Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse continues his critique of Elliott Sober’s argument for the logical possibility of God-guided mutations. In “A follow-up to Tuesday’s post about God-guided mutations,” Jason succinctly establishes several points, two of which I want to underscore:
1. Despite Sober’s insistence that scientists contest the proposition that God-guided mutations are logically compatible with evolution, no scientist, including myself, takes issue with that proposition. Mutations that are guided so rarely as to be undetectable are of course logically possible, whether the “guider” be God, the tooth fairy, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Sober further argued in his paper that both Will Provine and Dan Dennett espoused this view. But Jason shows, using quotations, that this claim is also wrong. Jason even provides us with a Marshall McLuhan Moment, provoking an email from Dennett to Sober demanding that Sober produce evidence for his claim.
Sober is wasting a lot of time arguing against a view that nobody holds. Indeed, virtually all of science is logically consistent with the proposition that God sticks his hand in from time to time, but rarely and undetectably. I’m still puzzled why Sober doesn’t give talks and write papers about how it’s logically possible that God sometimes affects the tosses of coins to favor given outcomes, like winning a football game. Imagine how sports fan would love that logical compatibility! Or how God could sometimes tweak electrons to guide physical processes in the real world (an argument that Kenneth Miller floated in his first book).
2. Sober argues in both his talk at the University of Chicago and in an earlier paper, “Evolution without naturalism,” that “evolutionary theory is silent on the question of whether God exists.” Sober’s claim is false. Evolution—and science in general—can’t absolutely refute God, but they can narrow the sphere of His influence to almost nothing. As Jason notes,
Let us first conceive of God merely as some sort of superintelligence responsible for creating the world. Prior to Darwin’s work we had what most people regarded as a slam-dunk argument for God’s existence: Paley’s version of the design argument. After Darwin, that argument is completely dead. Does that not imply that evolution has something to say on the question of God’s existence? Evolution does not resolve the question of whether God exists, but it certainly must be included in any discussion of the question.
If we add to our thinking the usual assumptions that are made about God, the he is all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing, then the situation becomes more stark. Evolution poses grave challenges to common beliefs about God. As an analogy, we might say that no amount of evidence presented at a courtroom trial could ever establish to a certainty that the defendant is guilty, but it would be strange to say that the evidence is silent on the question of the defendant’s guilt. That’s how I would describe the relationship between evolution and religion. Evolution cannot prove that traditional religion is false, but it certainly has some very loud and important things to say on the subject.
Perhaps Sober has in mind some very precise notion of what it means to say evolution is “silent” on the question of God’s existence. For now, though, I’m inclined to say that evolution is definitely not silent on these questions, even though it ultimately does not resolve anything.
Evolution, science, and mere observation tell us that the evidence is strongly against the existence of an omnipotent, loving, and omniscient God. Indeed, the evidence is far more consistent with the notion—a notion that few theists hold—that God is either apathetic, malicious, or a weenie.
The history of science and theology together shows that the former constantly nibbles away at the ambit of the latter, forcing theologians into ever more abstract conceptions of God, in which He either disappears or His actions become undetectable. This rearguard action, consisting entirely of special pleading and post facto rationalization (also called “making stuff up”), is known as Sophisticated Theology. It is propped up by the lucubrations of philosophers like Sober and Michael Ruse. Only God knows why they do it.