t f p g+ YouTube icon

A BioLogos Response to William Dembski, Part 2

Bookmark and Share

May 3, 2012 Tags: Science & Worldviews
A BioLogos Response to William Dembski, Part 2

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

Note: This essay is a response to William Dembski 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.

In his essay Dr. Dembski laid out a list of “non-negotiables” of both Christianity and Darwinism. He discussed the tensions between the two lists and explained his belief that Darwinism undercuts Christianity. In Part 1 of his response, Biologos president Darrel Falk addressed the topic of divine action in creation, in which both natural and supernatural processes are a result of God’s continuous activity in our world.

Here in Part 2, Darrel responds to Dembski’s lists of non-negotiables, presenting his personal perspective on how BioLogos is different from “Darwinism”.

Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?

With the first part of my essay as background, I now respond directly to Dembski’s analysis of “Darwinism” and how BioLogos differs from the view he critiques.  He begins by posing a question, “Is Darwinism theologically neutral?”  He goes on to describe two contrasting views:

  1. Those of the agnostic philosopher, Michael Ruse, who claims Christianity and Darwinian evolution are compatible and,
  2. Those of individuals who hold a young earth view and claim Christianity and Darwinian evolution are incompatible.

Dembski suggests that Ruse, in order to claim compatibility (neutrality), redefines Christianity.  I agree he does this.  Without belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is dead and, as Paul says, Christians are of all people most to pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Dembski also states that a belief in common descent can be consistent with Christian faith (i.e. neutral), and here I agree with Dembski again. As he points out, Christianity is not defined by the mechanism that God chose to use in accomplishing his purposes in creation.

So far we are on exactly the same page.  Ruse claims Darwinism is neutral, but only by departing from Christian theology.  Some young earth creationists claim Darwinism is not neutral, but they focus on common descent and this, by itself, does not depart from Christian theology.  However, as Dembski quickly notes at that point in his essay, he has not yet carefully defined Darwinism and Christianity.  He goes on to describe what he considers to be some non-negotiables of each. 

Dembski suggests that among the core non-negotiable principle beliefs of Christianity are: (a) divine creation, (b) reflected glory, (c) human exceptionalism, and (d) bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I agree that these are non-negotiables; take away any of these beliefs and you no longer have Christianity.  We’re still on the same page.

What about non-negotiables of “Darwinism?”  They are, he says, (a) common descent, (b) natural selection, (c) human continuity, (d) methodological naturalism.  With that, he proceeds to analyze each.

Common Descent

Common descent, which today is at the core of the biological sciences, was a fundamental tenet for Darwin.  Dembski sees no significant theological problem with common descent. “By themselves [the Christian non-negotiables described above] allow that God might have specially created living forms or brought them about via an evolutionary process,” he writes. He sees no theological conflict with this Darwinian tenet, even though he does not subscribe to it.

Natural Selection

Dembski indicates that natural selection, as defined by Darwin, is in tension with two of the four Christian non-negotiables—divine creation and reflected glory.  His primary concern is that Darwin’s view of natural selection is non-teleological.  Insomuch as this is true (and Darwin’s views on teleology are complex and contested), I agree.  If Darwin’s non-teleological views were correct, this would be incompatible with some of the non-negotiables in Christianity.  As Dembski says, “to say that something is undetectable is not to say that it doesn’t exist….”  I concur that Darwin had no scientific basis for concluding that the evolutionary process did not end up exactly the way that God intended in the beginning.  If Darwin reached non-teleological conclusions on the basis of his data then he allowed his philosophical and theological commitments to influence his conclusions.  Like Dembski, I believe God did call our existence into being; there is a teleological basis for our presence on earth.  We are by no means an accident and to the extent that Darwin thought we are, he was wrong.

So far, I see no significant difference between BioLogos and the non-negotiables presented by Dembski.  Intriguingly, however, Dembski goes on to state, “it seems odd, given C1—[divine creation], that God would create by Darwinian processes, which suggest that unguided forces can do all the work necessary for biological evolution.”  Here we part company.  As indicated in my introductory comments above, I believe that the natural activity of God is not less divine than the supernatural activity of God, something borne out by the Scriptures themselves.  This does not mean that I think that no supernatural activity occurred in life’s history; I just don’t see why it would be “odd” if God chose to create life’s diversity through his natural activity.  How would we know what is odd as it relates to the activity of God?  The only reliable source of what is odd and what is not is God’s revelation through his Word.  But I see no scripturally-based rationale for determining the expected ratio of natural vs. supernatural divine activity in creation.  Scripture is silent on the issue and so far at least, science is as well—other than demonstrating that many biological features and mechanisms previously thought by some to be evidence of supernatural action can now be explained via God’s regular activity—that associated with his natural laws.  For the present, I think it is best to withhold judgment about the extent to which God suspends his ongoing regular activity in favor of miraculous supernatural activity in the history of the creating life’s diversity.

I now come to the most fundamental point of disagreement between the Intelligent Design movement and BioLogos.  Dembski states:

Given that science is widely regarded as our most reliable universal form of knowledge, the failure of science to provide evidence of God, and in particular Darwin’s exclusion of design from biological origins, undercuts C2 [reflected glory].

Furthermore, he also writes:

If God does occlude his purposeful activity in nature, that raises a tension with (C2), which states that the world clearly reflects God’s glory (Psalm 19) and that this fact should be evident to all humanity (Romans 1).

I don’t think that God occludes or masks his activity.  Thanks in no small part to science, we now recognize that there are “signposts” (C.S. Lewis’s term) all over the place directing our attention to the existence of our Creator.  The question is whether those “signposts” can be developed into scientific hypotheses that can be scientifically tested in a manner that parallels how one goes about testing the hypothesis that smoking causes cancer or that DNA is the genetic material.  The heavens do declare the glory of God (Psalm 19), and, “ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20).  God has not occluded his activity.  It is all around us.  From the birth of a baby to the birth of a star; from a universe which is mathematically coherent to one which is exquisitely fine-tuned; from our sense of shame to our ability to recognize the good and the right—from all of these and so much more, we see signposts all pointing to our Creator.  Individually each hints at something beyond ourselves.  Together they shout out with the message of God’s glory.  Still, can they be tested scientifically—in a manner that parallels whether penicillin kills bacteria or the mitochondrion is the cell’s energy factory—to determine whether God is at work in them?  Can intelligent people who choose not to believe come up with feasible alternative explanations that do not include God?  Sure, they do it all the time and, as Romans 1 tells us, they have been doing it from the beginning of human existence.

Given the way that God has worked through his regular natural activity, why should we expect to be able to develop a test for the activity of God?  God is always active, but scientific testing of God’s activity would require a “control” where God is not active.  How can we conduct an experiment which studies the “presence vs. absence of God” when God is always present as sustainer as well as creator?

Human Continuity

Dembski quotes from Darwin’s Descent of Man:

The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals.

Even if all that Darwin says here were more or less true, it would still say nothing about that which makes humans truly exceptional, because—our linguistic and cognitive abilities aside—what makes us truly exceptional has less to do with biology than with the fact that God chose to enter into a unique relationship with humankind.  Dembski paraphrases an ideologically strict Darwinian view of man as “not worthy of special divine attention, and with no prerogatives above the rest of the animal world.” But Christians recognize that our material ordinariness is radically transformed by the presence and promises of God. Exactly as with the people of Israel among the nations, so humans among the animals: our special identity rests in the free choice of the Creator to give us his himself and his name. If we recognize that human specialness rests on God’s fellowship with and call upon us, and that we—alone of all creatures—are enabled by God to bear his image in the world, then anything Darwin said about the physical continuity between humans and animals is irrelevant.  In the way that matters most, we are not continuous with animals. For philosophical and theological reasons, Darwin did not recognize this. Darwin, I believe, was wrong.  I, like Dembski and like Southern Baptists in general, am not a Darwinist.

Methodological Naturalism

Dembski defines methodological naturalism in the following way:

The physical world, for purposes of scientific inquiry, may be assumed to operate by unbroken natural law.

He goes on from there to write that if one assumes that miracles were performed in salvation history, then it would seem to be arbitrary to assume that God would not also perform miracles in natural history as well.  Although I do not rule out the occurrence of miracles in natural history, the purpose of miracles in the biblical narrative seems to stem from God’s desire to reveal himself to humankind, reminding us of and guiding us in our relationship with him and each other.  Given that, I do not see why it is arbitrary to think that God may not have used miracles to accomplish his purposes in nature before humans were around to observe them.

However, I strongly disagree with Dembski that if one believes God has worked primarily through natural processes in creation as a whole, this makes belief in the resurrection less tenable.  The two ought not to be tied together in this way, especially since I have already stated that I reject the notion that the ordinary and regular processes of creation are any less God’s—than what I have called supernatural processes.  One’s conclusion about the mechanism of creation has no logical extension to one’s views about the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

In conclusion, I think Dembski takes some steps that are both theologically unnecessary and scientifically unjustified in rejecting what careful study tells us about God’s marvelously ordinary processes of creation: ordinary because they follow his natural laws so faithfully, marvelous because they have resulted in a world of complex and beautiful life.  On the other hand, I agree with Dembksi that Darwin’s views were not theologically neutral.  Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity.  Quite simply, this is why I do not consider my views to be Darwinian and why I am not a Darwinist.

For further reading:

The BioLogos website offers many resources to acquaint readers with the incredibly strong scientific evidence for common descent and other facets of evolutionary biology.

See Understanding Evolution: An Introduction to Population and Speciation, by Dennis Venema (note the link to other articles in this series on the right hand sidebar), and Evidences for Evolution, by David Kerk.  Also, for three very fine podcasts, consider viewing these posts by Kelsey Luoma.

Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

< Previous post in series Next post in series >

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 2   1 2 »
Roger A. Sawtelle - #69657

May 3rd 2012

I would like to commend Dr. Dembski and Dr. Falk on the content and the tone of this dialogue.

What strikes me is way that they see the world differently.  Dr. Dembski sees the world as divided between the natural and the supernatural, while Dr. Falk seee God working through the natural and the supernatural. 

It seems to me that Dr. D’s outlook has been greatly formed by Western dualism, which has shaped the thinking of most of us in this culture.  There is nothing wrong with this, but the question we are faced with is, “Which of these two outlooks better reflects the Christian or Biblical world view?” 

Dr. F makes his claim with this statement: 

As indicated in my introductory comments above, I believe that the natural activity of God is not less divine than the supernatural activity of God, something borne out by the Scriptures themselves.  This does not mean that I think that no supernatural activity occurred in life’s history; I just don’t see why it would be “odd” if God chose to create life’s diversity through his natural activity.  How would we know what is odd as it relates to the activity of God?  The only reliable source of what is odd and what is not is God’s revelation through his Word. 

God’s actions are God’s actions, whether through miracle or nature.  I find it hard to argue with this, even though we are taught that God and nature of two every different things.  The only problem with this statement as it stands is that Dr. F capitalized Word which here refers to the Bible, when the Bible only capitalizes Word when it refers to Jesus Christ the Logos of God.  Thus this apparent confusion of the Bible and the Word-Jesus Christ is wrong from a Biblical, theological point of view.

New Dr. Falk could have and I think should have used the Word-Jesus Christ to justify his understanding that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit works in many ways to implement God’s plan of Salvation.  Really methodological naturalism does not apply to God’s Salvation History because it only applies to the physical world and humans and all living beings are more than physical.

John 1 tells us that Jesus Christ is the Teleos of Creation.  Thank you Dr. Falk for4 breaking with Darwin and most of science by saying that evolution has a Teleos, a purpose.  Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that God the Father through Jesus Christ (and the Holy Spirit) reconciled God and humanity, and God and the universe, thus Western dualism should be passe and we should see all things working together in Christ Jesus to benefit those who love God through the Holy Spirit.    

(Col 1:15 NIV)  He is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn over all creation.

(Col 1:16 NIV)  For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.

(Col 1:17 NIV)  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

(Col 1:18 NIV)  And He is the Head of the Body, the Church; He is the Beginning and the Firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.

(Col 1:19 NIV)  For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him,

(Col 1:20 NIV)  and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.



Chip - #69658

May 3rd 2012

Hi Dr Falk:

Like Dembski, I believe God did call our existence into being; there is a teleological basis for our presence on earth …, however, Dembski goes on to state, “it seems odd, given C1—[divine creation], that God would create by Darwinian processes, which suggest that unguided forces can do all the work necessary for biological evolution.”  Here we part company…  I just don’t see why it would be “odd” if God chose to create life’s diversity through his natural activity. 

The issue is not merely that the activity was natural, as you have framed it here, but that the activity is undirected—and natural selection is consistently defined by all the guys who write the textbooks using such terms. 

If, on the other hand, you want to argue for a teleological selection process, I’m all ears, but such would be a radical departure from the standard definition as I understand it. 

Marshall Janzen - #69660

May 3rd 2012

Hi Chip,
I think the common analogy with gravity well answers your question about whether a method science studies is undirected. In one sense, gravity has a direction. Apples fall down from trees, not up. Similarly, natural selection has a direction in the sense that it favours organisms that are more fit within their environment, not less fit. But in another sense, neither process is directed in and of itself. Gravity does not determine how things fall, and natural selection does not have actual favour to bestow on creatures; those are personifications of inanimate processes.
As Christians, we believe that God has created natural processes for his own purposes. So, God accomplishes some of his purposes through using natural, regular means, some of which we describe as “gravity” and “natural selection”. There is an ultimate teleology, but it is not within the natural processes themselves, and this is why science of gravity and natural selection need not be substantially different for various scientists who may disagree on that ultimate teleology.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #69661

May 3rd 2012


Gravity does inded have a Teleos.  It holds the universe together.  Indeed scientists are arguing if gravity is enough to hold the universe together or not.  Jesus also holds the universe together according to Paul in his Letter to the Colossians.

As for evolution, it seems to me that the purpose of evolution is to create humanity.  While this cannot be proven absolutely, it certainly is true that evolution has produced a being who can think and act and is created in the image of God.

Bilbo - #69659

May 3rd 2012


I enjoyed the spirit and content of your presentation.  I think I might have further questions for clarification, but I’ll hold off on them for now.

Chip - #69675

May 4th 2012

Let’s back up.  While Falk is certainly correct that the bible does not speak to the method of God’s creation, it does speak to his clear and explicit intent: to make, among other things, man.  This is the point of the reference to teleology here.  The goal is not generic like the one expressed above (ie, “Apples fall down from trees, not up”), but as Falk himself said, “there is a teleological basis for our presence on earth.”  In other words, God expressed a desire to accomplish a very specific, particular outcome—us. 

Why is this a problem for evolutionary theory?  Because the experts say again and again that evolutionary mechanisms are not capable of producing particular predetermined outcomes.  Consider a couple representative, mainstream quotations:

“Evolution is a natural process, and natural processes are undirected.”
—Ken Miller

 “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”
—George Gaylord Simpson

“No question about it. Rewind that tape [of evolutionary history], let it run again, and events might come out differently at every turn. Surely this means that mankind’s appearance on this planet was not preordained, that we are here not as the products of an inevitable procession of evolutionary success, but as an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.”
—Miller again

“By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural
selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous.”
—Douglas Futuyma

In the end, the analogy made above by both Roger and Mercury is accurate in one sense:  natural selection and gravity (right along with any other natural law you might care to mention) are both utterly incapable of planning or direction of any kind. 

If Falk/BioLogos are going to make the case for teleology in evolution, he can only do so by completely redefining its key mechanisms.  Imagine, for example, if he were to re-write the Futuyma quote above:  “By coupling directed, purposeful variation to the visionary, concerned process of intentional selection, God made man…”  LOL. 

I’m all ears, but this is no small task.

Ashe - #69678

May 4th 2012

It’s really unfair of you to quote Miller like that. He goes on to say:

“Not so fast. The biological account of lucky historical contingencies that led to our own appearance on this planet is surely accurate. What does not follow is that a perceived lack of inevitability translates into something that we should regard as incompatibility with a divine will. To do so seriously underestimates God, even as this God is understood by the most conventional of Western religions.

Yes, the explosive diversification of life on this planet was an unpredictable process. But so were the rise of Western civilization, the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the winning number in last night’s lottery. We do not regard the indeterminate nature of any of these events in human history as antithetical to the existence of a Creator; why should we regard similar events in natural history any differently? There is, I would submit, no reason at all. If we can view the contingent events in the families that produced our individual lives as consistent with a Creator, then certainly we can do the same for the chain of circumstances that produced our species.”

In his new book, Only  A Theory, he states:

“The point for today is that it’s perfectly reasonable to maintain that evolution as we know and understand it was almost certain to produce a species like ours under conditions that prevail on Planet Earth. “

Marshall Janzen - #69679

May 4th 2012

Chip, I’m not entirely sure what you’re suggesting. It seems we agree that natural process are, in and of themselves, “utterly incapable of planning or direction of any kind” (with the caveat I gave earlier about things falling down and not up not being what we’re talking about by “direction”). Yet, from this common ground you suggest that for evolution to be acceptable, its key mechanisms have to be redefined so that it isn’t blind and indifferent like gravity and all other natural processes. Instead, it needs to be capable of visionary purpose in and of itself. To me, it appears that you are asking the natural processes underlying evolution to be elevated to the realm of persons or even deities, and if they are not so elevated, you will not accept them. Please correct me if I am reading you wrong!

For me, I accept evolution precisely because it describes natural processes that, as a Christian, I believe are part of God’s creation. It is not an alternative to God. Neither “chance” nor “evolution” should be deified. I don’t look for “teleology in evolution” any more than I look for teleology in gravity. Instead, I think God has a purpose for what he does in his natural work. The telos is in God, not in any natural process.

I’m not sure why it should matter that rewinding the tape of evolution and replaying it could lead to a different result. The same is true of rewinding the tape of atmospheric activity, or rewinding the tape of the fertilization of a human egg cell. Does the unpredictability of the process of conception tie God’s hands from creating you and me and having a purpose for our lives? Do chaotic weather patterns prevent God from “send[ing] rain on the just and on the unjust”? If not, why is evolution a greater impediment? It is no more or less random and undirected than these other processes.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #69680

May 4th 2012

The problem is that processes are not undirected.  All functional processes have a purpose.  As I said, gravity holds the universe together, evolution creates the diversity of life on Earth including humanity, and the water cycle makes life possible on this planet.  We do not have to deify nature, but we do understand the universe was created for a purpose. 

Our understanding is that it was created to be a rational home for rational human beings (by a rational Creator.)  The problem of course is that non-believers do not believe that the universe was created.  If it was not created by a rational Being, then logically it has no purpose or meaning. 

Non-believers know this, and Christians should know this.  Logically for atheists, life has no meaning.  That does not mean that it has no meaning, but this is the logical conclusion of their beliefs.    

Another thing that must be remembered is that Darwin’s Theory was created in part to counter Paley’s watch and Watchmaker argument.  Dawkins stated in The Blind Watchmaker that his theory made atheism intellectually respectable.  Darwin did not want to make God responsible for “natural evil.” 

Conservative Christians are right to be hostile to Darwinism because it is not good science in that it does not accurately portray how evolution works, not because evolutionary change has not taken place.  In my book, DARWIN’S MYTH I point out a better scientific way to understand evolution compatible with the Teleological Christian world view. 

GJDS - #69714

May 6th 2012

Hi Roger,

Another way to think of gravity (or any scientific observation we regard as settled, or a law of science) is that it is  intrinsic to an object. Laws are articulations by scientists; the world of objects and energy (nature) is given to scientific observation. We as observors and ones who study, in my view, add something to nature in that we believe we understand, and then we may undertake purposeful activities. e.g. gravity, fluid emchanics, aerodynamics and we build aeroplains. These are additions to the world because of humanity. It is fascinating to comprehend purpose, will, freedom and the nature of human beings when consdiering these matters. On God, I believe that He is revealed to us in and through His Son. Nature is given by God for us to live in, study, understand etc., and this too shows God’s Grace and Glory.

Chip - #69681

May 4th 2012


Thanks for the quotation. 
I agree that existence based on “lucky contingencies” is not necessarily incompatible with a vaguely defined “divine will,” or the “existence of a Creator.”  But it is incompatible with a God who promises to carry out a specific plan to create a particular species—us.   He either intended to do it and carried out his plan (I think even Falk would agree, his having said that we have a “teleological basis for our presence on earth), or he rolled the dice and we got lucky. Can’t be planned and unplanned at the same time. 

While I admire the vividness of his imagination, Miller’s faith in the possibility of a hypothetical other “species like ours,” adds nothing of value to the discussion. 
Finally, your example of “the winning number in last night’s lottery” is simply not relevant.  I’m not saying that no lucky contingencies exist at all, just that the existence of our species cannot be explained as a lucky contingency and still be consistent with the basics of Christian theology. 

Ted Davis - #69683

May 4th 2012


I haven’t been on BioLogos very long, but I’ve noticed that this topic—whether “random” mechanisms be squared with divine providence—is very important to you. It’s also very important to me. You placed a couple of comments on one of my threads a few weeks ago (http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-five-attitudes-approaches), but I don’t think any were directed specifically at me so I didn’t reply. Instead, you were talking to Darrel (as you are again here). You and he can continue that conversation, obviously, and I hope you will, but I’ll make a few points as well.

First, I can’t help but notice that the quotations you used in #69675 seem pretty similar to those that Barry Arrington used vs Stephen Barr over at Uncommon Descent some time ago: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/barr-v-arrington/. Similar, but not identical, except the one from Futuyma (unless I missed one somewhere). And, you are using your set of quotations in precisely the same way in which Arrington used his: to try to underscore the difficulty (in Arrington’s case, to be frank, the impossibility) of mixing anything but atheism with Darwinian evolution. Indeed, Arrington pretty much calls Barr a functional atheist in that column. If so, it’s a pretty odd bunch of atheists they’re making.

But, that was another conversation, somewhere else, not this one, despite the striking similarity in the quotations. You haven’t done that here; you haven’t suggested that Darrel is a functional atheist. However, you do seem to be suggesting that any effort by an adherent of a TE position to interpret apparently contingent events in some other way than some of those whom you quoted (it’s already been shown that there is more to Miller’s view than what you quoted from him) will not work, that it’s either incoherent or flatly impossible or something along those lines. Do I understand your correctly, or am I reading too much into your posts?

More coming…



Ted Davis - #69684

May 4th 2012

From where I sit, chip, the question of randomness/contingency/providence in evolution, as important as it is to both of us, is just one part of the much larger question of divine action. I said some things about that in the comments I added to the column I just cited (above), where you and others can review them. I didn’t say nearly as much as I would have liked, but time limits what all of us can do. Here, however, I’d like to call attention to two of the things I said there, which I’ll edit a bit to emphasize what I’d like you to notice, chip.

(1) I like what Owen Gingerich says about randomness/contingency/providence in evolution in his book, God’s Universe, which I reviewed for First Things a few years ago: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/04/300-all-things-bright-and-beautiful-36. (Incidentally, Gingerich thinks I have understood him completely, unlike most other reviewers, so I think you can assume that what I say about his ideas is very accurate.) Have you read this book, chip? It’s quite short, actually, so I hope you will do so, or at least read those parts dealing directly with this issue, and then come back and give us your comments. It’s a lengthier and more substantive discussion of the issue than you usually find on any blog, including this one. Even if you read only my review, I’d be interested in your comments.

(2) I cannot think of anyone who has thought more, and more carefully, about the larger question of divine action than Bob Russell. Bob doesn’t blog, and I see little or no evidence that his views are known in any detail by very many people, including most of the folks who engage issues related to TE/ID/atheism in the blogosphere. Have you read any of his work? Bob directed a major international project on divine action in the 1990s, a project that involved some of the most thoughtful Christian scientists, theologians, and philosophers in the world, including several people who had already (like Bob) devoted substantial attention to divine action. In any event, Bob has written with great clarity about randomness/contingency/providence in evolution. In the thread I’ve already reference, I suggested this: Russell, Robert John. “Special Providence and Genetic Mutation: A New Defense of Theistic Evolution.” To read that, you have to get one of the books in which a version of it (there are multiple versions) can be found, such as this one: http://biologos.org/resources/books/perspectives-on-an-evolving-creation. I invited readers to bring back a summary of its contents, and a short discussion ensued.I also mentioned a short summary of his views that is available on the internet: http://www.counterbalance.org/ctns-vo/russe-body.html.

So, chip, I’ve shown you briefly a couple of concrete, very specific TE positions on the issue that concerns you. There are many others we could also bring in, such as those of Simon Conway Morris or John Polkinghorne or Bill Carroll (a neo-Thomist historian and philosopher of science) or Tom Tracy (a philosopher who has probably devoted almost as much energy to this as Russell) or ....  I don’t know whether you’re famililar with any of these people, but if you want to ask hard questions (and they are good ones) about Christians who subscribe to “randomness” in nature, you might want to get into some of the views I refer to in this post.

My best to you, chip, I hope you can dig into some of this and share your thoughts with us.

Ashe - #69696

May 5th 2012

You really ought to read the source material rather than quotemining. The lottery example isn’t mine, it’s Ken Miller’s, a paragraph down from your quote. You don’t understand any of it. 

Miller’s faith in the possibility of a hypothetical other “species like ours,” adds nothing of value to the discussion.  ”

First of all it isn’t faith, it’s based on evidence from evolutionary biology. Secondly, why doesn’t it add value to the discussion? Because you want Genesis to be literally true? 

Uncle Bonobo - #69738

May 7th 2012

“But it is incompatible with a God who promises to carry out a specific plan to create a particular species-us.”


God made no promises to create any particular species.  All that was said was, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”


God has no (known) physcial attributes.  “the imgae and likeness is not “physical—God could have made reptiles or dolphins in His image if he had chosen to do so.  By the time the Bible was written, humans were already here and God chose humans but only in hindsight does that choice look inevitable.  There is zero overlap between evolutionary contingency and God’s abiltiy to create a creature in a Divine image and likeness.

Jon Garvey - #69685

May 5th 2012

Ted, I’ve no idea whether Chip might be a chip off Barry Arrington’s block - it seems to me it’s always better to respect people’s pseudonyms. But I think he makes a valid point to which I’ve yet to see a clear answer.

On your other blog, you pointed to Elliot Sober’s suggestion that “quantum tinkering” might be a way for God to exercise government of the universe without “interfering” with natural law. Although to me that sounds a little like tax-avoidance (it’s legal, but is it ethical?) it is without doubt a straight example of direction of events. It would, for example, be easy for God to lay down the evolutionary path to H. sapiens that way, or even for Jesus to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. It’s apparently very different from Miller’s conception (related to Conway Morris’s?) that evolution would eventually throw up something like us, based, ultimately, purely on the determined laws of physics.

In Darrel’s reply to Dembski, he distinguishes carefully between the reliable (to the point of “mathematical”) and therefore necessarily deterministic laws of science (which he terms the “natural”) and direct acts of God (the “supernatural”). The “natural” category, in which he includes evolution up to and including man, he rightly speaks of as being constantly sustained by God, but avoids any reference to their being governed by God. In fact he steers his Bible references towards the sustaining of natural processes away from their more natural meaning (in context) of direct government. Those are two very distinct Biblical, and conceptual, categories, for in classical theology God also sustains sinful acts, but categorically does not govern them, or he would be the author of sin. I sustained my children at University, but had little or no control over what they were doing there.

Chance events (which would include, clearly, avenues for God’s guiding influence like Sober’s quantum choices) don’t figure in Darrel’s scheme at all - he offers a straight choice between natural/predictable and supernatural/unpredictable. Without further qualification, evolution has been placed firmly in the former - implying that it is sustained, but not governed by God - in other words that it is effectively undirected. The only mechanism of God’s government obvious here would be the fine-tuning of the laws and the initial conditions, and to determine, say, a specific species like man that’s mighty accurate fine tuning, and a very deterministic physics.

A further key strand is this. Elsewhere Darrel, like many other TE authors, has espoused God’s creation of a universe with “limited freedom to make itself” (quote). I have tried in vain to pin down what this means, since it seems to imply that “nature”, or some part of it, has a “self” to make, and a determining will, both of which are requirements of freedom. There is no mention of any of this in Darrel’s reply, and it begs the question of whether such “freedom” belongs in the natural, lawlike realm, or some distinct category. Since it entails God’s abstention from action, it is clearly not supernatural. But it is a further explanation for what evolution actually might turn up - evolution would be sustained but undirected by God (except by predictable natural law) but also self-directed apart from God (like wayward kids blowing Dad’s money at University?).

Both these ideas are quite distant from classical Christian theology, in which God alone chooses creation’s outcomes, at least until the arrival of mankind, which is a separate consideration. It may be that BioLogos wants to encompass a whole range of recent theologies, in which case it would be good to spell them out rather than fudge “directed-yet-not-directed” as some kind of single-hand-clapping mysticism. As it is Darrel’s essay, to my eyes, doesn’t even fully account for the personal views he has stated publically elsewhere.

Darrel Falk - #69687

May 5th 2012

“Elsewhere Darrel, like many other TE authors, has espoused God’s creation of a universe with ‘limited freedom to make itself’ (quote).  I have tried in vain to pin down what this means, since it seems to imply that ‘nature,’ or some part of it, has a ‘self’ to make, and determining will, both of which are requirements of fredom. ” 


If I used that phrase—“limited freedom to make itself” here is an example of what I would have meant by freedom:  http://biologos.org/blog/thats-random-a-look-at-viral-self-assembly .  As you watch the video on virus self-assembly, in what sense is it (the assembling virus) free? In what sense is it a “self?”  In what sense is its freedom “limited?”

In a different context, for a different purpose, Paul in Romans 8, wrote of creation “groaning.”  So ought one wonder whether Paul was implying that creation had a “self” which was doing the groaning? No.   Paul didn’t mean that nature had a self to “groan” in a manner that parallels what we typically mean by “self.” Similarly in speaking of creation’s “freedom to make itself,” I am speaking of creation generically in much the same way as Paul did.


Jon Garvey - #69691

May 5th 2012

Hi Darrel

Thank you for the personal reply(ies). I asked for clarification on how your idea of creation’s “freedom” fits in you natural/supernatural scheme, and you bounce the question back on me. Fine - except I’ll end up putting words in your mouth.

The virus you point to has a structure/function determined entirely by its genome, the folding of which is determined by the ribosome. If you excuse the customary teleolological language, it “uses” brownian motion to execute what would, I suppose, be called self-ordering (as opposed to self-reorgnaisation). But the outcome is determined by the genome and thence by the structure of the protein. So the assembling virus is not “free” at all in any moral or creative sense. If “free” is being used for “random” (hardly the same concept) it’s not even that, any more than a football match is random because it’s started by a coin toss. If “limited freedom” means only “involving random processes to a small degree” then it’s a pretty contentless thing.

In what sense is it a “self”? Apart from metaphorically, not at all. It’s certainly not making itself in anything more than a mechanical way. The magic is in the genome, which fits into your “natural”, law-driven category. Though as Mike Gene says on that thread, “Of course, self-assembly fits very comfortably within the hypothesis of front-loading.”

Romans 8 is at most a personification for the purposes of illustration, though I would argue there’s a good case for saying that Paul does not intend the natural order at all by “creation” here. So if both his and your use are merely pictorial, it’s probably irrelevant that Paul says it’s in bondage rather than free.

But for what is “freedom to create itself” a metaphor, then? That what God is sustaining is a mathematical, law-driven process peppered with a proportion of random events not clearly in either your natural or supernatural categories?

Ted Davis - #69688

May 5th 2012


This will have to be far too brief. I have a full agenda of things on my plate today, and blogging unfortunately isn’t one of them.

The overall point of my reply to chip is this: the conversation about divine action vis-a-vis evolution is a subset of a much larger conversation about divine action in general, and there is a substantial literature on this that is not usually engaged by critics of TE; nor for that matter is it usually engaged by proponents of TE, either. That’s b/c that literature is mostly academic, not popular (certainly not popular in the sense of being easily found on the internet), and usually not put in terms of “design vs TE,” and thus more easily overlooked even when found.

There are many different theological approaches to the question. Whether any one of them is “orthodox” or not depends on both the approach and the person who evaluates it. Russell’s approach, for example, is that God *does* control the outcome of biological variations, even if we can’t “see” God doing it b/c God acts (in those cases) at a level where divine action is not detectable scientifically. If this counts as “directed-yet-not-directed,” then perhaps Russell would be summarily dismissed for clapping with one hand. That would be, IMO, to dismiss with a sleight of hand someone who almost certainly knows far more about this issue than those who make that charge. His ideas need to be engaged carefully, point-by-point. His critics have done that in various places; their ideas have also been carefully engaged. The bottom line is this: there is no one view of divine action among TE proponents, not Darrel’s, not mine, not Russell’s, not Polkinghorne’s. There is also no one view of what counts as divine “governance” of the universe.

In classical theology, however, there was no one view either. These are huge theological questions about which a great deal has been written. The evolution question is in principle no different from the prayer question, or Job’s questions: as God asked Job: were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth? Many in the TE camp have done their best to provide highly tentative sketches of how God might be involved in the evolutionary process, but one can’t expect more than highly tentative sketches—any more than anyone else can give highly tentative sketches of how God laid the foundations of the earth. God, it should be noted, didn’t give Job a detailed answer. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, as Einstein once said. Can any opponents of TE do better?

It might be possible soon for us to bring some of Russell’s ideas more clearly into focus. If so, perhaps we can move this forward a little. In the meantime, it would be good for folks to do some digging. In books. Not on the internet.

Jon Garvey - #69695

May 5th 2012


Nothing in your reply actually addresses my question, unfortunately. I’ve not yet read Russell, but if he fights shy of detectable mechanisms, yet affirms God’s determination of the outcomes of biological variations, then he’s also affirming God’s government. That was the question raised by Dembski, and affirming God’s sustaining hand is the answer to a different question. But an important one to clarify, since “no one view” could, in theory, cover a view practically indistinguishable from Darwinism (as used, to my surprise, by both contributors to this debate) - undirected, yet sustained by the power of God (would Darwin have argued with that?).

Russell’s arguments may, for all I know, not please ID people who want to be able to see signs of design. They may or may not be logically coherent - but one also has to ask that about a scheme in which providence works entirely through mathematically predictable natural law.

As far as I have seen in my reading of classical theology, all the debate has centred on questions like whether God’s government has been partly vitiated by the fall/Satan’s usurpation, whether natural evil is God’s judgement, or whether, in fact, as most of the earliest writers said, God’s creation apart from man is operating as-designed. I’m not aware of any doubts about God’s ongoing direction of the outcomes of creation until recent theologies came along - can you appraise me of any non-heretical sources (I know about the Manichees and Gnostics already)?

Darrel Falk - #69689

May 5th 2012

Jon said: 

Both these ideas are quite distant from classical Christian theology…

I think Alister McGrath’s Chrisitanity Today article, “Augustine’s Origin of Species” is quite germane here.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/22.39.html?start=1 .  Here’s a particularly important quote from p.3 of the article:

For Augustine, God created a universe that was deliberately designed to develop and evolve. The blueprint for that evolution is not arbitrary, but is programmed into the very fabric of creation. God’s providence superintends the continuing unfolding of the created order.

Earlier Christian writers noted how the first Genesis Creation narrative speaks of the earth and the waters “bringing forth” living creatures. They concluded that this pointed to God’s endowing the natural order with a capacity to generate living things. Augustine takes this idea further: God created the world complete with a series of dormant powers, which were actualized at appropriate moments through divine providence.

Augustine argues that Genesis 1:12 implies that the earth received the power or capacity to produce things by itself: “Scripture has stated that the earth brought forth the crops and the trees causally, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth.”

Where some might think of the Creation as God’s insertion of new kinds of plants and animals readymade into an already existing world, Augustine rejects this as inconsistent with the overall witness of Scripture. Rather, God must be thought of as creating in that very first moment the potencies for all the kinds of living things to come later, including humanity.

Jon Garvey - #69692

May 5th 2012


I’d like to dig into Augustine on Genesis more than I’m able to do from my libary, but from my previous reading of him and from McGrath’s article it’s clear that he’s concerned with God’s methodology from Genesis, rather than promoting the autonomy of nature. Another important quote from the article is this:

Yet Augustine has no time for any notion of random or arbitrary changes within creation. The development of God’s creation is always subject to God’s sovereign providence. The God who planted the seeds at the moment of creation also governs and directs the time and place of their growth.

Having, of course, no idea of the mechanisms of biology,  Augustine makes no statement about the “how” of providence, but the “what” of it is, from this, clearly within what I earlier called God’s “government” of creation, not just its “sustenance”. I’ll address Ted’s replies by and by, but the heart of the question raised by Dembski was not the “how” of God’s direction of creation (fine-tuning, front-loading, quantum tinkering, law-bending, lists of instructions to viruses etc), but the “whether”.

For Augustine, God speaks and the trees he designed grow when and where he wants, whatever the secondary causes he uses in his governing providence. So far, in your reply to Dembski, you’ve only suggested predictable natural law in evolution, and I’ve inferred an extra category of “random events” on your behalf. Are those really sufficient vehicles for that kind of government, or is Augustine granting too much to providence?

Darrel Falk - #69694

May 5th 2012


I see a few hints that you may have misunderstood what I said.  For example, when you wrote the following, it seems you might think my view is that nature and the natural laws are autonomous from the activity of God.  If so, nothing could be further from my actual view.  Here’s one quote of yours which implies you might have misunderstood me:

...it’s clear that he’s concerned with God’s methodology from Genesis, rather than promoting the autonomy of nature.

Here is what I said in Part I: 

 The laws of nature, then, are simply a description of the ongoing activity of God which—because it is so consistent, dependable, and pervasive—points to the trustworthiness of God. Put another way, the activity of God is not restricted to that which we call the supernatural; it is all God’s activity. It is just that some aspects of God’s activity are so consistently repeatable that we can develop laws which describe the regularity of the divine activity which “holds” and “sustains” the universe. This latter type of activity is no less magnificent just because God does it continuously. Indeed, the Psalmist marveled at God’s natural activity and worshipfully reflected upon it.

Please note that I also said this in Part I:

Still, given that there is extensive supernatural activity exhibited in God’s interaction with Israel and in the life of Jesus, it is entirely possible that he did work supernaturally in fulfilling the creation command, as well.

Jon Garvey - #69697

May 5th 2012

I may well have misunderstood you Darrel - that’s why I was seeking clarification - but hopefully not by implying you separated nature from God. My major point was that you seemed to leave God only a sustaining, rather than a directing role, in your original article. See how Augustine differentiates these too:

Creation is thus not a completed past event. God is working even now, in the present, Augustine writes, sustaining and directing the unfolding of the “generations that he laid up in creation when it was first established.”

Since God’s direction of evolution was the point originally at issue, it is important to be clear on it. The “autonomy” point was made from my confusion over this business of nature’s “freedom”, which if it only means “randomness” clearly doesn’t imply autonomy after all, or anything else much.

However, the article on Augustine you quote also says:

Augustine would have rejected any idea of the development of the universe as a random or lawless process. For this reason, Augustine would have opposed the Darwinian notion of random variations, insisting that God’s providence is deeply involved throughout. The process may be unpredictable. But it is not random.

Assuming this doesn’t mean Augustine would have reverted to Creationism, he would surely have said that randomness, even “randomness with respect to fitness”, would be under God’s control, either directly in some way or by the specific outworking of natural law.

You did indeed, asyou remind me, allow the possibility of supernatural intervention in nature, but your preferred option was that evolution operates by natural law. I’m unclear which category “random events” (such as mutations)comes under in this twofold scheme - Monod distances chance from the necessity of predictable laws, but he certainly wouldn’t consider it supernatural.

But the “how” of God’s direction of events is of minor importance compared to the “whether”, since he doesn’t confide the former to us in detail. Still our ideas must be coherent: if we say that God works in nature only by natural law, and we believe he directs events in the way on which Augustine insists, then that law must be fine-tuned enough to produce the outcomes he desires after several billion years. Does either physics or biology give us laws that predictable?

Once again, the key question is “Does God govern outcomes, or does he only sustain operations?”

Ted Davis - #69690

May 5th 2012

As for using pseudonyms, Jon, I generally don’t like it. In some cases there are good reasons for it, but too often in my experience it enables folks to speak a bit too freely, more freely then they might if they were face-to-face. It is of course a very old practice, predating the internet by millennia, but I rarely find it helpful. Maybe I’m just a luddite, Jon, but I think that when people have something to say they should remove their masks.

Jon Garvey - #69693

May 5th 2012

This is my real name, Ted. On my blog, if anyone speaks too freely I just censor them, psudonym or not. We have the technology.

Bilbo - #69699

May 5th 2012

Jon: “Once again, the key question is “Does God govern outcomes, or does he only sustain operations?”

Let’s suppose God desires outcome X.  It turns out that X can be obtained by God’s sustaining operations.  God is satisfied with this way of doing things, so God sustains operations.

Let’s suppose God desires outcome Y.  It turns out that Y cannot be obtained by only sustaining operations.  In order to obtain Y, God must govern operations.  Therefore, God chooses to govern operations, in order to obtain Y.

Clear enough, Jon?

Darrel Falk - #69701

May 5th 2012

Bilbo, Jon, and anyone else,

Are there differences between how a person in the Reformd/Calvinist tradition might view “x” and “y” compared to how a person whose theological framework is more similar to the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition?   Would some traditions stipulate that “x” and “y” are always highly specific, whereas others would view the desired outcomes more broadly?

Is there a sense in which some of our differences in defining the nature of God’s role in creation actually a reflection of the fact that we come from various theological traditions?  As a Wesleyan, I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters, but I think much differently than them about the  degree to which God has predestined and dictated the details of our individual lives.   Might that difference spill over into how I view divine action in creation as a whole?

As an aside, I wonder if  there might be a great “evolutionchristianfaith.org” grant proposal locked up in that sort of question.  Academic scholars, what do you think?

Ted Davis - #69703

May 5th 2012

I found a moment to return to this thread, intending to make a further point, only to find that Darrel had already made it. I’m reminded of what Darwin said at the very end of his 2-volume work about the variation of plants and animals:

“However much we may wish it, we can hardly follow Professor Asa Gray in his belief `that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines,’ like a stream `along definite and useful lines of irrigation.’ If we assume that each particular variation was from the beginning of all time preordained, the plasticity of organisation, which leads to many injurious deviations of structure, as well as that redundant power of reproduction which inevitably leads to a struggle for existence, and, as a consequence, to the natural selection or survival of the fittest, must appear to us superfluous laws of nature. On the other hand, an omnipotent and omniscient Creator ordains everything and foresees everything. Thus we are brought face to face with a difficulty as insoluble as is that of free will and predestination.

It should be apparent from what I’ve said already, that I’m a fan of Asa Gray (although he doesn’t actually speak for me any more than I for him). Nevertheless, I’ve long thought that Darwin hit the nail on the head in his final sentence here. Darwin understood theology very well, IMO; after all, he’d studied it formally at Cambridge. And, he understood that the issues he and Gray were discussing in their correspondence were ultimately theological. For more on the subtleties of Gray’s position, in relation to Darwin’s, and also for analysis of the fascinating views of George Frederick Wright at that time his career (when he worked on theological aspects of evolution while in close contact with Gray), see this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1096448.The_Post_Darwinian_Controversies. Although not quite the best book on this topic (I would give that honor to http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P00767), it’s one of the best and absolutely required reading for anyone interested in what is being said on this thread.

IMO, Jon, the issues that underlie this discussion of “randomness” were indeed debated by classical theologians, whenever differences of opinion about the mode of divine “governance” of the universe came up. Part of that “governance,” surely, involves the ultimate fate of human beings, whether or not we are “free,” and whether or not God actively determines all things.

I need to step away from all threads here for a bit, but I’ll drop back in to see whether Jon and chip get a chance to read Russell and/or Gingerich and share their thoughts.

Jon Garvey - #69710

May 6th 2012


This wasn’t a discussion about randomness, except inasmuch as I pointed out that Darrel’s essay has not addressed it by either his natural (=law) or supernatural (=miracle) categories.

The question was about the extent of God’s government of events, which certainly ought to discuss chance, especially regarding evolutionary theory.

The difficult question of human freedom ought not to detain us in the discussion of origins, since there is a fundamental difference between the interaction of conscious, self-determining beings like God and ourselves, and God’s unilateral creation of the rest.

Regarding that, Darrel has given us natural law as a sufficient account of God’s governing providence, with an option of supernatural intervention if it turns out not to be. I can’t see why that isn’t equivalent to “Unguided evolution is a sufficient account for life, unless it should turn out that ID is true.”

Ted Davis - #69720

May 6th 2012


We *mainly* agree that “there is a fundamental difference between the interaction of conscious, self-determining beings like God and ourselves, and God’s unilateral creation of the rest,” but I suspect that we don’t *entirely* agree.

In classical Reformation theology, “man” is the entirely passive recipient of God’s wholly unmerited grace. We may be conscious, but we are not “self-determining” at all; our “self” can literally do nothing except to sin. This is what Luther meant by the “bondage of the will” and Calvin meant by “total depravity.” In that theology, Jon (at least according to my understanding of it), God is the subject, salvation the direct obejct, and “man” the indirect object: God gives us grace in order to save some, because none can save themselves.

As I’m sure you know, the question of human freedom arises for many classical theologians—do we genuinely possess it, or not? Is God’s grace truly “irresistable,” or do humans actually possess the ability to reject it, “on our own”? Do we have anything that can rightly be called “self-determination,” or not? Does God’s foreknowledge entail complete predestination, or is it rather foreknowledge of genuinely free human actions?

(I briefly digress: my first published paper got into some of this—hardly all of it—using Newcomb’s problem to explore foreknowledge and predestination. It’s ironic that Bill Dembski is the person who wrote the column that this one responds to, since in his recent book, The End of Christianity, he used Newcomb’s problem rather extensively to present his own ideas on theodicy, although he didn’t cite my paper, which can be read at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1984/JASA3-84Davis.html.)

Admittedly, Jon, this issue is not about “freedom” or “randomness” in nature, but it’s certainly about whether or not divine “governance” of the universe allows for, or even actually deliberately includes, genuine “freedom” on the part of created agents, such that those agents might even be able to defy the creator and frustrate his will. As you probably know, this is a hotly contested issue in classical theology, and one that obviously has nothing to do with evolution or any other scientific issue.

more coming…

Ted Davis - #69721

May 6th 2012

... the rest….

One’s approach to other issues, including some that bear on nature, can be connected with this. For example, John Polkinghorne believes that there is a genuine contradiction between human freedom and complete divine determination of all events. (I’m not trying to argue for or against his view here; I’m simply presenting it as a pertinent example.) He is committed to the position that humans are truly “free” in their choices, and thus (as he sees it) God truly does not determine them. This is one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, why he is also an open theist. (Contrary to what I often hear on the blogosphere, P’s open theism is not a consequence of his acceptance of evolution by natural selection; rather, it follows from his theological commitments; he then uses his open theism to help understand evolution.) Thus, for P, *some* of the future of nature is genuinely open—certainly those things within nature that result immediately or eventually from genuinely free human choices, but probably also some other things. It all depends on how much “freedom” or “autonomy” as creations that God has freely chosen to give to created things. My sense is that, for P, this is an open question (if I may make a pun). If, as a consequence, some of the “freedom” God gives the creation results in suffering on the part of living things, then that is part of God’s decision to make a creation of a certain sort, in which God does not (as P puts it, and as Robert Boyle also put it in the 1680s), treat nature as a puppet on a string.

I’m not suggesting that you ought to agree with this line of thinking, Jon. Not at all. But I am suggesting that such questions are not quite as radical (in the sense of being not classical) as you think they are.

To the best of my knowledge (and I hope that readers will jump in with corrections if this isn’t right), it was the late Arthur Peacocke who first spoke about the freedom of nature in this way, treating the non-living creation as similar in this regard to the living creation—all of it as a creature with considerable autonomy as such. Now, Peacocke obviously had a highly non-classical view of God (panentheism), and he did not believe in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection in anything like a classical sense, if he even believed in them at all (I would say that he did not). Polkinghorne differs sharply from him on both points, as you probably know (though some readers probably do not know; I get a lot of questions from people who completely misunderstand Polkinghorne, probably b/c they’ve never read any of him for themselves). On this particular point, however (the “freedom” of nature), I think Polk has been influenced by Peacocke.

Overall, Jon, I would say yes, it’s mainly a recent development to treat nature as having some geniune “freedom” or indeterminacy in it, even from God’s point of view; but, that it’s not absolutely disconnected from classical discussions of the limits of divine governance, relative to the creatures. And, as Darrel has indicated, one’s theological commitments will play a role here.

Finally, let me note that Russell is not an open theist; it would be wrong for readers to assume (I’m not suggesting that you are, Jon, I’m simply assuming that there are many readers out there) that holding a TE view commits one to open theism or some other non-classical approach. It doesn’t; it’s a separate issue. Once you’ve read Russell for yourself, I’ll be keen to see what you think.

Jon Garvey - #69726

May 7th 2012


Once again, the original topic is not “God’s government of nature” but “the Biologos position on God’s government of nature.” I certainly don’t think an Augustinian view of providence or freedom is incompatible with theistic evolution, but who knows if it it might be with respect to Biologos - in which case, it would be useful for Calvinists to know. I  note Darrel wished to enlist Augustine’s support in his reply to me above, but was highly selective of Augustine’s position even as represented in the McGrath article. Not everyone may have read the full article - still less Augustine’s book, though I suspect McGrath represents it reasonably fairly.

So, back on topic, Darrel has suggested a scenario in which God works in nature solely, or overwhelmingly - there is equivocation there - by orderly natural law. That restricts God’s government to what can be predicted by natural law - and of itself leaves no room for your discussion of randomness (let’s use that rather than the anthropomorphically loaded “freedom”), because “predictable” and “reliable” and “mathematical” mean “determined”.

So there is a need, at the very least, for BioLogos to make some statement about chance/randomness as well as law, since nobody in science actually believes that natural law alone explains everything - especially since quantum theory. Does randomness actually exist (or are the laws indeed fully deterministic)? If it does, is randomness random to God, fully or partly determined by him, or like the Remonstrants on apsotasy does BioLogos counsel agnosticism and further examination of the Scriptures?

Jon Garvey - #69709

May 6th 2012

Darrel, I’m not sure the “theological traditions” line takes us far here, not least because we don’t see most ID people being Calvinists and most TEs Arminians. All I’m trying to do is clarify, and probe the implications of, the position that BioLogos has laid out - after that people’s denominational preferences can come into play if they wish.

The naturalistic position on evolution (and on nature as a whole - we are also asking why the earth is hospitable, why environments exist etc) is Monod’s chance, combined with the necessity (aka reliability) of natural law.

Your essay (and replies so far) gives us no view on chance, which is a significant gap considering its big role in evolutionary theory. But of natural law, your essay concurs with the naturalists that it is the main or sole driver of evolution, and confirms its reliability (aka necessity), but points out that without God’s sustaining hand, that necessity would break down. Fair?

The logic therefore is that the naturalists are quite correct that evolution is the result of natural-law necessity, +/- chance (of which the latter has not been addressed by your essay), except that they have missed out the ongoing First Cause of both chance and necessity. This, however makes no difference to the outcome, since we measure the same determinative laws as they do, except that we Christians know that without God there would be no outcome at all.

God’s providence in nature, then, is the providence of his setting up and maintaining the simple laws of physics that are visible to all.

If people wish to believe, say, that God desired mankind specifically as we are (hardly micromanagement), as opposed to the general possibility that physical law might inevitably produce some kind of intelligent animal, then some more direct providence would be necessary. For such people the preferred scheme you’ve outlined would not be sufficient to specify such an exact outcome, and your category of “supernatural” would have to be invoked (if we stick with your two-fold classification).

That would look very much like what Demski, on his side, proposed - and what Bilbo describes above.

That’s fine - people can choose then whether they are comfortable with the degree of divine governance allowed under each model. But they won’t be thinking the models propose one thing when, in fact, they imply another.

sy - #69702

May 5th 2012

A most fascinating discussion, worthy of intense study. I do think that Darrel’s recognition of the lack of a divide between ordinary natural law, and special supernatural miraculous action is the key to understanding how God operates in the world. I think this can be made more manifest by stepping back just a bit, and examining some basic assumptions about the nature of what we consider to be natural science. Just as academic disciplines are artificial divsions of reality that we devise for our convenience (the real world doesn’t really separate chemistry from physics) so our division of real phenomena into natural, scientifically explainable, and supernatural miraculous, is likely artificial and certainly non permanent. To extend Darrel’s point, the fact that gases always follow Boyle’s law does not diminish the majesty of God’s rules for gases. And we know that for individual gas molecules, Boyles law is meaningless, so that even within the bounds of science, what is true for the mass does not apply to individuals. (This is as valid for human beings as it is for particles).

The critical issue of teleology, which has become in many ways the heart of the debate on Darwinism is applicable here. The fact that teleology is not necessary to explain physical law says nothing about whether teleology exists in nature. Teleology can only be demonstrated by direct experiment or observation. The fact that I can be seen walking toward the park at a brisk pace, could be an entirely random act without thought, or it could be for the purpose of meeting a friend. Only special knowledge will answer this.

The real contribution of Darwin to this issue was his demonstration that teleology is not necessary for evolution, but there is no evidence at all that teleology is ruled out by natural selection. Our special knowledge in this case is our belief in a Creator.  If we believe in God, then our existence seems to confirm some form of purpose to many aspects of progressive evolution leading to man, since we are here to worship Him, and it seems doubtful that God would have relied on chance for this to occur.

Jon Garvey - #69711

May 6th 2012


The outcome of teleology depends entirely on the tools the “purposing” person uses. You won’t get a miniature by dripping pain from a height, nor a Pollock with a 000 brush.

The Deist God achieved specific results in nature with precision, clockwork laws, but Quantum and Chaos theories have shown that determinism to be unrealistic. So do we say now that God’s purposes, enacted by apparently non-deterministic laws, are correspondingly imprecise? We observe an apparently messy reality, and conclude that God wasn’t too bothered over precision - he favours Jackson Pollock over Richard Cosway.

As you rightly say, it’s in that massive area of “chance” that the answer has to lie (or, depending on your approach, in God’s revelation of his purposes rather than in nature’s expression of them).

sy - #69719

May 6th 2012

Yes, Jon, but I would venture to suggest that God’s purposes are so far beyond our comprehension, that we have no real way of judging their degree of imprecision. We do know that His creation is utterly complex, to the point where we see no end to the level of complexity in anything we study. To me, this is a clue regarding the impossibility of understanding very much about God and His purposes.

Jon Garvey - #69725

May 7th 2012


That’s fine, if one doesn’t restrict his activity in the case of nature to the constraints of predictable, reliable physical law. One can measure the precision of that and say, with confidence, that especially once one has factored in random factors, outcomes will be imprecise.

Therefore one must conclude that God’s purposes are imprecise - unless one begins to allow in some other means of agency than natural law. In other words, one has constrained ones theology of divine activity by ones affirmation of the means he employs in that situation.

Or in you words, we have judged the degree of imprecision of God’s purposes by attributing to ourselves more comprehension than we actually possess.

PS one way of understanding something of God and his purposes is what he reveals in Scripture.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #69704

May 5th 2012

As I have said before Teleos (purpose or goal) is the key to this problem as Darrell and other have indicated.  The problem with the science is that most scientists have rejected purpose in nature, although I just read an article in the Wiki where at least one said that purpose was the key to evolution which is the position I espouse. 

First let me clarify what I mean by Teleos or goal.  God goal for the world is salvation or the Kingdom of God.  While it is clear that universal peace and brotherhood will breakout any time soon, this does not prevent God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from continuing to work for the time when God’s Will will “be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Meanwhile God is creating mini-Kingdoms of God in Churches/communities and in lives around the world. 

Maybe in the long run God’s Kingdom will come suddenly as when the heavens collapse and earth physically merges with heaven.  I really know and Jesus tells me not to try to guess, but to be ready for whatever life throws at me and be faithful.  In any case I am sure that God sees and works primarly in the long run. 

If plan A does not work, I am confident that God can figure out a whole range of plans that will be effective.  We can even see this in the Bible.  God does not need us to work with the Holy Spirit, but God certainly wants us to share all the benefits of salvation.

Let me repeat, the Teleos of gravity is to hold the universe together, The Teleos of the universe is to provide a home for life and humanity (which might exist also elsewhere in the universe for all we know and all I care.)  The Teleos of evolution is create abundant and diverse life including humans. 

Chip is right, Darwin, Dawkins and Co have done their best to take the Teleos out evolutionary science and most people have bought into their thinking, so that birds do not fly south during the winter months to avoid harsh winter weather.  Scientists focus on random varitation, instead of non-random natural selection.  Natural Selection is not based on Malthusian survival of the fitest, but on the ecological process of mutual selection and social cooperation.  E. O. Wilson is right, while Dawkins is wrong about the nature of natural selection. 

Biblically and theologically the Logos is the Teleos.        

Merv - #69705

May 5th 2012

An interesting question for me, Roger, is to what extent can purpose be considered intrinsic to nature?  You say gravity has purpose.  But I would object that gravity isn’t a conscious or thinking thing that it could itself have purpose.  Somebody else [God] has a purpose for gravity—so I would say it was God who holds [has] the purpose. 

What if we switched to an example that ID friends would insist was more revealing.  Any of us finding a toaster would immediately know the purpose of that device because we would recognize it.  And if we were asked what purpose it had we would give a ready answer.  But the toaster itself could not be said to contain its own purpose, could it?  Isn’t it human beings that have the purpose *for* the toaster?    If space aliens who knew nothing of toast found a toaster orbiting their planet [right next to a mysterious orbiting teapot]  they may not have much of a clue as to what its purpose was, though again, our ID brethren would rightly argue that any space-faring aliens ought to be able to discern something about it—at least that it was a device built by somebody with intelligence.  But again, without humans, the toaster has no purpose.  So, whether it’s a pair of pliers, gravity, or a toaster (a very useful trio for anybody to keep around), purpose resides in the intelligence behind them.  Why can’t scientists just ask the simple questions and not worry about teleology (beyond survival instincts) that would be beyond science anyway?  Survival instinct alone is enough ‘purpose’ to account for birds flying south for the winter, etc.  But higher purposes in general seem to me to be beyond the proper domain of science.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69706

May 5th 2012


How can that be true?  Say you found an arrowhead used by some hunter hundreds or thousands of years ago.  Yes, the purpose of that arrowhead was given to it by the hunter, but we recognize it today, even though we no longer use arrows to hunt. 

If the toaster were not in a foreign environment orbiting a planet, if it were plugged into an electric outlet, then very possibly an alien could determine its use.  Its use, its Teleos is built into it by its makers, not by itself.  As long as it can function as intended,  then it has its Teleos intact.  The very same thing is true for gravity, the universe, and evolution. 

If people die, they no longer function as a human beings, and so they have lost their physical Teleos.  That does not mean that their legacies do not exist, and we can “know” them because their Teleos is imbedded in their legacies, good and bad, even though their spirits have disappeared from this world into the next.       

Merv, there are no really simple questions.  Everything is somehow related.  Survival is not simple, because living creatures are part of a community and the community is the basis of their survival, not themselves.  This is what E. O. Wilson is saying and he is right and Dawkins and his atomistic gene’s eye view are wrong.

Merv - #69707

May 5th 2012

I agree that the world we study is complicated.  But the slice of that world that science can apprehend with its simple tools are the relatively simple concepts (‘simple’ by comparison how complicated the actual world almost certainly must be).

Science can tell us about gravitational behavior, but to attribute some intrinsic purpose to an object or a force of nature does not seem to me to be anywhere near any scientific purview.  Indeed even with our toaster example, a simple thought experiment makes it apparent to me that teleos exists in the mind of purposeful agents.  Even I, who know well what a toaster is usually for, may enlist it for a quite different purpose if, for example, I’m locked in a burning room with stubbornly shut windows between me and freedom.  A loose object at hand (say a toaster) that could be used to break said windows would immediately be given a new purpose (by me), and that purpose would have nothing to do with toast (except in the hopeful prevention of my own toasting, so to speak.)  Anyway, things are appropriated by agents who have purposes for them.  A stick on the gound acquires a new purpose (indeed may be fashioned for it) when a hiker picks it up for a walking stick.  None of these things would be apparent to any examiner who wasn’t himself familiar with how such objects might be used.  And for that he needs more knowledge (not of the unthinking object he studies) but rather of the thinking agents that use such objects.  The whole world of “thought”, free will, (let alone Spirit and God) are so far beyond these simple scientific  tools (as used thus far) and the ludicrous suggestion that we have any substantial understanding how such things work because we see areas of a brain register electrical activity that is then associated with certain kinds of thought.   Not that science hasn’t made some little headway in that direction and couldn’t make more; but it seems quite likely to me that our whole program of ‘thinking about thought’ and free will is going to locked up by metaphysical and philosophical keys that science just doesn’t have on its key chain.  Purpose is locked away in that room too.  What we notice that seems so intrinsic to objects is the fine crafting we have done to it for a highly refined and specific purpose of ours.  To someone who knows nothing of our purposes or needs, the craft of such an object would be a nearly opaque mystery to them in discerning the original builder’s purpose; like Stonehenge is for us. —Though we can at least speculate about that because we read and know some of our own history and thus have ideas about past religious customs, temples, totems, astral observatories, etc. 


Merv - #69712

May 6th 2012

An additional thought or two this morning to add to last night’s post…

I realize that humans can only “create” things out of other pre-existent things, and in that sense our purposes for something may be secondary to a more ultimate purpose.  God who created everything from scratch, could have endowed it with a more “intrinsic” purpose that you see.  Does that get at what you’re seeing, Roger?  Of course, God’s purpose for things can change with circumstances.  E.g.  Babylon or Assyria are raised as tools of punishment for Israel, but later are destined for punishment themselves; and then in the consumation of history in Christ are further destined to bring God glory through bended knee and praise.  

And in a long view of natural history, God appears to use many different things in different ways to accomplish his purpose.  It still seems to me that God is the bestower of purpose on us.  The one consistent purpose we all have and share with creation in general is to bring God glory.   And for the smaller purposes within that we see variation according to the tool or time. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69722

May 6th 2012


Please, let us put aside Western dualist, black or white, yes or no thinking.  Just because we can or do use something for a secondary or tertiary or beyond purpose, does not mean that it does not have a primary purpose.  Just because you use a toaster as a window breaker does not mean that it is no longer a toaster, but it may be a braoken toaster.  Also if the toaster were made of clothe, it would not break the window.  It takes more than the purpose of the user.  The object used must be suitable to purpose of the user to work.

Let me go back to a question you raised before, and that is “What has God done?”  God has made life for a purpose.  Everybody “knows” this, but people do not agree what this purpose is or how to fulfill this purpose.  Now while it may not be the purpose of science to discover the purpose of life, it is still not the purpose of science to declare that life has no purpose, which is what Naturalism is saying. 

The logic is clear and persuasive if one accepted the premises.  That is, a) Energy/Matter cannot think, b) Energy/Matter make up the universe, c) therefore the universe cannot think.  Without thought there can be no purpose and meaning, so the universe and all it contains is without purpose and meaning.    

On the other hand I think we must make the case, that even though Energy/Matter cannot think, the rational God gave energy/matter rational form through natural laws.  If the rational God gave the universe rational form it follows that it has a rational purpose. 

Now there are three parts to this train of thought.  If one part is true then it would seem that the whole is true, although others might claim the opposite.  We cannot prove that God exists (or not) and I don’t think that we can prove to most people’s satisfaction what the rational purpose of life is, but I hope that most people will agree that the universe has rational form, because this is the basis of human science.  Sadly many followers of Scientism are bound and determined that the universe and life are not rationally structured.  This is the true issue behind Teleos.  All else is smokesreen. 

Thank you Dr. Falk for showing that we must have an integrated understanding of how God works in life and that God’s Teleos or Logos is the key to this understanding.    


Merv - #69742

May 7th 2012

You may need to elaborate on how I’m stuck in western dualist thinking.  I don’t doubt that I am and am so used to it that I can’t even see it.  But I’m not sure how thinking that purpose may be more intrinsic to a “purposer” than to the object so purposed falls into the category of dualist thought.

You later wrote:  “Now while it may not be the purpose of science to discover the purpose of life, it is still not the purpose of science to declare that life has no purpose, which is what Naturalism is saying.”

I will happily join you on any rooftop and trumpet that in all directions.


GJDS - #69713

May 6th 2012

This is an interesting discussion; I have spent considerable time trying to answer what I had hoped was a simple question: What is a scientific law?

 In general law of science is understood as, “A statement (generally considered of fact, or based on facts or sense responses), deduced from observation, to the effect that a particular natural phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions are present.” This means that it is for objects found in nature, which can be studied in a given manner.

Overall this is something a scientist states in formal or defined language, and is always conditional, as given or defined conditions must be present. It is also the reason why falsification (or setting the limits) of scientific laws, is of fundamental importance.

This conditional precludes what is, strictly termed, ‘random’, in the sense that ‘the thing’ cannot be predicted nor any outcome known prior to the fact.

However, I suspect random may also be used in a different sense in these discussions. 

Regarding evolution, I am of the view that a great deal is unknown, in the sense that I would use the term ‘”scientific law” when discussing evolution as ‘a thing of nature.’

What is pertinent is that what is known is the result of activities by a wide range of people, with various scientific backgrounds. A great deal of this may not meet the conditions laid down for scientific law activities. This argues against the strict conditions required for a scientific law.

Instead of arguing for laws that are either ‘set in motion’ to achieve a given outcome regarding this subject, would it not be more scientific to argue that we have an incomplete picture, but that this is predicated on observations of past events, and present bio-sciences, especially genetics and related areas of research

The discussion regarding how God may have acted appears slightly odd to me, as we cannot take a ‘scientific view’ of this discussion.

My personal view is that human beings are just ‘too unique’ to be simply explained the way evolutionists do; but this is a big subject and I am not discussing this. My contribution to this discussion is on the way the term ‘scientific law’ appears to be used. If we try to conclude that God acts in a certain ways from incomplete studies, we are bound to err. If on the other hand, we consider God as the creator, and His ways are inscrutable, than nature is part of the creation which we as intelligent beings have been given the privileged to study and understand (and hopefully to appreciate and protect). When we understand the entire planetary ecological system we may be able to ask how life is sustained. We are scientifically a long way from this.

Merv - #69718

May 6th 2012

Hi, GJDS.  The phrase “scientific law” probably gets used more by science educators and in popular discussions of scientific topics.  The way it is used may lead to it being a bit of a misnomer, but we want a way to refer to those principles which seem even more established than already well-established theories.  So you might see textbooks suggest that a theory that has “withstood the test of time” at some point may be referred to as a “law”. But this does not happen at some well-defined point and ends up becoming a popular public phrase like the “theory of relativity” (which probably qualified as a “law” for some time now.

Regarding random; it is true that “the thing” cannot be predicted (by us).  But that isn’t to say it isn’t part of some larger predictable behavior.  While I can’t predict one particular coin flip, I can give you an estimate with extremely high probability that between 450 and 550 of a thousand flips will be heads.  So we should be careful in equating “random” with “unpredictable” even on human terms, and in fact we can’t even say what it may look like to omniscience.   It probably turns out that certain types of events end up being convergent even while any particular one of those events is indistinguishable from randomness to us.


Bilbo - #69717

May 6th 2012

Hi Darrel,

I’m not sure if a Calvinist or Arminian position might affect our view of Nature and God’s actions in Nature.  Perhaps if I understood more about those two differing theologies, I might have a better answer. 

Let’s go back to X and Y.  God wants X to happen, but can only achieve X by “supernatural” means (God acting differently than usual in the world).  God wants Y to happen, but this can be achieved by God’s “natural” activity (the usual way God acts in the world). 

Let’s take a third state of affairs: Z.  God is “neutral” about whether Z happens.  If Z happens, God is happy.  If Z doesn’t happen, God is happy.   Which does God choose?  I would suppose that God would choose to act the way God ordinarily acts in the world, and Z will either happen or not happen. 

How does this relate to the question of evolution?  If Z is the extinction of a particular species, then God is “neutral” about that extinction, and will act the way God ordinarily acts in the world, allowing the extinction to occur or not occur. 

What if Z is the beginning of the human race?   Then if God was neutral about the beginning of the human race, God acted in the world the way God ordinarily acts, and in the case the human race began. 

Was God neutral about the beginning of the human race?  I would guess that most of us don’t think so.  So did God act supernaturally to bring it about or did God act naturally?   I think that’s an empirical question, to which most evolutionists would say God acted naturally, and most ID proponents would say that God acted supernaturally.   Who’s right?  Figuring that out is where the fun begins.

GJDS - #69723

May 7th 2012

“….but we want a way to refer to those principles which seem even more established than already well-established theories”


I understand your point and indeed would agree, with one proviso; any physical event that can be observed and measured can be subjected to scientific analysis and observation. Thus, the predictability of a coin flip is dealt with using statistics, and furthermore, the understanding can be extended to determining outcomes either by an exhaustive analysis (to predict with a high degree of accuracy) or “cheat” and change the properties of the coin so that the end results are ‘predictable’. In either of these senses, random is scientifically comprehensible.


Instead of scientific laws I think we can state that the observable Universe is the way it is because of what it is. By this, I mean objects are intrinsically the way they are, and we as human beings may comprehend them because of what we are. It is this outlook that some regard as the anthropic principle – and instead of laws, we look to Universal constants as ‘evidence’ of it being comprehensible to human beings, and indeed perhaps leading to human existence. A similar argument may be made for planet earth, in that it is uncommonly suited to life. While I cannot make a definite statement regarding ‘anthropic’ (after all I am ‘anthropomorphic’ and the argument could become circular), it seems a staggering outcome that the Universe is what it is (i.e. antropic).


If things are intrinsically this way, then even random events are part of the intrinsic nature of the Universe. I do not use this to argue for God’s existence of His will, since that is beyond human comprehension. I do see this however, as a setting in which we may understand the creation. God’s intervention may be argued as ‘not needed’ in any thing with the exception of humanity and salvation. The argument becomes more complicated when we consider if things are predetermined or if we would argue for freedom – another topic and not part of these comments. On the law, however, it may be shown that only the Law of God has any meaning, while laws of science are human constructs.

GJDS - #69724

May 7th 2012

I could not use the reply facility; the  above comment is a reply to Merv 69718.

PNG - #69727

May 7th 2012

A few comments on randomness and meanings of chance. Anyone who knows more about probablility is welcome to correct me. If something happens accord to physical law, but with an element of chance, I think that implies a statistical treatment, which means that you are not dealing with a single event, but a class of similar events. This is what you see in quantum mechanical experiments with particles. They involve a number of events that are similar enough to be handled as a group and dealt with statistically, so you can say that there is a certain probability of a particle behaving within a specified range of velocity or position. I think one can imagine some similar scheme where you would say that there is a spectrum of mutations in a certain stretch of DNA in a large number of trials, and the statistical distribution can be fit to a function that has a “random” element in it. It is something like this that is what we mean by randomness as dealt with by science. An alternate meaning of “random” is “undirected.” But I would argue that this is a meaning that science has no access to. It is essentially metaphysical. It is essentially teleological because it refers to a intention, and of course it is God’s intention we are interested in. It is conceivable that God can hide this kind of event within classes of events as described above that could be described as “random” in the scientific sense so the covertly directly event might be associated with the statistically random events. But I don’t see how science has any access to God’s purposes. An essential aspect of this is that God can do one time events (complex mutations are what I usually think about), whereas science can only make general statements about events that can be repeated, or where similar events can be place in classes. (We can’t arrange for repeat supernovas or speciations, but can we observe multiple instances of each.) This is why I think Roger’s insistence that purpose be reintroduced to science is mistaken. He is trying to mix metaphysics and science, and it really has been progress to separate the two since we left Aristotelean science. I don’t think we can or should go back. We can speculate about God’s actions as metaphysics, but I don’t see any way to make it part of science. We can’t observe God’s purposes or his acts, and like Pascal and unlike Dembski, that doesn’t surprise or bother me at all. I don’t believe in the philosophy of history for the same reason, and I think I can claim some wise allies on that matter like C.S. Lewis.

RBH - #69737

May 7th 2012

“I think one can imagine some similar scheme where you would say that there is a spectrum of mutations in a certain stretch of DNA in a large number of trials, and the statistical distribution can be fit to a function that has a “random” element in it. It is something like this that is what we mean by randomness as dealt with by science.”


As it happens, that’s <i>not</i> the sense in which “random” is used with respect to mutations in current evolutionary theory. There the meaning is better expressed as “random with respect to fitness.” Put in a nearly equivalent way, the mutual information between the distribution of mutations and the distribution of selective properties of the environment is zero. Knowing about the selective ‘needs’ of a population in some environment tells us nothing about what mutations will occur in the population.


Contrary-wise, however, knowing something about the mutations that go to fixation in a population may tell us something about the (past) selective environment(s) encountered by the population. The genome of a population is in part a palimpsest of ancestral selective environments.

PNG - #69743

May 7th 2012

You can make the events as a class random with respect to whatever you want, including fitness. The point is that the “randomness” that science has access to is a property of classes of events, not of individual events. If some individual mutation proves to be adaptive in a particular environment, there is no way to say whether it was directed or not. It may be a lucky shot or it may be directed. Science has no access to that information. It can only comment on the correlation of the group of events with something (fitness or whatever.) 

Gudnews - #69732

May 7th 2012

I’m still enjoying Darrell’s analogy: “Exactly as with the people of Israel among the nations, so humans among the animals: our special identity rests in the free choice of the Creator to give us himself and his name.” A good analogy moves more freight in the average person’s mind than several boxcars of advanced/specialized discussion. This analogy provoked an audible response from me. Like many of C. S. Lewis’ (or Jesus’) analogies, this one will keep me pondering for a while. Thanks, Darrel

David Buchanan - #69733

May 7th 2012

Like some of the other commenters, I commend both the writers (as well as the writers of the first exchange) for a civil discussion. I also appreciate the opportunity to read the numerous very thoughtfull comments. Much of what Dr. Dembski wrote was worthy of agreement, which I did not necessarily expect based upon some of his other writings. That said, he still did not dispel the impression, that I have had throughout all of my reading of the ID literature, that they tend to neglect the idea that science itself has changed (evolved??) since the publication of Darwin’s various works. I especially felt this when I read Darwin’s Black Box. I felt like Behe was directing all of his discussion in an effort to disprove Darwin and somewhat ignoring the subsequent 150 years of discovery. I doubt that you could find an evolutionary biologist who would claim that Darwin was 100% correct. He was, after all, a man who did not have access to even basic concepts of genetics. While Darwin and Mendel were contemporaries, my suspicion is that Darwin never saw Mendel’s work. When Dembski asserts “If Darwinism were incredibly well established – if the evidence for it were indeed as “overwhelming” as its advocates endlessly proclaim” I am uncertain as to what he appears to try to dismiss. Is he saying that those advocates are asserting that The Origin of Species is inerrant? If they are doing so then his dismissal is warranted. However, if those advocates are simply saying that life has changed on the planet and natural selection has been a primary force in that change, then he needs to be more respectful of those advocates. When he says that “evidence for common descent is mixed” and “the evidence for the creative power of natural selection to build complex biological forms is nil” I have to wonder what he is talking about. The evidence for common descent is pretty powerful. Just this morning in class I showed a comparison of the genome maps of humans, mice and cattle which is just one little piece of evidence for common descent among many. Similarly, many would vigorously debate the assertion of “nil” evidence for the power of natural selection to build complex biological forms. He is apparently defining this situation in a way that many evolutionary biologists would find quite foreign. Finally, I question Dembski’s description of Methodological Naturalism. He appears to make it out to be a state of nature when it is more properly considered as a state of science. The methodological naturalist is not claiming that nature is free of the supernatural. That is for the metaphysical naturalist to attempt to claim. The methodological naturalist is saying that science operates more effectively if we do the science without making supernatural claims. Dembski seems to say it correctly when he first defines methodological naturalism but by the end of the paragraph, one has to conclude that he has morphed his thoughts into an argument against metaphysical naturalism.

Page 1 of 2   1 2 »