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Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Introduction

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August 25, 2014 Tags: Design, Evolution - Evidence
Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Introduction

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

Today on the BioLogos Forum, we begin a series responding to Darwin’s Doubt (2013) by Stephen Meyer. Meyer holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University and is Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. This significant book makes a comprehensive case for Intelligent Design, referring to an extensive body of scientific literature.

BioLogos and other evolutionary creation leaders have been in conversation with Meyer and other leaders in Intelligent Design for many years. See, for example, exchanges in 2009-2010 on the BioLogos site regarding Meyer’s Signature in the Cell[1], many articles in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, a 2010 conference by the Hill Country Institute, and a 2012 symposium at Wheaton College. This blog series continues the conversation.

In today’s culture, “intelligent design” is often used broadly to refer to the work of an intelligent being in the universe, in opposition to “godless evolutionism” (see this helpful introduction from BioLogos Fellow Ted Davis). Within this broad scope, the views of evolutionary creation, old earth creation, young earth creation, and the monotheistic faiths would all fall under “intelligent design.” These groups are united in rejecting the views of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne who argue that religion is just superstition and cannot be reconciled with science. Those who accept this sense of intelligent design generally believe that science and religion are not at war, but can inform and enhance one another. At BioLogos, we believe that God is the living and active Creator of the whole universe, from initiating the Big Bang to providentially sustaining his creation today.

When capitalized, however, “Intelligent Design” refers to a more particular set of views and arguments as exemplified by the work of the Discovery Institute and this recent volume by Stephen Meyer. The views of the Discovery Institute (DI) and the views of BioLogos (BL) have a lot in common. Unlike young earth creationists, most DI leaders accept that the universe and earth are billions of years old, as we do at BL. Most DI leaders also accept a time scale of billions of years for the appearance of first life and subsequent species on earth.

DI and BL agree wholeheartedly that an intelligent being fine-tuned the laws of nature, designing the universe to be a place of life. The fundamental parameters and laws were crafted so that stars and galaxies could form, carbon could be produced in abundance, and life could flourish on Earth. Unlike militant atheists, we see this as evidence that the universe was created with purpose and intention.

Yet with all these similarities, there are significant areas of disagreement between the views of Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Creation (more on different positions). The biggest difference is in how the two views counter atheistic evolutionism. Both reject the idea that the science of evolution disproves God or replaces God, but take very different approaches.  Intelligent Design claims that the current scientific evidence for evolution is weak, and argues that a better explanation would make explicit reference to an intelligent designer. Evolutionary Creation claims that the current scientific evidence for evolution is strong and getting stronger, but argues that the philosophical and religious conclusions that militant atheists draw from it are unwarranted. Evolutionary creationists respond to atheists by pointing out that in Christian thought, a scientific understanding of evolution does not replace God. God governs and sustains all natural processes, from gravity to evolution, according to his purposes.

Perhaps because we accept the science of evolution, the misconception has developed that BioLogos believes God must always use natural causes. This is not the case. At BioLogos, “we believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as ‘natural laws.’ Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture.” (See more on miracles). The debate is over how much God chose to use miracles over the eons of natural history, and here BL and DI assess the evidence differently.

In upcoming posts we respond to Meyer’s scientific and philosophical arguments. We begin tomorrow by featuring a review first published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) by paleontologist Ralph Stearley who evaluates Darwin’s Doubt alongside two other recent books on the Cambrian and Ediacaran periods, countering Meyer’s arguments for the extreme suddenness of, and lack of precursors to, the Cambrian explosion.[2] In coming weeks, we will feature a review by philosopher and historian Robert Bishop, who addresses the overall argument of the book, assessing the rhetorical strategies.

Geneticist Darrel Falk (BioLogos Senior Advisor for Dialogue) will also offer some reflections on the book. Note that BioLogos Fellow for genetics Dennis Venema also responded recently to DI arguments from genetics, explaining the evidence in support of common ancestry of humans. For a discussion of arguments from information theory, we recommend the December 2011 special issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Finally, we’ll feature an article from theologian Alister McGrath that responds, not to Darwin’s Doubt in particular, but to the overall apologetics approach of Intelligent Design.

As you will read in these posts, these scholars are carefully considering the evidence and explaining the findings to those outside their field of expertise. This kind of attention to evidence counteracts another misconception about BioLogos, namely that we uncritically accept the consensus of mainstream science simply because it is the consensus. We do take the consensus among scientists seriously, when it has been tested by extensive peer review among those who are experts in an area and when it is supported by multiple independent lines of evidence. Since no individual can be an expert in all the disciplines relevant to the evolution of life, we need to rely on the expertise of others. But ultimately it is the strength of the evidence itself that convinces us that species developed through the processes of evolution. Evolutionary biology is a rapidly developing field, with several areas that do not yet have a consensus. These include the particular mechanisms of evolution posited by the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and the development of the very first life form (see “At the Frontiers of Evolution” by Venema and more in Bishop’s review). The case is still open in these areas, and most evolutionary creationists feel it is too soon to claim that these must be places where God acted miraculously rather than through natural mechanisms.

At BioLogos, we embrace the historical Christian faith and uphold the authority and inspiration of the Bible. Several leaders at the Discovery Institute, including Meyer, share these commitments. The organization, however, has chosen not to make specific religious commitments, welcoming Jews, Muslims, and agnostics as well as Christians. This difference is integral to our contrasting approaches to apologetics. DI seeks to make the case for the designer in a purely scientific context, without specifying who the designer is. At BioLogos, we take the approach that science is not equipped to provide a full Christian apologetic. Rather, we believe in the triune God for the same reasons most believers do – because of the evidence in the Bible, personal spiritual experience, and recognition that we are sinners who need the saving work of Jesus Christ. Because of these beliefs, we look at the universe through the lens of biblical faith, and see a glorious creation that testifies to the God we know and love. How do we make the case for God if we accept the mainstream scientific results for evolution? Stay tuned for the closing piece of this series by theologian Alister McGrath. In the meantime, take a look at John Polkinghorne’s views of the resurrection and natural theology, this sermon from leading Pastor John Ortberg, and a blog series from BioLogos Content Manager Jim Stump.

The debate between intelligent design and evolutionary creation is relatively minor in the larger work of the church. Both views are held by fellow believers seeking to be faithful followers of Christ, as is young earth creation. Yet damage can be done to the church if popular apologetic techniques get attached to incorrect science. The purpose of this series is to seek truth, including pointing out scholarly weaknesses and inaccuracies as we see them. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Prov 27:17) We welcome the iron to be sharpened on us in turn, and have invited Stephen Meyer to post a response to the reviews in this series.

  1. The 2009-2010 review of Signature in the Cell included posts by Darrel Falk on December 29, and by Francisco Ayala on January 7. Responses from Stephen Meyer were posted on January 28 and March 8-9, with rejoinders from Falk on January 29 and March 10-11. [return to body text]
  2. While not a review of Darwin’s Doubt, Keith Miller recently updated his excellent overview of the Cambrian explosion in the June 2014 issue of PSCF, available online now for subscribers. [return to body text]
Deborah Haarsma serves as the President of BioLogos, a position she has held since January 2013. Previously, she served as professor and chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gifted in interpreting complex scientific topics for lay audiences, Dr. Haarsma often speaks to churches, colleges, and schools about the relationships between science and Christian faith. She is author (along with her husband Loren Haarsma) of Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (2011, 2007), a book presenting the agreements and disagreements of Christians regarding the history of life and the universe. Haarsma is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.

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dcscccc . - #86284

August 25th 2014

great evidence against evolution:

a)we know that a self replicat motor(or watch)with DNA need a designer

b)the flagellum is an organic self replicat motor


a+b= the flagellum need a designer


2- there is no step wise from a self replicat material to a motor. even with intellegent designer. so the flagellum cant evolve step wise. lets say that a minimal motor (like human engine) need at least 3 parts to begin with. 3 parts mean 3 proteins. the sequance space for 3 minimal protein of 50 aa is about 20^150. so even if there more then than the number of sand grains in the earth(10^23) functional systems in this space, its still nothing.

bren - #86287

August 25th 2014

dcscccc (to 86284),

These arguments have been addressed so frequently and so publically that it is no longer justified for someone to simply assert the above, without at least alluding to what most scientists consider to be a strong case for a complete refutation.  The flagellum in particular has been so repeatedly dealt with (notably by Miller and I believe you can find such counter-arguments on this site), that I’m not sure it really makes sense for anyone to respond to your post until you’ve acknowledged and handled these counter-arguments.  If you haven’t seen them, then they are fairly easy to find on-line, and if you have a strong response that you can include with the original argument; readers would then be given something worth responding to instead of having to rehash old material for no very good reason.  Thanks!

g kc - #86297

August 25th 2014

I was recently reading about ATP synthase. The flagellum is involved with it.

“The flagellar drive, a rotary motor, propels bacteria though the viscous fluid… the flagellar motor is powered by an electrochemical potential difference across the cytoplasmic membrane… The diameter of the wheel in the flagellar motor (about 50 nm) is by order of magnitude larger than in ATP synthase (about 5 nm), its rotation is driven by eight motor elements instead of one, and the number of transported protons per revolution is 1,200…”


This second PNAS article didn’t mention the flagellar motor, but talked of advanced motorized activity that would make Mazda envious:

“F1-ATPase is a nanosized biological energy transducer working as part of FoF1-ATP synthase. Its rotary machinery transduces energy between chemical free energy and mechanical work and plays a central role in the cellular energy transduction by synthesizing most ATP in virtually all organisms… Here, we demonstrated reversible rotations of isolated F1-ATPase in discrete 120° steps by precisely controlling both the external torque and the chemical potential of ATP hydrolysis as a model system of FoF1-ATP synthase…Our results suggested a 100% free-energy transduction efficiency and a tight mechanochemical coupling of F1-ATPase.”



Neither PNAS article spoke to the random mutations leading to these marvelous mechanics. Perhaps other PNAS pieces do.

bren - #86299

August 25th 2014

Yes, perhaps they do.
That rather sounded like an abortive argument from incredulity, but who really knows.

dcscccc . - #86321

August 26th 2014

actually i do know the counter argument. miller claim that the ttss share parts with the flagellum. and therfore they can evolve from each other. but a mp3 player and cell phone also share parts: wiers, battery, screen and so on. but there i no step wise from mp player to a cell phone. so there is no step wise from ttss to flagellum.

bren - #86349

August 26th 2014

I’m sorry but your summary did not even begin to summarize, let alone do justice to Miller’s multifaceted argument.  That and your refutation addresses nearly none of his points, merely suggesting that God may have chosen to serve multiple functions using a similar set of parts, an argument that makes unwarranted assumptions about how God may or may not choose to do things.  It would nevertheless be a vague possibility if it weren’t for the fact that it utterly fails to account for nested hierarchies, the convergence of independent phylogenies, the inter-species patterns of transposons and a host of other observations that make this an hypothesis that can’t be rationally sustained.  This 3 sentence dismissal is not a good example of due diligence.

dcscccc . - #86372

August 27th 2014

hi bren. first- can you disprove my 2 arguments that i made above?


secondly- there is no a real nested hierarchie in nature. google “why darwin was wrong about the tree of life”. a lots of gene contradict the tree even without cases of lgt.


so this argument fail just from the start.

bren - #86378

August 27th 2014


I don’t see two arguments.  I see one, and it is based on an impossible premise that requires a knowledge of how God would design things while involving a logical non-sequitor in the final sentence (“…so there is no step wise from ttss to flagellum” is a blatantly unreasonable conclusion that does not logically follow from what comes before – please tell me you see this).

Your statement about lgt falsifying nested hierarchies is simply false and I have already discussed it previously.  ltg does add a layer of complexity to comparative genomics, but it is not even remotely extensive enough to obscure the nested hierarchies that pervade biology on multiple levels, you don’t get to throw out vast amounts of evidence from the comparison of genomes just because the overall picture involves an added layer of complexity that needs to be taken into account.  Googling “Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life” only gives a series of overstatements that boil down to the simple fact that Darwin was not aware of this additional layer of complexity in his tree of life.  If lgt was so extensive that large segments of DNA were constantly passing back and forth across all barriers and randomly reconstructing genomes, then you would be right that we would be unable to identify such hierarchies or construct any phylogenies whatsoever (it is an open question whether life would be even possible under such conditions).  The fact that independent converging evidence from genetics, morphology etc tends to give clear and consistent phylogenies that resolve themselves into nested hierarchies across the board (with fairly minimal discrepancies) completely falsifies this.  Lgt clearly is far more limited and easily identified for the most part and the evidence for common descent is as strong or stronger than it ever was.  The flagellum is viewed in this context, and it is not admissible to pretend that the common parts in similar arrangements between ttss and the flagellum are to be attributed to common design instead of common descent; we don’t get to treat the subject in a vacuum – the evidence that the vague and unscientific idea of common design fails to explain is the very evidence that falsifies it completely when a competing hypothesis accounts for all of it in a straightforward manner.  This would be the case even if the idea wasn’t already merely an example of groundless theology instead of actual scientific conjecture.

Anyway, that will do it for now.  If you don’t want to seriously address Miller’s argument, then there is little reason to continue.  I think your general approach of taking assertions from creationist sources and then unloading these off-topic statements with limited discernment in this discussion forum is not the least bit constructive.  I can’t think of what you hope to gain by this.  If you asked questions about the legitimacy or details of some of these creationist assertions instead, you would probably end up taking part in far more useful discussions and more people would take an interest in interacting with you.  Best of luck.

dcscccc . - #86398

August 28th 2014

ok bren. lest start with the flagellum. what miller show is that some(but not all)parts of the flagellum can function in ohter systems like the ttss. so i gave an example from mp3 player and celll phone. both share parts. but its clear that we cant change one to another step wise. so why you thing its different on biologic systems?


have a nice day

bren - #86405

August 28th 2014

Hi Dcscccc,

As I’ve already said; your conclusion does not logically follow.  The only way it starts to work as an argument is when it is recast as reasoning from analogy, as you seem to have done. Reasoning from analogy is one of the weakest forms of reasoning and is more rhetorical than it is logical.  It becomes pretty easy for the rest of us to point out that the analogy in this case is completely faulty (the significant disanalogy, in spite of some similarities, between organic and mechanical systems has been pointed out as early as David Hume and probably earlier, and is much better established since the advent of modern biology).

However, if you manage to convince me of the perfection of the analogy, in spite of the fact that I entirely disagree with it right now, you may get somewhere.  Unfortunately for your argument, if you wish to convince me that the impossibility of changing an mp3 player into a cell phone has anything to do with how organic systems work, you will need to convince me of what you are trying to prove in the first place, that organic systems are generated in the same way that mechanical systems are made.  But I already know that they are not; I am already aware that organic systems generate other organic systems by common descent along lengthy family trees going as far back as I can conceive (just think of your own personal family tree), while I know very well that my cell phone was discretely made on an assembly line, not related to other cell phones by common descent.  So clearly, the analogy badly fails on the very point that seems to be critical to its success.  I am also aware that mp3 players and cell phones don’t sort themselves into nested hierarchies.  I can use the exact same kind of lithium-ion battery from the same company in completely different devices while using entirely different battery types in two devices that are otherwise identical, this is a simple manufacturing decision; the organic world doesn’t work that way at all and this is not the pattern you will see across the biosphere.  This organic pattern is critical, since it cannot be explained by anything other than common descent (at least, no alternative explanation with any predictive power has ever been brought forward).  Basically, if you want to convince me, or anyone else, that your analogy has any value at all, you need to convince me to overlook the above, very obvious facts, and I don’t see myself ignoring them any time soon in less I completely lose interest in the truth value of whatever I assent to.

The common designer argument has no predictive power, failing to account for a great deal of evidence; it makes use of unwarranted, unbiblical and generally scorned theological assumptions, it fails to follow the scientific methods in every respect and has it has been stubbornly used as an excuse to dismiss so many complex patterns of convincing evidence for so long, that it is seen as a bad joke by scientists and theologians alike.  Please consider the following link: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI141.html to add to the above arguments.

And no, I don’t think you have addressed any real part of Miller’s argument.  In effect, I’m not even convinced that you have read his argument.  It sounds more like it was filtered to you through some creationist magazine or website; it’s the only way to explain why you have not represented the force or range of the argument in any respect.  Again, it is my opinion that you are not doing your due diligence as a truth-seeker, assuming that this is how you see yourself.  To ignore, easily dismiss or misrepresent evidence that is seen as being decisive by your opponents is not a sign of a healthy, unbiased intellect.  Since you have essentially repeated your past arguments instead of actually addressing my arguments at all, I am wondering if you find them to be unclear.  Please let me know if this is the case.

dcscccc . - #86414

August 29th 2014

hi bren. do you think that a self replicat motor need a designer?


about your argument of the tree of life. according to the evolution logic- who is closer to who between a chimp, gorila and human?. you may say “chimp to human”. but actually now some   scientist claim that orange utan may be the closest to human because he share 28 unique traits with human but human and chimp share only 2. a big problem for the evolution logic.

bren - #86418

August 29th 2014

Thanks for pointing out what you failed to disclose as a highly controversial paper.  You get a methodological debate about a phylogenetic discrepancy between three closely related species and view this as “a big problem for the evolution logic (sic)”?!  I have some trouble taking that entirely seriously.  I’ll leave you to decide why it would be considered as being even remotely controversial if it was not true that independently derived phylogenies tend to converge with impressive resolution.  I’ll also leave you to decide why we are seeing such a discrepancy amongst three closely related species instead of involving a distantly related species, like birds, along with humans and chimps.  I’ll even let you decide what brand-new alternate explanation will satisfy you as to why this pattern exists throughout the organic world.  In short, I leave the whole thing very much in your hands.  Good luck and good hunting!

James Stump - #86289

August 25th 2014

Regarding Bren’s comments to dcscccc, here is a series from our site on the bacterial flagellum (http://biologos.org/blog/series/bacterial-flagellum) and another on irreducible complexity in general (http://biologos.org/blog/series/reducing-irreducible-complexity)

bren - #86305

August 25th 2014

Thanks for the reference, clearly I was being lazy about finding the link!

dcscccc . - #86322

August 26th 2014

looke above. its impossiblle to evolve a flagellum from ttss.

Bilbo - #86292

August 25th 2014

Dr. Haarsma:  “Evolutionary biology is a rapidly developing field, with several areas that do not yet have a consensus. These include the particular mechanisms of evolution posited by the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and the development of the development of the very first life form…. The case is still open in these areas, and most evolutionary creationists feel it is too soon to claim that these must be places where God acted miraculously rather than through natural mechanisms.

Saying “the case is still open” is a much weaker position than what I am normally accustomed to seeing from BioLogos.  Even “the particular mechanisms of evolution”?  I bet that part made Venema squirm.  But it shows that at least Dr. Haarsma is open-minded about the idea that there could be evidence for ID.

g kc - #86293

August 25th 2014

“Evolutionary Creation claims that the current scientific evidence for evolution is strong and getting stronger…”

What might be the EC consensus for where, very specifically, the evidence has most gotten stronger?



“Yet damage can be done to the church if popular apologetic techniques get attached to incorrect science.”

I think this is an interesting statement, and hope to hear more about it. A question I have is:

In general terms, not using the perspective of any particular apologetic technique or particular hermeneutics, what specific damage can be done to the church by attachment to incorrect science?

Robert Byers - #86306

August 25th 2014

ID has revolutionized the whole historic contention about origins and a creator and Genesis. therefore its very likely that evolution or any claim of NO EVIDENCE for a creator is in these days coming to some decision.

yEC would of predicted that non YEC thinkers would eventually question evolution and with the required degrees and poipularity.

Chip - #86309

August 25th 2014

God governs and sustains all natural processes, from gravity to evolution, according to his purposes.

And what are his purposes with regard to evolution? And what is the evidence for the same?  This alone would be an interesting discussion given mainstream evolutionary theorists’ view that evolution does not—indeed, cannot—have goals.  And if he has goals, is it not reasonable that he would take steps to see them through—at least once in a while?  But this is exactly the sort of thing that BL consistently dismisses as “tinkering.” 

ID has its weaknesses too, but the “God is allowed to act at 30,000 feet to “sustain” or “govern,” but he can’t build a flagellum” distinction so often made by the BL crowd seems artificial to say the least. 

Bilbo - #86313

August 25th 2014

Hi Chip,

Dr. Haarsma wrote above: 

Dr. Haarsma:  “Evolutionary biology is a rapidly developing field, with several areas that do not yet have a consensus. These include the particular mechanisms of evolution posited by the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and the development of the development of the very first life form…. The case is still open in these areas, and most evolutionary creationists feel it is too soon to claim that these must be places where God acted miraculously rather than through natural mechanisms.  (my emphasis)

Do you think I’m mistaken in thinking that this represents a softening in BL’s position regarding ID?


Chip - #86318

August 26th 2014

I dunno.  Softening of the rhetoric maybe—not sure if it consitutes a change of position. 

James Stump - #86335

August 26th 2014

Bilbo and Chip, this is not a change of position for BioLogos.  There are big areas of evolutionary theory that are under discussion (see Venema’s recent series, beginning with this post: http://biologos.org/blog/evolution-basics-at-the-frontiers-of-evolution-part-1).  The theory of common ancestry is not still an open question (among evolutionary theorists), but the mechanisms that drive that are.

Jon Garvey - #86315

August 26th 2014

The frustrating thing to me in this ID/BioLogos discussion is the ongoing unwillingness to pin down the *scope* and *specificity* of ideas like “design”, “natural process” and “fine tuning.” This is essential because on the “theistic” side of the TE equation those are the issues that govern ones doctrine of creation.

For example on fine-tuning, Deborah says, ID and TE are agreed. In that case the question to be asked is, “For *what* is the universe fine tuned?”

If it is fine-tuned for carbon-based life to appear then life, *per se*, is designed, and it’s a moot point what “natural” means in that context, other than “unfolding as per the divine plan.” It could not be described, as secularists might describe it, as a chance event.

If, more specifically, it is fine-tuned for *mankind* to appear (ie specifically Homo sapiens, rather than an intelligent mollusc), maybe by whatever uncertain mechanisms underlied evolutionary convergence, then *mankind* too is designed, and again the meaning of “natural causes” has been constrained, by the tight boundary conditions attributed to the first creation, to mean something entirely different from what secularists mean by it, and pretty close to what IDists like Michael Denton mean by “design.” In other words mankind would have “unfolded” inevitably from the divine constraints on the universe, rather than being a spontaneous step up from chaos.

Likewise, if as Deboraj says there is general Christian agreement on the truth of (non-caps) “intelligent design”, deciding *what* is designed is thelogically prior to *how* it was designed. In other words, was it God’s purpose in creation that Dobbin the horse be born? Or just that Equus ferus caballus evolve? Or the genus Equus? Or only the Equidae? Or just mammals, or just vertebrates, or just “life”, horses themselves being unplanned?

The same kind of question must be answered in human affairs - is my daughter right to see her new baby Skye as a special gift from God, or should she just be grateful to the Deity that procreation is fine-tuned into the fundamental laws?

As soon as one makes a theological judgement on *what* God has designed, then if one is committed to “natural causes” one must demonstrate the *sufficiency* of those causes for that *degree* of purpose.

Those like Ken Miller or Howard Van Till have made that choice at such a general level that it poses no biological problems, but requires requires God’s will to be generic too: he did not will mankind specifically but was please to see us when we arrived. That, surely, stretches any definition of “intelligent design”.

If one takes a line like that, then it raises the essential question of *why* God would act with such different levels of detail in creation and salvation. That’s particularly important because, as OT scholar John Sailhamer (for example) has pointed out, the Bible draws direct connections between God’s wonders in salvation and his wonders in creation.

Cath Olic - #86382

August 27th 2014


You wrote that “deciding *what* is designed is thelogically prior to *how* it was designed.” Is that idea something from Aquinas? I’m far from an expert in his work but I thought I remembered reading that Aquinas proposed that the end result preceded or was at least concomitant with the matter “constructing” the end result. In other words, the physical matter necessary for the end result couldn’t exist prior to the end result. Stated still differently, the end result (like an ideal?) comes before everything else. It seems pretty radical, and maybe my memory doesn’t serve me well here.

Are you familiar with this? Does this sound at all accurate?

Jon Garvey - #86316

August 26th 2014


Moving on to new ground, Deborah twice in her piece affirms that God “providentially sustains” his creation (typically using natural laws, to clarify her meaning).

I am open to correction, but this would *seem* to be a roundabout way of taking a specific philsophical-theological position: “BioLogos has opted for the most minimal theological option available on God’s governance of the universe, ie Conservationism”.

That would be a highly significant point, because historically “Mere Conservationism” (as philsopher of religion Freddie Freddoso has termed it) has been rejected by most historical Christian traditions, most (including my own Reformed tradition) preferring some version of “Concurrentism”, in which God is directly involved with, and so governs, the individual outcomes of the secondary causes he has created.

Concurrence makes the stark dichotomy between “natural” and “supernatural” seem artificial. What are called “natural causes” become one of the means God uses to govern, and not merely *sustain*, the world providentially.

*BioLogos*, like all of us, can choose which theological line it will take. But I would prefer such key aspects to be clearly stated, so that one can distinguish what distinctive choices are being adopted within the general claim that “science and Evangelical faith are compatible”.

Ted Davis - #86346

August 26th 2014


You have often pressed BL to be more specific on theological topics that have often divided Christians, such as the nature of divine action, or the degree to which God allows creatures some creaturely freedom, perhaps even to defy or to frustrate what God would do in a perfectly created world—which is manifestly not this world in which we live. Speaking only for myself, not officially for BL, you shouldn’t expect BL to endorse one option over others on such matters. We aren’t a church proclaiming a specific creed, in opposition to another church’s specific creed (which IMO has happened far too often historically to be helpful to the larger body of Christ).

You seem to be reading far too much into Deb Haarsma’s statement about divine action and creation. Her affirmation of God’s providential sustenance of the creation is seen as a veiled affirmation of “mere conservationism,” as if Deb were Descartes. She said nothing of the sort; she was merely brief and to the point. If she had left out any mention of sustenance (i.e., divine immanence), would you then be saying that she’s made a veiled affirmation of deism? I have to wonder. Please be fair, and return her charitable comments with charitable interpretations of your own.

GJDS - #86357

August 26th 2014

Jon and Ted, I hope you do not mind if I interpose a comment.

 ”We aren’t a church proclaiming a specific creed, in opposition to another church’s specific creed (which IMO has happened far too often historically to be helpful to the larger body of Christ).”

I may be forgiven if I think this may indicate BioLogs has an ecumenical goal/outlook. We should remember that Orhtodoxy (and the views of Reformers, which are anchored in Orthodoxy) was mainly (not solely) the result of numerous heresies - hostorians have pointed out that Christianity seems to ‘excite’ people who seek to proclaim their personla views.

The goal of seeking a peaceful discussion is admirable and BioLogos (and all other groups) are commended for seeking peaceful discource. It should be said, however that BioLogos also professes a number of Christian beliefs, and these are then discussed within the context of evolution. Since the major traditions have made their position regarding evolution clear, it  is natural to ask, where does BioLogos stand in this regard. Obviously BioLogos wishes to attract a wide range of views on the subject, including those of atheists - so I suggest that it is natural that some Christians would seek a clearer and coherent statement from BioLogos that would enable us to understand with sufficient clarrity, where BioLogos stands in relation to the major traditions.

I do not think Dr Haarsma can address these matters in a single blog, but I do think that it would be worth-while for BioLogos to consider our comments on the theological implications and seek to provide a cogent response that would at least clarrify their position regarding orhtodox christianity and Darwinian evolution.

GJDS - #86374

August 27th 2014

The sentence should read .... in Orthodoxy) was mainly (but not solely) the result of refuting numerous heresies (so that Christians could identify through a creed from heretics) - historians have .......

Jon Garvey - #86360

August 27th 2014


The only reason for my picking Deborah up on the limitations of the concept of “sustenance” was that the same wording was used by Darrel Falk in his conversation with me here two years ago, and (though I was then much less familiar with the usual terminology of conservation/concurrence/occasionalism) I was struck that he refused to be drawn towards any more immanent concept of providence, except agnostically by suggesting that “it’s possible.” I find that, historically, such a view of providence has not been favoured by most traditions, and in any case is hardly consistent with an Evangelical stance on providence in salvation matters.

I was not accusing - only requesting clarification, as I was back in 2012. The issue is important not because of confessional doctrinal commitments, but simply for intellectual coherence. If one says, on the one hand, “God intended mankind”, and on the other “the universe has a robust formational economy and God does not interfere with natural processes”, then a process like Neo-Darwinian evolution, that gives no indication of being capable of such specific outcomes from the original creating will of God, cannot be an adequate bridge between God’s intention and its fulfilment.

So purely logically, either one must incorporate a stronger doctrine of special providence, or one must dilute the meaning of “God intended mankind”. That is virtually identical, as far as I can see, to the argument Robert J Russell makes against “statistical deism” in his book, so I don’t see why BioLogos should not be happy to clarify where they position themselves in relation to it.

Ted Davis - #86379

August 27th 2014

I’m glad you’ve been studying Russell, Jon. Would it be right to say that you learned about him from reading BioLogos? I gather that you mainly (perhaps even entirely) agree with Russell’s theology of creation; Eddie at least seems to find it admirably clear and coherent, whether or not he agrees with it (I can’t tell whether he does or not). 

So, would it also be fair to say that you are calling for BL to endorse Bob Russell’s theology of creation as our official position? To be frank, many TEs would probably endorse Russell’s position—if they knew enough about it to understand it. Most of the Christian scientists I talk to (leaving aside everyone else) struggle to read people like Russell, Polkinghorne, or Peters. When they do the hard work of chewing that food, they often find themselves in substantial agreement. But, it’s new territory for them—just as it would be new territory for most theologians to read serious scientific stuff, as opposed to mere popularizations of science. Heck—I studied physics in college, and I couldn’t understand most scientific papers in many disciplines even then, let alone 40 years later.

I obviously like the theologians I’ve written about here, and I’m not alone when it comes to BL. However I don’t think it’s a good idea for BL to endorse any or all of them as speaking for BL. There are problems with every theological view, when seen by those who don’t share one or two (or more) important points. Even among themselves, Polkinghorne, Russell, and Peters will disagree on non-trivial matters. To give just one example, Polkinghorne is an open theist while Russell is not. Does that mean that I shouldn’t present some of Polkinghorne’s ideas, even though open theism is part of that package?

Speaking only for myself, Jon, not necessarily for anyone else at BL: One of the most important things I’ve learned in the 30-plus years I’ve devoted to reading, writing, and teaching about Christianity and science is to focus first on the big picture. What’s that picture look like (from where I sit)? Here it is. (1) Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. He was raised bodily and appeared to many—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here talking about any of this. (2) The world was made by the same God who raised Christ—the same God who, paradoxically, was and is Christ. It is God whom we crucified. The suffering servant was and is the maker of heaven and earth. (3) The story isn’t finished. The same God will make a new creation in which we will again have bodily life, this time more fully in the presence of God.

In short, the big picture is Creation, Resurrection, and Eschatology. Getting specific agreement on how we understand those things more fully is not central (IMO) to understanding the big picture. The 3 theologians I’ve named all agree on this big picture. As you know full well, that’s a major claim. The main criticism I bring to the modern “dialogue” of science and religion—as an expert on the history of Christianity and science, an area in which most participants in that conversation are not particularly well versed—is that so many influential voices in that conversation just don’t believe in that big picture; and, they disbelieve in it, allegedly, at least partly b/c “science” is supposed to have made the big picture incredible.

It hasn’t.

You and I agree about that, Jon. So, I think you understand what I’m trying to do for BL. I’m fleshing out what we mean by our commitment to Christianity (on the one hand) and science (on the other hand). I’m not likely to get too much more specific about the big picture than what I’ve already said. For many reasons that I’m going to leave out now, though perhaps I’ll drop them into my columns from time to time. (I already have once or twice, without underlining them.)

That’s my two cents, Jon. Your currency is also welcome—it goes without saying.

Cath Olic - #86381

August 27th 2014


I think every Christian would claim as true your big picture points on Creation, Resurrection, and Eschatology.

However, I think I can empathize with Jon’s plea. The mission of BioLogos seems to involve marrying Christianity and Science, or perhaps specifically, Christianity and evolution. However, acceptance of evolution, specifically a well-reasoned and well-supported acceptance, seems to demand an attention to and acceptance of detail, detail involving the particular actions and influences of genes and environment over time. If Christians are to accept evolution fully, they would need, I think, to accept God’s role in those details. This seems to require more than just big picture theology.

Ted Davis - #86387

August 27th 2014

To reiterate, Cath Olic:

I’ve highlighted the work of people like Polkinghorne, Russell, and Peters, who offer very specific ideas about God’s creative activity throughout the universe. If you are asking BL to offer specific theological ideas, please consider those as possible answers—the plural is deliberate in that word. I’ve spelled out some of the problems with BL picking just one specific subset of those ideas as an “official” position. Speaking for myself, I don’t think that the Anglican Polkinghorne (whose Anglican views show up much more specifically in some of his later books that I haven’t talked about), the Congregationalist Russell (whose theology of creation tends to be pretty strongly Reformed when compared with many others), or the Lutheran Peters (who stresses “paradox” in some of his work on science and theology) should be the only ones governing the conversation that is really needed, if Christians are faithfully to encounter science in our generation. Some Thomists, some Orthodox thinkers, and some ordinary evangelicals also have very helpful things to say. Many of them would take quite different approaches, stressing different ways of thinking about divine governance and creation that would not fit neatly into the boxes offered by the 3 I’ve chosen (so far) to present to our readers.

I’ll say this just one more time, then I’ll stop repeating myself.

In my work for BL, you’re going to see a variety of ways of answering the questions that many are asking us to answer. Not one way, and maybe not your way (or someone else’s). Your question is being answered, but if you don’t see the single answer you have in mind as the “right” one, then you are probably missing the answers that have already been given.

If you’ll allow me a moment of levity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otm4RusESNU

Eddie - #86388

August 27th 2014

Hello, Ted:

Since you alluded to my position, I’ll jump in.

From an ID point of view, Russell’s ideas on creation are neutral.  Nothing in Russell’s approach requires one to accept ID, but nothing in Russell’s approach excludes ID, either.  Russell argues that there is special divine action, action which actually makes a difference to evolutionary outcomes.  God is in effect steering evolution—albeit employing actions that science cannot distinguish from random actions—and steering implies a design—a goal toward which evolution is being steered.

I have not heard in most other TE writers a clear assertion of directionality of this kind.  Maybe some other TEs hold similar views, but if so, it doesn’t come out in their writing.  And in some—particularly the biologists—there seems to be a strong avoidance of commitment to the idea that evolution is intended to reach certain goals.  The almost allergic reaction to notions such as “guidance” or “steering” that some TEs display makes Russell stand out as someone who more clearly affirms that God actually *does* something in the evolutionary process (beyond merely sustaining natural laws).  

Of course, if their objection to guidance or steering were merely methodological—if the view were merely that science cannot detect particular divine actions—then the other TEs I’m speaking of would be in agreement with Russell.  But there is more to their position than that.  They have strong theological motivations, it seems, for not wanting god to “intervene” in natural affairs.  Thus we see, at various times, Ken Miller, Darrel Falk, and Dennis Venema speaking of God giving nature its “freedom” or of allowing it to grow up as parents allow their children to grow up, etc.  We see comparisons of a free nature with a Wesleyan “free will.”  The idea that God is directive in evolution thus becomes theologically objectionable, as an assault upon the freedom or dignity of creatures.  In other words, while these others agree with Russell that God’s action can’t be observed by science, their deeper objection against ID seems to be against the idea that God should act at all—in any way beyond sustaining the laws of nature.  They prefer the idea of a “fully gifted” nature to whom God has delegated self-creating or self-evolving powers.  

Russell’s view seems to me to be much more in line with a Biblical account of divine action in general and creation in particular, whereas the views expressed in many other TEs seem to me much more line with the “hands off” sort of God who starts to emerge in the philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries—Leibniz, Kant, etc.

Regarding your discussion with Jon, while I agree that it would be unreasonable to expect BioLogos to adopt a particular sectarian theology (Reformed, Lutheran, Nazarene, etc.), we must remember that BioLogos constantly claims to hold to “historical Christian faith.”  And “historical Christian faith,” while certainly embracing the key ideas you have outlined above, includes more than that.  You have given a minimalist description which most Christians—and I dare say most American Protestant evangelicals from the earliest times up to about 1970 or later—would want to see supplemented, not just with a few more systematic theology commitments, but also with more explicit statements about the reliability, inspiration, authority and truth of the entire Bible.

A useful column (or series of columns) would be:  “What do we mean at BioLogos when we speak of the historical Christian faith?”  An extended and clear statement of exactly which historical doctrines that BioLogos-TEs consider binding upon them in their science/theology work would help everyone—both friends and critics of BioLogos—to assess how consistent BioLogos is with its own religious and theological principles.  But I don’t think that you should be the one to write such a column or series, Ted.  I think it should come from the President, because then it would be binding in a way that the statements of columnists aren’t.

Ted Davis - #86390

August 27th 2014

Your analysis here is fair, Eddie, but I don’t think ID most proponents would be very enthusiastic about Russell’s position, b/c he doesn’t think that the direction God gives evolution is scientifically detectable. And, his position boils down to saying that divine purpose (the term Russell prefers to “design,” because the latter has been defined to mean scientifically detectable design by ID proponents) is not inconsistent with apparent randomness in mutations—a position sometimes characterized by ID proponents as having it both ways, though I think you see through that failure to take a serious position on its own terms. For example, when someone like Steven Barr offers a very similar (perhaps identical) position, he gets accused of intellectual cowardice—the same charge recently leveled gratuitously against BL people by Casey Luskin in the print magazine, Christian Research Journal.

There is of course nothing cowardly about Russell or Barr of my colleagues at BL, except the charge of cowardice itself leveled by others. They understand what “random” means, both mathematically and scientifically (in the latter case, it amounts to a confession of ignorance of the detailed causes of an event); and, they understand that God can do what God wants, whether or not we can “see” God acting over the background statistical noise. I won’t say more, since my view should be clear enough.

Eddie - #86396

August 28th 2014

Hi, Ted.

I was cold to Russell’s position, Ted, until I found in his writing the key affirmation—which seemed to me to make his form of TE different from that of many other versions I was encountering in scientists associated with either the ASA or BioLogos—that God’s actions “hidden under quantum indeterminacy” make a difference to the way evolution proceeds.  That is, God makes specific choices regarding mutations which produce whole new chains of events down the line.  And those choices are real events, and real “interventions” if you will, even though they don’t appear as “interventions” because they don’t appear to “break” any natural law.

Thus, if God had not produced certain mutations 75 million years ago, human beings would not have appeared at all.  It is not as if nature just went along its merry mutating way, and God nodded approval to what nature was going to do anyway (out of its “fully gifted” powers).  God actually decided that evolution—which if left to itself could from any given point lead to a million possible and quite different outcomes (Gould)—would have outcome X, and acted in order to ensure that.  This is a far cry from the “iffiness” of some of the TE biologists about whether God does or can determine exact evolutionary outcomes.

It once was asked on this site whether or not God determined that elephants should exist.  No TE/EC person would say “yes,” and one in particular (admittedly not a leader, just a commenter here, but a great admirer of Ken Miller, who famously spoke of the possibility of intelligent mollusks or other sorts of creature that might been been adequate in God’s eyes) dodged the question for days.  She also dodged the question whether God intended man, and ultimately her answer regarding men, elephants, and everything else was something like “I believe that God wanted a universe rich with life.”  That was as far as she was willing to go in affirming God’s providential control over the outcomes of evolution.  In other words, as long as new stuff keeps coming out of the process, God is happy because he wanted the universe to be a life-generating place.  But that is not Russell’s position.  He envisions points at which God wants evolution to arrive, and he says that God makes sure evolution gets there.  From an ID point of view, the Miller position is anti-design, and the Russell position is pro-design; and from a traditional Christian point of view, the Miller position is (or seems to be) heretical regarding God’s providence and sovereignty, whereas Russell’s seems to be orthodox in those areas.

As for your point about scientifically detectable design, I think that Russell’s argument is compatible with design detection even if Russell does not see it himself.  It has never been a part of ID theory that ID can point to a specific mutation and say:  “this mutation was designed, unlike those other ones which were just chance.”  ID doesn’t infer design by looking at single events and measuring them with instruments to determine whether they were divine or merely natural in origin.  ID infers design from looking at large patterns of events.

If your house is hit by a hailstorm, and you look out your window, and follow the motion of any particular hailstone to the ground, and note where it hits, for all you can tell, the path of the hailstone is random and there is no intelligence behind it; but if after the storm is over, the hailstones on your lawn spell out the words, “Ted, don’t forget to pick up your shirts from the cleaner’s,” you would infer that something more than randomness was involved.  Thus, even if God’s tinkering with every individual mutation is completely invisible to scientific measurement, one might still be able to tell that some intelligence was up to something by looking at the overall patterns in evolution.  If evolution produced things that we would not expect it to produce, given the overall probablistic resources at its disposal, we could infer design, even though we could never point to any particular action as coming from the designer.

Thus, I see ID and Russell not as clashing, but as answering two very different questions.  ID tries to answer the question:  was this by design or by chance?  Russell tries to answer the question:  Given (by the Bible and Christian theology) that there was some design (purpose) behind this, how did God achieve that design (purpose)?  Thus, I can be an ID proponent and accept Russell’s answer to the second question, or reject Russell’s answer to the second question; but either way, Russell is no threat to my enterprise.  

Actually, I have read statements in both Behe and Dembski that are compatible with Russell’s notion of invisible but special divine action.  And if you look at the book, *God and Evolution*, put out by Discovery, you will see that the main TE targets of the book are Van Till, Ayala, Miller, Giberson, etc.—not Russell.  Any TE who affirms special divine action in the evolutionary process, even if that action is invisible to cameras and other instruments, is no enemy of ID.

Also, any TE who affirms cosmic fine tuning to make the universe friendly to intelligent life, is no enemy of ID.  Hence Dr. Haarsma’s sudden very explicit commitment to fine tuning (I don’t mean it’s new for Dr. Haarsma personally, but it’s new as the official position of BioLogos) can only be a welcome development for ID proponents.

What is offensive to ID is the “paradoxical” position which seems to be held by many TEs, especially the biologists, i.e., that there is no goal or direction in evolution, which is opportunist and merely makes the best out of random mutations, and often produces really lousy design and suffering and evil that no good or intelligent designer would ever produce, yet evolution is the wise and wonderful divine process through which God by his providence has created this beautiful and good world which we rightly sing hymns of praise about.  It as if the TE biologists switch back and forth between the Sunday School mode of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and the cynical mode of “only an incompetent or evil designer would have produced this, so we must reject design inferences,” without even being aware that they are doing so, and without being aware of the strategy of cognitive dissonance that they are employing to hold together two very different understandings of nature and creation.  ID people reject this cognitive dissonance.  But neither the fine-tuning position nor Russell’s position commits one to such cognitive dissonance.

Ted Davis - #86399

August 28th 2014

Thank you for explaining your position so clearly, Eddie, as I tried to do for mine. Gotta run. Need to pick up my laundry on the way to work.

Jon Garvey - #86395

August 28th 2014

Hi Ted

Yes, I read Russell’s *Cosmology* in 2012 at your helpful suggestion, and reviewed it in five posts on The Hump. Informative about the whole “divine action” enterprise as well as Russell’s own position. One of many fine contributions to the discussion from you. Lots to agree on with him, and most of the rest fruitful for dialogue. In terms of your “minimal orthodoxy” triad no quibbles.

As I remember my main “concerns” were (a) the need he felt to slip God’s active role between the cracks of science into scientifically “uncaused” quantum events. The whole science-faith discussion’s persistent (and polemic) dichotomy between God’s either “interfering” or “giving freedom” seems to me an echo of Laplace or Leibniz (often in the selfsame words).

So I found Russell’s “quantum meddling” idea, whilst perfectly plausible, a real God-of-the-gaps, science-biased solution, and so actually *too* specific: historically by employing a wider metaphysical repertoire the great theologians have seen God working through concurrence to guide events of whatever kind (I leave aside the minority occasionalists and have already mentioned the historical distaste for “mere conservationism” as less than biblically or philosophically adequate). In someone like Jonathan Edwards concurrence gets close to panentheism, but without (IMO) falling into that trap as have a number of the small enclave of modern science-faith guys.

My other point of dissension was Russell’s actually quite extreme emphasis on theodicy, to the extent of requiring (it appears) divine reparation for every cell that has died or suffered in the history of the Universe. It’s useful in that it shows the logical outcome of that approach to suffering, but seems to me an indicator that…

The whole of that “divine action” project, in which quite a small number of interested academics exchanged ideas over a number of years, was actually pretty unrepresentative of Christian theological thinking worldwide, and across the millennia. I accept your thesis that most scientists don’t read their books, but they have nevertheless become major “policy-makers” in TE via the ASA discussion boards and the popular TE writers etc - I am always picking up phrases from Van Till, Haught or Peacocke here, repeated as if they were self-evident truths.

Their overall stance is that the historical doctrines of the Church are inadequate to cope with the phenomenon of evolution, and so doctrine has been reformulated (the earliest example, perhaps, from Victorian days, being the redefinition of sin as evolutionary selfishness and the Fall a step up the evolutionary ladder towards Christ, which has resurfaced in a number of writers now).

I argue that “catholic” or “orthodox” or “sound” doctrine - maybe Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” remains a good term - has a lot more content and specific boundaries than your three points, for example on what it *means* for God in Christ to create heaven and earth. What that “core Christianity” might be is another matter, but it’s been interesting to find on my blog that it seems to be shared across Reformed, Anglican, Orthodox, Anabaptist, Methodist, Catholic… to an extent, even Jewish or Swedenborgian readers.

But whether or not it takes Christian scientists out of their comfort zone to examine history, theology, philosophy or metaphysics those matters cannot be sidelined if one is attempting, like BioLogos, to make a robust accommodation of science and faith. I trained in science, but realized early on that this issue requires a *much* broader understanding. Without it, the job is not being done properly.

It means, at least, examining exactly what it is about Darwinian evolution, or metaphysical assumptions tied to it, that enables secular scientists to *believe* it excludes God. And so what *exactly* needs to be re-thought in the light of the Christian revelation. In other words, what actually *is* scientism, and how do we avoid it, other than by saying we believe in God and continuing to think in scientistic categories?

It means critiquing views within theistic evolution: if Barbour’s process panentheism is not embraced by BioLogos, what is theologically or philosophically wrong with it, and has it unconsciously influenced our theology? For example the only way the popular “liberty of creation” trope of Polkinghorne *et al* makes any sense apart from rhetoric (Haught, Van Till) or poor analogy (Giberson) is in process theology’s pan-psychism - is that how the idea first arose?

Similarly, it is necessary to examine openly whether, and how, Ken Miller’s “random, undirected process of evolution” is compatible with BioLogos’ assertion that “God intended mankind,” or with the Nicean credal statement “Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” BL needs to say (because such issues have been frequently raised), “We agree with Miller, and here’s how we resolve the apparent dilemma” or “We disagree with Miller, and here’s how our take on TE differs.”

That’s enough - I appreciate the work you’re doing at BioLogos, Ted. Partly that’s because you’re much more upfront about it than most. I know when I agree with you, and if I disagree - I’m not ever left wondering why you used *this* phrase rather than *that*.

Ted Davis - #86402

August 28th 2014


Thank you for expressing appreciation for my work. I understand your frustration about my reticence to undertake a full-scale critique of various TE positions in my columns, but that would take at least one very long book to do properly. Russell does that piecemeal in various places, but he’s a professional theologian and I’m not. Polkinghorne ditto; we simply did not have permission to print more excerpts from his work than we printed. Prior to my involvement with BL I would sometimes quote and explain P’s views on (e.g.) process theism (he opposes it) or panentheism (he believes that the new creation will be all within God, but not this present creation), including some specific criticisms of Barbour and Peacocke that I also share. I used the old ASA list for that purpose, but not systematically. George Murphy was also very active there, and knows far more about all of this than I do: he should, since he’s a theologian (as well as an astrophysicist).

Nothing prevents me from trying to explain those types of things more fully here, except the usual barriers that impinge on all scholars who are not indepedently wealthy. I have a day job that started up again this week; I have word limits for my columns; I can’t write too abstractly without losing almost all of my readers; I have other scholarly projects unrelated to BL that also deserve my attention. In short, there is only so much that one can do.

Even in an ideal world (from my point of view), Jon, I would still despair of meeting your expectations. For example, your response to Russell and your brief comment about Jonathan Edwards—someone about whom I know only a little, though not for any lack of interest in his work—indicates that you are not hesitant to critique the finer points in even the most “orthodox” theologians. I applaud that, for it indicates a deep desire to go hard for the truth as you see it. I hope that is also the case for me. At the same time, it suggests that you are not likely to be fully satisfied by anyone’s position other than your own: this isn’t a negative criticism, for as I write it I am looking in the mirror. Nevertheless I think it is so.

So, I come back once again to my emphasis on the big picture. Barbour, Peacocke, and many others who have shaped the modern “dialogue” did not agree with you and me about that picture. Russell, Polkinghorne, and Peters do agree with you and me. That pictures matters immensely. When we say at BL that we believe in the historic faith, we are absolutely talking about that big picture. You say as a student of theology that the big picture is “minimalist,” and I understand where you’re coming from. But I say, as an historian of science and Christianity, that the big picture is exactly what I’ve labeled it to be: THE BIG PICTURE. The first step in establishing a properly Christian understanding of evolution, or any other part of modern science, is to get that picture right. Given the history of the modern conversation, getting that picture right is of maximal, not minimal, importance. Drilling down further is not insignificant, but it pales by comparison with job one. And, historically, proponents of TE have always been said to get the big picture wrong, partly b/c so many of them did. We at BL don’t get it wrong.

I keep saying this, b/c it’s the single most important thing I have to offer, not only to readers of BL but to anyone with the inclination to listen. For a longer statement of my position, see http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-5

I’ll bow out of this thread now.

Eddie - #86407

August 28th 2014

Hi, Ted:

I know you have bowed out, so just a few points for future discussions:

1.  I like Polkinghorne in many ways, but, given his Open Theism, is he truly in line with “the big picture” of historical Christianity on that issue?

2.  More generally, I think we have to distinguish between “historic Christian faith” in a very broad sense, a sort of sketch outline of key doctrines, and “historic Christian faith about X.”  For example, there is a “historic Christian faith” about the Trinity, and about the Incarnation, and about Redemption, about Creation, about the authority of Scripture, etc.  I think that the critics of TE/EC do not doubt that most TE/EC writers are on board with the “sketch outline” of Christian faith, but do doubt that TE/EC writers are on board with aspects of that faith when the categories get more specific.

My own focus has been on comparing the teachings of various TE/EC with the “historical faith” of Christians regarding one particular doctrine, i.e., creation.  And I don’t know any way of determining what that faith has been without reading past Christian writings.  So if I make a claim that a certain interpretation of Genesis is compatible with the “historical Christian faith” about creation, I fully expect that people will come back at me with objections based on Augustine or Irenaeus or Origen or Calvin or Luther or the Westminster Confession or the the Seven Ecumenical Councils or whatever.  In that case I become responsible to discuss the teachings of those texts and writers.  But I get the strong sense that very few TE/EC writers think it is important to do that level of historical research before claiming knowledge of “the historical Christian faith” regarding creation.  I get the sense that they rely on loose impressions rather than systematic study.

To sum up with a precise question:  how can a churchgoing biologist or physicist or computer-builder know whether or not his interpretation of Genesis is in line with “historic Christian faith” unless he or she has spent a considerable amount of time reading the key Christian writings on the doctrine of creation?  More broadly:  how can BioLogos be sure that its approach is in line with “historic Christian faith” unless it takes on board some people whose academic specialty is history of Christian doctrine?

Jon Garvey - #86412

August 29th 2014

Ted (though you’ve left the thread)

It would be invidious to expect you, personally, to critique any failings in the “popular” TE witers like Ken Miller, not least because these are not science histoiry, but science current affairs.

But *somebody* ought to, since these are the books that Christians read to inform themselves about biology wrt faith, and in Miller’s case, the books that kids at school learn biology from over there, I believe.

It doesn’t take a historian of science, nor even a PhD in philosophy of science, nor even a qualified theologian, to read that evolution is a process independent of, or even antagonistic to, God’s purposive will and think, “Hmm - that doesn’t sound right.” Any Christian biologist has a warrant to do that… and arguably, a duty to do so, if they have the public ear.

GJDS - #86317

August 26th 2014

I find this remark provocative: “The case is still open in these areas, and most evolutionary creationists feel it is too soon to claim that these must be places where God acted miraculously rather than through natural mechanisms.”

I think it would be very helpful if BioLogos were to obtain input from and authoritative theologian who would be competent to address this position. The key phrase is “… where God acts …” with the accompanying qualification of miracles as opposed to natural mechanisms. Any Christian organization would realize that “where God acts” with qualifications requires a considerable discussion, as a reading would suggest that God may not know when to do this or that. To include such an odd theological statement within the context of two controversial opinions (evolutionary creation or ID evolution) contributes to controversy and provocation. Many people who support Darwin while professing the Christian faith seem to forget their theology out of an enthusiasm for Darwin, and I think BioLogos may add to this with these types of statements. The equivocation is not on how God acts, but the inadequacy of Darwinian evolution within a theological conversation, otherwise we end up transferring the inadequacies from Darwin to Christian theology – surely this contradicts your major goal, which is to help US evangelists from ‘losing their faith’ because of Darwinian thinking. 

I have provided numerous examples in support of my views on Darwinian evolution, and I will not repeat these.The evolution we discuss considers whether change over time has resulted in the diversity of species we see now—that idea and its interpretation is accompanied by a great deal of scientific evidence and is central to our understanding of bio-entities.

The last part of evolution, however, is really a theoretical aspect—and one that is not fully settled—even among scientists themselves. This part of evolution asks what the causes are that drive the evolutionary process. While the synthetic theory of evolution, which suggests that evolution results from a twin process of mutation and natural selection, is the dominant theory, scientists are not fully in concordance with regard to the extent that other factors play a significant role in evolutionary change.

My point is this – should we now have an unsettled view on how God acts? Debora says. “At BioLogos, we take the approach that science is not equipped to provide a full Christian apologetic” and “At BioLogos, we believe that God is the living and active Creator of the whole universe, from initiating the Big Bang to providentially sustaining his creation today.”

In that case, what do we do when BioLogos affirms a belief that God is the absolute Creator, and yet equivocates on “how God may act?” Should this view be modified to more or less affirm that God is Creator, but our attempt(s) to equate God’s actions with evolution may not be the right approach? Or do we establish a scientific criteria (as Lou insists on so, so, many posts) that distinguishes between ‘natural factors’ and ‘miraculous ones’? I suggest seeking evidence for God’s action through science may be a mistake, be it for EC or ID. Accepting God as Creator is stating the obvious for a Christian – subsequent arguments, if people wish to argue, would be against those who deny that God is Creator. The only alternative that I can see is for BioLogos to provide a detailed theological statement that would reconcile the obvious disconnect between the question ‘how God may act?’ and the statement of Faith – ‘God Created the heavens and earth’.

Eddie - #86319

August 26th 2014

Dr. Haarsma:

Thank you for this column.  I appreciate its irenic tone and its bridge-building attempts.  I agree with many of its statements.  However, I have many questions, corrections, and suggested modifications.  See my detailed commentary at:


I hope you will choose to join us in the comments section there.

Argon - #86339

August 26th 2014

Jon, Eddie,

Have you had the opportunity to read Francis Beckwith’s paper How to be an Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate. In particular, I’d steer you to the first two (Roman numeraled) sections discussing his idea about the difference between ‘cosmological fine-tuning’ (CFT) and ‘intelligent design theory’ (IDT) of the ‘intelligent design movement’ (IDM). Beckwith discusses why he believes the former is compatible with Thomist thought whereas the latter isn’t. This doesn’t mean that Biologos contributors are ‘Thomists’ but it at least helps distinguish how one could understand a reasonable demarcation between approaches.

Eddie - #86344

August 26th 2014


I read the Beckwith paper you are talking about, a couple of times, a few years back.  I also have read other things by Beckwith, and know his general position.

Beckwith makes some good points regarding the general ID debate.  However, the moment he gets into his hobby horse—Thomism—he loses me.  I don’t think that Beckwith understands Thomas Aquinas (despite the fact that he did graduate work under a Thomist years ago) when it comes to questions of metaphysics and epistemology.  (Questions of law and ethics are another matter—Beckwith’s special area is natural law theory etc. and I don’t doubt that Beckwith has some understanding of Aquinas in that area.)

For an extended critique of the “Thomism” of Beckwith, Feser, and Tkacz, go to Uncommon Descent and find an old and massive discussion by Vincent Torley on Aquinas and Darwinism which is aimed specifically at those three authors.  Torley is much more specific than any of his Thomist targets; he doesn’t rest with broad general principles that are allegedly Thomist but quotes passage after passage of Aquinas to illustrate his points.  Feser has responded to Torley (inadequately, in my view, on a good number of points) but to my knowledge, Beckwith never has.  In my view, when you leave the ring, you lose the fight, and Beckwith left the ring.

I strongly disagree that the cosmological fine-tuning argument is utterly different in kind from arguments about the flagellum etc.  Yes, there are differences between the two arguments, but they are arguments within the same broad family—empirical arguments from nature, not metaphysical arguments.  Beckwith and Feser have strongly championed metaphysical arguments for the existence of God, but have strongly denounced empirical arguments for the same.  It is inconsistent of Beckwith to allow empirical fine-tuning arguments but disallow empirical biological arguments.  (I don’t mean that one can’t reject the biological arguments while accepting the fine-tuning arguments, if one thinks that the former are weak and the latter are strong; I mean that one can’t use Thomas Aquinas to give the fine-tuning arguments a higher theological or philosophical dignity than the kinds of arguments Behe uses about the flagellum etc.)

In any case, this site is not the place to debate Thomism.  BioLogos was born out of the Protestant evangelical ethos, which is pretty far from Thomism in theological form and contents.

Argon - #86345

August 26th 2014

Eddie, I think that Beckwith’s comments are legitimate regardless of either one is a full blown Thomist or not. With regard to CFT and current IDM, one can split the two differently than you’ve proposed. The question revolves around the notion of whether one suspects the universe, as it is set up by the deity was created with the capability for the emergence of life and subsequent evolution or not. Is it a fully gifted creation or not? The IDT argument in biology is that it is ‘not’ (contra Denton, who although championed by ID has come out exclusively a CFT proponent). It’s one thing to set up creation and another to intrude upon it.  It appears that many in the Biologos community are more aligned with CFT than IDT. Does the divine intrude in the universe for those in the Biologos organization? I think yes but largely in regard to human special revelation and perhaps far less so in flagella. Fair enough.

“Feser has responded to Torley (inadequately, in my view, on a good number of points) but to my knowledge, Beckwith never has.  In my view, when you leave the ring, you lose the fight, and Beckwith left the ring.”

It is a source of amusement to me that protracted philosophical discussions so often leave the observers with the same opinions as when they started. Such a human endeavor is philosophy and theology. I almost think it is as subjective as science.

Personally, I think foolish to also hang one’s hat on CFT. At the cutting edge of science where we clearly don’t understand the phenomena, it think it’s rash. YMMV. A global flood or a young earth sounded good at the time too.

Eddie - #86350

August 26th 2014


1.  Intelligent design per se has never taken any position against a so-called “fully gifted” creation, not even in biology.  ID per se merely argues that we could not get the results we have without design.  Design is compatible with a “fully gifted” creation.  There is no official statement on the DI website which makes miracles or interventions necessary component of biological ID.  

It is true that the majority of ID leaders appear to believe that one or more “interventions” of intelligence were necessary.  Meyer, for example, argues in his first book that a massive input of information was necessary at least to generate the first life (even if no new input of information was necessary for evolution to proceed after that).  I have not read his second book yet, but I gather that he argues that there must have been a new input of information during the Cambrian explosion.  But here I am talking about Meyer, not about ID per se.  

2.  The vast majority of ID proponents known to me accept design arguments not only in biology but also regarding cosmic fine-tuning.  (I.e., they regard the cosmic fine-tuning argument as essentially a design argument.)  Even those ID proponents who believe in miraculous interventions to create life and man don’t see cosmic fine-tuning as getting in the way of such divine actions.  They see it as setting up a life-friendly universe, upon which God then personally adds the finishing touches.

In fact, Dr. Haarsma’s statement above is the first *official* BioLogos statement (as opposed to occasional statements made by various columnists) that endorses cosmic fine-tuning.  I believe that Francis Collins also endorses cosmic fine-tuning in his book, but I do not believe that it was official BioLogos teaching when he was in charge. BioLogos, in my experience, has much more stressed “randomness” than fine-tuning; there must have been at least 15 columns on this site devoted in one way or another to the way in which God makes use of random natural events to serve his purposes.  About fine-tuning and quasi-necessary outcomes of evolution due to fine-tuning, we’ve heard precious little on this site.  I suspect that the reason for this is the predominance of neo-Darwinism-oriented life scientists on this site over the years—Denis Alexander, Dennis Venema, Darrel Falk, Kathryn Applegate, Francis Collins—as opposed to physicists.  You are more likely to hear about fine-tuning from the physicists.  (One TE physicist who comes to mind on this subject is John Polkinghorne.  But he doesn’t use the internet, so we hear of him on BioLogos only through Ted Davis.)

Anyhow, to return to my initial statement, in my experience, ID folks are pretty solidly behind fine-tuning arguments (i.e., it looks as if someone did some monkeying with the laws and constants to create a universe friendly to life), so if you are suggesting that TE/EC folks are more supportive of those arguments than ID people are, I think you are wrong.

3.  What is your religious position, Argon?  I don’t say that to judge it negatively, but I would like to know if your remarks here are meant in favor of TE/EC or simply comment on TE/EC and ID from the position of an agnostic or atheist outsider.  I don’t object if you are an agnostic or an atheist (some of my best friends are atheists, and some of the people I dislike the most are Christians), but I have spent far too many hours in the past few years arguing against positions which are not clear to me and I don’t want to waste any more time.  If you are defending TE against ID, please say so, and if you are agnostic/atheist, looking somewhat critically at both ID and TE, please say so.  I don’t quite know where your last couple of paragraphs are coming from.

Hanan D - #86355

August 26th 2014

>It’s one thing to set up creation and another to intrude upon it.

What about the creation of Earth? That isn’t Biology. It belongs under the cosmological catagory. So did He intrude in planet Earth being created? If He did, how different is it to intrude in biology?

What is the point of cosmic fine-tuning, if you’re not going to ensure that fine-tuning goes into affect?

Jon Garvey - #86361

August 27th 2014

Very True, Hanan D. The language of “intrusion” is really just polemic, just as is that of “fully gifted creation” at a more academic-sounding level.

What if one said, “It’s one thing to build a house and another to live in it”? Houses are for living in, and living in them is about using them and changing them as need arises.

If one starts from the Bible, rather than from Enlightenment mechanistic cosmology, the Creation account of Genesis 1 is now widely understood (Walton, Beale, Sailhamer etc) to lay out the core theological understanding of the Universe as the Temple which God builds in order to inhabit and govern.

If it is fully gifted, them, it is fully gifted as God’s household, and he is not an intruder, but a proprietor.

Argon - #86368

August 27th 2014

Jon, I don’t use the term ‘intrusion’ as a perjorative or polemic. It’s simply a descriptive contrast to the notion of a ‘fully-gifted creation’.

I use ‘fully gifted creation’ in the sense that I believe Howard Van Till used it to describe a universe created in which planets, life and humans could emerge from the physical laws initially imposed. This is back from the days when I followed and participated in the ASA evolution reflector list maintained by Terry Gray.

Argon - #86370

August 27th 2014

Hi. That’s a good point. How far does ‘fine-tuning’ go? There is CFT, which has some scientific backing, where the variables of the universe are set such that stable matter can persist and even create conditions where life is possible. A step further is the ‘super bank-shot pool’ model where the initial trajectories of particles are configured so that a certain amount of dense matter of just the right consistency will coalesce near a star in the outer arm of the galaxy we call the Milky Way so that—among other things—we can type these words. I think the latter is going to be harder to demonstrate using the scientific tools available.

I wouldn’t press this bank-shot model too far: It’s conceivable that the particles could have come together such that the Earth formed 6000 years ago with the appearance of great age (Whether that’s likely is another matter, but you can find everything expoused on the internet).

It’s also conceivable that all the miracles in the Bible are also the result of setting up the right preconditions so that subsequent law-like interactions produce the effects.

In any case, CFT or no and ‘super-bank shot’ or no, these are orthagonal to whether God could create a world specifically where we exist to type these words. Of course God could. Still, if we want to talk about physical mechanisms we’re going to have to investigate those using certain tools (science-like). While these tools have great power they also have some limitations of discernment. With those limitations I think we’re might to get to the point where we can understand that Earth-like planets can form or that life could arise and evolve but that’s about it.

Sorry if that seems confusing or missing the discussion you had in mind. I’ve had too much coffee and I’m in ‘stream of consciousness’ mode trying to avoid other things I should be doing now.

Eddie - #86397

August 28th 2014


Did you see my reply 86350 above?  And did you catch question 3?

Hanan D - #86409

August 28th 2014

Im not against using scientific tools on the “hows” but there is a simpler philisophical issue here that I brought up. Some people only feel comfortable stating God allowed for CFT and yet left everthing after that up to chance. That makes no sense. It’s not consistent at all. There is no difference between biology and cosmology. The same atoms and molecules that exist within cells are the same atoms and molecules that exist in supernovas. If God did no will evolution toward a certain goal than there is no point in stating he even actually willed there to be a habitable planet, or for anything to form anyways. Chance is chance and no amount of fine tunning will guarentee anything. All it does is allows something to potentiallly happen, not that it will happen. 

Gregory - #86394

August 27th 2014

The most important message from Deborah Haarsma in this post imo is the 4th paragraph. She repeats the challenge that the DI’s IDist fellows have not yet faced.

Capitalised ‘Design’ differs from non-capitalized ‘design’. Non-IDists ‘get this’ in a way that dogmatic IDists (and YECists) simply don’t.

“ID per se merely argues that we could not get the results we have without design.” - IDist

Without ‘design’ is a rather deceptive phrase. The implication is nothing “without Design.” But that is extremist too.

The capitalized ‘D’ reveals IDism’s fetish with natural science and weak philosophy of science. The proponents of IDism likely won’t face that challenge here. Why then is IDism so repellant to most Christians, Muslims and Jews? Why does it functionally support scientism, while ideologically rejecting naturalism and materialism?

BioLogos has taken a somewhat clear though minimal stand against ‘evolutionism’. IDist-committed advocates seem to discount or not even acknowledge BioLogos’ critique of evolutionism at all.

This series might help YECs and IDists realize their vulnerabilities. Deb likely won’t fall into evolutionism in *any* scholarly fields again. But many still do.

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