spins the wheels of your nineteenth-century train, Mississippi riverboat, etc. As an analogy this is a bit dated, but the point should be clear: both explanations are about natural processes responsible for something we observe. It is equally valid to note that Thomas Savery designed the first steam engine, or that James Watt (among others) later improved it. However, the latter is an explanation of a different sort: it is one of agency, not cause. Riverboat passengers at some point may have expressed great admiration for Savery and Watt, the “creators” of their momentum. How does the engine work? Savery did it, helped by Watt. Such an interpretation is true in the sense that Savery and Watt deserve credit as the agency behind the steam engine. However, it says nothing about how the steam engine actually works. There is a materialist, or naturalistic, cause behind the function of their steam-propelled craft which is not changed by recognizing the agency of Savery and Watt in the development of its engine. This kind of natural causation is what I meant earlier when I referred to the “materialist orientation” of science.

Indeed, Asher has a kind of religion. One in which God is to the actual working of the Universe as Watt is to the actual working of a steam engine. I am not sure of his confession, Catholic or Protestant, but I am sure he is not a Catholic and would not be recognised as such by St Pius X or by St Thomas Aquinas. If he is nominally Catholic, he is so on the same heterodox terms as Miller. He may not have another Confession – at least this is true of Miller – than Roman Catholicism available, but that is only like for a certain time Martin Luther had for a certain time no other Confession than Roman Catholicism available.

What St Thomas Aquinas means by First Cause is NOT a parallel to Watt or Savery. What St Thomas Aquinas means by First Mover is ultimately to the steam precisely as the steam is to the navigation of the steamboat or as heat is to making water steam. That is something for which Asher no longer uses the word Cause or Mover, but the Neologism Agency.

St Thomas does not mean that God is inventor of a Universe working without him, as if secondary causes were secondary only insofar as once set moving by their inventor, but some of them actually primary in the analysis of each moment. He does not compare God’s making the Universe to an Architect making a House. He compares the work of the Six Days to the making of an instrument, and the work of Providence mainly after the Six Days to the same person playing on the instrument. The one he chooses is “harp” according to a very refined musical taste of those times. It is not quite the same thing as a bagpipe or an electrical guitar. But the point is, the Universe on this view is NOT made to be working on its own, it is meant to work as a tool for its Creator who also remains its Master. And to Universe as instrument being played God is not just Maker, but also actual Agency. That is the whole point of Theology between Trads and Evolution compromisers.

Actually Woodmorappe misses an occasion for a fine shade in another part of his review:

The fact that God operates providentially (operations science: Thomas Aquinas’ cited example of God providing heat through a fire) itself tells us nothing about how He had acted when He created the universe (origins science).

Now, it is not just that, but on Asher’s view, presumably, God provides us with fire when we need heat, through the fact of having created the parametres of natural laws such that fire would be at hand at certain times and not at other ones and perhaps (with very much determinism) intentionally made each item of a man finding a fireplace, dry firewood, sparks, to necessary results of conditions at Big Bang via necessities (including social ones) binding the acencies.

On St Thomas Aquinas’ view, God is not only at each point free to provide fire miraculously, but also every place there is fire results ultimately from a Divine Decision, including Decisions to respect Human ones, and a Divine Decision about that particular place, that particular time.

If Asher likes, God is “in the process”, as much as He is in Psalm 146. But He is not “in” the process so as to be subsumed by it or like the genius of Watt and Savery are in each steam engine. He is in the process as a free agency. Not as the only free agency, but as the highest and freest of them. Omnipotent does not mean everyone else is a puppet, but it means Creation cannot successfully rebel or stymie its Creator. It also means that even if others than God decide, God decides everything, including the fact of now or then giving the effective decision to this or the other created will.

Now, that is about the points most directly relevant for Creation vs Evolution. But Asher makes another one, and Woodmorappe is a bit unsuspecting when he brushes off points related to that one as “offensive” (and untrue) but ultimately irrelevant. Asher puts it in the first paragraph of the text, page 1:

A lot of disagreements between people are due to honest emphasis on mutually exclusive propositions, both of which have clear value. Examples include social responsibility versus personal liberty, or freedom of speech versus the protection of minorities. In other cases, one party to a debate is just plain wrong, misinformed, or invested in error for extraneous and/or personal reasons. This includes the “divine right of kings” and “separate but equal” racial segregation. Society makes its way along the centuries by recognizing, and dispensing with, the erroneous (e.g., divine right) while building up institutions that can justly scrutinize the real debates, hopefully reaching the right decision more often than not.

OK, “divine right of kings” is supposed to be erroneous. The “separate but equal” segregation between skin colours is erroneous. How does Asher know this? Because Society with a capital S along the centuries has recognised them as such. Because its Institutions (capital I, even if he did not do so himself) can be counted on as mostly reaching the right decision.

Asher is a deeply religious man, but he is not a Christian. He is off from adoring God, since God is not an Agency, neither in Creating the Universe any way He wanted to nor in making Providence as a free Agency. He is just a “cause” same way as Watt and Savery are “causes”. Not in a sense of the word that Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas would have recognised, but in a way “a cause”. He is giving Divine Honour, not indeed to Kings, which are a personal Institution, but to a non-defined or ill-defined set of Collective Institutions, since working over the Centuries.

He belongs to the University of Cambridge. Over the last Century the University of Cambridge has settled, collectively speaking, for Evolution being true and Creation in Six Days 7200 years ago false. He hopes that mostly the Institutions cut off from their roots in Christian Orthodoxy will nevertheless mostly produce the right decisions. ERGO accepting Evolution is the most probably right decision. That is not science, that is treating Human Institutions as living Idols, much as Mahayana Buddhists deal with the living idol called Dalai Lama (always forgetting the name but not face of the present bearer of the title, but he is a living idol).

Woodmorappe is wrong when saying:

He repeats hoary antibiblical myths, such as the one about it teaching that stars hang from a solid firmament (p. 22). He derides certain Christian social teachings, and makes an implied equation of the Islamic terrorists of 911 with Christian fundamentalists (p. 130). Apart from being false and offensive, they are irrelevant to the theme of his work, and only detract from it.

They are NOT irrelevant to the theme of his work , they are the theme of his work and the defense of Evolution as well as its compatibility with “religion” are just glosses on this theme. Very elaborate glosses, but nevertheless glosses. The ultimate reason of Asher is not “God is working within His Creation, not outside it” but “people who believe God is working as a Free Agency with His Creation are a menace to society, and Institutions that have decided that the Agencies usually at work in the Universe are not God are the hope for a better society in the future.”

I hope I have more tranquil reasons, but in a similar vein to that one, mine is that Institutions denying the God of the Bible have a very terrible track record, and are still engaged in doing great harm. And I put more things in that category than perhaps Asher would expect from Woodmorappe.

I also note that if enforced equal but distinct segregation is a mistake, so is affirmative action. And I have less faith in the Divine Right of Parliaments than in that of Kings. But is Asher even free enough to debate that? Or have his living Idols decided for him, as he up to now allowed them to?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
From Nanterre University Library*
Sts Priscus, Malchus and Alexander
Martyrs in Palestine under Valerian

Indeed, the Emperor Cult also was an idolisation of living idols, who were also counted on as usually reaching the right decision. Well, from Nero or even Tiberius to Constantine there were quite a few years, 280 in fact, during which on one precise point, they consistently reached the wrong one. Valerian being no exception.

* Was added in Georges Pompidou library after I took the train ... (without paying).

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