Southern Baptist Voices: A Response to James Dew, Part 2

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May 30, 2012 Tags:

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

Southern Baptist Voices: A Response to James Dew, Part 2

Note: This essay is a response to Dr. James Dew in the Southern Baptist Voices series, a dialogue between Southern Baptist seminarians and representatives of BioLogos. For a more complete description of the project’s history and aims, please see our introduction here.

Dr. Dew's essay expressed three main concerns: Is macro evolution actually true? How does theistic evolution portray God's creative activity? Is it consistent to reject ID but to affirm the anthropic principle? Yesterday, Dr. Ard Louis responded to the first of these, and today he addresses to the second and third questions.

In the first part of my response to James Dew’s paper “Teleological Arguments, Theistic Evolution, and Intelligent Design,” I addressed Dew’s first question, “is evolution true?” In this second part of my response, I’d like to speak to his other points:

1) That many Southern Baptists are “uncomfortable with way Theistic Evolution portrays God’s creative activity” – i.e. divine action.

2) That “[t]here seems to be an inconsistency in the way theistic evolutionists reject ID, but affirm the anthropic principle

The question of divine action

On the topic of divine action, two of his two main concerns about BioLogos are

1) Frankly, this sounds like deism, not theism, and

2) There seems to be an unspoken allegiance to methodological naturalism in this position.

First of all, let me say that I have sympathy for these concerns. I sincerely hope that I don’t sound like a deist when I explain the science I love to my fellow believers. However, sometimes the reason descriptions of God working through evolutionary processes sounds like deism is because Christians have too low a view of the way that God normally acts in the world. They feel that God is only really present in miraculous acts. But that is an impoverished view of God’s sovereignty.

Elsewhere on this site I have written at some length about science and miracles and used a famous exchange between Newton and Leibniz on the stability of the planets to illustrate how God acts in the world. This traditional Christian viewpoint contrasts with deism. In short, I believe, based in part on Biblical grounds, that God most likely created much of the biological complexity around us using the "ordinary ways" he sustains the world. It is at least as glorious for God to create a process that generates the beautiful complexity we see in nature, as it is for him to create species (or kinds) de novo. That doesn’t mean I can definitively rule out the possibility that God used miracles in natural history; God is sovereign. But in general, we are dependent on direct revelation to determine what mode of action God has used. I am not aware of any theology of “miracle detection in natural history” that we could employ to otherwise adjudicate this question.

I realize that the paragraphs above don’t do justice to the complexities of the issues James Dew raises about God’s action. Thankfully Darrel Falk and William Dembski have discussed this question in some depth in their previous exchange in this series, and I recommend readers with further questions on this subject read those first.

To Dew’s second point, I am also not fond of the term “methodological naturalism,” but I don’t expect miracles in the lab, either. Miracles occur when God sustains the world in a different way than he normally does. The Bible teaches us that God doesn’t do this in order to show off like a magician. Rather, God does miracles to achieve his divine purposes. They are signs that point to him.

Thus, I can happily research the natural world and do normal science because science studies the regular ways that God sustains the universe, the “customs of the creator” to use some old-fashioned language. Besides, science derives its power precisely by limiting itself to studying things that are repeatable, or controllable. And you can’t control God.

In an age when science and faith seem so often at odds, it is easy for us to be surprised when we learn that early science grew out of theological considerations like: If there is a faithful God behind the universe, then we might expect regular laws that could be discovered (intelligibility), and we might expect these laws to be the same in different parts of the world (uniformity). Many of the founders of modern science were deeply influenced by their Christian faith. History shows us that science has deeply Christian roots. 1 And in the same way, I believe that modern science fits naturally within a Christian worldview. Readers who are interested in more detail may enjoy this lecture on “The doctrine of creation and the science of nature”.

The arguments above tell us that—even though they could not be further apart metaphysically—a robust theism and philosophical naturalism would nevertheless both suggest that something like “methodological naturalism” is the best way to study the physical world. The term is awkward, and for each worldview the ultimate justifications for this conclusion are completely different. But I believe that theistic presuppositions provide a solid basis for the metaphysical prerequisites like uniformity, regularity and intelligibility upon which modern science is grounded. It is not at all clear how one would derive (rather than assume as a-priori) the underlying metaphysical principles that undergird science from the brute fact of pure naturalism. Given the deep and often unrecognized theological roots of modern science, it may be hard for naturalists not to inadvertently smuggle these concepts into their derivations.

The upshot of this argument is that I wish we could find another name for “methodological naturalism because a) this language masks the deep Christian roots of science, and b) it isn’t clear that naturalism can provide the metaphysical prerequisites of science in the first place. Rather, it is precisely the fact that we can do science that points to something beyond the laws of nature.

Contrasting ID and the anthropic principle

The third major issue raised by James Dew is that “there seems to be an inconsistency in the way theistic evolutionists reject ID, but affirm the anthropic principle.”

Indeed, I think there is an important difference between ID and anthropic principle arguments. In the space remaining, I will briefly explain upon why this difference matters apologetically, scientifically, and theologically. To start, a reflection on the apologetic: Both theistic and atheistic scientists agree on much of the physics and cosmology that leads to what might be called the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, which is also known as the anthropic principle. So in his book “Just Six Numbers,” for example, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, an agnostic, writes:

We seem to have three choices'... We can dismiss it as happenstance, we can acclaim it as the workings of providence, or (my preference) we can conjecture that our universe is a specially favoured domain in a still vaster multiverse.’

But while they largely agree on the science, theists and atheists disagree on the interpretation. What does it all mean? Is it providence or happenstance or a multiverse or some combination of the above? The philosophical literature on this topic is vast. A good place to start for Christians would be this article by John Polkinghorne, or for more background, this website by Robin Collins. I found this more technical article by Australian astrophysicist Luke Barnes to be very clear. And I can’t resist recommending this lovely little video where physicist turned priest John Polkinghorne tells the story of Fred Hoyle's discovery of where carbon comes from - and why it shook his atheistic beliefs.

By contrast, the arguments ID advocates make are heavily contested on scientific grounds. One wonders: if many Christian believers (i.e. theistic evolutionists) are not convinced by their science, then on what grounds would atheistic scientists find their arguments compelling? In fact, I fear that when Christian apologists use an ID argument like irreducible complexity as implicit evidence for God, they only reinforce the unfortunate public misperception that Christian faith is in conflict with mainstream science.

On the other hand, precisely because the science is agreed upon, careful use of cosmological fine-tuning arguments can help illuminate philosophical presuppositions and clarify the differences between mainstream science and philosophical atheism.

You may say, “Well, I agree with you that if the ID arguments are not scientifically compelling, then we shouldn’t use them in apologetics. But you still haven’t explained why you don’t find them scientifically convincing.” Part of the difficulty in responding to this legitimate challenge is that the ID movement employs a very heterogeneous set of arguments. Many of these call into question aspects of evolution definition E2 (mechanism). Their merits can only be properly assessed by going with some depth into modern evolutionary biology, which is outside of the scope of this essay, but is the topic of regular essays by Dennis Venema and others on the BioLogos Forum. (Editor's Note: See also Oliver R. Barclay’s series, Design in Nature.)

So lets turn this question around and ask, instead, “How would one go about making arguments in biology that are analogical to the fine-tuning arguments in cosmology?” In cosmology, fine-tuning arguments arise from exploring counterfactuals. In other words, you can calculate what the universe would be like if a certain physical constant was different, or “counter to the facts” as we actually find them. For example, if the energy of a certain excited nuclear energy level in 12C was just a few percent higher or lower, then we can show by quantum mechanical calculations that stellar nucleosynthesis would not generate enough carbon and oxygen needed for the life we observe on earth.

On the other hand, in biology counterfactuals are much harder to work out, and therein lies the nub of the problem. Cosmology is, in this sense, much simpler than biology.

Consider the following example: Changing water from H2O to deuterated water, D20, (with one extra neutron per hydrogen nucleus), has a relatively mild effect on its physical properties, e.g. the boiling point changes from 100 °C to 101.4 °C. But nevertheless, making this small change is toxic for most organisms. “Aha!” you might say, “Life is fine-tuned to very specific properties of water. If water were just ever so slightly different, we would not be around.” But not so fast. By slowly increasing the proportion of D20 over many generations, bacteria can evolve until they grow just fine in D20 and instead, H2O becomes toxic. Biology can adapt and respond in surprising and unexpected ways. We simply don’t know nearly enough about biology to explore the kinds of counterfactual arguments we routinely use in cosmology. In my opinion, it is this difference that makes biologists instinctively wary of the kinds of theoretical arguments the ID literature employs. How can one employ an explanatory filter that can distinguish between “design” and “non-design” when there could be (as has happened many times before) all kinds of surprises just around the corner that could completely change how you view the problem you have just analyzed?

The current state of biological knowledge cuts into this rhetorical space in other ways as well. Many claims like that of Gaylord Simpson, whose Evolutionism tries to extract metaphysical meaning from the science of evolution, are often based on a still-incomplete knowledge of the contours of what is possible in biology, on what its real constraints are. On the one hand, Archdeacon Paley, in a move not unlike modern ID advocates, saw the hand of God in the intricate watch-like “contrivances of nature,” while on the other hand, Richard Dawkins sees a pitiless and indifferent “blind watchmaker” in what he believes are the wasteful and purposeless processes of evolution. Although their conclusions couldn’t be more different, both are engaging in natural theology, that is, extracting theological conclusions from their observation of nature. One side is vulnerable to an accusation of God of the gaps, and the other side is vulnerable to the accusation of atheism of the gaps. It would be better if they both waited for our understanding of biology to become more comprehensive before attempting to extract either theology or a-theology from it.

This brings us to the theological difference between ID and standard accounts of the anthropic principle. Regardless of its scientific merits, however, I was initially puzzled by the popularity of ID in Christian circles. It doesn’t really solve the hermeneutical problems raised by evolution type E1 (natural history), i.e. geology and paleontology. Moreover, it self-consciously styles itself as a not-necessarily Christian movement. So why the attraction for evangelicals who would surely want to start with scripture? I am only guessing here, but as I discuss elsewhere on this site I suspect that a key factor in its popularity arises from the way it connects to popular views about natural theology.

"Given that science now allows us to understand so much more about the natural world, should we not use these advances to gain new knowledge about God?"

It is certainly tempting to think along these lines, especially as science acquires increasing cultural prestige. But evangelical Christians should be aware of the strong critiques coming from great theologians like Barth and Hauwerwas of the type of natural theology to which we tend to gravitate.2 Here I highly recommend Alister McGrath’s wonderful trilogy on natural theology, “The Open Secret”, “The Fine-Tuned Universe” and “Darwinism and the Divine” for some important correctives, as well as a vision for a way to move the conversation forward. McGrath develops an approach to natural theology that “is grounded in and informed by a characteristic Christian theological foundation. A Christian understanding of nature is the intellectual prerequisite for a natural theology which discloses the Christian God.” 3 In other words, McGrath’s fundamental critique of the kind natural theology inherent in the ID movement, echoes my main concern: ID simply isn’t Christian enough.

With the posting of this second part of Ard Louis' response, comments sections are open for all of the previous posts, as well. If you would like to comment on a particular point in either Dr. Dew's paper or the response, we suggest that you do so on that particular post, in order to facilitate easier navigation of the multiple conversations that are likely to arise around the issues raised. As stated in the introduction, we will be more actively monitoring the comments as they are posted so that both tone and content are consistent with the BioLogos aim of creating a space of conversation, rather than confrontation. Please also review our commenting guidelines.


1. Readers who want to dig deeper into the complex and fascinating history of early science may enjoy the following BioLogos essays: Rediscovering the Science of the Middle Ages by James Hannam and Christianity and Science in Historical Perspective by Ted Davis.

2. A.E. McGrath, The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology, Oxford: Blackwell (2008), p4

3. I’m grateful to Ted Davis for sending me this quote from John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, chap 1: "The 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… This shift of focus has two important consequences. The first is that 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 incapable 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. The second consequence of this shift from design through making to design built into the rational potentiality of the universe is that it answers a criticism of the old-style natural theology made so trenchantly by David Hume. He had asserted the unsatisfactoriness of treating God’s creative activity as the unseen analogue of visible human craft. The new natural theology is invulnerable to this charge of naïve anthropocentrism, for the endowment of matter with anthropic potentiality has no human analogy. It is a creative act of a specially divine character.”

Ard Louis is a Reader in Theoretical Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he leads a research group studying problems on the border between chemistry, physics and biology. He is also the International Secretary for Christians in Science, an associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and served on the board of advisors for the John Templeton Foundation.

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George Bernard Murphy - #70201

May 30th 2012

 I like the phrase, “A particularly ugly form of social Darwinism”.

Norman - #70202

May 30th 2012

I have always been perplexed how the term “intelligent Design” became the sole purview of special creationist. It seems a normal expression for what we observe in the natural world and doesn’t require that one adhere to a “God of the Gaps” mentality. For the general Layman it becomes confusing to them as they explore these issues to see Theistic Evolutionist which I adhere to have to denounce an idea that sounds so natural. Once the dust settles it becomes obvious that we are all creationist ultimately in our recognition but turning “intelligence” over to the overt miraculous creationist lock stock and barrel seems a mistake that sets an devout information gatherer back a ways.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70204

May 30th 2012

Dr. Ard,

It seems to me that you beg the question.  Does science or evolution demonstrate that nature or the universe has no purpose as Darwin, Monod, Dennett, and Dawkins claim or not?  That is what modern science indicates when it rejects teleology.  If science is wrong on this question, why haven’t people proven this to be the case. 

When you poo-poo the concept of Social Darwinism, which still lives in libertarianism and the Republican Party, does that mean that the implications of Malthusian population theory have no importance?

How is it that Dawkins and E. O. Wilson can discuss and debate whether evolutionary natural selection is based on a group (social) basis or an individual basis, while Christians should not discuss how natural selection works? 

Personally I think that how natural selection works is a very important question, which is far from being scientifically settled.  If it is settled, please tell me by whom, when, and how.       

Ard Louis - #70229

June 2nd 2012

Hi Roger,

I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say “while Christians should not discuss how natural selection works”.  Plenty of Christian scientists and philosophers do.  You might enjoy Martin Nowak’s work on cooperation for example—see e.g.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70245

June 3rd 2012

Bro. Ard,

My point is that BioLogos appears to accept “the Theory of Evolution” as if it were settled science, while isn my view there are still very important issues to be settled concerning how evolution works, cooperation being one of them, which are of great interest to both Creationists and Evolutionists. 

In my opinion our time is better spent in this area than discussing ID

I am also aware that Sarah Coakley was supposed to compile a book/report based on the Cooperation Project at Harvard U/Divinity School (my alma mater) which is way overdue.  What seems to be the problem with the theological side of evolution and cooperation?

If symbiosis is accepted as the basis of evolution by science today, it seems to me that their should be little problem in making symbiosis and cooperation the basis of natural selection, instead of as tertium quid as Nowack suggests.  However I do not have a Ph.D. so it seems that my ideas have no standing.   

Bilbo - #70205

May 30th 2012

Hi Ard,

If I understand it, you accept anthropic principle arguments because they are generally accepted within the scientific community. and you don’t accept ID arguments because they are not generally accepted within the scientific community.  But just as sometimes the overturning of a scientific theory requires a long time (such as geocentrism), so ID arguments might very well be sound, but the scienfic community just hasn’t accepted them, yet. 

I suggest that one of the reasons the scientific community might not accept ID arguments is their refusal to seriously consider them.  And I suggest that part of the reason for their refusal to consider them is theological or philosophical.  In the case of Christian scientists, such as yourself, even though here you only claim that there is no theological reason to think that ID is true (a statement I agree with), much earlier at BioLogos you claimed that there was good theological grounds for thinking that ID was false (a statement I disagree with). 

Do you still think there are good theological grounds for thinking that ID is false?

Ard Louis - #70230

June 2nd 2012

Hi Bilbo,

My claim would be: There is no strong theological reason to think that weak ID (miracles in natural history) is true, but I don’t think we can rule out miracles in natural history on theological grounds either.   




GJDS - #70206

May 30th 2012

I am impressed with the civilised tone adopted in these discussions and also find them instructive, and congratulate both presenters of ID and TE. In this spirit, I would like to ask if either or both authors may wish to comment on the following two questions which I think are relevant:

 E1) Evolution as natural history: The earth is old and the kinds of organisms that populate our world have changed over time.

1)      Evolution is generally discussed by scientists as a theory (some regard it as fact, just as 2+2=4). E1 however, is dangerously close to a vacuous statement; by this I mean that long time periods in natural history are observations which depend on established methods and/or laboratory instruments for determining geological ages. Everything changes with time, including the ecology of the planet, and within this, it is obvious that these ecological changes would include plant and animal life forms. So, what is added to our scientific understanding by using the term evolution in these discussions, and how can this be presented as a scientific theorem, with all of the usually pre-requisites for all theorems in the sciences?

E2) Evolution as a mechanism: A combination of variation and natural selection helps explain the structure of the observed change over time in natural history.

2)      Part of an answer to this has been addressed in that we are unable to consider counterfactuals; however, in view of the difficulties in falsification, and I may add verification (we cannot travel back in time to obtain factual data for particular species and provide the verification needed), which are intrinsic to the nature of this proposition, are we not left with a descriptive approach which essentially is founded on experimental measurements and perhaps some predictive approaches, to sustain a mechanism(s) which the experts in this field fully agree is of immense complexity at the molecular level?

I am not demeaning laboratory work in any way, but simply stating the obvious in that E2 combines a fundamental requirement for a theory that can only be understood within natural history and a planetary environment.

Enosh - #70207

May 30th 2012

As a young-ager, I’d like to state what I agree before I point out where I demur.

I basically agree with Louis’ understanding of divine action. My only quibble with the whole Divine Action Project other than their natural historical framework is their obsession with Humean/Laplacean notions of ‘miracle’, ‘natural law’, and ‘intervention’. The Bible makes no reference to ‘intervention’—it understands both ‘miracle’ and ‘natural law’ as consequences of God’s providence. God is constantly at work sustaining the regularities of the world, and every now and again does something special—what we call a ‘miracle’—within the natural world for various reasons. I don’t see the need to bother with such notions as ‘intervention’. And I don’t really care how he does it, because (1) I’m not going to tie my metaphysics of divine action to any scientific theory, (2) that he’s omnipotent and morally perfect is all I need to know to be sure that he can negotiate the so-called ‘causal joint’ problem and do so without moral problems. But these are issues more of semantics than substance.

I don’t think there are any valid philosophical reasons for saying that God couldn’t use evolution and long ages. God’s abilities are beyond our ken, so we can’t limit God according to our preconceived notions of what is possible. It was through admitting this contra Aristotelian necessitarianism that science was really able to blossom under the only assumption where it had a fighting chance—biblical theism. Of course, if God tells what he did, then that’s a different story …

Perhaps surprisingly to some, I agree that a harmonization between the Bible and the long-age account of natural history (with or without evolution) should be attempted. By harmonization I include both attempts to demonstrate the equivocal nature of the Scriptures to the subject (e.g. Walton’s attempt) and positive harmonization (e.g. Lennox’s attempt). Long-age geology, evolution, and cosmology present potential defeaters to our prima facie understanding of Scripture, and this needs at least to be recognized. But this must cut both ways. It’s not only our interpretations of Scripture that deserve thorough analysis, but the long-age account of natural history should be analysed as well. Perhaps the traditional interpretation of Genesis is correct, and long-age interpretations of the forensic data are wrong.

As to where I demur, that should be obvious. I don’t think anyone has presented a convincing reinterpretation of Scripture that allows for long ages. People have tried, but they all founder on different points. I simply don’t think there is a plausible way of reading Genesis 1‑11 that denies it’s historicity as a narrative. As such, I take the testimony of the unimpeachable witness over what I consider to be tenuous forensic inference at best. On the other hand, the brilliance of the phenomenological interpretation of the ‘geocentric’ passages is that, while it took Copernicus to uncover the interpretation, the phenomenological interpretation stands independent of that controversy as an appropriate hermeneutic for those passages.

Ard Louis - #70231

June 2nd 2012

Hi Enosh,

I agree with you on the unsatisfactory nature of the word “Intervention”—in my white paper—footnote 19, I quote John Polkinghorne

“You may have noticed I never say God intervenes in the world; I always say God interacts with the world. Interaction is a continuous, consistent word; intervention is a fitful, episodic sort of word. It is inconceivable theologically that God acts as a celestial conjurer, doing a turn today to impress people that he won’t bother to do tomorrow. God must be utterly consistent in his relationship with the world, but consistency does not mean a dreary uniformity. So the problem of miracle is to understand how it fits in with the rest of God’s action. If you like, the problem of miracle is not ‘do they happen?’ but ‘why don’t they happen more frequently?’ “

You also mention John Lennox’s lovely little book

I’m curious why you don’t find him convincing.

Enosh - #70283

June 5th 2012

With all due respect to Lennox (and he does deserve respect), I personally find Lennox’s harmonization attempt ad hoc and contrived. He did anticipate leaving this impression on some, and tried to assuage their impressions, but I think he failed in that task.

First, his reading of the patristic evidence is faulty, as demonstrated by both young-age ( and old-age ( writers. Practically the entire church was young-ager until the rise of long-age geology, though that obviously has little to do with modern ‘creation science’. However, it is clear that the only reading of Genesis 1 around today with any real pedigree is the young-age, chronological days view.

His view is essentially the intermittent day view, which is a variant on the classical day-age view without the lexical blunders on the contextual meaning of yom. Instead, he thinks that the days are non-successive and signify the beginning of new creative epochs. As such, the correspondence between the long-age history and the new things created/seen on each day is still completely out of sync, necessitating e.g. a phenomenological approach to the creation of the stars. I think this is a problem for all attempts at positive harmonization that assume long ages. With long-age history as it is, I don’t think positive harmonization can ever work with Genesis and long-age natural history.

Another problem is that a non-successive approach to the days of Genesis 1 doesn’t square well with Exodus 20:8‑11—the clear implication is that the Creation Week involved successive days of work. How could the Israelites have made sense of the analogy to their own work week if God’s creation ‘week’ involved non-successive days, or days that were completely different from their own experience of the passage of time? The analogy between the Israel’s and God’s work weeks is centred on the length of time. Do away with that, and any identifiable correspondence disappears (which is the reason I don’t like Collins’ interpretation). The only two interpretations I’ve seen that can plausibly make sense of Exodus 20 with respect to the passage of time are the chronological days view and the functional origins view. (Walton’s view founders on the notion that material ontology in the ANE lit is excluded rather than assumed, and an unconvincing analysis of bara, IMO.)

There is much in Lennox that I like—he is one the best philosopher/scientists sceptical of evolution that I’m aware of, and any evolutionist who ignores his criticisms of evolution is a fool (that’s not to say that I think evolutionists will necessarily agree with him, just that dismissing him without consideration is foolish). However, I do find his interpretation of Genesis 1 unconvincing.

George Bernard Murphy - #70208

May 30th 2012

Darwin concentrated on Species.

 Why are some birds blue and others red.

 The Bible totally ignores species.

 If you look at the Bible, it deals with Big physical factors like the atmosphere, and the magnetosphere to deflect lethal ionized particles.

 Why are they regarded as opposites? They do not deal with the same subjects.

Surreptitious Evil - #70235

June 2nd 2012

 If you look at the Bible, it deals with Big physical factors like the atmosphere, and the magnetosphere

You must have some sort of heathen modern bible. Ours (and to my shame, Mrs S-E even has a well thumbed NIV) mention neither the atmosphere nor the magnetosphere.

Sheep and goats, both mentioned in the good book (Matt 25 et al), are separate species of the family Bovidae.

Chip - #70211

May 31st 2012

We seem to have three choices’... We can dismiss it as happenstance, we can acclaim it as the workings of providence, or (my preference) we can conjecture that our universe is a specially favoured domain in a still vaster multiverse.’

I like the Rees quotation, even though he doesn’t seem to realize that his third option is just a variation on the first:  adding “conjecture” to the “happenstance” he started with doesn’t make belief in a multiverse any more plausible. 

In the end, I don’t have nearly the level of faith that’s required to sign on to belief in a view whose most ardent adherents readily admit is based on conjecture.   I’ll stick with the observable, confirmed data, which point overwhelmingly to fine-tuning, and to the Providence which produced it. 

sy - #70238

June 2nd 2012

I believe that there are some fine tuning arguments in biology, but I agree that they are very difficult to articulate and define. This may be because counterfactual arguments abound in biology, thanks to the enormous creative power of natural selection. This is also a clue to the underlying problem with ID. Paley compared an intricate watch to the complexity of a living organism, an approach we now know is wrong. The design of a watch requires intelligence. The evolution of a rabbit requires something much more than intelligence, it requires divinity. The universe is designed by its creator to allow for life. Life on Earth was designed by its creator to allow for us. These are examples of divine design, not ID. Your final sentence is therefore absolutely correct.

Bilbo - #70247

June 3rd 2012

Hi Sy,

So would you say that it is beyond the power of human beings to design a living cell from scratch?

sy - #70265

June 5th 2012

Yes, I would.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70240

June 2nd 2012


However Christians (and Jews) believe that humans are created in the Image of God and God gave humanity power over God’s Creation.  This is the foundation of modern science.  Unless humans have “divine” powers to think God’s thoughts in retrospect then humans cannot understand the rational, meaningful universe God has created.

Without this understanding of the miraculous and mysteries of the universe science could not exist.  If the universe is not rational, neither science nor Christianity is true.  If the universe has no meaning, neither does science or Christianity.  If Life has no purpose or structure, then all knowledge is bogus and useless.  

sy - #70243

June 3rd 2012



I agree with what you said, and I dont know what it was in my comment that you were referring to. Perhaps I was not clear. Obviously I agree that the universe is rational and that science is a great tool to understanding it. But science itself has shown us the limits to how far we can go. There will always be mysteries, that seems clear. Every answer we find leads to many new questions. This will never end. And it makes sense that it wont ever end, since the creation is a reflection of the infinite mystery of the Creator.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70246

June 3rd 2012


My problem is that this type of thinking seems to me anyway encourage scepticism, inaction, and even agnosticism. 

My point is that we cannot wait for certain knowledge, but must live and act by faith with the information that we have, which does point to the existence of God.   


sy - #70267

June 5th 2012

Again Roger, I am confused, because I agree entirely. Perhaps you could highlight which of my statements you are referring to.

Bilbo - #70259

June 4th 2012

Hi Sy,

You might have missed my reply to your comment above (I hate the “reply to this comment” format for the very reason that I often miss people’s replies to my comments), so I’ll state it again here:

Do you think that it will always be beyond the power of human beings to design a living cell from scratch?

sy - #70266

June 5th 2012



Sorry for the delay in my response. I answered you above, but it was a short answer and therefore a bit flippant. I will elaborate here.

Part of the issue is what you mean by “from scratch”, and also of course, what you mean by life. I interpret that to mean using only the chemicals presumed to exist on the new born Earth (which include amino acids, and some nucleotides, but not cytosine). I think that if we were able to find a way to make cytosine and adenine, and they were stable enough, we might someday be able to construct a cell with a replicator and some catalytic activity (using RNA or something like it). That could be defines as life of some form. But it wouldn’t evolve, and I define life as having the power to evolve.

That is precisely why I think life is divinely designed. Replication isn’t the big deal in life. Lots of molecules replicate. The big deal is the way DNA forms a code that allows for inheritance of phenotype. And how, with just the right copying error rate, variations in both genotype and phenotype can allow for evolution. That is the kind of design that goes far beyond merely intelligent.

One could argue that humans, once we understand how everything in modern cells works, should be able to reproduce it all. Even photosynthesis, which apparently works by quantum mechanics, and is far more mysterious even than the origin of the genetic code. But I don’t believe it, not without some very special (divine) guidance. The reasons I don’t believe it are too technical and too long to elaborate here, but they are based on chemistry and biology. .

The earliest fossils of living cells go back to a couple of hundred million years after the Earth cooled. And there are traces of photosynthetic DNA based cells on Earth even earlier. Either they came from elsewhere, or were created de novo. Spontaneous abiogenesis on Earth seems too far fetched to me in the short time frame available. .  

Bilbo - #70280

June 5th 2012

Interesting response, Sy.  Usually people don’t think we can design or create a living cell because living things have some additional vitalistic property besides all the physical properties.  If I understand your response (and perhaps I don’t) you are not saying there is some extra vitalistic property, but that the technology will forever be beyond our grasp.  Do I have that right?

sy - #70282

June 5th 2012


I certainly dont believe in vitalism. I cannot say for sure that we will never have the technology to reproduce a living cell. Nobody can predict technology. Clearly many aspects of cell biology can already be reproduced.. As we learn about individual molecules, we can reproduce them. We might even (although this is much more difficult), figure out how to mimic the complex regulations and interactions that go on in simple cells. But I didnt think that was the question. I thought the issue was design.

Life as we know it is designed to evolve. It didn’t have to be. One could easily imagine life forms that are stable and don’t evolve. So if the question is

Can you design a chemical system that reproduces itself, and at the same time, is able to evolve over time, in a seemingly random fashion, ostensibly in a way to maximize the chemical survival of the central information bearing molecule, but which, despite this appearance of random, non teleological mechanism, winds up producing very large entities with complex neural networks, that allow such organisms to be aware of and worship their creator?, then no, I don’t believe any human, no matter how intelligent, could come up with a design that worked anywhere nearly as beautifully as what we actually have.



Bilbo - #70295

June 6th 2012

Hi Sy,

You wrote:  “... despite this appearance of random, non teleological mechanism, winds up producing very large entities with complex neural networks, that allow such organisms to be aware of and worship their creator?, then no, I don’t believe any human, no matter how intelligent, could come up with a design that worked anywhere nearly as beautifully as what we actually have.

Yes, but the question is, could anybody (even God) come up with a design that worked that well?  Or did even God need to additional information or design into the history of evolution?  That’s the crux of the ID debate.

sy - #70307

June 6th 2012


A great question, and I suppose it is the crux of most of the ID debate. I dont know the answer, of course, but I think there might be a couple of places (after the origin of life) when God might have played an active role in things, not necessarily biological. The KT asteroid strike that led to the rise of mammals could have been one. But I personally believe that the major intervention by the Lord, was the transformation of a very intelligent hominid into a being with a soul, and a consciousness in the image of God. I dont see the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, the very rapid period when Homo Sapiens transformed into conscious modern humans, as being  a result of purely natural selection driven evolution.

God breathed the life of a soul into Adam, a real man, and here we are, his descendents, worshipping and thoughtful, creative and sinful, capable of beauty and grace, and of thanking the Lord for our redemption.

Bilbo - #70308

June 6th 2012

Hi Sy,

Yes, I also suspect that God’s activity in natural history is not confined to just biological events.  And from a philosophical perspective, the mind/body problem is as insoluble today as ever.  If I remember, you favor Mike Gene’s idea of front-loaded evolution—that someone designed the first cells in such a way that they were more likely to evolve by natural processes into animals and creatures like us.  And I suspect that you, just as Mike, don’t think his hypothesis is scientific, although it may lead to testable hypotheses.  If there is a difference between the two of you, it would seem to be that Mike doesn’t rule out a finite, human-like being as having been the designer, whereas you think only God could have known how to design something that would be able to take advantage of evolutionary processes.  Would that be a good description?

sy - #70340

June 8th 2012

Sorry for the delay in answering Bilbo, I jhave been traveling. I have enormous respect for Mike Gene, and I wouldnt think of speaking for him. But as for me, yes, I believe you have my thoughts right, although I should also say that I am continually learning and growing thanks to the wisdom of people like yourself, Mike, and so many others here at Biologos. The author of the present article being among the giants of this particular corner of philosophy.

(BTW, unlike too many of my scientific colleagues, I think of the term philosopher as being the highest praise for a seeker of truth.)

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