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Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 4

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December 5, 2012 Tags: Design
Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 4
Graphic based on the testimony given by philosopher Barbara Forrest at the Kitzmiller v Dover trial in the autumn of 2005. Source: http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/uploaded_images/wordplay-736296.jpg

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

Some important conclusions

(1) ID is both a set of ideas about detecting design within science, coupled with a strong critique of “Darwinism” (here understood as evolution by natural selection, unguided by any detectable agent); and a movement with political and cultural goals, heavily influenced by conservative Christianity and aimed at toppling “Darwinism” (here understood as a broad, anti-religious cultural mindset, not evolution per se). Although the ideas differ significantly from those of “creationism” in the YEC sense, the tone of ID sometimes resembles that of “creationism” so closely that it can be hard to tell the difference.

ID is not “creationism in a cheap tuxedo,” a provocative description attributed to Kansas University paleontologist Leonard Krishtalka. It clearly lacks some distinguishing features of creationism and the specific theological and biblical concerns that drive it. For example, ID takes no stance on “death before the fall,” an issue related to the theological problem of evil (theodicy) that is a crucial factor behind the presence of the word “young” in YEC creationism (for more on this, see my comments in an earlier column). ID does not attempt to “explain” the fossil record by claiming that the Biblical flood accounts for it. ID does not deny the “Big Bang” theory—indeed, some of the most interesting “design” arguments put forth by ID proponents assume the general validity of the Big Bang (see my comments on fine tuning here). Nor does ID oppose the great antiquity of the earth and universe in defense of a “literal” interpretation of early Genesis. Strictly speaking, ID does not even oppose common ancestry, although nearly all ID proponents do oppose it—leading many observers (including me) to view it mainly as a covert form of the OEC view. Precisely because ID refuses to embrace these core tenets of “creationism,” some creationist leaders have been highly critical of it; e.g., see Ken Ham’s attack on William Demski.

Despite these key differences, however, ID does resemble young-earth creationism in tone. For many ID proponents, evolution is not only a false scientific theory, but also a leading cause of moral and spiritual decline in modern America. This combination is highly characteristic of the YEC view, so whenever ID leaders link these two things they can easily come across to people outside of their “big tent” as just another group of “creationists.” Leading ID authors have pushed the cultural piece to such an extent that I do not believe it can be separated from the ideas without distorting what ID actually is.

In 1998, the Discovery Institute circulated privately a document called “The Wedge Strategy,” that was subsequently leaked and is now famous—or infamous in the eyes of many secular critics of ID. The “wedge” metaphor originated with Phillip E. Johnson, who later published a book called The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (2000). According to Johnson, “the Wedge … is an informal movement of like-minded thinkers in which I have taken a leading role. Our strategy is to drive the thin edge of our Wedge into the cracks of the log of naturalism by bringing long-neglected questions to the surface and introducing them into public debate.” Johnson identified the real “enemy” of the Wedge not as “those in open and honest opposition to our proposal but rather the obfuscators—those who resist any clear definition of terms or issues, who insist that the ruling scientific organizations be obeyed without question and who are content to paper over logical contradictions with superficial compromises.” (pp. 14 & 17) I have no doubt that at least most (perhaps all) advocates of TE, whom he once called “mushy accommodationists” (I heard him say this at a public event many years ago), were in the front of his mind when he wrote this. “The Wedge Strategy” document explicitly refers to a program of “Cultural Confrontation & Renewal” as the final of three phases in the project. At that point, the author(s) hoped, it would be possible to start addressing “the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences.” An ultimate goal was “To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

William Dembski, the leading ID theorist, has likewise linked ID inextricably with culture wars, especially in his preface to Darwin’s Nemesis, a book he edited in Johnson’s honor. “Because of Kitzmiller v. Dover, school boards and state legislators may tread more cautiously, but tread on evolution they will—the culture war demands it!” Rhetoric such as this can only put fuel on the fire of critics of ID who go looking for tuxedos in certain closets.

Advance advertisement for the book, Darwin’s Nemesis. (Source)

In addition, ID proponents have sometimes clearly co-operated with, or even allied themselves with, “creationists” of the YEC variety. The most visible instance involves the textbook, Of Pandas and People, which was at the center of the controversy in the Dover (PA) school district. Some leading ID advocates, including Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer, contributed to certain editions of this book, which has been published in various versions under various titles since the first edition, Creation Biology (1983), which was a genuine YEC book. During the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, philosopher Barbara Forrest testified about the book’s complicated history, using information obtained from the publisher during the discovery process prior to the trial. The crucial year was 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled against the YEC view in Edwards v. Aguillard. Of Pandas and People was published twice that year—once before the ruling and again afterwards. The graphic at the start of this column shows what took place: in dozens of instances, the word “creationism” was replaced by the term “intelligent design” on a wholesale basis, with no other changes in wording to indicate a difference in meaning was intended. This evidence was a major reason why Judge John Jones ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover “that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.” I say more about Kitzmiller v. Dover here.

(2) Scientific evidence is highly relevant to belief in design, but nothing specific can be said (for the time being) about the identity of the designer. When it comes to God and religion, ID is a “big tent,” united by opposition to materialism (which is often equated with evolution) and content (for now) to overlook even enormous theological differences among adherents.

ID proponents hold that science can detect the presence of design—if its profound bias against “intelligent” causes is set aside in the name of truth—but science is impotent to identify any specific designer, including the God of the monotheistic religions. Although most ID proponents are theists and many are Christians, ID purports to be about science, not about God.

Consequently, at least a few important ID authors are not Christians. Here the best known example is undoubtedly Jonathan Wells (read more here and here), a follower of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The recipient of earned doctorates in both Molecular and Cell Biology (Berkeley) and Religious Studies (Yale), he also has a degree from the Unification Theological Seminary (Barrytown, NY). This is not an incidental fact, since Wells himself has said that “Father’s [Moon] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism.” Nevertheless, his best-known book, Icons of Evolution (2000), is often sold at creationist meetings in churches and at Christian bookstores.

At least a few ID proponents are not even theists. A striking example comes from a debate about ID and God that took place in Texas four years ago. Just one of the four speakers, Cambridge University biologist Denis Alexander, is a Christian—and he spoke against ID on this occasion. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, an atheist, joined Alexander’s side of the debate. The pro-ID side consisted of philosopher David Berlinski, an agnostic Jew, and philosopher Bradley Monton, an atheist who has since written a book called Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

To round out this brief analysis, let me mention a recent suggestion from sociologist Steve Fuller, an agnostic who testified for the defense (the Dover school district) in the famous trial and later wrote a book called Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism (2008). Fuller is now saying that ID should not avoid theodicy and other parts of theology. He speaks for himself here and in an interesting audio (with a response from Steve Meyer) here. (I obviously have a more positive assessment of TE than Fuller does.) Whether an explicitly theological approach will fly within the ID camp remains to be seen, but I have my doubts. As an historian rather than a prophet, I don’t usually like to prognosticate, but in this case I will: if ID becomes much more open about theology, then it will largely re-define itself as a type of OEC. And the “big tent” will collapse, with a consequent loss of support at the popular level from many of the YECs who’ve been camp followers under that large canopy.

Advertisement for a debate about ID and God held in 2008. (Source)

Looking Ahead

I will return once more in about two weeks with more conclusions and a very brief historical discussion. Since the view is so recent and I don’t know very much about its history myself, I’ll just point readers toward several historical accounts written by authors from diverse perspectives. That will conclude my study of Intelligent Design.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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HornSpiel - #74990

December 5th 2012

Thanks once again Ted for this informative, well-written post.

I found your links well worth following. At the the link for Bradley Monton, one reviewer of his book writes

Monton does not defend ‘intelligent design’ as true—he thinks it is most likely false. Instead, he defends it as a hypothesis worth taking seriously. He argues convincingly that it can be formulated as a scientifically testable hypothesis, and that there is some important empirical evidence for it.

Indeed the most measured and persistent criticism of ID does seem to come not from atheists or new atheists, but from TE advocates and sites such as this one. This is precisely because TE provides a viable alternative to the ID critique of secularism.

What may bother some is that TE does not have any broad cultural reform agenda. If anything, its agenda is focused on reforming the Christian community into accepting that modern scientific accounts of creation are compatible with Orthodox Christian theology.

I wonder, though, if ID proponents really can formulate ID “as a scientifically testable hypothesis.” It’s not as if they have not tried. As you infer, ID would really be helped if there was evidence for the OEC model of creation. Yet time and again, as Denis Venema regularly writes about on this site, their proposed evidence is refuted while compelling evidence for unbroken common ancestry is discovered. In a sense, one can always go back to the drawing board and try again in the same way that secular evolutionists can always believe a naturalistic explanation is possible for all questions. Ultimately it is a philosophical question that science cannot answer.

For my part, I believe in an Intelligent Designer because the world is intelligible. Ironically, ID is trying to prove the opposite. I believe in miracles but not magic. If the Curiosity Rover finds evidence of primitive life on Mars, I believe there will be a scientific explanation. If it finds a Elvis alive and well, I guess I might start believing in magic—or would that be primitive life?

Ted Davis - #74993

December 5th 2012

Thank you for the kind comments, HornSpiel. You’ve been here all along and I appreciate it. Elvis would definitely be primitive life. Definitely.

Eddie - #75000

December 5th 2012


I carry no brief for YEC or OEC, so I’m not taking the side of creationism against common descent, but in your comment about Dennis Venema “refuting” ID people, I would suggest that you have a look at:


Kirk Durston has done a fine job of presenting an ID perspective, employing information theory.  Dennis has not replied to Kirk’s last response, which was Nov. 23rd.  I would not go so far as to say that Kirk has won the debate by default, but I would say that it looks like no better than a draw for Dennis.

As for your last statement, that ID is trying to prove that the world is not intelligible, that is simply false.  One of the amusing things about TE criticisms of ID is that they swing wildly, like a pendulum, from one charge to its opposite.  Often the TEs say that ID is too rationalistic, too “Enlightenment,” too “deistic,” too much inclined to see God as a perfectly reasonable, non-mysterious “engineer” who constructs the world like a clock and gives it transparent intelligibility.  Now you, a TE, are saying that ID denies intelligibility and appeals to “magic”; and of course this is the “God of the gaps” charge which is very frequent.  So which is it, Hornspiel?  Are ID people always appealing to miracles and interventions?  Is that their scientific sin?  Or are they always appealing to a conception of God who designs the universe like a machine which thereafter runs itself by natural laws?  Is that “deistic” view their theological sin?  And how can they be guilty of both sins at once?  Of believing in a God who interacts with nature too much, and a God who interacts with nature too little?

HornSpiel - #75020

December 6th 2012


I’m glad you brought up the issue of information theory. I have to say that I really do not buy the information arguments made by ID people. I am simply a layman, so I may be presumptuous in discounting the information theory argument. But I do have several reasons why I do. I can’t lay them out here in detail but in summary they are:

  • The information models used by ID are too simplistic because that do not take into account the hierarchical nature of complex systems (see my comment #74951 at behe-lenski-and-the-edge-of-evolution-part-5). What are the units of information coding? Are the models really accurate? In complex systems coding occurs on many levels. I do not believe Durston or Meyers can really model the “information” in an organism and then map that to a probability (or improbability) that it evolved.
  • What is information anyways? One man’s junk (DNA) is another man’s information (on species relatedness). Patterns need to be decoded to obtain information. Intelligence is need to extract information from data. The molecular machines that transcribe DNA to build cells and eventually organisms are not intelligent. The information perspective is anthropocentric. I have serious doubts it can really be applied to the activities of molecular machines, much less to the hierarchy of complex systems that make up an organism. On only needs to look at these posts to see that there is no consensus on what information is.
  • The evidence that all organisms are related is obvious from a web of interlocking data. The genomic data is just the latest piece. This means that “evolution” in this limited sense is scientifically true. One might not believe that it could have happened without divine help, but it did happen. There are apparent pathways that organisms took to get gradually from one state to another without any real evidence of intervention. Apparently the “information” (if it is accurate to call it that) necessary to get from one state to another accumulated naturally. An aerospace engineer may calculate that a bumble bee can’t fly, but observation proves otherwise….

ID is trying to prove that that a Designer exists by showing that certain physical features of the world cannot be explained without intelligent intervention in otherwise natural processes. I call that proving God exists by showing the natural world is unintelligible without Him. I suppose if ID has a “sin” it is pushing nature into a box in order to accomplish a social agenda, rather than letting the evidence speak for itself. 

Apologize for any errors. don’t have time or energy to proof, must go now… Perhaps we can take up the conversation later.

Eddie - #75026

December 6th 2012


As your last paragraph indicates, you were writing in a rush, and it shows!  :-)

You can’t simply dismiss the arguments of someone who is a leading-edge researcher in biological informatics (Kirk Durston) with superficial comments like the ones above.  Many of the questions and considerations you raise are discussed in detail by Durston, Marks, Dembski, etc. in their works.  As for your point about hierarchical systems and coding occurring on many levels, that is precisely why the neo-Darwinian mechanism for evolution—pushed by geneticists like Venema—is hopelessly simplistic.  It is the ID people, not the TEs, who have brought this feature of the DNA-RNA-protein system to public attention in the Christian world.  (Just as in the secular humanist world, it is people like Shapiro, not people like Coyne and Dawkins, who have brought it to public attention.)

You say that the molecular machines in the cell are not intelligent.  Well, the machines in an automobile plant are not intelligent, either—but they were intelligently designed.  And the molecular machines in the cell are vastly more complex than the machines in the auto plant.  If you don’t think the machines in an automobile plant could assemble themselves, why would you think the molecular machines in the cell assembled themselves?  

On your third paragraph:  ID per se does not contest the relatedness of organisms, but the allegedly random walk that leads from one to the other.  And your assertion that the accumulation of information was wholly natural is pure assumption.  Finally, the bumble bee example is irrelevant, as ID per se does not contest the fact of the bumble bee’s flight (“evolution”) but the proposed mechanism which gave the bumble bee its ability to fly (random mutations plus natural selection).

There is nothing incompatible with asserting both that the world is intelligible and that it was designed.  Newton had the same belief.  You are confusing “intelligibility” with “explicability by blind mechanical causes.”  You have bought into the modern view of “intelligible”; as an antidote, I suggest some reading in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.

I know that some people here don’t like it when I ask direct questions, but I think this is a fair one:  which books by ID proponents have you actually read?  Your criticism of ID—which I’m now familiar with—appears to be based on an inaccurate understanding of what ID people say, as if you got your portrait of ID purely from its enemies.  I’ve challenged you on some of your perceptions before, and often you don’t answer me - for example, you didn’t answer the last challenge, even after I highlighted it for you.  I really would like to know if you’ve read any ID works, because if you haven’t taken the time to do so, it’s unreasonable of you to expect ID proponents to answer your objections.

HornSpiel - #75031

December 6th 2012

Let me reply to your last question first. Precisely two: Darwin on Trial and Darwin’s Black Box. At that point I thought ID was a great approach.  After those I had a conversation with Richard Bube which helped me realize the real issue was not whether modern evolutionary theory can explain all the changes involved in common descent. The real issue is Can or should science be used to prove the existence of God. The answer to that question is No. To support that I could go into God-of-the-Gaps, science stoppers, and methodological naturalism, but I won’t since you know all my arguments.

From my point of view, a discussion of information theory just floats on top of a more foundational philosophical discussion. I know that I do not have the expertise or brains to evaluate the claims of your Durston-Marks-Dembski-etceteras. They may have real points to make, but it would be nice if they were using their expertise to do science rather than to challenge the philosophical foundation of science.

One point Bube made in our conversation, which really stuck with me, is that evolution is not invalidated by showing the inadequacy of the mechanisms. One can never know if they have all be discovered and described correctly. The purpose of doing evolutionary science is to discover and describe more accurately the mechanisms involved, not to tell people the current models are inadequate.

A second point Bube made is that science, or rather scientists, need to have the humility to say “I  don’t know. Science can’t explain that.” There are limits to scientific knowledge I think you will agree. Now some new atheist secularists may not acknowledge that. So challenging the “scientific knowledge is the only valid knowledge” attitude is actually a social agenda that both TEs and IDs agree on.

Now my reference to the bumble bee is not about evolution but about using calculations to prove something is not so. In science mathematical models are very valuable because they precisely describe phenomena and allow detailed predictions. Examples include Einstein’s equations predicting the precise way light is bent by the sun, or the recent discovery of the mathematically predicted Higgs boson. I don’t need to understand the mathematics behind those predictions to appreciate what they did. However equations cannot be used to prove something is impossible. As far as I can tell ID info theory arguments are all about proving design by proving naturalistic mechanisms are inadequate. In my book that is trying to prove something is impossible, which is why I don’t need to understand the details of the proofs to immediately discount them.

Again, the ID info theory  insights could be valuable, but only if they were used to help discover more adequate theoretical descriptions of the mechanisms of evolutionary descent. Ironically, that may end up being the greatest contribution of the ID movement—to motivate scientists to refute ID claims.

I could say more but that is enough for now.

Eddie - #75033

December 6th 2012


Thanks for your frank and straightforward reply.  

OK, so you have read two ID books, the newest of which is 16 years old, and only one of which is by an ID scientist (Johnson is a lawyer).  I would say that this is not a sufficient exposure to ID thinking for you to make judgments.  

The emphasis of ID people on information theory was non-existent or at best nascent in the early days.  Most of the work in that area has been done much more recently.  In the meantime, work on cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, origin of life, and evolutionary theory has proceeded at a rapid rate, and Behe, Wells, Meyer, Dembski, Nelson, Axe, Sternberg, Minnich, Gauger and others have produced scientific papers.  Last I heard, ID now has something like 50 peer-reviewed works—details of the 50 are available in an article on the Discovery site.  Most of these have appeared since 2005.  So it seems to me that you haven’t kept up with ID.

Regarding Bube’s complaint about science being used to prove the existence of God:  Behe denied, in a public debate with Barr, that this was the purpose of his work.  He argued that design theory should be supported not because it is religion-friendly but because it produces better science, even from a hard-minded nuts and bolts point of view.  Google for the podcast of the debate.

The ID argument, when put carefully, does not speak of proving impossibilities but of proving improbabilities.  And beyond that, it is not merely a negative argument. It is not merely that Darwinian processes seem unlikely to produce the given results.  The positive side is that we know of something in the world which can produce integrated complex systems:  intelligence.  The issue then becomes one of comparative explanatory strength.  If the results of evolution can be explained by undirected natural causes, but only by positing a series of wildly improbable events (which according to some calculations would take far longer to occur than the known age of the universe), and can also be explained by positing a designing intelligence, which is the “best explanation” for the phenomena?  Stephen Meyer takes this question up, not specifically regarding evolution, but regarding the origin of life.  The same reasoning, however, applies to Darwinian vs intelligently planned or directed evolution.

ID insights have already been valuable regarding evolutionary theory.  The ID voice has combined with other non-ID voices—Margulis, the Altenberg group, Shapiro, the earlier Wistar group—to raise serious doubts about the validity of neo-Darwinian theory.  A secular biologist like Shapiro at Chicago has done research with Rick Sternberg.  The role of extra-DNA elements in both development and inheritance has long been championed by Jonathan Wells, and is now becoming part of the mainstream critique of gene-focused evolutionary theory (the version of evolutionary theory you get here on BioLogos).  ID saw the problem with junk DNA coming years before most TEs even had even a whiff of it.  And you can read the journal BioComplexity for present-day contributions.

ID’s contribution has been small, but it’s measurable, and when the history of 21st-century evolutionary theory is written, ID people will at least get some footnotes as “precursors,” whereas TEs, wedded to 20th-century neo-Darwinism, will be mostly forgotten.  

Finally, you haven’t dealt with the point about intelligibility.  This is the major philosophical issue—whether science should sacrifice a full understanding of nature in order to have a practically powerful mechanical-material account of nature.  If you think the only purpose of science is for technology, and that the rest doesn’t matter because truth comes from the Gospel, not from science or philosophy, then it’s worth the trade-off.  But if you think the purpose of science is thinking God’s thoughts after him, then it’s not, because some of God’s thoughts were design thoughts.

PNG - #75063

December 7th 2012

Eddie, you take what the ID yahoos say all too seriously. You point over and over to Shapiro as “changing everything” and then admit you haven’t read any of his work. Would you put up with that from anyone else? It’s too tiresome to deal with this whole bunch of promissory science, but to take one bit of it, there is no junk DNA problem. It’s a fiction dreamed up by incompetents like Wells for rhetorical purposes. For a succinct explanation, look here:


It’s a short paper by Sean Eddy just published in Current Biology and it covers nicely why Wells and the PR hounds at the ENCODE project have it wrong, as every competent molecular geneticist knows.

Jon Garvey - #75065

December 7th 2012


It was Carl Woese who said Shapiro’s book was a game-changer, not Eddie, which I guess Woese outside of the ranks of the competent, to the surprise of the scientific world. I have read it, and some of the papers from the huge, and I mean huge, list of references which were placed on a dedicated website because there were just too many to put in print. (Have you, by the way?).

I’m frankly tired of the “every competent biologist knows…” variation of the “X clearly doesn’t understand the theory of evolution” polemic. John here used to throw it at everyone who wasn’t a doctrinaire population geneticist before he changed his name, and it’s galling even when one is only a humble physician who learned the Hardy-Weinberg decades before he was born. But it’s especially crass when it’s applied to a base of primary researchers as wide as the ENCODE project. Yet even when one can pin down the criticism to one guy like Shapiro who can be shown to have been trained at the best institutions, constantly published pure research for forty years +, worked with at least one Nobel prizewinner ... etc, it has about as much credibility as the claim that only me and my pastor are sound Christians (and I’m none too sure about the pastor).

At the very least all this shows that the biological community is at war with itself - or at least with that vast army of incompetent molecular biologists, palaeontologists, microbiologists, bioinformaticians etc who dare pretend that they are biologists when in fact to a man (or woman in Lynn Margulis’ case) they are Yahoos cloned by Jonathan Wells.

Eddie - #75069

December 7th 2012


I beg your pardon!?!?

I never said that I hadn’t read any of Shapiro’s work!

In fact, I’m almost finished his new book on evolution now, and I’ve read one of his previous scientific articles as well, plus his discussions with Dembski, and several of his popular columns (which summarize the results of his evolution book) on the Huffington Post.

Shapiro is hardly “promissory science”!  He’s a molecular biologist at the prestigious University of Chicago.  He is also an actual evolutionary biologist —publishes in the field of evolutionary biology —he’s not merely a geneticist or cell biologist or biochemist with a layman’s interest in evolution.  He knows far more about current evolutionary theory than anyone who who has ever published a column on this site.  People on the level of Karl Woese—people who have actually contributed something to evolutionary theory—have called his book a game-changer, yet not one of the life scientists on this site has reviewed it or even mentioned his name!  Can you explain that?

I suggest that you read Wells’s book on junk DNA—which it seems you have not—before commenting on what Wells says.  There has been a “junk DNA” problem—as Wells documents overwhelmingly with quotations and citations, not from ID literature, and not from creationist literature, but from secular scientific literature.  I venture to say that Wells has read more technical articles specifically on the subject of junk DNA than any columnist or commenter here.  Take a look at the massive reference list in his book.  Have you checked all those articles against Wells’s argument and verified that Wells has misunderstood or distorted their contents?  Or are you just taking Eddy’s words on authority?  

Wells is far from the only person who has pointed out the exaggerated claims for “junk DNA.”  The issue has been addressed by many biologists who have no sympathy with ID.  The point is that far too many biologists were willing to believe that far too high a percentage of DNA was leftover bits and pieces from the evolutionary process.  The corrective is now coming in, and not from ID people, but from secular biologists who carry no brief for ID.  And the error was caused by bad theory—by a belief that DNA is built up by a series of blind accidents, and the belief that once it is no longer useful, or if it was never useful, it lies around for millions of years doing nothing, like broken old furniture in the attic.  This sort of bad theory is now being challenged.  My hat’s off to the ID people for having the courage to take on bad establishment science, and for proving to be right.

beaglelady - #75101

December 8th 2012

Oh yes, those ID folks are on the cutting edge of science, leading the way into the future, leaving poor stone-age TEs in the dust.  Tell me then, why is it just fine and dandy for some IDers to accept a 6000-year-old earth,  as calculated by Bishop Ussher (1581 – 1656)? Seriously!   

One of the Altenberg group and their meeting, Massimo Pigliucci, blogged about it before:


And after:


Very interesting! There is also a book, “Nonsense on Stilts” where the matter is discussed. (Haven’t read the book yet)



Eddie - #75107

December 9th 2012

Gee, beaglelady, and you were doing so well with Roger and Farquhar!  Now you’ve fallen off the wagon again.

I didn’t say it was a good thing to believe in a  6000-year-old earth.  Like most of the leading ID proponents, I think the earth is very ancient.  I think the young-earth people are simply wrong.  But nonetheless, the age of the earth is no part of ID theory.  ID theory is about design detection.  Determining the age of the earth doesn’t proceed by the methods of design detection.  It belongs to other areas of science.  That’s why ID, per se, doesn’t comment on it, though obviously individual ID proponents do.

I never said that any of the Altenberg group supported ID.  What I have said is that some of the criticisms of neo-Darwinism coming from the Altenberg group (as also from Margulis and from Shapiro) are the same as those coming from ID.  And all these non-ID critics of neo-Darwinism have been completely ignored by the columnists on this site.

beaglelady - #75109

December 9th 2012

But I don’t understand—You criticize TEs for being wedded to 20th-century neo-Darwinism, yet it’s okay for IDers to be wedded to ideas about the age of the earth that are centuries older.  

Besides, science is integrated. “When” is a scientific question.  The age of the earth is critical to understanding evolution and many other areas of science.     Would ID be compatible with an earth that is 20 minutes old?


Eddie - #75112

December 9th 2012

I don’t see the difficulty.  If ID were supposed to be a historical theory of origins, then it would have to discuss the age of the earth.  But isn’t a historical theory.  It’s a theory of design detection.  

If I study Stonehenge, and determine it is designed, it is irrelevant whether it was built 4,000 years ago, or the workmen just cleared away their last equipment 20 minutes ago.  Design theory isn’t interested in that question.  Of course, individuals who study Stonehenge are doubtless also interested in when it was built, and therefore will offer various arguments for various dates.  But if the only goal is prove that the Stonehenge was built by intelligent agents—as opposed to being formed by geological accidents—then the age of the monument is irrelevant.

Similarly, if all Meyer is trying to prove is that that first cell did not come into existence purely through natural laws plus chance collocations of molecules, but required intelligent design, he doesn’t have to establish when the first cell emerged.  It could have been 4 billion years ago or 6,000 years ago, as far as design theory is concerned.

Of course, Meyer, being an old-earth person, thinks it happened billions of years ago, whereas certain other ID folks (who lean to YEC) argue for a much later date.  But their arguments for the later date are motivated by their literalist Biblical theology, not by science, and insofar as they would defend the later date scientifically, they wouldn’t use design arguments.  They would argue against the reliability of radioactive dating, of stratigraphy, etc.  

You have to understand ID as a “big tent.”  It’s not a unified theory of historical origins.  It’s unified only by the notion of design detection.  As far as historical origins go, ID people are all over the map, from evolutionism (Behe) through old-earth creationism (Meyer, Dembski) to young-earth creationism (Paul Nelson).  If you try to understand it as a unified theory of historical origins, you will just be banging your head against the wall, because it won’t make any sense. 

In sum, ID per se is not wedded to any view of the age of the earth.  Individual IDers who say the earth is young speak only for themselves, not for ID as a collective, and I feel no obligation to defend their arguments about the age of the earth, or the theology that motivates those arguments.  But their arguments for design versus chance, I would defend.

HornSpiel - #75124

December 10th 2012


There is an immense difference between Stonehenge design and the design ID is trying to prove.

When one runs across something like Stonehenge, you know from it’s age and other archeological facts that people existed in the area and that their culture was notable for producing stone monuments of menhirs and dolomens. Although we might wonder at what the mechanism was that allowed them to produce the giant version at Stonehenge, very few people would speculate that an unknown super intelligence was necessary for them to do so. Did God inspire them to do these acts, perhaps. Did God give the builders the intelligence to figure out how to accomplish the feat, from a Christian perspective, absolutely yes.

The analogy to standard evolutionary theory vs. ID speculation is, I think, obvious. You might object that evolutionary mechanisms cannot be compared to human mechanisms, since humans are intelligent and evolution is not. However, the analogy is not about intelligence but about the existence of of a known agent that produces structures of a particular type.

Neo-Darwinian theory describes a known observable agent of genetic (genotypical) and biological (phenotypical) change. Although a super intelligent agent can be invoked to explain the genetic and biological record, there is no independent evidence that such an agent actually exists apart from the structures that need to be explained.

This is not a denial of God, but a denial that there is any independent evidence that God chose to intervene directly in the evolutionary process. Did God create the evolutionary process, yes. Did God use the evolutionary process to create man, a creature in His image, from a Christian perspective, absolutely yes.

beaglelady - #75128

December 10th 2012

If I study Stonehenge, and determine it is designed, it is irrelevant whether it was built 4,000 years ago, or the workmen just cleared away their last equipment 20 minutes ago.  Design theory isn’t interested in that question.

Curious. So it’s a case of  “this was designed—we’re done here. Time to move on”   Who on earth ever heard of investigating ancient buildings, dwelling places and other sites and not not caring when they were built?

You know what the real difference between ID and science is? If you think that God (oops, intelligent designers)  built Stonehenge, then it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” from this point on.  The investigation is over!   You must not ask who did it, when he did it, why he did it, where he did it, how he did it or even if there are multiple designers.            

Eddie - #75137

December 10th 2012

Not quite, beaglelady.

You are aware, I trust, that different branches of science employ different methods and require different forms of expertise?

So if I wanted to know the cause of the Northern Lights, I would not ask a physicist who specialized in general relativity, but a geophysicist or a meteorologist or the like?  And if I wanted to know the three-dimensional-shape of an ammonia molecule, I would ask a physical chemist and not a botanist?  Etc.

So if I want to know whether or not something is designed, I ask someone who has special skill in design theory; but if I want to know something else, I ask someone who has knowledge in another area.

If I want to know who built Stonehenge, and when, and by what techniques, I consult historical records, and, if none are available, I consult archaeologists, ethnologists, engineers, metallurgists (if I think metal tools may have been involved in shaping the stones), etc.  I don’t ask Bill Dembski or Jonathan Wells.

Intelligent design is not all of science, and cannot be expected to answer all scientific questions.  It’s there to answer the question whether or not a particular thing was designed.

In the case of Stonehenge, because normal people have common sense, and because historians, archaeologists, ethnographers, engineering professors, etc., have common sense, and none of them are big enough idiots to suggest that Stonehenge was formed by the accidental rushing of a primitive river through a solid stone formation, we don’t bother formally inquiring whether or not the thing was designed.  We just get on with the other questions, and design theory doesn’t come into play too much (though of course in inferring the astronomical purposes of the stones, some design inference is involved).

Most evolutionary biologists, however, lack common sense, and therefore are willing to argue, against every gut instinct and against all their normal experience in every other scientific subject and every walk of everyday life, that systems a billion times more complicated than Stonehenge could have arisen without planning or guidance, from mere chance movements of molecules plus natural laws.  That is why intelligent design theory is needed in biology—to correct for the lack of common sense of most of the practitioners in the field.  

beaglelady - #75169

December 11th 2012

Hmmm….do you also think that IDers who believe the earth is young lack common sense?   I mean, do they wonder why there are so many annual layers in ice cores? 

Eddie - #75200

December 11th 2012

That’s not a common-sense issue.  It’s an issue of scientific argument.  It’s not an intrinsically non-commonsensical idea that fossils and so on might be explicable in terms of a young earth.  But when you work out the detailed scientific arguments, I don’t think a young earth position can be sustained.  I think that the scientific arguments for an old earth—and an old human race—are pretty strong.  I therefore disagree with young-earth creationists, including the ones who promote ID, over that point.  And I’ve told them so on many occasions, both privately and in front of audiences.

However, it is non-commonsensical to accept ridiculously low-probability sequences of unguided events as an explanation for the integrated complexity of biological systems, when a design explanation appears to be shouting in one’s ear.  But it’s nothing new that full-time academics—whether in biology departments or philosophy departments or sociology departments—lack common sense.  That’s almost a requirement for becoming a university professor these days (outside of maybe economics or engineering departments)—that one lacks common sense, and prefers to dwell in a world of wild and uncontrolled speculation—quite often driven by one’s ideological preferences.

Eddie - #75138

December 10th 2012


I’ve replied to your modified version of this on the next page.

Ted Davis - #74995

December 5th 2012

I’d like to add a futher example of the synergies between the YEC and ID views. Perhaps the first place we can read about the “Wedge” strategy (I am not certain whether it’s the first, but it’s the first version I am aware of) is in Johnson’s book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (1997). Chapter 6 is called “The Wedge: A Strategy for Truth.”

But, it’s another part of the book I want to focus on for a moment. In a short final chapter called “Stepping off the Reservation,” Johnson relates the story of Charles Templeton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Templeton), a one-time associate of Billy Graham who later studied at Princeton Seminary, where he encountered naturalistic higher biblical criticism, started questioning the kind of Christianity preached by Graham, and ultimately ended up as an agnostic.

Coming as it does at the end of that book, the message Johnson wants us to get is starkly unambiguous: “the conflict between the naturalistic worldview and the Christian supernaturalistic worldview goes all the way down. It cannot be papered over by superficial compromises ... [long snip and jumping to the next paragraph] although various bogus intellectual systems offer a superficial compromise to those who are willing to overlook a logical contradiction or two.” (p. 111) Johnson is undoubtedly talking about people like me, but I won’t respond directly to him—I’ve already indicated adequately how I approach this topic, and Johnson isn’t likely ever to find my approach satisfactory. Suffice it to say that he’s a master rhetorician (as befits a distinguished professor of law), and that when you define your terms so as to exclude the possibility of a third way, then it’s not all that hard to rile up the troops on your side of the divide that you just so sharply defined.

The real point I want to make, however, involves the way in which Johnson’s story about Charles Templeton shows up in Ken Ham’s Creation Museum. I’ve been there just once, shortly after it opened. Assuming it’s not different now, then what you find there is an exhibit about Templeton’s slide into apostacy, and—incredibly—it all began not with higher criticism but with Charles Hodge’s acceptance of an old earth, which led ultimately to the decline of biblical Christianity at Princeton and eventually to Templeton’s experience. A truly amazing, yet simultaneously depressing, exhibit. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. If someone like Hodge is seen as the start of liberal decline, ... well, do I really need to complete that thought?

For some other comments about this particular exhibit, see http://ideas.4brad.com/charles-templeton-gets-own-mini-room-creation-museum-0http://creationmuseum.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/creation-museum-on-martin-luther-and-charles-templeton/, but especially this: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/cm/v22/n3/slippery-slide-unbelief.

The root cause of the synergy between YEC attitudes and ID attitudes is Johnson’s attitude. No one (IMO) can really understand ID without understanding Johnson.

Eddie - #75002

December 5th 2012


I can agree with your argument here, because it is on the level of sociological analysis.  I think it is true that ID is often (not always, but often enough) presented within the cultural context you have described.  In particular, I agree with you that Steve Fuller’s advice to ID, if taken, would create huge strains on the ID Big Tent and would probably destroy ID as currently conceived, with the Berlinskis, the Nelsons, the Behes, and the Meyers each going in a different direction afterward.

The difficulty for someone like myself is that I am not really interested in defending Johnson’s approach.  Or rather, I separate two things that Johnson (and some other ID people) frequently conflate.  There is Johnson’s critique of neo-Darwinian biology, which, it turns out, has some support not only among lawyers like Johnson but among leading secular evolutionary biologists like Newman and Shapiro.  And then there is Johnson’s concern that America is going down the tubes because it has repudiated its Christian roots, a claim for which there is also support from history and sociology.  But the two arguments should be separated.

The Christian critique of modern secular humanism is a valid one, but should not be tied to the success or failure of ID as an alternative to Darwinian theory.  And ID, understood as design detection in nature, is a valid enterprise, but its fate shouldn’t be tied to the culture war between Christianity and atheist materialism.  Of course, ID, if valid, can be employed as part of a theistic apologetic via natural theology, but that potential apologetic use cannot be brought in as evidence for ID—ID must stand on its own feet in the realms of science and philosophy.  And similarly, the fact that Darwinian ideas have had horrible social consequences—a fact pointed out by many ID writers—does not prove that Darwinian theory is not true.    

I come at these things as someone who was brought up as a Darwinist (and vigorously battled creationists wherever he could find them), but later came to doubt (for purely secular reasons) Darwinism as a scientific hypothesis, and came to see, from studying intellectual history, that much of the “evidence” for Darwinism came from  metaphysical assumptions about nature and divine action, rather than empirical data.  And in abandoning Darwinism for ID, I have embraced neither OEC nor YEC, but remain wholly open to various macroevolutionary pictures for the origin of species.  I see nothing incompatible with either Christian theology or the social health of America in believing in common descent.  Thus, my theological objections to some TE writers are not over common descent, or even over the interpretation of Genesis 1-3, but over broader theological questions—the way that the Bible generally is read, and the nature of divine action in the world; and my scientific objections to TE as presented on this site are not against an old earth or an old human race, but against the neo-Darwinian explanation of evolutionary change.  It seems to me that there are ways of being a good scientist without embracing neo-Darwinism, and ways of being a traditional Christian without being a literalist-inerrantist of the standard American type. That’s why I’m glad to have Jon Garvey’s contributions here.  He shows that you can be a Christian and a critic of neo-Darwinism and an ID supporter and a theistic evolutionist all in one, if you drop the faulty premises of the American cultural debate, and concentrate on good science and good orthodox theology.  I wish I could find more TEs with that combination.

Jon Garvey - #75022

December 6th 2012


I’m less interested in the political aspirations of ID than in the creational aspects, but I’m intrigued at the furore the “Wedge” has caused. In the first place, the flavour of a conspiracy theory is somewhat diluted when the “secret document” leaked in 1998 turns out to be the subject, and even title, of a chapter in Johnson’s book openly published a year earlier.

Viewed dispassionately, the thesis that naturalistic materialism is a bad thing doesn’t seem too controversial, given discussions on scientism here and the problems in society generally. The desire to loosen its grip on the culture would seem to be common to any who want to see the Kingdom of God increase, or even intellectuals who believe naturalism is untenable.

If that could be achieved by showing naturalism’s weakness from within science itself (leave aside whether it can be done - that’s another matter, and Johnson’s not a scientist) then an intellectual argument would have been won by the strength of the idea. It’s the same ball-game as Nagel or Plantinga’s critique of naturalism from within philosophy - if the metaphysics is wrong, it deserves to be superceded, surely? And if it isn’t, then the attempt will fail. Ideas characteristically compete in a culture, don’t they?

To suggest the Wedge is somehow subversive seems to be like uncovering that Christians have a secret conspiracy to overthrow atheism by preaching Jesus. It’s hardly the Protocols of Zion.

I actually met Johnson when he came to England not too long after the time you’re discussing. He was openly, and without embarrassment, discussing the Wedge strategy before a mixed, public audience. It sounded to me like fielding an alternative vision of society - it only becomes a conspiracy if the dominant paradigm gives itself a divine right to rule (which in the case of naturalism would be strange).

Ted Davis - #75045

December 6th 2012


I didn’t mean to imply a conspiracy at all. As you say, the main ideas (not necessarily the implementation strategy) were already in Johnson’s 1997 book, and Johnson wasn’t bashful about presenting them in lectures. On the other hand, if I remember correctly (if you think not, please chime in) for a period of time Discovery wasn’t entirely forthcoming about the source of the document that was leaked.

My point, Jon, is that the cultural piece can’t be ignored when evaluating ID; so, IMO, ID is not just about science, which is how many want to portray it—or so it appears to me.

I, too, am interested in cultural renewal along Christian lines. But, I don’t see science playing much of a theoretical role in that, as vs a major practical role through meeting the needs of a needy world. I have no doubt you’re on board with the latter part of that sentence, at least. Let’s join hands!

Jon Garvey - #75061

December 7th 2012

Well, we are agreed on that last point - after all, it’s one aspect of the commission of Genesis 1.

ID’s specific agenda aside, their wish to undermine naturalist materialism would seem to have some consequences for the “needy world” scenario too. It could be argued that the world might have done quite well without “scientific” social Darwinism (arguably a major cause of both world wars and most 20th century revolutions - maybe 150 million deaths), nuclear weapons, etc. The reality and importance of hidden ideolgy in the practice of science is discussed usefully here.

So science, I would argue, is not in reality above ideology, but dangerous because it often thinks it is.

Seenoevo - #75003

December 5th 2012

From their bed, they were awakened by what sounded like a thump. In fear, the wife asked the husband if he thought a burglar had designs on their home and was breaking in. The husband suggested the noise might just be from a tree branch naturally severing in the high winds and then naturally thumping the side of the house. They considered the facts (what they thought they had heard, the windy weather, their electronic home security system) and discussed the two possibilities for some time. They came close to arguing over whether their concern was driven by benign natural causes or by nefarious un-natural causes. Finally, to end the increasingly heated discussion, and for their own safety and peace of mind, the husband bravely went downstairs to investigate. To his and his wife’s great relief, he found nothing amiss. The next morning, he even surveyed the yard and outside of the house. He never found whatever it was that caused what they thought they heard.

And he shook his head thinking, we almost screamed at each other over what turned out to be nothing.

Eddie - #75004

December 5th 2012

What’s the application of your story, Seenoevo?

The obvious analogy would make the husband the “TE” and the wife the “creationist.”  So when the husband, the champion of natural causes only, goes down, and turns up no evidence for any intelligent agent (read “special divine action in creation”), it looks as if the TE position is vindicated over the creationist one.  

But then, there is the ambiguous denouement, in which the husband thinks that they shouldn’t have almost had a fight over “nothing.”  That would suggest an entirely different moral of the story:  that you believe that TEs and creationists shouldn’t fight, because they would be fighting over “nothing.”

Aside from the fact that a burglar in the house would hardly have been “nothing,” such a moral doesn’t fit with your own personal position.  Based on your presentations here, you are a creationist who surely does think that “purely natural causes versus special divine action” is worth fighting over.  So why would you tell such a story?  What is your point?

Ted Davis - #75008

December 5th 2012

At least, in the book of Daniel, the dreams get interpreted for us. Of course, I wouldn’t pretend that this conversation is of biblical proportions…

Seenoevo - #75014

December 5th 2012

“The obvious analogy would make the husband the “TE” and the wife the “creationist.”


Can what is obvious to some not be obvious to others?

Could not husband and wife both be “TE”s?

Could the husband be a TE holding to “general divine action” and the wife a TE holding to “special divine action”?

[“However, if one is worried about the theological problems with “intervention,” there is an easy solution: one can speak about “general divine action” (divine action mediated wholly through what we call “natural laws”) and “special divine action” (whereby God initiates new chains of contingent events that would not have been initiated purely through the operation of natural laws). The question them becomes whether TEs believe that any “special divine action” was needed to begin life, or keep evolution on track, or whether, in their view, nature, unaugmented by special divine acts, did the whole job by itself. (Where “by itself” does not deny the sustaining of the universe and its laws by the presence of God, but refers to the sufficiency of nature’s “created capacities” to produce a given effect.)”]

Couldn’t the “bump” be any number of things which are never found, like multiverses or dark matter or SETI, or even evolution? Or like things which are never found because they never were?

Does it really matter anyway?

Don’t people choose whatever meaning they want in what they see or read or hear?


While mine might not be one, aren’t some stories entertaining or important even if they’re misunderstood?

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

Eddie - #75025

December 6th 2012


Even on your suggested interpretation that the story portrays two TEs—which overly flatters me, since it is very unlikely that most readers here have adopted the distinction of mine which you quote—the story makes no sense in relation to your own personal position.  You, as far as I can tell from your interaction with Mike Beidler, are a champion of special divine action, but your story makes the wife look foolish, having no evidence for her claim.  And further, your question “Does it really matter anyway?” is not one that you, as a creationist, would ever ask in real life, since to you it does matter.  

The “bump” was not merely theoretical, but an empirical phenomenon, and therefore can’t correspond to theoretical entities like dark matter (inferred) and multiverses (speculated upon).  The bump must therefore be explained.

People of course choose all kinds of meanings when interpreting what they see or read or hear.  The difference between an educated person (in the proper sense of the word) and an uneducated one is that the educated person lets reason and evidence, rather than custom, habit, or private ambitions or hopes or fears, determine the meaning.  (Of course, much of what passes for education today is merely propaganda with no rational or empirical basis—see the Sokal Hoax for a classic example—but that’s because the West has abandoned its traditional model of education.)

Finally, a story which is plainly introduced as a parable is not entertaining or important if it fails to draw clear and accurate correspondences which illuminate the subject at hand.  I can’t tell what your story means, even with your added commentary.  As for the Biblical quotation, it’s unclear to me whether or not you are casting yourself in the role of Jesus, but if you are, that’s rather presumptuous, isn’t it?

Seenoevo - #75039

December 6th 2012

Eddie - “The “bump” was not merely theoretical, but an empirical phenomenon, and therefore can’t correspond to theoretical entities like dark matter (inferred) and multiverses (speculated upon). The bump must therefore be explained.”

Seenoevo- “He never found whatever it was that caused what they thought they heard.”


Is evolution theoretical, empirical, inferred, or speculated upon?


“And further, your question “Does it really matter anyway?” is not one that you, as a creationist, would ever ask in real life, since to you it does matter.”

When and where did I indicate that I was a “creationist”?  Can’t a seeker ask questions of those more learned and wise without being given a label (i.e. “creationist”) many consider derogatory?

Did you ever consider that I may be just a student?

Or that I may be just the devil’s advocate?



And maybe the husband represents Republicans and the wife Democrats?

beaglelady - #75041

December 6th 2012

“He never found whatever it was that caused what they thought they heard.”

No, they didn’t just think it, they did hear something, and it sounded like a thump.    You said, “From their bed, they were awakened by what sounded like a thump.”  

So a noise woke both of them up. It couldn’t have been a dream, unless some kind of Vulcan mind-meld was going on.    But fear not—I know just what it was! 


Eddie - #75042

December 6th 2012

Thanks, beaglelady.  You took the words right out of my mouth.

Eddie - #75043

December 6th 2012


Well, given that your handle is “See No Evo (lution)” and given that you gave Mike Beidler such a prolonged hard time under his columns, you certainly give the impression of being a creationist.  If you don’t want people to think that about you, I suggest you change your screen name, and also your lines of argument.

As for your final three questions, two of them strike me as irrelevant, and regarding the one about “devil’s advocate”:  I’m too old to argue with people who want to play “devil’s advocate.”  It’s schoolboyish.  I want to discuss things with people who are serious.  If you don’t mean what you say, I’d rather you didn’t post anything at all.  But now that you have kindly forewarned me that you may be just yanking people’s chains, I’ll make a point of not engaging with you again.  Best wishes and a Merry Christmas to you.

Seenoevo - #75050

December 6th 2012


From their bed, she was awakened suddenly by what she thought was a thump. In her fog she wasn’t sure if the thump was from the unsettling dream that just ended or if it was from something else. In fear, she woke her husband and told him of her uneasiness and the thump. The wife asked the husband if he thought a burglar had designs on their home and was breaking in. The husband suggested that if she heard a thump it might just be from a tree branch naturally severing in the high winds and then naturally thumping the side of the house. They considered the facts (what she thought she had heard, the windy weather, their electronic home security system) and discussed the two possibilities for some time. They came close to arguing over whether what caused her concern was driven by benign natural causes or by nefarious un-natural causes. Finally, to end the increasingly heated discussion, and for their own safety and peace of mind, the husband bravely went downstairs to investigate. To his and his wife’s great relief, he found nothing amiss. The next morning, he even surveyed the yard and outside of the house. He never found whatever it was that caused what she thought she heard.

And he shook his head thinking, we almost screamed at each other over what turned out to be nothing.

beaglelady - #75073

December 7th 2012


From their bed, she was awakened suddenly by what she thought was a thump.  “Quick, hide in the closet!” she hissed at the man. “I think my husband’s home!”

Seenoevo - #75051

December 6th 2012

“I’m too old to argue with people who want to play “devil’s advocate.” It’s schoolboyish. I want to discuss things with people who are serious.”

Why would you think I’m not serious?

Is being (not “playing”) devil’s advocate not serious?

Is a member of a school debating team not serious when he’s challenged to defend a position he may or may not agree with?

Is a public defender not serious when he’s assigned to represent someone who has been arrested and who is considered guilty by much of the populace?

As you’ve assumed several things about me, why not also assume that my questions are quite serious?


“As for your final three questions, two of them strike me as irrelevant …”

What about the first question – “Is evolution theoretical, empirical, inferred, or speculated upon?”?

Eddie - #75055

December 6th 2012


In the situations you’ve named, everyone is aware, by convention, that the parties are defending a position they may not personally agree with.  But absent such prior arrangements, people in conversation—especially in conversations with strangers (who, if they have any basic social sense, will not take the liberty of joking with or teasing or yanking the chains of people they don’t know)—make the assumption that the person they are debating with is representing his or her own opinion.  If that’s not the case, the normal expectation in civilized conversation is that the person will warn the other party by saying something like:  “Well, I probably agree with you about that, but still, can’t a case be made for the other side?  A Darwinian might argue, for example, that ...”

So, now that you know where I stand on the question of public dialogue, I would beg you:  whatever “school debating” tactics you may employ with others, do not employ them with me.  If you are not going to state the position that you truly support, I’ll ask you not to respond to me at all.

In answer to your question, “evolution” could be described by all four words.  It is a theoretical construct; it has some strong (though often exaggerated) circumstantial evidence in its favor, and therefore is empirical; it is inferred (since it cannot possibly be observed, at least not on the macro- scale, and it is speculated upon (massively).

Seenoevo - #75053

December 6th 2012

“… ID info theory insights could be valuable, but only if they were used to help discover more adequate theoretical descriptions of the mechanisms of evolutionary descent.”

“One point Bube made in our conversation, which really stuck with me, is that evolution is not invalidated by showing the inadequacy of the mechanisms… The purpose of doing evolutionary science is to discover and describe more accurately the mechanisms involved, not to tell people the current models are inadequate.”

Then, the purpose of doing evolutionary science is to discover and describe more accurately the mechanisms involved, even though the mechanisms are inadequate?

If the mechanisms are inadequate to cause evolution, how are they involved in evolution?

Eddie - #75058

December 6th 2012


I agree with you on this.  I suspect that HornSpiel is only loosely paraphrasing what Bube said.  But in any case, the statement as it stands is unacceptable.

In all science, not just evolutionary theory, it is the duty of scientists to be testing the current model for its adequacy.  You cannot “describe more accurately the mechanisms involved” if you are forbidden from considering the possibility that “the current model” is inadequate, for “the mechanisms involved” and “the model” always go hand-in-hand.  I’m sure Bube as a physicist knows this, which I why I suspect that Hornspiel has not conveyed Bube’s sense accurately.  

Probably what Bube meant to say is that the purpose of doing evolutionary science is to describe more accurately the mechanisms of evolution, but not to question the fact of evolution.  That would make more sense.  Bube undoubtedly works from the assumption that evolution is a fact, and that this was established by previous generations of scientists (as were the gas laws, Newton’s Laws, etc.), and therefore all that is left for evolutionary theorists is to figure out the details of the mechanism.  Such a statement on Bube’s part would thus be logical.

Logical, I say, but not adequate.  For it is questionable whether an inferred (as opposed to observed) process can be taken as fact when no reliable mechanism for such an inferred process is available.  We may not know exactly how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, but we know it does, because we can see it, so only the mechanism is in question.  But no one has seen a land mammal become a whale, so more than the mechanism is in question.  

Further this position does not adequately distinguish between those ID proponents who accept evolution (such as Behe) but contest only the mechanism (neo-Darwinism) and those who contest the fact of evolution as well as the mechanism.  So whether the above is Bube’s view, or Hornspiel’s, it needs some reworking.

HornSpiel - #75059

December 6th 2012

It is not necessarily the mechanisms that are inadequate, but the descriptions—that is, the scientific theory. Discovering facts and improving theories to explain those facts is what scientists do. Like I said above, scientists need to be humble enough to admit that their theories may be wrong, or even that there is no known scientific explanation for a particular phenomenon.

Eddie - #75060

December 6th 2012

Hi, Hornspiel.

We are not using the terms “mechanism” and “model” and “theory” in the same way, and therefore are bound to fall into confusion.

I am using “theory” in the sense of a broad assertion about the workings of a certain aspect of nature, an assertion which makes sense of a wide range of phenomena, and which implies a number of predictions which can be tested.  The more of these predictions survive testing, the stronger the theory is.

I am using “model” to mean a particular picture of how a given process works, e.g., a “model” for continental drift could involve hard upper plates of crust moving on a semi-liquid mantle, driven by convection currents.  The model, as you see in the example, includes a proposed mechanism—if it didn’t, it would be useless as a model.  

A theory will generally include a model.  A theory is meant to be explanatory, and therefore can’t rest content with asserting that something has happened or is happening (e.g., that continents drift, or that species evolve); a theory therefore needs a model to explain why something happened or is happening.

If we call “neo-Darwinian evolution” a theory, then we are saying:  (a) scientists infer a process of organic evolution; (b) scientists of the neo-Darwinian school posit the filtering of random mutations via natural selection as the model for how organic evolution occurs.  The second assertion is the most important, because it is not merely a historical inference, but provides the causal explanation for the inferred process.  It is also important because it distinguishes neo-Darwinian theory from other theories, e.g., “Lamarckian evolution.”   

I’m guessing that Bube thinks that (a) is a sound inference and should no longer be debated by scientists, but that (b) is in principle debatable.

And that’s exactly what Durston and Venema are arguing about.  Durston is granting, for the sake of argument, that macroevolution may have occurred; but he is saying that, if it did occur, it couldn’t have occurred through the mechanisms Venema is proposing.  That is, Durston thinks that, even if “evolution” is true, the neo-Darwinian model of evolution is wrong.  He thinks that the inadequacy of neo-Darwinian theory can be shown through the use of information theory.

And it’s not just ID proponents who say that the neo-Darwinian model is wrong.  It was seriously challenged at the Wistar Conference back in the 1960s, and it has been challenged in some aspects by Stephen Jay Gould, and it has been rejected by Lynn Margulis, and seriously challenged in various aspects by several of the Altenberg group, and most recently by leading evolutionary biologist James Shapiro.  None of these people are ID proponents, and some have openly criticized ID.  And none of them are religious believers, either.  So the neo-Darwinian model is under attack, even within secular evolutionary biology.  Yet not a word about the secular scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinism has ever been mentioned in any column on this site.

And of course, Behe accepts evolution, but rejects the neo-Darwinian model of how it works.  I don’t see where Bube’s remarks, as you report them, take that distinction into account.

Now do you understand how I am using my terms, and why I object to Bube’s remarks, as you paraphrased them? 

HornSpiel - #75074

December 7th 2012

I wrote a long reply to your posts but I did not save it elsewhere first before submitting (which I usually do) and I timed out and lost it.  Don’t have time to reconstruct it now. The following is all that I saved from my clipboard:

A model need not be tested, however, if it is, it could become the basis of a theory.



Eddie - #75077

December 7th 2012

Sorry to have put you to all that work, HornSpiel.  I know it’s frustrating to lose one’s literary creations.  It’s happened to me many times on the web.

I can’t tell from the one preserved sentence what you are driving at, so I’ll wait until you can provide me with a shortened version of your lost arguments.

Jon Garvey - #75064

December 7th 2012

Hi Ted and all

This may have been better suited to one of the previous ID threads, but since this is the current one…

As an example of how leading IDers see divine intervention/natural processes, there’s an interesting reply to a reply of a review by Bill Dembski here. The original review, by Dembski, is of Nagel’s new book Mind and Cosmos, which in itself is maybe instructive as IDers have been quite ready to interact with Nagel’s philosophical critique of naturalism, whereas TEs here have not, so far. Maybe that reflects Ted’s implication above (I think!) that TE’s are happier to live with a naturalistic scientific ethos. That might explain the general lack of interaction with Shapiro here, whose latest column on Huff post specifically covers the unfriendliness of traditional ND presentation towards faith positions, compared to the newer science - that to me would seem worthy of discussion.

Back to Dembski, be that as it may. Reviewing Nagel’s suggestion of a “non-reductive teleological naturalism” he says he is “critical, yet also deeply appreciative.” Were such a thing to be found, it would to Dembski be completely compatible with Christian belief, though both Nagel and Dembski’s critic James Barham assume that Christianity requires a God who supernaturally “violates” natural priciples. However, such a “self creating” universe (in that sense) would not violate any of Dembski’s core theological principles.

He prefers a hands-on God because, exegetically, that seems to be kind of the God in Scripture, and because empirically there seems too much discontinuity in the natural order for secondary causes to be adequate. If such causes were clearly demonstrated, he would have to adjust his exegesis, which hardly seems an entrenched position.

His positive critique of Nagel is that, like all self-organisation theorists, he’s short on any actual workable suggestions. Which can’t be denied. So that’s why he still opts for intelligent design which, he says, is “a modest going concern” that has “solved some interesting problems.”

Jon Garvey - #75079

December 7th 2012

Ted (again)

Whilst I’m citing mainstream ID spokesmen, I’ve just been wading into Wilcox’s book as discussed on the last thread. I’m not yet at the epilogue you asked me to review, but on Chapter 7, on the origin of life. What strikes me forcibly is that he makes a virtually identical, if briefer, presentation to Steve Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, the only difference being that Meyer looks at the lack of current viable explanations for OOL, assesses the odds of a chance outcome, and points to design as inference to the best explanation; whereas Wilcox looks at the lack of current viable explanations for OOL, assesses the odds of a chance outcome, and says that chance is evidence of God’s design, citing Scripture!

To quote the latter, “Thus chance reveals the will of God. Chance is, in fact, the hand of God.” I’m not sure I can distinguish between those two positions. Yet one is from an ID POS heretic torn apart on BioLogos, and one from a TE population genetics “OK guy”. Though I see Wilcox hasn’t written here - maybe he’s considered too Reformed?

Indeed, Wilcox’s “chance” argument is really nothing but Dembski’s design filter in less mathematical form, and with God’s guiding hand as the assumption rather than the conclusion. Which makes me ask whether, if Steve Fuller’s campaign to get IDers to put their theology upfront were successful, there would be any meaningful difference between TE and ID other than the membership card. After all, could you define the difference between OEC working through modification of species and TE guided by God through chance?

The fly in the ointment is the idea common in current TE that God doesn’t direct chance, aka “freedom of nature”, “self-creation” etc. That might be a serious theological divide wider than that between TE and ID, with Meyer, Dembski, Wilcox, Warfield, G F Wright and me all on the same side.

Ted Davis - #75136

December 10th 2012

Thank you very much, Jon, for taking time to read Wilcox’ book and to share your thoughts about it. This is a real service to the “course.”

The more I think about the TE/ID divide, the more I’m convinced that the differences ar mostly pretty subtle, but that the politics tends to enlarge them—as politics tends to do to all manner of fairly similar opinion groups. I’ve said before that the situation seems to fit Darwin’s views about evolutionary divergence, in which slight differences among competing populations get magnified over time, eventually resulting in new species.

Mainly, TEs are fine with MN in the historical sciences, whereas most IDs are also fine with it—outside of evolutionary biology. TEs and IDs both believe that design inferences can be drawn from scientific information, but the differ on whether those inferences are “philosophical/theological” or “scientific” in character. For IDs, “design” is an empirical observation or conclusion, whereas for TEs its a metaphysical inference grounded on observations. Finally, TEs accept common ancestry for humans and other primates—indeed, they tend to accept common ancestry as the basic working assumption for all forms of life—whereas most IDs fight very hard against universal common ancestry and esp against human evolution. This last point is not such a subtle difference, but ID can say “officially” that UCD is acceptable and so to some it appears more subtle than it actually is in practice.

Would you agree with this analyis, Jon? (or anyone else)

Jon Garvey - #75163

December 11th 2012

On the major point, yes - ie that “politics” makes for much of the heat between ID, TE and other positions (but see my summary of Wilcox later for what I see as the really fundamental divider). And so I agree generally on the subsidiary points -  but a few extra comments, as ever.

For many, doubting the adequacy of Neodarwinism is a separate issue from positively promoting design, so it seems to me that as well as the doctrinally-informed rejections of evolution, there are some who say, “If the evidence for ND’s up for grabs, is the foundation for UCD actually that strong?” That is logical, after all - change over time can, as I said above, be seen as directed evolution or staged creation, and both of those deny strictly undirected ND.

Also, one should mention that the question of human evolution ought to receive special treatment, and the failure of some TEs to give it such is as suspect as ID’s denials of common ancestry. I’ve seen many TE accounts that fail to do justice to the spiritual (and other) discontinuities of mankind - it really is inadequate to ape (sorry!) the materialists by stressing how similar we are to chimps - theistic evolution should be concentrating hard on the differences. Once more, a political reaction to YEC/ID may be operating (”we can’t possibly agree man is unique if you say so”), or the closet semi-deism factor (“man seems special, I know, but we can’t let supernaturalism  get a foot in the door, so we’ll underplay the differences.”)

Finally, in Gregory’s absence I’ll wear his hat to challenge your analogy to evolutionary divergence. These are not random-with-respect-to-fitness memes, but deliberate choices for which we are each responsible before each other and God. Unlike evolution, in all probability a hybrid of the divergent lines is probably the best-adapted truth, and in ideas there are no genetic barriers, only human ones, for changing our minds.

HornSpiel - #75175

December 11th 2012


In my opinion the most significant difference between ID and TE, which colors everything, is the ID scientific/social agenda. ID overtly wants to introduce “design” into scientific descriptions. This has been described in various ways. Some talk about going back to pre-modern Aristotelian science that accepts teleological causation. Platinga and others argues for two types of science: Duhemian Science, a universal science based on MN, and Augustinian Science that incorporates philosophical and theological knowledge.

Discussions of whether God’s hand can be detected in the scientific data may appear on the surface be subtle, but continue to be significant because of the ends the two camps want to achieve. TE proponents are pretty adamant that going back to teleological causation would ruin science and is simply a non-starter. The two models approach, I imagine, has a much better chance of acceptance. In fact, it appears to already have been accepted in branches of the social sciences, such as psychological counseling and even physical medicine. This might be a path to fruitful discussion and rapprochement.

Common descent and age of the earth are secondary issues in the ID camp, which is why there is no consensus about them among ID supporters.  However these are a second bone of contention, since the scientific evidence is so overwhelming. To TEs this is evidence that IDers are not interested (or interested enough) in serious (Duhemian) science. Nonetheless, it is possible that TEs and at least some ID leaders could have common cause in educating the Evangelical community on the scientific realities that so many deny.

Eddie - #75185

December 11th 2012


You say that TE proponents are worried that ID approaches would “ruin science.”  Yet the form of evolutionary theory championed by most TEs, especially most biologist-TEs, is neo-Darwinism, which is increasingly under attack in the secular evolutionary biological community as questionable or even bad science.  If you want some names of serious evolutionary biologists who have expressed sharp criticism of the neo-Darwinian model of evolution, beyond the already-named Margulis, Shapiro, and Altenberg group, listen to the following short (and lucid!) lecture by Paul Nelson:


Interestingly enough, James Shapiro of Chicago, currently one of the world’s leading evolutionary theorists, has in the past done a joint research paper with Richard Sternberg, an ID proponent.  Shapiro himself does not accept ID, but clearly he thinks that some ID proponents can be good scientists.  On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, Shapiro has never teamed up for research with Ken Miller, Francis Collins, or any BioLogos columnist.  This is not surprising, since all of these people hold a view of evolutionary mechanisms which Shapiro rejects as outdated and largely incorrect.

Jw Farquhar - #75071

December 7th 2012

Ted and Jon Garvey,

The word Intelligent Design God becomes a reality when the intelligent design of the Bible is understood in this report.

Interpretation of the Bible is still in its infancy. Albert Einstein quoted it this way:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Jon Garvey - #75080

December 7th 2012

Actually, there’s as little evidence that Einstein said this as there is for a tetradic God in Irenaeus, or a wife for Yaheweh in the Bible.

But a better quotation regarding Bible interpretation is that what’s been saving millions for 2000 years isn’t bust, and doesn’t need fixing.

Jw Farquhar - #75091

December 8th 2012

Ron Garvey,

You posted: Actually, there’s as little evidence that Einstein said this as there is for a tetradic God in Irenaeus, or a wife for Yaheweh in the Bible.

Here is link1 and link2 to evidence for Eienstein’s quote:

Insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results. 
You posted there is no evidence for a tetradic God in Irenaeus,

Evidence of a tetradic God was quoted in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies in my previous post #74807 summed up as follows:

four zones of the world

four principal winds

*  the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars

*  the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form

*  For the cherubim have four faces

Clearly the Bible witnessed to this evidence with the four gospels that order themselves on the Cross.

Clearly the Word witnessed many times to a 4-way God, not the least of which was the four-way cross He died on. Others include four days to wait until Lazarus is raised, fourth year fig tree, four sowings in the parable of the sower, four months until the harvest, and thine is the (1) kingdom, (2) power, and (3) glory (4) forever.
Clearly Jesus witnessed to Nicodemus four ways (1) birth in flesh, (2) birth in water, (3) birth in spirit, (4) entry to kingdom of God.

Clearly God’s I-AM self-revelation to Moses witnessed to Jehovah as four: Jehovah, (1) the God of your fathers, (2) the God of Abraham, (3) the God of Isaac, and (4) the God of Jacob. Not coincidentaly this witness is written four times in the Bible.

Clearly God’s Ten Commandments start with four instructions for Man’s relationship to each of four attributes of God.

Clearly the Apostle Paul witnessed to the 4-way fullness of God from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, and this four-way count; what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the 4-way Cross in Ephesians 3:18,19.

You posted that there was no evidence for a wife for Yaheweh in the Bible.

The fact that Yaheweh from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name had a Son is evidence enough. Otherwise please explain to me how Yaheweh could generate a Son without a wife as a mother.

You wrote: But a better quotation regarding Bible interpretation is that what’s been saving millions for 2000 years isn’t bust, and doesn’t need fixing.

There is as much evidence for the Bible interpretation what’s been saving millions as the number of occurrences of the word “Trinity” in the Bible. ZEROE! Never! After Jesus, as far as I know, no one has ever come back and verified your man-made doctrine of salvation.

Jon Garvey. Who is your authority: the written Word and Numbers of the Bible, or the traditional doctrines and teachings of men?

Einstein said it this way:

A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.

(To Jost Winteler, July 8, 1900, CPAE. Vol. 1 Doc 115)

Jesus said it this way in the Gospel of Thomas #3:

When you know yourselves (imaged 666 in the Creation), then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.

beaglelady - #75110

December 9th 2012

If we add up all the syllables in “Flying Spaghetti Monster” we get 7—the mystical number of completion!  rAmen.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75076

December 7th 2012

The reason why this discusion is going nowhere is because each side is partially correct.  TE is basically right concerning Variation, the genetic basis of evolution, while ID is basically right when criticizing the Natural Selection aspect of Darwinism. 

Until you all understand this you will be irrelevant.

I find it strange that Eddie claims Lynn Margulis, an ecologist, as an ally for ID, but is very upset when I talk about ecology and the ecological ideas of Lynn Margulis.   

Seenoevo - #75083

December 7th 2012

Would anyone deny that the following points on evolution are true?

- Theistic evolutionists agree that evolution is true but just debate the extent of divine intervention in the evolutionary process.

- “the biological community is at war with itself” (Jon Garvey)

- ”And it’s not just ID proponents who say that the neo-Darwinian model is wrong… It was seriously challenged at the Wistar Conference back in the 1960s… Stephen Jay Gould… Lynn Margulis… the Altenberg group… James Shapiro. None of these people are ID proponents, and some have openly criticized ID. And none of them are religious believers, either. So the neo-Darwinian model is under attack, even within secular evolutionary biology.” (Eddie)

- “For it is questionable whether an inferred (as opposed to observed) process can be taken as fact when no reliable mechanism for such an inferred process is available.” (Eddie)

- Yet, apart from wide disagreement over proposed mechanisms and devilish details,  macroevolution is overwhelming affirmed by the establishment, the scientific establishment.

Does it not seem that most of the general public views science - specifically, the “science establishment”, “scientific academia” – as sitting on a higher pedestal than that of other professional/academic groups (e.g. historians, economists, theologians, lawyers, political scientists)?

Does it not seem that most of the general public views science as “purer” than these others?

Does it not seem that in science, unlike in other fields, the not-infrequent taint of fallibility (sometimes with errors so large as to make most people blush) is easily absolved with humble confessions of “that’s how science works”, or “this surprise sheds new light on …”, or “this is just a correction; science is self-correcting!”?


Are not the thoughts below worthy of further reflection?

Eddie: “My hat’s off to the ID people for having the courage to take on bad establishment science, and for proving to be right.”

Jon Garvey: “So science, I would argue, is not in reality above ideology, but dangerous because it often thinks it is.”

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75088

December 8th 2012

You are arguing about Variation, when you need to be discussing Natural Selection.

If TE says is that evolution is determined by random variation, this is not true even by Darwin’s theory.  That is like saying that an automobile is driven by its engine.  It is powered by its engine, but it is driven by its driver using the steering wheel, etc.  Evolution is powered by random Variation, but it is driven and determined by Natural Selection which is NOT random.

ID should be arguing that God determines Natural Selection.  God the Father through the Logos has given form and structure to all natural processes.  Therefore there is nothing inconsistent in saying that God guides evolution through Natural Selection.  Indeed the non-believing authors of What Darwin Got Wrong in their critique of Natural Selection say just that. 

Then too this would bring the critiques of neoDarwinism by Margulis and others more in line with ID giving it some scientific credibility. 


Eddie - #75095

December 8th 2012

God the Father through the Logos has given form and structure to all natural processes. 

Just God the Father, Roger?  What happened to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?  What happened to the “egalitarian” Creator you were insisting upon in the discussion under the previous column, where you criticized Wilcox?  Your account now sounds “Monarchical” (to use your term) to me.

“All” natural processes would include both variation and natural selection.  So if God is controlling the course of evolution, the most natural assumption would be that he works through both, not just through natural selection, as you are suggesting.  And, of course God’s sovereignty over all of nature is the Biblical teaching, and was the teaching of Wesley, though apparently it is not the teaching of all Methodists any longer. 

But of course your whole discussion presumes the basic truth of neo-Darwinian evolution, i.e., that species change primarily through variation (random mutations) and natural selection.  All that you are quarrelling about is where God’s control comes into the process.  ID, of course, rejects the whole neo-Darwinian scheme, so the point is of no interest to an ID supporter.  It is only of interest to TEs, and even then, only of interest to those TEs who think that God actually does something in evolution.  So you should direct your argument to Robert Russell and to the TEs who agree with him.

In your final two paragraphs, your wording appears to imply that Margulis thinks God guided evolution through natural selection.  If that is what you meant, you continue to misunderstand the thought of Margulis, who certainly believed no such thing.  Nor can I imagine that the authors of What Darwin Got Wrong, who are both, to my knowledge, non-believers, have asserted any such thing, as you also seem to imply.  Either you are in error, or your prose is far from clear.
Seenoevo - #75097

December 8th 2012


She remembered first hearing the story when she was very young, maybe 4 or 5 years old. She heard it from her grandfather, not from her father. Her grandfather told the story of how his great great grandfather, Martin O’Hara, had shaken the hand of President Abraham Lincoln. Grandfather gazed beyond her and said what a wonderful and humbling and thrilling thing this was for him to think about. He looked back into her eyes and smiled, and said he was so glad his father had told him of this bit of family lore.

She remembered catching a glimpse of her father out of the corner of her eye. He was shaking his head and let out a sigh and continued walking into the next room.

Her grandfather gave her a hug. She loved her grandfather and she loved the story as much as he did.

Grandfather died not long after that. But the story never left her. She even told the story one day in school, during some kind of history show-and-tell class exercise. She couldn’t remember if it was second or third grade, but what she did remember was that her mother found out and wasn’t happy about it. Mother admonished her, told her not to tell such stories, that it was embarrassing to her and the family. She didn’t understand her mother but was too confused and upset to say anything in response.

She never told the story again. But she heard the story again, about 5 years later at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Her father was telling the Abe Lincoln story. But he was laughing about it. And so was everyone else at the table. She didn’t understand, but it brought back unpleasant memories of her mother scolding her. She heard herself ask aloud “Why are you laughing?” Her father looked at her and said, “Honey, we O’Hara’s are Irish and we Irish sometimes display a bit of malarkey. As did your granddad, God rest his soul. He had a lot of stories. But honey, we O’Hara’s didn’t come to America until 1940.  That was a long time after Abe Lincoln died. Who knows, maybe one of our long lost relatives touched the marble hand of old Abe at the Lincoln Memorial, and the story got “enhanced” from there!” Everyone exploded in laughter. Everyone but her. An image of her grandfather flashed in her mind. She started to feel the sting of tears in her eyes, but quickly gathered herself and smiled, and gave a half-hearted laugh. She buried the story further in her memory.


Seenoevo - #75098

December 8th 2012


Years later, while she was enjoying student life at a prestigious university in New York City, she saw an advertisement for Ancestry.com. She felt compelled to sign up and began researching her family tree. After much pointing and clicking, she found that, sure enough, her O’Hara family line from County Cork didn’t touch America until 1940. She squirmed in her seat. But then she thought, “Wait. This is just one source. And it’s only an internet source.” And then she thought “Wait. I’m in New York. Maybe I can go to the original immigration records at the National Archives at New York City”!

And so she did. After many queries and trial and error, she finally found the page she was looking for. She stared at it: “The O’Hara’s from County Cork, Ireland; processed, naturalized – December 8, 1940.”

An image of her grandfather flashed in her mind. She felt the sting of tears welling up in her eyes.

But after a few moments, she shook it off. She thought “Snap out of it! You’re a smart girl, a college girl. Use your head and deal with reality, with the facts. People get old and their minds and memories and imaginations get …”

She closed the binder, thanked the Archive employee who had helped her, and took the train back to campus.

Two years later, as she was readying to receive her cap and gown, her father surprised her with a wonderful graduation gift. A trip to Ireland! Her father knew she had always wanted to go. And now she would!

Before she even landed in Ireland she was giddy with excitement. She roamed the country, enjoying every bit of it. She especially gloried in County Cork. But at the top of her sight-seeing agenda was finding her ancestral home. With the information she had gleaned in her research and with some luck, she found the house. She knew no O’Hara’s lived there anymore, but she knocked on the door anyway. She was greeted warmly, and she briefly related her O’Hara family history. She was invited inside for tea. During the conversation, the resident mentioned that a chest in the attic had what appeared to be some very old things and papers, and welcomed her to take a look.

An odd, ineffable feeling came across her. After a several uneasy moments of silence, she heard herself say “Yes. Absolutely! Thank you.”

She slowly went through the items in the chest. As she neared the last of it, she found a time-yellowed newspaper clipping. It was an obituary. The obituary read in part:

“O’Hara, Martin. Died suddenly, December 8, 1864. Survived by his wife and three children…. O’Hara had recently returned from a month-long exploratory business trip to the United States, where he had planned to move his family. During his trip O’Hara had the unexpected opportunity to meet President Abraham Lincoln …”

She recoiled and shuddered, and the newspaper clipping slipped out of her fingers.

An image of her grandfather flashed in her mind. He was smiling. She felt the sting of tears welling up in her eyes. But she didn’t shake them off.

And she wept.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75099

December 8th 2012


You are unbelievable.

Nor can I imagine that the authors of What Darwin Got Wrong, who are both, to my knowledge, non-believers, have asserted any such thing, as you also seem to imply.

This passage reflects your way of thinking.  If you do not think that something is true then it must not be without checking it out to see.  First of all, I told you that the authors are non-believers, which is abundantly clear from thes text. 

The argument of the book, What Darwin Got Wrong, is that (Natural) Selection infers the existence of an agent who selects, just as an agriculturist uses selection to breed hybrid plants and animals, the process that indeed gave Darwin the notion of natural selection.

Since nature is not an agent, a person who can make selections, the concept of natural selection leaves open the door that even a supernatural agent, God!, could be the Source of this process of selection.  I of course agree.  I guess you do not. 

Naming something “natural” does not make it per se purely physical or random.  A label does not determine reality, not even a “scientific” label.  God determines the character to reality through creation, past, present, and future. 

The main force behind Darwin’s Theory was that since God is perfect and Nature is not, how can God be in direct control of such a messy and imperfect process.  It seems to me that the answer is that God is indirect control.  You insist that God is in direct control, so what is your answer to the imperfections of nature?

If ID is against neoDarwinism in all its forms, do you say that genes do not determine inheritance and mutations and other changes do not lead the differences within a species?  Are you ready to ge back to square one and insist that God created every species de novo?

Do you not know that God the Son and the Logos are one and the same?

I do not think you understand TE.  I hope you do not understand ID.  I know that you do not know theology. 

You seem to be rushing and letting your feelings overpower your mind.  Relax. Take a long break.  Take time to give some thought and research before you react.   



Eddie - #75106

December 9th 2012


What you do not comprehend is that you juxtaposed your remarks about What Darwin Got Wrong with your own view about God controlling natural selection, which could have led a reader to infer that those authors held your view.  I was making a literary comment about unclear exposition on your part.  And the same applies to what you said about Margulis.  The flow of ideas in your last two paragraphs could have led a reader to infer the same thing about her.  I don’t think you take proper time to craft your replies.

By the way, when you said “Natural Selection infers,” you should have said “Natural Selection implies.”

If you are really serious about understanding what ID objects to in neo-Darwinism, you will take the time to read ID books instead of faking knowledge of ID based on hearsay.  I suggest you start with Darwin’s Black Box.

I did not say that “natural” implied “random.”  As for your other remarks on “nature” I could not begin to correct them without taking you through a course on Plato, Aristotle, Hume, etc., and I don’t have time for that.

Your answer to my comment on your contradiction regarding the Trinity, Monarchical models, and Wilcox shows that my comment went right over your head.  I won’t waste time trying to restate it, as I’ve learned from bitter experience that restating a point umpteen times never helps you to understand it.

I’m uninterested in your evaluation of my knowledge of theology, for the same reason that Albert Einstein would be uninterested in Conan O’Brien’s estimation of his knowledge of mathematics.

My replies to you have actually involved tremendous restraint on my part.  But the main “feelings” I’m having trouble with right now are the feelings of indignation I have toward clergymen (or quasi-clergymen) who weigh in on complex issues of theology, philosophy, intellectual history, religion and science, etc. without proper intellectual training.  I’m now to the point where the next time an M.Div. says something idiotic or heretical (and usually it’s both), I’m likely to explode.  So you’ve been getting kid-glove treatment from me.  You wouldn’t want to be in the ring with me when the gloves come off.  Farewell, my liberal Methodist friend.

beaglelady - #75102

December 8th 2012

You know what irritates me about BioLogos? They let every wack-a-doodle come in here and promote any insane thing they want, from JW’s Fancy Farqery  on down.  Anything goes! Anything!  Have a book to push? Do it here! Trolls, poes, you name it,  move right in.   And then BioLogos wants me to contribute money to fund it all.   

Jon Garvey - #75105

December 9th 2012

Maybe it’s the price of creation being egalitarian rather than monarchical, Beaglelady!

beaglelady - #75111

December 9th 2012

So buy my book!

Jon Garvey - #75117

December 10th 2012

Is that the “100 Recipes based on Evolution” one or “Darwin’s Dog”? I’ll get both if you get a signed copy of mine for kids, “My First Book of Non-equilibrated Chaotic Systems” - IT’S GOT PICTURES.

beaglelady - #75130

December 10th 2012


Roger A. Sawtelle - #75114

December 9th 2012


Your thinking is really strange.  You are so concerned that people MIGHT misunderstand what I wrote that you feel that it is your responsibility to say what I wrote was wrong, even though that is not what I wrote.  Either you think that other people need protection against ideas that I don’t have but they might think I have, or you are afraid that other people’s thinking might not be as simplistic and shallow as yours. 

Whether the proper word is “infers” or “implies” depends upon how the authors of What Darwin Got Wrong interpreted the situation.  I interpreted their meaning stronger than the word “implies” connotes, which is why I chose “infers.”  If you still not have read the book, you are not in a position to challenge my choice of words.  If you have read it, please explain. 

No, I am not an expert on ID, but I have read some of its literature and tried to follow the discussion on BioLogos.  What I have made clear that I do accept intelligent design as the concept that God designed the universe in all its aspects. 

The sticking point is how God did  this.  It is here that I differ with Jon.  In a real sense this is a theological/philosophical issue which is why I was interested in Wilcox’s article as a framework for discussion. 

You are unwilling to discuss the validity of the monarchical model of God vs the egalitarian (Augustinian) model.  Against hundreds of years of tradition you reject the egalitarian model out of hand.     

Your characterizing ID and TE as radically opposed to each other is untrue.  If you respect these people as fellow Christians, assuming that you are a Christian, then you need to be more charitible. 

If we are members of the Body of Christ, there is no absolute reason why we cannot find common ground.  This is what I was trying to suggest.  It is sad that you and your cheering section are so quick to reject all efforts of reconciliation.    

This blog is created to promote discussion.  You come on it with an agenda that refuses to engage in discussion and repeatedly distorts the views of others. 

You have talked about your extensive knowledge of philosophy, but have always refused to share some of that knowledge.  There is something wrong here.  Either you are bluffing or all that knowledge is no good on the internet because you are unable to share it with others.

My friend, your bluster does not scare me.  Ad hominem statements do not scare me.  I want to know who you are and what you have got.    


Eddie - #75115

December 9th 2012


What you wrote was:

”(Natural) Selection infers the existence of an agent who selects ...”
Inference is a logical act.  Only a rational agent can “infer” anything.  Natural Selection, not being a rational agent, cannot “infer” anything.  So your sentence as it stands is incorrect English, no matter what the authors of the book may have said.
What you probably meant was:
”(Natural) Selection implies the existence of an agent who selects ...”
This would be in accord with proper English usage.  It may also have been what the authors of the book in question said.  It is certainly not what Darwin believed.  He did not think that any agent, even God, was doing any “selecting” in the conscious sense.  Rather, he thought that an utterly non-conscious sorting process (death to the possessors of the inefficient variations) could mimic the effects of a rational agent.  Later, when Spencer suggested “survival of the fittest” as a better term than “natural selection,” Darwin conceded the point.
As for the rest of your post, I ignore the personal flak.  I point out, however, that you remain unwilling to withdraw erroneous claims.  Jon Garvey and I corrected your misuse of “telos” but you persisted.  Jon corrected you on Augustine, laying out texts to which you have been unable to respond, but you are still misusing Augustine’s name, even in your current post.  GJDS and I both corrected you on your oversimplification of Eastern and Western Christian theology, but you haven’t yielded.  I see no reason why I should continue to converse with someone who will never admit error.  And from someone who will never admit error, a plea for Christian “reconciliation” such as you have issued here rings hollow.  The first step in “reconciliation” is for all parties to admit their past errors.  You have shown yourself repeatedly unable to do that.  Your behavior is therefore not the model for the reconciliation of the various factions of the Christian world.  Buy yourself a mirror, Roger.  Best wishes.
Jon Garvey - #75118

December 10th 2012

Well, let’s leave the Quadroon God and novel conceptions of the Trinity to their proper place for the moment. Ted in the last thread asked me to comment on the last paragraph of David Wilcox’s book once I’d read it. Let me say at once that this is the first book I’ve read that I’d happily give to a theologically well-taught Creationist as an apologetic for TE. Wilcox says he’s not a theologian, but he has a better grasp on the essential issues, in my view, than many of his professional theological peers. In particular, he hasn’t subscribed to what seems the modern penchant for going beyond what is written (1 Cor 4.6).

I should probably actually quote that last paragraph entire, so will likely end up with a multi-post reply. Sorry.

Both theists and materialists have a “God hypothesis.” Christians believe in the God of the Bible, the author of nature, while materialists hold that nature is God. In a battle between two true believers, neither side can win over the other by argument. There is no resolution. They do not live in the same world. They do not swim in the same water. They cannot see the same ultimate pattern in the data. Once calls evolution a dance led by the sovereign ruler of creation, while the other calls it “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Neither will be convinced unless and until the reality behind the patterns is revealed. And I am convinced that the reality behind the whale with legs and the feathered dinosaur is not the face of an impersonal, unthinking universe, but Yahweh, the Creator God of Israel.

This may be too pessimistic - people can change their beliefs, but his point is still good. I need to clarify a couple of things - Wilcox’s argument has not been that all materialists are pantheists, but simply that the stark choice is between putting the creative power within nature, or within God, irenical though his attitude is. It is a clear dichotomy to him, to the extent that although he has argued that it is impossible accurately to calculate the odds for (his examples) the origin of life, the existence of Neodarwinian routes through search-space or the mutations necessary to convert tetrapods into whales or chimps into man in the time available, he considers it takes much greater faith to believe in unguided evolution than in God’s intimate oversight. And “intimate” is the right word - as has been discussed on these threads, his model for God’s action is the biblical one of a sovereign with both detailed concern for, and infinite power over, his creation. In other words, he does not take God’s care of individual sparrows as a metaphor, but as the level of detail that God plans. (cntd…)

Jon Garvey - #75119

December 10th 2012


I’d forgotten Ted’s discussion of “semi-deism” till I re-read the thread, bit it’s a strong theme in the book. It emerges from his saying that materialists can believe in God, but assert he does not act within the closed system of nature - that is deism in his view (and his quality of analysis is pretty high overall). The semi-deist believes nature has autonomy to do all that is necessary in creation, but that God very occasionally, maybe, might intervene by a miracle.

In his concluding chapter, he gives as examples of semi-deism Christian materialists, creationists and ID people, and this is the one place I found myself questioning his judgement. Creationists generally have slipped into what he might call a deistic view of creation against their principles, imbibing the spirit of the scientific age. That is, by opposing the materialist account of origins, they have sometimes forgotten that creation didn’t stop on the sixth day.

ID people, often creationists, can make the same error, but Wilcox also hints at their limited “engineering” view of creation and their apparent reliance on miraculous intervention. However, the former is justified, in part, by the fact that Scripture itself uses God-the-master-craftsman as an alternative to God-the-king. The second seems to confirm Eddie’s complaint that ID has been misrepresented - Behe’s front-loading idea for irreducible complexity (and Behe is Wilcox’s main ID target) is actually less “interventionist” than the constant providential guidance that Wilcox, and I, believe is taught in the  Bible.

No, the real judgement-call is why he has omitted many theistic evolutionists’ position from his list of semi-deists. After all, does not even R J Russell label the majority of academic models for TE as “statistical deism”? Many TEs here, rather than unconsciously slipping into the granting of autonomy to nature, make it a positive theological imperative, denigrating the sovereignty of God in creation as sub-christian “coercion” and “micro-management”. Maybe Wilcox wanted to avoid subdividing theistic evolution in a basic presentation, or maybe something prevents him seeing the “materialist semi-deism” in his own camp. But in the Christian camp, TEs are most vocal against the “God as King” concept Wilcox sees as core.

His final paragraph, I think, correctly identifies that the real fault-line since Darwin has always been the creative sovereignty of God. The whole book makes it clear that this is the crux. What he doesn’t say, but what seems to me clear, is that this fault-line runs not between evolution-creation positions, but right through each of them.


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