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This juxtaposition of Sagan's views regarding God and extraterrestial life reminds me of the glaring final paragraph in the obituary that some of his Cornell colleagues wrote for him:

"Every life cut short is a tragedy. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of Carl's death is that life elsewhere—the search that was his scientific passion—may soon be found."

Joseph A. Burns, Peter J. Gierasch, and Yervant Terzian, Physics Today v. 50, September p. 94 (1997)

Thanks for the summary, Dave. I'm looking forward to part 2.

Run of the mill naturalists have a lot to say about what God can't and doesn't do. What I would like to hear is a religious naturalist of the sort that populate biology departments make some sort of explanation of spiritual influences, the influence of the Spirit in particular.

If you are someone like Carl Sagan, presumably you consider such experiences to be somewhere on the spectrum between self delusion and wishful thinking. But if you believe the influence of the Holy Ghost is real, what is going on? Natural or supernatural? If natural, would it be a cardinal sin for a "scientist" to investigate, or even speculate? Or is the influence of the Holy Ghost on the world just the latest version of Intelligent Design?

Regarding your last paragraph, the one that quotes Moses 1:33: In my view, associating that passage of scripture with the rest of the paragraph is a tidy little compromise that is not supported either by science or by Mormonism. It is tolerated by both science and Mormonism (obviously), but I don't think it is really supported by either.

Mark D, you are welcome to post thoughts on the mechanism by which the Spirit operates, whether natural or supernatural.

R Gary, I assume you are not objecting to my providing for a role for God in Creation nor to Moses 1:33, which gives a cosmic view of God's work rather than a limited terrestrial role, as do many other passages. So I'm not quite sure what you don't like about that paragraph.


I didn't say there was anything I "don't like" about that paragraph. But I'm curious about the idea of God scattering some sort of primitive organic stuff throughout the Universe so that life can "evolve." I don't believe that is scientific and I don't believe it has ever been explained that way by an apostle in official LDS media, in other words it's not supported by Mormonism.

I thought Sagan, although a nonbeliever, was at least open to the possibility of God, but perhaps I am mistaken. I can think of a few other scientists who are nonbelievers but who seem open to the possibility. Curiously, they are also astronomers.

R Gary, I'm not suggesting that is a view of Creation professed by present GAs, although I'm guessing one could find some speculation on the topic in 19th-century discourses. That's why I said "a view something like this" before quoting Moses 1:33. So your view of Moses 1:33 is that God starts from scratch every time He peoples a world?

Joe, the lectures (delivered in 1985) don't show any hint of that, nor do the comments added by the editor about Sagan's final months.

Dave, the word "create" in Moses 1:33 means "to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship." (TPJS, p.350.) No man can create a ship by scattering primitive stuff and waiting for the ship to evolve. Also, I respectfully disagree about apostolic discussion of "a view something like this" in official LDS media. But that does not mean I think the theory is unreasonable. It's just not what I'm hearing from the Church as an institution.

Dave, I would say that the influence of the Holy Ghost is conveyed by entirely natural mechanisms, and that it is pervasive to one degree or another. My implied complaint is with those religious naturalists whose world view implicitly excludes divine influence significant enough to affect evolution in any way, and worse often appear to be too timid to actually take a position on the hard questions here, one of which is this one.

Namely, the idea that biology is an inspiration free zone. No divine influence, natural, supernatural, or otherwise is the underlying principle surrounding the hundreds of posts around here that criticize what goes by the unfortunate moniker of "Intelligent Design". If God influenced evolution one iota, Intelligent Design (in the broad sense of the term) is true.

R. Gary,

Have you ever heard of genetic engineering, artificial insemination, or cloning? Heck, have you ever heard of farming? We cause things much more complicated than ships to come into being using these techniques. If our progress in these areas is any indication, God ought to be able to do much, much more in terms of causing biological processes to accomplish longer-term ends.

Mark D.,

Intelligent Design is not the idea that God influenced evolution. It is the idea that things we see in the natural world are best explained by divine intervention, not natural selection. It's a backwards argument based on human ideas of complexity. God is the author of the natural world, so there is no reason to expect to see evidence of his handiwork in it, since the whole thing is his. Everything about it is his, so we shouldn't expect anything in nature to be an aberration from nature. If God's works were an exception from normal natural processes, that would mean that God was in opposition to nature rather than nature being his tool created for just the miraculous purposes he intends.

Owen, re: We cause things much more complicated than ships to come into being using these techniques.

Yes, those and many more things. But the analogy doesn't involve any of those things, it involves building a ship. And one thing we cannot do is cause ships to evolve from primordial stuff.

Stated concisely, the Prophet Joseph's analogy is this: God creates worlds like man creates ships. The elements of this analogy are God, man, worlds, and ships. It's a simple analogy and very clear to me because man can and does organize materials and build ships. And that makes it easy for me to understand what the Prophet Joseph Smith was talking about.

Intelligent Design is not the idea that God influenced evolution. It is the idea that things we see in the natural world are best explained by divine intervention, not natural selection

Sorry, that is not correct. This is the definition from the Discovery Institute:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection

There is a big difference between "certain features of the universe" and "[all] the things we see in the natural world". There is also a significant distinction between "divine intervention" and "intelligent cause".

In short, if any intelligence of any kind exercised any kind of influence on biogenesis or evolution anywhere, the proper sense of Intelligent Design is trivially true.

For some reason, my comments keep getting rejected. It says that it can't accept this "data."

There's no queue, Jared*. Uh, what sort of data were you trying to post?

OK, I don't know why that one went through. Anyway...

Others can speak for themselves, but I have never explicitly denied divine intervention. I have simply argued that ID, as science, is a sham, and that the Discovery Institute is mainly interested in culture war.

Mark's point about the Holy Ghost is interesting, but science is a two-edged sword. If God doesn't want to play the game, then you end up with a negative study, which most people would interpret to mean that the phenomenon you are looking for does not exist, and you end up in a worse position than you started in.

FYI, so far my rejected comments have been ones where I try to preview them first.

Except the last one. Ugh. My first comment on this thread was rejected, so I used OpenID and it let it through. Today, my post was initially rejected, so I signed into OpenID. But then I changed my mind and logged out of it, but it let my comment through. Now they're all going through. That may not be very helpful, but a least you'll be aware.

I'll shut up now. Feel free to delete the clutter I've left.

I have simply argued that ID, as science, is a sham...

ID encompasses a wide variety of views, perhaps too wide for its own good, but the baseline claim is relatively modest. Unfortunately, demonstrating seems to be at least as difficult as demonstrating libertarian free will, a property that seems to be absolutely necessary for repentance, moral reformation, and moral responsibility to have any substantive meaning (i.e. to be more than epiphenomena).

Among the scientifically literate supporters of ID, nearly all believe in common descent (including Michael Behe) and vary on whether this intervention came at the time of the creation of the universe ex nihilo (in which case it would be perfectly consistent with mechanical determinism thereafter) or by some guidance here or there during the process, starting with biogenesis itself.

Most ID advocates are supernaturalists (in the strict sense of the term). I agree that as a scientific program supernaturalism doesn't seem particularly promising. It is like trying to compute the logic of unlogic. (If the world really is magical to that degree rational theology is probably similarly fruitless, and for the same reason.)

Divine naturalism, on the other hand, is perhaps the most radical, and promising possibility in Mormon theology. No one has to accept the "and then a miracle occurred" as an explanation of anything. Miracles have explanations. Rational ones. So says James E. Talmage.

So the debating ground (if the idea were actually entertained) would be entirely different in Mormonism than in classical theism. I tend to think it revolves around LFW and property dualism more than anything else, but you bring up LFW in the presence of a biologist, even a religious one, and you get laughed at. Several times. In a row.

That is why I think that many biologists are a little bit too philosophically naive, overconfident, dogmatic, and triumphalistic for their own good. If biology is going to be a "theory of everything", these questions have to be addressed seriously. There is certainly no consensus in even the most contemporary philosophy of the mind that the mind is reducible to mere mechanics (in fact the consensus seems to be the other way). And A fortiori, anything that is not reducible to mere mechanics cannot be completely explained by the modern evolutionary synthesis, which means that (horror of horrors) Dawkins/Dennett and their chorus of followers are, philosophically speaking, sophomoric at best.

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