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From the Dust: Expanding the Paradigm

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October 16, 2013 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's entry was written by Ryan Pettey. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In honor of the digital debut of From the Dust on the iTunes store, today we're reposting another clip from the film, titled "Expanding the Paradigm", as well as a letter from the movie's director, Ryan Pettey. You can purchase (or rent) the movie today on iTunes, or if you prefer, a physical copy through Amazon or Highway Media.

My name is Ryan Pettey, and I am a documentary filmmaker who has been amazingly blessed to work on a feature-length documentary over the last year and a half called From the Dust.

With From the Dust, we wanted to put something proactive on the table that could help motivate an elevated conversation about the “war” between science and faith. It was our goal to help Christians see (and accept) the complexity of the issues raised by modern science, as well as help them to courageously engage with the theological conversations happening within the sphere of Christian culture today. We wanted the film to address the topic hermeneutically, historically, and socially in order to gain a better perspective on the issues, and, hopefully, address some of the fears (justified or otherwise) concerning what science is telling us about our physical origins.

Personally, this project has been a spiritual shot in the arm and has whole-heartedly reignited my walk with God. I have been truly humbled by my opportunity to speak with so many incredible theologians, scientists, biblical scholars, and authors. As a result of this project, the book of Genesis has become more alive and more dynamic than I had ever allowed it to be. It is my hope that this film will both challenge and inspire people of faith, no matter where they are on their journey, to revere the complexity of God both through his word and his creation.

Through the BioLogos Forum, I will be posting a few short, topic driven clips from the film in the coming weeks as conversation starters.

Thanks for watching!

Ryan Pettey
From the Dust

Editor’s Note: The full documentary is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. You can order the film here, and learn more about the project here.

“Expanding the Paradigm” Transcript

Dr. Alister McGrath: “I think that one of the questions that arises when thinking about faith and science is whether theology is being forcibly changed simply to accommodate to scientific development. As I look at the long history of Biblical interpretation, I see Christian theologians wrestling with scripture, wanting to make sense of it—sometimes going off in this direction, sometimes in that, but always correcting themselves when they realize, ‘We have gone wrong.’ It is not about forcible revision. Sometimes we have gone wrong, and we need to reexamine questions. Maybe the way we always thought things were isn’t quite right. That is why challenges to our way of thinking actually are to be welcomed. They force us to rethink.”

Reverend Dr. Michael Lloyd: “Changing a worldview or indeed expanding it significantly is quite a painful process. It seems to put a question mark against everything we have previously thought, believed, acted on, felt, and found to be important. Particularly this is true, obviously, of our concept of God.”

Michael Ramsden: “This is difficult for anyone who holds any kind of belief, regardless of its nature, to be willing to be challenged on it. We normally become very defensive. Now, it is inevitable that the paradigm you bring is going to affect how you begin to interpret and arrange certain things. But then, the question that has to come for any person who wants to try to think clearly is the reality of what I am observing and studying has to be able to challenge my paradigm. Either I am going to make everything fit into this paradigm of mine, or I am going to allow the reality of this to inform the way I think about something.”

Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne: “You have to commit yourself to what you believe to be a point of view, but you have to also recognize that you may be mistaken in that point of view—and you have to be open to correction. And people who are seeking to serve the God of truth should welcome truth in whatever sort it comes.”

Reverend Dr. Michael Lloyd: “I don’t think change is about necessarily being better or worse; it is about being appropriate to the situation. Love in the presence of pain takes the form of compassion. Love in the presence of injustice takes the form of anger. Love in the presence of love takes the form of delight. There isn’t a change there…it is all love; it is all consistent, but it takes a different form.”

Reverend Dr. Lincoln Harvey: “God is lively. God is undomesticated. There is wildness to God, and that is unsettling because that says, ‘I am not finished.’”

Reverend Dr. Michael Lloyd: “Every concept of God is inadequate. Every view of God is too small. Every theology is idolatrous, in one sense—that it is an inadequate presentation of who God is—and therefore, periodically, you have to get a bigger one.”

Reverend Dr. David Wenham: “New generations raise new questions which may actually help our understanding to increase. If thinking about modern science is helping us to actually understand the Bible better, I think that is a real possibility and I suspect that is a real gain—and I don’t think that is us giving way to culture, I think that is us understanding what God has given us in God’s revelation better.”


Ryan Pettey is a filmmaker and the director/editor of Satellite Pictures. He produced the feature length video From the Dust, which examines the question of human physical origins from a theological, historical and social perspective.

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Eddie - #82930

October 16th 2013

Alister McGrath’s opening comment hits the nail on the head:  many evangelical Christians believe that Christian theology is being changed to accommodate reigning ideas in science.  But then McGrath tries to pooh-pooh the charge.  He says that Christian theology is always changing, and that this is healthy—the implication apparently being that the changes some would like to make in Christian theology in order to harmonize it with science will by some sort of invisible hidden hand be good for Christian theology.  But there is no reason to assume this.

I wonder if McGrath would say the same about science.  I wonder if he would say that it would do no harm if reigning or traditional ideas in science were changed to conform to the truths currently discerned by theologians, since science is always changing anyway, and in the long run it changes for the better.

Somehow I doubt he would say that.  I think he would say that if science changes in accord with its own internal dynamic, that is a good thing, but that if it feels pressure to change coming from politics or religion or anything else, that is a bad thing.  To be logical, then, he should say that it is good for theology to change when it changes due to its own internal dynamic, but bad when it changes due to outside pressure from politics or science.

Or am I misreading McGrath?  Is he saying only that Christian theology is always changing, and that in the current situation that change is just a sort of natural “evolution” of Christian thought, and is not at all driven by scientific theories such as neo-Darwinism?  

If so, I think McGrath is entirely naive about the world he lives in.  There is not the slightest doubt that TE, both in Britain and the United States, is asking theology to change in order to conform with what is believed to be established and firm science.

Now maybe it is a good thing that theology should respond to such external pressures, and maybe it isn’t; but it is sheer intellectual dishonesty (or incredible social naivete) to assert or believe that there is no such pressure, and that theologians and churches and denominations and seminary programs are not responding to it.

All one has to do to show this is to compare Todd Wood with, say, Dennis Venema or Darrel Falk.  Todd Wood admits that Darwinian evolution provides the best scientific explanation for a whole mess of things, and he admits that on population genetics assumptions—which he admits to be good science —Adam and Eve cannot have existed as sole parents of the human race.  But he accepts Adam and Eve anyway, because his literalist Biblical religion demands it.  He refuses to change his theology even for science that he believes to be good science.  He reasons that science, however good, can be fallible, whereas the word of God cannot be fallible, so he will not change.  Venema and Falk, on the other hand, are convinced that there cannot have been an Adam and Eve who were literal parents of the race, and therefore they will not accept any interpretation of Genesis that makes Adam and Eve the biological parents of the race (though they can accept an “adoptionist” interpretation whereby Adam and Eve are only “spiritual” ancestors of the human race, by God’s adoption of them from their hominid tribe).

Thus, for Falk and Venema, what the Bible is allowed to mean is circumscribed by science.  We determine the truth about human origins from science, not the Bible (we might rudely ask, ‘Who assigned “origins” to the NOMA compartment of “science” rather than of “theology”?’, but leave that aside), and then, once we know the truth about origins, we read the Bible in such as way that it says nothing false about origins.  Nothing easier, as long as you put first things first; i.e., accept the truth delivered by the more “reliable” body of knowledge (natural science), and adjust the truth currently held by the more “unreliable” body of knowledge (theology).  Where the two appear to clash, the theologians must have made the mistake, so they are the ones who have to change.  

Now McGrath probably favors the approach of Venema and Falk as more sensible and philosophically reasonable than that of Todd Wood.  And if does, that’s fine.  But he can’t claim that theologians aren’t being asked to come up with new interpretations of the Bible (and new systematic theologies, etc.) under pressure from science.  If he claims that, he is deluded about the facts.

I don’t say that science is the only reason that theology is changing today.  But anyone who does not acknowledge that science (or what has passed for science) has been—along with historical-philological Biblical criticism—the main reason for theological change since the Enlightenment, and especially since Lyell and Darwin, does not know the intellectual landscape of the last 250 years.  Not even if he holds a chair in Philosophy or Theology at Oxford.

Merv - #82941

October 16th 2013

Or am I misreading McGrath? 

After lodging the obligatory complaint about recycled old posts, and the refusal of Biologos folks to interact ...  [insert usual script here] ...

Let me go out on a limb and suggest that you are, even though I have only read one of his books which probably doesn’t qualify me to defend him (especially since I can’t even remember the title at the moment.)  But I do remember thinking his theology was solid, so I’ll venture to put some more words in his mouth.

What if we replaced that scary word “science” with “reality” or “experience” or some such thing?  Nobody should be getting up in a tizzy over the fact that we and indeed everybody who has ever believed a sacred book or listened to a rabbi’s or prophet’s uttered word will measure it against their experience of the world.  And we do this constant testing even at the express invitation of Scriptures themselves.  The old testament advises the people of God to observe whether a prophet’s word turns out to be true or not (does this not qualify as experience?) and by this they will know whether or not that word really came from God.  So what qualifies as experience?  We can rightly be a little careful on this one since experiences can be interpreted in many (and wrong ways).  So what might be some helpful tools which might help us sort through experiences (at least of naturally observeable phenomena) to help us apprehend a solid footing on how things happen?   Might not science be a good way to fill this role?

But then things get scary and it is no longer about testing God’s word (actually it is just testing what we *think* is God’s word or at least is our understanding of it)—and it becomes instead a war between science and religion. 

So yes, I propose that theological understandings have historically (and biblically) accepted reality checks from ... reality.   And any insistence that this must stop is to dangerously isolate theology not to mention being itself an unbiblical practice.  The question then is:  is science a dependable way to assess reality?  Well, for at least some kinds of reality it appears to be about the best we have ... but yes, it is fallible too.  —- just as our theological doctrines and traditions can also be fallible.

And that last little piece of modesty is something that at least some theologians gladly harbor on behalf of their profession in stark contrast with some scientists who have yet to learn such modesty on behalf of science generally speaking.  I would hate to think that we were regressing to the arrogant modes of some of the more militant atheists.  Theology can be (has learned to be) better than that.

Lou Jost - #82944

October 16th 2013

Merv, you’ve put that very well. Theology is a very loosely constrained subject (witness the large number of different contradictory Christian sects who all claim to be authorative) whereas reality provides a much more solid constraint. Even though our understanding of reality is always incomplete and changing, we  have some solid facts under our belt that the ancients did not have. If theology based on ancient books appears to contradict these facts, then the theology is wrong (as Augustine said). When Todd Wood denies reality in favor of his faith in a particular interpretation of scripture, he is showing an arrogance that would be regarded as pathological or delusional if it were about any other topic besides religion.

Yes, science can also be wrong; that is why good scientists constantly question it. That’s what Christians should do about their faith too (and I know some of them do).

Eddie - #82945

October 16th 2013

Good points here, Merv.  

I grant that in interpreting the Bible we all make use of our broad human experience.  I wouldn’t want theologians to abstract from experience and spin webs of doctrine out of pure logic.  

At the same time, what we call “science” is not for the most part “experience” in the everyday sense but experience highly processed through theoretical and methodological filters, and often filled with extrapolation and speculation.  Neo-Darwinian theory is an example of this.  No one has ever “experienced” anything more than very slight microevolution.  Macroevolution is an extrapolation, and the ability of RM + NS to generate macroevolutionary change is theoretical and has not been demonstrated.  I’m not saying that macroevolution is not true; I’m saying it is not something we know of from experience.

I certainly agree that if Scripture seemed to be saying that the boiling point of water was 50 degrees Celsius, we should consider an alternate interpretation of Scripture, but I don’t see why, because most biologists are convinced that random mutations plus natural selection can turn bacteria into men, we should alter the Biblically-grounded theological view that God is in charge of the creative process and of all of its outcomes.  And that’s what many TE leaders, including some present and former BioLogos columnists and executives, have come perilously close to saying.

Let me restate my position, and let’s forget about whether or not I got McGrath right, because I want to deal the issue McGrath raised, rather than McGrath’s own position.  Here is my analysis.  The scientists generally conduct their work without reference to theology.  They don’t constantly check their work in information theory or analytical chemistry or fluid dynamics or quantum mechanics against the statements of the Bible or the writings of Augustine or Calvin or Barth.  They see themselves as answerable to their own in-house standards of good scientific work, not to alien standards imposed on science by theology or philosophy or history or sociology etc.  And for the most part I think this is a reasonable attitude for scientists to take.

Now theologians, similarly, when they do their work, have their own standards.  They measure their work on the Bible or in systematics by philological, historical, archaeological, philosophical and other standards which are not derived from physics or chemistry or biology.  And again I think this is a reasonable attitude for theologians to take.

Yet when it comes to conclusions, I make the observation that I have never heard a theologian (in recent decades, I mean) demand that the scientists change their scientific conclusions on the basis that theology rules out that possibility.  For example, I have never heard of a theologian telling certain neuroscientists that, since they are concluding that human beings have no free will, their experimental work must be flawed and they should go back and redo it, or their theoretical framework is wrong and that neurobiology should be reconfigured to fit into the account of “soul” offered by St. Augustine etc.  But I have heard many times of scientists directing theologians to come up with different theological conclusions or different Biblical readings to harmonize with whatever it is that science is supposed to have “proved” that makes a traditional belief no longer possible.

This would not bother me so much in itself; it would merely prove that scientists were more arrogant or imperialistic than theologians.  What bothers me is that sometimes the theologians acquiesce.  It is as if they acknowledge that natural science is the “master discipline” to which all other disciplines must bow.  

This is of course the reversal of the medieval view that theology was the queen of the sciences.  But I’m not asking for theology to be enthroned above natural science.  I’m merely asking Christian theologians to regain their self-respect and stop cowering whenever “science” (often scientism rather than science, but that’s another topic I won’t enter upon here) speaks.

Thus, if, for the sake of argument, a Biblical scholar actually believed, after years of study, that the days of Genesis were meant as literal 24-hour days, the proper thing for that scholar to do would be to refuse to alter his Biblical exegesis because the scientists tell him he’s got to.  Just as, if a scientist really believed that he had demonstrated neurologically that human beings have no free will, he should refuse to reconsider his conclusion merely because theology says the conclusion is unacceptable.  I think that people should stand their intellectual ground if they think they are right; and if the consequence is that this piece of the Bible or that piece of science is declared false, then so be it.  That, to me, is how religion/science dialogue should be carried out:  do the science well, do the theology well, and then see how they fit together, and make judgments about that later if need be.  But don’t alter either the theology or the science merely for the sake of obtaining agreement or harmony between the two.  Truth is more important than peace.

We are told on this website that we must reject the claim that Adam and Eve were the parents of the whole race, because population genetics proves that this is not possible, and therefore that we must reinterpret Genesis 2-3.  But we have never been told on this website that we must reject the claim that random mutations filtered by natural selection are the driving force of evolution, on the grounds that theology says that God does not roll dice, but is actually in charge of outcomes.  It is thus clear who is boss here:  the Bios trumps the Logos in all cases; and the theologians, not the scientists, have to make the adjustments.

Aside from my objections to this naive idea of science as “fixed knowledge” (when we know that historically much “true” science has been proved false later, and when we know how socially constructed our ideas of science and nature are), I object to the handmaiden role that theology seems to play in this scheme.  Calvin or Aquinas were certainly willing to listen to the best science of their day, but they never came across in the grovelling, obsequious way that so many TEs come across today.  That is because they took theology to be not merely a sloppy, subjective, personalistic activity, but a serious body of knowledge with rigorous standards.

I don’t think it’s any accident that the attitude of subservience I’m pointing out is most strongly associated with a so-called “Wesleyan” (i.e., essentially pietistic) notion of religious truth, in which emotional states (feelings of salvation, of inner peace, etc.) rather than propositions are central to theological discourse.  If religion is mainly about feeling, then propositions can be left to the scientists.  But if religion involves propositions, then in some cases religious propositions may compete with scientific propositions.

It is against this background that a number of statements that have been made here about “Wesleyan” versus “Calvinist” Christianity need to be thought about.  The so-called “Wesleyan” position (which actually was not Wesley’s, but is a construct of modern liberal Nazarenes, Methodists, etc.) leads straight to NOMA and to giving science 100% control over origins questions.  So of course Genesis, which deals with origins, will have to be creatively reinterpreted if science says something different, as will the views of Calvin, Aquinas, etc.  The Calvinist position, on the other hand, implicitly repudiates NOMA and insists on at least a potential overlap between scientific and theological truth, which, in the case of conflict, may just as well require science as theology to alter its claims.  And it’s the latter model I favor.  Indeed, I have heard Alvin Plantinga speak in agreement with this model.  But I have never heard it advocated on BioLogos.  

Lou Jost - #82948

October 16th 2013

Eddie, as I said above, it seems to me quite reasonable to have more confidence in many scientific truth-claims (which are publicly testable and which have withstood all attempts to disprove them) than in theological positions (which are highly subjective, as evidenced by the wide range of positions taken). I distinguish here between solid, well-evidenced truth claims like an old earth and common descent, versus interpretations such as the one you mentioned about evolution being undirected. While there is strong evidence that evolution is undirected, I would not say this is proven to the same degree that we have proven common descent. Any theology that requires a young earth or denies common descent is equivalent to one which says water boils at 50  degrees at sea level.

I’d go farther and say that even many propositions that are not solidly proven, like the proposition that evolution is unguided, is more strongly supported by our experience than any proposition in theology. And as you know, I agree with you that there is overlap between scientific and theological claims. That is why I reject most theological claims.

Eddie - #82967

October 17th 2013

Lou, it is not surprising that you have more confidence in scientific truth-claims than in theological truth claims.  What is surprising is that self-confessed Protestant evangelicals should agree with you—but apparently many of them do.  

Think about it Lou.  Protestantism is based (wisely or unwisely) on the premise that the Bible is a decisive revelation from God, either literally written by God (as in extreme fundamentalism) or at the minimum entirely inspired by God.   The Bible’s teachings are understood to be entirely true.  (Which doesn’t exclude the possibility of some figurative language, etc. that does not affect the overall teaching.)  So theology, insofar as it is based on the Bible, is based on the most reliable of all possible foundations—information direct from the Creator of the universe (who presumably knows a thing or two about how nature and species originated).  

Now, even employing an inerrant Bible, theologians can still be in error.  They can misinterpret, become overly infatuated with their own systems, etc.  But insofar as they stick to strict logical extrapolation from the Biblical text, they should not go far wrong.  Therefore, if they believe that their interpretations are cautious and logical, they should be hesitant to accept any conclusions—from “science” or “history” or “anthropology” etc.—which appear to go against their Bible-based conclusions.

Yet many TE leaders, and many modern Protestant theologians generally, are increasingly willing to throw out long-held conclusions about origins and other matters (e.g., sexual ethics, divorce, abortion), conclusions that are well-reasoned-out from Biblical premises, for no other reason than that “science” (or secular knowledge generally) tells them those conclusions aren’t tenable.

My point is that if this attitude prevails, traditional Protestant evangelical theology is dead in the water.  For you, that’s doubtless a good thing.  But it ought not to seem like a good thing to Protestant evangelicals.  Why they are voluntarily embracing epistemological principles that will ultimately destroy their Reformation theological foundations is a complete mystery.

Lou Jost - #82971

October 17th 2013

But Eddie, are you perhaps understating the amount of ambiguity and self-contradiction in the Bible? It is just not possible to make solid logical deductions from it, so to me it makes sense that a theologian who believed the Bible was inspired would want to “look outside the window” at the real world for guidance as to whether his or her deductions were correct. Surely there is no virtue in blind faith in a young earth  in the face of incontrovertible contrary evidence. Someone who really thinks the Bible is inspired (I can’t bring myself to say “inerrant”, since the Bible is full of revisionist and often-contradictory history meant to glorify the people and tribes in power when those parts were written) must believe that it contains (possibly well-hidden) truths, and he or she would use such well-established facts as guideposts toward an interpretation that preserves its truth.

GJDS - #82975

October 17th 2013

“..... in blind faith in a young earth ......”. I find such statements tiresome (beyond boredom) by atheists, who than go of on these intellectually banal statements about the bible and theology. This emphasises a need in atheists to harp on using some nonsense as a theme, and then triumphantly declare they have proven that science is ‘better’ than the bible, or they will save all believers from all sorts of unthruths - and our friend Lou can then be the guiding light to all truth, which he endlessly informs us is given to him by his blessed science (the rest of us poor scientist need to look on in ....?).....“use such well-established facts as guideposts towards ...... preserving its truth”  I am struggling to make sense of this. Is this what you think insired meands Lou? Or are you in another persons mind and can tell us what he or she must think and believe? Just how does your science give you such god-like powers regarding what other people think and believe?

Lou Jost - #82982

October 18th 2013

As always, it would be nice if you actually pointed out what you disagree with rather than piling on invective.

GJDS - #82989

October 18th 2013


The points that I find disagreable, regarding your comments, are the following (after so many posts I would have thought these were clear to you by now, but here I go again):

(1) as an atheists/anti-theist/anti-christian (who seems to have been a christian), you have are not shown me that you are qualified to make reasoned or well researched comments on the Bible, God, or the Christian faith - thus I question your motives.

(2) your treatment of the sciences and the discussions on theology are so one-sided that it is difficult for me to see any points that are worht debating (e.g. people believed the earth was flat, so that is how we understand theology and science)

(3) your (evangelical) zeal for evolution/Darwin simply does not stack up with an impassioned and critical approach that a research scientists should adopt.

(4) your constant denigration of Christian beliefs is offensive, mostly because your comments lack depth regarding the points of doctrine, and your obsession with the Bible (and it seesm other books of religion) borders on the pathetic.

You have been given many many chances to argue theology, history of faith/religious matters, the actions of people in the past, etc. by many people who post on this site. From what I have read of your posts, you parrot some inept criticisisms (that have been overthrown for some time) and then act as if you have been offended, and we are all flat earthers whose views you understand completely (on God, the trinity, the Gospel, sin, death, and so on) and thus you are in a position to make outrageous opinions on these matters.

So Lou, these points are not a chance to pile on invectives. They are an attempt to summarise your eratic behaviour when it comes to (mainly) your outlook to Christianity. Try to see it this way, if you can (again I have typed this in a hurry and I know there are typo errors).

Lou Jost - #83058

October 20th 2013

I appreciate your taking the time to explain why you react the way you do to my posts.

It is true that I do not show much respect for the belief that old books like the Quran, Bible, or Bhagavad-Gita are authoritative and inspired by gods. I do think these books and others like them contain wisdom and guidance about how to live life. I respect that belief. But it seems silly to me  that many Muslims, Christians, and Hindus claim  their particular book (and none of the others) contains wisdom far beyond what the writers’ culture provided. These books, particularly the OT bible, seem to be mainly origin myths meant to glorify and justify the actions of their cultures and rulers.

However, you are wrong to say that I have not looked into Biblical scholarship. During my Christian years I studied it a lot. That is what led me to break out of that bubble.

You say my opinions are inept, outrageous, and erratic.  You are welcome to your opinion, but I try to look as carefully as I can at the evidence presented on this site, when time allowed, and comment accordingly. For example, in the discussion about the resurrection of Jesus here a few months ago, I read a lot of Wright and Polkinghorne. I studied the particular issues they raised, especially the claims of NT Wright and Polkinghorne that there was no good reason to invent the story of the women (second-class citizens whose evidence would not be trusted) finding the empty tomb. Remember that discussion? They argued that this was among the strongest pieces of evidence that the gospels were not made up, and at first sight this seemed like a good argunment. Yet a search of the literature turned up several reasons why the women might have been invented, on the hypothesis that the gospels are not historical accounts. For example, if male followers of Jesus had been said to be the first to find the tomb empty, people would have accused them of opening the tomb and carrying off the body; this is less plausible if women were made to find the tomb. The fact that this never occurred to Wright or P is a striking indication of their one-sided scholarship. Now maybe this is what you would call one of my “inept” criticisms, and maybe it is, but I am really trying to engage these issues as best I can.

You also say  my “obsession” with the bible and other holy books is “pathetic”. Really? Who are the ones here constantly citing Biblical passages in support of their ideas?

I try not to discuss doctrine, which is not very interesting to me since it presupposes the truth of Christianity, and I don’t know or care much about the different flavors of Christian belief.

I don’t think most people here are “flat-earthers”.  The many commenters and posters here who discuss subtle evidence for the action of mind in the laws of the universe or its initial conditions, or in the course of evolution, are addressing interesting and legitimate questions and are not “flat-earthers”. These issues are worth discussing. On some issues, however, I do think some commenters here have beliefs on a par with belief in a flat earth.  Belief in young-earth creationism, and denial of common descent of vertebrates, are the two main examples of “flat-earth” thinking here. Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is how I see it. 

GJDS - #83071

October 20th 2013

You state that you respect other peoples beliefs, and yet you make statements such as ‘these things are made up’, implying deception on a large scale and conspiracy - this is the very OPPOSITE of respect. Thus I find you to be erratic and at time bordering on the innane. You are just as entitled to your opinion as anyone else, but for someone to expect to be taken seriously, on matters that others regard as serious, you must present something substantial and authoritative to support this. I have stated that you have not, so I express myself to you as I chose to.

You make some comments, such as the women at the grave of Christ and then drop a couple of names ... this, if put forward as a serious criticism, is banal. You may not find these accounts to your taste, but so what? Do you have documents and other of your so called evidence (I mean real, substantiated evidence, not parroting some nonsense that has been shown to be that) for this? I do not see anything like it. And I can go on and on.

The remarks you make about understanding Christianity convince me that you have not studied it to anywhere the depth required for an adult to form a serious opinion one way of the other. On what people beleive, it is not the Bible that is the source, but the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. It is pointless to then take my remark and twist it to suit your obvious obsession.

I began my exchange with you be clearly stating that I have many discussions with colleagues who are also atheists. I am impresed by their intellectual honesty in that they accept the simple notion their position is an absence of belief in God. Believe it or not, this too is consistent with the teachings of the Christian faith. Why is it that you cannot understand even this?

Lou Jost - #83076

October 20th 2013

You could just ignore my comments, then, if you don’t think they are worth responding to. Why not try that? You’d be doing both of us a favor.

Eddie - #82979

October 18th 2013


Again, your remarks are out of focus; you are speaking from completely outside the frame of mind of traditional evangelical Protestantism.  You look at the Bible with the eyes of the Enlightenment and of German higher criticism etc.  I don’t say you are wrong to do so; but I say that traditional American Protestant evangelicalism set its teeth against those very things.  The writings known as “The Fundamentals” were written in conscious opposition against liberalizing tendencies in Christian theology, and “fundamentalism” (which only later came to have a narrow and pejorative meaning) was originally intended to be only a defense of standard orthodox Protestant Christianity against the theological liberals in the church and the universities.  

The point is that if you are a traditional Protestant evangelical you are obligated to see the Bible as free of contradiction (when properly read), and therefore as a proper basis for the construction of a rational and systematic theology.   And the theistic evolutionists of the 19th century, as Jon has pointed out, were quite willing to entertain the possible truth of evolution—one of the “Fundamentals” essayists was in fact an evolutionist—within the understanding that the Bible in its entirety is the word of God, inspired, and true in all that it teaches.  But the theistic evolutionists of today—or most of their leaders, anyway—reveal a much less rousing affirmation of the truth and inner coherence of the whole Bible.  Even their verbal assent to such notions is vague and qualified; and in practice, they tend to pick and choose what they like out of the Bible.  

Again, Lou, I am not rendering judgment against your position.  Maybe one has to pick and choose.  Maybe the Bible is incoherent.  Maybe some parts of the Bible are downright false or bad teaching.  But a traditional Protestant evangelical can’t take that position.  If he does, he by definition is no longer a traditional Protestant evangelical.

BioLogos was founded by evangelicals.  It is largely funded by evangelicals.  It is largely supported morally by evangelicals.  Most of its leading columnists and management attend churches and/or work at colleges or seminaries that would define themselves as evangelical.  It represents itself as trying to bring together good science with evangelical Christianity.  I have nothing against such a goal.  The big question is whether it in fact undermines parts of traditional evangelical Christianity, in its urge to get evangelicals to accept neo-Darwinism.

We know that it has declared the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as parents of the race to be simply false (based on population genetics), necessitating a rereading of Genesis in which Adam and Eve are either totally allegorical (Lamoureux) or else “spiritually adopted” hominids who are not the biological parents of the race (Alexander, and apparently Falk and Venema).  Already that is a departure from evangelical Protestant understanding.  We know that several of its leading figures have advocated a theology of “freedom” in which subhuman creation is not entirely under God’s direction.  That again is a departure from evangelical Protestant teaching.  

I believe in complete freedom of speech.  If BioLogos wants to get up on the rooftop and shout:  “Evangelical Christianity is scientifically out of date, and its understanding of the Bible is no longer tenable due to advances in the historical science of the Bible, and its theology has to CHANGE!”—I have no problem acknowledging the legitimacy of such a position.  What I can’t abide is the pretension that what BioLogos is saying is 100% compatible with traditional Reformation doctrine.  In fact, if BioLogos is right, at least some traditional Protestant doctrines, including the doctrine of the perfection of the Bible, will have to be either abandoned or modified.

If BioLogos had the courage of its logic, if it would explicitly define its mission as to modernize and streamline Protestant evangelical religion, trimming doctrines and parts of the Bible that are no longer acceptable, I would be content, and would cease posting here altogether.  My goal has been to provide a guilty conscience for liberals who won’t be open about their liberalism; the moment the liberals come clean, the moment they have the spine to say out loud that some of the Bible just has to go, I will stop pestering everyone here and make my exit.

A model is at hand over at Messiah College.  There, a professor is—to put it bluntly and without academic qualifications—saying that parts of the Bible teach evil ethics, and that those parts are not binding on Christians.  Now that is an open challenge to the traditional evangelical understanding of the Bible.  If Messiah conceives of itself as true to the Reformation, it has the Christian duty to fire the guy immediately.  But the point is that the guy is open in saying that some of the Bible can’t be saved by any creative exegesis, and simply has to be jettisoned.  That’s a refreshing change for me, after listening for years to TEs who won’t answer the question whether Jesus walked on the water (when they believe he didn’t), whether Moses parted the Red Sea (when they believe he didn’t), or whether God guided evolution (when they believe he didn’t).  Give me a frank heretic over a closet heretic any day of the week.

Lou Jost - #82981

October 18th 2013

 Eddie, yes, I accept that I am not much concerned with this issue of idealogical purity. It seems to me that the ship has already sailed on the strict fundamentalists’ claim that the Bible is completely inerrant and free of contradiction. The most one can claim is that the bible is inspired and, when properly read, makes true claims. And so it makes sense to look outside the window and use that data to help see whether one is reading the bible properly. 

It is not worth arguing with people who claim the bible, or the quran, or some other holy book is inerrant and cannot be questioned. (And it is extremely ironic that such people love to argue that scientists are close-minded and too willing to follow authority!)

As you know, I agree with you that the posters on this site (and anywhere else) should come right out and say that some parts of the  Bible (even core parts) cannot be taken literally and have to be re-interpreted in light of what we now know, if that is what they believe. This site could do a real service by leading people away from extreme fundamentalism.

Jon Garvey - #82983

October 18th 2013

As you know, I agree with you that the posters on this site (and anywhere else) should come right out and say that some parts of the  Bible (even core parts) cannot be taken literally and have to be re-interpreted in light of what we now know, if that is what they believe. This site could do a real service by leading people away from extreme fundamentalism.

Lou, all they’d need to do in that regard is to go back to the start of the protestant Reformation, to William Tyndale, who first trasnlated the Bible into English (and was burned alive as a reward). He wrote this:

“Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the scripture hath but one sense, which is but the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. Nevertheless, the scripture uses proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle or allegory signifieth, is ever the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently.”

Nothing new and radical needed - just a return to the original and best. 

GJDS - #82952

October 17th 2013


Science may be described as ‘sense based’ and experiment with theory give us confidence in the results. Religion, and esp the Christan faith, is described as a way of life - theology is meant to serve to this end. I suggest that experience and way of life are the same (so I question your statement) - I have not heard anyone describe science as a way of life.

Doctrines of theology (a bit like theories of science), are usually formal statements that have withstood the test of time and experience. These become part of traditions, as they are interwoven in the fabric of the community that has embraced them. Science just cannot qualify in this context, and is useful only when it serves the needs of the community.

Reality and science is a hard mix - I think you mean observations of nature and the results of technology, engineering, that use some of the fruits of science, don’t you? 

Merv - #82960

October 17th 2013

Thank you all for thoughtful replies.  I am away at a conference for a couple days and hope to do your responses better justice than I will muster by pecking this iPad mini keyboard.  Maybe tonight I’ll have a better chance but it may be late.  I’m not ignoring you all.

Merv - #82962

October 17th 2013

1 more note…  I just noticed Ted Davis has a new post up on Boyle.  I don’t mean to shut this down if Mr. Pettey is here and wanting to interact ... Are you here, Ryan?  If not I suggest we move this conversation to the Boyle column since Boyle is increasingly apropos to the nature of the reply I plan on making, and Ted does do a good job interacting.  Will look forward to reading Ted’s continued series and maybe responding there if quotation snippage doesn’t get too cumbersome.

...that was 15 min worth of small device pecking…  Aaaaaargh

Merv - #82974

October 17th 2013

Eddie wrote above…

...but I don’t see why, because most biologists are convinced that random mutations plus natural selection can turn bacteria into men, we should alter the Biblically-grounded theological view that God is in charge of the creative process and of all of its outcomes.

That’s exactly right: we should NOT alter the Biblically-grounded view, but not because science has been said to “prove it wrong” (it hasn’t).  But because science has only proposed (and verified depending on how much confidence is invested in the conclusion) *how* God did it.  We hear nothing in this discussion about accepted laws of mechanics endangering the doctrine of sovereignty of God—and precisely for the very good reason that they don’t.  So even if we accepted a scenario of “bacteria to men” via mechanisms including RM and NS, this does nothing to challenge the doctrine of the special creation of humankind.  Now when careless scientists try to insert the word *only* in front of RM + NS, the expanded claim goes beyond any scientific support and is a matter of faith.

Eddie wrote:

Now theologians, similarly, when they do their work, have their own standards.  They measure their work on the Bible or in systematics by philological, historical, archaeological, philosophical and other standards which are not derived from physics or chemistry or biology.  And again I think this is a reasonable attitude for theologians to take.

Yet when it comes to conclusions, I make the observation that I have never heard a theologian (in recent decades, I mean) demand that the scientists change their scientific conclusions on the basis that theology rules out that possibility.

There may be good reason for a asymmetry between the interplay of science and religion, and in considering this we would do well to vent away the heat of stoked competition that a superior winner must dictate terms for the inferior.  Until we get more light and less heat, I don’t think warring parties will put down their artillery and pick up their reading glasses.  But for those who can put your defensive/offensive weaponry aside for a moment; consider this model for thinking about it.  A complex computerized control system on some air craft may depend on sensors for input regarding the status of conditions in and external to the aircraft.  Now we would not say that the control center’s reliance on important sensors somehow makes the sensor more important or superior to the control system (...it is, after all, “dictating” terms to the CPU).  But in this we see the silliness of the warfare model.  The CPU does not ignore its data input, and presumably it has data input from other sensors (perhaps some to back up or verify each other in case of sensor malfunction.)  But even so, we don’t get into an indignant posture over which is more important or “more correct”.  There is no argument—the sensor presents its data which is accepted by the CPU for processing accordingly.  In this model, theology is the CPU, and science is *a* (not *the*) sensor.  The information flow is one-sided because the CPU is not in the business of dictating to a sensor what data it must report.  But a sensor does have an important role of reporting back to the CPU (theology) what it has to offer.  It performs a needed service. 

Despite this being an oversimplification (as all models necessarily are), the point still merits consideration.  I know that evolutionary science is nothing so simple as passive sensor input.  But I merely propose this as a way to view the relationship between science and religion in a more useful and less hostile relationship.

I think Boyle exemplifies this, which is why I propose moving this give-and-take to Ted’s series.

Jon Garvey - #82977

October 18th 2013

Merv, better to reply to your post on this thread than on Ted’s I think, for continuity’s sake.

All you say has truth. But isn’t the issue of adjustments to theology, to a significant extent, vera causa? If one starts from a theological perspective, “How did God create what is?” then, as you say, science helpfully suggests, “through random mutation and natural selection.” Forget the naturalistic metaphysical baggage it sometimes adds here - theists are supposed to be able to negotiate past that. Intrinsically an unproblematic response.

If then science proposes that because of contingency, that process of evolution is approximate and unrepeatable (cf Gould), then as a complete process RM&S becomes insufficient to be God’s only tool, unlike say a process based on Newtonian determinism would be (which was possibly what people of Darwin’s time envisaged). Even God can’t paint a minature with a broom.

But here the theist actually has a choice: he or she can maintain the classical and biblical view of providence, in which contingent events and chance are under God’s control (“the lot falls into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord”), or else take up a naturalistic metaphysic of contingency that says it is as contingent to God as to his creation. (Unfortunately that view had already crept into evangelical theology for reasons to long to consider here).

In the first case, the application is simple: whatever the component of chance in evolution, God governed it. Gould may be right that evolution, replayed, would play out differently, but it isn’t replayed because God ran it once, intending this set of outcomes rather than that. Absolutely no threat to theology - so what’s the big deal about needing to re-assess the Bible? That’s what it said all along. Early TEs like Gray and Warfield adopted thais approach.

In the second case, knowing that evolution is not a precision tool, TEs (having already backed off from the biblical doctrine of chance and providence) have to posit a God who isn’t too particular about outcomes and is happy to play dice.

It’s the second course that leads to fundamental reappraisal of doctrine, not so much in details about the age of the earth and so on, which are comparatively easy issues, but in fundamental truths about God’s sovereignty, will and purpose.

Creation has to be recast as autonomous, and theodical justification for that found in more adjustment to the doctrine of God (he is not the Lord, but exclusively the self-emptying servant who out of love lets his creation go its way). And so it proceeds, each new adjustment destabilising the rest of the body of truth, creating cognitive dissonance, and requiring further adjustments.

Eventually the whole house of cards falls down - witness the number of prominent TE thinkers who have ended up deciding that first, biblical evangelicalism, then Christianity, and finally monotheism itself are too hidebound to encompass science.

But they weren’t - it was just that people made the wrong theological choices to begin with.

Eddie - #82978

October 18th 2013


Some TEs have expressed doubt in God’s sovereignty over the outcomes of evolution, and precisely because of their commitment to neo-Darwinian mechanisms.  When they were quizzed on this very site, on this very point, by a poster named “crude,” Falk and Venema would not say whether or not God had man in mind, or only perhaps some highly evolved something else that could also bear the image of God, and they implied also that they thought if very unlikely that God precisely defined the exact course of evolution, the exact species that would be produced, etc.  And of course, if you are a neo-Darwinian (as both Falk and Venema are), you believe that the outcomes of evolution are highly contingent, depending on mutations which are random with respect to outcome.  With a neo-Darwinian process you can’t start things at time T, and then predict that at time T plus 100, you will get outcome X.  You might get outcome Y instead.  Or the line of X might well be extinct by then.

Could even an omnipotent creator of reptiles, if he restricted himself to only natural causes and only neo-Darwinian mechanisms, have guaranteed the emergence of crows and ravens?  Falk and Venema did not comment specifically on this question, but their general answer to the line of questioning initiated by “crude” implies that they think that God probably ordained only “a wide variety of birds,” leaving it up to the contingencies of evolution to decide which birds.  Ken Miller has staked out a similar view.  And of commentators here, beaglelady had held the same view, even regarding the creation of man, and none of the columnists or management has jumped in to correct her.  Elsewhere I’ve read a TE commenter who argued that maybe an intelligent dinosaur could have borne the image of God.  It goes on and on.  And it’s driven by neo-Darwinian biology.  If the process is driven by radical “randomness,” you can’t use it to plan specific results.  Maybe broad general results—mammals, reptiles, etc.  But even that is debatable—remember the famous science fiction story about the time traveller stepping on the prehistoric butterfly and the consequences.  A tiny change of course, early enough on, can make a huge difference in what develops.

If I thought—as most TE biologists seem to think—that neo-Darwinian biology is the true account of how species, including man, have originated—I would have great problems reconciling it with any form of creation doctrine that I would recognize as Christian.  I happen to think that neo-Darwinism is codswallop, even from a purely scientific point of view, so I’m not worried about it, but that’s a different matter.

You seem to be saying that as long as neo-Darwinian biologists stick to “just the science” and avoid the metaphysics, there is no problem.  But I continue to argue that “just the science” in the case of neo-Darwinism (and in the case of Darwin himself, actually) implies a metaphysics—the science is laced with metaphysics.  I would argue—and here I may differ somewhat from even Jon—that if neo-Darwinism is the full physical explanation of evolution, and if no tinkering, guiding, adjusting, miracles, etc. are allowed (i.e., if God constrains himself to work only through natural causes, and those causes are exclusively neo-Darwinian), then God can’t control the outcomes of evolution.

And this is why I think that Falk and Venema are, to their credit, being entirely logical, entirely true to their biological science, when they dodge, squirm, and hesitate when asked how far God specified the results of evolution.  They believe that God worked through natural causes, without supernatural tinkering, and they know that without tinkering with natural causes, i.e., either tampering with the mutations, or tampering with the selection process somehow, one can’t guarantee particular outcomes under the ND mechanism.  Yet if they say that out loud—if they say that God more or less set nature running and that nature made its more or less blind neo-Darwinian decisions, which means that man’s eventual emergence was iffy—most of evangelical Christianity will simply walk away from BioLogos.  So only murky, non-committal, vague answers can be elicited from them.

And it is not just from them.  I don’t know of one leading TE—other than Robert Russell (tellingly, not a biologist and therefore free of professional commitment to ND dogma)—who will say unambiguously that God is in control of the outcomes of evolution, or even that he is in control of some of the outcomes, e.g., man, or that he is in control of the broad types of outcome.  And I’ve asked a hundred times, and watched others ask a hundred times.  

There are other theories of biological evolution where the outcomes of evolution are more under God’s control.  In Michael Denton’s scheme, man, or something very like man, is the built-in telos of the evolutionary process.  And all the major steps on the way—through reptile, mammal, primate, etc.—are also built in.  Very un-Darwinian, un-Gouldian, etc.  Now it takes very little effort to adjust Denton to fit in with something like Calvinism or Thomism, or the account in Genesis.  But has Denton ever been featured here?  Nope.  And he never will be, because he has attacked the science of neo-Darwinism.  And you can doubt the truth of major chunks of historical Christian theology on BioLogos, you can doubt the divine origin of the Bible on BioLogos, but the one thing you can never doubt on BioLogos is neo-Darwinism.


hanan-d - #82988

October 18th 2013

>But I continue to argue that “just the science” in the case of neo-Darwinism (and in the case of Darwin himself, actually) implies a metaphysics

How? Isn’t the case of random mutations empirical or not? What makes this metaphysical?

GJDS - #82990

October 18th 2013

Random as a scientific term is difficult to reconcile with the neo-Darwinian view. If something was truly random, the chances of life on earth, and the formation of species and so on, has been calculated to be infinitesimal. Thus genuine Darwin thinking hedges its bets by claiming there is a wonderous thing called natural selection (and here they wax lyrical) that can (direct, constrain, keep on a given path or tree, become ecological) and in short is the answer to any problem faced by the Darwin outlook. Some more extreme comments even use the analogy of gravity to describe natural selection. This is the sort of problem we face when semantics are put forward as scientific laws - it amounts to a narrative rather than rigorous science.

So one response to this is to regard the outlook as ‘more than science’,  or an explanation that some people find satisfying. I am unsure as to how this leads to a methaphysics, since I have not come accross a coherent methaphysics of Darwin’s thoughts (although there is an interesting treatment as part of the philosophy of science, but no-one wanted to discuss this).

There you have it, hanan-d and Jon and Eddie and others - can my comment that ‘the Darwinian outlook owns more to the arguments between religious and anti-religious people, for its longevity - and the scientists who practice in the bio-sciences could do well to be more skeptical of their world-view’ be worth considering? And can we see that our Christian faith is not dependent on what Darwin and others think? A study of Christian thinking and an understanding of doctrine is most often sufficient to answer these sort of questions (and we may also see the inadequacy in Darwin’s outlook). Arguments between theists, and between theists and atheists, do not imo help further our understanding - but we can be informed of the many opinions ‘out there’.

Lou Jost - #82991

October 18th 2013

You are wrong about the role of NS, just like Roger S. It is not used to hedge bets, and is not some mysterious process, but a necessary mathematical consequence of differential reproduction. Natural selection is well-understood. It is a mathematical law as rigorous as those you work with in statistical mechanics. Given the fitnesses of different genotypes and some other population parameters, we can predict the rate of change of genotypes in the population, and their expected equilibium values, and the expected change in mean fitness of the population, and whether drift will outweigh selection in the eventual outcome. You and Roger keep bringing up these baseless claims about NS…..they have been answered in many previous posts, and in every genetics and evolution text. Why do you think you know more about this than all biologists, even though you have apparently never read a single text on the subject? What would you think of a person who had never read a chemistry text but claimed that the standard equations in the field were false?

GJDS - #82993

October 18th 2013

You keep bringing up Roger and than my ability - this is tiresome and also offensive. My claim (and no-one else’s) is ... IF any process is truly random, and IF we use standard methods at arriving at probabilities, the chances of life on earth, and the rest of the bio-world coming into existenc are infinitesimal. You again begin your ramble without giving these remarks any thought. IF you can link NS methamatically with these initial assumptions and predict events from time=0 (or the start of life, or the beginning of the first reproductive species) onward, which what predictive means, then your endless ramble may be taken as serious remarks.

Since you are convinced that it is as easy as reading a chemistry (or biology) text book, here is you chance to shine as the apostle for Darwin. If not, why not let comments be made by us without your nonsense that you think is a debate.

Lou Jost - #82994

October 18th 2013

Your comments, like mine and everyone else’s, are fair game here. You continually misrepresent natural selection, and I will continue to call you on it each time.

I never claim to know how life originated. You don’t know either, so how do you know the probability of formation of the first self-reproducing organic molecule? Sure, the probability per unit time per organic molecule is likely to be very low, but in several hundred million years, with perhaps many times Avogadro’s number of organic molecules in the early oceans, even a very rare event can become likely. But we know so little about this, it is not worth arguning about. We both can agree that we know virtually nothing about how this first reproducer formed. My point was about the role of natural selection in what happens afterward, and your (and Roger’s) continual mischaracterization of it.


GJDS - #83003

October 19th 2013

This tiresome exchange is (again) pointless - you refuse to accept my comment regarding A LAW OF SCIENCE ... until you get this point nothing you say is meaningful ... IF you have a LAW that you term NS, then you can address the questions I have asked as an obvious outcome. Since you are incapable of distiguishing between semantics, and an established law, .... what is the point. Agian I do not misrepresent anything .. I have referred to papers, including ones using meta-analysis, and philosophical discussions, by well qualified people, who are not out to overthrow anything .. they all, to varying degrees, make remarks that either question the extent by which NS can model what is known (thus the term is inadequate) - no-one, including myself, have said it is false and should be overthrown).

At least you seem willing to state that you do not know some things - a step in the right direction.

Lou Jost - #83006

October 19th 2013

As I’ve explained to you in previous threads, many laws of science, including NS, are conditional on the initial conditions. IF X, then Y. If we have enough information (to calculate fitnesses, in particular) then NS tells us what to expect as time moves forward. Obviously we don’t know that for early organic self-reporducing molecules.

GJDS - #83018

October 19th 2013

You are not qualified to explain laws of science - from your remarks I find it difficult to believe you even understood the phrase. Perhaps, in setting yourself up as a teacher with your tiresome comments, you could give us examples of ..... “are conditional on initial conditions…”

There are examples of treatment that require boundary conditions (I think of fluid mechanics) but these are more to do with the actual maths and methods used to find solutions to specific problems, rather than the laws themselves. There are time dependent problems in chemistry (chemical kinetics) but the laws in these do not fit in you strange definition. So again we have the all knowing bio-person such as yourself willing to teach what yu don’t know how ......??? (is this a song for Jon ....??)

Lou Jost - #83024

October 19th 2013

Take the laws of motion in Newtonian physics. It makes no sense to ask me to use these laws to predict where a ball will end up if you don’t tell me exactly where it starts from, and what state of motion it was in, and what is around it.

This is what you asked me to do with natural selection.

Eddie - #83029

October 19th 2013

Lou, if I may interject briefly:

According to at least some evolutionary theorists (e.g., Gould), you couldn’t predict the evolutionary outcome even if you knew all those things you’ve listed.  That was the point of his famous “rewind the tape” comment.

Is there any reason to think that, even with a massive projected increase in our knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms, we will be able to predict what a lizard will evolve into in 50 million years, in the way that we can predict what the configuration of the planets will be in 50 million years?  Is evolution the sort of process, i.e., bound by mathematical “laws,” for which such prediction should be even in principle possible?  And if so, is Gould wrong?  And what was the cause of his error?

Jon Garvey - #83046

October 20th 2013

Eddie, I’d assumed Lou was talking about the trivial micro-evolutionary predictions made using the idealised maths of population genetics.

I’m sure nobody would try and pretend it is possible to predict larger evolutionary futures when there’s scarcely even a past phylogeny we can all agree on.

Lou Jost - #83052

October 20th 2013

Jon, you are right, thanks. See below.

Lou Jost - #83051

October 20th 2013

Hi Eddie, Gould is right, and I am  a strong proponent of the role of indeterminacy (including quantum-mechanical indeterminacy) in evolution. My calculations show many mutations are indeterminate in the quantum-mechanical sense (as Muller had shown experimentally in the last century).

In the above comment, I was referring to the predictions of expectation values (and variances) of allele frequencies over time. This has the same rigor as the  laws of statistical mechanics. But it can only be done if we know the initial conditions of the alleles and  their environment, and these will have to be updated when new alleles are added to the system, or when the environment changes. As in statistical mechanics, only the change in time in the allele probability distribution is deterministic (and even this will need updating as new alleles arise). 

My use of “deterministic” in the previous comment was imprecise; sorry. I didn’t want to imply that it was possible to predict the path of evolution, even knowing the initial conditions exactly. My goal was to explain that for a given set of alleles and environment, the allele frequency expectation values and expected rates of change are determined completely, and this is all that natural selection is. No magic or mystery in it. But these calculations will have to be updated when new mutations appear or something changes in the environment.

GJDS - #83030

October 19th 2013

With Newtonian understanding, we can take ANY ball of ANT density within any context (friction, vacuum, fluid etc) and consider ANY conditions we can find anywhere and deal with its behaviour to any extent we wish….. try that with your NS.

GJDS - #83031

October 19th 2013

.. that should read ANY density ....

Jon Garvey - #83047

October 20th 2013

See Ted’s post on the other thread, GJDS: Newton himself was the very last person to believe in a La Placian determinism.

Having said that, the three-body problem is a dawdle compared to trying to do any valid maths with evolutionary natural history.

Lou Jost - #83053

October 20th 2013

Yes, we actually can do that. All you need to give me are the population parameters and the fitnesses.

Lou Jost - #83055

October 20th 2013

Jon, this was a reply to GJDS.

GJDS - #83056

October 20th 2013

My interest in participating on this site is mainly that of hearing other Christian views - thus I am reluctant to enter into technical arguments, with the exception of discussing laws of science. Hopefully this will be the last post on this uninteresting topic.

My remarks are meant to convey the generality found in the laws of science and the resulting maths. Your position has been that variation (due to mutation and other factors) works in combination with NS, and you regard this as a law of science. I have shown that this is semantics, and it has been the basis for various modelling excercises and statistical treatments, which have in almost every case that I have read, failed to conform to the generality of scientific laws. Thus these treatments, albeit technically acceptable, render NS as speculative. Your remarks mean to me that once you build a data base, you and others have found a way of using stochastic methods to rationalise your assumptions and speculation. This approach is not confined to your area. Stochastic treatments have been shown to give numerous results (if used generaly) even for data bases that consist of accurate, reproducble and predictable data. e.g. atom numbers, bond lengths and angles, and functional groups; this data have been used in stochastic treatments, to arrive at something as mundane as possible molecular structures - the results have often been a huge number of possible conformers, and not a prediction as such. These chemists report this, and they then choose a few of these conformers as preferred, based on their ‘taste, incination, and/or assumptions’.

This treatment is not what we mean by a scientific law - it is a treatment of data that helps scientists examine their thinking and assumptions.

Lou Jost - #83059

October 20th 2013

You still don’t understand what you are criticizing. Natural selection isn’t something brought in from outside, and isn’t speculative. It is a necessary logical/mathematical consequence of differential fitnesses among individuals.

GJDS - #83065

October 20th 2013

I guess we are back to ... only Lou understands, even if every scientist expresses doubt, reservations, and explains these to the n-th degree…. Lou, your outlook is one whi is desperate to believe in NS no matter what, not that of a critical scientist who is interested in this purely out of a healthy curiosity.

Lou Jost - #83068

October 20th 2013

Look at any genetics or evolution text (which you still haven’t done, as far as I can tell) and you’ll see that my analysis is standard and uncontroversial.

GJDS - #83073

October 20th 2013

What a pathetic response; and if we look at the plethora of stochastic methods devised to deal with a seemingless endless variety of phenomina, we will discover poor Lou’s law of NS - just read his text books someone, will yu just read Lou’s text books !!!!!!!!!! how else can we understand anything .... for crying out loud, will someone just read dem darn textbooks!!!!!!! 

Lou Jost - #83077

October 20th 2013

It is always a good idea to learn the basics of a field before you criticize it.

GJDS - #83096

October 21st 2013

If only you read what Lou read’s, boy, oh boy, what belief you will find ......(there is a tune to this, can you guess what it is?)

Eddie - #83032

October 19th 2013

Hi, Hanan.

The mere observation that there are things in nature which appear to occur “randomly” is not in itself metaphysical.  A worker in a nuclear facility might have his genome exposed to harmful radiation, and the radiation might mutate this or that section of his genome “randomly,” i.e., it might be unpredictable which part of the genome would affected, and how.  There is no metaphysical prejudice in noting such things.

However, Darwin himself had a metaphysical agenda, as did the neo-Darwinians after him.  They were all determined to find an account of the origin of species which could explain everything (a) with reference to natural causes only; (b) without reference to any superintending or planning mind.  In brief, they insisted upon a naturalistic and non-teleological origin of species.

But why would they insist on this?  It isn’t obvious that the origin of species (any more than the origin of life) should be explicable without reference to non-natural causes.  It might well be that non-natural causes were involved.  It is one thing to say:  “I’m going to see how far the origin of species can be explained by unguided natural causes,” and another thing to say:  “I’m certain that the origin of species can be explained by unguided natural causes, so it’s just a question of figuring out which causes.”  

There are other metaphysical considerations.  Darwin was partly motivated by consideration of evil and suffering in the world.  He was revolted by parasitic wasps, and could not bring himself to accept that a wise and good God would create such things.  But that is not a scientific argument against design; it is a theological (hence metaphysical) argument against design.  (Note that TEs today still use Darwin’s argument from evil and suffering.)

I am not saying that all arguments for evolution (based on biogeography, genomics, etc.) are automatically metaphysical.  What I am saying is that the overall position of Darwin and of neo-Darwinism is only partly “scientific”; it is also partly metaphysical.  

Those who have read Darwin’s Origin know how often he referred, directly or indirectly, to creation, miracles, God, a designing mind, etc. as the alternative to his view.  There are probably hundreds of phrases in the book—you will find this documented in the writings of people like Hunter—that have a theological or metaphysical flavor to them.  Darwin saw his theory as opposed to the standard Christian understanding of Creation.  Yet modern TEs say that they believe in “Darwin’s God” or write books with titles like “Saving Darwin.”  And indeed, that is what much of modern TE amounts to—an attempt by mainly liberal evangelicals to baptize Darwin.  And it’s about as credible as the attempt of some Jewish authorities to baptize Spinoza.

Lou Jost - #83050

October 20th 2013

Eddie, I think you are wrong to say Darwin had this metaphysical agenda, though I haven’t read everything that Darwin wrote. He starts off as a Christian studying to be a parson, as you know.

The long process of developing the theory of biological evolution was preceded by his deep study of geology, and among his first major contributions to science were in that field as he explained the formation of coral reefs in terms of long, slow, cumulative changes through millions of years. He had no metaphysical agenda here but was joyfully embracing the new revelations from geology that the earth was very old, and seing how far he could run with that. Quite far, it turned out! His theory of biological evolution was cut from the same cloth. On that fateful day when he read Malthus, he realized the process of heredity with variation could possibly lead to all of life’s diversity and appearance of design. It was at first a tentative hypothesis, not an agenda-driven rant, and he was very shy with it. 

The more he considered it, the more complete the explanation seemed. For him, the  parasites which caused suffering were just more evidence for lack of design.

Today, people are still looking for real evidence of design in biology, and they are not finding it. This doesn’t disprove that there was a designer, but if a designer is not needed, and if there is no strong evidence for one, the larger metaphysical leap is to demand that there still is a designer anyway.

Eddie - #83060

October 20th 2013


If you do a close reading of The Origin of Species from beginning to end, I think you will be surprised at how many direct or indirect references there are to God, creation, a designing intelligence, etc., and how many arguments (not always explicit) are being made in the form:  “a God wouldn’t have done it that way, but natural selection would have”—with the first clause involving theological assumptions.  I haven’t marked up my own copy of OS with places, but you will find a discussion of the theological contents of Darwin’s writing in the books of Cornelius Hunter.  I don’t agree with many of Hunter’s theological and historical views, but I think he has done a good job of pointing out theological aspects of Darwin’s presentation of evolution (he also discusses theological ideas in implicit in some of Darwin’s forerunners). 

You should also read the biography of Darwin by Desmond and Moore.  And Darwin’s Autobiography.  Plus a number of statements in his books and correspondence bearing on his religious motivation and his understanding of God.  Darwin likes to give his readers the impression that he is a metaphysically neutral “pure scientist,” but the indications are otherwise.

Of course I am not saying anything so foolish as that Darwin provided no scientific evidence for evolution, or that Darwin was not a good scientist.  He did provide much evidence, and he was a good scientist, and The Origin of Species is one of the greatest works of scientific prose ever written.  He also was scrupulously fair to opposing points of view, representing them honestly (unlike many of his modern New Atheist followers), and going out of his way to imagine possible objections to his thesis even before they were raised.  In all of these respects, I praise Darwin, and I wish everyone on the Darwinian side of these debates would read him, and emulate his best features.  


Lou Jost - #83061

October 20th 2013

Eddie, I have read many of the books you mentioned. My reading of them leads me to be pretty sure that Darwin’s initial motivation was not anti-religious. Once he had discovered a mechanism which could give the appearance of design, he of course tried to compare its predictions to its leading competitor, design. As you said, in order to make such comparisons, he had to make metaphysical assumptions about what a designer would do. How else could he have compared the two theories? 

I don’t think Darwin ever said that comparisons between predictions from evolution and predictions from design were conclusive. He rather cast them in terms of likelihood, based on then-current ideas about the deigner—benevolence, efficiency, etc. He had to assume something about the designer or he could never have extracted any predictions from the design theory. This remains a problem today in debates about naturalistic evolution versus design.

Eddie - #83063

October 20th 2013


I would not say that Darwin started out with “anti-religious” motivation, but I would still argue that he had an inclination toward naturalistic explanation of origins, and that’s an example of a metaphysical bias.  Why should we assume that natural causes are enough to produce man from some primitive sea-worm?

Most previous generations of scientists, e.g., Newton and Boyle, took it for granted that natural causes are sufficient to explain the continuing operation of the universe, but not its origin.  It can be shown, historically speaking, that Darwin was part of a movement to expand science to include not only the elaboration of the laws governing the current operations of nature, but the origin of the present configuration of nature.  That was a metaphysical shift, and it was operative (late 17th century through to mid-19th century) well before the evidence for naturalistic origins was substantive.

As for comparing accounts of design and natural selection, well, if one insists that the designer be benevolent, one is speaking of a particular formulation of a Christian designer.  It is understandable that Darwin, in his era, would take that as the thing to compare.  But modern ID doesn’t do that.

Behe is quite content, for example, to say that something as horrible as malaria indicates evidence of design.  For him, as long as there is “the purposeful arrangement of parts” it doesn’t matter how horrible the purpose is.  If you can establish the purposeful arrangement of parts, then you’ve established design, and if that poses theological problems, i.e., why God would design anything so nasty—well, that is a problem for the theologians, not the scientists, to work out.  What Ayala and Miller claim is a problem with design theory, Behe says is a problem for Christian theology.  

The problem with Darwin’s approach—in which he is followed by many modern atheists and TEs—is that it conflates “arguments against and kindly Christian designer” with “arguments against any designer.”  It tacitly reasons that because you can eliminate the Christian God as the designer of parasitic wasps, you have eliminated any designer of parasitic wasps.  But that doesn’t follow.

I’m not saying that Behe etc. have proved their case for design.  I’m saying that the existence of evil and suffering does not undermine the modern ID case.  It might have undermined some 19th-century design arguments.  But if it did, it did so only by appealing to a certain conception of God, a conception which Darwin shared with many of his contemporaries.  Darwin’s argument thus in an important sense depends on 19th-century theology, in a way that the modern ID argument does not depend on 20th/21st century theology.  

As I said, I’m not claiming that Darwin’s argument is entirely metaphysical.  I’m only claiming that he did not avoid metaphysical or theological motivations and that they find their way into his argument.  With many of the later neo-Darwinists, the metaphysical motivation is much stronger, as atheism replaces Darwin’s agnosticism (e.g., Gaylord Simpson, Mayr, Monod, Gould, Dawkins) and evolutionary thinking becomes associated more clearly with “anti-religious” thought. 

Lou Jost - #83069

October 20th 2013

I agree with you. We cannot reason that “because you can eliminate the Christian God as the designer of parasitic wasps, you have eliminated any designer of parasitic wasps.” I don’t think that Darwin was making that mistake with these argunments, though.

Eddie - #83074

October 20th 2013


In effect, Darwin was making that mistake, even if he never formulated it with such broad generality as I have.  His individual criticisms of the design hypothesis (which he usually calls the hypothesis of creation or special creation or the like), have in mind a Christian (and often Christian in a very narrow sense, i.e., a rather mechanical sense) of design, whereas his conclusion that natural selection is an adequate designer-substitute is really meant to apply to all imaginable versions of design—Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Platonist, Deist, etc.  He didn’t write a separate book disproving each religious or philosophical tradition’s ideas of the designer, pitting natural selection against them, one by one; he only wrote one book to cover them all.

Jon Garvey - #83078

October 21st 2013

“Because you can eliminate the Christian God as the designer of parasitic wasps, you have eliminated any designer of parasitic wasps.”

Logic alert: Eddie’s point was about a restricted, Victorian, conception of the Christian God, which Darwin undoubtedly had bought into. It’s the concept with which the folks at BioLogos and many others nowadays are still struggling, but it’s not that of the early TEs or of classical theology.

Asa Gray, for example, believed in a completely orthodox Christian concept of God, and had no problem accommodating parasitic wasps into it, as his correspondence with Darwin shows.

Lou Jost - #83070

October 20th 2013

I’d like to add that explanations from design lack power compared to naturalistic explanations, and that is one non-metaphysical reason for favoring the latter. Evolution makes quite specific predictions about things like biogeographical patterns, while design is a relatively vacuous explanation unless one is able to say something specific about the purposes of the designer. Right now, the best we can do to divine the purpose of the designer, and to make ID powerful enough to predict biogeographical patterns, is to say that the designer must have wanted to make things look as if they evolved.

Eddie - #83075

October 20th 2013


The evidence of biogeographical distribution is quite compatible with a design hypothesis.  There is no contradiction in saying that God designed evolution so that it would produce, say, specifically deerlike animals, and saying also that those deerlike animals migrated into many locations, became reproductively isolated from others of their kind, and eventually evolved into several new creatures which were no longer of the original species or even genus.  It is only a rather silly notion of design, i.e., that God put the blue-crested cockatoo specifically on the Solomon Islands, and the lilac hummingbird specifically in Quebec, and the greater toucan specifically in Brazil, that is threatened by the evidence of biographical distribution.  Darwin successfully refuted a fundamentalist dunce’s understanding of Christian creation doctrine with such arguments, but a sophisticated understanding of design is compatible with great evolutionary development. 

Regarding your first sentence, as I’ve said before, design is not incompatible with naturalistic explanation—the example of Michael Denton shows that evolution, natural causes and design can all co-exist—provided one is willing to abandon a Sunday School picture of creation.

At the same time, while “designed evolution” is in principle compatible with entirely natural causes, it is also compatible with a combination of natural and supernatural causes.  But Darwin wanted no part of any evolutionary theory that allowed even a smidgin of supernatural assistance.  He said he would value the theory of natural selection at a “straw” if natural selection needed any nudging.

And I think that most TEs—the biologists among them anyway—are onside with Darwin on this.  They grant, pro forma, as Bible-believing Christians, that God could have given evolution an “assist”; but none of them appear to believe that it happened that way, and indeed they all appear to show a more or less visible distaste for such an idea.  But again, that is a theological or metaphysical distaste, which can be shown to have been operative in comments about God’s relation to nature made by theologians and philosophers long before Darwin or even Darwin’s grandfather.

I’m personally indifferent to whether evolution was accomplished by purely natural causes or with a supernatural assist; it makes no theological difference to me:  the process would be still be astounding, amazing, and would rightly generate fulsome praise for the designer and supervisor of the process no matter which way it occurred.  My point is only that a metaphysical prejudice against supernatural assistance in matters of origins began to manifest itself long before Darwin.  Newton and Boyle were fine with miracles to get nature started and organized, and with only natural laws operating thereafter; but sometime between them and Darwin, there was a change of intellectual climate that appears to have started in philosophy/theology and emanated from there to the natural sciences.  Natural scientists started thinking that it was just obvious and sensible to seek wholly natural causes for the origin of everything.  And this continues today as psychologists seek to show that wholly natural causes can account for our hopes, dreams, reason, will, religion, etc.  

Whether this is a good or bad thing can be debated; my point is that, good or bad, it was partly metaphysically motivated.  “Science,” despite the pretensions of modern positivism, has never been isolated from the whole of human thought.

hanan-d - #83091

October 21st 2013

>I’m personally indifferent to whether evolution was accomplished by purely natural causes or with a supernatural assist

Should there be a difference?

Even in regards to supernatural assist, the rubber has to hit the road at some point which means it takes on a “natural” aesthetic. 

Lou Jost - #83092

October 21st 2013

Eddie, yes, of course no matter what the observed patterns, someone can always say this is what a designer wanted.. No pattern can disprove a completely non-specific design hypothesis. But the naturalistic explanation predicts these observed patterns directly, and exposes itself to testing. The simplicity, predictive power, falsifiability, and success of naturalistic explanations is the reason why science has gradually, throughout history, been expanding into realms that were initially explained by appeal to gods. The current metaphysical prejudice against appeal to gods is not an arbitrary anti-religious prejudice but rather a consequence of the lack of success of such explanations, and the comparatively much greater success and the power and falsifiability of naturalistic explanations.

The difference between pre-Darwinian biology, which appealed to designers, and post-Darwinian biology, is striking proof of the sterility of the design framework and the fruitfulness of the naturalistic one. Of course the success of these naturalistic explanations does not disprove the designer hypothesis. But one of the best indicators of the truth of a theory is its ability to correctly make detailed, surprising predictions, and inspire fruitful research programs. If life had been designed, one might thing the design perspective would have led to lots of new insights and discoveries. Its failure to do is a strong suggestion that the perspective is wrong.

One need only look at the ID journal Bio-Complexity, which you introduced me to, to see the failures of ID to produce a fruitful reseearch program. There were only a handful of research articels in that journal each year. Compare that to the vibrant flow of surprising discoveries in dozens of journals under the naturalistic hypothesis.

Scientists choose the metaphysics that works best. If design produced more insight and better predictions, scientists would have flocked to it in droves.


Merv - #83093

October 21st 2013

This is apples and oranges again, Lou.  Religions are interested in much broader swaths of life than today’s science can encompass.

So it is a bit like graduates from chef school (scientists) bragging that they have produced nearly all the great food recipes while those from philosophy school have not produced any.  One waits long and patiently for it to dawn on the chefs that just maybe the philosophers aren’t all that interested in making recipes.  But it is amusing that the chefs want so badly to make a contest out of it.

A more accurate model for the history of this might be that gods (and God) are invoked to answer religious questions about life.  Then also, a study of material things (science) became increasingly invoked to answer questions about material aspects of life.  The growth of the latter does not logically entail shrinkage of the former.

And it isn’t that religious questions can’t include interest in the material world—it does; especially for Christianity.  But even when focused on the same phenomena, the type of questions attracting interest are often not the same.   Granted, for recent YECs there may be a huge intersecting stake; but they are a relatively recent phenomenon who swallowed a lot of bogus bait served up by folks who think like you do.  For those of us who hearken back to the Bible and classic Christian thinking, both theology, and the science included within that march robustly (though still fallibly) on.

Lou Jost - #83105

October 22nd 2013

Scientists are as interested as anyone in the broader questions. We just have the courage to recognize that those questions don’t have the answers Christians wish they had. Scientists recognize the fallacy of thinking that old books like the Quran or the Bible are inpsired by a higher power. Sure they could have been revealed, but when one looks carefuly at them for evidence of that, they fail. They are clearly products of local cultures.

It may be comforting to accept the easy Christian answers to those questions, but to me it seems like an elaborate self-deception based on the bizarre premise that a particular culture’s sacred text was actually inspired by a god. I wish people would debate this basic premise more.

Merv - #83114

October 22nd 2013

It’s based on the premise that there is truth, and that such truth goes beyond and is behind what we can see or measure of the material world.

Our sacred texts produced out of various cultures are also the unveiling (or attempted unveiling) of such truth.  Some sacred texts may get closer than others.  But Christians also have the premise that Divine revelation mediated through human beings (and cultures) is behind much of that as well.  Those who want to insist that our layered interpretations (theology) from all of these things (revealed or otherwise) must be perfect, comprehensive, and universally consistent before any of it is acceptable make about as much sense as somebody who takes a quick glance at science and throws out the whole endeavor because they saw some inconsistencies or error in some past or present science.

Eddie - #83122

October 22nd 2013


You are slipping back into a partisan-dogmatic mode here.  Note that you make generalizations about “scientists”:  “We [meaning “scientists”] have the courage to recognize ...”; “Scientists recognize the fallacy of thinking ...”  These are statements which represent the views of yourself and of those scientists who agree with you; not of “scientists” per se.  In fact, many scientists disagree with them.  And not just fundamentalists ones, but people such as Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne, and others.  You are attempting to invoke the cultural authority and prestige of “science” in defense of your particular religious opinions.  And you are just stoking the fires of the “warfare” that supposedly exists between religion and science.  

In fact it is a particular metaphysical framework you bring to your discussion of science and religion—a particular way of framing and interpreting the significance of the discoveries of science—that is speaking here, not “science” itself.

The other problem, of course, is that you speak of the “Christian” view as if it is unified, when in fact there are many different “Christian” views.   There are different ways of thinking about the Bible as “inspired by a higher power.”  John Polkinghorne’s view is surely quite different from Ken Ham’s.  

The notion of warfare between “science” as such and “religion” as such (or “Christianity” as such) is now about 150 years old.  It’s based on crude generalizations, and it does not take into account crucial differences of belief within both “scientific” and “religious” communities.  We really have to get past this view, which has been regarded as outdated in serious secular scholarship on the history of science for over 50 years now.  The problem is that the memo has not yet reached the desks of the journalists, the pop science writers (Mooney, etc.), and the ideological scientists (Krauss, Hawking, Coyne, Sean Carroll [the physicist], Myers, Dawkins, Stenger, Harris, etc.).

Lou Jost - #83094

October 21st 2013

Eddie, as an example of science’s metaphysical opportunism, think of the recent transition in physics from deterministic explanations (the “gold standard” of 19th centruy science) to irreducibly probabilistic explanations. Some, like Einstein, fought this change, but it was a rich and productive viewpoint and nearly all physicists rather quickly changed what counted as a valid and complete explanation.

The historical material mentioned by Ted, Jon, and others shows scientists in the act of transition from a metaphysics which included design to a metaphyics which aimed for strictly naturalistic explanations. I think the transition happened not because of overt scientific prejudice or cultural influence, but rather because the latter metaphysics led to more discoveries than the former. And maybe the success of this metaphysics in science moved the whole culture in that direction, not the other way around.

hanan-d - #83088

October 21st 2013

>For him, as long as there is “the purposeful arrangement of parts” it doesn’t matter how horrible the purpose is.  If you can establish the purposeful arrangement of parts, then you’ve established design


In order to see purposeful arrangements of parts, wouldn’t one first have to see UNpurposeful arrangment of parts to compare it to? Are there such examples?

This sort of reminds me of examples for a designer (not ID per say) some use. “If you saw a TV set on Jupiter, would you assume someone put it there?” Well, the speaker here is comparing what exactly? He is comparing something obviously designed (a TV set) with something undesigned, nature (Jupiter). Yet, in other insances, this same speaker will say nature shows signs of a designer. So which is it? Is nature designed or isn’t it? How can one see signs of design, unless you have things to compare it to?

hanan-d - #83121

October 22nd 2013


To add to my comment above [83088] I found this on Michael Behe’s own page at Lehigh University.

He says he is: “trying to establish a reasoned way to determine a rough dividing line between design and non-design in biochemical systems.”

I would say this is incredibly important. As I said above, how does one see design unless he has something undesigned  to compare it to. This leads to the actual mechanism proposed by ID. Are all non-designed systems at the mercy of neoDarwinian evolution but designed system get treated differently in evolution? Good questions eh?

Eddie - #83126

October 22nd 2013


You seem to be making up an artificial problem here. It is isn’t in most cases hard to recognize non-design. Just walk into almost any teenager’s bedroom. Similarly, it isn’t in most cases hard to recognize design. Do you seriously doubt that the computer your are typing on is designed? And even if you lived in 1850, and some freak time warp brought you a computer from 2013, wouldn’t you, even without prior knowledge that people designed computers, be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the computer was designed?

Of course, there are borderline cases. Could a set of waves etch the pattern “BOB” into the sand of a beach? Yes, they could. So if we saw “BOB” we might say it is highly probable that a human agent made the pattern, but we would speak of perhaps a 1% probability of a freak natural action. But suppose on the same beach we saw the Gettysburg Address. We would then infer intelligent design beyond a reasonable doubt. No scientist would say that intelligent agency in that case was an “unscientific” explanation, and then offer a more “scientific” explanation about infinite universes over infinite time producing infinite beaches and infinite waves so that sooner or later the Gettyburg Address was bound to appear on some beach or other. Every scientist, including Lou, including Dawkins, including Coyne, would say that intelligent agency was a practical certainty and would brush aside purely theoretical arguments of that kind.
Why? Because the astounding creative power of waves is not essential to anyone’s secular humanist worldview, so no one needs to insist upon it; and because proof that any lengthy piece of writing comes from an intelligent agent does not threaten anyone’s secular humanist worldview, so no one objects to such proofs. It is only because of the religious dimension—because of the fact that so many modern scientists don’t want design to be true in some cases—that they will advance strained arguments of that kind when it comes to living systems. It wouldn’t matter if a living cell were a thousand times more complicated than the most complicated human city (which it is), or a million times more complicated, or a billion times more complicated—a certain sort of scientist will decide that it must have come about by chance, and dedicate his life to proving that the first cells did in fact come about by chance. The metaphysical agenda dictates the research question, and what kinds of answer will count as legitimate or “scientific.” And one thing is sure—peace to Lou—no answer to the origin of life that involves design will be allowed, in any biology journal, at any biology conference, etc. to be a scientific answer, no matter how much the intricate feedback systems etc. in a cell scream out “design.” A certain kind of scientist will suppress all normal intellectual instincts, all normal intuitive and common-sense reasoning, if such reasoning leads to a conclusion he does not like, and will entertain conclusions for which there is today virtually no evidence, if such conclusions fit in better with his worldview.
If you really want to know how Behe decides things in practice, you can read his lengthy and detailed discussion of the “edge” between design and non-design in his book, The Edge of Evolution. No doubt one could debate with Behe’s decisions, but no one can say that Behe hasn’t tried to formulate principles and apply them. But I’m still waiting to hear back from you on Denton, so I don’t want to encourage you to start yet another book.

Jon Garvey - #83135

October 23rd 2013

FWIW I think Behe is being linguistically a little careless in that quote. Dembski is careful to distinguish between “what can be shown to be designed” and “what cannot be shown to be designed”, rather than “what is not designed.”

I could roll a ball of clay by design (and have done so), which might still be effectively indistinguishable from one produced in some natural situation. A clay sparrow would be a different matter.

The application in nature might be a process designed to generate statistically random outcomes - or perhaps more subtly, one that uses simple algorithms to produce order.

Eddie - #83143

October 23rd 2013


Agreed.  I think Behe, who knows Dembski’s position well, would consent to that reformulation.  Indeed, he has in some places indicated that, for all he knows, design may go down to the last detail of life.  But he doesn’t need to prove that everything is designed in order to prove that some things are designed.  I may not be sure whether a particular triangular stone was shaped by natural forces or is a crude arrowhead; but I can be sure the Great Pyramid was not shaped by natural forces.  Similarly, Behe would argue, you don’t have to prove that the ammonia molecule is designed to prove (I’m using the word “proved” a bit loosely, meaning not Euclidean proof but proof for all practical purposes) that the bacterial flagellum is designed.  This is why I think that Hanan is making a difficulty for design theory where none exists.

Indeed, the ammonia molecule may be designed—everything may be designed—that is the approximate view of Michael Denton.  But if it turns out that ammonia molecules weren’t designed, but are just “there” as part of nature, that doesn’t make design arguments for life, species, man, etc. impossible.    

hanan-d - #83145

October 23rd 2013

>But if it turns out that ammonia molecules weren’t designed, but are just “there” as part of nature, that doesn’t make design arguments for life, species, man, etc. impossible.

Hence my confusion. If one thing is intelligently designed, wouldn’t everything be intelligently designed? If we can go into a time machine to the beginning of everything, how would it all transpire? Early molucles would not be designed, but at some point on Earth’s history - and though I louthe to use Beaglelady’s analogy - a cell comes down from heaven, ready to evolve into all life? 

What sets an amonia molucle apart from the flagellum? Did god drop the flagellum from heaven while all other molecules evolved? Or, did the flagellum evolve like everything else. Now, one can say, “yes, EVERYTHING evolved from a common ancestorial molecule (or whatever), but THAT mechanism is what God intended. From what I am hearing, and correct me if I am wrong, ID holds by the latter, not the former. I say this because the little I do follow on ID, the more I see some subtle (or not so subtle) desire to eliminate evolution from the discussion. Or, at least eliminate man from the evolution.


Eddie - #83163

October 24th 2013

“If one thing is intelligently designed, wouldn’t everything be intelligently designed?”

Not necessarily.  What if the Designer is not omnipotent, and has to work with stubborn and imperfect matter which he is given?  In that case, the basic properties of atoms and molecules may be out of his control; but he still may have the ability to arrange them within given constraints.  Remember, the design hypothesis per se does not presume that the designer has to be the omnipotent God of theistic religion.

On your other comments elsewhere here, regarding Behe etc., remember that all ID needs to establish is that just one thing—anything at all—in living nature proceeds from design, to show that Dawkins, Darwin etc. are wrong.

So, for example, if even one of Behe’s examples of design survives examination, then even if design is disproved for all his other examples, then he’s right and Darwinism is wrong.  Darwinism must be able to explain everything in terms of non-design, or it can explain nothing.  There can be no compromise, as Darwin made clear.

I would also caution you about speaking of “ID” as a unified notion.  There are many different variants of ID.  Part of your discussion is confusing because you mix up ID proponents who don’t accept evolution with ID proponents who do.  There is no shortcut to understanding ID.  You cannot understand it by relying on summaries, especially not summaries by its enemies, e.g., Wikipedia, Ken Miller, Nick Matzke.  You have to read the books by the individual ID authors—as Jon and I and others here have. 

GJDS - #83154

October 23rd 2013

The ammonia molecule will always form provided the conditions for reaction between nitrogen and hydrogen are met (i.e. we must have these molecules, and they are made to follow the correct reaction route). Furthemore, this can occur anywhere, at any time (past present or future) - the only condition we must meet is the laws that define the reaction route are followed. If instead we choose conditions that lead to the creation of many N and H reactants (e.g. radical chemstry) a large number of species may form, some short lived, and a number of reaction routes may be contemplated. The latter may also be understood because they too are based on defined and understood laws of chemistry. No re-winding tapes and clever octupus here, hey hey?

Eddie - #83128

October 22nd 2013


The Latin expression you want is “per se” not “per say”; but on your main point, why is a TV set on Jupiter “obviously designed”?  Clearly, if the first human expedition to Jupiter found it there, we didn’t design it.  And we know of no other intelligent races in the universe.  So how do you know there was an intelligent designer of the TV at all?  How do you know that the TV didn’t “evolve,” i.e., come into being by unguided natural processes on Jupiter?  How would you eliminate that possibility?

If you can answer that question, then you should be able to see, at least in principle, how design can be distinguished from non-design in biology.

hanan-d - #83139

October 23rd 2013

The reason is simple. We have apriori experience to what an artificially designed system looks like. We know, through our own experience that a perfect box with knobs (this is a 50’s set) doesn’t make itself. We compare it to the surrounding world (nature). Had existence shown nature to have a habit of forming TV sets, then if I get to Jupiter, I could not eliminate the possiblity that it may have evolved on its own.

Biological systems are quite different. What are we comparing them to? Nature. So we are comparing nature to nature. Artifical systems are never natural. They require someone to make it. Biological systems are part of nature. I don’t think it is correct to say that since we are able to write the gettisburg address or create TV sets, therefore a cell has to be intelligently designed. The former is unable to have natural explanations, since our experience has proven that. The latter is quite different. What is perceived as designed may be in fact quite intricate, but in fact has natural explanation. After all, biological systems MUST have some sort of intricate working pattern or else nothign would actually work. How else could it have been? And if nothing worked, we would not be here to wonder this very question in the first place.  

eh? eh? eh? eh?


1) Can one compare artifical design to biological design (nature) even though they work on two different premises?

2) Can one compare nature to nature and pick out intelligent design from it? An eye requires an intelligence but does a beak or turtle shell require it too?

Eddie - #83144

October 23rd 2013


I’ve heard this line of argument from atheists and TEs before.  It does not shake me.

The structure of the argument is the same whether we are describing a technological artifact or something we normally call “natural.”

The argument goes:

1.  Non-living and non-intelligent natural forces—in our experience—do not seem capable of organizing raw materials into a television set.  Therefore, if we found a television set on another planet, we would infer the existence of a non-human intelligent designer.

2.  Non-living and non-intelligent natural forces—and here is the debatable premise—in our experience do not seem capable of creating complex, self-regulating living systems (which vastly exceed in complexity and self-regulation any computer, or factory that builds computers, or city containing factories that build computers and all kinds of other things, that we know of).  Therefore, if we find such complex systems in nature, we infer that such systems have an intelligent designer.

Note that the design inference is empirically falsifiable in both cases.  If someone throws raw ores into a volcano, and up pops a TV set, the design inference for the TV on Jupiter is falsified.  And if someone can show how mindless molecules, starting with no living template in a primordial ocean 4 billion years ago, can assemble themselves into Bach or Newton, then the design inference for the origin of life or for bacterium to man is falsified.

That is precisely the area of disagreement between ID folks and Darwinians / origin of life people.  And it’s a difference that can in principle be settled by empirical research.  To date, I have been unconvinced by any arguments that I have seen—from Lou or from anyone more famous or celebrated in science—that the phenomena of life can be explained without design.  Not the origin of life, and not even the path of evolution, seem to me explicable without design.  (Note as an aside that I say design, not miracles or interventions, in order to prevent a useless side-discussion which misses the main point.)

In other words, despite your protest, there is nothing at all wrong with the logic of the design inference; it works the same way for so-called “natural” objects as for the products of human technology.  After all, “natural” objects may be merely the technological artifacts of God (or in the case of life on earth, of alien designers).  

The potential weakness of design inferences lies not in the logic, but in the fact that they are vulnerable to falsification by increases in our empirical knowledge of how nature works.  If empirical knowledge can show that life can easily arise randomly, then obviously Stephen Meyer’s first book is wrong and can be discarded from all the libraries.  If empirical knowledge can show that neo-Darwinian mechanisms alone can explain every step from bacterium to man, then Behe’s two books are wrong and can be tossed into the bonfire.  

So the onus is on you, Hanan.  Can you show—by your own argument, not merely by repeating the arguments of others (if I want the arguments of others, I can read them, without using you as an intermediary), that simple molecules are capable of forming living cells without plan or guidance?  Can you show—by independent argument—that a bacterium can become a man by random mutations plus natural selection?  Can you give me a proposed evolutionary pathway?  

If so, then you have disproved the design inference.  If not, then the design inference remains a live option on the table.

I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.

As for your final question, if there is even one case where it can be shown that design is necessary, e.g., let’s take your example of the eye—then design is established.  If everything else in nature, every other organ and structure (e.g., your beak, turtle shell, etc.) and organism, could have come into being by chance and blind natural laws, but the eye alone required intelligent design, then Darwin’s theory is false.  Darwin himself insisted that his theory could tolerate no exceptions.  He said that if tinkering had to happen even once, he would value the theory of natural selection “at a straw.”  That is why he had to believe that the eye might be have created through a series of fine gradations, even though he could not himself supply the detailed gradations or provide a genetic/developmental mechanism for moving from one stage to the next.

Further comments on this last question of yours (which is really: how much design is in nature, and how much is demonstrable?) are made by Jon and myself above (83135, 83143).

Good answer, eh?  eh?  eh?  eh?  :-)

hanan-d - #83146

October 23rd 2013

>The potential weakness of design inferences lies not in the logic, but in the fact that they are vulnerable to falsification by increases in our empirical knowledge of how nature works

Ok. Good. So I was reading a little on the Dover case and I got this from the wikipedia site. Sorry, this is long, but doesn’t this respond directly to what you said above as well as your eye example.

Second, with regard to the blood-clotting cascade, Dr. Miller demonstrated that the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade has been disproven by peer-reviewed studies dating back to 1969, which show that dolphins’ and whales’ blood clots despite missing a part of the cascade, a study that was confirmed by molecular testing in 1998. (1:122-29 (Miller); P-854.17- 854.22). Additionally and more recently, scientists published studies showing that in puffer fish, blood clots despite the cascade missing not only one, but three parts. (1:128-29 (Miller)). Accordingly, scientists in peer-reviewed publications have refuted Professor Behe’s predication about the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade. Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe’s redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peerreviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition. (20:26-28, 22:112-25 (Behe)). The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe’s claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not “good enough.” (23:19 (Behe)).

We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution. As a further example, the test for ID proposed by both Professors Behe and Minnich is to grow the bacterial flagellum in the laboratory; however, no-one inside or outside of the IDM, including those who propose the test, has conducted it.

>So the onus is on you, Hanan.  Can you show—by your own argument, not merely by repeating the arguments of others (if I want the arguments of others, I can read them, without using you as an intermediary), that simple molecules are capable of forming living cells without plan or guidance? 

OK, but this is very different than what ID is talking about. I have no issue (on good days :D ) that evolution is guided in ways we don’t know toward the emergence of man. A teleology. You know, what TE SHOULD be. But ID seems to cherry pick here and there things that are perceived to be designed and incapable of having evolved. Why not simple say that the flagellum shows evolution is guided instead of saying saying it was incapable of evolving and therefore being irrudicible. What I am suggesting sounds more in line with Denton (the little I have read so far) than ID, because Denton is looking at the ENTIRE system while ID trying to pick things here are there.

I think this may end up being to the detriment of ID. Yesterday, I emailed Stephen Meyer regarding this post. I emaled him regarding his premise which he says:

Despite a thorough search and evaluation, no materialistic causes or evolutionary mechanisms have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified or functional information (or integrated circuitry)

Though his post is about showing that he is NOT coming the God-of-the-gap fallacy, this premise sounds just like that. This in fact sounds like what Behe did (as quoted above). All Meyers is saying is that no materialistic mechanism has been found YET. What happens when one is found? Afterall, he is not suggesting that it is impossible for there to exist, he just says they haven’t found anything. I don’t think this is going to end well. 

[As a side question to you, does that quote from Meyer imply he means evolution could not have occured in general or only in specific cases like the eye or flagellum? ]


Maybe ID should simply reclaim the flag of what TE was supposed to be.

hanan-d - #83147

October 23rd 2013

If you are going to reply, might as well do it at the bottom. The column is getting narrow. 

Eddie - #83164

October 24th 2013

“Why not simple say that the flagellum shows evolution is guided instead of saying saying it was incapable of evolving and therefore being irrudicible.”

Hanan, this statement shows confusion about what ID, and in particular Behe, is saying.  Your confusion is doubtless fed by the fact that Ken Miller, the Dover Trial judge, Wikipedia, and other anti-ID sources have consistently misunderstood (and sometimes, it seems, deliberately misrepresented) Behe’s argument regarding irreducible complexity and evolution.  Get the Ruse and Dembski collection and read Behe’s response to Miller there.

Again, there is no shortcut.  Read Darwin’s Black Box (all of it!), then read Miller’s critique, then read Behe’s rejoinder.  Forget about Wikipedia, the Dover trial, blog sites, etc.  Study the primary sources.

You have to decide, in the end, whether you want to understand what the principals or saying, or whether you are willing to rest your opinion on distortive and misleading summaries of third parties.  I long ago decided that I would shut out third-party opinion and go to the sources.  That is why I feel confident that I understand the issues.  I cut out the unreliable and usually highly partisan middle man, and listen to the top-level debaters in their own words.  You can do the same—if your goal is to really know the issues and the arguments, and not simply to find some sort of abbreviated version of the debate on which you can form an opinion.

hanan-d - #83222

October 25th 2013

You are right, there are no shortcuts, but nonetheless, even though what I quoted to you is given by wikipedia, it does not mean it was wrong. The main question is still there. Did Behe make an assurtion about the immune system in the past, that Miller, at trial, show was wrong? Did Behe in fact say that the immune system will never have a naturalistic, evolutionary explanation for? And did Miller show Behe under cross, that in fact he was wrong? 

Eddie - #83233

October 25th 2013


No, Miller did not show under cross that Behe was wrong.  (By the way, I’ve read all 2,000 pages of the Dover transcript, all the expert witness reports, etc.  Also most of Miller’s other writings on Behe and Behe’s rejoinders.)  Miller has always misunderstood Behe’s central point about irreducible complexity, despite Behe’s repeated attempts to clarify.  It does not refute Behe’s thesis at all to show that some parts of a system might have other uses.  A nut on my bicycle may have other uses in other machines; that doesn’t prove my bicycle could have arisen via a series of random mutations which threw various parts together until a working bicycle was obtained.

What Behe has repeatedly said is that many evolutionary changes do not have an adequate neo-Darwinian explanation.  The doltish, scientifically untrained atheist partisans who write Wikipedia articles simply don’t read carefully, or deliberately misread Behe, because they want Behe to be wrong.

But forget about Wikipedia editors and Miller.  Your duty, Hanan, is to read Behe before you form an opinion on his views.  If you won’t do that, you simply are not entitled to an opinion —no matter how many secondary sources on Behe you read.

I’m not going to be your private Reader’s Digest, saving you hundreds of hours of work that I have diligently put in, so that you can form an opinion on ID, TE, etc. while putting only minimal effort into it.  I’ve earned the right to talk authoritatively about Darwinism, ID, TE, etc., because of the time I’ve put into reading the literature.  That right can’t be transferred, any more than one’s right to drive or fly a plane can be transferred.  You have to earn your “license to comment” the way you would earn a driver’s or pilot’s license—by studying until you understand what you have to know.

And your study has to be based on the primary sources—Darwin, Paley, Gaylord Simpson, Monod, Behe, Dawkins, etc.—not on internet bickering about the primary sources.  If you won’t read the primary sources, you are just chasing after transient opinions, many of them written by people who don’t know what they are talking about, many written by people who are bluffing, and many written by spiteful atheists who are outright lying.  Your only way of being free from deception and misrepresentation is to learn the primary sources.  That’s my final advice to you here, before the comments shut down.  Best wishes on your search.


Jon Garvey - #83134

October 23rd 2013

They may not ever find a TV on Jupiter, but Saturn appears to be done up with a hex-bolt ... OK, sorry to bring down the tone

Eddie - #83034

October 19th 2013


You might miss my reply, because it is considerably further down the page.  But it’s there—83032.

Merv - #82992

October 18th 2013

I don’t know of one leading TE—other than Robert Russell (tellingly, not a biologist and therefore free of professional commitment to ND dogma)—who will say unambiguously that God is in control of the outcomes of evolution, or even that he is in control of some of the outcomes,...

I also continue to wish somebody from Biologos would address your (and Jon’s and others’) challenge as it does not seem that it should be difficult for a Christian to commit to “Yes, God is in control of all outcomes…”   and from that faith perspective, let neodarwinism be worked out from that, or not, as the case may be.  Such a statement doesn’t even commit one to any details for *how* God chooses or chose to do things.

I wonder if your charge leveled generally at *most* TE leaders that they seem to take offense at the suggestion of supernatural workings being “intruded” on the world of science;—I wonder if such a charge couldn’t be leveled at the wider world of evangelicals today, and Jon may have intimated as much in a recent post.  It could well be that this theological skepticism about the ways God works and chooses to work may be a hallmark (for better or worse) of today’s popular theology.  TEs may just be reflecting a wider trend of Christian culture.  But such TEs as I know (and I include myself in this) have no problem accepting that God does and did exactly as he wills to both in special circumstances as well as the ordinary ones.  And our reticence towards accepting all claims about the former understandably comes from the fact that special things don’t happen as often as ordinary things [making science possible]—go figure.

Jon Garvey - #83028

October 19th 2013

...it does not seem that it should be difficult for a Christian to commit to “Yes, God is in control of all outcomes…”

Unless you’re committed to a theology of natural “freedom”, Merv.

I’m sure there’s a widespread decline in Evangelical undersatanding, though it’s not my place as an outsider to the US to comment too much. However, I think the same is true here, but to a lesser extent so far. When “Evangelical” becomes a tradition rather than a principle, it seems to me to have lost its way.

It’s hard to unpack the US data on beliefs, but the surveys on “origins” done annually, it seems, by YouGov consistently show Young Earth Creationism to be their top category nationally, followed by “evolution directly guided by God”, followed last by “undirected evolution”. There are variations, but I’m not yet convinced of any firm trends.

Note the “direct” in their question: an equivocal TE might have difficulty deciding between “guided” and “unguided” per se, but “directly guided” seems as straightforward to answer as your “control of all outcomes” - and Joe Public likes thyat option if he’s not an atheist or a Creationist, it appears.

But if you’re doubtful that polydactyly or human hominid origins are God’s will, or believe that God has given creation “freedom to make itself” rather than being “coerced” by a “puppetmaster”, or disparage the human jaw as badly planned,  surely you couldn’t pick “directly guided” with any conviction?

I would therefore wonder if that kind of TE might not have to opt for “unguided evolution”, and suspect that to be associated with a theology that is consistent with that.

hanan-d - #83087

October 21st 2013

>But if you’re doubtful that polydactyly or human hominid origins are God’s will

I am doubtful (about the polydactyly). I mean, how is anyone supposed to understand that as God’s will, while we spend so much resources trying to fight these things? Do you mean, that God specifically chose Mr. X to have a genetic mutation while the embroyo was developing? Or do you mean that God specifically created nature that these mutations will happen in man in order to teach him some sort of lesson?

At what point - if any - does one look at the outcome and scratch his head and say, “Surely this could have been designed much better if this was indeed the will of a God.” This is infact what the atheist biologists see and, current TE’s as well. Hence Ayala. 

That is where I am stuck Jon. We can play metaphysics (unverifiable) all day, but how can I actually look at evolution (verifiable) and see something directed? The fight over Neo Darnwisnism vs. TE vs ID seems irrelevant since all agree some evolution took place. 

Jon Garvey - #83089

October 21st 2013


For clarity, by “polydactyly” I was referring back to Jim’s original contention that 5 digits is contingent and God has no part in it. Actually there are a lot worse ills than having an extra finger, I guess, but I see your point.

In all honesty, I think trying to use nature as an evidence base for whether God exists and is creator is the wrong place to start. Most people most of the time assume it’s the case (hence Romans 1), but the best of us on a bad day may feel that the universe is indifferent to us, or worse.

Nature can get us looking for God, but my conviction as a Christian (call it “Abrahamic believer” for context) arises from the works amd words of God towards people. Mature, at best, can set us searching for him.

Now, given such a personal encounter, God’s role in creation is, to me, axiomatic and self-evident, and the evidence strongly coroborative, but I wouldn’t ever suggest it as sufficient to turn an atheist to religion. Bearing in mind that the kind of God in the Bible is the kind whose ways are sometimes hard to comprehend, and I find no great problem with theodicy. The problems arise from a truncated biew of God that makes him our kindly grandfather in heaven, not the God of Anraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Christ.

My interest here is more towards believers - to get them to be consistent to what their acknowledged faith teaches.

But metaphysics, though mot scientific, is not beyond human verification amd evolution, though in the realm of science, is not slam dunk. Though in fact, it’s only the unwarranted metaphysical projections of evolution - “God was not involved in this” - that have a bearing on religious faith at all.

hanan-d - #83090

October 21st 2013

>My interest here is more towards believers - to get them to be consistent to what their acknowledged faith teaches.

What about those that don’t believe yet? What would you say to them? 

Though we may feel the universe is indifferent to us, there is no doubt that through out history, “existence” was key to the belief God existed. Is was almost like a “duh” moment. “Of course God exists, how else would this world be here.” Now you say, nature should not be used to find the creator. Why? The answer seems to be Darwin.

Jon Garvey - #83099

October 22nd 2013

hanan-d - see below. Difficulties with inline posting today.

GJDS - #83095

October 21st 2013

..... more towards believers ..... It may be useful in these discussions to ask ourselves, “Why (and what) do people believe”. If people come to a belief because of scientific explanations (for whatever reason, be it metaphysical or otherwise) then their outlook (and belief) will continue to be based on how they use scientific matters and information. This is an aspect of these discussions that I have yet to understand. If BioLogos and others, base their beliefs on how evolution provides the explanations and insights they think they need for this life, it seems pointless to argue against them, or to seek a theology of any sort, since they have grounded their belief in this theory.

This ‘basis’ for belief (and unfortunately, if I understand these discussions, faith) seems to be lost in some discussions, and replaced by an opinion on how well people think Darwin’s outlook has been studied and the outlook of people who practice in this field. I can understand why questions would arise (e.g. do we have Adam and Eve, or do we have a lot of confused sub-humans who suddely (or otherwise) became smart chaps and created humanty?) Even this example is underpinned by a belief that relies on particulars on Adam and Eve as a scientifically verifiable bit of information (or otherwise).

People come to their beliefs in so many ways, that trying to pin sceince down as a major cause is imo a faulty exercise. Indeed, if people do rely on science for their beliefs, they have already made a decision that is religious.

Jon Garvey - #82932

October 16th 2013


Of course, one must also factor in what exactly is the context for a short sound byte by any particular theologian.

For example, it must be asked what theological changes McGrath is actually envisaging in the face of science. He has, for instance, soundly rejected the critique of classical theism by the Open Theists like Sanders on the grounds that it has mishandled the historical evidence. Yet Open Theism has become de rigeur amongst TEs, including Polkinghorne, and it’s easy to suggest that science somehow gives it a better standing - that McGrath would, I think, refute, but he’s not being quoted on that.

Similarly David Wenham is a conservative Evangelical (I knew his brother at college), who like others from his fold (Derek Kidner comes to mind as a commentator on Genesis) has been cautiously open to evolution - insofar as an NT scholar is able to give an opinion on such things. But though he has written on the need for such issues to lead to critical reappraisal of what (in his area of study) Paul actually meant in referring to Adam and Eve and the science of his day, for example, it would be wrong to paint him as being open to a reconfiguring of the theology of God, creation or sin and salvation.

So are these guys saying, “The material-historical interpretation of Genesis 1 needs re-evaluation  in the light of a probably old earth and succession of species”, or are they saying, “the historic Evangelical faith has been found wanting, and Providence, God’s sovereignty, Biblical inspiration, the nature of sin, eschatology and so all on warrant radical revision.” There is a profound difference between the two which isn’t particularly clear in this  (old) presentation.

Eddie - #82943

October 16th 2013


Thanks for providing some context.  I am glad to hear that McGrath does not endorse a lot of things that other folks around here seem to endorse.  Once again, the BioLogos framing of issues is questionable.

Chip - #82938

October 16th 2013

Indeed.  Expanding the Paradigm is just what is called for. 

I couldn’t help but notice how little actual content there is in this list of sound bites.  To illustrate this—just for fun—read them in reverse.  Just a couple examples follow, but you could do the same for just about all of them: 

“This is difficult for anyone who holds any kind of belief, regardless of its nature, to be willing to be challenged on it…” but neodarwinism is due for a critical re-evaluation.    

“You have to commit yourself to what you believe to be a point of view, but you have to also recognize that you may be mistaken in that point of view—and you have to be open to correction…”of your naturalistic presuppositions. 

Jon Garvey - #82950

October 17th 2013

Much talk from BioLogos of the need for Christians to show courage in challenging their presuppositions.

I see strong and reasoned defences of traditional theology from external posters here, even daring to confront directly celebrated revisionist theologians like Peter Enns. I see Creationists daring to bang the drum for a young earth on a TE site, ID people putting the case for the Designer similarly, various types putting forward the ideas of re-thinkers in the science field (the Shapiros, Nobles, Newmans, Dentons etc).

Sometimes that happens in the face of disdainful insults about cowardice or fundamentalism from fruitflies or canines.

But there is one set of people here who won’t submit their theological views to intellectual argument, nor even address the scientific challenges to Neodarwinian orthodoxy. And they are the ones telkling others to expand their paradigm. Ironic, isn’t it?

Lou Jost - #82956

October 17th 2013

Those darn closed-minded round-earthers. They can’t bring themselves to see the evidence for a flat earth resting on the back of a turtle. And they have the nerve to say that theology should not contradict reality.

Chip - #82957

October 17th 2013

You’re so right Lou. Evolution is the only game in town and is completely without any guidance whatsoever.  Furthermore, we’re as sure of this as we are of a round earth, and any skepticism regarding such claims is analogous to belief in flat earths and turtles. 

But even better than this is the hope you’ve instilled in me that maybe someday I’ll belong to the elite caste that no longer needs to question it’s own presuppositions—golly I sure hope so!  I’m not there yet, but as long as you keep helping me…

Wistfully looking forward,


Lou Jost - #82972

October 17th 2013

If you read my comments above, Chip, you would see I carefully noted, several times, that the claim about no guidance was evidentially different from the claim about common descent. We are indeed as sure of common descent of at least the vertebrates as we are of the approximate roundness of the earth. We are also sure the earth is old. I did not say that about lack of guidance.

The world would be happy to hear you if you ever get evidence that common descent is wrong.

Do you question your belief that the earth is not flat? If you don’t question your belief in that, does that open you to the same snark that you level at me?

I think it is ironic that you criticise scientists about not questioning things enough (even though the goal of every scientist is to overthrow what he was taught), while you steadfastly accept the Bible as an authoritative source of truth about reality..

Chip - #82985

October 18th 2013

Do you question your belief that the earth is not flat?

Hmm.  Well, no.  I would have to hold a view before questioning it would even be a meaningful exercise.  But if you’d like to ask me a relevant question, I’m all ears.  

It’s interesting that you reacted defensively to my comment, which really wasn’t directed toward you at all.  Jon got it (and you clearly didn’t) when he commented, “But there is one set of people here who won’t submit their theological views to intellectual argument nor even address the scientific challenges to Neodarwinian orthodoxy. And they are the ones telling others to expand their paradigm. Ironic, isn’t it?” If after this little bit of review you still don’t get it, let me know and I’ll continue to try to help you connect the dots.  

But since you’ve inserted yourself into the conversation, I thank you for providing an excellent example of a classic straw man argument. You start with a well-established fact—old earth for example.  Then, you quickly move to the (wrong and unspported) assumption that I don’t accept this—implying throughout that this is because of a rigid and stubborn fundamentalism; and ultimately conclude that I’m “criticizing scientists.”  Wow.  I’d like to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such tortured logic, but alas it is all too common on the internet.  So, in an attempt to clarify, I was primarily criticizing BioLogos and to a lesser extent neodarwinism, and the fully-naturalistic turtle on whose back it generally assumed to rest.  But why bother to attend to such distinctions when the wide swath of the broad brush is so much easier?  

For the record, I struggle with and ask questions abut the biblical text all the time.  One of the reasons to come to a site like this is expressly to interact with folks whose perspective is different than mine. Indeed, the consistent frustration that many have expressed again and again is the unwillingness of the typical BL presenter to interact and defend the standard platform.  But that’s not your issue.  What is your issue is your wrong (again) assumption that I’m not interested in a critical examination of my views.  Sorry for having to explode so many unfounded stereotypes all in one post.  

Finally, on snark.  Guilty as charged.  But if you don’t want a snarky return, I might recommend not serving one up in the first place.  

Hope you enjoy your weekend.   

Lou Jost - #82987

October 18th 2013

Chip, it wasn’t the snark I objected to (I was indeed also guilty of it). I was objecting first to this position which you attribute to me: “Evolution is the only game in town and is completely without any guidance whatsoever.  Furthermore, we’re as sure of this as we are of a round earth, and any skepticism regarding such claims is analogous to belief in flat earths and turtles.” I was very careful NOT to attribute so much certainty to the unguidedness of evolution, and I explicitly said that. Common descent of all vertebrates is a settled fact like a round earth. While lack of guidance is also settled to the satisfaction of nearly everyone in science, that issue does have a bigger metaphysical component than the claim for common descent. I didn’t put it in the same class as the claim for common descent. So please don’t invent more straw men than we already have here.

The other thing that bugged me (and here I may have read too much into your comment) is that you seemed to be criticizing empirical confidence itself, even though you too are confident about some empirical claims (such as that the earth is round). This confidence is reasonable because it is based on good evidence. Confidence itself is not something to criticize, the debate should be about the basis for that confidence.

I have no clue about the meaning of your first sentence. Surely you don’t  believe in a flat earth, so surely you hold the view that the earth is not flat.

You also say I assumed you believed in a young earth. I don’t think I ever said said anything that should make you think that. My comment “We are also sure the earth is old” was not directed at you but at Jon’s earlier mention of young-earth creationists. I did assume, based on many of your past comments, that you are a Christian who does not believe in common descent. If I am wrong about that, I’m glad to be corrected.

As for “connecting the dots”, my comment was meant to defend the people on BioLogos who adjust their views to our ever-growing knowledge about how the world works. You said “It’s interesting that you reacted defensively to my comment, which really wasn’t directed toward you at all.” Are you talking about your comment that starts off “You’re so right Lou…[snark]”?


Jon Garvey - #83100

October 22nd 2013

hanan-d @#83090

The BioLogos interface has swallowed two replies to you already - I’ll try a third time offline.

I tried to be clear that for most people, the “duh” response is still perfectly valid and instinctive. Even 45% of US scientists believe in God, with a considerable number more accepting a “spiritual” dimension. Pure materialism is uncommon, and even more so in this century as philosophers begin to unravel it. Undirected evolution is still the least popular view in the US according to YouGov. Nature is still, then, a good apologist.


(a) It is possible to blunt that natural sensibility, and Darwin, his Enlightenment forbears and his secularist successors, have some responsibility for that in our day. But it’s less their science than their smuggled-in metaphysics. If you’re constantly told that “God must not be allowed a foot  in the door”(Lewontin) and, “We must constantly remind ourselves that what we are studying was not designed” (I forget that senior source), some will rub off. It’s not easy to contradict your educators and media communicators unless you have already worked out why they’re wrong.

(b) Natural theology has very limited power. At most it can point one to a deity, and perhaps (through philosophy like Aquinas’ more than science) to a few of his necessary attributes. But as Paul suggests in Romans 1, and GJDS hints above, saving faith comes not through studying nature but through hearing a saving message from God. In Paul’s day the danger was of elevating the creature to be the creator. Now it’s to see the creation as creating itself - which is maybe only a variant of the same thing.

God’s self-revelation apart from nature is a logical corollary of the existence of the Abrahamic God, because if he exists outside space and time, it follows that he cannot be found within the created universe, except indirectly by seeing his created works. And they may be ambiguous, especially since we can only ever know a small fragment of the totality and nothing of its final purpose.

Compare human relationships - we’re likely to have a wrong impression of each other if we judge by our pottery, or our cakemaking, or even our writings about evolution. We need to meet and converse in depth to begin to know each other.

So, to answer your question about what I’d say to non-believers, it would be that I usually wouldn’t address that issue on a website like this, but personally. And I would point people primarily to the forgiveness, life and joy to be found in the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ. I’d explain it from his revealed word, share my 48 years experience of life in him, and pray that God’s Spirit would make those things real to him/her, even as I sought to make a reasoned case. “The heart has reasons that reason cannot comprehend” (Blaise Pascal).

But as an adjunct I certainly wouldn’t despise the lessons to be learned from the wisdom and order of God’s creation for those who still retained their native sense of awe and worship.

Lou Jost - #83104

October 22nd 2013

When nature is closely examined, we see that if iyt had a designer, it could not have been the Christian god. “God’s self-revelation”  in nature seems to go to great lengths to give the appearance that Darwin is right. And the “revelation” of the Bible has the characteristics of a cultural product.

The people who know the most about nature’s details are heavily atheist. The places with the most resistance to naturalistic evolution are places where people know nearly nothing about biology and where science is actively repressed, such as most Muslim countries and the southern US.

The difference between atheists and Christians is not the laclk of wonder and awe in the former. I think we have a deeper appreciation for the real wonders of the universe than Christians have.


Eddie - #83131

October 22nd 2013


“... it could not have been the Christian god.”

To be more accurate, it could not have been certain people’s version of the Christian God.  “Christian God,” like “Christian,” is an equivocal term.

“The people who know the most about nature’s details are heavily atheist.”

That certainly has not been true throughout the history of science.  It was not true in the age of Newton and Boyle.  It was not true even in the age of Darwin.  “Natural history” in Darwin’s day was a common preoccupation of country parsons, who thought that in studying the details of nature they were learning of the glories of God’s creation.

I question whether it is true even today.  Many of the “atheists” are actually only agnostics.  And in any case, “knowing nature’s details” can mean different things.  Jerry Coyne is largely a blackboard biologist and he’s an atheist; Michael Egnor is a pediatric neurosurgeon with 2,000 operations to his credit, and hence “knows” something about nature’s “details” that a theorist like Coyne does not; and he’s a practicing Roman Catholic.  And also, as always, knowing the data of nature, and placing that data in an interpretive framework, are two different things.  It is always human beings who turn data into interpretations; and scientists, as human beings, are influenced in all kinds of ways by non-scientific factors in their framing.  “Mathematical elegance” for example is an aesthetic criterion which has had great influence on the acceptance of certain theories.  We also know that as long as it was possible to interpret the cosmological data in terms of an eternal universe rather than one with a temporal beginning, scientist preferred the eternal universe—in part for aesthetic and theological reasons.  They gave in only when they were forced to, by the discovery of the background microwave radiation.  It is unreasonable to suppose that such metaphysical and religious and aesthetic prejudices will not affect the judgment of scientists in the future.

And since the dominant culture among elite scientists is now atheist-agnostic, and that culture tends to be self-reinforcing through like hiring and promoting like, we must be all the more on guard against metaphysical prejudice shaping science.  Paradoxically, if science departments were divided more like 50/50 between devout religious believers and unbelievers, possible metaphysical prejudices would be less of a concern, because the contrary prejudices would tend to cancel each other other out.  But in a fundamentalist Islamic science department, or a science department at Oral Roberts university, on the one hand, or at Harvard or Cornell, on the other hand, there is no countervailing metaphysical prejudice to balance things out and keep everyone honest.   The amusing possibility of an “affirmative action” program, whereby any Ivy League physics department would have to hire one John Polkinghorne for every Larry Krauss that it hired, tickles my fancy.

Jon Garvey - #83109

October 22nd 2013

Well, Lou, it could be that the high rate of atheism in biologists is because they know most about nature’s details. Or it could be cultural. It could also be questioned if biologists are truly those who know most about nature’s details.

Certainly those many who lived close to nature’s blessings and curses before Darwin, or who are now not educated in his lore, were overwhelmingly religious. So the absence of God from nature is not self-evident, and your assertion is - well, one person’s unsubstantiatied assertion.

In any case, accepting for argument’s sake the premise that natural scientists know more about nature, your second paragraph implies that those in that group with most knowledge will inevitably be more atheist. Which is tosh, as the number of believing Nobel prizewinners shows. I do wish you’d save such facile generalisations for the P Z Myers of this world, who accept them uncritically, being so bright themselves. Incidentally, if as per your other post you want to see the existence of God debated more, his site would be a far more suitable place to do it than here, if he didn’t inevitably evict anyone defending theism from his forum.

But take another group - medical practitioners - who have much of the same aptitudes and training as biologists, get just as close to nature and, to boot, professionally encounter almost exclusively the worst things it can throw at those who matter most to us. So, their own survey (US Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2005) shows that 76% believe in God.

The author said “We suspect that people who combine an aptitude for science with an interest in religion and an affinity for public service are particularly attracted to medicine.” Well, that’s an interpretation that would fit me and a bunch of other re-skilled biologists I knew in the profession - and would suggest, if one insists on drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence, that the field of biology is being artificially drained of those with an interest in religion and an affinity for public service by medicine.

I’ll leave commenting on the relative appreciation of the universe by atheists and Christians to some other poll, or psychometric research. Partly it will depend, perhaps, on your artificial division of the world into “Atheist-scientists” and “Christian-ignorami.”

Lou Jost - #83118

October 22nd 2013

You said  “your second paragraph implies that those in that group with most knowledge will inevitably be more atheist. Which is tosh, as the number of believing Nobel prizewinners shows. I do wish you’d save such facile generalisations…” As I have pointed out in other  replies to you, there is an abundance of good polling data for the UK and the US backing up my statement. Gotta run now, will try to address your other comments another day.

hanan-d - #83119

October 22nd 2013


I remember readying about some study on the religious beliefs of scienticsts. Their opinion on why the majority of biologists are atheists seems to be that that is a career that draws atheists, and not that biology causes scientists to become atheists at some point. 

Eddie - #83124

October 22nd 2013


It’s probably a bit of both.  There seems to be little doubt that biology—as currently taught—is a major factor in turning believers into atheists—the biology is often deliberately framed in such as a way as to invite atheist conclusions, even if atheism per se isn’t directly preached.  On the other hand, given that the field is already predominantly populated by atheists, atheists are going to feel more comfortable selecting such a field than they would certain other fields, e.g., philosophy, history of religion, etc., where they would be expected to treat religious belief as, if not correct, at least as worthy of respect and serious consideration.  

And once this cycle gets going—biology generating unbelief which makes the biology department more unbelieving and therefore attracts more unbelievers, who in turn will do more research and teaching to bring still more students to unbelief—it is self-augmenting, and more and more biology faculties have the power to maintain atheism simply by selecting new faculty who are atheists.   When the anti-religious faculty voting on new hires outnumbers the religious faculty 8 to 2 or 9 to 1, it’s easy enough to manage.

The bad joke is that the Darwinists are always saying how horrible it is that anti-evolutionary teaching in the schools will turn all kinds of American kids off science, and the US will fall behind other countries; yet exactly the same argument applies on the other side: when evolution is framed as it generally is (with overt or subtle atheistic flavoring), religious students who are very sharp in math and science might find the climate of biology departments uncongenial, and opt to go into some other field—accounting or economics or whatever.  But the Darwinists never do a cost-benefit accounting to determine how many future great scientists are lost on both sides; they simply make their one-sided representation, and hope no one will notice that another side exists. 

hanan-d - #83149

October 23rd 2013


Im listening to Stephen Meyer right now on the Michael Medved show. I always enjoy this hour. One of the things that he says over and over again is that he is bringing positive evidence of ID to the table. That positive evidence in his words is that he sees intelligence in the mechanism and circuitray and that our already know that intelligence is required to create such complex circuitry. I wanted to talk to him about that very point. I know you disagree, but I believe deducing that because we as humans make artificial complex circuitry, that implies the natural realm also functions like that, to be fallacious. 

Eddie - #83162

October 24th 2013


Meyer’s argument is more careful than that.  He isn’t saying that we can simply assume that the natural world works like the world created by human technology.  He is saying that the natural world displays features that have much in common qualitatively with the products of human technology, but vastly exceed those products in quantitative complexity.  So the question becomes:  what is the best explanation of the fact that nature in many respects looks like the product of a technology advanced far beyond human capacities?  There are, broadly speaking, at least two possible explanations: (1) nature looks like the result of technology because it is the result of technology—alien or more probably divine technology; (2) the technological look of nature is an illusion—the design-like features of nature have all emerged by chance from forces and particles with absolutely no ends in mind, interacting over endless space and time until they happen to produce the marvels of the living cell, of human intelligence, etc.  Take your pick.  But ask yourself, before, during, and after taking your pick:  “Do I have any non-intellectual, i.e., emotional, aesthetic, political, religious (including antireligious) motives that might be subtly operating to make me pick one or the other; or am I selecting my answer based on pure love of theoretical truth for its own sake?”  Another way of putting it would be:  “If there were someone who was absolutely neutral on the question of God, i.e., who had zero desire either to prove or disprove the existence of God, or even of any designer for that matter—what would seem like “the best explanation” to such a person?”

Jon Garvey - #83165

October 24th 2013


Such an entirely detached person can be conceived, but of course, does not exist. And if he did, he would be artificially separating “scientific ” epistemology (“just consider the facts”) from what actual humans can, and should, do.

For example, suppose for argument’s sake God has indeed implanted a capacity to recognise his work in every human heart? And that it’s bound up with the equally non-testable capacity to make correct judgement of reason? Then trying to be neutral on the question of God would actually be trying not to make a human judgement.

It would be a bit like those who try to put aside moral considerations and use only reason  when deciding whether or not to murder someone - not only can it not be done, but it should not be done.

That said, you are right to say that certain questions can best be approached by making a cosncious attempyt to compensate for our own biases - just as long as we realise that true objectivity belongs, paradoxically, only to God.

hanan-d - #83223

October 25th 2013

>If there were someone who was absolutely neutral on the question of God, i.e., who had zero desire either to prove or disprove the existence of God, or even of any designer for that matter—what would seem like “the best explanation” to such a person?”

Well, you know that sometimes the best explanation at a given point is not necassarily the true explanation. A totally neutral person may come to think the sun revolves around the earth given what he sees in front of him. But then when you get to the nitty gritty, he is shown the opposite. The same goes here. 

This turns out to be a philisophical problem. Meyer is saying that in fact you can compare biological systems (though more complex) to artificial systems. I just think that can’t be done given they are entirely two different systems that really share nothing. With artifical systems we KNOW that we created it and that it cannot be repeated on its own in nature. Biological systems occur with us or witout us. They replicate. They are part of nature. They are distinct systems though they both have complexity to them. 

Again, this doesn’t mean that there is no guidence. I’m just trying to narrow down what ID is saying in whether they can turn a philisophical point, into a scientific one. 

GJDS - #83152

October 23rd 2013

I want to make a simple comment to the discussion mainly between Eddie and hanan-d, but also generally. Much of what has been said is based on analogy: complex circuitry is designed by human intelligence so we are given analigous reasoning for complex systems in nature, to support an ID notion. We should remember that natural selection, from the very beginning, also is based on analogy: farmers and other breeders select from a batch the fittest, and they seperate these and breed them in an environment that favours development of the selected traits.

My point is straightforward - Darwinian thinking, and its ofshoots, has been based on this type of reasoning, so arguing for or against a particular variation seems circular argument, even thoguh there is vehement dissagreement between ID, TE and atheistic evolution. Those who are committed to Darwin claim they have evidence on a par with the proven laws of science, yet even if we look at some of the posts on this site (I think Dennis has said this as well), the argument by analogy continues to this day.

If science can be based on analogy, than both theistic and anti-theistic arguments will have the same weight - the difference stems from how many actively seek to provide laboratory data for a particular school of thought. If this basis is rejected, and a solid scientific ground is sought for any particular outlook, than all of these outlooks are inadequate and require a new outlook.

I hasten to add that none of these points have had, or are likely to have, a significant impact on my theological outlook. The real impact may be on how science is understood i.e. will all scientists change and accept scientific laws based on analogous reasoning? I think not. 

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