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Decoding ENCODE

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September 21, 2012 Tags: Genetics
Decoding ENCODE

Today's entry was written by Stephen Mapes. You can read more about what we believe here.

In 2003, under the leadership of BioLogos founder Francis Collins, the Human Genome Project sequenced the full human genome, showing us for the first time the order of the 3.2 billion chemical “bases” that make up the rungs of DNA’s double helix structure. The project identified and mapped 23,000 genes that code for proteins, but those genes make up less than 2% of the total sequence—far fewer than originally predicted, given the complexity of humans. While many non-coding sequences were identified as having function as well, there were still vast swaths of the genome that had no obvious function. In fact, what was known about certain classes of sequences suggested that they had no functional role for humans—such as the sequences identified as either transposons or transposon fragments that make up nearly half of our genome. These sorts of sequences seemed to fit into what was popularly known as the “junk DNA” category.

With the complete genome sequence in hand, we knew the sequence and location of our genes, but what we didn’t know was how all those genes are regulated: how do the trillions of cells in our bodies know when to turn on or off all those genes? How do the hundreds of distinct cell types develop and function together, when they are all running on the same DNA “operating system?”

That’s where the ENCODE (short for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project comes in. Launched in September 2003, shortly after the announced completion of the Human Genome Project, the goal of the ENCODE project is “to build a comprehensive parts list of functional elements in the human genome, including elements that act at the protein and RNA levels, and regulatory elements that control cells and circumstances in which a gene is active.” In other words, the project seeks to understand how the genome “works.”

Early this month, researchers from ENCODE released more than thirty papers presenting their findings. During a Science magazine online chat, the project’s data coordinator, Ewan Birney, explained the outcome:

The ENCODE project aimed to start our understanding of how the human genome works. We know that (nearly) all the information that determines a human is in the genome, as we all start off as single cell with this DNA. However, we had a patchy understanding of how it works, in particular away from protein coding genes.

To work out how the genome works, we used the fact there are many tiny machines (proteins and RNA - RNA is very like DNA) in each of our cells which know how to "read" parts of the genome. By monitoring where these little molecular machines are on the genome, or how parts of the DNA are copied into RNA (there are quite a few different types of RNA as well), we start to gain some insight into the genome.

We did many such experiments, across different cell types (eg, one cell type was very similar to a liver cell type; another was very similar to a white blood cell). This way not only can we see what is similar, we can also see differences between these cell types.

There is a lot more to get to know and understand here - this is definitely closer to the start than the end. But it is a substantial amount of data, and analysis, to start on this journey.

According to the abstract of one of the lead papers from Nature, this extraordinary glut of data “enabled us to assign biochemical functions for 80% of the genome, in particular outside of the well-studied protein-coding regions.” Only 2% of the genome codes for proteins, but 80% or more has some biochemical function. As a Science news article put it, these 30 papers “sound the death knell for the idea that our DNA is mostly littered with useless bases.”

The pro-Intelligent Design organization The Discovery Institute has heralded the discovery as the “demise of junk DNA.” Casey Luskin writes for their blog Evolution News:

Let's simply observe that it provides a stunning vindication of the prediction of intelligent design that the genome will turn out to have mass functionality for so-called "junk" DNA. ENCODE researchers use words like "surprising" or "unprecedented." They talk about of how "human DNA is a lot more active than we expected." But under an intelligent design paradigm, none of this is surprising. In fact, it is exactly what ID predicted.

The extent to which the ENCODE project been able to identify function has been surprising—even exhilarating—though scientists have for some time been getting glimpses of the many ways in which segments of DNA can be “active.” Even in 1970 biologists knew that some non-coding DNA had function, and by 2003 there was a large body of work demonstrating that many non-coding elements acted as promoters, enhancers, insulators, and so on. Indeed, in recent years many have come to appreciate the fact that “junk” was never really an appropriate metaphor in the first place. Still, because sequencing of multiple genomes has shed such extraordinary light on key evolutionary mechanisms, many geneticists have focused on function primarily in terms of which regions do or do not contribute to the evolutionary fitness of their host, rather than whether they were merely "doing something" biochemically. What the impressive ENCODE project has done is open a treasure trove of new information that can only accelerate the pace at which researchers are able to explore the incredible subtlety and complexity of DNA, and refine the very concept of “functionality.”

So with all this in mind, is ENCODE a stunning victory for ID, as Luskin believes? Bryan College biologist Todd Wood thinks not. He writes, “I don't think that function equates to design, nor do I think that design requires or predicts function. They're not the same thing… my understanding of function does not require me to hypothesize God (or an anonymous designer, if you must) as the proximal cause.”

We agree. Indeed we would go on to say that evolution and design are not mutually exclusive. So while finding function is not sufficient to prove design, recognizing that function has arisen by way of evolution does not indicate that God was not at work. We at BioLogos believe God providentially works out his purposes—his designs—through the elegant processes of evolution, not in opposition to them.

Amazing as the new data are, it only strengthens and enhances our evidence for evolution. While much of the genome is “doing something” biochemically, it is still likely that the majority of the sequence is evolutionarily neutral (Senior Fellow Dennis Venema discusses the evidence for this “neutrality” in a post on our site, including a striking comparison between 29 different mammal genomes and the human genome). In fact, another ENCODE researcher participating in the Science magazine chat, John A. Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington School of Medicine, thinks the findings align beautifully with evolutionary theory:

ENCODE's data provide a unique and powerful window through which to view evolutionary change. We can see those changes directly by lining up the genome sequences of many different organisms -- these line-ups have revealed millions of regions where all the genomes agree, indicating sequences that have been specially preserved by evolution while others have decayed away (ie freely changed their letter codes). We now see that a large proportion of these 'conserved' regions are lighted up by ENCODE annotations, indicating that they are marking spots in the genome that contain important instructions for cell function.

We’ve discussed “junk” DNA previously, including a multi-part series by Dennis Venema, and we’ve received many emails over the past few days asking for our comments on the ENCODE findings. On Monday and Tuesday, Dr. Venema will begin to offer his own thoughts on ENCODE.

A special thanks goes to Darrel Falk, Mark Sprinkle, Kathryn Applegate, Dennis Venema, and Tom Burnett for their contributions to this post.

Stephen Mapes served as webmaster for BioLogos from 2009 to 2013. He received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and English from Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass. At ENC, Stephen was a teaching assistant for a general education science class about evolutionary theory and its relation to Christian faith. He was part of the web development team for the former Science & Theology News (which ceased publication in 2006) and has written for Science & Religion Today, a website aimed at a general audience. Stephen is currently pursuing graduate studies in mathematics at the University of California, San Diego.

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Jon Garvey - #72974

September 21st 2012

So with all this in mind, is ENCODE a stunning victory for ID, as Luskin believes? Bryan College biologist Todd Wood thinks not. He writes, “I don’t think that function equates to design, nor do I think that design requires or predicts function. They’re not the same thing… my understanding of function does not require me to hypothesize God (or an anonymous designer, if you must) as the proximal cause.”

We agree. Indeed we would go on to say that evolution and design are not mutually exclusive. So while finding function is not sufficient to prove design, recognizing that function has arisen by way of evolution does not indicate that God was not at work. We at BioLogos believe God providentially works out his purposes—his designs—through the elegant processes of evolution, not in opposition to them.

So let me get this right - the main message of ENCODE is that ID is wrong. I missed that from reading the papers. Otherwise, according to the last paragraphs, it doesn’t change much, just as the atheist evolutionary biologists like Jerry Coyne and Larry Moran have been trumpeting against the more enthusiastic molecular biologists, who say it changes everything.

Todd the Creationist doesn’t need the hypothesis of God or design (a bit like Laplace, there). Steve the Theistic Evolutionist goes even further and says evolution doesn’t preclude design, and therefore that ID is wrong to suggest it may show design, even if that design was instantiated through evolution as a number of them say.

Providence is invoked as God’s medium, yet it is a providence apparently devoid of divine action and so indistinguishable from Deism.

So he is said to rule the world in His providence, not only because he watches the border of nature imposed by Himself, but because He has and exercises a particular care of each one of His creatures. (John Calvin)

This argument’s getting hard to follow, especially since it was only 5 years ago that Francis Collins was using “Junk DNA” as a major plank of his argument against Creationism. Now that Creationists are using it against Intelligent Design the debate seems to have changed, even if the science hasn’t really.

Stephen Mapes - #72975

September 21st 2012

I think you may be reading a bit too much into some of the wording, Jon. The papers don’t disprove the position of Intelligent Design any more than it disproves our current understanding of evolution. The findings are fascinating and confirm the growing hunch scientists have had that there is far more function in the non-coding areas of the genome. We simply disagree with them that this functionality proves design. There is a large range of degrees between “stunning victory” and “crushing defeat”, after all, though I hate to view science and faith dialogue in such wargame framing.

With regards to the “junk” DNA examples, Dr. Venema will begin his two part series looking at that this Monday.

Gregory - #72981

September 21st 2012

“Todd the Creationist doesn’t need the hypothesis of God or design (a bit like Laplace, there). Steve the Theistic Evolutionist goes even further and says evolution doesn’t preclude design…”

...and Jon the Warfieldian Theistic Evolutionist (WTE) continues to use ‘detectionistic’ language, wondering aloud why people think that WTE can’t ‘detect’ God’s divine action using evolutionary natural science more directly than it does.

It seems that Jon the WTE’s position raises the question of ‘how evangelical’ one should allow them-self be in expecting to be able to ‘detect’ God’s divine action *in biological sciences*. It reminds of those who promote Christian sciences, e.g. Christian biology, Christian physics, Christian geology, Christian engineering, etc.

ID, in the words of Luskin saying “it is exactly what ID predicted,” already assumes that everything is ‘designed’ and that natural science can *prove* the ‘design.’ Mapes’ statement would seem improved if one word is added, “We simply disagree with them [IDists] that this functionality scientifically proves design.” Mapes and BioLogos, afterall, believe that “God providentially works out his purposes—his designs—through the elegant processes of evolution, not in opposition to them.” That is, they believe theologically in ‘design/Design,’ just not ‘scientifically.’

“there are many tiny machines in each of our cells” - Ewen Birney

At least we easily notice the mechanistic paradigm being further promoted in the ENCODE project’s language. To parallel an analogy from pastorscott below, instead of anthropomorphic ‘design,’ here we see a ‘mechamorphic’ fashioning of the organic world.

Nobody here needs to be reminded that DNA *is* the “Language of God,” no matter how low down or high up on the agenda the concept of ‘design’ is for argumentative purposes.

And don’t forget, “If You Can Read This, I Can Prove God Exists” is a contemporary ID argument/attitude.


Eddie - #72992

September 21st 2012

A couple of comments based on the above:

“God providentially works out his purposes—his designs—through the elegant processes of evolution, not in opposition to them.” 

This could be true only if the process of evolution were teleological.  But has any BioLogos columnist committed himself or herself to the view that the evolutionary process is teleological?  I can certainly imagine teleological versions of evolution, but neo-Darwinism, which seems to be the main view of evolution promoted by BioLogos, is not teleological.  It neither has any inbuilt end, nor even any reliable mechanism for keeping it fixed in any single direction.  

Also, I fail to see how the metaphor of DNA as “the language of God” must be just accepted, as if there is no possible objection to it, whereas the metaphor of cell parts as “machines” is—it seems—regarded as in some sense illegitimate.  Why is one metaphor meat, while another is poison?  The comparison of the bacterial flagellum to an outboard motor is at least as “literal”—if not more literal—than the description of DNA as making use of a “language.”  In saying this I am not objecting to the “language” metaphor—which I find instructive—but merely questioning why it has untouchable status, whereas among many atheists and TEs it’s open season on the “machine” metaphor—which I find equally instructive.

pastorscott - #72976

September 21st 2012

Part of the issue with ID might be how they, and we, interpret “design” in an anthropomorphic fashion.  This is one issue that I have had with the ID perspective and the creationist point of view.  Does God have to “make” things in the fashion that we would, with all the steps in logical and sequential order?  Or might the process be a bit more subtle and not as easily detectable, as the Biologos viewpoint would suggest?  The Bible does teach us, in more that one way, that “His ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts.” 

bren - #73003

September 22nd 2012

Good point pastorscott, we tend to be stubbornly anthropocentric in our idea of how things should be accomplished or created, but I see no reason why God would base himself on our paltry template!

Eddie - #73014

September 22nd 2012


Notice that your discussion shifted from “design” to “make.”  But “design” and “manufacture” are two different things.  As far as I understand it, ID makes no claim about how God “makes” things.  The focus is on whether or not something is designed, not on how it was made.  For example, you can paint all the pieces of a plastic model car kit, and then glue them together, or you can glue the pieces together, and then paint the completed car.  Someone looking at the result might not be able to tell what order you did things in.  But one could discern that the model car did not emerge from a trial and error process, as blobs of molten plastic and randomly sprayed paint tumbled together, until by a lucky break a neatly painted plastic Model T Ford emerged.  One could, therefore, infer an intelligent designer.

So it’s not a question of how subtle the process was; it can be as subtle as you like.  The question is whether it was an unguided process, as opposed to an end-directed process.  ID people claim that God worked through an end-directed process, rather than an unguided one.  And they claim that the results of an end-directed process would be different from the results of an unguided one, and hence that empirical testing for design is possible.  That doesn’t involve explaining how God made anything; it only involves showing that a guiding intelligence was necessary to bring about certain results.  One can dispute that conclusion, but one can’t say that ID people are guilty of conceiving of God as manufacturing things in an anthropomorphic way.  As far as I can see, they don’t discuss how God made things at all.

bren - #73021

September 23rd 2012

Eddie, it is true, as you say, that there is a distinction here to be made between design and the actual making of biological features or entities, but as far as I can tell, ID does not confine itself to suggesting a highly controversial algorithm for detecting design and then call it a day, letting natural processes do the grunt work.

I thought the main thesis was that natural processes were insufficient to produce the design we see, and that God therefore needed to intervene at least periodically in order to achieve the desired results.  To my mind, however this action might have looked in real time, it still sounds an awful lot like an automobile assembly line, where part of the work is automated and part of it is guided and performed by the oversight and hands-on activity of the workers.  As soon as we enter that territory, we are starting to speak of God being involved in the “making” side of the operation, and the very fact that we are looking at an interventionist model means that we are working with a very human template (admittedly worlds apart from the goddidit model of YEC, but we are certainly not pointing to a hands off architect here).  This is very different from, for example, the view of Simon Conway Morris and others, who seem to view design as being a part of the universe, while neither looking to an interventionist model nor to a strict view of what results such design should necessarily imply.  This view seems a lot closer to the “his ways are not our ways” vision if you ask me!

Eddie - #73022

September 23rd 2012


Thanks for your response.

First of all, ID is a “big tent” and not all ID proponents have exactly the same view.  But the most general claim of ID, the one which encompasses all the others, is not “that natural processes were insufficient to produce the design we see.”  It’s “that unguided, unplanned processes were insufficient to produce the design we see.”  You’ll find a definition very close to that in various places on the Discovery web site, if you hunt around.

The possibility you mention, and associate with Simon Conway Morris, i.e., that design is built into the universe (so that evolution is internally directed, rather than externally imposed by special divine action), is actually one possible ID position, and is expressed—arguably with greater clarity and more consistency—by Michael Denton, who is an ID proponent.  In Denton’s view there is no intervention, but the evolutionary process is planned in advance and carefully set up through the establishment of fine-tuned laws and constants.  Many of the supporters of ID that you find on blogs like Telic Thoughts and Uncommon Descent are attracted to this or similar versions of ID.  (Michael Behe also has not ruled out this understanding, and wrote a strong cover endorsement of Denton’s second book.)

To be sure, more ID proponents are interventionists than not; but interventionism isn’t part of the definition of ID.

Note, however, that even imagining intervention, ID is not interested in how God acts; it is interested in establishing that God must have acted.  Remember that the comments that I was responding to charged ID with holding an “anthropomorphic” notion of God.  But nothing in ID, even interventionist ID, requires imagining God’s action as literally parallel to human actions (carving, nailing, stitching, etc.).  God’s action—how he influences the world of matter—is just as mysterious for ID proponents as for TE proponents.  So the distinction that was being made between ID and BioLogos is not a true one.

The real debate between ID and TE is not over an “anthropomorphic” conception of God’s action, but over whether God can achieve pre-established ends using a non-teleological process such as neo-Darwinian evolution.  See my comments to Hornspiel below.

Gregory - #73023

September 23rd 2012


Your view of ‘anthropocentric’ and pastorscott’s of ‘anthropomorphic’ are at least in the ballpark of what ‘design’ means to IDists. One of the best, well-informed non-IDist definitions of ID according to IDists I’ve heard is this:

“In effect, to see life as the product of intelligent design is to conceive of biology as divine technology.”

Technology is something humans make. The ‘divine technology’ approach displays how ID theory banks on analogies with human minds making things like mousetraps, statues, sculptures, computer programs, etc. - a “very human template” as you cogently say, bren. God’s technology of the biosphere is assumed as a natural-supernatural fusion. To the extent that IDists don’t (and won’t) talk about making, constructing, building, instantiating, manifesting, etc. wrt ‘design’ it displays utter weakness of their ‘theory.’ Some IDists call it minimal ID, while others call it irrelevant ID except for its apologetic implicationism.

Regarding “natural processes were insufficient to produce the design,” yes, this is precisely the thrust of the father of today’s IDM, P. Johnson’s attack on ‘naturalism.’ In so far as Eddie speaks not of ‘naturalism,’ he can substitute ‘unguided and/or unplanned’ for ‘natural.’ But within the ID discourse that Johnson initiated, you are right, bren and pastorscott’s reminder that “His ways are not our ways” is a strong rebuke of ID turning into implicationistic pseudo-scientific ideology.

“that design is built into the universe (...), is actually one possible ID position, and is expressed (...) by Michael Denton, who is an ID proponent.” - Eddie

Actually, Thomist thinkers such as Edward Feser and Francis Beckwith (ex-ID advocate) reveal that the ‘design built into the universe’ position is not an ‘ID position’ at all, but rather a small-id position; more properly it is a TE position. Ted Davis will undoubtedly make this clear in his ID series; it makes a very big difference to distinguish Big-ID from small-id and not to promote confusion by lumping all things related to ‘design’ into the ‘ID position’ political movement as Eddie is doing with his language.

Regarding, Denton he does not appear to really be an ‘ID proponent,’ but rather an anti-Darwinian scientist. He views ‘design’ as coming from within organisms; it is neo-vitalist and nothing like the ‘transcendent designer’ that Dembski and the core of the IDM speaks about. This is probably because Denton is apparently not a theist, but takes money from the DI to support his anti-Darwinian efforts. The same is true of D. Berlinski; his is not an ID proponent, but simply an anti-Darwinist. That’s the other side of the ‘wedge’ Eddie is advocating here with ‘Darwin-fixation.’

“ID is not interested in how God acts; it is interested in establishing that God must have acted.” - Eddie

Ask any Abrahamic monotheist to answer this question, without even referring to biological or cosmological sciences, and they will *all* say: God has acted, God is acting. Whatever ID theory is ‘interested in,’ it adds nothing fruitful to that discourse. Iow, it is not a ‘science and faith’ conversation; it wants to be science-only.

Eddie - #73029

September 23rd 2012

Regarding Michael Denton, a couple of points:

In his major work on evolutionary theory, Nature’s Destiny, Denton employs the word “design” many times, and it appears in marked concentration in the conclusion to the book, where he ties together his overall argument.  But even if he had never actually used the word “design,” it is clear that the whole book is an argument for design.  There is no doubt that Denton is a intelligent design theorist.  Certainly no one known to me who has actually read his book differs on that point.  (And I doubt that Denton gives a fig whether the phrase “intelligent design” is capitalized or not.)

Any statement that Denton “takes money from the DI” should be supported by evidence.  It may be true, or it may be not true; it is not something that should be asserted publically without documentation.  I would guess that the commenter is not an accountant or lawyer or employee of the DI and therefore has no access to information about its current contracts and payments, and if that is the case, he really should not be speaking about such matters.  

A footnote, re Dembski:  ID per se does not require a “transcendent designer”—even if Dembski personally thinks there is such a designer.  ID is equally compatible with an immanentist understanding—intelligence could reside within nature rather than outside of it.  But just for the record, as someone who has actually read Denton’s book, I report that the commenter above is in error:  the designing God is treated as fully transcendent throughout the book.  If Denton has changed his mind about that, he will need to write a new book to explain why.  But I heard about an hour-long, very recent, podcast interview with him the other day, in which he basically reiterated the main arguments of Nature’s Destiny; I saw no retreat from any position taken in that book.  If the critic above is interested in hearing the interview, I’ll try to dig up the link for him. 

I’m hoping, now that I’ve dealt with the apparently mandatory interjection of third-party naysaying, that I will soon hear again from pastorscott, bren, and Hornspiel—the people whom I was addressing. 

Gregory - #73037

September 24th 2012

Eddie, You’re not in the right house to be making the arguments you are making here.

Just because a person accepts that the universe is created, composed, designed, made by God, *does not* make one automatically an ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’ proponent. Please breathe deeply if you think otherwise because I and many, many others will reject your views if/when you say it must be so.

Denton, whose “Nature’s Destiny” I have not read (though I’ve read reviews of it), whom I’m met and read some of his shorter works, is not a supernatural believer (he rejects supernatural intervention on page xviii of “Nature’s Destiny”). He is not a Christian, he is not a theist. That is partly why your arguments appealing to him at BioLogos go foul; BioLogos is openly a “science and faith” dialogue site. To say “the designing God is treated as fully transcendent throughout the book” thus means little if the author of the book doesn’t actually believe in God. If you show us where Denton is positively contributing to the science and faith conversation, people might pay more attention.

Just because Denton writes of ‘design’ and ‘purpose’ does not make him a theist. Adrian Bejan, an engineer/physicist at Duke University is a good example. Bejan recently (2012) published a book called “Design in Nature.” But the ‘natural design’ he is speaking about is “design without a [supernatural] designer.” To Bejan, as to many other people, ‘intelligent design’ is a religious (cf. ‘implicationist’ apologetic) position masquerading as ‘science,’ which we don’t need to study ‘nature.’

What I’d like to know from BioLogos is whether or not DNA as “The Language of God” is considered as a ‘scientific’ conclusion or whether this extends from Francis Collins’ beliefs first and foremost. Does BioLogos/Language of God belong mainly in a “science, philosophy, religion” discourse, rather than in a ‘science-alone’ discourse, such as what the DI is pushing for ID?

You may personally “doubt that Denton gives a fig whether the phrase ‘intelligent design’ is capitalized or not,” Eddie. That’s fine and surely makes sense for you as an ID proponent (anti-TE), trying your best to get as much mileage out of ‘intelligent design’ as you can get. It’s a basic party-line move. To others, however, who have perhaps thought the topic through more deeply than you have, the distinction between Big-ID and small-id is a significant concession and goes to show one of the many problems with ‘Intelligent Design’ as a ‘scientific’ proof of the transcendent or supernatural (e.g. S. Barr, O. Gingerich, T. Davis, et al.).

“ID per se does not require a ‘transcendent designer’—even if Dembski personally thinks there is such a designer.” – Eddie

This is a classic ID attempt to have your cake and eat it too. The ‘design’ that ID refers to is “design/Design with a designer/Designer;” there must be a ‘designer/Designer’ that was involved in the supposed act(s) of ‘designing/Designing.’ Avoiding all talk of ‘designer(s)/Designer(s),’ though it may seem a convenient and simple solution, exposes the weak explanatory power of ID. 

Here’s a link to a review of Denton’s ND (on a very good “science, reason and faith” site in Spain), which reveals contradictions relevant to this thread: http://www.unav.es/cryf/georgedenton.html

From Denton’s ND:

“If life is the result of design, then every component must be perfectly fit for the end it serves. There can be no exceptions. If the genetic code is indeed less that optimum, then the entire teleological worldview collapses” (166). “if it were true that the genomes of higher organisms contained vast quantities of junk, then the whole argument of this book would collapse” (290).

To which Marie George asks:

“Perhaps the ‘junk’ DNA does have a function. But if it were some harmless by-product of the evolutionary process, why would the entire teleological account of evolution collapse?”

Have you discovered any non-IDist views of teleological evolution yet, Eddie? The systems thinkers are out there waiting to convert you away from hyper-anti-Darwin DI-ID political propaganda.

Eddie - #73042

September 24th 2012

Gregory, this thread is not about Denton.  I gave Denton as a mere example, to show someone else—not yourself—that ID embraces views other than the interventionist.  I am still waiting to see if the people I was addressing understood the point I was making.  The lengthy responses you have introduced are likely to drown out that point.  Do you think you can restrain yourself, and wait to hear from the people I was addressing, and then make your criticisms?  I would consider that conversational decency.

Gregory - #73046

September 24th 2012

Sorry, Eddie, but I think you’re poisoning the well with your ID-advocacy. Like I said, small-id is a TE position, with Feser and Beckwith (among others) handily denying Big-ID its extravagant (revolutionary!) claims. 

Denton doesn’t believe in God, so ‘interventionism’ of course isn’t an option for him. He isn’t an IDist in my book given that he offers no positive case for ID, just like Berlinski is not an IDist, but rather just an anti-Darwinist.

I provided you with research you could do on ‘teleological evolution,’ but you’ve ignored it. Indeed, it would take several months at least to begin to acquaint yourself with this literature that ID advocates mostly know nothing about. 

I don’t think you speak for ID at all, Eddie. Leaders of ID are predominantly Christians who believe God is the Designer. They believe ‘natural science’ can prove Design using ‘historical science’ as their analogy. TEs disagree with their claims.

The majority view of the IDM is ‘interventionist,’ but just because a few in the so-called ‘tent’ of ID persist otherwise, perhaps like yourself, there is no need to give them our serious attention. It is not hard to find an ID advocate blogging on the internet who would defend what you are suggesting; that doesn’t make it credible or scholarly.

Your ‘ideal type’ ID, lets call it Eddie-ID, divorced from the reality of real scientists is noted.

Conversational decency includes politely but firmly criticising things stated publically that you think are wrong and arguing to defend an alternative position. So, let me politely say I disagree with you and have no qualms saying why and how in public.

Gregory - #73050

September 24th 2012

Let me correct  myself: Denton may believe in God; he has even said so in interviews. As far as the record shows, he is not a Christian. His immanent (neo-vitalistic) ‘design’ is much closer to TE than it is to ID leaders’ transcendent external designer.

Eddie - #73058

September 24th 2012


By saying that Denton has indicated belief in God in his interviews, but then saying “Denton may believe in God,” you are suggesting that Denton may have been dishonest with his listeners.  This is an unworthy insinuation.  If he says he believes in God, you should take him at his word.

On your last sentence, I have already corrected it:  in Nature’s Destiny, Denton postulates a transcendent external designer.  You haven’t read the book.  You should stop speaking of Denton’s views until you have. 

Eddie - #73057

September 24th 2012


The polemical tone, and the condescension about teleological evolution—on which I wrote part of my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, when you were—based on your public c.v.—about eight years old—are both uncalled for.  You are trying to turn a pleasant intellectual conversation with others into a battle of wills between yourself and myself.  I am not going to bite.  

I poisoned no well; I explained to bren that ID was broader than he was making out.  I did not even advocate for ID, but simply clarified its definition (a definition which can be verified on the Discovery web site for anyone who takes the trouble to search).  

I have nothing against criticism of my ideas, from you or anyone else.  I’m not so brittle or academically insecure that I feel any need to lash out at people who challenge my ideas.  But your criticism of my points on Denton are based on ignorance, not knowledge.  You haven’t read his books, and you weren’t even aware that he believed in God, and now you’ve had to retract that charge below.  So on Denton, you should simply remain silent, rather than advertise your lack of knowledge by speaking.

Hornspiel, bren, and pastorscott:  I apologize.  Gregory thinks that I am someone else that he knows, someone whom he obviously has a strong personal animus against, and he lets that animus spill out here, reflexively attacking almost everything I post.  This puts me in the position of either having to cease posting here, in order not to spoil things for all the other readers—which is grossly unfair to me—or of pleading to the moderators to take sterner action against Gregory than they already have.  I hope you can overlook all the flak and respond to my original replies to you, which were made in good faith and aimed at promoting a constructive conversations on the issues that you raised.

HornSpiel - #72995

September 22nd 2012


I find your comment puzzling. You say that God can only providentially work out his purposes through evolution if the process of evolution is teleological.

I thougt the point of a doctrine of Providence is to say that in all events, even those that seem random or evil, God is working out His good purposes. We would expect that Science, when limited to material causes and explanations, would never detect a purpose to events, much less a good purpose.

It is by the doctrine of Providence that we affirm, by faith, that God has been and is carrying out His purposes through all things/events, including the multitute of events we call evolution. It is precicely because Science has no explanation for the design and purpose we intuitively see and feel that we can say Science is not enough.

Eddie - #72999

September 22nd 2012


The neo-Darwinian mechanism is logically incapable of guaranteeing any particular outcomes given any particular initial state, because it is too dependent on later contingencies; it is (and was intended to be, by its champions—Gaylord Simpson, Mayr, Dobzhansky, Julian Huxley) open-ended and non-teleological.  Even an omnipotent God could not guarantee particular outcomes using that process if he bound himself never to intervene.  But Providence is all about guaranteeing particular outcomes.  Providence means that God did not leave the survival of Hagar in the wilderness to chance; it also means that God did not leave the arrival of man to chance.  So if you want to reconcile Providence with neo-Darwinian evolution, the necessary supplement is interventions (however invisible or indetectable).  The only TE known to me who says this clearly and firmly is Russell.

Of course, if one adopts a teleological model of evolution, that is a different matter.  God’s Providence would then be, so to speak, “built in” and would not require intervention past the initial moment of the process.  But that is not neo-Darwinian evolution.  Ironically, the price of saying that God works primarily through neo-Darwinian evolution is the admission that God sometimes intervenes in the process; and, conversely, the price of saying that God’s Providence extends everywhere—to the fall of the sparrow as well as to the evolution of the mongoose, the magnolia, and man—is that something beyond neo-Darwinian processes is driving evolution; either interventions or built-in teleology, take your pick.  But most TE leaders reject interventions for theological reasons, and most TE biologists reject built-in teleology due to their professional loyalty to neo-Darwinism.  (On the last point, Simon Conway Morris and Denis Lamoureux are the only major exceptions known to me.)    

Over and over again, I find that writers in this field—even those with Ph.D.s—are sloppy, and speak of “evolution” but really mean a particular account of evolution, i.e., neo-Darwinism.  It is one thing to say that God achieves his designs through “evolution”; it is another to say that God achieves his designs through evolution as described by neo-Darwinism.  It is a major theoretical error not to clearly distinguish between teleological and non-teleological evolutionary processes, and to realize that the distinction has implications for the doctrine of Providence. 

HornSpiel - #73076

September 25th 2012

So if you want to reconcile Providence with neo-Darwinian evolution, the necessary supplement is interventions (however invisible or indetectable).


My immediate thought is that Providence is essentially God’s guiding hand, undetectable to the “natural” man (read science), but perceptible not only to those of Faith, but also to people with open hearts. It is God’s general revelation of his nature, His power and glory.

So essentially I would agree with the quote above with the proviso that providence is, by definition, scientifically invisible and undetectable.

I am not sure why you say TEs are not open about this. I believe Polkinghorn, for one, speculates that God works though ind in quantum uncertainty.

To say evolution, in terms of the theory, is non-teleological and open-ended is fine and necessary.  In practice, it has no need of that hypothesis.  Or from another perspective, as you say, there are too many historical contingencies influencing evolutionary events to allow us to perceive it as goal-oriented.  That noise, if you will, will never allow us to measure God at work.

Finally to address what you say about some “champions of Evolutionism. When one says, as they do, that that proves that there is no guiding hand—that reality is essentially non-teleological and open-ended—that is simply speculation by scientists moonlighting as philosophers.

To sum up, neo-Darwinian evolution, as properly practiced and articulated, simply has nothing to say about whether a Providential guiding hand actually exists or is at work. I believe that a strong affirmation of Providence does not require any revision of the neo-Darwinian paradigm and that most if not all TE scientists would agree.

Eddie - #73126

September 26th 2012


You’re accepting a revisionist account of what neo-Darwinian evolutionary teaches—an account made up by Christian scientists in the past 25 years os so who want to baptize neo-Darwinism for Christian use.  I suggest you read the original sources.  Go back and read the account of neo-Darwinian theory given by the theorists themselves.  Read Julian Huxley, George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr.  Read later leaders of evolutionary thought, like Gould, who understood the history of evolutionary theory well.  They all argued that the theory involves radical contingency, and that the evolutionary process has no inbuilt teleology.  And this was no metaphysical “add-on”—as the modern TEs would have the world believe—but was inherent in the theory from Day 1.

Remember the TEs of today are mostly either not biologists at all, or, if they are biologists, are not specialists in evolutionary biology.  I can’t think of a single TE who is a specialist in evolutionary biology, except for a couple of paleontologists (one of whom is Conway Morris).  The people who really know neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, either because they have read the original sources where it is formulated, or because they work in the field of evolutionary biology, say that it is at the heart of the theory that Darwinian evolution is not an end-directed process.  So you have to ask, who gets to define a theory—the people who founded it, and who work in the field today?  Or a small group of Christian scientists, who have not published peer-reviewed papers in secular journals in the field of evolutionary biology, who do not read papers at secular conferences of evolutionary biology, who have the extrinsic motive of wishing that neo-Darwinism be compatible with God’s providence, governance, etc.?  I think we should go with the people who founded the theory and work in the field.

But let’s cut to the chase, HornSpiel.  Forget all this quarrelling over definitions.  Suppose you are God.  Suppose you have bound yourself never to intervene in the natural laws you have created.  Suppose also that you have decided to create man using a neo-Darwinian evolutionary process.  You plop the first cell down in the primeval Tellurian ocean.  Can you guarantee that neo-Darwinian processes will produce man?  (I don’t mean, by your divine foresight can you tell whether or not they will happen to produce man; I mean, without employing your divine foresight, can you guarantee, based on your knowledge of the initial conditions, that they must produce man?  (In the same way I can guarantee that if I drive a baseball into the neighbor’s living room window, I the glass will shatter, because I can calculate the future chain of efficient causes.)  I say you can’t guarantee this, not even if you are God, because neo-Darwinian processes are not amenable to that kind of Laplacean calculation.  I say that when you throw that first cell into the ocean, you have no guarantee what, if anything, will evolve out of it—if you restrict yourself to the neo-Darwinian mechanism, and vow never to tinker (not even hidden under quantum indeterminacy) with mutations or anything else.  Do you agree or disagree?

HornSpiel - #73306

October 3rd 2012

Eddie you suggest I read  Huxley,  Simpson, Mayr and  Gould. I have read Gould. Not the others. I actually don’t thnk that it is necessary to interact with dead guys and 19th century sensibilities. What matters is what people like Dawkins and Coyne are saying as well as folks like in the  ICR, AIG, and CRI. Both sides find faith incompatible with evolution. 

You say that evolution properly understood

involves radical contingency, and that the evolutionary process has no inbuilt teleology.

I would agree that evolutionary theory does not assume or incorporate teteology. that is not a problem. Evolution tries to explain the natural mechaisms that caused life to develop. These not only includes regular processes like mutations and genetic inheritance, but also historical contigencies like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65mya. TEs maight note that the astroid was providential in the evolution of mammals, leading to Man. However from a scientific theoretical oint of view, that occurance was random, governed by statisitical probabilites.

As far as your hypothetical;

Suppose you are God.  Suppose you have bound yourself never to intervene in the natural laws you have created. 

Point one—since God is creator and sustainer the natural laws are God working. As creatures in the system, we are not able to directly perceive God outside the system. God has intervened through Christ for our salvation but that kind of intervention is not necessary for creation. Point two—In a strong view of providence God does guide, it just is not detectible to the natural man, or to the scientific enterprise.

Can you guarantee that neo-Darwinian processes will produce man?

Am I God? No. Do I really understand what Gods omniscience means in terms of knowing the future? What is time to God? What does God care about our theories anyways. They are approximations of reality and reflect our limitatoins not God’s.

Got to go. Cheers

Darwin Guy Dan - #73135

September 27th 2012

Eddie and Hornspell,

(1) Personally, I have given up some time ago even using “evolution” as I have found that most every book or textbook writer, explicitly or implicitly, uses a different definition—- often two or three definitions in the same text.  I do use “Evolution” but only when it encompasses the entire meaning of BioLogos’s definition which entails not only “descent with modification” but also common descent.  A prime example of the ‘[confused ?] use’  is found with Jerry Coyne’s popular book, WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE, wherein one might find three different definitions.  Clearly the title indicates a definition evoking the polarized wars of Evolution verses Creationism / ID.  Everyone realizes that common descent is the core idea.  But common descent is not implied in the author’s glossary genetics based definition, “Genetic change in populations, often producing changes in observable traits of organisms over time.”  Clearly, that and similar definitions are analogous to the first few words of BioLogos’s definition, i.e., “decent with modifications”  but not with the entirety of that very appropriate definition.  Many Creationists or IDers would have no problem accepting such reality but not the word. Most everyone recognizes the proverbial “biological change over time.” 

Yet a third definition of Coyne’s, a composite of the other two, is seen in the author’s first chapter titled “What is Evolution?”  Coyne begins with: “[evolution] simply means that a species undergoes genetic change over time. [….]”  He ends the paragraph with “Humans, for example, evolved from a creature that was apelike, but not identical to modern apes.”  Thus one has Darwin’s theory all wrapped up in the definition. Regarding the current blog, one might ask, What is an “evolutionary process”?

(2) I have been reading and rereading Ted Davis’s fine articles on theistic evolution and also a book by Phillip H. Wiebe, THEISM IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE (1988).  Quite frankly, I continue to be baffled regards how it is either theists or IDers explain supposed divine interference in such matters as bacteria flagella, miracles, or whatever.  I am yet to find little difference between the two camps but perhaps further study will enlighten me.  I had hoped that Eddie would finally get to it with Dr. Falk a while back in regards to miracles or supposed miracles. I do hold fast to Kurt Godel’s mathematical proof.  And, of course, it also seems, to me anyway, that much of theology relates more to religion and the desire / need for common beliefs and customs than to credible epistemology.


Eddie - #73139

September 27th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan:

I agree with you that people use “evolution” ambiguously, but really, if everyone would just stick to the common-sense usage of the word, the terms isn’t hard to grasp at all.  In the public mind, and in the mind of evolutionary biologists when they aren’t trying to “out-clever” and “out-subtle” one another with tricky definitions, “evolution” means the series of changes in living species which produce all subsequent species, including man.  All species are descended from earlier species, which are in turn descended from still earlier ones, all the way to either a universal common ancestor, or multiple common ancestors (as Darwin supposed was more likely).

The question of theological importance is not—unless you are a Biblical literalist—whether or not evolution happened.  The question of theological importance is whether anything is directing the process, either by a careful setting of initial conditions so as to guarantee certain ends, or by a constant interaction between God and the process.  Some TEs, such as Robert Russell, and, it seems, Robin Collins (though he could be described as an ID person as well), are willing to say outright that there is a degree of direct involvement of God in the process.  Most TEs either deny that—saying that nature accomplishes the task with its own created powers (George Murphy, Ken Miller, Denis Lamoureux, and others)—or are non-committal—in a very studied way!—about whether God does anything special in the process.

A Biblical view (note that I say Biblical, not Christian, because I am speaking about a book, not a later tradition), a view which takes the Biblical idea of divine action seriously—  would see God and the evolutionary process in constant interaction.  The essence of Hebraic thought is, as the Biblical scholars used to say, that YHWH is “lord of nature and history” (though that is using anachronistic and inaccurate language)—that he interacts directly and constantly in both the human and natural world.  The Biblical idea of Providence is inseparable from this conception of God’s ongoing, personal, particular activity.  The idea that God “sets up natural laws” and lets the world run itself is alien to Biblical thought.  But it’s at the heart of modern thought, and TE is driven by modern thought.  What HornSpiel and others here are trying to do is rewrite the doctrine of Providence to harmonize it with a modern view of nature that is alien to the the Biblical one.

Darwin Guy Dan - #73136

September 27th 2012

Eddie and HornSpiel  (cont.)

(3) I find this biological engineering passage in James A. Shapiro’s popular EVOLUTION: A VIEW FROM THE 21st Century (2011; p.136-7) might be relevant to discussions below related to teleology. Shapiro (a post-neo-Darwinian?) begins by describing some naturally occurring genetic engineering processes and then  writes:

“[W]e see there is nothing magical or implausible in thinking about how cells can be capable of introducing coordinated changes into different but functionally related regions of their genomes.”

Shapiro then asks some questions related to the teleology of cellular engineering and then follows with  his answers:

“Is the intelligent application of such molecular mechanisms outside the boundaries of contemporary biology? 

“Although they may go through many trial-and-error steps, human engineers do not work blindly. They are trying to accomplish defined functional goals.  Can such function-oriented capacities be attributed to cells?  Is this not the kind of teleological thinking that scientists have been taught to avoid at all costs?  The answer to both questions is yes.

“We began Part I with the statement that living cells do not act blindly; then we proceeded to describe examples of their sensory and regulatory capacities.  The more we learn about the detailed molecular operation of cells, the more we appreciate the depth of the circuitry they contain to ensure the accurate, ‘well-informed’ execution of complex functions.  This is now the prevailing view in many fields of biology.  The concept of checkpoint controls is ubiquitous in cell biology, the field of ‘plant neurobiology’ [ref.] is emerging, and the August 2010 issue of the journal ‘Nature Immunology’ was dedicated to decision-making in the immune system.  Thus, it appears that the idea of cellular cognition and decision-making with well defined functional objectives has gone mainstream [ref.]  Even Darwin entertained similar ideas, comparing the searching action of root tip\s to the operation of an animal brain [ref.].”

Well, I suppose theoreticians and theologians are bent on making life more complicated than need be by labeling Shapiro’s thoughts as being related to “natural teleology” as opposed to philosophical or theological teleology and thus some scientifically unacceptable teleology. Right?  Personally, I tend to think Shapiro’s sensory related teleology is about as close as we are going to ever get, within natural science, to discovering some “cosmic mind” or “cosmic consciousness” as quantum physicist, Amit Goswami (2008), would have it.

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy

Eddie - #73142

September 27th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan:

I’m not saying that Shapiro is an ID proponent.  But Shapiro agrees with the ID criticism of neo-Darwinism.  (So, too, did Lynn Margulis, and so do some of the Alternberg group, and we are going to see more and more cutting-edge evolutionary biologists repudiating neo-Darwinism as time goes on.  That is why TE has badly dated itself by hitching its star to the neo-Darwinian wagon.)

Shapiro’s understanding of evolution actually would harmonize much better with traditional Christian theology than the Darwinian one, because if Shapiro is right, living organisms were given an initial toolkit for their own self-remaking.  This would suggest—at least to a theist—that the maker of the first organisms wanted evolution to be able to finds its way around obstacles, en route to its goals (including man); whereas the Darwinian mechanism doesn’t come with any such toolkit; living things just have to wait for the right accident to happen to them, and only then can natural selection do anything useful.  The latter is an extremely chancy and unreliable (and un-providential) plan for evolution, and only a moron of a Creator would have employed it.  Shapiro’s model of evolution is something that a bright Creator would have dreamed up.  And since Christians believe in a bright Creator, one would think that TEs would be embracing, or at least exploring, the evolutionary thought of Shapiro.  Yet his book has been out for a year now, and we haven’t had a single column on BioLogos about it, or even any references to it.  The stranglehold that neo-Darwinism has on the TE imagination is frightening.  And it’s neo-Darwinism that’s preventing the evolution-friendly ID people from adopting TE.  By dropping neo-Darwinism, TE could both catch up with 21st-century evolutionary biology, and make its Christian theology more orthodox, plus achieve rapprochement with some of the ID people.  But the penny seems to be taking a long time to drop.  Old intellectual habits die hard.  

Darwin Guy Dan - #73185

September 28th 2012

Eddie and HornSpiel,

HornSpiel, apologies for the misspell of your id above, #73135.

Eddie, the late Lynn Margulis’s definition in Suzan Mazur’s Altenberg 16 book has long stuck in my mind as being a bit peculiar.  Margulis states: “[e]volution just means change through time.”  Change through time is certainly worth many billions to study.  Don’t you think?  “Biological change over time” has long been much more ubiquitous.  But of course, Margulis as with all Evolutionists, as far as I am aware continued to accept the entire meaning of the BioLogos definition which is inclusive of common ancestry, tree-of-life, etc.  Common ancestry is where I disagree with the Altenberg group and others as discussed in Gerd B. Muller’s marvelous book, EVOLUTION: THE EXTENDED SYNTHESIS (2010).  Like most everyone, I have no problem accepting “descent with modification” but, as I see it, Evolution is clearly false or, at a minimum, lacks the natural science parsimony of the alternative, parallelism.

As I see it, the conflict between dueling epistemologies of natural science and the received views with elements of supernaturalism or Bible literalism, i.e., design or Creationism—- this conflict has long been at fault in leading natural history researchers astray.  This duel, and confusion over terms such as “fact” and “evolution” I find to be most clearly demonstrated in George John Romanes’ free ebook, THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCES OF ORGANIC EVOLUTION ([1877], 1882). Romanes, as has continued down through the decades, found but two possibilities:  (1) the naturalistic paradigm of what became known soon after Darwin (1859) as “evolution” (inclusive of common descent but even with Romanes the term seems to be used sloppily) and (2) intelligent design or Biblical creationism.  But clearly, the philosophical principle of underdetermination comes into play regards the possible naturalistic alternatives to common descent.  In my view, the very legitimate natural science of Darwin and his various hypotheses, including the assumption of common descent, was soon superseded by the aggressiveness of Darwin’s—- shall I dare say—- sales and marketing team.  Unfortunately, due to superior resources, this never ending sales and marketing has continued down through the decades.

I have a definition for you from the glossary of Stan Salthe’s DEVELOPMENT AND EVOLUTION (1993).  Salthe has: “the irreversible accumulation of historical information.”  Guess what word that defines.  Yes, you guessed it—- “evolution.”  I love the definition but not the word he has it attached to.  In my view, a new word ought to have been invented for that specific idea.  To me, the muddle regards any sensible understanding of the definition of “definition” has long led me to think that the American people, especially school children, deserve better.  In my view—- and I have been wondering if Ted Davis might agree on this—- once a word is defined and put into a dictionary, that ought to be the end of it.  The word and its unique definition thereafter belong to the people and not to the originators or other special interest groups.  Obviously, some words need to be retired due to abuse.  (I find that THE AMERICAN HERITAGE SCIENCE DICTIONARY 2005 does fairly well on most, but not all, words regard providing a 1-to1 correspondence between words and definitions.  Unfortunately, some crucial words are conspicuously absent.)

Here’s a thought to consider.  We have often read that “modern humans evolved from a creature that was apelike, but not identical to modern apes.”  When have you ever heard that “modern apes evolved from a creature that was human-like but not identical to modern humans”?  Clearly, the hypothesis of common ancestry offers no parsimony.  Also, consider your understanding of “species” in the context of essentialism (as explicated by Ernst Mayr, Richard Dawkins, Bruce Little, Robert Bishop, etc.).  As a naturalistic parallelist, my own inclination is not to use “species” in an historical context and rather use the term “lineage.”  My posit is that lineages—- other than bacteria, etc.—- are composites originating prior to the Cambrian.

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy

Eddie - #73188

September 28th 2012

Darwin Guy:

I see now that your internet name is ironical.  I hadn’t caught that before.

Once again, I agree with you that the word “evolution” is used in many ways, and that this causes confusion.  But the popular meaning is still quite understandable, and that’s the one that should be used:  evolution is “the process whereby one, or a few, original forms of life, were modified through stages of descent to become all the millions of later forms of life, including man.”  Every kid who reads a comic book, every teenager who watches a science fiction movie, everyone who has watched Jurassic Park or Star Trek, or seen the opening visuals of “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” understands this meaning of evolution.

Now, you seem to be saying that you don’t accept evolution, as defined above.  You seem to be arguing that there was not just one, nor even a few, but many starting-points for “descent with modification.”  Well, I’m not going to argue against that; it’s quite possible.  I think a lot of things about evolution are “up in the air” at the moment, and I think it is going to take another 20 years or so before evolution has a “paradigm” that satisfies scientists the way that neo-Darwinism satisfied them for 50 or 60 years in the 20th century.  Right now, there are a number of contenders, including Margulis, Denton, Conway Morris, Newman, and Shapiro, and possibly one of them will come out on top; but maybe the eventual winner has yet to make an appearance.

Of course, I’m speaking rather conventionally, as if we can be sure that evolutionary theory will survive in some form.  Yet I can’t guarantee that the “Cambrian rabbit”—or some equally devastating bit of evidence—won’t surface.  If it does, all that I’ve said above will be irrelevant.  But if it doesn’t, I expect that we will have a new paradigm of evolution sometime in the next 20-30 years, and that it will be more theoretically plausible and more empirically based than neo-Darwinism ever was.

Darwin Guy Dan - #73371

October 6th 2012

ERRATUM:  I failed to include Massimo Pigliucci as one of the editors of  EVOLUTION: THE EXTENDED SYNTHESIS along with Muller.  Their anthology includes 17 great essays by leaders in Natural History studies. Note, also as a result of the Altenberg conference, the same publisher and editors also reprinted Julian Huxley’s MODERN SYNTHESIS (2009). 

I recentlyt received a notice from Amazon that Pigliucci is now out with a new book, ANSWERS FOR ARISTOTLE: HOW SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY CAN LEAD TO A MORE MEANINGFUL LIFE. (Personally, I certainly prefer Aristotle over the etherealness of his teacher.)

Gregory - #73002

September 22nd 2012

Well said, Hornspiel: “It is precicely because Science has no explanation for the design and purpose we intuitively see and feel that we can say Science is not enough.”

It would be helpful though, for you to say why you capitalised ‘Science.’ Do you mean scientistic views of ‘Science,’ as a kind of theology replacement?

Based on some definitions of ‘science,’ we actually can give ‘scientific’ explanations for certain kinds of ‘design.’ Computer code is ‘encoded,’ for example. Architectural blueprints are drafted or drawn. Curriculum for schools is created and published. In these cases, we can ‘scientifically’ (read: systematically) study the who, what, when, where and why for those ‘designs,’ including their actualisations/instantiations in reality. This is a science of action and experience, rather than an impersonal purely objectivistic, mathematical (or probabilistic) kind of ‘science.’ 

The same kind of ‘scientific’ explanation for ‘human-made design’ obviously cannot be said for Origins of Life or Origins of BioLogical Information *if* those are the main topics under consideration, which they are for what Eddie means by ‘design/Design,’ according to IDist ideology.

A point of note: the name ‘Darwin’ was first raised in this thread by Eddie, who used it 9 times in #72992 and #72999, including ‘Darwinian’ and ‘neo-Darwinism’. Iow, Darwin was not provoked from within, but was imported. Eddie seems not to recognise that he (like most IDists) is Darwin-fixated, unlike most people at BioLogos and most TEs.

As for ‘teleological’ vs. ‘non-teleological’ evolutionary processes, obviously Eddie has not read General Evolutionary Systems Theory. There are many in that school who posit teleological evolution…and yet who do not speak of God’s Providence. Most IDists have not studied this school of thought and thus speak without realising that ‘natural teleology’ differs from ‘supernatural’ or ‘extra-natural’ teleology. They need to get educated so as not to commit teleological fallacies, which is one of their trademarks.

‘Sloppy’ is not a very friendly term or conducive to fruitful communication - it is usually perceived as insulting to a person’s logic; a sign of condescension. By most indications, ‘sloppy’ is actually a better adjective to describe the typical ID advocate who ignores or avoids entirely Systems Thinking as it relates to evolutionary theory. Sloppy in this case means incomplete research due to unwillingness to admit ID’s implicationistic strategy.

Eddie might want to start with Ludwig von Bertalanffy and report back when he’s actually read some teleological evolutionary theories other than just ID-‘biology’. Or he could just keep calling theistic evolutionists ‘sloppy,’ over and over again, which BioLogos readers are surely becoming accustomed to with his ‘intelligently designed’ (?) critique of theistic evolution=TE already.

Eddie - #73004

September 22nd 2012

Actually, I did not call “theistic evolutionists” sloppy—I called “writers in this field” (meaning the field of religion and science) sloppy.  In fact, I find that many ID people, and even more YEC/OEC people, are equally careless in using the term “evolution” without qualification.  However, there is a clear exposition in the introduction to God and Evolution by Jay Richards.  Hornspiel, if you are still reading, I recommend that you read what Dr. Richards has to say.

PNG - #73012

September 22nd 2012


A comment on the ENCODE results. A lot of people, including the science journalists, don’t seem to understand that the kind of things that ENCODE assays for don’t necessarily imply that every detected feature really has a cellular function. They detect a lot of low level transcription, but RNA polymersases will transcribe at a low level even with DNA from a very different organism from the one they came from. DNA binding proteins will bind sub-optimal sequences if you give them a lot of DNA. A commenter on one blog remarked that he had synthesized 1000 random DNA sequences, and a number of them would function to some degree as promoters. So it’s not surprising that they found a lot of this kind of “function,” much of which is likely to be biochemical noise. The ENCODE results are a place for people to start sorting things out on particular genes and loci to see which features have real significance. They report finding 4 million “switches” - short sequences that may participate in regulating expression of protein coding or non-coding RNA genes. If you assume that there are as many RNA genes as protein coding, that makes the total about 40,000 genes. How likely is it that each gene, on average needs 100 control elements? I would guess, not very likely, so in all likelihood, much of what ENCODE detected is noise. And there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that they picked a loose definition of function and a large hypothetical percentage of the genome in order to attract as much attention as possible. It worked. Scientists on occasion play PR games like other people.

Jon Garvey - #73018

September 23rd 2012


Wasn’t one of the bullet points of the ENCODE team that we should stop thinking of the “gene” as the basic unit of the genome altogether, and start thinking of the “RNA transcription”? If so it’s not a guestion of  how many switches each of 20 or 40,000 genes need in order to to work, but how many ways 40,000 genes can be employed through alternative multi-level switching. That’s a very different viewpoint, a very different calculus and, most importantly, almost completely unknown territory.

I read the headline paper to be saying that one of the surprises was just how many transcripts each “gene” encodes through alternative readings, splicing and so on. That’s as far from the old “one gene = 1 protein” doctrine as a Mac is from an abacus. And that, it seems to me, rather than arguing about percentages of junk, or whether ID got it right or wrong, is what gets the ENCODE team so excited.

The world seems to be divided between those who are deeply excited by ENCODE, and those who are missing the point somewhere.

PNG - #73064

September 24th 2012

Well, there’s one more vote for the perspective that I’m missing the point. The alternative is that those of us who follow the genomics literature have known about ENCODE for quite a while. The reality of multiple alternative transcripts and proteins from a large fraction of genes has been known for a long time, too. I think the ENCODE results will be very useful for a lot of people working on the regulation of individual genes and complex loci that contain multiple genes, the regulation of which is coupled in some fashion. However, there are reasons to think that a substantial fraction of the ENCODE features won’t turn out to have any real functional significance. That could be wrong, but all the stuff we have learned about the biochemistry of gene regulation over the last few decades isn’t suddenly moot because of the ENCODE data, as much as it might please some science journalists to think so.

Jon Garvey - #73019

September 23rd 2012


In my former trade, medicine, we weren’t that interested in “the human cell” but in the , maybe, 411 different types of human cell, each of which develops in a coordinated manner within the body and requires individualised gene expression.

I would have thought that 100 control elements for each coding gene was quite a conservative number in that scenario - but, of course, its the billions of possible “switch” configurations that is actually the relevant kind of figure to consider - together with how those configurations could possibly be organised and changed in evolution.

Skl - #73032

September 23rd 2012

I’d like to ask a question and I hope the responses I get, if any, will be more edifying than what I’ve experienced thus far here (on “Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology, Part 1”).

Much of the discussion of this article is focusing on design or lack of design, or on the nature and extent of God’s involvement in design. All of this dialogue is in the context of evolution. The debaters on design all seem to be accepting an underlying premise that evolution actually happened. It seems to be a built in assumption. For instance, “ENCODE’s data provide a unique and powerful window through which to view evolutionary change.”

My question is, does BioLogos have any recent articles for which the very assumption of evolution is similarly debated? By evolution, I mean the common ancestry of all life – as someone above said “evolution of the mongoose, the magnolia, and man”.

PNG - #73065

September 24th 2012

Try Dennis Venema’s 2 part series  http://biologos.org/blog/signature-in-the-pseudogenes-part-1.    There was a lot of discussion in the comments, if I remember right. He also has articles in the Resource section under Articles and Essays, although of course there is no comment section there. Another free article is at  http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10Venema.pdf

I’m not part of the Biologos team, but I have posted a short essay and figure on the genomic evidence for common ancestry of humans and other primates at http://artofthesoluble.blogspot.com/

Darwin Guy Dan - #73184

September 28th 2012


In my view, your question is one of the most pertinent and, to date, the most poorly answered question among Natural Historians.  In my view, Darwin’s acceptance of common ancestry as an assumption was a legitimate scientific assumption in 1859.  It no longer is.  In my view, the hypothesis of common ancestry is false.  Thus, Evolution is false.  The more parsimonious assumptions are that of global biogenesis, an extensive web-of-life scenario prior to the Cambrian, and parallel lineages since.

As for some of the arguments for and against common descent, see:

“29+ Evidences for Marcoevolution: the Scientific Case for Common Descent” by Douglas Theobald, Ph.D.  This article is at “The Talkorigins Archive” and was last updated April, 2012.

“A Critique of Douglas Theobald’s ‘29+ Evidences for Macroevolution’” by Ashby Camp published in 2001.

An easy way to get to these links is to Google “29+” and the complete titles magically show up.

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy

Eddie - #73045

September 24th 2012


To keep the side-arguments out of the way, and encourage my other responders to respond above to my original point, I am moving this further response to your remarks on Denton far below, to make the side conversation about Denton an independent one which the others need not feel pressed to comment on:


While doing my Ph.D., I had it impressed upon me that it was academically irresponsible to offer analysis and criticism of a book I had not read.  Basing a critique upon the criticism of third parties was taboo.  Are young academics now encouraged to analyze and dismiss an author’s major work based on hearsay?  If so, perhaps that explains why you feel justified in debating with me the contents and interpretation of a book which, by your own admission, you have not read.  

I did not say that Denton was either a Christian or a theist.  I said that he believed in God, and that his God was transcendent.  Both of those statements are true.  In your last post you denied the second statement; in this post you deny the first.  So your error is now double.  I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with the meaning of the term “Deist.”

Bejan’s views, whatever they are, have no bearing on Denton’s.

As for:   “Just because a person accepts that the universe is created, composed, designed, made by God, *does not* make one automatically an ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’ proponent.”

I never said anything of the sort.  Denton is an intelligent design proponent, not because he believes in a creator God, but because he argues that design is detectable, based on what science has taught us about the universe.  The argument for design is presented in those 400 pages that you admit to not having read.

I did not say, and Denton did not say, that “the entire teleological account of evolution would collapse” if there were any “junk DNA.”  But a teleological account would predict that the amount of “junk” would be small.  Marie George apparently needs some Latin lessons, because she does not understand the meaning of Denton’s carefully-chosen word, “optimum.”  

In answer to the demand made in your 3rd paragraph:  Denton is positively contributing the the science and faith conversation because he shows that the “warfare thesis”—that the results of modern natural science are incompatible with the existence of a Creator God—is untenable.  The results of modern natural science, if his conclusions are correct, are much more in tune with belief in God than with the atheist position.  No doubt that is why both Christian ID proponent Michael Behe and Christian TE proponent John Polkinghorne gave the book the high praise that they did.

bren - #73055

September 24th 2012

Re 73022:

Eddie, as you said, ID tends to be a big tent perspective, but it often seems that the tent is so big that to make any headway with it, I’m forced to ignore its overriding definition and consider its specific claims.  I would therefore look at it from the standpoint of irreducible complexity, explanatory filters and its general opposition to the sufficiency of methodological naturalism as a reasonable horizon for scientific work.  Without going into these ideas, I think that the first two have been critiqued quite effectively in logical terms as well as in terms of the questionable examples used, and the last one has largely been dismissed as failing to understand the reasons for which science has so limited its activities (and the resulting scope of its conclusions).  This last is often dealt with in terms of a reductio argument, wherein the results of permitting supernatural explanations are spelled out in painful detail.  It doesn’t mean that all of the specific claims have been shot out of the sky, but they are hardly blocking out the sun, and I frankly don’t find them convincing.  If these ideas are to get anywhere, they would need to be radically reworked, especially if they are to convince skeptics of the few features that distinguish ID from simple theism.

This leaves the overall definition.  I will take your word for it that it is more accurately defined as claiming, at a minimum, that “unguided, unplanned processes are insufficient…”  I think we can agree that this is a negative definition, whatever else it is or isn’t.  I would first note that as mentioned above, aside from the limitation that the natural world (with the observed constants and laws taken as given) is considered insufficient to produce the actual results, ID is largely co-extensive with everyday, garden variety theism.  If we zero in on the negative qualification that resolves it from the parent idea, then I think the obvious problem is; how on earth could anyone logically establish a negative proposition (i.e. we don’t think the natural laws had the tools to do the job) in positive terms.  Since it is not reasonably possible to exhaustively enumerate what the natural world is capable of producing, we are in no position to deduce the resulting remaining set of logically possible but naturalistically impossible results.

To add the words unguided and unplanned to the mix does not contribute to diffusing this little problem.  I’m not even sure that there is anything at all appropriate about these words in relation to evolution, since while it does seem that selection pressures only act with respect to the immediate environmental conditions, it does not follow that this process is either unplanned with respect to the salient features of the resulting complexity or unguided with respect to the general selection pressures that repeatedly exert themselves on the developing diversity.  Not to mention the fact that there is simply no way to exclude guidance or planning in natural history.

These problems aside, it strikes me that, as you say (though not in these words), ID seems to studiously avoid any mention of just how God is involved.  This seems to be to be a very safe approach, but perhaps too safe, since it keeps the entire idea in the safe suburban neighborhood of the untestable negative claim that defines it.  It also seems to belie the claim that ID does not insist on an interventionist position, since if the natural world is not capable of producing what we see, then we are not left with many options.  Either God intervened in some way, regardless of how little we say about just how this happened, or we could not exist as we do.  I don’t really see any option here.  To say that God didn’t intervene, and instead implanted a teleological element in matter is to say the same thing as basic theism; that (a) he planned the end or purpose and (b) he used natural means, as crafted by his foresight and power, to achieve the desired ends.

Therefore, it seems to me that the clear element that separates ID from, say TE id, necessitates an interventionist position, and I suspect that an interventionist position, even when no positive suggestions are advanced, almost automatically ends up being envisioned through the lens of the very human idea of mechanical tinkering with the given mechanisms.  Nevertheless, as you say, if it is not asserted that God acted in any specific way, we can avoid envisioning the events in anthropomorphic terms (although this might be because we are given very little to work with for any sort of analogy!).

Eddie - #73060

September 24th 2012


Thanks for your calm and reasoned reply, which focuses on the issues and not on any alleged agendas that I’m supposed (by some people here) to have.

I can agree with much of what you write here, but we are still not quite connecting.  You seem to be granting me that, yes, some ID proponents do accept that evolution could have occurred through natural means, provided the initial fine-tuning was done carefully enough; but then you also seem to be saying that the existence of such ID people is irrelevant, and then carrying on as if ID people were all committed to interventionism.  I don’t know how to reply to this, other than to say that you should read Denton’s second book and then tell me how you would classify him—ID, TE, or something else.  I’ve always seen his work as one of the few efforts to blend the best of intelligent design and theistic evolution, not sacrificing the essence of either.  But I’d be interested in your characterization of his views, after you’ve read the book.

Regarding several of the detailed arguments you have presented against ID, it was never my intention to try to sell you on ID or defend all ID arguments from criticism.  There are many ID arguments that I do not accept myself!  I was merely trying to indicate that just as “TE” has Simon Conway Morris, so “ID” has Michael Denton, and the similarity (not identity, to be sure, but similarity) between their ideas indicates that it doesn’t have to be all-out war between ID and TE. 

Why do you say that “God didn’t intervene, and instead implanted a teleological element in matter” is “to say the same thing as basic theism”?  I am unaware of any definition of “theism” which implies that God  never intervenes or only uses natural means in creation.  In fact, for the overwhelming bulk of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim history, the view has been the opposite—that God has never been restricted to natural means, and that creation is par excellence the example of God’s transcendence of the “laws of nature.”  The idea that God creates only through natural means (as opposed to conserving natural laws after the universe is created) cannot be found—in anything but the minutest traces—until about the time of the Enlightenment, after which Christians and Jews (but for the most part not Muslims) started adjusting their theologies in major ways.  That’s simply a historical fact.  The primary sources are there for anyone to check.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73066

September 25th 2012


Upon reading your comments above I am pleased to see that it seems that you and I are on the same track.

The key to a theologically sound understanding of evolution is Teleology.  Clearly Christians accept Teleology while Darwinists do not, so Christian Darwinism is a contradiction in terms unless TE specifically spells out that difference which it does not.

If ID is intended as Teleological evolution, thus far it has failed to make its case.  I have tried to do this in my book, DARWIN’S MYTH: Malthus, Ecology, and the Meaning of Life.  Thus far people have chosen to deny this point of view rather than respond to it.      

bren - #73104

September 26th 2012


Hi Eddie,




Thanks for your response.  I’m a bit unclear on the source of a couple of things that you mention as coming from in my previous post (a) that I think some ID proponents do accept that evolution could have occurred through natural means (provided careful fine-tuning) and (b) that such people are irrelevant.  I don’t think I say those things and if those points do somehow emerge in my post through carelessness, then I retract immediately!




I do not think that the ID position (in its most recent political and intellectual manifestation, as opposed to the more generic historical design argument) views evolution as being sufficient to produce complexity.  That being the case, I can’t see how it can avoid marrying itself an interventionist position (unless it is assumed that some other natural cause is at work).  Fine-tuning etc are subsumed under the category of natural theology, and while matching the ID position, they are not arguments that distinguishes ID from other streams of modern apologetics.  It is in seeking a scientifically rigorous assessment of the design question and in rendering judgment on the insufficiency of evolution that modern ID has distinguished itself, and in this sense, I think it is open to the specific criticisms I mention above: (a) the efforts at scientific specificity and rigor do not make a very strong case and are not based on a foundation previously established on scientific or logical grounds and (b) it is not reasonable to expect positive substantiation of a position that is argued from a negative premise.  If it is granted that these core ideas are dispensable, I think ID then merges with TE to a large extent.




I also think I was a little careless with my terms!  Where it says “theism”, read TE.  I’m not sure why I was misspeaking on that one!  My focus was on what differentiates ID from other perspectives.  Where it agrees with other perspectives (e.g. fine tuning), I am largely in agreement with it.  I tend to be in a position that is open to intervention but where intervention is not necessary to produce the complexity etc. that we see.




I’m curious about Denton.  I read his first book and frankly didn’t like it.  I thought it was riddled with errors at the time (not sure how I would view it if I read it again).  I read some more recent stuff about protein folding etc and found it to be reasonably compelling and interesting, and I have heard that he has moved on from his early views, so maybe it’s worth giving his newer books a (somewhat suspicious) shot!  I think Simon Conway Morris is in a pretty firm position so far as the science goes, and I think that his view meshes well with the traditional design argument, but maybe Denton doesn’t stray too far!  I’d be curious to know how his position has changed.


Eddie - #73127

September 26th 2012


Thanks for clarifying that you were misspeaking with “theism.”

Re Denton:  Denton’s earlier book was negative; it showed the flaws in neo-Darwinian evolution, but provided no alternative, and left the problem of origins unsolved.  In his second book, he provides an alternative, and it’s not creationism, but a different version of evolution.

I thought I had specified that I was talking about Michael Denton’s 2nd book, but maybe I didn’t.  Anyhow, that is what I am talking about.  So let me restate:  Denton is an ID theorist.  And as of his 2nd book, Denton believes that evolution occurs by wholly natural means—no miracles, no interventions, not even at the “quantum” level.  It occurs, and reaches the end of man, because it was programmed to.  The fine-tuning of the universe, for him, is deep and thorough, and runs from the Big Bang up through all of physics, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, right up to man.  It was all planned—all designed.  Neo-Darwinian mechanisms, for him, play only a very small, ancillary role in the little details of evolution; the main thrust of evolution has nothing to do with neo-Darwinian mechanisms.  Evolution is driven not by chance (random mutations) but by necessity.

I think that anyone who is serious about modern evolutionary theory will read Denton’s second book.  And further, anyone who is serious about understanding how God relates to the evolutionary process will read Denton’s second book.  Yet I don’t know of a single leading TE—not even the academic TEs that Ted Davis is talking about—who have devoted any extensive passages of writing to Denton’s ideas.  This strikes me as irresponsible, as if a modern cosmologist were never to mention the ideas of Stephen Hawking, or a modern philosopher were never to mention the ideas of Heidegger or Wittgenstein.

Denton’s thesis has to be dealt with.  If he is right, he has solved the problem of divine action in evolution, and simultaneously written the epitaph of neo-Darwinism.  There is simply no excuse, then, for any TE who pretends to be intellectually serious not to discuss his 2nd book—if only to refute it.  A special feature on the book was done in Nature—the leading science journal in the world— but no column has ever appeared here on this thought; nor were his ideas discussed in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, the leading TE anthology published thus far.  I consider this situation the intellectual equivalent of criminal negligence on the part of TEs.  Here is a guy with an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry, a leading cancer geneticist, with more peer-reviewed secular scientific publications than several TEs I can think of put together, and with a vast historical grasp of evolutionary theory that almost no TE has—and TE-dom ignores him.  And when his name is brought up on these sites, he is sometimes misrepresented by people (I’m not speaking of you) who haven’t even taken the time to read his work.

Back to the main point.  You were asking why I said ID didn’t require interventionism.  The answer is one word:  Denton.  Read his book and you’ll know why.

bren - #73137

September 27th 2012


No I knew you were speaking of the second book, which is why I was curious about how it had changed from the first one.  You mention, interestingly, that the only real problem with the first book was that it offered no alternative for neo-Darwinism, while this was remedied in the second book.  When push comes to shove, I don’t particularly care if someone fails to offer a viable alternative, so long as their critique is valid.  Certainly, if there is no viable alternative, the critique needs to be just that much stronger in order to make its case, but based on the very title of book #1, the claim seems to have been that the critique is strong and that it was a long time coming.  So no, I did not view this failure to advance a new hypothesis as a real problem, my issue is the converse of the one that you mentioned; I found that he made a poor scientific and philosophical case that the modern synthesis was in trouble (again, I’d need to go back to it in order to remember what the perceived errors with his argument were, but I seem to remember finding them to be fairly egregious at the time I was reading it).  It seems that it was this very point that you found to be satisfactory, leading to the need for a positive alternative.  While open, I am far less likely to jump for an alternative if I find that the theory it would replace or largely displace is very compelling with respect to the evidence to be explained; in other words, I see no crisis and I would add that it seems the scientific community at large sees no crisis!  Don’t misunderstand that point; I think that ideas on complexity, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, morphological constraints and emergence etc have a lot to tell us on the subject that will fill in the gaps in our understanding, and I think that we are just beginning to realize that the reductionism and the overemphasis on contingency (Gould and others) have been misleading and we have a lot of work to do in the field, but again, there is no visible crisis with respect to the explanatory power of natural selection and the modern synthesis and I think the case for the crisis needs to be made far more effectively if there is any expectation for some kind of a paradigm shift in the near future (as opposed to a “soft” paradigm shift away from reductionism, which presently seems to be happening to some extent).

If it is really the case that Denton describes a mechanism other than natural selection that is “programmed” into the universe, then great, I probably agree with him that the fine-tuning is deeper and more thorough than previously suspected, and it sounds like the idea may provide a significant contribution to our understanding, but it seems to be that this would naturally put it under the purview of science and that it would be in exactly the same situation as (and an extension of) the other demonstrably valid anthropic arguments.  In other words, it would be, just like the other fine-tuning questions, a welcome contribution to a design argument, but it would still be open to alternate explanations such as some form of the many worlds hypothesis (not that I would personally be likely to find such an explanation particularly compelling, but without further data, there would be no way to make any scientifically sound statements on the subject!).

Eddie - #73141

September 27th 2012


Thanks for your further reply.

I have it indirectly, from a friend and colleague of Denton’s, that he wished in retrospect that his first book had been titled something more like “Darwinism: A Theory in Crisis”—because it was really more the neo-Darwinian account of evolution that he attempted to destroy in that book.  But of course, a publisher wants to sell books to non-specialists, and I imagine that “Evolution” was the catchier and more publically recognizable word, so the publisher would probably not have let Denton alter the title anyway.

As for the rest, I agree with much of what you say, but basically you are giving me a rather long-winded concession that, “OK, Denton is an ID proponent who does not appeal to interventions.”  And that’s all I was trying to get you to concede.  

Denton is not the only one, by the way.  It appears that Richard Sternberg does not insist on interventions, either.  And Michael Behe—whether he personally suspects interventions or not—has made it clear that ID, as such, does not demand interventions.  And Michael Behe is certainly in a position to say what ID is, as he is one of the leading lights of the group, and arguably the one with the most influence on the general culture.  If you disagree with Behe, I have to go with Behe and not with you.

If you will just concede to me that it is not part of the definition of intelligent design theory that there must be active intervention, then we we can end this discussion.  I will readily concede to you—and have from the beginning—that most of the leading ID proponents, and most followers of ID, imagine that that there have been several points of intervention, whether that intervention is understood as supplementary to an evolutionary process or as outright special creation of individual species.  But that question is separate from the question of design detection, which is what ID is about.

What ID as a formal theory is about—and you will such definitions on the Discovery website—is the detection of intelligent causes, not of supernatural causes.  That was the only point I was making.  (If a further argument is made that the intelligent cause in question must be supernatural, that is fine as a philosophical or theological argument, but that has nothing to do with the design inference per se.  Design inferences per se cannot tell the difference between God saying “Let there be life!” and an alien biochemist dropping the first cell into the ocean from his space ship.)  

bren - #73151

September 27th 2012

Hi Eddie,
Thanks for your reply, I think the locus of our disagreement is becoming more clear.
Did I really, in a roundabout way, concede that Denton is an ID proponent who does not appeal to interventionism?  I will definitely concede that he is non-interventionist if you say that this is the case, but if I’m not mistaken, what I actually conceded was that Denton (as you described him), appears to support design arguments with his work (small id if you want to call it that), but that he does not appear to support ID (as you defined it – I repeat the definition below).  There’s no problem with Denton that I am aware of in terms of his recent work, I’m certainly not willing to judge his work before I read it, and in fact, it doesn’t really bother me whether or not he represents ID (he probably does represent it, depending on how you define ID).  The problem is that I can’t see how your description of his recent work fits with the only definition for ID that has been provided (“that unguided, unplanned processes were insufficient to produce the design we see.”).  Seems to me that he was described as providing a process that fits in very well with the fine-tuning argument but that we have no scientific means of identifying such a process as being planned or unplanned, guided or unguided aside from negative arguments that are not widely accepted by scientists, which means that for all I know, his scientific case for some new, fine-tuned mechanism may have been compellingly made, but there is no way of fitting this into the ID definition provided (which demands more of it than it could offer).
Again, I’m fine with Denton; if he is providing a mechanism that supplements natural selection, then the scientific community has been open to hearing about an alternate mechanism for the past 150 years (the efforts to find an alternative to natural selection have been a driving force in discussions on evolution since 1859, and there is always at least a subset of high profile evolutionists who are actively seeking other mechanisms), and I’d love to hear more about it.  If his mechanism happens to further bolster the fine-tuning argument, then too bad for atheists, but it’s not like there isn’t already a problem along these lines!
I also have no problem with ID being non-interventionist (actually, I’m likely to largely agree with it insofar as it takes this position!).  The issue is that I find that the definition of ID you provided and the version of ID generally espoused seems to either to imply intervention or to be generally unworkable.  If natural processes are insufficient, then something else (non-natural) must definitely intervene to produce the observed results.  For the unworkable part - I  already gave reasons why “unguided” and “unplanned” are problematic; while they “protect” the argument in some sense from having to imply intervention (not sure that “unguided” does paricularly well at this!), they also make the argument impossible to apply or test, since we are not able to identify planning or teleology in such a context in any scientifically agreed upon manner – though if scientists have somehow agreed on how we may do this in this context, please let me know.

Eddie - #73153

September 27th 2012


The definition I gave above—“that unguided, unplanned processes were insufficient to produce the design we see—does fit Denton, though I should have stated it slightly more carefully as “unguided and/or unplanned processes ...”

Denton does not think that the process of evolution was “guided”—if by that you mean God stuck his hand in to steer evolution this way or that; but he does think it was “planned.”  He likens the process of evolution to the output of a grand computer program which spits out certain results at certain times (stars, planets, life, etc.), culminating in the the most important result at the end—the emergence of a rational creature who can understand his own cosmic origins.  The results are inescapable.  The program is designed to produce them.

The neo-Darwinian account of evolution, on the other hand, never required any “fine tuning.”  The claim was always—you can go back and read Gaylord Simpson and Mayr and the whole lot of them—that random mutations, given enough time, would stumble on something useful for survival and reproduction.  Not something headed in any direction, just something.  Evolution isn’t headed toward intelligent beings; it isn’t headed anywhere.  Denton thinks this account is nonsense.  He thinks that if the only thing going on were random mutations and natural selection—if the universe hadn’t also been fine-tuned not just to produce stars and planets, but to produce carbon-based life, cardiovascular systems, brains, etc.—random mutations plus natural selection would have turned up zilch.  Denton’s account is thus resolutely anti-Darwinian (regarding the main driver of evolution, as opposed to incidental details), and Denton states that opposition clearly.  His system is driven by necessity, not chance.  Evolution had to be planned in order to work.

For Denton, it is not every last detail of every single creature that is designed (maybe a random mutation produced blue jays rather than green jays); it is the general set of types of creatures that is designed; the evolutionary process itself is intelligently designed to output these types of creatures.  Thus, his conception is radically teleological, as opposed to neo-Darwinism which is radically anti-teleological.  There could not be a bigger general difference between two types of evolution than this.  And the teleology places Denton in the ID camp.  

To avoid misunderstanding, let me add that Denton could also be considered a TE, if all that TE means is “a person who believes in evolution and also believes that evolution was generated by God.”  But if you follow my postings elsewhere here, you’ll see that Denton, along with Behe, Sternberg and other ID proponents who accept evolution, is denied the TE label by the TEs themselves.  He is roundly despised by TEs (where he is not entirely ignored by them; his name has never been mentioned by a BioLogos columnist, for example), partly because of what he wrote in his first book, and partly because of his continuing friendship with ID people.  But Conway Morris, who has similar ideas to Denton regarding convergence and an element of necessity in the evolutionary process, is considered a TE by TEs because he duly bad-mouths ID.  Yes, Christians can be that tribal, and that petty.  

bren - #73138

September 27th 2012

Nevertheless, while I think that all such fine-tuning issues can be pooled under the heading “major issues or questions for ontological naturalism”, I’m not sure it matches the original claims of modern ID, which was that purely naturalistic mechanisms (usually the main target would be “orthodox” evolutionary theory here) are insufficient to explain the results.  If such mechanisms are implanted in nature from the beginning as per Denton, then they are, by definition, natural, whatever their source (open to similar questions as to the source of natural law).  We can discuss the inferences of fine-tuning only from a philosophical perspective, not really from a scientific one, and the same goes for such ideas as claiming that one mechanism is clearly “planned and teleological” (again, you can’t say “guided” if there is no intervention involved), while another is clearly “unplanned and non-teleological”.  Science just can’t resolve such things (and evolutionary theory gives an extremely good reason to be cautious in coming to major philosophical conclusions based on such subjects).  In other words, if Denton is right, then his point is in opposition to modern ID claims, he is merely pointing out a new natural mechanism, amenable to scientific investigation and criticism.  This mechanism would admittedly contribute to fine-tuning arguments and would be a strong boost for theism or at least deism (from what you say of it), but it would not be sufficient to make the statement, from an exclusively scientific perspective that the data establishes that “biological complexity cannot arise from exclusively unguided, unplanned natural mechanisms” (just as a similar statement cannot be made in scientific terms for fine-tuning in the field of cosmology).  The philosophy and the science must be teased apart here, since it is simply not possible to observe whether or not some mechanism was planned, and we don’t have an agreed upon method for telling the difference.  I would note that the case of looking for alien life based on complex, patterned signals is significantly different from this, because we do actually have a genuine, observable example that links complex, patterned radio signals to some form of biological complexity (ourselves), and we don’t have a counter example of this kind of radio signal deriving from a different source (this was of course an important question at the beginning of SETI).

To sum up; the point that evolution is in crisis, or that the theory of natural selection (I think we agree on common descent) is only sufficient to explain small details and fails to exert significant explanatory power, has not been made in my opinion.  On the contrary, I think that the more we look at it, the more natural selection is proving to be an impressively effective heuristic search algorithm that can do far more work than most people were willing to attribute to it in Darwin’s time, and there is no real hint of a fundamental crisis.  Because the case for a crisis has not been convincingly made, I think that TE is the most reasonable approach for the time being.  The second point is, Denton might be right or wrong, but it sounds like he is making what is probably a very interesting contribution to the fine-tuning argument, without actually offering an alternative that is genuinely open to anything other than the usual application of methodological naturalism.  If true, his assertions would not genuinely match the only overarching definition of modern ID that I have been able to find, although it would be a strong contribution to older versions of intelligent design (versions that are not attempting to be a scientific theory or make a particular case against the perfect continuity of the natural causal matrix).

I’ll try to read the Nature review if I get the chance (although I no longer have a subscription so I probably won’t be able to).

Eddie - #73143

September 27th 2012


The Nature discussion of Denton’s ideas was many years ago—I don’t know what issue it was in.  You’ll have to hunt through the old copies in a library.  But it had to be after 1998, when Nature’s Destiny was published.

I do think that the case for a crisis in neo-Darwinism has been made, and not just by Denton.  I’m convinced that neo-Darwinism is moribund.  It’s yesterday’s theory.  25 years from now undergrads will be taught Shapiro and other writers as “standard” evolutionary theory, with neo-Darwinism relegated to footnotes, to explain what the standard theory was reacting against.  Dawkins will be regarded as downright quaint, as iceboxes and bicycles built for two are now.  

bren - #73152

September 27th 2012

My argument would maybe take a different track if I felt there was good reason to think that natural selection had somehow collapsed under its own weight as a viable idea or if I felt that something else had come forward in the forum of scientific interchange and had obtained enough substantial support to supersede it.  The case for the failure of natural selection seems to be a major talking point in many popular books, but I find it curious that it has not made the least dent in the primary scientific literature, and it seems to me that far more than a dent would need to be made before we are authorized to confidently conclude that the natural selection has gone the way of Ptolemaic epicycles or throw about words like moribund, especially after 150 years of harsh criticism and careful investigation!  If the best response is to claim that there is a running and systemic conspiracy to protect natural selection from itself in the journals and institutions (i.e. a cabal of journal editors who are pledged to reject any evidence that goes against the grain) then there’s simply nothing more to be said, since we are no longer in the realm of reasonable, evidence based discussion (I am aware you have not suggested this, but many certainly have in order to cover for this scientific silence, while implying that the realms of unpublished evidence against natural selection, or even common descent, are to be found crumpled up in the editor’s waste baskets).
I understand you go with Behe before me, but I’m not really fishing for a following anyway; I’m just questioning whether it really makes sense to say that natural selection is moribund when such a conclusion isn’t even found peripherally in the relevant journals.  I’ve seen some interesting interchanges between opposing controversial positions (such as for and against group selection) in places like Nature, but no equivalent with respect to natural selection.  So again, where is the crisis of natural selection in an evolutionary framework to be found in a generally accepted, peer reviewed environment?  Did Shapiro and Denton already make their case to a skeptical scientific community (I’m not always up to date in such things and I am only vaguely familiar with the name Shapiro), or have they skipped a step and made their case directly through popular science books (a bit like Dawkins, who went straight to the public with selfish genes and memes) never truly making the case to the more critical of the two available audiences?  The later is what I suspect, since I would otherwise have expected to see some sign of it somewhere in the textbooks or journals, but I’m open to the former if you can point it out to me.

I’ll snoop about and see if I can find the Nature review, though let me know if you can narrow it down any further.

Eddie - #73156

September 27th 2012


I’ve run out of time to explain more about Denton.  You will have to read his book if you want to know more.  But it’s worth it.  It is, in my view, the best book yet written advocating a planned, naturalistic evolutionary process.

Regarding other points:

You put great emphasis on natural selection.  If you read the ID literature carefully, you will see that the problem for ID people is not primarily natural selection, but random mutation.  Natural selection can do nothing without a constant pool of mutations.  In neo-Darwinism these are random with respect to outcome.  The ID contention is that mutations random with respect to outcome could not produce the results that we see, not even filtered by natural selection.  You can agree or disagree, but that’s the argument.  It’s all in the various writings of Behe and Dembski.

Shapiro has been publishing peer-reviewed papers in the field of evolutionary biology for years now.  He teaches molecular biology at the University of Chicago, one of the finest universities in the world.  You can go to his web site and get links to his publications, if you want them.  His new book on evolutionary theory, which came out last year, has been described as a game-changer.  He has not yet been mentioned on this site by any columnist.  Don’t ask me why.

I never read the Nature piece on Denton, but if I understand correctly, it was not merely a book review, but a feature article on his thought.  I’d guess that it appeared sometime between 2000 and 2005.  But I could be wrong; maybe it was in Science, the other big general science journal, published in the USA.  Or maybe it was Scientific American, but I’m pretty sure it was a bona fide scientific journal rather than a popular one.  Sorry I don’t know more.

bren - #73105

September 26th 2012

ok, sorry about the spacing here, not sure where I went wrong (I’ll never use copy/paste again)!

Gregory - #73078

September 25th 2012

Calm and reasoned, focussed on the issues:

What is the difference, Eddie, between saying “design is detectable, based on what [natural] science has taught us” and “design is scientifically detectable”? It seems to me you’re just playing semantics.

I don’t trust your contention about ‘what science has [supposedly] taught us.’ This is said as someone who’s studied history, philosophy and sociology of science at the PhD level. Your PhD studies, as you admit (#73057, let me wildly guess, born in 1956?), were 35+ years ago and I doubt you’ve published a single article on philosophy of science in a peer-reviewed journal ever in your life. Please correct the record if I am wrong.

Adrian Bejan’s views cast serious doubt on the ‘scientificity’ of the claims of Intelligent Design because his ‘design in nature’ is naturalistic, while ID’s is not ‘naturalistic’ (or mechanistic). The references to ‘collapse’ in #73037 highlight Marie George’s thoughtful criticism of Denton’s work and offer legitimate challenges to so-called “teleological accounts of evolution,” which I’ve added to by referencing (eastern) systems theorists, should Eddie eventually choose to step up to face them. Given her background in natural and humanitarian thought, I for one am not prepared or willing to try to contradict her.

“Marie George apparently needs some Latin lessons” - Eddie

Her Bio reads as follows:

  • M.A., Pastoral Theology, St. Joseph’s College of Maine, Maine, 2008
  • M.A., Biology, Queens College, New York, 2002
  • B.A., summa cum laude, Biology, Queens College, New York, 2000
  • Ph.D., Philosophy, Laval University, Québec, 1987
  • M.A., Philosophy, Laval University, Québec, 1982
  • B.A., Liberal Arts, Thomas Aquinas College, California, 1979

Goodness, she studied in both Canada (Quebecois) and the USA! She is “a member of ten philosophical societies, including the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, and the Society for Aristotelian Studies.”

But ‘Eddie’, with not a known publication to his name, wants to give her Latin lessons?! 

BioLogos is openly against the ‘warfare thesis’. As a ‘science-only’ position, Intelligent Design voluntarily possesses no value or relevance on the ‘warfare’ topic. That is, unless or until it throws its hat into the science, philosophy and theology theme, as I recommended recently at Uncommon Descent: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/gregory-and-the-subject-of-human-extension/

Michael Denton is not a ‘science, philosophy, theology’ scholar. He is a narrow ‘western’ (Aussie) natural scientist, a neo-vitalist, now basking in the shadow of his credibility/popularity among IDists as one of the USAmerican Intelligent Design Movement’s favourite ideologues.

His books may be provocative (e.g. Polkinghorne and Behe); they have been panned by most (biologist) academics and are surely not on my Top 100 books-to-read list. I’ve read some of Denton’s shorter works enough to know that his grandiose claims to ‘design/Design’ (as pseudo-deist-apologetics) fall short, especially given his unwillingness to engage in holistic Science and Faith dialogues.

If Eddie knows of Denton’s participation in Abrahamic Science and Faith dialogues, will he please reveal it/them in his next message? Not revealing it or them will show that Denton is actually a minor player at best and at worst a mere political poser for ID, great proponent of Denton as Eddie appears to be. Denton has recently been called a convenient instrument for ID ideology on the blog of someone well-respected who posts here at BioLogos.

“The results of modern natural science, if his [Denton’s] conclusions are correct, are much more in tune with belief in God than with the atheist position.” - Eddie

Yes, most people including myself who visit BioLogos are for (pro) ‘belief in God’. Eddie sometimes seems to be trying to use Denton for Christian apologetics, whatever Christianity he personally believes in. This is likewise part of ID propaganda, but it is also (noteworthy divorce) what scared Denton away from the DI a few years ago. And such political posturing is not what TE, EC or BioLogos are interested to regurgitate.

What I would like to hear further from Ted Davis: is theistic evolution in any way, shape or form considered as an instrument of/for religious apologetics? Or, what is the connection between TE and apologetics?

Eddie - #73128

September 26th 2012


The fact that, in response to my point about Latin, you don’t discuss the relevant Latin at all, but give me a list of Marie George’s degrees, tells me that you don’t have an argument about the Latin point.  So why not just yield the point, as a grown-up would, and as a real scholar would?  Or is the personal animus you have against me getting the better of you again?  Do you just have to say black whenever I say white?  In order to show that some things that I say are wrong, must you try to show that everything I say is wrong?  Have you tried asking yourself why it is that you feel the need to tear down whatever I post here?  A social scientist who cannot analyze his own motives, when his profession is to analyze everyone else’s motives, is a pretty sad spectacle.   

Every time you resume arguing with me about Denton, you dig yourself into a bigger hole.  You’ve admitted that you haven’t read Denton’s major theoretical works.  Your statements are based on the academic equivalent of gossip, not scholarship.  Give it up.  You’re embarrassing yourself, and your discipline.  

Before you post against me again, I recommend a cold shower—both the physical type, and the intellectual type.  Read The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom—a former student of sociology who gave it up for philosophy—and who believed that one should read a book before one passes judgment on it.  

Gregory - #73148

September 27th 2012

After you’re done charging people who advocate ‘theistic evolution’ with ‘criminal negligence,’ Eddie, let’s return to reality, shall we?

Michael Denton wrote in Nature’s Destiny: “If life is the result of design, then every component must be perfectly fit for the end it serves. There can be no exceptions. If the genetic code is indeed less that optimum, then the entire teleological worldview collapses” (166). “if it were true that the genomes of higher organisms contained vast quantities of junk, then the whole argument of this book would collapse” (290).

If these are not Denton’s words, then pull out your book and prove otherwise.

To Denton’s claim, Marie George said and asked: “Perhaps the ‘junk’ DNA does have a function. But if it were some harmless by-product of the evolutionary process, why would [Denton’s view that] the entire teleological account of evolution collapse?”

In reply, Eddie wanted to focus on the Latin meaning of ‘optimum,’ when the topic of this thread is “Decoding ENCODE.” Obfuscation? He can argue with himself about the meaning of ‘optimum’ if he wants.

Catholic philosopher and biologist Marie George, who we can well assume is a Theistic Evolution (or Evolutionary Creation) proponent, sees no reason to accept Denton’s wild conclusions or the IDM’s about genetic code. I can only imagine she would support Collins’ ‘BioLogos,’ though perhaps my imagination is unnecessarily limited to say it.


I have no personal animus against you, Eddie. I just don’t find your arguments convincing, nor do I think Intelligent Design has ‘scientifically’ proven ‘design in nature’ as you seem to personally believe. Nor do I think Denton has made a ‘positive’ case for ID, which is what most others who have reviewed him say.

That you are using Denton to try to prop up your ‘intelligently designed (minimal or generic) theistic evolution’ (IDTE) position here at BioLogos is not a surprise [given how you’ve used and abused Denton’s work in other places, although you claim this is the “first place” you’ve participated on an Internet blog – or at least that was the impression you gave – I don’t buy it]. Indeed, it would seemingly be impossible for you or any other IDist to reject Denton’s views, given that he inspired both Behe and Johnson to take up their swords against naturalism and reductionism.

But, like I said in another thread, Behe could easily set the record straight by refusing to call ‘intelligent design’ a ‘scientific’ hypothesis and telling how he accepts TE (i.e. not just how he rejects the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis). To you, Eddie, that probably sounds like giving up Christianity, just like it would to a creationist who is honestly confronted with the opportunity to embrace TE or EC instead of ‘creationism.’ It is probably a scary proposition. Behe’s simple mousetrap ID has turned into the ‘big tent’ ideology of IDism in so far as he desires ‘scientificity’ for non-scientific or extra-scientific questions and themes.

Marie George sees through ID’s ruse: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/where_intelligent_design_and_dawkins_meet/


Eddie - #73157

September 27th 2012


Your academic sins are piling up.  We already know that you offer strong opinions about books that you have not read.  Now we know that you willfully lift comments out of context to make strawman criticisms.  I had written (73127):

“I consider this situation the intellectual equivalent of criminal negligence on the part of TEs.”

“This situation”—as the context above makes clear—was that Denton’s work was not being discussed by TEs.  And how does Gregory frame my remark?:

“After you’re done charging people who advocate ‘theistic evolution’ with ‘criminal negligence,’ Eddie”

But of course, it was not the advocacy of theistic evolution that I was calling the equivalent of criminal negligence.  And you knew that, Gregory; so why the deliberate distortion?

Gregory - #73173

September 28th 2012

This is becoming a joke.

Eddie wrote: “criminal negligence on the part of TEs”

I commented that Eddie is “charging people who advocate ‘theistic evolution’ with ‘criminal negligence.”

Eddie needs his windshield washed if he can’t see clearly enough to drive.

It is “not the advocacy of theistic evolution” that is the problem according to Eddie (because he advocates mininal/generic theistic evolution too, wink, nudge), but who TEs choose to consider valuable and insightful. Has Eddie ever thought that TEs/ECs just don’t consider Denton to be as important as he does, given his promotion [here and elsewhere on-line] of Intelligent Designism, claiming to speak for/on behalf of “ID people”?

bren is showing a helpful critique of Denton, while also respecting his potentiality. This seems to be a good model to follow, without inflating Denton as Eddie does.

Eddie - #73179

September 28th 2012

So you’re not going to own up to the fact that you deliberately misframed my words?  

In your pathetic self-justification above, you have repeated your original sin, i.e., quoting my words (only a partial sentence!) out of context.  Clearly you hope to convince a reader who has not looked at my original comment that  you have done no wrong.  But of course, any reader who is even bothering to follow the exchange will go to 73127 and will see that you have deliberately excluded the context for the quoted words.  Thus, the very people you are trying to get to acquit you, will condemn you.

Where did you say you earned your Ph.D. again?  Were you not taught the basics of academic honesty by your dissertation supervisors?  Or is academic honesty not considered important in sociology?  

Eddie - #73158

September 27th 2012


People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  You accuse me of leading the thread off topic:

“In reply, Eddie wanted to focus on the Latin meaning of ‘optimum,’ when the topic of this thread is “Decoding ENCODE.” “

Ahem!  Far, far above on this page, I begged you to drop talking about Denton, reminding you that Denton was only an example I used to make a more general point.  But you have kept coming back to the subject of Denton.  It was you who introduced the Marie George review of Denton (as if her opinion could make up for your not having read the book yourself).  All I did was comment on one of George’s comments that you presented.

My comment was that George had not grasped the significance of Denton’s word “optimum.”  If she had reflected upon it, she would have realized that the particular criticism she was making was not valid.  I set this for you as a reading comprehension exercise, Gregory.  Go carefully over what Denton said, and what George said against it, and reread my comment on the exchange, and think about what “optimum” means in Latin, and for that matter in English, when it’s used properly.  There will be a test on this in September 2013, in the main gymnasium.

So by all means, let’s as you say get back to ENCODE.  What is your interpretation of the ENCODE results, Gregory?  Is biology one of the many fields you claim graduate-level expertise in?  If so, by all means, enlighten us.  Who has a better grasp on the ENCODE results, BioLogos, or the Discovery Institute?  And why?

Gregory - #73149

September 27th 2012


An internet Blog is not a peer-reviewed Journal and it is not just for scholars, Eddie. Thus I have no hesitation to cite or speak about Denton, in so far as I’m somewhat familiar with his work, having spoken with him and read his papers in edited books and on the internet. Actually addressing his quotes here, if they’ve been taken out of context, should not be too problematic.

If you’ve published *anything* (in the real world) on this topic, now’s the time to show us!

You hold no knowledge monopoly over Denton’s work, Eddie. Especially given that you are not a biologist, not a natural scientist (your PhD is in what again?) and have simply read two of his books (as ‘carefully’ and ‘correctly’ as you like to think you’ve read them) and watched a few YouTube presentations. Berating and trying to belittle me simply for pointing out weaknesses and errors in your IDTE position and the work of Denton who is not openly a proponent of ‘science & faith’ dialogue turns embarrassment to shame.

“must you try to show that everything I say is wrong?” – Eddie

No, of course not. If that is how it appears, then I offer my assurance that is not my intention. But some of what you say I believe is very wrong and truth distorting. And as I said before on a previous thread, as long as I have time and energy to write, I will stop and correct you where I think you are wrong and distortive and will not allow your blatant propaganda in the name of Intelligent Design to be perpetrated here. This is not an ID-happy-clappy site. Here legitimate challenges to ID are made and should be respected as such.

I must admit, however, that your resistance has sharpened me, Eddie [here and elsewhere]. And I am thankful for that and consider it a blessing. In this case, I hadn’t heard of Marie George before, and as often happens am overjoyed to discover yet another scientist of faith working at a high academic level.

George even reviewed Behe’s ‘Black Box’: http://www.unav.es/cryf/english/georgebehe.html

Sadly, Eddie, I’ve never felt that you had the best interest of fruitful and constructive ‘science and faith’ conversations in mind when participating in these conversations. Your “pretty sad spectacle” is yet another despicable attempt to discredit social sciences and to talk down to me simply because I disagree with you. Sorry that I’m not impressed or dissuaded. God willing, I shall follow my calling in the three disciplines that I’m trained in as the ‘multiversity’ becomes more and more defined by interdisciplinary and learner-relevant curricula.

Yes, I read The Closing of the American Mind back in my undergrad days. What is not known (because he is evasive) is if Eddie has read any evolutionary systems theory. If he had, he would see more clearly why his ‘bio-teleological’ argument, just as bren has effectively shown him wrt Denton, is badly mistaken and ideologically partisan. Even as it would reject the naturalistic ‘holism’ of much systems evolution, TE/EC seems to have much more to offer for Abrahamic believers than Eddie’s convoluted IDTE centaur.

Maybe a simpler question on the main topic of this thread: Eddie, do you believe ENCODE is “a stunning vindication of the prediction of intelligent design,” as C. Luskin does? If so, Stephen Mapes, Todd Wood, myself and many others here would seem misguided, confused, incapable. If not, would that make you willing to consider TE (and EC) in a more charitable light than you have so far been willing to shine on it?

ID is simply not “where faith and science meet” as BioLogos is (or claims to be). I’m confident even Dr. Jon Garvey would agree to that.


p.s. since you raise the issue, Eddie, my pubic CV says I was born in the 1970’s. You said: “I [Eddie] wrote part of my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, when you [Gregory] were…about eight years old.” Doing a bit of math, if you were 25 yrs-old (young guesstimate) during your exams then that would make you 50-59 years old today. I wildly guessed 1956 as your d.o.b., which makes you 55 or 56 – how does that sound, Eddie? Was I right or wrong? If you choose not to answer, then I don’t see the relevance of you having raised my age on this Blog, except for ad hominem purposes. Anyone who wanted to know my age could follow the links themselves.

Eddie - #73160

September 27th 2012


No, I have not read any “evolutionary systems theory”—or if I have, I don’t know it by that name.  And why should I bother?  Will knowing “evolutionary systems theory” help me to determine whether or not life could have arisen out of non-life by a series of chemical accidents?  Will knowing “evolutionary systems theory” help me to determine whether quantum randomness is compatible with divine Providence?  If it doesn’t help me with the questions I’m interested in, I’m not going to waste time reading it.  Life is too short.  But one thing is sure:  not having read anything about it, I’m not (like some people) going to offer my opinions about it—not even if I read a book review that talks about it.

You read Closing of the American Mind when you were an undergrad, and still did a sociology degree?  I guess Bloom didn’t get through to you!

Well, it’s been pleasant, Gregory, but let’s cut the bickering and get back to some intellectual work, shall we?  I’m moving back to the Ted Davis threads.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

Skl - #73165

September 27th 2012

Darwin Guy Dan’s quote of Shapiro notes modern biology’s on-going discoveries of cells’ “sensory and regulatory capacities”, “detailed molecular operation”, “depth of the circuitry they contain to ensure the accurate, ‘well-informed’ execution of complex functions”, and “checkpoint controls.”

These amazing cell capabilities apply especially to the meticulous maintenance and accurate reproduction of the cell. Scientists have a word for what results - STASIS.

I’m not sure what Eddie means by organisms having a “toolkit for their own self-remaking.” However, if “self-remaking” means anything like transforming/changing/evolving, then that would be the exact opposite of the cell’s actual toolkit, which assures stasis.

Eddie - #73175

September 28th 2012


If you want to know what my summary of Shapiro means, I would suggest that you read Shapiro’s book.  Having just spent a long time summarizing and interpreting Denton for some other here, I don’t have any time left to do the same for Shapiro.  All I can say is that anyone who is serious about learning evolutionary theory should be reading Shapiro.

Darwin Guy Dan - #73375

October 6th 2012


Also check out ‘coursera dot org.’  Beaglelady left a note at one of the blogs that apparently a free genetics course will be given beginning on Oct. 10.

Gregory - #73178

September 28th 2012

To #73158 and #73160:

Eddie wrote: “in Nature’s Destiny, Denton postulates a transcendent external designer.”

So, which is it: internal and immanent or external and transcendent or both (i.e. have your cake and eat it too)? What kind of ‘designer/Designer’ does ID theory ‘officially posit’? Or does it sadly have no official position at all, thus weakening its supposed explanatory power?

The FIRST time Michael Denton was mentioned in this thread, by Eddie of course, said this:

“In Denton’s view there is no intervention, but the evolutionary process is planned in advance and carefully set up through the establishment of fine-tuned laws and constants.”

This is the ‘front-loaded’ thesis, perhaps best identified with Mike Gene who believes ‘design detection’ is not ‘scientific,’ as does Jon Garvey.

What we are confronted with, according to Eddie, is a Dentonian “transcendent external designer” (‘God’ according to Denton’s deism) who “planned in advance and carefully set up” the natural evolutionary process, but did not ‘intervene’ in it. That sounds a lot like TE/EC and not like what most IDists claim. If there’s no official ID theory position, then there’s no way of resolving this; Behe’s “purposeful arrangement of parts” doesn’t satisfy “transcendent external designer” talk.

The SECOND time Denton was mentioned in this thread, I corrected one of Eddie’s many hyper-IDist excesses:

“the ‘design built into the universe’ position is not an ‘ID [read: Big-ID] position’ at all, but rather a small-id position; more properly it is a TE position.”

But since Eddie saddles TE with boisterous ‘membership requirements,’ that according to Ted Davis open a can of worms much of which doesn’t have to do with evolution at all, we are stuck again in an IDist fantasy where natural sciences are said to have ‘scientifically’ proven “design built into the universe.” That’s Eddie’s IDist position, which supports by association Casey Luskin’s naïve celebration of ENCODE as “a stunning vindication of the prediction of intelligent design [read: Big-ID].”

What I added to this thread were simply Denton’s words (3rd time repeated) in ND, which are *exactly* on topic for this thread:

“If life is the result of design, then every component must be perfectly fit for the end it serves. There can be no exceptions. If the genetic code is indeed less that optimum, then the entire teleological worldview collapses” (166). “if it were true that the genomes of higher organisms contained vast quantities of junk, then the whole argument of this book would collapse” (290).

Marie George says and asks:

“Perhaps the ‘junk’ DNA does have a function. But if it were some harmless by-product of the evolutionary process, why would the entire teleological account of evolution collapse?”

Eddie tried to counter, saying:

“All I did was comment on one of George’s comments that you presented. My comment was that George had not grasped the significance of Denton’s word ‘optimum’.”

But check the record, George did not anywhere in her review of Denton comment on ‘optimum.’ Eddie is thus falsely making up truth, presumably to try to support his IDist attack on TE, which BioLogos defends. This is not anything new; it is already an old-school (anti-realist) strategy of IDists again unveiled on their quest for ‘scientificity’ (read: status).


Eddie - #73181

September 28th 2012


On your first point:

You don’t distinguish terms carefully, and that’s why you see contradictions where there are none.  In some places I’ve been talking about the teleology, and in other places about the designer, depending on what question or objection I’ve been answering.

In Denton it’s the teleology that is immanent and internal; but the designer is external and transcendent.

Regarding ID overall, as far as the general theory goes, either the teleology, or the designer, or both, could be immanent/internal or transcendent/external; it’s irrelevant as far as design detection goes.  That’s why both Dembski and Denton count as ID proponents, even though they differ over where the teleology is located.  

On your last point:

Of course George didn’t comment on “optimum”!  In an act of substandard reading comprehension, she didn’t grasp the significance of the word in Denton’s claim, and therefore accused him of an error he didn’t make!  And you have the same reading comprehension problem, because you haven’t grasped, any better than George, why the word “optimum” relieves Denton of the charges she made.

Be honest, Gregory.  Having publically admitted that you had not read Denton’s opus magnum, and finding yourself contradicted by someone who had, you dug up George’s review as a substitute for the knowledge of Denton’s book that you don’t possess.  And now, having the George review thrown back at you by someone who has actually read Denton and therefore knows that George’s criticism is based on a misreading of Denton, you are vexed.  But you dug your way into this hole, by speaking about something that you were not qualified to speak about.  

Admit defeat graciously, Gregory.  It’s over.  And I’m moving on, even if you don’t.

Gregory - #73180

September 28th 2012


‘Read the book, fool!’ – Eddie (same strategy applied previously by Eddie at BioLogos)

In regard to taking a test from you in Sept. 2013, Eddie: 1) you are most likely not a professor qualified to give assignments (as Ted and I [and GJDS?] are), 2) I’d debate you tomorrow (read: any day of the week) in public, masks-off, you defending ID and I rejecting it *if* you were courageous and confident enough to take the challenge. I’m pretty sure that’s a challenge you won’t meet or address, even as religious dignity is concerned (1 Peter 3: 15). That’s a gauntlet thrown down, if you care to acknowlege it.

Much unlike Eddie refusing to address my question about his d.o.b. 1956 (?), after he brought up my age as an ageist taunt, I’m not ashamed to be who I am or where I’m from, which inevitably includes historical-biographical details beyond ‘pure science.’ We are all people (participating or reading) here at BioLogos blog (unless there are unknown ‘bots’ posting about ‘science and faith’). This (personal values and beliefs) is one feature of BioLogos which drastically and definitively outshines IDism.

“I guess Bloom didn’t get through to you!” – Eddie (mocking society’s impact on him)

Actually, Bloom’s book made it into my honours thesis and was provocative for its time. Bloom is not as damning of sociology as Eddie feigns to believe. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s work also made it into my PhD thesis, wrt philosophy and sociology, triggering overlaps with Orthodox theology. Eddie’s specialty, whatever field his PhD is supposedly in (?), however, is still unknown b/c he hides safely behind a sock-puppet at BioLogos.

Let me humbly in service suggest this: Sociology is the most powerful discipline to expose the hypocrisy, status quo and wishful thinking of the Intelligent Design Movement, a topic that was part of my master’s thesis. The DI’s outrageous avoidance of sociology (while pretending to pontificate about ‘intelligent agency’!) speaks volumes to what IDists are most afraid of – being discovered for who they actually are (mainly YECs and OECs on the rebound against the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis).

In contrast to Eddie’s anti-social reading list, I also read things like this, from theologian John Stackhouse, speaking positively about Christianity and sociology: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/july8/6.54.html

Eddie’s personal desire or conclusion to insult and ignore social sciences is also reflected in ID management. This shows how little interested he and they are in ‘design’ as a general topic, i.e. as most scholars study and define it. Studying ‘evolutionary systems theory’ would help IDists *WAKE UP* to talk of ‘teleological evolution’ that they have not yet confronted. As it is, however, they are still over-dependent on (neo-)Darwinism and negatively accustomed to focussing their (apologetic) efforts mainly on new atheists, with whom (as Marie George notes, along with several others) they actually have much in common.

As for “getting back to intellectual work,” Eddie, the truth is that I haven’t stopped on that front for a moment. That’s my job; not just to edit other peoples’ thoughts as you do (which is also a respectful profession, but in a different way).

Please friends say a prayer for the new semester beginning next week, a new course that I’ll be teaching which touches on many controversial themes of identity, society, politics, culture and personal belief in a ‘secular’ setting. It’s not just about ‘(biological) evolution,’ but about ‘development’ and people constructing codes, rules and customs that affect millions of others through media, culture and technology.

With thanks,


Skl - #73189

September 28th 2012

To Eddie,

Regarding your response #73175:

Of what value is your summary of Shapiro if, to understand the summary, I have to read the entire book you’re summarizing? I’m asking you a question about YOUR summary.

Does your term, “self-remaking” (which you imply Shapiro would also be OK with), mean transforming/evolving?  (i.e. organism type-x self-remaking to become eventually organism type-y?)

If it does, then, as I stated above, it goes against the grain of the stasis modern biology actually finds.

Eddie - #73192

September 28th 2012


Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist.  That means he spends his life studying hypothetical mechanisms of evolution.  So yes, he is talking about transformation into new organisms.

He argues that organisms have the potential to remake themselves.  He believes that the genome can under certain circumstances be altered by the intention of the organism itself, as opposed to by accident (copying errors, externally induced mutations, etc.).  That’s where he differs from standard evolutionary biologists, for whom alterations in the genome are random affairs.

Shapiro brings to evolutionary theory the training of a molecular biologist, and he teaches molecular biology and evolution at one of the great universities of the world, and he’s quite aware of what “modern biology actually finds.”  If you have any objection to any of his conclusions—which you shouldn’t be voicing until you have read what he has written—you can always write to him at the University of Chicago and explain to him, out of the depths of your first-hand knowledge of biology, where he is wrong.  So please start working through his scientific publications, and when you have mastered them, write to him with your objections; and by all means, report back to us on the result of your dialogue with him.


Skl - #73194

September 28th 2012

To Eddie,                                                            

Perhaps I will try to correspond with Dr. Shapiro. I wonder though if it would be a waste of my time, whether he would even bother replying. Some PhDs seem to despise anyone’s questioning of their assumptions and of their hypotheticals, especially anyone who doesn’t have a PhD in the same field.

I have read a little from his book, however. One of the questions I might ask him is why he writes that “Living cells and organisms are cognitive (sentient) entities that act and interact purposefully to ensure survival, growth, and proliferation. They possess corresponding sensory, communication, information-processing, and decision making capabilities.”

I might ask Shapiro if he’s hypothesized how he might interrogate individual cells about their intentions and about what the cells are thinking/planning next.

I might further ask him what he thinks will be required for his hypothesis to graduate to a theory, and in that event, how he would then pursue proving the theory.

If I have any luck with Shapiro I’ll be sure to let you and everyone here know.


Darwin Guy Dan - #73406

October 8th 2012

Ski #73165,  #73189, #73175, #73194 and Eddie #73175, #73192:

Fascinating discussion, especially #73194.  Would I also knew more about how to get from
Shapiro’s teleological hypothesis on to higher consciousness.  Meanwhile, a book by McShea and Brandon might be of interest—- BIOLOGY’S FIRST LAW: THE TENDENCY FOR DIVERSITY & COMPLEXITY TO INCREASE IN EVOLUTIONARY SYSTEMS (2010). The authors recognize the reality of what they label a Zero Force Evolution Law (ZFEL). (As you may know, as a Naturalistic Parallelist Theorist myself, I dislike the word “evolution” and its derivatives but I also do recognize the marketing value.)  The authors, as Evolutionists, very appropriately write (p.31):

“Indeed, there are good theoretical reasons for thinking that stabilizing selection is ubiquitous in nature.  If most mutations are deleterious, and if most effects of developmental noise are likewise deleterious, and if most effects of developmental noise are likewise deleterious, then most selection should be stabilizing.  Certainly, recent molecular evidence shows that stabilizing (or purifying) selection has operated strongly on particular genes.  The now-famous Pax6 gene has changed little over the 500 million years that separates fruit flies and mammals.”

Of course, as an NPT, I accept that there is no direct genetic linkage between fruit flies and mammals.  That is, I see a zillion years as being a more parsimonious hypothesis over the “500 million years” of the authors.  McShea and Brandon continue:

“Of course, studies of individual genes do not allow us to quantify the prevalence of purifying selection compared with other forms of selection and compared with drift.  For that we would need large metastudies of molecular evolution.  So far as we know, no such study yet exists, but that should change in the near future. [I tend to be dubious about metastudies.]

“OTHER CONSTRAINTS AND CONTRARY TENDENCIES: Linkage keeps genes from assorting perfectly independently, which constrains disparity.  Inbreeding tends to homogenize genotypes, which also reduces disparity.  Horizontal gene transfer has the same effect.  Just as sexual reproduction can increase diversity within a population and species, asexual reproduction can have the opposite effect.”

The free on-line courses recommended by BeagleLady at <coursera dot org> certainly look interesting.  Unfortunately, I have but limited library access so may not be able to survey the genetics course beginning Oct. 10.  It would be interesting to know if the instruction will cover horizontal gene transfers or if such teaching is still far off in to the future until such time as all books with “evolution” in the title can work their way out of the system and be retired (or else republished with different titles).

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy

Darwin Guy Dan - #73476

October 9th 2012

ERRATUM: I ought not to have duplicated the phrase, “and if most effects of development noise are likewise deleterious.”

Note that my skepticism regards “large metastudies” assumes the standard definition is that of combining many small studies into one large study.  I particularly have difficulties with the possibility of erroneous interpretations that might result due to the introduction of highly subjective, in my view, Bayesian analysis.

Although I am not well schooled in this regards, this same skepticism wouldn’t seem to be applicable to a single large study.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73216

September 29th 2012

Bren and Eddie,

If I may I would like to comment on your discusion of Denton.

One important distinction concerning evolution that must be made.  Darwin defined two basidc aspects of evolution, Variation and Natural Selection.  While I disagree with Darwin in some aspects, I must give him credit for this basic understanding of how e3volution works, which has been overlooked in most modern thought.

Variation generally though genetic mutation offers possibility for change.  Natural Selection on the other hand determines which changes survive, form future life forms.  Variation proposes, Natural Selection.

The problem has been that the evolutionary debate has centered on Variation, which is the strong suit of Scientism.  Variation is basically indeterminate and if that were the end of it, neoDarwinism would be true.

But as Darwin determined, Variation is only half of the evolutionary story.  Natural Selection is the other half and here is where Darwinism is very weak.  The criticism of ID of Darwinism must be on Natural Selection. 

Because people connect materialism with the concept of natural Christians seem to shy away from a Christian view of Natural Selection.  That is a mistake caused by Westrern dualism.  God works through nature and natural laws.  There is noting to say that God cannot create through Natural Selection, which is not rendom and is teleological by definition. 

As far as I can see ID understands this which is the source of its weakness as I understand it.  The evolution is teleological and designed, but this is found in Natural Selection rather than Variation.  That is why in a real sense Science and Faith are both right about evolution.            

Eddie - #73227

September 29th 2012


Natural selection, as understood by both Darwin and Dawkins, is not teleological.  It imitates the effects of design; it produces apparent design.  Some biologists, e.g., Gaylord Simpson, employ the term “teleonomic” to capture this idea.

Denton’s conception of evolution, however, is genuinely teleological.

In any case, for God to use “natural selection” to control the outcomes of evolution, he would have to intervene constantly.  The factors which influence selection (i.e., which creatures live, and which die) are numerous, including, among many other things, competition from similar creatures, the climate, levels of radiation entering the atmosphere, meteoroids striking the earth and wiping out all large reptiles (leaving the field open for the small mammals which survived).  If God uses natural selection to control what evolution produces, then he is constantly manipulating all these variables in order to get certain mutations through and put other mutations out of business.  That’s intervention on a massive scale, the very thing that you apparently reject in your emphasis on natural laws.  

In any case, your conception of evolution as mutation plus selection is outdated, as Shapiro and others are soon going to sweep Darwinian biology into the dustbin of history.  If you are going to relate theology to biology, it should be 21st-century biology, not the biology of long-dead neo-Darwinian theorists.  (Well, OK, Dawkins isn’t physically dead yet, but he hasn’t had a new scientific idea in 30 years, so he is theoretically dead.)

As for your last sentence, I don’t acknowledge the existence of personifications such as “Science” and “Faith” which can be “right” or “wrong” about something.  Indeed, “Science” vs. “Faith” is one of those great “Western dualisms” which utterly mislead people.  By using that language, you fall afoul of your own preaching against such dualisms.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73279

October 1st 2012


You have no real idea of my view of evolution.  If you had been contributing to BioLogos for a longer period of time, you might, you should, but you have not. 

Therefore you are rejecting something about which you know very little.  Before doing this you need to do some research about my views, or ask what they are. 

As for Science and Faith, they do exist, do they not?  If you read what I wrote, you will see that I do not regard them as dualistic.  You said in the other blog that you accept Western dualism.  So which is it, Science vs Faith or Science and Faith as I think?  Or do you believe with Jon as you claimed before that God and Creation are practically inseparable?      

Eddie - #73281

October 1st 2012


I said I don’t acknowledge the existence of personifications of Science and Faith, with capital letters.  I.e., when someone says “Science teaches” or “Science has proved” or “Faith teaches” etc., they should be saying “The majority of geneticists currently believe” or “Calvin teaches ...” or “The Roman Church teaches ...” etc.  The reifying of “Science” and “Faith” as if they are two persons, with monolithic and unalterable positions, is the cause of most of our problems.  In fact there are various conclusions of scientists, and various conclusions of theologians, and if we used that language, we could avoid a lot of unnecessary polemics.

I never said that God and Creation are practically inseparable, or anything even close to that.  In fact, I just said to you tonight that they weren’t.  You either have me mixed up with someone else, or you have misunderstood what I’ve written.  And I doubt Jon Garvey would ever say anything like that either, as he he holds to classical (non-liberal) Protestant theology.

It’s true that I have no idea of your view of evolution, because what you have said about it seems incoherent to me.  And the human mind cannot form a conception of that which is incoherent.  One minute you have God doing something, because he relates personally to his Creation; another minute you have him him keeping his hands off and letting nature do it through laws.  I can’t make head or tail of your position.

We speak different languages, Roger.  You might as well be talking in Swahili to me, most of the time.  I’m steeped in the language of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Richard Hooker, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, etc.—the language of the Classical-Christian synthesis which sustained the West from Clement of Alexandria through to (in some places) the end of World War II, and (in fewer places, and in attenuated form) a little bit into the 1960s.  Your language is an amalgam of Wesleyan piety, post-modern philosophy, the Logos doctrine deformed by being filtered through alien modern notions, and bits of and pieces of modern science that you seem to have grabbed from here and there and everywhere.  Your language is eclectic; my language comes from an organic tradition, one which you have no apparent interest in, and, it seems, very little familiarity with.  So we can’t communicate.

I’m not interested in coming up with a grand new synthesis of “non-dualistic” thinking.  I’m interested in responding to the modern world critically, in the light of a great tradition.  I think that most of the elements out of which you are trying to build your synthesis are ephemeral notions which will be outdated as intellectual trends change; I think that the tradition I hold to will outlast all such vagaries of popular and intellectual opinion.  Who listens to the Dave Clark Five or Fabian now?  But Mozart and Bach are still as beautiful as they ever were.  But if you think that the theological equivalents of Mozart and Bach have been superseded by the theological equivalents of the Dave Clark Five and Fabian, well, you are entitled to your opinion.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73289

October 2nd 2012


If old is always better, why don’t we go all the way back to Abraham and Moses?  My view is that YHWH and Jesus are the best definitions of God so that seem to trump your theologians.

My belief is that we need a new synthesis.  That does not mean that the old is bad or wrong, but that new wine needs new wineskins.  The problem is, “How to develop this new point of view?”  

It seems to me that there have been times like this in the history of Christianity. 

  • At the end of the ancient world, at least in the West, when the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated and Augustine took the West in a different direction from the East.    
  • The end of the Middle Ages where Luther took Protestantism in a different direction from the Roman Catholic Church.
  • The begining of the Industrial Revolution when John Wesley took the evangelical movement in a new direction.

History has its own movement and values.  It never stands still and humans are always called to lead or follow.  We live in a very different world than Mozart and Bach with much more choice and variety.  The beauty of their Classical music does not diminish the beauty the Romantic music of Beethoven, Tschaikovsky and Rachmaninov, the Blues and Jazz, and folk music around the world.

Again the question is not how we would like the world to be, but how it is.  It has been changed and that much of that change has been led by science (s or S).  Therefore we must take science into consideration.  That is not a problem since God through the Logos informs us that there is no dualism between the universe and God.  E = mc 2 is not ephemeral in my judgement nor is the Logos.

It seems to me that the Bible says that human traditions, and human understandings of God do not last forever.  The Bible is the story of change from the Patriarchs to Moses and Joshua to the Judges to David and Solomon to the Prophets to the Exile to the Return to Jesus Christ. 

In other words theologically I do not think you have a leg to stand on.  That is not to say that my thinking is completely right.  That is why we need a dialogue to help one another.        

Eddie - #73290

October 2nd 2012


Old isn’t always better, but it often is.  I don’t regard the Reformation as an unqualified advance on the Middle Ages, and I certainly don’t regard the Wesleyan trajectory in theology as an improvement on the magisterial Reformers.  In fact, I regard the “turn to the subjective” in the past two centuries as a huge disaster for Christianity.  And certainly the religion of Abraham or Moses must have been more pleasing to God than the nauseating services at the Crystal Cathedral or the vulgar and demagogical speeches of the television evangelists.  

There is religious change recorded in the Bible, but change is not automatically progress.  In fact, the intimacy of Adam with God in the Garden makes the separation from God that follows a religious regress, not a progress.  And ask any Orthodox Jew if he regards the Prophets as “higher” than the Law; he will tell you, unequivocally, No.

I don’t see why any new synthesis is necessary.  Either the Classical-Christian tradition paints a correct picture of man and God, or it doesn’t.  If it is correct, then the historical changes you are talking about don’t require any new doctrine; they merely require new applications for new situations.  But you are talking not merely about new applications, but about genuinely new doctrines.  You are talking about changing the doctrine of creation, of changing the doctrine of body and soul, imputing freedom to inanimate objects, etc., in order to harmonize with (what you take to be) the teachings of modern science, as if science is the master and theology is merely its handmaiden.  

And if you are willing to ditch 1900 or more years of authoritative Christian tradition, it is only a matter of time before you start cutting stuff out of the Bible itself, declaring some of its teachings no longer valid.  I’m sure you’ll end up declaring Genesis 1 invalid because of its “dualistic” picture of God distinct from nature, and will put up John 1 in its place, which you conceive to be “non-dualistic” (even though it in fact presupposes the division between God and world given in Genesis 1).  But on what Archimedean point will you stand, as you pit one part of the Bible against another?  Do you think for a minute that Wesley would approve of your using John against Genesis? 

What will be next, Roger?  Will you, with many TEs, deny or slyly question the Old Testament miracles, on the grounds that they are incompatible with modern science?  Maybe some of the New Testament miracles, too?  I have nothing against anyone who disbelieves in miracles, but to disbelieve in miracles, and at the same time say that one represents traditional Christianity, is ridiculous.  Certainly when I asked you about Jesus walking on the water before, you were as slippery as a fish.

I do have a theological leg to stand on, Roger.  It consists of the Greek and Latin Fathers, the best of Greek metaphysics and ethics, the best of the Scholastics and the Reformers, and the synthesis of all this in writers like Lewis and Sayers.  What theological leg do you stand on?  Wesley?  Schleiermacher, and other Romantic drivel?  The views of the unbeliever Einstein?  Modern psychological theories which eliminate the soul?  Bonhoeffer?  Haught?  Hartshorne?  It seems to me that my leg is older, taller, thicker, stronger, and of proven sturdiness, whereas your leg is younger, spindly, shaky, and untested.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73294

October 2nd 2012


I said nothing about something being higher than something else.  We can grow without putting down our past.  On the other hand the problem with Orthodox Judaism is that they absolutize the Torah, so of course they can’t accept Jesus as the Messiah. 

It appears that you want to absolutize your Christian synthesis, but since even God is not absolute, but relational, certainly theology cannot be absolute.  

Again you demonstrate that you have no understanding of my thinking and today’s science.  If I were to choose a modern theologian, it would be Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I agree that modern theology and philosophy are quite thin, which is the reason why we need a rebirth of philosophy and theology.  I am not in favor of the status quo, but neither do I think that we can live in the past.

If you want to defend the old theology or bring it up to date, fine, but do not think that you are above criticism.  

Eddie - #73296

October 2nd 2012


I’m not absolutizing anything.  The Classical-Christian synthesis I’m speaking of isn’t a set of rigid doctrines.  It’s a general harmonization of Classical and Christian thought, which allows for building in more insights as time goes on.  Thus, in the 20th century, C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers and E. L. Mascall and W. R. Inge could each in his or her own way adapt the structure, enriching it and applying it to modern life while staying within its general bounds, as in earlier generations the Cambridge Platonists, Thomas More, Aquinas, and Abelard could do so.  But most modern Christian theology isn’t of this sort.  Most modern Christian theology, whether German, American, or from elsewhere, tends not merely to adapt and enrich, but to jettison or to contradict key elements of past theology.  

The question is how to move into the future.  Do we move into the future by cautiously building on the past, or do we move into the future by tossing out much of the past?  Many TEs appear to be willing to toss out God’s foreknowledge, governance, etc., in order to preserve Darwinian evolution.  And many TEs seem to hint strongly that certain parts of the Bible are no longer tenable—though few will say so directly.  I think it is really important to clear the air, and get the various TEs to declare themselves as either builders upon the orthodox past—with deference to the doctrines articulated by Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, Augustine, the Councils, etc.—or as radicals who see the need for “a new thing”—a new version of Christianity that will unapologetically depart in major ways from past Christian tradition, as Christianity itself once departed from Judaism.

The first group would unambiguously declare, in line with traditional doctrine, that God plans and executes the evolutionary process so that all its outcomes are intended; the second group would unambiguously declare that the evolutionary process is “open” even from God’s point of view, and that not all evolutionary outcomes are intended.  I think that the first group would easily harmonize with the views of ID proponents such as Behe and Denton; the second group would not.  But getting the lines clearly drawn would be a great service to the Christian community.

My objection to your writing is that, after scores of questions and objections from me, aimed at getting clarification on what you think about nature, God’s control over the evolutionary process, etc., I get no clarity.  I know exactly what Denton thinks.  I know exactly what Dawkins thinks.  I know exactly what Gould thinks.  I know exactly what Jay Richards thinks.  All of them use key scientific, philosophical or theological terms just as I use them.  But I can’t get you to stabilize your philosophical and theological language enough to find out what you think.  You would achieve this stability if you were to adopt the traditional language of metaphysics and theology.  Martin Luther King does not help me.  I need your ideas translated into the idiom of the classical theologians and philosophers.  But that initiative has to come from you.

I’m not saying your ideas are wrong, I’m saying I can’t follow them, and I’m saying that the reason I can’t follow them is your departure from the metaphysical lingua franca long since established by the scholars and writers trained in Rome, Heidelberg, Oxford, Paris, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Toronto, Melbourne, etc.  And I don’t know whether this departure from that language is due to lack of familiarity with it, or for some other reason.  But it’s the language barrier that’s the problem.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73308

October 3rd 2012


Point 1:  I expect you understand the views of writers because you have read their books.  You have not read my book, so this is a major difference.

Point 2:  I have tried to make it clear that I am not satisfied with the current philosophical/theological views on this topic and observe the need for a new understanding. 

New wine requires new wineskins as Jesus observed, so you cannot expect me to use the same out terminology in the same old way to describe a new understanding of God’s Reality.

Point 3:  If you can reconcile philosophical dualism with the Logos and theological Trinitarian throught, good for you.  I can’t nor have I found anyone else who can.   

Point 4:  I hope that you understand what a score is.  The only time I recall having any discussion on this topic was on a discussion opened by Jon concerning were God directly controlled nature or not.  I tried to make the case that God worked primarily through natural laws.  Jon argued that God directly controlled nature, which by inference you supported.

You became involved because I would not say that the miracles of Jesus violated the laws of nature.  You demanded a simplistic answer to a complex problem and were enraged when I did not give it to you, so much that you have distorted the conversation in your mind into scores of questions and objections.   

Eddie - #73311

October 3rd 2012


On your first point, suppose someone gave you a free hamburger, and you didn’t like the taste of the meat.  Then, suppose that person offered you a freezer full of that same hamburger meat, at a bargain price.  Would you order the meat?  I don’t think you would.  Similarly, since I haven’t seen a 500-word post of yours on science and theology that is to my mind logically persuasive and historically accurate, I am not going to undertake to read a 125-page book of similar material.

On your third point, since you grossly misuse the term “dualism,” and since you apply it to refer to just about any metaphysical or theological opinion you don’t like, whether or not those opinions have anything in common, or even anything to do with the root “du-” (meaning “two”), there is no way of telling what you really mean by it.  If you want to communicate, you should use words as they are used by scholars in the field, not in an ad hoc way contrived by yourself.

On your fourth point, regarding the discussion you are recalling, you appeared neither to understood what Jon and I were saying, nor even to be listening carefully.  Your responses bore only a very indirect relation to our criticisms.  And I wasn’t “enraged,” but I was irritated.  I have a Ph.D. in the subject we are talking about (theology and science), and if you were a student of mine, your arguments would have been marked up in red on your essay paper with comments like the ones I gave you.  But you stubbornly stood your ground, impervious to correction, whether it came from Jon’s relevant Biblical citations or my indications of your internal contradictions and ambiguities regarding the use of “law” and “nature” etc.  At that point I realized that we were never going to be able to communicate.  

As for Jesus, I did not demand a simplistic answer, but I demanded a coherent answer.  You failed to provide one.  Your answers were shifting and unstable, and you seemed to be offering unwitting retractions of points you had previously insisted on.   Go back and reread the questions you were asked, and the objections raised, and look again at your replies.

Roger, I now have to be blunt, because you have repeatedly pressed me, against my wishes, to continue this conversation, and time is precious, and I need to exit.  I claim no intellectual infallibility in any area, but I am a trained academic in the religion and science area, with my years of formal training in metaphysics and theology and Biblical studies apparently outweighing yours by a ratio of something like 3 or 4 to 1.  I have peer-reviewed academic publications in this field.  In my professional view, which is based on an analysis of thousands of words of yours on this site, you are not qualified to write in this field.  That in itself would not prevent my having a constructive conversation with you, but your intellectual defensiveness, as demonstrated by your unwillingness to accept any correction, makes such a conversation fruitless for me.  That is why I will not be responding to you further.  I say all of this without personal animus, and only as a last resort, because nothing else I have said seems to have been sufficient to convince you that we don’t have enough in common to have a meaningful conversation on the subject at hand.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #73319

October 3rd 2012

Eddie, my brother,

I have not pressed you to continue this conversation.  You haver continued it because for some reason are driven to prove that you are 100% right and I am 100% wrong.

No one is forcing you to continue this except yourself.  Now the only real way way to end this properly is to do it on the basis of mutual acceptance and respect.  This does not mean that we have to agree far from it, but you insist in trashing my point of view even while you say you do not understand it.  To me that does not make sense.

My position is clear.  I am looking for a consistent world view that effectively deals with the scientific, philosophical, human, and theological issues of our time.  Thus far I have not found one, so I have begun to develop my own over the years which seems to provide some good results, but I have had to go beyond traditional thought to do this.

Now I am not married to my particular mode of thought, but I am married to this goal.  I am willing to consider your point of view, but not uncritically.  You say that I misuse the concept of dualism, give me your concept of dualism or whatever you stand for and explain and defend it.        

beaglelady - #73338

October 4th 2012


You’ll have to read my book after I’ve written it.  I think you’ll find it helpful.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73360

October 5th 2012


I will be glad to.

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