Category Archives: design

Undesigned Coincidences; applying Paley to the Gospels

Most know Paley for the Design argument which Darwin accidentally killed or mutated. Darwin never read Paley on Design in his Natural Theology while at Cambridge. However he did read his evidences on Christianity and was largely convinced at the time.

Paley wrote a book on Paul Horae Paulinae, which spoke of undersigned coincidences between the Act of the Apostles and Paul’s letters. He makes some good point, but there are points where Acts and Paul’s letters diverge.

I used a similar argument on Darwin’s 1831 geological trip just before the Beagle, when I found a list of rocks on a sheet of his notes at Cambridge Univ Library , which showed undesigned coincidences with Sedgwick’s notes on Anglesey on August 1831, which were from places Sedgwick visited. With other evidence I concluded that Darwin was with him . Some details are in this paper of mine

just-before-the-beagle

In the book discussed below Lydia McGrew from the USA picks up on Paley and makes some interesting points. I partially agree.

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Here it is to read for yourself.

 

Lydia McGrew

 

Source: Undesigned Coincidences

Intelligent Design is neither design nor up to scratch

This paper is nearly 20 years old and compares the views on Design by William Buckland in 1832 and Michael Behe in 1996. It is still topical as neither buckland nor Behe have changed their views since I wrote the paper 🙂

Since then Intelligent Design proponents have preached to an ever-shrinking choir.

Even so too many conservative Christians still think their arguments are valid.

Design Up to Scratch? A Comparison of Design in Buckland (1832) and Behe

 

Michael B. Roberts

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51.4 (December 1999): 244-252. Response: Mills

 

Intelligent Design has attracted both its supporters and denigrators. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box has been a secular best seller. This paper1compares Intelligent Design with nineteenth century Paleyan design, by comparing the philosophy and methods of Bucklandís lecture on “Megatherium” in 1832 with Beheís philosophy in Darwinís Black Box. Buckland regarded every detail as showing design and practiced reverse engineering, but Behe regards only the unexplained to show design. To put it pithily; Buckland saw the demonstration of design in explaining. Behe sees the demonstration of design in not explaining.

 

“The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell is a loud piercing cry of design” So wrote Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box and continued by saying: “But no bottles have been uncorked, no hands slapped.”2

This best-selling volume is the most well-known work on Intelligent Design and the ripples from it have reached my side of the pond. Many pagesóon and off the web, both critical and censoringóare devoted to it. As there are hundreds of web pages, this contribution may be superfluous. Darwinís Black Box has gained attention from the National Center for Science Education and Dr. Eugenie Scott has called exponents of Intelligent Design, the Neo-Creationists.3

Among all the controversy Behe and other Intelligent Designers have raised, it is assumed that they have relaunched the Argument from Design. This paper considers whether or not Intelligent Design is a revival of the design argument of William Paley and his successors. Ideally one needs to trace out the history of the design argument and deal at length with Paley and Hume, the Bridgewater Treatises, and other early nineteenth-century design arguments. Then one should deal with the challenge raised by Darwin and the response of thinkers such as Asa Gray, T. R. Birks, and Julia Wedgwood (Snow), whose precise relationship to Darwin would, according to Jim Moore, make an interesting paper in itself. Each of these arguments is worthy of a critical, yet sympathetic re-appraisal without stooping to a pejorative approach such as used by Altholz, when he patronizingly dismisses Paley by saying: “The smoothness and clseness of Paley’s arguments had a certain fatuous charm.”4

One may question how far those who criticize Paley have actually read his works. It is certainly fatuous to criticize him and his successors without a careful consideration of the design argument in a historical context. Rather than present a long, historical exposition and comparison, I shall focus very narrowly and compare Beheís Darwinís Black Box with William Bucklandís expositions of the design of Megatherium, an enormous extinct relative of the sloth.

Unlike Paley who was a competent theologian, Buckland was a first-rate, nineteenth century scientist and one of the strongest proponents of design. He was a leading geologist and was Reader of Geology and Mineralogy at Oxford University from 1818 to 1845, when he was also Canon of Christ Church. From 1845 he was Dean of Westminster where his interests turned toward sewage and the need for sanitation in the cholera-racked capital. Sadly his latter years were marred by mental illness. He died in 1857.

Buckland is easily dismissed for his early interest in the Deluge as a key geological mechanism, but both Davis Young and Stephen Gould have stressed his superb geological competence.5 He was the first to discover Mesozoic mammals in the Stonesfield slates near Oxford, and the one who introduced concepts of an Ice Age to Britain after a field trip to Switzerland with Agassiz in the fall of 1838.6 (Ironically Darwin recorded evidence of glaciers in Shrews- bury in July 1838, but never published his findings.7) Theologically he was on the edge of evangelicalism, as may be evidenced by the support he received from Anglican evangelicals, such as J. B. Sumner (Archbishop of Canterbury 1848ñ1862) and G. S. Faber. W. F. Cannon overstates the case by claiming Buckland was a Broad Churchman,8 but this is probably due to the problem that many have believing an evangelical can have good scientific credentials. After all, no scientist could possibly be an evangelical!

Stories abound about Buckland, from eating his way through the animal kingdom to making earrings for lady-friends out of coprolite! Darwin described him as “a vulgar and a most coarse man. He was incited more by a craving for notoriety, which sometimes made him act like a buffoon.”9 His friends were more appreciative. Thomas Sopwith, who traveled with him to North Wales in October 1841, wrote in his diary: “with Dr. Buckland for a companion, fatigue was impossible” even when traveling through North Wales in torrential rain.

buckland

Buckland dressed for the Welsh glaciers

Of all Paleyís contemporaries, Buckland was his most loyal disciple and the strongest scientific exponent of design, even while friends and colleagues such as Whewell and Sedgwick were moving away from Paley.10 No one was better qualified to write a Bridgewater Treatise than Buckland for both scientific and theological reasons. His volume entitled Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology11 was the best seller of the eight and found its way into many Mechanics Libraries and George Eliotís Mill on the Floss. (The Bridgewater Treatises were commissioned because the Earl of Bridgewater, an eccentric Anglican clergyman, who had a parish in Shropshire, left £ 8,000 in his will when he died in 1829 for the publication of works to demonstrate “the power, Wisdom and Goodness of God as manifested in the Creation.”) As well as being a compendium of geology, Bucklandís volumes were full of design in the geological world.

Buckland on Megatherium

megatherium

To Buckland Megatherium was an excellent creature to demonstrate the design of God for reasons which shall become apparent. Some years earlier, an almost complete skeleton of the extinct Megatherium had been brought back from the Pampas in South America. Its very grossness and bizarre structure made it remarkable. It was a good twelve feet in length, stood eight feet high, and had enormous feet a yard long. Being covered in bony armor with an unusual snout and interlocking teeth, it could not fail to attract attention. The Megatherium also gave a considerable challenge to any who wished to demonstrate design from its odd anatomy. That was a challenge Buckland could not resist.

Buckland’s first demonstration of the design of Megatherium took place at the second annual meeting of the British Association held in Bucklandís home city of Oxford in 1832. On the night of June 23, he lectured until midnight to the edification and entertainment of all present at the Holywell music room. The lecture was never published but is still extant in the form of seventy-two pages of beautiful copperplate handwriting. Whether this represents the text of the lecture Buckland prepared or a transcript, one cannot know. It is probably a full transcript by someone else as the writing is very legible in contrast to Bucklandís scrawl, which his wife described as “shapeless characters in lieu of legitimate letters.”12.Most likely Mary Buckland, a competent naturalist herself, transcribed the lecture. The transcript also contains many obviously unscripted asides and a few illegible insertions of Buckland scrawl. Later the substance of the lecture was published in a more restrained form in the Transactions of the Linnaean Society and in his Bridgewater Treatise. The latter contains all the scientific substance of the 1832 lecture, but none of the humor.13

At times Bucklandís lecture is long-winded, but it is always larded with wit. He introduced his audience to this creature, “the most monstrous of the monstrous kind” (p. 2). Buckland pointed out that Megatherium was related to the sloths and then stressed that the sloths were “a family whose structure is very anomalous, and has been misunderstood by almost every naturalist including Buffon, even the immortal Cuvier himself” (p. 8). (Cuvier had recently died of cholera and his death was deemed a great loss to science.) Cuvier and Buffon had been arguing that sloths are a very bad design and, if we speak anthropmorphically, are examples where Godís designing abilities are simply not up to scratch, or, in todayís terms, reflect unintelligent rather than intelligent design. Buffon, after describing the clumsy nature of sloths in his Natural History, wrote: “All these circumstances announce the misery of the sloths, and recall to our minds those defective monsters, those imperfect sketches of Nature Ö” And he later wrote: “To regard those bungled sketches as beings equally perfect with others 14

Buckland was determined to show that sloths and their big brother, Old Scratch, were carefully designed creatures rather than bungled attempts at creation.

Having taken on Buffon and Cuvier, Buckland apparently had talked himself into a corner and then had to talk himself out of it by demonstrating the wonderful design of Megatherium. It is impossible to read the lecture without feeling what marvelous theater Bucklandís lectures were. Buckland showed that he had the confidence and skill to talk himself out of a corner because of both his scientific skill and of his faith in the Creator: “from first to last, the same hand that has framed, and the same Almighty mind that has designed the smallest and most complicated of existing creatures” (p. 10). (Do we detect echoes of Blake’s Tyger here?)

Finally after a mere twenty pages of introduction, he began to discuss Megatherium, saying: “We will begin at the beginning with the nose the most important feature in all animals” (p. 20) though I smell the aroma of burlesque at this point! From there he expounded a detailed anatomy of the big beastie. Behind the humor and buffoonery is a deadly serious purpose as he sought reasons for Design in every aspect of Megatheriumís anatomy, commenting: “I before observed nature is prodigal of contrivance where contrivance is necessary and most rigidly economical when it is unnecessary” (p. 22).

From the nose, Buckland worked through the teeth, on to the fore legs, and finally to the rear legs and the armor. On each he gave both ribald humor and detail, pointing out that “we have here marks of intention and design” (p. 36). He likened the interlocking teeth in the jaw with iron teeth in a rat- or man-trap, commonly known as a gin- trap. The purpose of the alternating “angular projections of iron” was to lay “hold of a Boys or a rats leg” (p. 32). Then he indicated that the jaw was “not a rat trap but a potatoe (sic the spelling makes one Quayle!) trap as I will show you presently” (p. 32).

Next Buckland moved to the front legs, which are massive and designed for the support of an enormous weight rather than for locomotion. He called attention to the unusual shoulder blade that gave “him a free, playful, roundabout motion with his fore leg” (p. 34) and to the fore leg that is larger than its hind leg. He then observed that Old Scratch’s equivalent of a funny bone was huge, for the purpose of attaching an enormous muscle necessary to support the massive digits on its front feet. With typical Bucklandian buffoonery and almost sexist humor, he observed that if a lady pianist had a proportionally large funny bone “that with her hand she could cover the whole length of a piano” (p. 37)! On the meter-long feet, he could not resist humor in describing the size of the heel bone which was more than a foot in diameter: “The bone on which rests the animal is as big as the head of Professor Babbage” (p. 38). One may imagine the ribald laughter at this point, but fortunately the serious, young Darwin was at the antipodes as, like the future queen, he would not have been amused. Buckland continued to expound the structure of the rear limbs, tail, and armor and to emphasize and argue that Megatherium was very well designed for its station in life.

Finished with the anatomical description, he next explained the function of Megatherium. His buffoonery, so hated by the prim and proper Darwin, came to the fore. It “has been suggested by Professor Sedgwick who thinks we have found old Scratch himself Ö That he could scratch and did scratch is quite evident and that without scratching he would have died is a fact I will endeavour to show you. If he did scratch, then arises the question, what did he scratch?” (pp. 40ñ1). And so over the next pages, Buckland gave a lively interpretation of reverse engineering applied to Old Scratch. His reverse engineering or artifact hermeneutics was also painstaking and rigorous, and is as fine an example as anything Dennett may give us.15

Buckland concluded with a flourish:

Gentlemen his teeth indicated a peculiarity of structure; they were not calculated to eat leaves or grass; they were not calculated to eat flesh; he was an eater of vegetables. What then remained for him but roots? He has a spade, and he has a hoe and a shovel in those three claws in his right hand  He is the Prince of Sappers and miners I speak in the presence of Mr. Brunel the Prince of Diggers (p. 50).

Old Scratch was designed to gather potatoes and other roots at a depth of eighteen inches and relied on armor to repel predators. Buckland could have argued that the armor was compensation for the large cumbersome feet that inhibited its movement. As neither fight nor flight was an option for Old Scratch, he had to envelop himself in armor to keep predators at bay. In contrast to Buffonís miserable sloths, Buckland presented a creature ideally suited to its lot, and since it was designed to scratch, it was happy to scratch. Finally after midnight, Buckland concluded: “Gentlemen, as time is advancing, I must put an end to the present discussion, and I hope you will accept any apology for having detained you so long” (p. 70).


 

 

Design for Paley and Buckland
was the design of
all aspects of a living creature.

 


Thus Buckland had chosen an animal which leading anatomists like Buffon and the immortal Cuvier regarded as having a poor and bungled design to show, by the careful and rigorous anatomical description and then the application of reverse engineering, to be perfectly designed or adapted for its environment. It is almost as if Buckland used his faith in God as a Designer to provide the starting-point for his search for design. One may see this as a particular expression of a theistic outlook, where one expected to find design in creation. Here, for Buckland, design was not so much a scientific theory, but rather a metaphysical or theological outlook, which gave confidence or grounds for applying reverse engineering procedures. In his Bridgewater Treatise, Buckland applied similar techniques for other extinct creatures, but design for inanimate geology was more problematical.

 a progressive creationist, Buckland considered all living creatures to be directly created by God and thus all were designed by the Almighty. Therefore he did not raise issues due to descent and whether the detailed lifestyle of a creature may be due to adaptation rather than design. That is another issue and does not concern us here. The key issue here is that design for Paley and Buckland was the design of all aspects of a living creature.

An excellent paper on sloths

https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/get-lost-in-mega-tunnels-dug-by-south-american-megafauna

Darwin’s Black Box

We now move forward 164 years to the publication of Darwin’s Black Box in 1996, which is probably the most discussed work on Intelligent Design and attracts almost equal measure of acclamation and denigration in vast quantities. As a biochemist, Behe spends the major part of the book describing and explaining biochemical processes. He stresses that some, e.g., cilia and blood clotting, have proved very resistant to “Darwinian” explanation and like his irreducible mousetrap represent an irreducible biochemical design. Since my biochemistry is of a rudimentary nature, Behe’s biochemistry will be taken as read. My purpose is to consider the wider implications of his argument for the nature of the creation and his concept of design. I am aware that some question his biochemistry, but that does not effect his basic argument.

Behe’s biochemical exposition leads up to the crux of his argument found in his key chapter on “Intelligent Design” (chapter 11) correctly pointing out: “The impotence of Darwinian theory in accounting for the molecular basis of life” (p. 187). I say correctly, as there is so much on the origin of life and biochemical systems that is unknown. From there he leads into his understanding of design and defines design as “simply the purposeful arrangement of parts” (p. 193). Next he asks: “The scientific problem then becomes, how do we confidently detect design?” He answers in part: “For discrete physical systemsóif there is not a gradual route to their production /design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components” (p. 194). And then he says, for design “there must be an identifiable function of the system” (p. 196).


 

 

In discussing the laws of nature, Behe states:
“If a biological structure can be explained in terms of those natural laws,
then we cannot conclude that it was designed” (p. 203).

 


After discussing how biochemists “design” new chemicals by using mutation and selection, Behe moves to a natural/created world that is part designed and part not. In discussing the laws of nature, Behe states: “If a biological structure can be explained in terms of those natural laws, then we cannot conclude that it was designed” (p. 203). Thus if a biochemical system can be explained by mutations or by any other mechanism, then it was not designed. But if it cannot be explained, then it was designed. Therefore, for Behe, cell membranes and hemoglobin are not designed, but cilia and the mechanism of blood clotting are designed.

Behe argues that some other biochemical mechanisms are designed and discusses these at length in chapter 3 to chapter 6. As well as the blood-clotting system mentioned above, he brought forward the function of the cilium as a motorized paddle and as the intracellular transport system. His conclusion at the end of this long section of several chapters was to go “into a lot of detail to show why they could not be formed in a gradualistic manner” (p. 160). He claims that these “are a problem for Darwinism.” They both are and are not. In a relatively young science like biochemistry, much is still unexplained. However, a comparison of biochemistry in the 1930s, when my father isolated lysosyme and a colleague estimated its molecular weight as about 18,000, and today does support Darwinians (whoever they are!) in their optimism of future breakthroughs.16 In the words of Sir Peter Medawar, no scientist can go beyond “the Art of the Soluble.” What is insoluble today is often soluble tomorrow.

Now let us consider the non-designed structures. Every form of life depends on the cell and thus membranes to contain cells. Behe points out that the membranes are formed in a manner akin to the way detergent molecules associate to form bubbles. “Because these molecules form bubbles on their own (my italics) Ö it is difficult to infer intelligent design from cell membranes” (p. 206). There is an illogic here. No one would challenge that there is “an identifiable function of the system” (p. 196) in that the cell membranes have a clear function. As the function is apparent (in containing the cell material) this surely shows “a function beyond the individual components” (p. 194). As there is “an identifiable function of the system,” then the cell membrane reflects design according to Beheís previous argument. Yet he claims cell membranes do not show design because their origin can be explained.

Behe gives a similar argument for hemoglobin and holds that “the case for design (of hemoglobin) is weak” (p. 207) because the starting point, myoglobin, already can bind oxygen. So he concludes: “I would say that hemoglobin shows the same evidence for design as does the man in the moon: intriguing, but far from convincing.” In contrast, Behe argues that the blood-clotting system is designed as “fibrinogen, plasminogen, thrombin, protein C, Christmas factor, and the other components of the pathway together do something that none of the components can do alone” (p. 204). His argument here seems to be that as biochemists have intelligently designed alterations to the blood-clotting system to prevent unwanted blood clots, i.e. thromboses, blood clotting must have been intelligently designed in the first place. It is odd, to say the least, that the transport of oxygen in our bodies by hemoglobin is not designed, yet, when we cut ourselves, the clotting of blood in the wound is design. One may ask, “Is only the clotting of blood fearfully and wonderfully made, but not hemoglobin itself?”

While on holiday in the Alps, I meditated on the implications of Bucklandís and Beheís concepts of design as I was walking at about 10,000 ft. That is the height at which I begin to feel the effects of altitude and have to slow down. One morning I ascended a pass, the Col du Lame at 3,040 meters, which is overshadowed by le Petit Combin with its glaciers. Despite the length and steepness of ascent up some immense lateral moraines, I kept up a good pace exhilarated by feeling fit. I thought about Behe’s argument that hemoglobin is not designed. As I scrambled up the last few hundred feet of steep and very unstable scree, I kept saying to myself, “Hemoglobin is not designed, thus my good aerobic condition is not God-given.” Then I realized that if I slipped off the loose rock onto the glacier headwall below, I would be shredded on the rapid descent. And as I lay bleeding at the foot of the slope, design would come into action as my bleeding wounds began to clot. Fortunately, I did not slip. At the summit of the col, I continued to think of design as I contemplated the panoramic view with Mont Blanc to the west and the Great St. Bernard Pass below me. The beauty was breathtaking. I asked myself, “Is all this designed? Are glaciers designed?”

120

A 21st century glacier on Mt St Helens 2009

The last few hundred feet of my climb had been over steep scree with irregular, easily dislodged boulders lying at about the angle of rest, which was simply dumped by the retreating glacier in the last fifty years. It would be hard to suggest that moraines are designed as they contain all the subtleties of a fleet of dumper trucks unloading. That is not to say that a competent glacialogist cannot explain their origin and the physical laws which were called into play. It would be interesting to consider how Buckland would have considered the design of glaciers, as it was he who brought glacial theory to Britain in 1838. In fact, none of his writings on glaciation, published or unpublished, make any mention of design. Glaciers seem to lie outside Buckland’s concept of design. I consider glaciers to be some of the most wonderful parts of creation, but I cannot see how design comes into it.

Though one might argue that we should restrict design to life structures, most advocates of design past and present do argue that the planet, for example, is designed for life to exist. Undoubtedly glaciers are an extreme case, but the question of design must be considered. The example of hemoglobin, however, as undesigned and blood clotting as intelligently designed does pose a problem and I hope I have focused the issue in a personal and not too rarefied way. Behe’s proposed solution concludes that explainable biochemical processes are not designed and unexplainable ones are designed. That belief is contrary to a biblical doctrine of creation in which everything is created, as we say in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.” If not actually contrary to the doctrine of creation, Behe’s explanation does create a serious theological problem, as some of creation is designedly created whereas the rest is undesignedly created. We, therefore, end up with a two-tier creation where some life systems, which are due to the process of natural laws, are not designed and where others, which are not due to the process of natural laws, are supernaturally designed.


 

 

Beheís proposed solution concludes that
explainable biochemical processes are
not designed and unexplainable ones are designed.

 


This is in total contrast and contradiction to the design theory of Buckland. As we saw in his Mega- therium lecture, he challenged the “unintelligent design” theories of Buffon and Cuvier, and insisted that if God created, he must have designed. And if God had designed, he designed well. Buckland sought to explain every last detail of Old Scratch and how he was designed. There was no two-tier creation for Buckland; God had created (and thus designed) “all things, visible and invisible.” To Buckland the work of a scientist was to work out how God had designed whatever creature one was studying.

Behe has totally misunderstood the classic design arguments of William Paley (pp. 210ñ19). Beheís refutation relies on ridicule rather than engagement. Paley and his successors are worthy of far more respect, especially when considered in their historical context. Though Paley was no practicing scientist and made no claims to be one, the “mixed bag” dismissed by Behe reflects a wide understanding of contemporary anatomy. Behe mocks Paley’s use of compensation to explain certain aspects of anatomy, but, in fact, his (or, rather, everyone else’s!) principle of Compensation resurfaces in Cuvierís Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupedes and in Bucklandís lecture on Megatherium and his Bridgewater Treatise as discussed above.17

Beheís lack of biological understanding lets him down badly here, both in consideration of historical and contemporary issues. Further, Paley and Buckland were convinced that God had designed everything down to the last detail, which is a reasonable inference from their particular creationist belief. Paley wrote as an informed theologian, but Buckland was a geologist of the first rank. One may say that Paley and Buckland followed a total design theory. They simply practiced reverse engineering or artifact hermeneuticsóso well described in Dennettís Darwinís Dangerous Ideaóand looked for the function of biological features. The more skeptical of Paleyan design such as Sedgwick and Whewell went for a partial design theory. Darwin had questioned design from 1838 when he dismissed Maccullochís book on design with comments such as “What Bosch!!”18


 

 

Buckland saw the demonstration of design in explaining.
Behe sees the demonstration of design in not explaining.

 


It is essential to see what Behe and other exponents of Intelligent Design are actually saying. They adopt reverse engineering and where this explains a feature, then that feature is not designed. Design is reserved only for those features that cannot be explained. By this they think they ensure a place for the creative activity of the Intelligent Designer/God. Our two advocates of reverse engineering, Buckland and Dennett, would concur, though for very different reasons, that ultimately a reason for any structure will be found. Dennett always pushes for a Darwinian or rather a naturalistic origin, while Buckland usually stops at explaining the design without considering the origin. Behe at times considers both the design and the origin as in hemoglobin, but if the origin can be explained, that means it had a naturalistic rather than a designed origin.

If Behe’s Intelligent Design argument is followed consistently, the result is to have two aspects of creation or nature: (1) those aspects whose origins can be explained by gradual steps, which are thus due to natural laws but are not designed; and (2) those aspects which cannot, and will not, be explained by natural laws, and these have been designed.

To put matters as baldly as possible: Buckland saw the demonstration of design in explaining. Behe sees the demonstration of design in not explaining. So much for Beheís claim that “the result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell is a loud piercing cry of design” Thus it is quite fitting that “no bottles have been uncorked, no hands slapped.”19

Intelligent Design in Behe’s hands is a far cry from the design arguments of previous centuries and compare unfavorably with them, because much of creation is removed from the domain of the Intelligent Designer.

Rhetoric and Restatement in Design and Evolution

In their recent Gifford Lectures, John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor discuss Natural Theology as Rhetoric and expound several examples from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries including Buckland on Megatherium. They point out: “It is important to re-emphasize that natural theologians did not deploy such evidence (from Design) to prove (in the strong deductive sense) the existence and attributes of God.” The design argument was an inductive argument and its conclusion was deemed a “moral” truth. They cite Campbell, a contemporary writer: “In moral reasoning we ascend from possibility  to probability to the summit of moral certainty.” With shades of Phillip Johnson they suggest that “the persuasiveness of arguments suggest a close similarity between natural theology and the proceedings of the courtroom Ö Persuasion becomes the name of the game.”20

Considered in this light, the design argument as employed by Buckland and Behe becomes a rhetorical argument with shades of a persuasive advocate and lawyer. The rhetoric gives design both its strength and its fatal flaw. This highly charged courtroom atmosphere was present in the music room at Holywell when Buckland gave his tour de force on Megatherium. Buckland gave a superb scientific account of its peculiar anatomy which would have impressed the lately departed “immortal Cuvier,” but throughout the lecture was the implicit message: “the adaptation of Old Scratch is so wonderful and demonstrates the skill of the Designer, who is none but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Buckland began with the possibility that sloths were not as poor a design as Buffon and Cuvier insisted. As he described Old Scratch so favorably, he moved to probability and then to the moral certainty of his theistic conclusion. This worked well as Buckland was able to give an explanation of every part of its anatomy, but he could not have done so if he had chosen or found vestigial organs.

In The Origin of Species, Darwin picked up this flaw and showed how this was swept under the carpet by appeals to the Divine Plan. He wrote: “In works on natural history rudimentary organs are generally said to have been created for the sake of symmetry, or in order to complete the scheme of nature but this seems to me no explanation, merely a restatement of fact.” The fact is that God is the Creator.

Behe also makes great use of rhetoric above and beyond his biochemistry, but his rhetoric is of a different nature. Having led the reader through many explainable and unexplainable biochemical functions and the rhetorical appeal of his mousetrap, he uses an inductive rhetorical argument and argues that the absence of an explanation, as in the case of blood clotting, indicates the direct activity of a Designer. He rapidly moves from possibility to probability to moral certainty, but that certainty is only certain until an explanation is found. What Behe has done is to base a rhetorical argument on his mousetrap and thus his conclusion of a Designer is only a “restatement of fact” based on his original argument.

At the end of The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote: “It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the plan of creation, unity of design etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact.” To argue rhetorically, surely Intelligent Design is a restatement of fact?

We may also see argument by rhetoric in the work of Richard Dawkins, most notably with his computer-simulated, evolving biomorphs in The Blind Watchmaker. Here the rhetoric is based on contemporary faith in computer simulation rather than God, but is ultimately no proof of evolution and likewise is “a restatement of fact.” This time the fact is the fact of evolution. Proof would require an actual sequence of evolving plants or animals.

Conclusion

On an initial consideration, it does appear that Behe and other Intelligent Design theorists are reviving the Argument from Design, which has been largely in eclipse since 1859. My purpose has been to compare two competent scientific examples, one from today and one from the heyday of design.

Buckland was, perhaps, the strongest scientific disciple of Paley and his lecture on Megatherium demonstrates a relentless searching for design in the most unpromising of animals. Buckland made a convincing case for demonstrating the function and thus the design of the anatomy of Megatherium. However, a consideration of his approach shows that he was arguing from God to design, in that his belief in a Creator, who was a Designer, gave him the confidence to look for design.

Behe takes a very different approach. When a biochemical process can be explained and its path of origin delineated, then he argues against design. Design is restricted to those processes which defy naturalistic explanation. In contrast to Buckland, Behe argues from design to God and argues from a position of ignorance. His demonstration for design depends on ignorance, and thus it is impossible to consider Beheís understanding other than a God-of- the-Gaps wrapped in designer clothing, or, more flippantly, wrapped up in amino acids.21


 

 

Buckland was arguing
from God to design Ö
Behe argues
from design to God
.

 


Both Buckland and Behe have adopted vulnerable positions. Buckland, as a pre-Darwinian crea- tionist, believed animals were created instantaneously rather than after a period of evolution. Thus from an evolutionary perspective, his design should be seen as adaptation, but like an evolutionist he adopted reverse engineering. Asa Gray and his successors, the theistic evolutionists, would not see this as a major problem. However many whether theist, atheist, or agnostic have seen this as a serious problem.

Behe’s principle of Intelligent Design is vulnerable in several places. First, he assumes too readily that biochemistry has reached such a position of maturity that further advances will not explain what is inexplicable today, hence my charge of God- of-the-gaps. If cilia or blood clotting are explained in a few years, where does that leave his Intelligent Designer? Dawkins and Provine will be most interested! Theologically, the greatest deficiency is his two-tier view of creation, part designed and part naturalistic. This can hardly be considered the biblical or traditional view of creation, which considers God to be the Creator of all creation.

Behe says of evolution: “I find the idea of common descent fairly convincing” but his suggestion of the discrete creation of certain biochemical processes due to Intelligent Design creates a serious problem. This belief undermines his evolutionary perspective as it implicitly adopts a semi-deism, in which God intervened at intervals to introduce another process, e.g. blood clotting, deemed to be due to Intelligent Design. The rest of the time creation, e.g. hemoglobin, was allowed to get on with its evolving in an undesigned fashion.

Finally, one should ask whether design is a biblical idea. I think not and also consider that a strong notion of design, whether of the Paley School or Intelligent Design pushes the concept beyond breaking point. The emphasis should be on God the Creator, not God the Designer. If we follow the former and emphasize the Creator, we can say with Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The World is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

However, if we follow Intelligent Design, to represent Behe’s dual world of designed and undesigned, we must parody Hopkin’s poem:

The clotting of blood is charged with the grandeur of God

It will ooze out, like shining from shook foil.

But hemoglobin is not charged with the grandeur of God.

We know not when to reck his rod.

Acknowledgments

The author especially thanks Mrs. D. K. Harman, a descendent of William Buckland, for permission to quote from Buckland’s lecture and for sending me a photocopy. Also to the organizers of the ASA/ CiS conference in August 1998 for giving me the opportunity of presenting this paper. Grants from the Isla Johnston Trust, administered by the Church in Wales, facilitated this research.

Notes

1This paper was prepared for the joint ASA and Christians in Science conference at Churchill College, Cambridge in August 1998.

2Michael J. Behe, Darwinís Black Box (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 232ñ3.

3Eugenie C. Scott, “Creationists and the Popeís Statement,” The Quarterly Review of Biology 72 (1997): 403.

4. J. L. Altholz, “The Warfare of Conscience with Theology” in J. L. Altholz, ed., The Mind and Art of Victorian England (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1976).

5S. J. Gould, Timeís Arrow, Timeís Cycle (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988). Passim.

6N. A. Rupke, The Great Chain of Being (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983). This is the most useful recent treatment of Buckland, but is not a biography.

7M. B. Roberts, “Buckland, Darwin and the discovery of Glaciation in Wales and the Marches,” forthcoming.

8W. F. Cannon, “Scientists and Broad Churchmen,” Journal of British Studies 4 (1964): 65ñ88.

9C. R. Darwin and T. H. Huxley, Autobiographies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 60.

10J. Wyatt, Wordsworth and the Geologists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 108.

11W. Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, 2 vols. (London: 1836).

12Mary Buckland to Whewell, 12 May 1833″ in Gentlemen of Science: Early Correspondence (London: 1984), 169.

13Those wishing to follow up Bucklandís argument will find his treatment in the Bridgewater Treatise more than adequateóbut not so enjoyable, see ref. 11, 139ñ64.

14Count de Buffon, Natural History: General and Particular, vol. IX, ed. W. Wood (London: 1812), 7, 

15D. C. Dennett, Darwinís Dangerous Idea (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), 212ñ3 passim.

16M. B. Roberts, “Correspondence; Darwinís Black Box Reconsidered,” Science and Christian Belief 10 (1998): 189ñ95.

17G. Cuvier, Recherches sur les ossements fossiles de quadrupedes, Discours preliminaire (Paris: Flammarion, 1992), 81ff.

18Barrett, Gautrey, Herbert, Kohn & Smith, Charles Darwinís Notebooks, 1836ñ1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 634.

19Behe, Darwinís Black Box, 232ñ3

20This is based very closely on J. Brooke, & G. Cantor, Reconstructing Nature (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998), 181ñ2.

21H. Van Till, “Special Creationism in Designer Clothing: A Response to The Creation Hypothesis,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 47 (June 1995): 123ñ31; and M. B. Roberts, “Review of Behe, Darwinís Black Box,” Science and Christian Belief 9 (1987): 192.

 


 

A Short History of Design

 

In the last quarter of a century Design has come back into vogue with Intelligent Design, following the work of Dembski, Behe and others . Intelligent Design has failed to gain many followers but some conservative Christians still think it a better alternative than either Young Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolution.

Rather than focus on the oft-repeated and valid criticisms I shall consider the history of design since about 1660 and show that Intelligent Design has no roots in William Paley and his classic argument of two hundred years ago.

This is a paper I gave in 2006 to a Christians in Science conference

58729698-victorian-engraving-of-megatherium

Above is the Megatherium which Buckland thought exemplified design in 1832

 

History of design1

TAKING EVOLUTION AND CREATION SERIOUSLY.

TAKING DARWIN AND CREATION SERIOUSLY.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

INTRODUCTION

A Pair of Contradictions.

Evolution and Genesis are often seen as personifications of two contradictory views of the Universe. Darwin wrongly symbolises an evolutionary and naturalistic view of the universe from which God is excluded. Genesis symbolises a world-view where everything is created by the direct fiat creative act of God. If Darwin is taken seriously then Genesis is ignored and God is gently squeezed out of existence. Some do just that, the Oxford Zoologist, Richard Dawkins, for example, and the philosopher Michael Ruse in Taking Darwin Seriously (1986), but not so in Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (2000). If Genesis is taken seriously, then Darwin and all his works are seen to be fundamentally flawed, and a “Creationist” position is adopted, in which not only is Evolution rejected, but so are the findings of Geology and Astronomy, and the age of earth is held to be a mere 10,000 years. This dilemma is echoed both by teenagers (and adults!) who say, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in Darwin.” and think that is the last word, and by loyal Christians who feel that they must take Genesis literally.

Rather than to force a choice of either Darwin or Genesis, this brief paper contends that it is a case of BOTH/AND not either/or, because Darwin and Genesis are complimentary and answer different questions. A Christian must take both together and let the insights of “Darwin” (i.e. a personification of evolutionary biology, and geology) illuminate and enhance the Christian teaching of the creation of the world and all its life. Together they also shed light on four other important issues; The problem of ascribing ages to the planet and its strata; the problem of language; the problem of the nature of man; and the question of design.

TAKING DARWIN SERIOUSLY

For one hundred and thirty years Charles Darwin has come to personify evolution. Evolution means different things to different people, but, in essence, evolution means that all life is descended from a common ancestor, most popularly that we are descended from apes. Parodies and misunderstandings abound, and there is a prevalent view that evolution excludes creation and thus God.

The genius of Darwin in “The Origin of Species” (1859) was that he brought together previously unrelated aspects to biology; Variation and selection (leading to Natural Selection), the Geological Record, Geographical Distribution and the “Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings”. One of the main “gaps” in Darwin’s theory was the problem of inheritance or genetics. The solution to this was provided by Gregor Mendel in the 1860s but remained unknown until the turn of the century. Genetics was what biologists were looking for and this resulted in the “Neodarwinian Synthesis” of Darwinianism and Mendelism which reigned supreme until Gould and Eldredge put forward “Punctuated Equilibria”(Stop-Go Evolution) in the 1970s. The subsequent argument has been lively and even acrimonious, but few have questioned Evolution as such. Evolution is regarded as much of a Fact as the sphericity of the earth, – and rightly so!

To summarise the arguments for Evolution, these are

1) The Evidence of the Fossil Record.

The geological record shows a progressive “appearance” of life. ; invertebrates with shells at the base of the Cambrian (550m.y.); Vertebrates (fish) in the middle Ordovician (460 m.y.); leading up to Mammals in the Jurassic (180 m.y.); and finally “Man” a few million years ago.

400px-Geo_time

2) “Mutual Affinities”

There are great number of mutual affinities between all forms of life. For example the structure of all vertebrates have much in common. If, say, the fore limbs of a bird, a whale, a dog and a human are compared, they all have the same basic structure and are said to be homologous, and point to a common ancestor. Here is a diagram of homologies

Source: K.  Padian, Integra Comp Biol 2008; 48: 175-88, reproduced in A. Thanukos, Evolution: Education and Outreach 2009; 2: 84-89.

3) Geographical Distribution.

The oddities of geographical distribution were explained before Darwin by holding that God created different creatures in different places. Thus, for example in the Galapagos Islands, which Darwin visited when on the Beagle in 1834, God with would have created umpteen different finches on different islands. Evolutionarily this is seen as common ancestral finches living in isolation on different islands, and then diverging over subsequent generations. On a longer timescale lifeforms before the Mesozoic in Africa and South America were similar, but have diverged since then. The classic ism the Wallace Line in the middle of Indonesia. The reason became clear with the discovery of Continental Drift which demonstrated that the two continents started to move apart during the Mesozoic.

This is a terribly brief summary of Evolution, but there is a plethora of good non-technical books,

(follow up on the ASA website). Sadly slick and over-simplified TV-style presentations do not help one’s understanding.

TAKING CREATION SERIOUSLY

Open any childrens’ Bible on the first page and you are usually confronted with an idealised picture of a giraffes and lions on Noah’s Ark.

ararat_or_bust

Thus from an early age people are encouraged to believe in a literal six-24 hour day creation. This aids and abets youngsters to give up their faith at an early age, but the problem often persists to adulthood, leaving them with a nagging doubt that God could not have created the world because of Darwin.

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

The Bible begins with the marvellous double “account” of Creation. I say double because Genesis 2 differs from Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is the best known with its structure of creation on six successive days. Approach it literally and you are in mess. Attempting to tie it in to scientific discovery always fails, as is inevitable as the Bible was “written” 3000 years before the rise of Geology. See it as a hymn to God the Creator and it comes to life. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The focus is on God, the Rock of Ages, not the ages of rocks. Again “And God said” occurs nine times as an introductory formula for God’s creativity. Ultimately Genesis One is a “Whodunnit” not a “Howdunnit”!

Genesis 1 and 2 are not the only parts of the bible, which speak of God the Creator. Take the last five chapters of the Book of Job, or Isaiah chapter 40 from verse 12, some of the Psalms especially 8, 19,and 95 (the Venite) to mention a few from the Old Testament, and John chapter 1 and Colossians Chapter 1 verses 15 to 20., both of which speak of a “Cosmic” Christ.

Taking Creation seriously is an affirmation that God is the Creator of all that is, with a realisation that the Bible gives no scientific explanation. Science will inform our understanding of Creation, not overthrow it.

4004 B.C. AND ALL THAT.

In the margins of many old Bibles, we will find dates in years B.C. for the Old Testament. For Creation the date is 4004.B.C., and this date is usually ascribed to Archbishop Ussher of the seventeenth century. Up to 1650 most Jews and Christians reckoned the age of the earth to be a few thousands.

Jacobus_ussher

With the rise of scientists such as John Ray, Whiston and others before 1700 the earth was seen as somewhat older. The flowering of geology at the end of the eighteenth century with Smith, Cuvier, de Saussure and Hutton developed that further, and before long talk was of millions of years. Many of the early geologists were Anglican clergy and soon the churches took the vast age of the earth on board.

300px-Adam_Sedgwick

There were a minority of Christians who opposed geology as did some of Faraday’s colleagues at the Royal Institution. By 1860 hardly any clergy or educated Christians believed in 4004.B.C. One orthodox Evangelical writing in 1862 wrote, “Some school-books still teach to the ignorant that the earth is 6,000 years old. No well-educated person of the present day shares that delusion.” (Alas, many share it in 2001!) So much for Richard Dawkins’ claim that in 1862 churchmen favoured the 4004.B.C.date for creation. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was typical of that day, as he completely accepted the geological timescale and was well-informed in matters scientific. His attack on Darwin was not theological obscurantism, but the last fling of a soon-to-be outmoded scientific view. Poor Soapy Sam, history has been very unkind to him. In fact, the usual story about Wilberforce being trounced by Huxley in 1860 is not supported by contemporary reports.

Putting actual dates to the age of the universe, the earth or rock strata proved difficult even though Ussher was dethroned. Before 1860 there were simply guestimates of millions and hundreds of millions, but no figures could be given. In the first edition of “The Origin” Darwin reckoned that 306,662,400 years had passed since the mid-Cretaceous, and was berated for it. (In fact, it was a very good reckoning, as today’s figures are about 100,000,000 years, only a factor of five out.) In the 1860s Lord Kelvin estimated the age of the earth first at 100 million years and later at 24 millions. Geologists were none too happy, but accepted them. It was the application of Radioactivity to geological dating that began to give numerical dates. For forty years now the age of the earth has been unchallenged at 4,600 million years, and the oldest rocks at 3,800 million. and the base of the Cambrian at 550 million. To the geologically uninitiated they are mind-boggling, but then so are the structure of the atom and black holes.

Some Christians have great problems over these vast ages and suffer from chronological vertigo, but they are brute facts we cannot deny. As Christians, we should see the hand of God in the unfolding history of our planet, and let this not only increase our wonder of Creation but more importantly of the Creator.

(Recently, Creationists have tried to demonstrate that the geological methods are fatally flawed, and that the earth is but a few thousand years young. Not one of the Creationist arguments has any substance to it. It is sad to be so negative, but Creationism is a confused hot-potch of bad science, misunderstanding and misrepresentation.)

The problems some have over geology is caused by a too literal view of the Bible, and not allowing the pre-scientific biblical writers to communicate truth about God in a non-literal way. It also does not recognise that most educated Christians never took Genesis literally!

  1. .. TOSSING THEIR HEADS IN SPRIGHTLY DANCE

DSCF2866

Thus wrote Wordsworth in I wandered lonely as a cloud and it makes the point far better than to say “a group of 137 Narcissi pseudonarcissus were oscillating in a wind of 14.5 k.p.h. (Force 3 Beaufort Scale)”. Literalism is the scourge of all language, as it refuses to recognise idiom or imagery, or to recognise that there can be no one-to-one correlation with the object described. Poetry is the most dependent on imagery, and scientific language supposedly the least so, but what about Tectonic Plates etc. Scientists make much use of imagery, but this is often not acknowledged. The Bible contains a variety of language from history and letters to poetry and early Genesis, which has been called saga, legend, myth and (my preference) proto-history. Literalism often ends up in absurdity. Countering the literalism of a student, who wondered how the mountains “skipped like rams” in Psalm 114, the Evangelical Charles Simeon (d1836) replied humourously “Yes, with a hop, skip, and a jump!” Historically literalism has been a problem over the Bible only for the last hundred and fifty years. Further to try to shoehorn the Bible in a scientific worldview is utterly absurd, as biblical writers predate science by a couple of thousand years. The great Reformer John Calvin, writing in his Commentary on Genesis centuries before Darwin, is very apt on this matter; “Moses wrote in a popular style…he had respect to us rather than to the stars…(and finally) He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.” To Calvin the important was what the Bible said about God, not science. This echoed more recently when Pope John Paul said, “The Bible tells us how to go to, heaven, not how the heavens go”.

THE PARAGON OF ANIMALS Hamlet II.ii.318

Much of the hostility to evolution is because of the fear that humans will be reduced to mere animals. After all if we are descended from apes then we must be apes! This was one of Bishop Wilberforce’s major concerns with evolution in 1860, and his review of “The Origin of Species” is full of witty dismissals as “our unsuspected cousinship with mushrooms” and “our fungular descent”. This fear of being nothing but an animal, and ultimately nothing but a collection of atoms is a common theme to much anti-evolutionary thought today, whether secular or religious. To allow evolution by purely “natural” means is often seen to be reductionist, and often God is brought in to “intervene ” at suitable moments, such as the formation of life itself, or the first human. I have much sympathy with a concern over a reductionist outlook on life, which is fairly common today. However to attempt to disprove Darwinism to keep reductionism out is doomed to failure. All science is methodologically reductionist, it has to be. That does not mean it has to lead to philosophical reductionism. Science will not give values, they have to come from elsewhere, and may be religious, ideological or simply pragmatic. In the final analysis it is one’s belief system which gives one an assessment of the nature of humanity.

For a Christian humans are be made in the Image of God. “The Image of God” is a recurrent theme. It first appears in Genesis chap 1 verse 26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness”. Over the centuries there has been considerable discussion on what the “Image” is. Suggestions include the moral sense, the religious sense, and the intellect. Most importantly the Image signifies something special about humanity, and possibly cannot be rigorously defined.

THE WATCHMAKERS NEW EYES

Every few years the Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins publishes another best-selling semi-popular scientific work, which are always controversial. The first was “The Selfish Gene“. In 1986 “The Blind Watchmaker” was published, and is excellent on how evolution happens through “chance”. The very title is a dig at God, as he is at pains not to allow the existence of God. All life forms evolve through small changes going on randomly, and his computer modelling on how this could happen is most convincing. The “design” we see in life-forms, happens by chance, almost blindly, hence the title “The Blind Watchmaker“. This is an allusion to Paley’s argument of a Divine Watchmaker (Natural Theology; 1802, one of Darwin’s textbooks). The theme of Paley is that, if we find a watch we conclude a watchmaker, and thus if we find animals, then we conclude an animal maker and that is GOD. To man, evolution by such chancy natural means excludes the creative action of God. (This was the heart of opposition to Darwin in the 1860s). That is, if natural selection occurs, then there is no “design”, then God is not Creator.

This was, and is, seen to be a problem over the living world but not the inanimate world of rocks and landscape. That is, it is acceptable to consider that over the aeons of geological time, the geological structure of the earth developed without the assistance of a Newtonian “Divine arm”, but the “Divine Arm” is necessary for the development of life. Last century several of Darwin’s opponents took this line, including Wilberforce, and the geologist Adam Sedgwick.

To some all these discoveries have excluded God from the creative process. This is inevitable if one conceives of the Creator making man as a baker moulds a gingerbreadman. This crude and childish picture of God helps no one. Seeing the hand of God at work does not necessitate such “direct” involvement! An atheist will see “design” as a chance happening, a theist will see “design” as a recognition that God is above and behind all things.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork

Psalm 19 verse 1

Not all “design” is beautiful, some is frankly horrific. Darwin could not see the work of a Benevolent Designer in the Ichneumon fly. This lovely little creature lays its eggs inside a caterpillar. The eggs hatch and proceed to eat the caterpillar alive, keeping it so until the larvae emerge. “Design” does not point conclusively to a Good God.

To conclude;

Beauty of (apparent) design is a problem to the atheist

Suffering is a problem to the Theist.

THIS VIEW OF LIFE (AND DEATH)

Of the evolutionary picture Darwin said, “There is grandeur in this view of life”. But he should have added “AND DEATH”. The natural world is incredibly wasteful of life; just consider frogspawn. The spawn will produce hundreds of tadpoles, and if TWO survive to become frogs and breed, that is success. Three is a population explosion. The fate of the tadpoles is varied, some, to the horror of children, are eaten by other tadpoles. Then, one of my joys in late spring is to hear the Cuckoo calling. The music of the adult is not matched by the morality of its offspring casually heaving out its adopted kin. Life is shot through with suffering and death. Nature is Red in Tooth and Claw. Human life is also often cruel and short. Surely “an all powerful, all-loving God simply would not allow small children to die in screaming agony”? Suffering is the great problem, whether personal, intellectual, or religious.

The evolutionary picture is very clear; suffering and death have been around since life began some 3,000 million years ago. Fossil graveyards are common; animals have been fossilised in the act of predation. This is not what Milton wrote of in “Paradise Lost”-

“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden fruit, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe”.

and

Beast now with beast gan war, and fowl with fowl,

And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,

Devoured each other. P.Lost X 710-12

The link is clear, suffering and death are a result of human sin, and before the Fall of Adam and Eve there was no suffering or death. From Genesis 3.18, it is also held that prickly plants are the result of Sin. To adopt this view, as do Creationists, puts one in a dilemma; either Christianity is wrong, or science is wrong. Fortunately Milton was wrong, and though his influence has been prevalent, it has not been the only one. Since the rise of geology in 1800, this view has been untenable, but it has not always been possible to bury it, especially in popular Christianity. Very often Milton’s view is accepted as the traditional view, and as the notorious Bishop Colenso said in 1863, “We literally groan , even in the present day, under the burden of Milton’s Mythology.” (He was actually echoing the American geologist, Edward Hitchcock.) We still do! Undoubtedly, before the rise of geology there was no evidence that there was death before the Fall. Even so many theologians accepted that death did occur before the Fall, e.g. Aquinas, and Isaac Watts. Oddly many of these believed that thistles and thorns came in at the Fall (Gen 3.18).

In a sense, to claim all suffering is the result of human sin at the Fall conveniently gets God off the hook, but this can and does create tremendous guilt in a sick person, and thus puts God back on the hook. Space forbids me to examine the unnecessary guilt and mental and spiritual suffering caused by this view, which is still, in essence, held by many today. Suffering and death is something we cannot understand or explain. The evolutionary picture helps us to see that much suffering is the natural order of things, but that is no answer. Neither does this mean that no suffering is caused by Sin. It takes little reflection to see that. There is no theological answer to suffering; clues are given in the Book of Job, and, above all, in the death on the cross.

CONTEMPLATE AN ENTANGLED BANK

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect…” Thus begins the last paragraph of “The Origin of Species”. Wales is full of entangled banks, as is Shropshire the county of Darwin’s childhood. These entangled banks are to be found along many country lanes and footpaths, and are covered with an entangled mass of plants, and throughout spring and summer with a profusion of flowers. But what are we “to contemplate…and to reflect.”? Darwin is clear and said, “to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms…have all been produced by laws acting around us…. There is grandeur in this view of life…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 evolved.”

Darwin is absolutely right “to contemplate an entangled bank” and explain it scientifically, and how the various forms of life present are there by a process of Natural Selection “selecting” what is best for the particular geology and climate. Once we get past saying, “Ooh, aah. What a pretty flower?” and the stamp-collecting approach to Natural History, i.e. simple identification, we will come to questions of why and how. To say naively “God created it that way ” is, I think, an insult to God. Of course God created it (apologies to any atheists) but how? In the natural world any explanation will be ultimately evolutionary, explaining development over time. Or else it will be back to John Milton, The grassy clods now calved, now half appeared

The tawny lion, pawing to get free

His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds,

And rampant shakes his brinded mane; P.Lost VII 463-66

and this is what the anti-evolutionary Creationist would have us believe. Milton’s poetry becomes Creationist fact. Any who will not accept evolution, are ultimately obliged to hold a similar outlook, even if they accept the great age of the universe. (I say this despite my respect and affection for Old Age Creationists.) An evolutionary perspective will help us to see the interrelatedness of plants and animals not only with each other, but also with the whole environment. Further it will help us to see the influence of past history, not only geological, but also the development of life.

Darwin’s contemplation did not stop at the purely scientific, he also contemplated the “grandeur” and the beauty and wonder of what he saw. In the last paragraph Darwin almost goes into raptures over the beauty of the natural world. No matter how “reductionist” one is, there is scarcely anyone who is blind to natural beauty. We also need to contemplate how beauty and our apprehension of it actually evolved and why. Beauty cannot be reduced to molecular vibrations and natural selection.

There are many who marvel at natural beauty, whether they are keen walkers, ornithologists, or simply like to drive in the country. But many get no further than ñ

To worship Nature in the hill and valley,

Not knowing what they love:-

That was Wordsworth nearly two centuries ago, and the outlook is more prevalent today. Many today have great wonder and respect for the natural world and concern for its conservation, but do not know that what they love is God’s Creation. To often, I fear, the Church has ignored Creation, because it does not fully accept or understand Evolution and is fearful. As a result people “worship nature” and never know “what they love” and Who made it. Contemplation of an entangled bank ought to lead to contemplation of the Creator.

However the entangled bank is not always so beautiful. The ugliness comes in many ways. The red we see may not be a clump of Red Campion, but a Coke tin, reminding us to contemplate what can only be called human sin, happy to destroy God’s world and our enjoyment of it. Or perhaps every plant has turned brown as local council policy is for tidiness rather than life. Suffering, death and decay are always there, whether a dead vole covered with maggots, a raven with a broken wing. From contemplating a beautiful flower, we may contemplate death, which is never far away from life. It is too simplistic to say that death is simply the precursor to another life, and perhaps here the only answer is to contemplate the briars, which can be plaited into a crown. Nature with open volume stands

to spread her makers’ praise abroad

here on the cross ’tis fairest drawn

in precious blood and crimson lines.

Isaac Watts

16 January 2001