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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 2

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August 29, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 2
Michelangelo Buonarroti, “The Creation of Adam,” Cappella Sistina, Vatican (ca. 1511)

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

In the first part of this column, I presented five core tenets or assumptions of Theistic Evolution. The discussion resumes today with some implications and conclusions that follow from those assumptions, with further implications and conclusions coming in about two weeks.

Some implications and conclusions of Theistic Evolution

(1) For TEs, both the verbal and the conceptual language of the Bible are “pre-scientific,” not just popular and phenomenological. In other words, God’s revelation is embedded in an ancient worldview that is simply assumed by the text, not challenged there. Thus, the Bible contains ancient science—science that would be factually erroneous if we took it at face value as part of what God intended to teach us.

Bernard Ramm argued for just such a position in The Christian View of Science and Scripture, even though he was an OEC, not a TE. Denis Lamoureux takes it further in his recent book, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. A glance at the table of contents shows that he emphasizes the presence of “ancient science in the Bible” and teaches us how to interpret the Bible in light of this. Just as we don’t take biblical astronomy “literally,” with its 3-tiered universe, we shouldn’t take biblical biology “literally,” with its fixed species and separate creations a few thousand years ago.

(2) Even though TE advocates sometimes speak about God as the author of two “books” (nature and Scripture), TE is not usually seen as a Concordist position. At least among evangelical TEs, a position known as “Complementarity” is probably the most widely endorsed model for relating science and the Bible, though it is not the only one.

For a concise description of Complementarity, I borrow the words of Stanford physicist (now retired) Richard Bube, who wrote three books about science and Christianity, taught a course about it for decades, and edited the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (now called Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith) for many years. In his book, Putting It All Together, Bube presented seven “patterns” for relating science to faith (here and here), ending with his personal favorite, Complementarity, described as follows:

“Science and theology tell us different kinds of things about the same things. Each, when true to its own authentic capabilities, provides us with valid insights into the nature of reality from different perspectives. It is the task of individuals and communities of individuals to integrate these two types of insights to obtain an adequate and coherent view of reality.” (p. 166)

I’ll offer my own example to illustrate this model. Everyone reading this column originated in the union of two cells, one from each parent. Everyone reading this is also created in the image of God. Each of these two sentences is true, but the truths they proclaim are of a different order. The first neither implies nor negates the second. You can see where this is going: for TEs, the truth (in their view) that we are descended from other primates neither implies nor negates the truth that we are created in the image of God.

The Complementarity view, as I’ve briefly presented it, might seem quite shallow—nothing more than the simple, unsupported claim that science is about HOW and religion is about WHY. Readers who want a subtler account are invited to study Christopher Rios’ article about its development. Rios quite properly stresses the work of two important British scientists from the last century, quantum chemist Charles A. Coulson and his friend, brain theorist Donald M. MacKay, one of the most prolific and thoughtful Christian thinkers of his generation. If you don’t know MacKay, I unreservedly recommend that you get acquainted, but his work is so wide-ranging that I am hesitant to recommend a single starting place. Evolution was not one of his chief interests (I don’t offer him as a prime example of TE per se), but I can’t think of anyone who wrote more about the Complementarity model of science and Christian faith.

Physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne can also be understood as a proponent of Complementarity, though I would not characterize his position solely in those terms. His overall vision captures the essence of Complementarity: theology complements the limited picture of reality given to us by science; it goes beyond science, providing a larger metaphysical framework within which both nature and the science of nature are more intelligible (see below for more). Many of his books are conceptually deep, discouraging casual readers, but they are also eloquent and very creative, making the hard work of reading them time well spent. There simply is no good substitute for diving into them yourself. I’ve reviewed one of his recent books here.

(INVITATION: If you would like to take part in a full discussion of one of his books here at BioLogos, at some point down the road, please let me know, either in a comment below or privately (tdavisATmessiahDOTedu). Don’t make the commitment lightly—you would be expected to purchase and read the book—but please take the invitation seriously and respond accordingly.)

(3) Advocates of TE often emphasize theology of nature more than natural theology. They may still do natural theology, but they approach it more modestly—for them, theism cannot be “proved” from nature, but it still makes more sense of our whole experience of the world than atheism.

A theology of nature starts from the assumption that God exists and then seeks to understand the whole of nature in light of this. Polkinghorne does this in many of his books (see the review linked above for some specific examples). Natural theology, on the other hand, is the effort to demonstrate God’s existence (including some of God’s attributes, such as power, wisdom, and goodness) from reason or nature, without appealing to the Bible. Many Christian authors since the patristic period have done this, often citing the first chapter of Romans, though some of the most important have had doubts about the value of the whole enterprise; two prominent examples would be Blaise Pascal (see the article by George Murphy here) and John Henry Newman.

The golden age for natural theology lasted from the late 17th century (when Boyle and Newton were outspoken advocates of using science to argue for God’s existence) down through the mid-19th century, when Darwinian evolution provided a serious challenge to natural theological arguments based on “contrivances,” aspects of nature that appeared to be exquisitely crafted for a specific purpose by the Creator. Although it’s not true “That Darwin Destroyed Natural Theology,” (see the chapter by Jon Roberts here), it is true that TE authors no longer appeal to intricate biological “contrivances” to make their case. Prior to Darwin, a leading natural theologian, the great scholar William Whewell, had already made the case for a different type of natural theology in his famous contribution to the Bridgewater Treatises, a series of eight books on natural theology from the 1830s: “But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this;—we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws” (Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, p. 356 in the fifth London edition of 1836). Ironically, Darwin placed this very passage directly opposite the title page in On the Origin of Species (1859).

Just a few years later, a Unitarian chemist from Harvard, Josiah Parsons Cooke, Jr., replied to Darwin in a book called Religion and Chemistry; or, Proofs of God’s Plan in the Atmosphere and Its Elements (1864). Cooke got around Darwin by inquiring into the basic properties of matter itself—the features of the physical universe that make biology possible at all. “There is abundant evidence of design in the properties of the chemical elements alone,” he argued, especially as they combine to make the unique substance we call water. Natural theology had found a more solid foundation, “which no theories of organic development can shake.”

Contemporary TEs do pretty much the same thing. They look for evidence of “design” or “purpose” in the nature of nature itself, not in biological “contrivances.” Discussions of the “fine tuning” of the universe are common in TE literature, including Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God and Ken Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God. Philosopher Robin Collins (who is writing a superb book about the fine tuning of the laws of nature) provides a helpful introduction to the terms and the issues here. Polkinghorne raises fundamental questions about the very intelligibility of nature in the wonderful title chapter in Belief in God in an Age of Science. Let’s pay careful attention to what he says about his overall approach:

“This new natural theology differs from the old-style natural theology of Anselm and Aquinas by refraining from talking about ‘proofs’ of God’s existence and by being content with the more modest role of offering theistic belief as an insightful account of what is going on. It differs from the old-style natural theology of William Paley and others by basing its arguments not upon particular occurrences (the coming-to-be of the eye or of life itself), but on the character of the physical fabric of the world, which is the necessary ground for the possibility of any occurrence (it appeals to cosmic rationality and the anthropic form of the laws of nature) ... [Consequently] the new-style natural theology in no way seeks to be a rival to scientific explanation but rather it aims to complement that explanation by setting it within a wider and more profound context of understanding. Science rejoices in the rational accessibility of the physical world and uses the laws of nature to explain particular occurrences in cosmic and terrestrial history, but it is unable of itself to offer any reason why these laws take the particular (anthropically fruitful) form that they do, or why we can discover them through mathematical insight.” (pp. 10-11)

Looking Ahead

Sorry to stop mid-stream, but this is enough for now. This discussion resumes in about two weeks with more implications and conclusions of TE. There should be enough here to keep us going until then!

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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Francis - #72390

September 2nd 2012


846 How are we to understand this affirmation [“Outside the Church there is no salvation”] , often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church …

848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”]


Good night.

Francis - #72391

September 2nd 2012


“you should conduct your conversation on the subject with a degree of thoughtful humility while carefully pointing out any perceived logical flaws where you encounter them. Does that seem reasonable?”

I’m sorry, bren. But nothing that I’ve read about eye evolution (and nothing of the nothing you’ve provided here on eye evolution) seems logical or reasonable to me. I guess my Ivy League-educated brain just doesn’t “get it” the way other Ivy Leaguers do.


Good night, good night.



Please don’t think I have a hang-up only about eye evolution. The same holds true for animal ears, teeth, reproductive systems, etc., etc., plant photosynthesis and reproduction, etc., etc.

Eddie - #72421

September 4th 2012


Thanks for your supportive comments regarding my conversation with Francis.  In return, I offer this supportive comment to you:

It is evident to even a casual reader that when you asked Francis, “Does that seem reasonable?”, you were talking about a dialogical procedure you had suggested, one involving humility and modest criticism.  But Francis, above, replies as if you were asking him if your account of eye evolution seems reasonable.  That is pretty sloppy reading for someone with an “Ivy League-educated brain”—presuming that phrase wasn’t meant sarcastically. 

Anyhow, I thought your earlier admonition to Francis—about humility when criticizing those with advanced training—was right on the money.  Mind you, I’m no worshipper of “experts” as such; experts can often be gloriously wrong, because: (i) due to their specialization, they are often subject to “tunnel vision”; (ii) they are often deeply socially conditioned by a system of orthodoxy-reinforcement in which tenure, promotion, prestige, and grant money are all wrapped up together; (iii) academics generally have huge egos and don’t like to ever admit that they are wrong about anything, least of all about something they have defended in print for decades.  Nonetheless, allowing for these characteristic defects, it is still the case that, on the whole, a brain surgeon will do a better job operating on your brain tumor than a family doctor will, and someone who has studied Greek for 8 years and Hebrew and Aramaic for 4 years at places like Harvard and Stanford will generally be a more reliable translator of the Bible than someone who has only a quick “crash Greek” course of 10 weeks from a little Bible college in Kentucky and isn’t able even to read the Hebrew characters.

It’s not that a family doctor has no right to question or criticize the specialist, or that the Bible college grad has no right to question the university professor’s translation; rather, the point is that both the family doctor and the Bible college grad should frame their criticism in the context of intellectual humility, knowing that there might be fundamental issues at stake that they know nothing about.  

Unfortunately, when it comes to religion, especially American Protestant evangelical religion, there is the widespread belief that every man is an expert, because he can understand  English, and of course God wrote the Bible in King James English (or lately, NIV English), and because of the “priesthood of all believers” which makes every man just as good a theologian as every other man.  The idea seems to be that if the Baptist insurance agent is religiously sincere enough, God will grant him insight into the meaning of difficult passages, even if he is too lazy to acquire the scholarly tools needed to study them.

This populist attitude is comparatively rare among Catholics, who are used to regarding theology as a field for priests and professors, rather than lay people, but in Francis’s case, we see that the “democratizing” of theology is making its way into popular Catholic thinking.  So you don’t have to go to a Catholic seminary and learn Greek and Latin and the thought of Thomas Aquinas (whom, interestingly, Francis seems never to mention) and so on; you just Google the Catechism or whatever articles you can find, and reason things out based on your own (presumably great) native wit, and your arguments will be as good as any trained theologian’s.  If only theology were so easy!  One wonders if Francis would allow his brain to be operated upon by a surgeon who had only as much training in brain physiology as Francis himself has in Biblical studies.

bren - #72443

September 4th 2012

Thanks Eddie, I appreciate that, and I strongly agree that there seems to be a disturbing tendency to take a populist approach to theology or knowledge in general in the modern Church (though some Churches have healthier intellectual habits than others as you pointed out, but not enough of them).  I won’t speculate on the psychological roots of this tendency (not my field!), but it is a far cry from the days when many in the Christian world sought to ensure that they were on the cutting edge of their own disciplines instead of finding a soapbox in the backwater swamps of every other discipline for which they could find a functioning webpage.  In doing this, they were carefully heeding Augustine’s warning about not embarrassing ourselves and the Church by holding forth on topics that are outside of their core competence or Augustine’s other point about not being absurdly bullheaded (sorry, no reference).  This is the main reason why I cringe whenever science or politics find a significant place in an opinionated pastor’s sermon.  Many of our easily available sources of knowledge today give the misimpression that we are a few quickly scanned pop articles and authoritative sounding quotes away from understanding the breadth and depth of almost any domain that doesn’t require complex mathematics (not even sure about this limitation).  I can see why one might be duped into this self-satisfied frame of mind, but this is often dispelled by a few years of trying to keep your head above water in a competitive academic program, realizing that the popularizations you once read don’t do justice to the subtleties and deeper lines of logic underlying the subject matter.

Although I suspect we would disagree on a few subjects, I suspect we would both agree on the general ground rules by which one might conduct a progressive and useful dialogue, and I’d like to hope that we would both start to sound more tentative and careful as we stray further from our base of serious training/study/research.  Given that framework, I think constructive dialogue is available.  Given, on the other hand, a framework in which phrases and words that make up an ignored argument are cleansed of context, fixated upon in isolation, resurrected ad nauseum and mocked to no purpose and I suspect we have the makings of wasted time.   Glad to see that the training in theology leads you to prefer the first option although apparently neither of our backgrounds lead us to avoid getting entangled with those who might prefer the second option.

Might I suggest that we both avoid any dialogues with individuals who aren’t interested in engaging with actual sustained arguments (or who manage to confuse repetition with “sustained” and mockery with debate - although it did pass for debate at some early phase in all of our lives) and who try to pass themselves off as experts in every field without yet having demonstrated reasonable familiarity with any field.  This is just a suggestion; like many, I get irritated at misrepresentation, unexpected belligerence, or rampant arrogance, and weirdly some of the old schoolyard debating techniques are still annoying even after so many years; but the results of jumping in are inert, the wellspring of (fill in the blank; deep seated anger maybe?) is unending, and the Biblical directive is pretty clear (Titus 3:9-10).  Agreed?

Eddie - #72451

September 4th 2012


Thanks for your comments.  I think we understand one another. 

I know what you mean when you say “weirdly some of the old schoolyard debating techniques are still annoying even after so many years.”  We should probably not rise to the bait; but there is something about the techniques—the fundamental dishonesty of them—that enrages my sense of justice; it always seems to me to be not just intellectually but even morally wrong for people to use such techniques.  (Since I consider the quest for true knowledge and the quest for moral perfection to be connected quests, not comparmentalized activities that have nothing to do with each other.)  Therefore, when I see an adult using an argument of the sort once used by the twelve-year-olds I found most offensive in the schoolyard, I find prophetic rage rising inside of me, and want to beat it down.  This is especially the case when the adult has a Ph.D. and should know better.  But of course the current educational system is not the system of gentlemanly pre-War Oxbridge, where a certain moral character was just expected of academics; in the current system, winning (the argument, and more important, the grant money) is all there is. 

To me there is a judgment call here.  If we never challenge people who use dishonest forms of argument, then we lose the teaching opportunity to show other readers exactly how they are being manipulated by those who care not for truth but only for partisan advantage; on the other hand, if we always or even frequently challenge such people, we end up embroiled in long (potentially infinitely long) arguments which go nowhere, benefiting neither ourselves, nor the people we are trying to correct, nor the readers.  It seems to me, then, that it is right sometimes to attempt to fully expose such dishonest arguers and chastise them publically for their deeds.  The difficulty is how to restrain oneself from such activity on most of the occasions where, in strict logic, it would be merited.  I’m sure I’ve tended to err on the side of getting embroiled too often.  

When I was younger, I was probably almost as offensive in employing dishonest arguments as many others, but slowly—due to accepting criticism, both of my ideas and my manners, from those who knew much more in my fields of study than I did, and whom I respected as wise—I changed.  I’m now ashamed to use dishonest arguments.  And one of the reasons I stress formal academic training so much is that, in addition to exposing one to people who have more skill and knowledge than oneself, it can (at its best, anyway), bring one into contact with people who will make one ashamed of oneself for being less than perfectly scrupulous about the truth.  It’s true that such teachers are getting harder and harder to find, but there are still some around, even in secular universities.  The student who truly wants to be, not merely a technically competent scholar, but a wise and good human being, can find these teachers through diligent search.

But enough.  I shall try to resist temptation, and follow your advice. 

bren - #72460

September 5th 2012


I fully understand where you are coming from in the first paragraph, though I actually do think that polite standards of discourse still guide many interactions between professionals, but if you are looking for any such standards here, you probably will only find it in fits and starts, depending on who jumps into the fray (you get people who are all about losing their tempers or egging others on, or you get people like Roger, who, from what I can see, never loses his temper at all).  The prophetic rage as well as the desire to demonstrate the stark difference between honest and dishonest approaches to dialogue are good, but are probably only as effective as the partisan opponent is fundamentally honest on some accessible level and open to criticism.  Any criticism you offer will otherwise be against a protean target that never seems substantial enough to hit.  If they are evasive and dishonest, frequently misrepresenting your position and refusing to seriously consider or just ignoring objections to their own, then it becomes essentially an irritated monologue with a back row heckler disrupting and distracting the third party reader from any actual content.  Not worth it.  Not a teachable moment.  Time to pack up and find another string.  As you said, the moral and the rational elements of any dialectic quest should be intertwined as they advance, and where they are not, they probably shouldn’t advance at all.  Also as you said, this comments section is probably way too long and should be abandoned for new pastures, so ciao for now.

bren - #72450

September 4th 2012

Actually, I stopped being annoyed and started getting amused a while ago!  Biologos deals with subjects that can get people’s blood up, so i tend to expect it, but very often, in ends up resulting in fascinating exchanges of perspective.  That said, it also sometimes brings in people who are so aggressive and juvenile in their interactions as to be mildly comical.  Weighed in the balance, I guess it’s one of the dangers of the site (I notice that a number of creationist sites evade the danger of being flooded with disagreement and argument by not having any comment sections at all - which seems a bit control-freakish, but maybe such debates would just get out of hand in that context!).  This is also a place that showcases the gulf between the academically inclined and the anti-intellectualism that I am so sad to see permiating the Christian world…

Francis - #72403

September 3rd 2012


By the numbers:

I just read it once, but I think I actually liked your comment #72393 above!

Yes, I read your Gen 1 & 2 comments in #72374 above. You say 98% of the word wizards say the two chapters contradict each other on the literal and historical level. Sounds like the Bible negates itself, and in very short order. I’m not impressed.

Speaking of two chapters, did you have any suggestions for the possible Eli Manning biography in #72383 above?


Eddie - #72406

September 3rd 2012

Well, one out of two ain’t bad!

No, I have no suggestions for your Eli Manning biography.  I’d be more interested in a biography of Len Dawson or Joe Kapp. 

I didn’t say the Bible negates itself.  But it contains contradictions on the literal-historical level.  That’s not the same thing.  Two stories irreconcilable on the literal-historical level can both be true on the theological level.  But that’s an insight I wouldn’t expect your engineer from the Carolinas to come up with.    

wesseldawn - #72411

September 3rd 2012

Personally I think the whole argument is redundant: religion stuck its nose where it didn’t belong and created nothing but controversy. Science and the Bible are mutually exclusive in the sense that God would not have created something less than perfect and random, of which this world is!

Francis - #72415

September 3rd 2012


“No, I have no suggestions for your Eli Manning biography. I’d be more interested in a biography of Len Dawson or Joe Kapp.”

Regardless of the subject of the biography in #72383, what about the chapter 2 wording?

I’ll repeat the Chapter 2 outline here:

“Eli Manning quarterbacked the New York Giants to Super Bowl Championships in 2007 and 2011.

He’s definitely a candidate for eventual Hall of Fame status. What a professional football career!

Now, Eli learned many valuable lessons about football and about life in high school.

And then, he had a brother, Peyton, who also had a great influence on him.”


Do you (or anyone else out there) think someone who’s not at all familiar with the Mannings could be mislead by my selection and sequencing of words to think that Eli went to high school and received a sibling after he won the two Super Bowls?

For me, the answer would be “No”. However, I’ve learned in this life that sometimes it’s not safe to assume anything about other people.

Eddie - #72418

September 3rd 2012


Your thinly-disguised parallel with Genesis 1-2 has not escaped anyone’s notice.

If the *only* difficulty in harmonizing Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 on the literal/historical plane were that one or two events were narrated in a different order, and it was obvious that the order did not matter, there would be no difficulty.  But there is a whole set of interlocking difficulties concerning both order and contents, and the difficulties are well-known not only to world-class Bible scholars, but even to students who have taken a single undergraduate course on the Pentateuch.  From your apparent lack of familiarity with these difficulties, I can only infer that you have never taken such a course.

I can, of course, recommend to you a number of scholarly books where some or all of the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are discussed, but I get the strong sense that you would never read them, since you seem to have contempt for those who have spent their lifetime in the serious study of the Bible, and to have more respect for pious quacks, such as the engineer from the Carolinas that you cited earlier.  

Your failure to respond to my expose of the quackery of the engineer isn’t the first instance of your passing over a crushing refutation of your argument, rather than admitting that your dialogue partner has scored a point.   It’s evident you are interested in maintaining your position at all costs, rather than entering into a joint journey toward the truth through conversation—which requires altering one’s statements where the evidence warrants it.  This rigid attitude would make it impossible for you ever to pursue serious academic work in Biblical studies, religious studies, and related fields, not only in secular institutions but in Catholic institutions as well.  No Catholic professor known to me would tolerate your intellectually inflexible attitude for a minute.  And it’s not an attitude I can accept from a conversation partner.  So I’ll take my departure. 

Gregory - #72420

September 4th 2012

Speaking of “It’s evident you are interested in maintaining your position at all costs,” Eddie, I’m going to make a prediction:

In a few weeks, when Ted Davis presents his view of Intelligent Design (Big-ID), you are going to argue for Big-ID and try to wrestle with and oppose him regarding his views of Big-ID. Otoh, since Ted and I mainly agree about Big-ID & small-id (since Ted and I have conversed in the past about it, while you’re a ‘newbie’ and have never dialogued with him before), I will most likely support him. 

In #72340, I explained why your apparently preferred personal phrase ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ is actually not at all clear and is rather confusing. And since I believe you are much more a proponent of Big-ID than you are of theistic evolution (including small-id), it is likely your true colours will show through on the topic of Big-ID. Just a hunch; let’s see how it plays out.

Eddie - #72422

September 4th 2012


I expect that Ted Davis’s summary of ID will be judicious and that Ted will bend over backwards to represent ID proponents as they would like to be represented, rather than by some sort of straw man.  That seems to be how he has proceeded with every position in this series.  If he does that, then I don’t see why any ID proponent should scream foul, even if they disagree with one or two things that Ted says.

I’m sorry that you didn’t find my proposed term helpful; but you asked me to come up with something to describe my views, and as I have no permanent label for my views, I went with the tentative label that struck me as descriptive.  I still don’t see what’s so confusing about my position.  “God used evolution to create, but was at all times in charge of the products of evolution” is easily distinguishable from “God used evolution to create, but evolution involves random processes which by their nature cannot be controlled, so he can’t promise fixed outcomes, and in any case if God controlled evolution in detail he would be a tyrant over the helpless, enslaved nucleotides and proteins, and a loving God would never encroach on nature’s freedom like that.”  In the first case, you have theistic evolution in which the process is controlled by a pre-conceived design; in the second case you have theistic evolution in which at least some of the outcomes—maybe all of the outcomes—are not designed at all.  A designed vs. an undesigned set of outcomes of evolution—why is that distinction hard to understand?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72424

September 4th 2012


In your short discussion of different views on evolution, I think I see the problem that plagues this discussion.  All of you are all talking about God controlling evolutionary Variation.  No one seems to be discussing if or how God controls Natural Selection which really determines the direction and content of evolution.

Now some might say, if natural selection is natural, how can God influence it?  Of course the answer to that question is, God created nature and so God created natural selection and gave it purpose and direction. 

This is what I have been arguing all along, even though it has fallen on deaf hears.  Let those who have ears hear and those who have eyes see.

Eddie - #72433

September 4th 2012

Hi, Roger.

I’m not opposing your point at all.  Whether one thinks of God as influencing variation or whether one thinks of God as influencing the selection process, or whether one thinks of God as influencing both, God is still doing something.  If I understand Jon Garvey’s various comments here on BioLogos, that is the crucial thing for him—that God doesn’t just sit around while natural laws run on autopilot—God does something.  It isn’t always clear, in some of the theistic evolutionists I’ve read, that they think God is doing anything beyond sustaining the laws of nature, as if he’s some sort of cosmic power battery, but not really directing anything to any goals.  That seems to be the just about the only difference between ID people like Michael Behe and TE people like Ken Miller—who both worship the same God and even worship according to the same rite—the degree of direction which they imagine God to be imparting to nature.

Gregory - #72427

September 4th 2012

Easily distinguishable? How about this for TE: “God used evolution to create, and was involved in natural processes that appear random (or chance-like) to us, but that are not random to God.” What Eddie wants to break apart is easily united.

People who define ‘random’ or ‘chance’ as ‘anti-God’ or ‘anti-divine control’ are putting themselves ‘purposefully’ with their noses into a corner. Let them stay there until they decide to (follow their fate to?) come out.

I wasn’t asking for a ‘permanent’ (or as you like to say ‘dogmatic’) label, Eddie, just for a consistent and clear label that shows you don’t change your position with the wind. ‘Intelligently design theistic evolution’ is anything but clear and consistent (or coherent); a few of the reasons were mentioned above in #72340. If your views are ‘tentative,’ then so be it - that is how they should be treated. 

There are generally recognised two types of ‘ID’. 1) Big-ID and 2) small-id (O. Gingerich, G. Murphy and the pseudonymous ‘Timaeus’ at UD). Please attempt to help the conversation, Eddie, by not conflating these types with the single term ‘ID.’ Not everybody views ‘intelligent design’ as people in the IDM view it, which is reason enough to distinguish terms, out of respect for dialogue partners.

Let me add that I also predict Ted Davis will acknowledge this in his upcoming threads.

In regard to promising ‘fixed outcomes,’ I doubt even Ted would say there are ‘fixed outcomes’ promised for this series. In other words, some of the outcomes of this series are still ‘open’ at least in terms of conversation. He doesn’t have to involved small-id and Big-ID distinction, now that I’ve mentioned it. This is part of human creativity, which cannot be reduced to a(n) (theistic) evolutionary process.

As I said above, which Eddie ever so conveniently avoided, TE (and EC) accepts small-id. This means the world as we know it *is* ‘designed’ by an ‘intelligent’ Creator. But ID goes further to say ‘Science’ can prove this. Are you going to defend that (read: incredible, even unbiblical) position against Ted and BioLogos and I?

Eddie - #72434

September 4th 2012


I’m sorry, but I just can’t follow you.  You tell me that my explanations are not clear, but then you offer a formulation that says that God “was involved in natural processes.”  But “was involved in” is extremely vague—it could mean almost anything.  For some people, God would be “involved” if he dreamed up the idea of evolution, and set it in motion, but then sat back and watched it all happen, like a great machine in a meat factory churning out different kinds of sausages.  For others, God would be “involved” only if he literally stitched together each new species personally.  And for others, “involvement” could mean just about anything in between.  Unless you specify what “involved” means, your version seems just as unclear as mine, if not more so.

I don’t “want to break apart” anything.  I’m just distinguishing two very different views of evolution that I see out there in the literature, one in which God is very hands-on, and one in which God is very hands-off.  It seems to me that Dr. Plantinga is writing very wisely about the tendency of certain modern writers, including some Christians, to try to make God into a hands-off God.

I don’t know why we need to talk about big and small ID or id.  It’s as if you wanted to say that the outcomes of the evolutionary process were “designed” but not “Designed.”  That makes no sense to me.   Either the outcomes were designed or they weren’t.  Michael Behe appears to state in no uncertain terms that they were designed.  But not all theistic evolutionists are so clear about that.  I’ve read some TE writers suggesting that maybe God’s design extends to some creatures, but not others, as if God planned some of them and the rest were only accidents of evolution.  I’ve read some of them who seem to suggest that a good number of significant human characteristics may not have been designed results of evolution, and that maybe if intelligent lobsters or bears evolved instead of humans, that would be compatible with God’s creation command.  That would seem to be quite a different position from ID, wouldn’t it?  Don’t ID folks believe that everything essentially human was designed, and that at most trivial things, if anything, would have been left to accident?

It seems to me that you are generalizing a lot when you write about TE, as if all TE writers believe the same thing.  I have the impression that some of them accept almost as much divine control over evolutionary outcomes as ID people, whereas others don’t like the idea of God controlling evolutionary outcomes at all.  I think that saying “TE accepts small-id” is broad brushing, and inaccurate.  I think we should focus on characterizing individual TEs, and showing their similarities and differences, rather than lumping them all together.

Gregory - #72436

September 4th 2012

You’re being disingenuous, Eddie. You wrote “evolution involves random processes.” I was merely merging your two dichotomous statements into a coherent one. To call me out on ‘involves,’ on your own language, is thus improper.

The ‘hands-off’ vs. ‘hands-on’ metaphor is likewise a diversion; actually it is commonly used by ‘creationists.’

“I don’t know why we need to talk about big and small ID or id.” - Eddie

Yes, you do. We’ve discussed this before. Let’s wait until Ted raises it in his ID series, o.k.? Michael Behe is also being disingenuous, in so far as he makes analogies between human-made things and divine ‘design.’ His mousetrap to bacterial flagellum analogy is already old, yet he still repeats it in 2012.

Surely you must realise, Eddie, that how far God ‘extends’ designs is not limited by cosmology or biology, i.e. to ‘natural’ things. It likewise must go so far as human beings, cultures, language, societies, economies, politics and religion. God therefore ‘designed’ the United Nations just as much as God designed Auschwitz, didn’t you know? The universalist ‘design’ theorists simply haven’t taken their theory to its logical conclusion yet.

There is good reason for distinguishing between human-made and non-human-made things, which the Intelligent Design movement has not yet understood. In the same way, there is a good reason for distinguishing between evolution as a biological theory and evolutionism as an ideology. Several folks at BioLogos, Burnett, Louis and others, have recognised that.

Of course, one must generalise about TE, just as much as one must generalise about Big-ID. Ted acknowledged that both positions have a ‘big tent.’ Obviously not all TE writers believe the same thing. But *all* ‘orthodox/catholic’ TEs believe “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (translated into whatever language), which involves ‘intelligence’ and ‘design’ that cannot be scientifically proven. It’s not about individual TEs because Orthodox and Catholic TEs believe this in community, as a Kingdom. As usual, it’s the Protestants (apologies if you are one, Eddie) who are most splintered and individualistic on the topic.

Eddie - #72447

September 4th 2012


I do not think it is appropriate to accuse a conversation partner of being disingenuous.  I’ve said nothing here to deserve such an accusation.

I do not think that Michael Behe deserves to be called disingenuous, either.

“Hands-on” vs. “Hands-off” is not a diversion; it’s a matter discussed with great seriousness by Alvin Plantinga, one of the greatest Protestant thinkers alive, in his current BioLogos series.   I think his columns here are excellent, and I hope we will hear more from him.

Since you don’t seem to understand me, I will try making my point differently:  I do not know why we, here, at this moment, in discussing the above column, need to talk about big ID and small id.  If Ted raises the distinction in his series, then by all means we should talk about it at that point.  But right now, you are the one introducing the distinction on this site, not myself.  And you appear to have introduced it in order to detract from my point that some TE proponents do not speak clearly in favor of designed outcomes of evolution.

Your objection to my original characterization of some TE writings is odd, because you seem to grant me that TE proponents hold a variety of views.  Why, then, would you object when I say that some of them don’t seem very eager to picture God as in control of the results of the evolutionary process?  Wouldn’t you say that Ken Miller, for example, seems to picture God as “setting nature free”?  And that some TE writers have sometimes sounded as if they thought that a God who controlled the exact outcomes of evolution would be unacceptably domineering?  

You seem to be saying both that I’m right to distinguish among the various TEs, but also that I’m wrong to do so, because they all have essentially the same position.  So I’m confused.

The item that you say all TEs agree upon, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is very broad, and therefore covers up serious differences among TEs.  It makes a great deal of difference how God created the heavens and the earth.  If God did it in certain ways, many of the outcomes would not be designed, but accidental, and small-id, as you call it, would be denied as as well big-ID.  If God did it in other ways, all outcomes would be designed, and what you are calling small-id would be affirmed.

As far as I can tell, you are forbidding me from saying out loud that some TEs aren’t very clear in their affirmation that God has designed all the outcomes.  I don’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to state what I’ve observed.  Especially since the column we are discussing, you may have noticed, is about theistic evolution!!!  To say that I can’t comment on possible theological flaws in some versions of theistic evolution, in a discussion of theistic evolution, or that it is off-topic to do so, and that I have to hold back my criticism of some TE ideas until Ted Davis has started discussing ID ideas, strikes me as absurd.

I’m finding that we are having trouble communicating.  It is as if you are irritated at me about something you are imputing to me, rather than by anything that I have actually argued here.  I don’t wish to have to deal with such imputations.  I therefore propose that we drop this discussion.  But if you do reply again, and if you call me disingenuous again, I will be inclined to launch a formal complaint of abuse to the moderators.  I don’t mind being told that I am in error, or have misread something, or do not understand something, or am overstating the evidence for something, but I do not appreciate accusations of dishonesty.  I have not made any such accusation of you, and I expect—no, I demand—reciprocal treatment.  

Ted Davis - #72435

September 4th 2012

I just saw a review of a new book dealing with “science and the Bible” historically. I haven’t seen the book myself, so I’m not necessarily recommending it, but I recommend the review for information about it: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444772404577587711899418378.html?mod=WSJ_Books_LS_Books_2

Francis - #72439

September 4th 2012


“But Francis, above, replies as if you were asking him if your account of eye evolution seems reasonable. That is pretty sloppy reading for someone with an “Ivy League-educated brain”—presuming that phrase wasn’t meant sarcastically.”

That’s pretty sloppy reading on your part, Eddie. Our “dialogical” partner, bren, has never given his account of eye evolution, despite my pleading for such four times.


“… experts can often be gloriously wrong, because: (i) due to their specialization, they are often subject to “tunnel vision”; (ii) they are often deeply socially conditioned by a system of orthodoxy-reinforcement in which tenure, promotion, prestige, and grant money are all wrapped up together; (iii) academics generally have huge egos and don’t like to ever admit that they are wrong about anything, least of all about something they have defended in print for decades.”

Well said. I agree completely. I think many “evolutionary” academics can’t bear the possibility that they’ve built their entire careers on something that increasingly looks to be purely false. They won’t even go there. See no evil. And so, ego trumps truth.


“Thomas Aquinas (whom, interestingly, Francis seems never to mention) “

OK. I’ll mention him. I’ve read his classic, Summa Theologica. I’ve also read G.K. Chesterton’s bio Saint Thomas Aquinas – “The Dumb Ox”. Great stuff.

Eddie - #72444

September 4th 2012


The probability that you have read *all* of the Summa is about that of the probability of the evolution of the human eye through random variations filtered by natural selection.  Certainly I’ve seen no trace of the influence of Aquinas’s metaphysical thinking, or pedagogical manner,  in your contributions here.  And were he alive, the way Aquinas would handle a difficult question of Biblical exegesis would not be “to do a quick Google search” to pull up the opinions of 10,000 theological incompetents.  He would go to a library to consult the most educated commenters in the history of the Christian tradition.  

I wonder whether G. K. Chesterton interpreted Genesis 2-3 as a record of events of videotaped accuracy.  (Maybe you could “Google” to find the answer to that question, to save yourself the trouble of reading more of his books.)

Your continued refusal to respond to Bren’s question—which was, roughly, ‘Do you accept that it is reasonable to be intellectually humble and tentative when criticizing  people with training much greater than your own?’—indicates that his shaft went home.  

Oops, I forgot my resolution again.  OK, I never wrote this, and you never read this.  Farewell.

Francis - #72441

September 4th 2012


“Your failure to respond to my expose of the quackery of the engineer isn’t the first instance of your passing over a crushing refutation of your argument”

I had never heard of this “engineer” author before nor read any of his stuff. Eddie, you’re taking this all “out of context”! My point was that the alleged conflict between Genesis 1 & 2 is ridiculous and that plenty has been written to that effect. To demonstrate this point, I did a quick Google search, picked the first url hit, gave it a very cursory review, and provided it here. It happened to be written by someone whom you so graciously imply is an ignorant hillbilly. Well good for you, Mr. Humble,  PhD.

I just did another Google. Here’s another article. Release the hounds, Eddie! http://archive.catholic.com/thisrock/2004/0401sbs.asp



“it’s not an attitude I can accept from a conversation partner. So I’ll take my departure.”

Boy, where have I heard that before? I hope I’m not disappointed again.

Francis - #72448

September 4th 2012


“‘Do you accept that it is reasonable to be intellectually humble and tentative when criticizing people with training much greater than your own?’”

I absolutely accept that. But that initial and appropriate stance can change, when the people with greater training open their mouths and reveal that their evidence and their reasoning (and often their attitude) isn’t worth the cost of the paper on which their diplomas are printed.

Allow me to step out of our contentious little exchange for a moment and give you a less “personal” example:

I don’t have multiple degrees in law, history and philosophy, and I’m not a chaired professor at an Ivy League school. But Princeton’s Peter Singer is. Eddie, if I had the opportunity to “dialogue” with Peter, an academic who is OK with murdering babies OUTSIDE the womb, would I be wrong to question him persistently and even criticize his reasoning aggressively? If I dared drip some sarcasm, would that be grounds for dismissal from the discussion with the scholarly supporter of infanticide?

Ah, well. I’m probably asking the wrong person.


And yes, it’s too bad you failed to keep your word for a second time. Want to try for four (e.g. four failures by bren to answer my question)?

Francis - #72449

September 4th 2012

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72454

September 5th 2012


Thank you for your response.

My point is not that IDers and others actively oppose my point of view, but that they do not understand my views and in a real sense they do not understand evolution to their own peril.

The question is not does God act, but how does God act?  Variation, contrary to what Dawkins & Co. would have us believe, does not determine the direction and content of evolution.  ID addresses God’s role in Variation, which is there but indirect.  In response TE addresses God’s role in Variation, which is not direct as far as I can see.

As I have said repeatedly, the best and most important place to see God’s role in evolution is in Natural Selection.  This is the Achilles heel of Darwinism and scientific evolutionary theory in general.    Darwinian Natural Selection is not scientifically proven. 

This is where we need a real dialogue because here is where Christianity can make a real contribution, since the Jesus Christ is the Logos of the universe.  Sadly few persons are interested in developing a dialogue in this basic area, which is crucial to our understanding of nature, life, humanity, and God.      

Eddie - #72455

September 5th 2012


I can’t speak for “IDers” but only for myself.

Dawkins is a hard-core traditional Darwinian, and so he places more emphasis on natural selection than on variation.  He thinks natural selection is a genuinely creative force.  From what I have read, most ID critics of Dawkins say that natural selection is not genuinely creative, but has only a passive role; it can approve or veto changes that have happened accidentally, but it can’t initiate any change itself.  They say that all the creative work would therefore have to be done by the variations, which in neo-Darwinism are regarded as random mutations.  And they think it’s unlikely that a random process could be sufficiently constructive.

What I don’t understand about your position is why you think it makes a difference if we emphasize natural selection over variation.  Whether God is tinkering with the variations, or tinkering with natural selection, he is still tinkering.  And that’s frowned upon by quite a few TE people, who say that in evolution God works only through natural processes, not by doing anything extra beyond them.  So I don’t see how shifting God’s arena of action to natural selection is going to help matters.  Many TEs will still reject your suggestion, if I understand their argument correctly.  And it’s them you have to deal with, not me.

It seems to me that Alvin Plantinga is the person who is taking the bull by the horns here.  He says that the problem lies in the working assumption, shared by atheists and a good number of Christian scientists and philosophers and theologians, that God can’t or won’t or shouldn’t act outside of natural laws, that such action would be “interference.”  But how can God, author of the universe, be guilty of “interfering,” whatever he does in his own universe?  Isn’t it presumptuous of Christian scientists to say that God has to play by the rules they have invented?    

I’m certain that Plantinga (a devout Reformed Christian) would agree with you about the Logos, so I don’t see any conflict between his basic beliefs and yours.  But I think the key question is whether or not God is actively involved in the process of evolution, directing it towards certain goals, or whether evolution runs itself in accord with natural laws, the way water runs downhill without God pushing it.  Many TEs seem to take the latter position; Plantinga is saying that the latter position has no solid philosophical or theological basis.

I think I’m done commenting on this column of Ted’s.  If you want to discuss Plantinga’s views, let’s move this discussion over to Part IV of the Plantinga series.  I’ll look for your comments there.

Gregory - #72461

September 6th 2012

Re: #72447

Calm down, Eddie. ‘Disingenuous’ differs from ‘dishonest.’ Saying as you did that you thought everyone understood your term ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ (IDTE) just because no one responded to you is a clear example, in my view, of “giving a false appearance of simple” when the topic is much more complex and nuanced than you made it appear.

Please don’t try to put words into my mouth. I did not call you ‘dishonest.’ The tone of dialogue at BioLogos is generally encouraging and supportive rather than aggressive or negative. Sometimes it is scholarly and sometimes its not. But this doesn’t mean people aren’t able to openly challenge each others’ views with a critical attitude and sharp eye regarding truth and reality. I don’t know about you, but as a professor and scholar I take ideas quite seriously and hope to gain understanding in the exchanges, just as it is the goal of Ted’s ‘pedagogical’ series to promote.

You wrote:

“I still don’t see what’s so confusing about my position. “God used evolution to create, but was at all times in charge of the products of evolution” is easily distinguishable from “God used evolution to create, but evolution involves random processes which by their nature cannot be controlled, so he can’t promise fixed outcomes, and in any case if God controlled evolution in detail he would be a tyrant over the helpless, enslaved nucleotides and proteins, and a loving God would never encroach on nature’s freedom like that.” In the first case, you have theistic evolution in which the process is controlled by a pre-conceived design; in the second case you have theistic evolution in which at least some of the outcomes—maybe all of the outcomes—are not designed at all. A designed vs. an undesigned set of outcomes of evolution—why is that distinction hard to understand?”

I responded by merging your two statements, which you claimed are ‘easily distinguishable,’ into one simple statement: “God used evolution to create, and was [let me now add: and is] involved in natural processes that appear random (or chance-like) to us, but that are not random to God.” Because I find this statement coherent, I disagree with the ‘designed’ vs. ‘undesigned’ (i.e. random) language you are using to rationalise your so-called IDTE position.

You wrote back saying: “‘was involved in’ is extremely vague—it could mean almost anything.”

As I said above, I used ‘involved’ because you used ‘involves,’ so please try to be fair in your treatment. More importantly, I’d like to know why you are suggesting that “random processes…cannot be controlled” by God? Are you saying God *cannot* (and *does* not) control random processes? To me, that is placing an unnecessary limitation on God’s omnipotence. Apparently you disagree, based on what you say is ‘easily distinguishable.’

Likewise, what ‘fixed outcomes’ for the future of natural evolution ‘controlled’ by God do you have in mind, Eddie? Just that we are here, so we were planned, which nobody needs evolutionary theory to tell us? This speaks partly to the lack of predictive power, both of ID and TE.


Gregory - #72462

September 6th 2012

What I am led to imagine, Eddie, is that you have little experience in actual ‘design processes’ (from theory to practise), i.e. in ‘designing’ (or at least that you think you don’t). Even when people try to ‘control pre-conceived design’ often the results turn out differently than the plan (cf. ‘unintended consequences’). It seems that because you are operating on a purposely chosen ‘chance vs. design’ or ‘random vs. design’ dichotomy (i.e. what Big-ID stringently promotes) you therefore outright refuse to accept the point that I and others are making: God can ‘design’ and actualise seemingly ‘random’ processes. To recognise this is to make ‘intelligently designed’ TE redundant; TE already accepts the ‘intelligent design’ (small-id) of God’s creation.

You may be wondering what difference then does ‘designing’ or ‘planning’ make in ‘evolution,’ and perhaps that is something that Ted will address at some point. But if you don’t accept that God can use random processes, please clearly state your position: why not?

Eddie, I am not ‘forbidding’ you from saying anything. Say what you want. Make whatever argument, point, comments, questions or statements that you want. Neither I nor anyone else here should be forced to accept what you say or to engage the dialogue as you do. Please don’t aim to forbid me from expressing my views which may offer counter-factuals or proper correctives to yours.

You claim to tentatively support a view that you (and afaik, you alone hold) called ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ (IDTE). Iow, therefore you support TE. Yet many of your comments are aimed against TE, e.g. “some TEs aren’t very clear,” “some TE proponents do not speak clearly in favor of designed outcomes of evolution,” “theological flaws in some versions of TE,” etc. This dual role self-denial/self-promotion of TE is a very difficult situation to understand; I’ve seen the same thing with Jon Garvey. And even someone professionally trained in science and religion discourse, George Murphy, when I asked him, refused to accept the label ‘TE,’ all the while promoting views that are commonly acknowledged as TE.

So, you’re certainly correct, Eddie, to say there are a variety of notions of TE, some of which seem inconsistent with or that simply differ from others. In the first thread about TE, Ted wrote: “There are other types of TE, some of which are not (in my opinion) sufficiently biblical, or even sufficiently Christian, to be part of this series. Please keep that in mind as we proceed: don’t tar all TEs with the same brush—something that happens all too often elsewhere.” Unfortunately, insufficient criteria have been given to distinguish TEs from TEs so far in the series, e.g. we are asked to go listen to Ted’s audio at “Evolutionary Christianity” for guidance.

Threats to report abuse where no abuse is present and certainly none is intended are unwelcome, Eddie. If you wish to defend your ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ position better than you have thus far (my 3 main criticisms of IDTE went largely unaddressed), then be welcome to do so. Perhaps a thicker skin and readiness to be challenged would help in the communication. As Ted advised, “Let knowledge, not ignorance, be our guide.” And let us have courage to face the challenges as they arise.

Eddie - #72465

September 6th 2012

Thank you for your reply.  I’m glad to hear that you did not mean to call me dishonest.  I will accept your word for that.  However, you should check several major dictionaries regarding “disingenuous,” and also listen carefully to how people use the word.  It usually has a strong suggestion of dishonesty—that someone is deliberately not being forthright, in order to mislead.  Anyhow, that is how I take the word.  So if you wish to avoid offending me, find another word.
I did not use the word “involves” in connection with God’s relationship to evolution.  I said “evolution involves ...” and then described evolution as most biologists would.  You, on the other hand, used the word “involved” to depict God’s relationship to the evolutionary process.  You thus purported to say something about the relationship between God and evolution, but, because the word “involved” is so broad, what relationship you were affirming was (and still is) unclear to me.  So by all means clarify:  what do you mean when you say God is “involved” in evolution?  Does that mean, for example, that he is steering it, to make it achieve certain results?  If not, what sort of “involvement” does God have?  I’m not saying that your view is wrong; I’m saying I have no idea what your view is.  And that’s my complaint about some TEs—I don’t know what their view is.
You say that we should not tar all TEs with the same brush.  I wholly agree, just as we should not tar all ID people or OEC people or even all atheists with the same brush.  (Thomas Nagel is a thinker very different from Jerry Coyne, for example.)  And because I agree with you, I tried at all times to say “some TEs” or “many TEs” rather than “TEs.”  Your own quotations of my words testify to the care that I took in this respect, so we should not be in disagreement on that point.
The reason I rejected your merger of my two statements is that your merged statement was vaguer and more ambiguous than the two contrasting statements I had made.  My contrasting statements suggested a clear intellectual choice between certain versions of ID and some versions of TE, whereas your merged statement blurs those choices together, as if someone were to take the Republican and Democratic party platforms and, by blunting all the precise policy statements from both parties, blend their policies into a new platform of quite hazy vision, and claim that this new platform shows there was never any difference between Republicans and Democrats in the first place.  Perhaps in politics such “compromise” could be justified, but in intellectual matters, truth is more important than peace, and since there is a very real difference between saying clearly that God controlled all the results of evolution, and saying he didn’t (or at least refusing to say whether he did or didn’t, while strongly implying that he didn’t), I can’t allow you to represent your merged statement as a harmonious blending of my two statements.  You gutted my description of the position of the ID side in order to make it harmonize with the view of some TEs, and that’s not intellectual cricket. 
Eddie - #72466

September 6th 2012

Gregory—continuing from my last post:
I did not deny that God can design seemingly random processes.  God can design and even control apparently random processes; but if there were such a thing as a “truly random process”—i.e., a process deliberately set up by God so that consequent conditions would bear no relation (via natural law or reason) to antecedent conditions—then even God could not control it (though he could foreknow it, which is a different matter)—unless he were willing to intervene to keep the course of events on a path previously decided upon by him.  
Your analogy with human designers breaks down, because an omnipotent God has none of the excuses a human designer has, if something should not turn out as designed.  That seems to be why ID folks think that God controls all the outcomes of the evolutionary process, and why they are so puzzled that many TE people don’t seem to think that God does this.
But let’s stick with your human designer analogy for the moment:  can you think of any case where a human design—of a novel, a play, a machine, a business operation, etc.—was improved by the introduction of random, uncontrolled components?  For example, if a computer virus randomly changed every third line of computer code, would the program with the changed code still function?  And if someone went through Shakespeare’s plays and made random changes in the text, would the plots be more coherent afterward, or less?  And if I made a series of random changes in an engineer’s diagram of a bridge, and the bridge was built in accord with my random alterations, would you drive over that bridge with your loved ones in your car?  Isn’t it in fact the case that design usually is opposed to randomness, and that the sign of an intelligent designer is that he guards against and eliminates, as far as possible, random factors?  So if God wanted certain evolutionary outcomes, wouldn’t he contain randomness rather than give it free rein?  This is surely a very big difference between ID and TE people, that all ID people think that randomness needs to be contained in order for evolution to get to desirable ends, whereas many TE people think that randomness is precisely what God uses to make evolution get to desirable ends.
You seem to be arguing that my position is unclear because I say that I share some views with TEs, while criticizing other views of TEs.  I don’t find that any different from some Republicans differing from other Republicans, or some Catholics disagreeing with other Catholics, or some Marxists disagreeing with other Marxists.  There is nothing unclear about a range of views within a broad general position.  For example, you must have read Ted Davis’s statement that he considers Michael Behe a TE.  Yet Behe, as Ted knows, has sharp differences with Francis Collins, Ken Miller, and so on.  So Ted obviously does not find such differences a problem, at least, not in the sense that they prevent anyone from grasping the points which Behe and his opponents have in common.  So if I or Jon Garvey or anyone else has some sympathy for some TE ideas, but not other TE ideas, why should you find that a problem?
Finally, I have no problem with challenges, and I’m not thin-skinned when it comes to criticism of my ideas.  And if the argument stays on ideas, and doesn’t get into imputation of motives (e.g., “disingenuous”) I will not make any “threats” to anyone. 
Gregory - #72491

September 7th 2012

‘Disingenuous’ was not aimed at ‘motives,’ but at what was written. Eddie thought it was o.k. for him to say ‘involves’ as if that was clear, but not for me to say ‘involved,’ which is somehow “very broad” or “so broad” and thus not clear. That’s usually called a double-standard.

The so-called “clear intellectual choice” that you presume is clear, Eddie, seems to me just your imagination. No doubt you think that my statement blurs, while yours is crystal clear. There is a condition in social science that reveals this which is called the ‘looking glass self’ when people think they are viewed/read differently than how they are actually viewed/read. Unless someone else weighs in on what you think is simply ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ (IDTE), neither of us can judge. Personally, I think IDTE is folly.

“there is a very real difference between saying clearly that God controlled all the results of evolution, and saying he didn’t, I can’t allow you to represent your merged statement as a harmonious blending of my two statements.” – Eddie

That’s partly because I wouldn’t have chosen your two statements in the first place. At least will you give me credit for trying?

As for “gutting your description of the position of the ID side,” frankly, I don’t think there’s much there to ‘gut.’ ID tries to make ‘scientific’ and offer probabilistic ‘proofs’ for what is not ultimately a ‘scientific’ topic; the Creation of life, the Creation of biological information and the Creation of human beings. Capitalised ‘C’ for Creations = not Science.

“I did not deny that God can design seemingly random processes.” – Eddie

That’s great! So, for the moment we’re on the same page, Eddie. Now, as a result, you can therefore safely and correctly discard the polemical ‘design vs. chance/random’ card you’ve been playing. Or can’t you? It looks like it’s been trumped.

When I wrote ‘random processes,’ of course, I also meant ‘truly random processes;’ not merely some trivial IDist play on words. The ‘truly’ adjective doesn’t change the meaning. Truth is implied in the original terms. It doesn’t need dressing up in political garb.

“if there were such a thing as a ‘truly random process’ … then even God could not control it” – Eddie

That doesn’t make sense because it rejects the meaning of God’s omnipotence. It sounds like the “Can God make a rock too big for God to lift?” kind of argument. Most TEs are not biting at such IDist bait.

“Your analogy with human designers breaks down” – Eddie

As does Big-ID’s. The term ‘human designer’ smells foul to me; like the IDM’s well-documented political & cultural renewal program. And there really are no leaders of ID proposing ‘human designers’ as a possible THEORY, Eddie. They are instead interested in (but scientifically coy about) ‘transcendental designer(s)/Designer(s)’ due to their chosen concentration (OoL). At the same time they ignore so blatantly much non-Big-ID ‘design theory’ that it is surprising more people have not called them out on this.

“can you think of any case where a human design—of a novel, a play, a machine, a business operation, etc.—was improved by the introduction of random, uncontrolled components?” – Eddie

Sure, General Electric uses algorithms to build jet engines. Professional sports draft lotteries. Democracy? What definition of ‘random, uncontrolled’ would you eventually accept? The term ‘improved’ is far too vague (or ‘broad’ as you suggested above). ‘Random’ sometimes can simply mean ‘freedom to choose,’ freedom from a deterministic worldview.

If *everything* is/was ‘intelligently designed’ according to Big-ID then determinism has won the day.


Gregory - #72492

September 7th 2012


“Isn’t it in fact the case that design usually is opposed to randomness, and that the sign of an intelligent designer is that he [OR she] guards against and eliminates, as far as possible, random factors?” – Eddie

The term ‘design’ is unnecessary jargon here. Plan, goal, aim, etc. are already widely used. Most people don’t have the quite obvious fetish with the term ‘random’ that creationists and ID advocates do. Speaking of an ‘intelligent designer’ is sheer IDM-talk, which most natural scientists have rejected and many social scientists haven’t even heard of, because it is obvious jargon-talk they don’t want or need.

‘Design’ is not ‘opposed’ to randomness; it is simply goal-oriented as human beings think of goals, plans, purpose.

“So if God wanted certain evolutionary outcomes, wouldn’t he contain randomness rather than give it free rein?” – Eddie

Then ‘evolution’ becomes a matter of degree; more ‘containment’ vs. ‘less containment’ and ‘more freedom’ vs. ‘less freedom.’ If so, you and Jon had better be ready to face the music of Open Theism vs. Closed Theism more directly than you have been. Even if not, since you already accept that “God can design seemingly random processes,” the above question is largely irrelevant.

“This is surely a very big difference between ID and TE people, that all ID people think that randomness needs to be contained in order for evolution to get to desirable ends, whereas many TE people think that randomness is precisely what God uses to make evolution get to desirable ends.” – Eddie

By this you’re really saying you believe you can play both sides of the fence, as a promoter of ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution,’ aren’t you?

“you must have read Ted Davis’s statement that he considers Michael Behe a TE.” – Eddie

Yes, I did. And I responded to it directly in the previous thread, to which you said you would respond after Ted did. But you didn’t respond to my words about Behe and his ‘revolutionary’ ID proclivities.

You wrote: “the most influential public defenders of theistic evolution do not want Behe as a member of their club.” - Eddie

I responded, saying: “This has more to do with politics and the so-called ‘revolutionary’ attitude of IDers…If Behe wants to associate with self-proclaimed revolutionaries that’s his prerogative. But he must suffer the consequences of being excluded from groups that do not accept the politics and PR antics of his chosen associates…I’m sure you’ll admit, nevertheless, that Behe allying himself with the Discovery Institute, taking their [financial] support as a CSC Fellow is not insignificant. It is guilt by chosen and continued association. Behe could renounce Big-ID just as easily as he could embrace TE/EC to set the record straight…Behe taking the label of a (gentle, endearing, “very gracious”) ‘radical’ doesn’t help in the way TEs/ECs view him.”

In so far as you accept ‘Intelligent Design’ theory, Eddie, Big-ID/IDM people are your chosen associates too. Let us see what happens in Ted’s ID threads, since you’ve already claimed to (wanting to) be(ing) a bridge-builder between ID and TE by your joint concept IDTE. While it may make sense to you, it is still a far-fetched proposition to most people, both IDers and TEers.

“I think that saying “TE accepts small-id” is broad brushing, and inaccurate.” – Eddie

Then I don’t think you’re *really* a TE at all Eddie. Surely you’re just pretending to be one, for whatever reason. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened in the name of appeasement, without a coherent theory or program to back it up.

By all the definitions of TE I’ve seen (from Barbour to Bube to Brooke to Oord to Murphy to Harrison and Collins, i.e. even just the English ones), God’s creation (or more weakly put, God’s, oops, the ‘Intelligent Designers’ so-called ‘intelligent design’/creation) is part of the approach. Which specific and clearly expressed TE (philosophy) are you personally promoting that says otherwise? You softly endorsed Ted’s definition of TE, but didn’t offer one of your own. Perhaps you will offer your own definition of TE (without the ID add-on), more clearly than what I already refuted above, in this series?

Eddie - #72507

September 7th 2012


Your lengthy posts to a large extent repeat things that I have already answered. They are also riddled with self-contradiction. To spend time itemizing the points I’ve already answered, and showing where I’ve answered them, and to spend time showing all the self-contradictions, is not within my leisure writing budget at the moment. I’ll content myself with just a few points:

1. You say that the word “design” is jargon. Ridiculous. It’s an everyday English word. And ID people use it in the same way that everyday people use it.

2. For you to complain about the use of “jargon,” while holding up “social scientists” as a model of intellectual discourse, is laughable. Open almost any social science textbook, and you’ll find page after page of jargon, words that are either never used in daily speech or writing, or are used in senses other than their daily sense.

3. You did not respond to my several examples from engineering, literature, etc., which showed that design and chance have very different effects, and therefore that distinguishing them intellectually is entirely valid.

4. “Disingenuous” *always* implies something about motivation. It implies that someone is being less than frank, in order to gain some conversational advantage.

5. You accuse me of dishonesty again (and whether you use the word “dishonest” or not is irrelevant) when you accuse me of pretending to be a TE. First of all, I didn’t pretend to be a TE, as most TE leaders use the term, so the statement is inaccurate; but more important, I don’t “pretend” to be things. Are you incapable of holding a discussion with someone without moving it in the direction of personal motivations and machinations?

6. You originally spoke of *seemingly* or *apparently* random processes but have now switched to defending *truly* random processes.

7. Your remarks about my alleged failure to acknowledge God’s omnipotence would be better directed at some of the TEs who have waffled when asked whether God controls all evolutionary outcomes, or only some of them.

8. I don’t need to give my own definition of “theistic evolution” because I accept Ted Davis’s: God creates through a process of evolution. But the “TE” of most theistic evolutionists is much narrower than what Ted presents, which is why I could be called a “theistic evolutionist,” but won’t call myself a TE. Someone might like cola drinks, but dislike Pepsi, and such a person shouldn’t have to swear allegiance to Pepsi to prove that he likes colas.

continued ...

Eddie - #72508

September 7th 2012

9. You mention scientific detection of design, which I hadn’t mentioned. But since you are on that topic, bear in mind that Ted’s broad definition of TE, which I accept, says nothing one way or the other about whether design is detectable. It doesn’t mention design at all. It says only that God created through a process of evolution. Thus, under Ted’s definition, there could be TEs who think that design is detectable in the evolutionary process (Behe) and TEs who think it’s not (Miller). That would then be regarded as an internal variation within the TE family, not a distinguishing mark between ID and TE. But most of the leading TEs have chosen to narrow the definition of “theistic evolution” to deliberately exclude the possibility that design in nature is detectable. That reflects their own theological and scientific agendas, but does not follow from the general definition of theistic evolution.

10. I did not respond to your justification of the TEs’ treatment of Behe because it was pure politics, having nothing to do with truth. Essentially, when you strip away all the pretentious intellectualizing in your answer, you were saying that Behe deserves the inexcusable conduct towards him by the TEs, because he hangs around with creationists. This is unworthy of reply.

11. You continue to dodge the question whether God steers the evolutionary process so as to guarantee all, most, or at least some of its outcomes. You thus justify all those TEs who do the same, and create a hiding space within TE for Open Theism, which is in contradiction with TE leaders’ profession that their position is compatible with historically orthodox Christianity.

12. After telling me that I shouldn’t discuss ID until Ted Davis writes his column on it, you mention ID many times in your reply. Why don’t you follow your own advice?

13. Why do your posts to me never contain statements like: “That’s a good point; I hadn’t thought of that”? Or “Yes, that’s true, but ...”? Or “I appreciate the distinction you are making; I now see better what you mean”? Why are all your posts to me one long attack on just about everything I say, rather than dialogical responses? My original comments to you, you responded to positively, as if you found my ideas helpful. Then suddenly, you “turned against” me, and since then, you can’t tolerate anything that I say, even though I haven’t changed my position one iota. Why are you going after me in this manner? The readers here must be puzzled by your sudden shift from politeness to aggression. In any case, I recommend you to the current conversation between Roger and Jon Garvey on the Plantinga thread. There you see the give and take of genuine dialogue, as opposed to reflexive naysaying.

I’m now breaking off this discussion. If you want to continue it, continue it under Ted Davis’s columns on ID, when he gets there.

Francis - #72517

September 7th 2012

“Your [Gregory’s] lengthy posts to a large extent repeat things that I [Eddie]have already answered….To spend time itemizing the points … is not within my leisure writing budget at the moment. I’ll content myself with just a few points”

I was expecting a non-lengthy response from Eddie that covered just a few points, because of Eddie’s leisure writing budget constraints.

Thirteen points and over 900 words later, I guess I misunderstood Eddie’s words again.


Gregory - #72523

September 8th 2012

Since I’m short on time these days too, as the new semester starts, it means losing some sleep at night to write a response to Eddie’s 13 points. It is now much longer with morning editing.

1. “ID people use it [‘design’] in the same way that everyday people use it.” – Eddie

Artistic design, graphic design, set (stage) design, costume design, fashion design, organisational design, architectural design, interior design, systems design and planning; this is how ‘everyday people’ use ‘design.’ I design, you design; we design as human beings.

What you refer to as ‘ID people,’ Eddie, use the term ‘design’ (+ ‘intelligence’) in a specific ‘technical’ way, on topics such as origins of life (OoL), origins of biological information and sometimes origins of human beings. That’s quite a big difference in focus! In my view, ‘everyday usage of design’ has almost nothing to do with what ‘ID people’ mean in their theory/hypothesis. That is, unless you think most people spend much of their waking hours discussing and debating the OoL, OoBI and human origins! ; )

2. A typical attempt to smudge social sciences. I’ve become used to this ‘privileging’ of what counts as important knowledge. Every field has its own jargon, Eddie. All I said about social science was that people can learn things from it, like ‘the looking glass self,’ where people think they are being read one way, whereas in fact they are being read differently. E.g. you actually thought people at BioLogos understood what you meant by ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ (IDTE), just because they didn’t answer you! This is not personal or about their or your motives; it is simply what happened, an observation of fact.

3. & 4. No comments. I already addressed some of the dangers of the ‘design vs. chance’ dichotomy for people’s self-understanding above.

5. “I didn’t pretend to be a TE, as most TE leaders use the term, so the statement is inaccurate” – Eddie

You said: “Is there such a thing as ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’? Maybe I would fit in there.”

Then you went on to imo loosely define (though you seem to think your explanation is crystal clear and foolproof, even for someone like me who is trained in PoS) what you meant by this new combination, which I duly and respectfully challenged. So, if you aren’t actually defending ‘theistic evolution,’ it’s news to me. So, are you or aren’t you defending and promoting the position called ‘theistic evolution,’ Eddie? I can clearly and directly say: I am not.

I interpreted your ‘fit in’ statement as meaning that you defend and/or promote ‘theistic evolution.’ That’s why I spoke of ‘pretending,’ since it is not clear ‘which TE’ you are actually defending or promoting, given that you have repeatedly expressed antagonism to how “most TE leaders use the term.” As Ted said, there’s a ‘big tent’ of TEs (many 10s or 100s of thousands, perhaps millions of times larger than the ID’s ‘big tent’), so please excuse if I’m curious how you, Jon Garvey and others would actually define your positions. Admittedly, I’m closer here at BioLogos to GJDS, who is a research scientist, and who has expressed doubts about TE as a meaningful term. But I’m more supportive than I was a couple of years ago for the notion of ‘evolutionary creation,’ as long as it doesn’t turn into ‘creationism.’

6. This must be meant as a joke. Eddie raises the ‘truly random processes’ phrase. I reject it as redundant. Eddie then says I’m “defending ‘truly random processes’.” No thanks.

7. “whether God controls all evolutionary outcomes” – Eddie

Determinism. We’ve been over this already. I would simply add that the social scientific language of different types of ‘governance’ shows this ‘command/control’ model as kind of ‘autocratic’ view of divinity, rather than as ‘co-creative’ and ‘freedom-loving’ in the TE/EC sense.


Eddie - #72534

September 8th 2012

Gregory (72523):
I’ll respond to only some points:
1.  The object designed makes no difference.  Whether it’s the first living cell or an automobile there must still be the adjustments of means to ends.  That’s what’s meant by design.  So your distinction is invalid.  And I’m surprised to hear you make it, since I see that, elsewhere on the internet (assuming it is the same Gregory, though I’m not sure of that), you have strongly plugged the work of Steve Fuller, who is very insistent that divine and human design be understood as the same kind of activity—see his remarks on univocity against the Thomists.  But I think that Steve Fuller’s notion of ID is best left for when Ted starts talking about ID; you can clarify where you agree/disagree with Fuller then.
2.  My point was not to attack social science as such; it was to point out that social scientists are in no position to bash anyone for using jargon.  Anyone who uses terms like “reaction formation” and “social stratification” and “normativity” has no business objecting to the everyday term, “design.”
5.  Your continued effort to make out that I was not clear about my position is itself unclear.  I indicated that my own position was probably best seen as a sort of cross between Davis-defined theistic evolution and ID, with the idea of macroevolution as God’s method of creation taken from theistic evolution, and the idea of complete actualization of design taken from ID.  I said that in several different ways, over several different posts.  You shouldn’t have any trouble understanding this.  Also you should not have trouble seeing that this is not TE as most TEs today understand it, since most TEs today will not commit to the existence of a complete actualization of design in the evolutionary process.  In fact, I know of not one who will commit to that, except possibly Robert Russell.
6.  “Truly random” is not redundant, since there is a distinction between merely mathematical randomness and ontological randomness.  By “truly random” I mean ontologically random.  Open Theists believe that God could create such a form of randomness, and that this would give the universe an openness so that even he could not predict its future, or at least could not control it.  Some TEs have flirted with such notions, never quite endorsing them but skirting close to the edge.  What’s being asked for is clarity from TEs regarding the ontological status of the randomness that they repeatedly assert (in probably a score of columns on this site, for example) to be central to Darwinian evolution.  I’m not asking you for such clarity, as you are not a TE theorist.  But you shouldn’t object when I ask TEs for it.  I’m not addressing you, I’m addressing them.  (If you were criticizing Karl Marx, I wouldn’t jump in and say that you shouldn’t criticize Marx in that way.  I’d let Marx—or his disciples—answer your question.  Why you feel the need to interpose yourself between TE people and their critics and questioners, I don’t understand.  It’s as if you don’t think they are capable of speaking for themselves and defending themselves.) 
7.  “God controls all evolutionary outcomes” does not equal “determinism” in the theological sense of “determinism as opposed to free will.”  Indeed, you seemed to assert this equation in an earlier posting on this thread, where you were criticizing Jon Garvey.  I asked you for clarification (72331) —why you were bringing together the freedom of human wills with the freedom of inanimate particles—and you never replied.  Look back; you’ll find the spot.  As for “co-creative” and “freedom-loving,” neither one of those is essential to, or implied by, the definition of TE given by Ted Davis; they are add-ons by various TEs, e.g., Ken Miller.  And it’s precisely those add-ons which cause me to say that, while I have something in common with a generic “theistic evolution,” I am not a contemporary “TE.”  I disagree with almost every theological statement about evolution made by the leading TEs, beyond the statement that God created through a process of evolution.
(more under your subsequent comments ...)
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