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Two Kinds of Teleological Thinking - One Wrong; the Other Right

Page history last edited by pinkhamc@... 4 years, 4 months ago

This essay was published in God and Nature in Jan 2020.


The following dialogue occurred between a good friend who is the OCF Adviser for the US Coast Guard Academy. 


I repeat it all, including the exchanges we had.  They are also interesting and reveal what I see as the genuine objections and explanations from both the creationist to the naturalistic evolutionist and visa versa.  The message goes chronologically from top to bottom.  The bottom contains the more germane thoughts.


On Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 5:42 PM, Carlos Pinkham <pinkhamc@norwich.edu> wrote:


Hank and Betsy,


I have been feeling the call to put something on my website that God showed me several years ago and our conversations this weekend triggered my resolve [at least I think it was you, Betsy, to whom I mentioned this calculation].  See Each of Us is Really Unique and how that relates to abortion.


I would like your thoughts on it.  I already know you will not agree with the statement, “I believe it continues throughout our in utero development following thoroughly-reasoned instructions, imparted over hundreds of millions of years of evolution,” but that’s OK.  I don’t think anything else there will trouble you and it’s OK to believe God made it that way from the beginning.  Either He did directly, or He did indirectly.  Either way the result is the same.


I want you to read it with two goals in mind:

1)      Is it understandable?

2)      Can it carry any weight in countering Satan’s lies about our being nobody and about there being no point in the process from conception to birth that marks where life begins? 


Thanks, Carl


From: Hank & Betsy Teuton
Sent: Saturday, March 10, 2012 10:09 AM
To: Carlos Pinkham
Subject: Re: A thought that I mentioned to you this weekend


I love the statistical analysis showing our inordinate uniqueness in the world and the vast complexity of human life.  It is completely understandable and is a powerful counter to Satan's lies about who we are.  


I think I mentioned Dr. Stephen C. Meyer's book, Signature in the Cell, and his solid demonstration that "intelligent design" is demonstrable science and not "mere religion."  The numbers that he quotes as odds of an "accidental" generation of a simple cell is one in ten to the eightieth power, or the chance of finding a single, specific electron out of all the elements in the known universe.  Not good odds in anyone's book.  His main point is the thought of the vast amount of "functional information" contained in each strand of DNA having to come from an intelligent source.  The odds are too vastly against having even one functional cell emerge randomly and certainly no way for a whole integrated environment to "happen" within the same epoch of history (and pre-history).


The need for all of the pieces to be integrated for universal functionality and cellular functionality is my main argument in favor of a six day creation.  There is no organism that I'm aware of that could possibly function and reproduce without the whole environment in place to support and nurture its survival.  And the odds of one piece happening a billion years ago and another a million years ago and so forth would not be sustainable.  There is either integrity or dis-integrity (disintegration).  Col 1:17 & Heb 1:3.


One of the things I really appreciate in our relationship is that we can talk to one another with civility, knowing that we each love the Lord and want to honor him in everything.  That's why I think it would be great to have you come down sometime and speak to our cadets about your point of view.  They simply don't have the opportunity in their classes to really discuss the differences with intellectual honesty.  The professors all shut down anything that has the slightest smell of religion or an all-powerful Creator.


Thanks for your patience with me.  I hope we can speak further about this and other things that would bring glory to our Mighty God.






This week is our break as well, so I can respond to your note with some detail.  I will have to get “Signature in the Cell.”  It has been on my want list.


I am currently digesting Christian de Duve’s book “Vital Dust.”  (1974 Nobel Prize Laureate in Medicine for his ground-breaking research on certain organelles in cells.)  In it, he addresses your concerns.  I feel he does a mostly admirable job.  He carefully, and step-by-step takes us along the path cleared by natural selection, from the primordial chemical soup through the proto-cell to the primitive cell to the complex cell found in you and me.  Much of what he describes I am already aware of, but he also discusses some concepts I have not seen elsewhere.


I say  “mostly admirable” because I was surprised to see that even though he is Catholic (which may or may not be significant) and even though, like me, he feels there is very likely only one way that this could have happened and it happened by logical events that were bound to happen, he succumbs to the age-old argument against teleological thinking.   Let me explain that if you haven’t heard it before.


Teleological (from the Greek word, “teleos,” “end or purpose”) thinking is believing that mutations (the engine of the variation on which natural selection works) have a concept of where the train is heading.  In truth, they have none.  The latter is a fundamental tenet of evolution, demonstrated every time one cares to test it.  Mutations occur randomly with respect to just about any measure you can think of.   Most are harmful, some are neutral, but a few now and again are innovative.  Natural selection removes the former, ignores the middle and favors the latter as long as their innovation affects the ability of the individual possessing such mutations to pass them to their offspring.


However, what de Duve did not recognize, in spite of his referring to it again and again, is that there is a second kind of teleological thinking which must be distinguished from the first.  Let’s call the first one, described above, “teleology of the moment.”  Then let’s call the second one “teleology of the whole.”  Just because the former is wrong, doesn’t mean the latter is.


This distinction is very often overlooked.  For example, in Peter M. Hoffmann's insightful book, Life's Ratchet, How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos, he refers to natural selection as a "blind" process (p 42).  It is blind in the sense of the teleology of the moment, but it is not, in the teleology of the whole.  Just as a blind person must use a cane to "see" where to go, natural selection is obligated to use the "cane of the criteria of selection" to guide it along.  These criteria (e.g., the ability to move through the environment in a manner that successfully foils predators) are dependent upon forces, masses, and constants (FMC) that both shape the environment and determine how life subsequently interacts with it.


Evidence is piling up that because of the natural consequences of these FMC's, that there is a correct (and perhaps only one correct) way to go from a Big Bang, through cosmological evolution to a primordial soup of chemicals in a primordial ocean and from that through chemical and biological evolution to you and me.  The universe follows the recipe for this soup and no others because at the moment of the Big Bang, the universe was imbued/endowed with about 20 fundamental FMC's (and their precise values) from which all subsequent FMC's are derived.  The fundamental and derived FMC's interact in such a way to cause the universe to combine ingredients so that the soup becomes you and me by a long series of logical, bound-to-happen steps.  More on these fundamental FMC's and a selected few of these steps are found in Eight Phenomena ... Biological Evolution. It is these steps that Steven Myer sees in their culmination that do, indeed, make the process look so implausible as to be impossible.


He is mostly correct.  If they had to occur randomly, without any chance of their being a plan, then the ONLY way this could have happened was by deferring to the power of infinity-an infinity of universes or an infinite universe.  Infinity makes anything possible.  That is something many non-mathematicians don’t realize. (See the discussion of this in Eight Phenomena, which I will use when I talk with the midshipmen).  But if this whole process was planned (notice I do not use the subjunctive mood here-because it WAS planned), then we can justifiably be blown away by the awesomeness of the Infinite Mind that thought it all up.  As I say in my Oxford paper, Einstein once quipped “I do not believe that God plays dice with the universe.”  What he really should have said was, “I believe God plays dice with the universe, but He uses loaded dice.”


Now let’s look at the consequence of following the explanation followed by many scientists: the former two versions of infinity played out in our universe, or some variation thereof.  If we have to rely upon infinity in that manner, then, as a colleague of mine in the American Scientific Affiliation, Robert Mann, pointed out, that means somewhere there must be a universe with an all-powerful, perfectly evil god in control (remember, anything is possible with infinity).  That god would be in direct conflict with ours, and since both were (now I am using the subjunctive mood) all-powerful, they would destroy each other.  Since you and I are still here, infinity in that manner, as an explanation for what we see, seems pretty flimsy.


I would take it even one argument further.  If natural evolutionists insist upon falling back on infinity to explain what we see, then there also has to be a universe with an everlasting, all-powerful, loving God who created that universe with the sole intent of generating intelligent beings via natural processes that would have “natural” explanations.  Because they do, these processes wouldn’t prove God, thus leaving room for choice between these natural explanations and the supernatural one.  Thus the gift of faith by grace is available to allow those free agents created by this process, to experience God’s love now and forever of their own free will.  If that is so, how can these scientists be sure they are not in THAT universe?


Those are the succinct (or perhaps not so succinct) thoughts behind my deep conviction.  I am not saying you are wrong in yours, I am saying I think there is another way of understanding the evidence.


Agape, Carl


PS, I’d like to use this on my website.  I really am blown away by our God when He gets in my head as I write these things.  Mutation trains and soup recipes are not the way I normally think. I recognize those thoughts as His.


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