God,Chance and Necessity

This is the name of a book by Professor Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford.

The book was written as an answer to the works of among others Francis Crick,Carl Sagan,Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Jacques Monod and Peter Atkins.

The book attempts 'a reasoned response to collections of misplaced prejudices.' and that it is 'the postulate of God, with its corollary of objective purpose and value, that can best provide an explanation for why the universe is as it is.'

Introduction - The Debate About God

In the introduction, Professor Ward puts people in two categories.

Theists, see the Universe as 'spiritual, purposive and of supreme value', while atheists see it as 'material, and without any purpose or value, except what individual humans may choose to give it.'

Professor Ward says that the rise of science has opened the way for atheist scientists to say that religious colleagues are 'blind, ignorant and deluded', something that they cannot say 'with complete honesty.'

So now we know what Professor Ward thinks of scientists of the calibre of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking - he believes that they , rather dishonestly, go around saying that their religious colleagues are 'deluded and ignorant' and their faith is just practised 'superstitiously'. They 'openly deride religious beliefs'.

Professor Ward also claims that 'atheistic scientists' have a 'kind of scientific barbarism', which 'sees the study of the humanities, of literature, philosophy, history and art, as useless time-wasting.'

These scientists rarely say 'how little we actually know about the subjects upon which they write so confidently'. Professor Ward says that their treatment of religion shows 'a virulent contempt which can only be termed prejudice.'.

What is there to say about Professor Ward's attacks upon the integrity of scientists like Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins? It is simply an attempt to poison the well by painting scientists who do not believe in God as cultural Philistines (to use a racist term of abuse derived from the Bible), who mock and jeer religious people without understanding the great depths of their thinking.

In the final chapter, Professor Ward continues his character assassinations.

He writes that Richard Dawkins' beliefs are just 'a piece of wishful thinking', which panders to the wish 'to pursue one's own life without moral constraints, and to destroy traditional religious authorities.' Ward likens it to adolescent rebellion.

Is this sort of writing what we would expect from a serious work of philosophy?

Let us return to the main claim of the book. It is 'the postulate of God, with its corollary of objective purpose and value, that can best provide an explanation for why the universe is as it is.'

This is a big claim. No doubt we shall find in the chapters ahead the best possible explanations of how the Universe was created ex nihilo.

We shall learn how life was created from non-life. We shall also learn , not just how the Universe is as it is, but why the Universe is as it is.

We shall learn how Homo sapiens managed to evolve against all the odds, even though for tens of millions of years, the dinosaurs were the highest form of life before they all became extinct.

I fear though, that the only answer to the questions we will get from Professor Ward is - Scientists don't know - so God must have done it.

Ward thinks the apparent design of the universe is good evidence for the existence of God and good evidence about the nature of God. It appears that Professor Ward thinks that this Universe is the one God designed. This may come as a surprise to people who have read Genesis 1-3. There we learn that God designed a different Universe, one which was good. The current universe is the result of actions over which God had no control - actions which He did not want to happen.

How can the nature of a Creator be deduced from a Creation which went wrong and was not what the Creator planned?

Chapters 1+2+3 - The Origin of the Universe

In these chapters, Professor Ward tries to show that the theistic hypothesis of creation is by far the best explanation for the existence of the Universe.

I'll summarise his arguments. It is necessary to explain why there is something instead of nothing. There 'might have been no laws of physics, or there might have been something to which laws did not apply, or the laws might have ceased to exist soon after coming into being.'

Professor Ward states that there has to be a reason for the Big Bang. He thinks it a 'hypothesis of last resort' that there should be no reason for the Big Bang. However, Professor Ward does not believe that everything has a sufficient reason. It is 'morally important' that there is an open future, and 'indeterminism is a necessary condition of the later development of morally important freedom in rational beings.'

Claiming that the universe is indeterminate undermines the strength of a claim that there must have been a cause for the Big Bang. Claiming the universe is indeterminate also leads to the conclusion that we do not determine our own actions, for our actions are part of the Universe. If our actions are not determined by anything , and Professor Ward claims that it is necessary that our actions are not determined, then our actions are not determined by us. How can we develop morally important freedom if our actions are not determined by our morals, desires and beliefs? If our actions are determined by our morals, desires and beliefs then why is indeterminism necessary for freedom?

Professor Ward examines the book 'Creation Revisited' by Peter Atkins. Ward points out that Atkins is wrong when he says that the Universe was created from nothing.

Professor Ward carefully explains that 'there never is absolutely nothing. There is always something , and something that can contain in itself every possibility. A definition of a 'necessarily existing being' is that it is a being which exists in every possible logical world (where 'a world' is taken to cover absolutely everything that actually exists)'.

If Ward's being necessarily exists in every logical world, then we cannot deduce anything about this being by looking at our world. If our world were totally different, Ward's being would still exist. No findings about this world can say something about a being which exists in all worlds - so much for his belief being a scientific belief, one which depends upon observation and experiments on this world.

If Ward thinks the existence of human beings shows something about his God, then his God cannot be the being that would, of necessity, exist without human beings.

This is especially true as Ward insists on page 36, 'that actual being is the same in all possible worlds.' In other words, Ward's necessarily existent being would be the same being in a world where Jesus had never been born, or in a world composed entirely of hydrogen atoms with no carbon or oxygen to create human beings. But Ward argues that God wants this actual world that we have, so that, if we lived in a different world, Ward's God would have different values and not be the same being. Ward also insists that God became incarnate as Jesus in this world. God could not have become incarnate as Jesus in all possible worlds, even one without human beings, so Ward's God is not the actual being which is the same in all possible worlds.

Perhaps Ward would argue that God is the same in all possible worlds, but what he actually does is contingent upon the particular world he created.

He does argue this on pages 37-38. He points out that an omnipotent God can create a Universe in which I die young or a world in which I live for many years. He writes 'Of course, not even God can do both'. (I wonder why God can't create 2 universes, or one universe after another). Ward continues 'It follows that a necessarily omnipotent God must be able to act in contingent ways...'

On the same page, Ward writes that God 'actualises a subset of possibilities by a contingent act of will'. In other words , God creates something out of nothing by a contingent act of will. But what could this act of will be contingent on? At the time God creates by his act of will, there is nothing other than God. It seems Ward is reduced to arguing that a necessary being is contingent upon itself, and has contingent properties.

If Ward's God has contingent properties, then it can only be similar in all possible worlds, yet Ward argues that a necessarily existent being must be 'the same' in all possible worlds.

How can a being be the same in all possible worlds if has different properties in different worlds?

Professor Ward continues 'Thus one arrives at the best reason for the existence of this universe: it is chosen for the sake of goodness, the goodness of its contemplation by a mind aware of all the possible states that could exist, with the values and disvalues they carry with them... That would explain why this universe is precisely such as to engender conscious beings which come to believe that they can know and love God.'

So the reason why we have an Earth billions years old (not millions as Professor Ward claims) and a Universe , the vast majority of which is totally hostile to life, is so that human beings can love God.

This is egocentricity on a truly cosmic scale! Ward's reason for the existence of the universe is certainly not one which can be demonstrated scientifically. If he believes his reason , then he must admit that he is abandoning science as a way to find out the reason for the existence of the Universe.

If our Universe really is precisely designed to create people like Francis of Assissi and Albert Schweitzer, then it cannot be denied that it is also precisely designed to create people like Heinrich Himmler and Pol Pot. How does Professor Ward know that people like Himmler was not what God was aiming at when he created the Universe? What evidence does he put forward to show that good human values are what God designed and not evil human values?

Naturally, Professor Ward makes no attempt to show that there is a 'mind aware of all possible states that could exist'.

He devotes most of Chapter 3 , not to showing why his explanation is a good one, but to showing how Peter Atkins has made philosophical mistakes.

Peter Atkins wrote 'Hence, formulas are statements about the relations between numbers.', in his book 'Creation Revisited'. Ward points out that this statement is fallacious (really!) and concludes that the hypothesis that 'God did it' must be the best explanation.

There really is very little more to his logic than that.

Does Ward show that 'God did it' is the best explanation?

Ward writes that a necessarily existent being is one which exists in all worlds that could possibly exist.However, Christians insist God does not exist in this world. They insist that God exists outside our space and time. They insist that the Universe is not God. The Universe is not made of God-stuff. So how does a necessarily existent being create something which is not itself?

If Ward thinks that 'God did it' is the best explanation, then he must produce an explanation of how the Universe came to exist. He must show how matter came from non-matter, time from non-time, and space from non-space, especially as he points out that all scientific theories proposed try to explain 'creation from something', not 'creation from nothing'. If there is no natural mechanism which can explain 'creation from nothing', then how did God do it? Why does Ward think he is doing science when he says that the world was created from nothing and there can never be a natural mechanism which did it, as that mechanism would be 'something' not 'nothing'?

I concede that on page 57, he does explain how the Universe was created. It was created by 'creative action' and 'the cosmic mind chooses it to exist'. This is a remarkably easy way of doing science. How does gravity work? By gravitational action. Electricity? Electrical action. Magnetism? Magnetic action. The strong nuclear force? Strong nuclear force action.

As a curiosity, Professor Ward states that physical reality was brought into existence contigently, or freely, by creative action. If this action was contigent upon something, then I wonder how it could be done freely.

Is it really possible to say that God is the best explanation for the creation of the world and then say that the world was created by 'creative action'? Is this the best that 2,000 years of theology can come up with?

This is not the only non sequitur in the book.

What explains 'with complete adequacy the extraordinary precision of the Big Bang that began this universe'? 'Some mind.... intends to bring into existence a physical realm which actualises a subset of elegant possibilities.'(page 46) explains with complete adequacy. It makes you wonder why people are spending billions of dollars on the Large Hadron Collider when they already have a completely adequate explanation of the Big Bang - God wanted to 'actualise a subset of elegant possibilities'. How does this explain the precise mathematical laws governing the Big Bang? In Chapter 5, Ward complains that Richard Dawkins 'wilfully misunderstands the nature of belief in God', which 'is not a theory invented to explain particular occurrences in the world.' and '...we would not introduce God to explain why some physical phenomonen occurs.'.

So belief in God explains with complete adequacy the extradordinary precision of the Big Bang while never being intened to explain particular occurrences in the world!

Naturally, Ward makes no attempt to show how intending to bring something into existence could actually bring something into existence. In a book which tries to show that religious beliefs are compatible with science, one expects Ward to show how his religious belief, that God just has to want something for that to happen, is compatible with science.

Ward must also show how a creator of our space and time , existing outside of our space and time, can communicate with our space and time. He must show, from his definition of a 'being that exists in all possible worlds', why mere existence grants this being the power to create Universes.

Ward does attempt to answer this question on page 46. Can a Universe be created by a being other than God? Ward 'refutes' this by writing 'For on the hypothesis of God, no universe can exist without a cause, and no universe can be created by a supremely evil being, since God would prevent that happening.'

I find it amazing that a Professor of Divinity at Oxford is unable to answer the most obvious question except by assuming the very thing that he is trying to show - that the hypothesis of God is a good hypothesis. This is just begging the question.

It is also startling that Professor Ward thinks he can answer questions by saying that God would not allow an evil act to occur.

How did the Holocaust occur? Surely God would prevent that happening? Why are some babies still-born? Surely God would prevent that happening. Why do some women miscarry? Surely God would prevent that happening.

Ward's 'answer' is not even an answer unless he can show that God routinely prevents acts of evil from happening. Ward's answer also does not answer the question 'Could a powerful and good angel, created by God, create a Universe?'

For 'the best possible explanation', there are an enormous number of unanswered questions.

He must show why being necessarily existent implies that his God must be necessarily omnipotent. He must show why a being must be infinitely powerful to create a Universe, not just very, very powerful.

Naturally, he makes no attempt to do so.

If Ward is going to haul Professor Atkins over the coals for writing ' Formulas are generalised statements about the relations between quantities' (hardly the most controversial statement), then what are we to make of Professor Ward writing '... there is a place for mystery, for that which is beyond intellectual analysis, and yet surpasses the finite, abstractive and discursive intellect by an intelligibility that goes infinitely beyond its powers.' This comes just after a passage which says 'Theists do not .... say 'Do not try to understand this; it is forbidden knowledge.'.

Can the best possible explanation be a mystery infinitely beyond the powers of our intellect? How does this square with the scientific assumption that everything can be understood - a claim that Ward says monotheists recognise as their own and is strongly motivated by faith in a wise God?

In 'From Face to Faith' October 1993, Ward wrote about the ' utter incommensurability of all human thoughts with the reality which is God.' So Ward is trying to have it all ways. God can be known and loved but is 'utterly incommensurate' with human thoughts . He wants to show that the hypothesis of God explains things, but he is unable to come up with explanations and has to resort to saying that it surpasses our finite intellect.

Conclusion to Chapters 1,2 and 3

Professor Ward is quite right to point out that all scientific theories of the creation of the Universe involve creation from something. However, this means that the Christian doctrine of creation from nothing has no scientific backing.

Professor Ward is wrong to say that because all scientific theories involve creation from something then God must have created the world from nothing. He must show that the world really was created from nothing, and come up with a mechanism that allows God to turn nothing into something.

He need not come up with a mechanism if he concedes that Christian doctrine is not something that can be tested by science. But if he does this he must abandon his claim that theists do not put up a barrier in front of scientists and say 'This is forbidden knowledge'.

Ward claims that his theistic explanation is the best one, but it explains nothing about how the creation of the Universe happened except to say 'It happened' It raises a huge number of questions, none of which are answered in the book. I have raised some of the unanswered questions above.

Ward's explanation is a mystery and he argues by mystery and argues by praising God. For example, what can be made of his concluding paragraphs :-

'That mind gives birth to the universe without being diminished in any way. In its nameless infinity, it always stands beyond, and yet it embraces and enfolds all the finite worlds of time and change. It is infinitely far, and yet no distance separates it from whatever has being. It is the being of all things that have being, which receive it and may think they possess it, until it is taken back to its source.'

'That mind, from its infinite potency, selects the fundamental laws and limits of this universe, and sets it on its emergent course towards the creation of the galaxies. Yet it upholds every new moment by its constant presence, and without it each moment would fall into nothingness. The One, without name or form, is the infinite depth, the unlimited ocean of being. On the surface all beings come to be and pass away, like foam on a wave, leaving the deep serene and untroubled by their passing. Yet they are parts of it, flung from its infinity. Their power is given but never owned, and they must eventually return to the One who gives it.'

I won't pretend to understand this , or even hazard a guess what phrases like 'being of all things that have being' might mean. I think Ward is pointing out the God of the Bible, called Yahweh in the Bible, does not have a name and is the One.

I will point out though, that none of this is in the least scientific and Ward's beliefs are based on mysticism, not on science.

Chapter 4 - Darwin and Natural Selection

In this chapter, Professor Ward tries to show that evolution is compatible with the modern theistic idea that God used natural processes to create human beings.

He writes '... an evolution from a state where no values are apprehended to a states in which values can be both created and enjoyed gives an overwhelming impression of purpose or design. Thus there is every reason to think that a scientific evolutionary account and a religious belief in a guiding creative force are not just compatible, but mutually reinforcing.'

Ward states this and keeps on stating it, yet he gives no evidence for a guiding , creative force other than that the universe looks designed to him.

Ward concedes on page 92 'The thought that millions of species have become extinct can lead to an impression of waste and destructiveness in evolution which looks inconsistent with good design.' On page 93 , he writes about 'The apparent wasteful extermination of individuals and species... ', which is 'in fact, the best way.'

So it seems that the world looks designed to produce 'states of very great value' in an 'elegant and efficient law-like system'. And what about the waste and randomness? 'The best way to deal with this difficulty is to discard all naive ideas of God as a parent who would like to eliminate all waste and randomness if he could. Such ideas can stand in the way of seeing the true purposiveness of the evolutionary process.'

So we should discard our 'naive' ideas about the 'apparently' wasteful extermination of millions of species. Admittedly, this 'looks inconsistent with good design', but we should not let such thoughts 'stand in the way' of seeing the truth. Discard such thoughts. Put them far from your mind. Don't think about them.

He then states about his opponents 'This , however, is more a blunt, and as yet, unsubstantiated , assertion than an argument.' Ward's entire book consists of argument by assertion, as we have just seen above in his claim that we should discard ideas which stand in the way of seeing the true purpose.

For example, in this chapter, Ward wastes no space on showing that there really is a God who has been responsible for the evolution of human beings. He devotes most space to showing that natural selection cannot account for the development of complex, conscious human beings. His argument seems to be that if natural selection is not an adequate explanation then God must be a better explanation, presumably on the principle that as anything can be done by God, anything can be explained by saying that God must be behind it.

On page 560 of his 1997 book ,'How The Mind Works' , Steven Pinker wrote 'The problem with the religious solution was stated by Mencken when he wrote "Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing." For anyone with a persistent intellectual curiosity , religious explanations are not worth knowing because they pile equally baffling enigmas on top of the original ones. What gave God a mind, free will, knowledge , certainty about right and wrong? How does he infuse them into a universe that seems to run just fine according to physical laws? How does he get ghostly souls to interact with hard matter?.... We feel cheated because no insight has been offered..."

In Ward's book, no insight has been offered. We never learn how God pulls off the trick of creating human beings. Ward states that God creates natural laws which do the trick, but never states how this happens.

Ward states that natural selection is 'too unlikely and precarious' and the 'best explanation' is 'a continuing causal activity of God'. Ward thinks God caused human beings to happen through 'causal activity', just as He created the universe through 'creative action'.

In other words, as throughout the book, Ward thinks 'God did it' is the best explanation and it is the best explanation because current scientific explanations have problems. Again, Ward never states how saying 'God did it' would help scientists to do science. Ward's use of the terms 'causal activity' and 'creative action' are little more than saying 'God did it, and he did it by doing it.' Ward's best explanations are incompatible with science, because they do not lead to any scientific insight.

At a public meeting on December the 4th 1997 in Bradford, England, I asked Professor Ward what experiments scientists would do differently if they all converted overnight to his belief that God was behind the universe. He said that they would not do anything differently.

I asked him about a particular scientific problem. The Standard Model of particle physics has many free parameters, which should really be eliminated if we had a proper scientific theory of particle physics. I asked Professor Ward how the God hypothesis would help scientists get a more complete understanding of the Standard Model. He said it would not help.

So much for God being the best explanation. It turns out that Ward's beliefs are useless for explaining how things are the way they are.

Ward on Natural Selection

Ward believes that the main problem facing evolutionary biology is to explain increasing complexity. He states correctly that natural selection is not biased towards increasing complexity. Therefore, natural selection is an inadequate explanation.

The difficulty is that the problem facing evolutionary biology is to explain why animals are designed to do the things they do, not to explain increasing complexity. There are many cases where the best design involves reducing complexity, not increasing it. Many parasites become simpler , not more complex. While natural selection would indeed be inadequate to explain a consistent increase in complexity, consistent increases in complexity are not what natural selection has to explain.

Ward never shows that there has been a consistent increase in complexity, except in the most general terms. He states that 'sentient, rational, moral agents' have emerged from 'virus-like cells'. (As an aside, viruses are not unicellular, but let that pass).

Ward believes the whole purpose of evolution is to produce human beings, which is what he means by 'sentient, rational, moral agents.'. His theology is egocentric and speciest to the core. It is a view rejected by most evolutionary biologists. The 'Great Chain of Being', which ranked animals on a scale from amoeba and fish at one end to dogs, monkey and finally man at the other, has been totally abandoned by biologists.

If God really set up the whole shebang to produce human beings, one wonders why He allowed Neanderthal man to become extinct? Were they not 'sentient, rational and moral' enough? Were they (literally) genetically inferior Untermenschen who had to be eliminated to make way for the morally superior Homo sapiens?

Stephen Jay Gould has written that the dominant life forms on this Earth have been, are, and always will be bacteria. Someone once asked J.B.S.Haldane what he could tell about God by looking at the natural world. Haldane replied that God seemed to be inordinately fond of beetles.

In 'River out of Eden' (page 105) , Richard Dawkins explains what he sees the natural world as explaining about God 'The teeth, claws, eyes, nose, leg muscles, backbone and brain of a cheetah are all precisely what we should expect if God's purpose in designing cheetahs was to maximise death among antelopes..... It is as though cheetahs had been designed by one deity and antelopes by a rival deity. Alternatively, if there is only one Creator who made the tiger and the lamb, the cheetah and the gazelle, what is He playing at? Is He a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports?'

Natural Selection and Theology

Ward writes that 'Certainly we now know that suffering and death existed among animals long before the appearance of the first human beings.' He says 'This entails a modification of early religious pictures of life on earth...'. He continues 'Thus we must understand the death that the first conscious sin brought, not as a physical end of life, but as a spiritual death, a separation from God, the only true source of life.'

There are some astonishing statements packed into this paragraph.

First of all, Ward concedes that theologians have had to turn to scientists to tell them that their early religious pictures of Genesis 3 was wrong.

It is also interesting that Ward does not give any Biblical quotations to back up his claims that Genesis is not talking about a physical end of life. I would be interested to see his explanation of Romans 5:12, for example.

In Gen. 2:29, God states 'I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat but for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food.' Ward does not say why we should not take that literally, although Ward agrees that there were carnivores before there were human beings.

Genesis 3:16-24 makes clear what the punishment for the first conscious sin was. Does Ward agree that the punishment for the first conscious sin was that women would have greatly increased pains in childbirth and that men would have to toil hard for a living? I can't find anything in Genesis 3:16-24 which states that the punishment would be separation from God. God separates human beings from Eden, not from himself.

Ward's statement also implies that none of the ancestors of the creature who committed the first conscious sin were separate from God and died a spiritual death. Perhaps Heaven will be full of Australopithicus?

As Ward believes that 'all events in nature will be influenced in some way by the goals and intentions of God', it is hard to see what 'separation from God' can mean. Are there any events which are separate from God? If I drop a hammer from a sixth-floor window on to the head of a baby, is the obedience of the hammer to the law of gravity something which is influenced by the will of God? Would the hammer stop falling and not hit the baby unless God sustained it in motion during its deadly flight?

Objections to Natural Selection

Ward makes many objections to natural selection.

He relegates the most devastating objection to a footnote on page 94 - a footnote which is worth giving in full.

"Richard Dawkins shows how large mutations would vastly decrease the chances of survival; see The Blind Watchmaker, pp. 72f. Tiny mutations would make cumulative selection too slow. Wholly arbitrary, or truly random, ones would undermine cumulative selection altogether."

At first glance, the footnote seems to be implying that Richard Dawkin's book says that tiny mutations would make cumulative selection too slow. Naturally, Dawkins does not believe that - it is Professor Ward's belief.

Ward gives no arguments to back up his claim that cumulative selection is too slow. He wrote in Chapter 2 that the earth was formed 'millions of years ago'. If he really believes that the earth is millions , rather than thousands of millions of years old, then perhaps he might be right in saying that cumulative selection is too slow. However, I think his talk of an earth that is millions of years old is just sloppy writing - surely he knows that the earth is 4.5 thousand million years old.

Does he really think tiny mutations would make cumulative selection too slow? We have managed to produce dogs as diverse as a Great Dane and a poodle in just a few thousand years, so big changes in shape can happen over small periods of time.

Suppose mice increased in size by 0.01% in every 100 generations, with say 4 generations per year. This seems a tiny rate. It means mice would double in size every 173,000 years. This tiny rate of mutation would mean that mice would weigh more than elephants in about 3.5 million years - roughly how long it took for Homo sapiens to develop from Lucy.

Natural selection is really very powerful - too powerful to be dismissed with a one line throwaway such as 'tiny mutations are too slow'. Ward needs to back that up with maths.

Ward also claims on page 78 about natural selection ,'it cannot make the initial mutations that generate more accurate information-processing systems more likely to occur than not.'

It seems Ward know little about Darwin's theory of natural selection. Natural selection does not, will not, and cannot explain how mutations occur. It was never designed to. Natural selection takes mutations as raw data, things which happen, and selects the mutations which give animals the most reproductive success.

Ward complains that natural selection cannot explain how evolution has taken one course rather than another. He points out that 'There is no difficulty in imagining a race of whales gradually becoming more and more land-loving.... till a creature is produced as furry as a bear.'. He thinks this means that natural selection can explain anything and so explains nothing.

Apart from the irony of someone who believes that an all-powerful God is a good explanation of something, then complaining that a scientific theory can explain anything and everything, Ward has missed the point.

It is indeed easy to imagine that whales might move back to the land and eventually become furry. But why does this detract from the explanatory power of natural selection? Whales would only move back to the land if conditions were right for them to do so. All theories will say that different things happen under different conditions, and can't predict what conditions will always be.

Edward VIII abdicated because he fell in love with Mrs. Simpson. It is easy to imagine that he might not have fallen in love with her, or might have fallen in love with someone else. In that case different things would have happened. Does this mean it is impossible to explain how humans behave by saying that they fall in love with each other? Does the 'love' theory have to predict exactly who has fallen in love with whom throughout the course of history before Professor Ward will accept that we can explain how a man behaves to his wife by saying that he is in love with her?

The Blind Watchmaker

Professor Ward quotes from a book called 'The Blind Watchmaker' by Richard Dawkins and then complains that natural selection is blind. We cannot tell what the future will bring and what is an advantage now may not be an advantage in the future.

This is all very true, but is hardly a refutation of natural selection which is agreed by all its proponents not to be able to see into the future. Animals are selected here and now. They are not selected because they have some trait which will help them a million years from now.

Evolution is only circular reasoning?

However, Ward goes further and says on page 69 'It is not entitled to claim that the mutations that survive do so because they have a high survival value (as though that could be established independently of seeing whether or not they happen to survive).' Well, excuse me, but I think I can safely guess, without engaging in circular reasoning, that a baby born with no arms or no brain will have little chance of survival . I think I can say that an animal born with better hearing or vision will have a higher chance of survival than the others in its species. I really do believe I am on safe ground here.

There is no circular reasoning in using phrases like 'survival of the fittest', and then measuring 'fittest' by seeing what survives. A good analogy is with a soccer team. We define one soccer team is better than another if it scores more goals than another. Using that definition we can then seen what sort of attributes might make one person a better soccer player than another.

On Ward's analogy however, this is pure circular reasoning as we can only see if one team scores more goals than another by seeing what actually happens in matches between soccer teams, and we only know if the attributes which make one soccer player better than another are correct by seeing if they really do lead to more goals.

It is true that we can only show that, to give an example, the Brasilian national squad is a better soccer team than a girls under-9 side, by seeing what happens in soccer matches, but that hardly means that it is 'circular reasoning' for us to say that one soccer player is better than another. We can measure attributes as 'fit for soccer' because we know they lead to more goals, although we have defined 'leading to more goals' as what makes an attribute 'fit for soccer'. There is no circular reasoning involved.

Evolution explains everything

Ward gives an example of his reasoning 'In arctic climates, bears that happen to have white coats will be better protected than brown ones - if the climate does not change, if there is sufficient food to eat, if there are no predators that particularly like white fur, if the mutation to white carries no other disadvantageous gene with it, and if there is no even better mutation among brown bears - perhaps to having poisonous fangs, for instance. The process is extremely 'iffy.'

Ward seems to be saying that if things were different, polar bears would not be white. I agree that if it stopped snowing at the North Pole, then there would be no advantage to Polar bears being white. However, I cannot see Ward's point here.

Perhaps we could apply Ward's reasoning to other scientific theories. The theory of gravity explains why water falls down Niagara falls. However, if the climate changed so that there was no water, or there was no cliff for the water to fall down, then there would be no Niagara falls. Perhaps the theory of gravity is not all it is cracked up to be?

Ward also claims that natural selection cannot explain consciousness. 'For materialists, consciousness plays no role in the causal process of the natural world, so it is strictly irrelevant to survival.' I know of many materialists who say consciousness plays a role in the natural world. I have no idea why Ward does not give quotes of materialists who think that unconscious people have just as good odds of survival as conscious people. Perhaps readers can supply me with quotes.

In actual fact, it is Ward's God hypothesis that cannot explain human consciousness and morality. Why did God give morality and values to human beings rather than say , dinosaurs, or dogs? The ancestors of the first being to have human values could not have had human values themselves, and Professor Ward insists that they would not have developed consciousness by themselves, so what set them apart from other species to receive this divine gift?

Did God just choose one species at random and then say 'I will give that species the gift of morality'? Ward's theistic hypothesis cannot distinguish between the species that was later given morality and values and all the other species that were not given morality and values. There can be no other explanation other than the circular reasoning that 'Humans are special because they were given values by God and they were given values by God because they were special.'.

Ward , Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould

Ward draws upon the theory of 'punctuated equilibrium' developed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. Ward believes that this theory shows that 'while natural selection itself plays a necessary part in understanding, it is by no means a complete explanation of evolution.'

The statement that natural selection is not a complete explanation of evolution hardly destroys the view of Darwinists, who agree totally that other processes such as genetic drift and sexual selection have been at work, so why Ward thinks he has made a major point is puzzling.

Does Ward give a good view of Eldredge's and Gould's views? In 'Reinventing Darwin' (page 92), Eldredge wrote 'Everyone agrees that natural selection is the deterministic process that takes variability and shapes it into modified organic form. It is the motor of adaptive evolutionary change.'

Natural selection explains adaptive evolutionary change, not all evolutionary change. It uses variability, but does not explain where variability comes from.

Ward claims that Eldredge's and Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium has 'episodic events in which large, fast, saltatory genetic changes (ie changes by large sudden jumps) occur in conditions of relative genetic isolation.' He also writes 'On a punctuated equilibrium view, some individuals might suddenly accumulate huge advantages.... This could only happen if, as with the development of a hominid brain, the saltation carried a large survival advantage.' (page 75)

So is Eldredge a saltationist? Does he believe Nature makes jumps?

In 'Reinventing Darwin', (page 98) Eldredge wrote 'Among the charges, perhaps the most prominent and most important one accused us of abandoning the Darwinian camp altogether, promulgating instead a form of saltationism....'

On page 99, 'Nonetheless, we were accused of being saltationists.'

On page 100,'Gould and I were regularly derided and dismissed as neo-saltationists for many years thereafter...'

On page 121 ,'.... as part of the charge levelled against us that we are barely disguised Goldschmidtian saltationists.'

So it seems that Ward thinks that Eldredge and Gould have devastated Darwinism and introduced large jumps, while Eldredge thinks that that is a wild charge of his opponents who are being very unfair to reduce his theory to such terms.


Ward's objections to natural selection are not very profound. He often claims that natural suffers from a defect that actually turns out to be an integral part of its theory. He charges natural selection with being unable to explain the exact course of evolutionary history, as though we were able to recover that at this distance of time.

Finally, he charges natural selection with being unable to produce the world he claims his God hypothesis can explain, although he can give no more detailed description of how this was done than saying it was 'causal activity'.

If the thinks that natural selection cannot explain a world with God in it , then perhaps it is right to say that religious belief is incompatible with science.

Chapter 5 - The Metaphysics of Theism

In this chapter, Professor Ward shows that Richard Dawkins 'completely, even wilfully, misunderstands the nature of belief in God, and the sorts of reasons for which an intelligent person would assent to such a belief.' Ward says that this leads Dawkins to 'invent conflicts where none exist'.

Clearly Professor Ward does not like Richard Dawkins writings which are 'systematic mockery and demonising of competing views.' and 'They are expressed in highly emotive language.'. As Professor Ward writes in this chapter that God is 'a reality of supreme perfection' and 'the supremely perfect being' and 'is the basis of confidence in the objective value and eventual triumph of truth, beauty and goodness ( and so is the basis of morality...)' , one wonders what his objection to highly emotive language is. Should one say that one should not demonise competing values and then claim that truth, beauty, goodness and morality are on our side?

This chapter supplements an exchange between Richard Dawkins and Michael Poole which can be found at

A Critique of Aspects of the Philosophy and Theology of Richard Dawkins and

A Reply to Poole by Richard Dawkins and A Response to Dawkins by Michael Poole

In the first article above, Michael Poole writes 'Christian faith is grounded on a combination of evidence, including that drawn from history, personal experience and the world around.'

In this chapter Ward writes, 'It is not a theory invented to explain particular occurrences in the world.' and 'One must keep in mind that the concept of God is not primarily an explanatory hypothesis at all.'

So is belief in God grounded on evidence and the world around as Poole maintains or , as Ward maintains, is belief in God not based on the need to explain evidence and the world around?

Both Poole and Ward agree that Dawkins is wrong to bring up questions such as 'Who created God?' and 'Where does God's attributes come from?' They say that such questions are invalid.

However I believe Richard Dawkins has a point when he wrote in his article above 'But this will not happen if it is ruled out of bounds to critical argument. It must not be allowed to claim a kind of spurious diplomatic immunity by flashing its religious safe conduct at us.'

Why is Dawkins not to be allowed to ask where God's design came from? Are people only allowed to discuss Christian theology if they agree beforehand that they must accept Christian claims that it is logically impossible for God to be created or designed? Would Professor Ward ever agree that the only people allowed to discuss Islamic theology are those who agree beforehand that it is logically impossible for God to have a Son?

It is perfectly valid of Dawkins to ask where attributes of God come from. The attribute of God as having forgiven the sins of Professor Ward is dependent upon Professor Ward repenting of his sins. If we can see what is necessary for some of God's attributes to exist, why are questions about other attributes of God to be rules out of bounds - apart from the fact that Professor Ward can not answer them?

Ward argues in this chapter that God is not a scientific belief. This can be demonstrated easily when he writes 'It is not surprising, then, that for the believer, God is not a tentative hypothesis which one should always be seeking to test to destruction by actively searching for counter-evidence.' and 'There are ,of course, facts that may count against one's idea of God and they must not be ignored. Yet, it is entirely rational for a believer to leave such matters to others...'

To me, a belief that can only by shored up by never looking for evidence against it is not a belief worth having.

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