Southern Baptist Voices: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral? Part 2

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April 30, 2012 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by William A. Dembski. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Southern Baptist Voices: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral? Part 2

Note: Today we continue the second installment in our ongoing Southern Baptist Voices series–a collection of seven essays from Southern Baptist scholars with BioLogos responses to their concerns and arguments. You can read more about the series here. We hope and pray that this dialogue will bring greater clarity to the issues at hand, charity towards those with whom we disagree, and glory to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In part one of his essay, William Dembski laid out his assessment of the “non-negotiables” of both Christianity and Darwinism as follows:

Non-Negotiables of Christianity
(C1) Divine Creation: God by wisdom created the world out of nothing.
(C2) Reflected Glory: The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity.
(C3) Human Exceptionalism: Humans alone among the creatures on earth are made in the image of God.
(C4) Christ’s Resurrection: God, in contravention of nature’s ordinary powers, raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

Non-Negotiables of Darwinism:
(D1) Common Descent: All organisms are related by descent with modification from a common ancestor.
(D2) Natural Selection: Natural selection operating on random variations is the principal mechanism responsible for biological adaptations.
(D3) Human Continuity: Humans are continuous with other animals, exhibiting no fundamental difference in kind but only differences in degree.
(D4) Methodological Naturalism: The physical world, for purposes of scientific inquiry, may be assumed to operate by unbroken natural law.

In this second part of his Essay, he discusses the tensions between the two lists and explains his belief that Darwinism undercuts Christianity.

Let’s start with (D1), Common Descent, the claim that all organisms trace their lineage to a common ancestor. This claim seems unproblematic for (C1)-(C4). Indeed, (C1)-(C4) allow that God might have used an evolutionary process of some form or other to bring about the organisms on planet earth. To be sure, one might want to bring in further theological reasons for rejecting Common Descent (such as that large-scale evolution implied by (D1) is wasteful and unworthy of a good God), but (C1)-(C4) don’t address how God implemented his plan to create living forms. By themselves, (C1)-(C4) allow that God might have specially created living forms or brought them about via an evolutionary process. As an aside, it may be noted that a minority of intelligent design proponents, notably Michael Behe, accepts Common Descent but rejects much of the rest of Darwinism (in particular, he rejects (D2)-(D4)).

In contrast to Common Descent, Natural Selection, (D2), does raise some tensions with (C1)-(C4). Natural selection, as Darwin defined it, is non-teleological. Nature, unlike human artificial selection, is not trying to build certain structures or functions according to a design plan. Natural selection is an instant-gratification mechanism that capitalizes on any advantage accruing to the organism in the present generation, not in future generations. Moreover, any such advantage results from variations that are random. Darwin did not use the word “random,” but he did reject that God or any teleological force was somehow guiding variations with an eye to future function (cf. Darwin’s correspondence with Asa Gray, who thought God might guide the variations, a view Darwin rejected). Variations for Darwin were not correlated with any future benefit to the organism.

Natural Selection, or (D2), is therefore in tension with both (C1) and (C2). (D2) implies that biological evolution does not give, and indeed cannot give, any scientific evidence of teleology in nature. We see this denial of teleology in Darwin’s own writings and we find it among his contemporary disciples, even among theistic evolutionists. For instance, Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, who calls himself an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinian, writes in Finding Darwin’s God that design (or teleology) in biology is “scientifically undetectable.” Now to say that something is scientifically undetectable isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist. Hence there’s no strict contradiction between (D2) and (C1)-(C2). God might, as a master of stealth, wipe away all fingerprints of his activity. He might be guiding evolution in ways that to us look like chance (e.g., random variation) and necessity (e.g., natural selection).

But if so, how could we know? The most controversial claim of intelligent design is that compelling scientific evidence exists for design in biology, from which it would follow that Darwinian evolution is on its own terms a failed explanation of the complexity and diversity of life. But leaving aside intelligent design, it seems odd, given (C1), that God would create by Darwinian processes, which suggest that unguided forces can do all the work necessary for biological evolution. As Phillip Johnson noted in Darwin on Trial, Darwinism doesn’t so much say that God doesn’t exist as that God need not exist. Sure, God’s ways are higher than ours and he might have good reasons for occluding his purposeful activity in nature. But 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).

The world, as a matter of general revelation, testifies to the divine glory, and failure by humans to acknowledge this fact results not from a dearth of evidence but from human wickedness, which willfully suppresses the truth of God’s revelation in creation (Romans 1:20). Now the theistic evolutionist might reply that creation does indeed testify to the divine glory, only this testimony looks not to scientific evidence. But in that case, how is the creation providing a general revelation of God and what exactly is it saying? 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).

The most difficult tension to resolve in our present discussion is the one between Human Exceptionalism, (C3), and Human Continuity, (D3). In The Descent of Man, Darwin drew out the implications for the human species that followed from his general account of evolution as presented in his Origin of Species. As he wrote in the Descent,

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.

Years earlier, in his notebooks, Darwin explicitly distanced human exceptionalism from God’s care and concern: “Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the interposition of a deity.” The implication is clear: if this is what man thinks of himself in his arrogance, a more sober assessment regards man as a mediocre work, not worthy of special divine attention, and with no prerogatives above the rest of the animal world.

Some theistic evolutionists are ready to follow Darwin here, such as Karl Giberson (see his Saving Darwin), and abandon Human Exceptionalism as conceived within orthodox theology. Others, desiring to stay within orthodoxy, punt. Take Francis Collins, who denies that our moral capacities represent the natural development of the same essential capacities in other primates. Yet to say that our moral or cognitive or linguistic capacities are unprecedented in the rest of the animal world flies in the face of Darwinian evolution, certainly as Darwin conceived it. Darwinism’s logic is inexorable. Evolution works by borrowing, taking existing capacities and reworking them. But if our moral or cognitive or linguistic capacities are unprecedented, then they are, for all intents and purposes, miracles.

And this brings us to the last non-negotiable on our list, Methodological Naturalism, or (D4). According to this claim, science treats the world as autonomous, regulated by natural laws that allow no exceptions. Accordingly, Darwinism, in embracing (D4), rules out miracles and, more generally, any teleology external to the material world. Now granted, Darwinism so characterized limits this prohibition against miracles/teleology to the study of nature. But the problem for Christians is that salvation history occurs against the backdrop of nature. In particular, Christ’s Resurrection, or (C4), occurs against this backdrop. To tie God’s hands by saying that God can act only one way in natural history (i.e., in accord with natural law) but has a freer rein in salvation history (i.e., can there perform miracles) seems arbitrary.

Christians who embrace Darwin therefore find themselves pulled in two directions. On the one hand, if committed to miracles such as the Resurrection, they have to confront why God doesn’t likewise do miracles in natural history. On the other hand, if committed to Methodological Naturalism, or (D4), they have to confront why this naturalism shouldn’t extend to salvation history as well (compare Michael Ruse above, who explains away the Resurrection as a trance or wish fulfillment of Jesus’ disciples). Trying to maintain (C4) and (D4) together constitutes an unstable equilibrium. People tend to jettison one or the other. For instance, Howard Van Till gave up on (C4) whereas Michael Behe gave up on (D4).

To sum up, Darwinism and Christianity, even when generously construed, exhibit significant tensions. Are these tensions so serious that Darwinism may rightly be regarded as not theologically neutral? I would say the tensions are indeed that serious. Such a conclusion, however, ultimately becomes a matter of personal judgment. Just as marriages can exist with serious tensions, some Christians are willing to tolerate the wedding of Darwinism and Christianity despite the tensions. That said, it’s worth asking why anyone would want this wedding in the first place. If Darwinism were incredibly well established – if the evidence for it were indeed as “overwhelming” as its advocates endlessly proclaim – then Christians might feel some compulsion for maintaining their union. But the evidence for common descent is mixed and the evidence for the creative power of natural selection to build complex biological forms is nil (see, for instance, my book The Design of Life, co-authored with Jonathan Wells). So the theological neutrality of Darwinism aside, there’s a prior question that needs to be asked, namely, is the evidence for Darwinism sufficient that one should even be concerned whether it is theologically neutral?

In the next post, BioLogos President Darrel Falk begins his response to Dembski’s essay.


William A. Dembski is Research Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and directs the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design. A mathematician and philosopher, Dembski is one of the leading figures in the intelligent design movement and a proponent of the idea of “irreducible complexity” as proof of intelligent design in nature. He has published many books and journal articles critiquing evolution and offering arguments from a design perspective for an intelligent creator.

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eluros.aabye - #69635

May 1st 2012

Thanks for the essays. A few thoughts (I apologize for the length) on both Part I and Part II:

1. “Now compatibility and incompatibility are funny notions. They’re not like strict logical consistency or inconsistency, which admit of proof.” Actually, they are pretty easy to test for (three cheers for the Sheffer stroke), but perhaps Dembski means that it’s difficult/problematic to reduce the terms to sheer logic?

4. Christian NN: “Reflected Glory: The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity.” I’d be curious to know if this fails in some Christian versions of total depravity (I’m thinking, in particular, of the reformed hyper-Calvinist movement) and the fallen-ness of the world.

5. Building on 2, “Strict logical contradictions are difficult to find in the science-theology dialogue because the language of science and the language of theology tend to be so different. Even the clash of (C3), Human Exceptionalism, and (D3), Human Continuity, might be finessed by arguing that a sufficiently large difference in degree can appear as a difference in kind.”
He takes this to be the problem; I take this to be the answer. Logic offers cut-and-dry answers (even if that answer is, “there’s no incompatibility”).

6. It’s clear, from his comments about Francis Collins, that Dembski is not talking about evolution; he’s talking about Darwinism specifically. There’s a danger in the technicality of the difference—he could be taken to be arguing against the compatibility of the scientific understanding of evolution with Christianity when, in fact, he’s arguing about something very specific. There’s no problem with it, per se, but it runs the risk of proving too much to non-technically-minded readers. I’m unsure about the stakes of the argument—I guess the only people Dempski is writing to are Christians considering Darwinism (or who consider themselves Darwinist) , not evolutionists in general.

7. “But 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).”
Psalm 19 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” If we read that literally (“the world clearly reflects God’s glory”), rather than poetically, we get absurdity.

As far as Romans 1, what is the reference? The best I can find is “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” That’s explicitly talking about God’s invisible qualities, not about the world. I may be missing the verse he’s discussing, though.

9. “Evolution works by borrowing, taking existing capacities and reworking them. But if our moral or cognitive or linguistic capacities are unprecedented, then they are, for all intents and purposes, miracles.” This isn’t right, to be fair to Darwin. Per Darwin, the first set of air-breathing lungs and first set of flight-capable wings would be unprecedented. 2001: A Space Odyssey gives (at least) 2 great illustrations of this principle.

10. “If Darwinism were incredibly well established – if the evidence for it were indeed as “overwhelming” as its advocates endlessly proclaim – then Christians might feel some compulsion for maintaining their union. But the evidence for common descent is mixed and the evidence for the creative power of natural selection to build complex biological forms is nil (see, for instance, my book The Design of Life, co-authored with Jonathan Wells).”
Super contentious, but he went there, so I’ll address it. I believe it’s completely fair to say that scientific consensus is established in favor of evolution. See, for example:
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/06/ann_coulter_no_evidence_for_ev.php
http://www.interacademies.net/10878/13901.aspx
http://www.faseb.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=a2LJLDVemwo=&tabid=345
Et cetera.

As someone who affirms Christianity, neither affirms nor denies Darwinism, and suspects evolution to be true but doesn’t affirm it per se, I didn’t find the argument to be terribly persuasive. Nonetheless, it was well written, and I very much appreciate the time and research that professor Dembski pored into the articles.


Tim - #69636

May 1st 2012

Why are we calling the Theory of Evolution “Darwinism”?  The theory has progressed since his time, and not everything he proposed do we still adhere to (such as his understanding of genetics), and quite a bit of what we do adhere to he didn’t propose (epigenetics, latteral gene transfer, symbiosis, etc.).

So let’s call it the Theory of Evolution instead of Darwinism (which seems to be a pejorative among the ID / Creationist crowd - like we’re dogmatically following his teachings as if he were Christ or something), OK?

Also, to suggest that

”(D3) Human Continuity: Humans are continuous with other animals, exhibiting no fundamental difference in kind but only differences in degree”

is in theological conflict with Christianity would be to take the above assertion further than Evolutionary theory requires.  The continuity claimed in Evolutionary theory is predominantely genetic.  It says nothing of spiritual contuity (though of course it could say something of sociobiological continuity).  Since Evolutionary theory doesn’t posit any contiuity on spiritual grounds, I fail to see the theological conflict.


Merv - #69639

May 1st 2012

On a recent thread at the ‘Uncommon Descent’ site, folks have been all tied in knots about the apparent lack of definition or lack of agreement on one for ‘methodological naturalism’. 

Professor Dembski also seems to be waffling between the nuances of that phrase, though his preference (against the D4 statement provided above) shows through  in the essay content here.  I’ll refer to you in third person, Dr. Dembski, assuming that you probably aren’t interacting here at this time,—no disrespect is intended.  (and I would be delighted to discover you were taking the time to be here!)

Anyway, D4 as stated at the outset includes ...“for the purposes of scientific inquiry”... which allows MN considerably more latitude to be theologically neutral than Professor Dembski allows for the same later on as he summarizes D4 as science that “treats the world as autonomous, regulated by natural laws that allow no exceptions.”  (emphasis added).  That is indeed hostile to theology, but it is also an expanded claim over the D4 as listed where the purview of the assumption is limited to just “for the purposes of scientific inquiry.”  If one were to insist on the milder definition first given (D4), would this help deflate the tension between D4 and C4?

—Merv


Merv - #69640

May 1st 2012

I’ve also been musing recently over the ‘human exceptionalism’ quesions (C3 andD3).  All manner of ideas have been proposed for what separates us from other animals—or how the ‘image of God’ property manifests itself in us.  Professor Dembski shares Darwin’s list with us from ‘Descent’—that of ‘love, memory, attention’...  and how those things can also be seen in various degrees in other animals.  I’m inclined to agree that if those things were all that was needed to qualify as ‘In the image of God’ then that is a real problem—- or it is for somebody determined to find scientifically how we are different from other animals.  But what if we accept that the label ‘image of God’ does not come from science or Darwin’s narrow view of it  (I could expand his list by at least one whopper he left out—‘free will’, but that may be beyond scientific verification or falsification both for humans as well as other animals), but even so what if we are ‘in the image of God’ just because God chose us and chose to communicate with us?  Shouldn’t our claim on that term be theological/biblical instead of scientific? Apparently Darwin’s personal struggle (from issues in addition to his science) caused him to reject C1-C4.  But for him to decide how his science must impinge on legitimate theology D1-D4—is surely a step to be questioned?  Was Darwin such a theological authority that we should take his religious musings too seriously?

—Merv


Jon Garvey - #69642

May 2nd 2012

Good points, Merv (and strange that there is much more comment on this thread at Uncommon Descent than here. Any Significance?)

I tend to share your take on the real nature of human exceptionalism, at least as taught in the image-language of Genesis 1. Though biological differences may not, shall we say, be entirely fortuitous.

If the key to our self-evidence uniqueness is a largely a matter of covenant relationship to God, that still makes us absolutely unique - we are tapped into what is beyond the natural realm. But it makes our uniqueness quite a separate matter from evolution, and therefore not accessible to methodological naturalism. Which is fine if D4 is universally taken as Dembski originally states it, and the conclusion drawn: “We natural scientists have nothing useful to say about human uniqueness.”

But in practice, let’s be honest, Dembski’s drift to metaphysical naturalism is what happens all the time: man is just a naked ape, we are 98% the same as chimps, religion is an adaptive mechanism, sin is an inevitable leftover from our evolutionary history… some of those are not only heard from unbelievers.


Merv - #69665

May 3rd 2012

The ‘But in practice…’ observation you raise is the clincher for a whole lot of folk it seems. 

So atheists have taken the Darwinist ingredients and cooked up a whopper.  Nobody can argue with that, and it does have the Scriptural feel as well ....  tree being known by its fruit. 

I can hear a lonely TE reply, though, almost like an apologetically raised hand from the back of a crowded room .... “uh excuse me ... I know that there are these scores of reasons why evolutionary science and natural selection are so threatening and all—so celebrated by atheists as victory over ‘vanquished’ religion and so feared by religious folks, so enlisted as an ideology to control which indoctrination will be permitted in classrooms, but, well ... all the non-scientific, anti-theological glossing aside; what about that one little detail:  is it actually true?  If just the bare (non-ideological) proposition of deep time with common descent was itself true, but  without all the atheology, wouldn’t that trump all the other tempest? Shouldn’t the quesion “what would God do?” be trumped by the question “what did God do?”   (Not to pretend that the former question is of no use ... especially when the details aren’t all clear on what did happen.)  Just some late night thoughts. 

—Merv

 

 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69669

May 4th 2012

Merv,

I think that you are exactly right.  The controling question for theologians and believing scientists must be “What did God do?” and “How did God do it?” 

I am not sure that the other question, “What would God have done?” has much standing because we really are unable to understanding universe as God does except in retrospect.  However there is another question which is important and that is “How does God normally work?” and that is what we are discussing here.  

Here we must look at God’s Word, the Logos Jesus Christ.  Even though Jesus did work through miracles of healing He worked within the rules of nature in that He restored lost abilities instead of creating new supernatural abilities.  Also we know that physical healing was always associated with spiritual healing.  In any case the gospel of Jesus Christ is about change, so it is not contray to evolution which is a process of change.  

My point has always been that evolutionary change is true and real, but the Darwinian understanding of evolution is deeply flawed.  I am very pleased that Dr. Falk seems to agree with me.         


Jon Garvey - #69670

May 4th 2012

Merv -

Quite right. Two questions, though.

(1) Is human enquiry actually capable of suspending ideology? Or to put it another way round, since all humans will have an ideology (as Christians, they are supposed to, aren’t they?), will that not inevitably affect what truth they are able/willing to discover?

(2) How often is evolution defined solely as “deep  time + common descent”?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69672

May 4th 2012

Jon,

Interesting question concerning the nature of human inquiry.  It has been suggested that the man who discovered the important electro-magnetic field was influenced in this discovery by the Christian sect of which he was a devout member whose doctrine of the Holy Spirit resembles his field theory. 

I think certain ideas or ideology open (or close) people up to certain scientific ways of thinking, but we cannot say that they determine our discoveries.  That should be based on our ability to critically examine God’s world to see what is happening on its own terms.  On the other hand I do not see methodolgical naturalism or reductionism encouraging this.      


Merv - #69682

May 4th 2012

I don’t think it possible for us to remove ourselves completely to some non-ideological platform, Jon—your point is well taken. 

That said, I think we take our overt ideologies (the ones we consciously choose) and deliberately alter how much we want to pull it in to some given argument we are making.  So, for example, I don’t choose to explicitly utilize my Christian ideology in any discernable way when I am trying to explain higher order polynomials to my pre-calc class.  Not to say it’s gone or that I’m totally ideological neutral while I’m discussing turning points and function end behavior, etc., but the facts there can appear to be much more bare than when I’m discussing stewardship of the earth with a chemistry class.  There, my ideology will much more explicitly make itself known.  In short, I guess I think of the influence of ideology as being variable (but non-zero.)

If I were to define evolution in a more thoughtful way than my hasty “deep time + common descent” comment, I would probably refer to it as the acceptance that life forms change genetically and incrementally through deep time, eventually forming new “species” due to geographical isolation and other factors.

—Merv


Marshall Janzen - #69656

May 3rd 2012

Note to moderator: comments still seem to be disabled on part one of Dembski’s essay.

Todd Wood has some interesting responses to Dembski’s essay. From the first part:

And that brings me to my final concern: The ubiquitous use of “Darwinist” and “Darwinism.” The way Dembski uses it implies that it is some kind of dogmatism, as if it actually had non-negotiables. Since three of Dembski’s four non-negotiables are contingent on evidence, I’m not sure what a “Darwinist” could be philosophically. Dogmatically committed to an untenable scientific position? I am dubious such a creature would exist (present company excepted, of course). If we think of Darwinism as the version of evolution that Darwin believed, then there are no Darwinists left, since science has advanced much in 150 years. I haven’t seen the BioLogos response to Dembski, but I’d be willing to bet (heavily) that they’ll deny being “Darwinists.” Now I’ve used “Darwinism” in the past as a shortcut for random variation and natural selection, Darwin’s mechanism for evolution, but I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the word, largely because of the pejorative tone it has taken on in the past decade or so. I think there are more accurate terms and better nuanced categories we can use when writing and speaking about evolution and Christian faith, and I think we owe that to our Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with us.

And, in part two, among other issues Wood discusses how Dembski seems to go from treating “humans alone ... are made in the image of God” as a Christian non-negotiable, to treating one particular interpretation of what having the image of God means as a Christian non-negotiable. “There are plenty of theologians who view the image as a position we hold, rather than a quality we possess.” After quoting how Dembski uses Human Exceptionalism, he writes:

That sounds very suspiciously like a qualitative view of the image, which he seems to equate with orthodox theology. It’s difficult to say for sure, though, since he merely declares that Human Exceptionalism and Human Continuity (“Humans are continuous with other animals, exhibiting no fundamental difference in kind but only differences in degree.”) have the “most difficult tension to resolve.” The very fact that he contrasts these two also implies he’s holding a qualitative view of the image, since a positional view of the image would not at all conflict with Human Continuity as he defines it. If Dembski is treating nonqualitative views of the image of God as unorthodox, then he puts himself in conflict with other Southern Baptist theologians. For example, Peter Gentry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary does not take the qualitative view (see his “Kingdom through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image”). Is Gentry therefore unorthodox? Or a compromiser on a Christian non-negotiable? See how awkward Dembski’s line of argument becomes?

In all, Todd’s posts are well worth the read. As someone with quite different views of some aspects of science and biblical interpretation, I still value his thoughts and how he expresses them.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69663

May 3rd 2012

Mercury,

Aome people object to the use of Darwinism, but it seems to me that Dawkins & Dennett, the idealogues of Evolutionism, seem to glory in being Darwinists.  No doubt some scientists are uneasy about Dawkins’ idealogy, but I really do not see much criticism of his ideas, such as gene’s eye view if evolution. 

Really, it seem to me that many scientists are afraid of criticizing Dawkins or aren’t really interested in defending their science from ideology.  


dennis.venema - #69664

May 3rd 2012

Hi Mercury, 

Thanks for discussing and linking over to Todd’s reflections - I had intended to do that as well, and when I checked the thread, here they were already!

Todd is a friend and brother in Christ that I value greatly in this discussion, though (obviously) we come at this from different approaches. 

... and, if I’m not mistaken, I’ve “seen” you around in one other (denomination-specific) forum discussing similar issues. Welcome to BioLogos! Great to have you here. 


penman - #69667

May 4th 2012

Forgive me if this is either repetitious (of someone else) or slightly tangential…

...But surely human uniqueness or “exceptionalism” has to be defined Christologically. The incarnation is the key, isn’t it? Humanity’s uniqueness lies in our being destined to union with God - deification, as the early church fathers put it. To secure that end, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Logos, assumed our nature: not the nature of a rock, tree, or frog, but human nature.

It doesn’t seem important to me whether or not our human qualities have antecedents or analogues in non-human nature. Clearly many non-human terrestrial life-forms have a rational & emotional life: they can think & feel. Anyone with a pet dog knows that. But human uniqueness, if not defined by mere comparatives (we are cleverer, we feel more complexly), has to be defined - at least in Christian terms - by the unique destiny God purposes for us in Christ. “God became human that we might become divine”. “Partakers of the divine nature”. Etc.


Ashe - #69673

May 4th 2012

The only non-negotiable when it comes to “Darwinism” is the assumption that the universe exists and can be understood. Drift appears to be taking some of the responsibility away from natural selection.

The only non-negotiable when it comes to Christianity is C4.


Jon Garvey - #69686

May 5th 2012

The only non-negotiable when it comes to Christianity is C4

We had a Bishop of Durham over here 25 years or so ago, who wouldn’t have agreed with that. Does everybody get to choose their own non-negotiables?


PNG - #69886

May 10th 2012

Jon, you might find it amusing that I once sat across a table from Anthony Flew in his atheist days and heard him say that if the bishop of Durham was going to deny the resurrection, he should first resign his Christian bishopric. Apparently Anthony had stricter ideas about Christian non-negotiables than the bishop did.


Jon Garvey - #69954

May 15th 2012

Now that does amuse me.

Another anecdote about the B of D was in my small and very suburban home Bible study group in the 80s, when several people were waxing hot about David Jenkins’ teaching for about 10 minutes, ending with a rhetorical question along the lines: “Well, how does he explain Paul saying ...”

A previously silent, but quite deep, chap, then spoke up and said, “Well, in the reply he sent this morning to my letter to him, the bishop said…”


Bilbo - #69698

May 5th 2012

Without going into a lot of detail, even though I am an ID proponent, I was embarrassed by Dembski’s essay.  I expected much better from a man who is a trained theologian, philosopher, mathematician, etc. 

 I think the one thing I can conclude from Dembski’s essay, is that if even Dembski cannot come up with substantive theological or philosophical objections to “Darwinism,” then there aren’t any.


Randy Isaac - #69880

May 10th 2012

Both Dembski and Falk feel that Michael Ruse watered down Christianity in order to avoid tension between Christianity and evolutionary theory. It seems as if Dembski may have also watered down Christianity in order to find such tension. For one thing, Dembski considers the randomness upon which natural selection operates and the so-called “unguided” or “undirected” aspects of evolution to be antithetical to the biblical doctrine of creation. Yet, Christianity teaches a God who is capable of, and does, carry out his will through random processes or any process he chooses. Dimbski’s God seems incapable of using random processes to achieve his intent. For another, Dembski views human exceptionalism as necessarily discernible through biological or natural distinctions so that biological continuity precludes such exceptionalism. That in essence involves a Christianity that cannot vest human exceptionalism in a purely spiritual sense.

Without a watered down Christianity, would any tension persist?


melanogaster - #69882

May 10th 2012

Roger:
“Aome people object to the use of Darwinism, but it seems to me that Dawkins & Dennett, the idealogues of Evolutionism, seem to glory in being Darwinists.”

Really, Roger? Are you claiming that Dawkins and Dennett deny the importance of non-Darwinian drift?

My challenge to you to write a comment about ideas, without mentioning people, still stands, btw.

“No doubt some scientists are uneasy about Dawkins’ idealogy, but I really do not see much criticism of his ideas, such as gene’s eye view if evolution.”

Roger, I hate to break this to you, but that’s not Dawkins’s idea.
 
————-

dennis.venema:
“Thanks for discussing and linking over to Todd’s reflections - I had intended to do that as well, and when I checked the thread, here they were already!”

Yes, Todd presented his criticisms in a thoughtful, polite manner. I predict no substantive response from Dembski.

————-

Randy Isaac:
“It seems as if Dembski may have also watered down Christianity in order to find such tension. For one thing, Dembski considers the randomness upon which natural selection operates and the so-called “unguided” or “undirected” aspects of evolution to be antithetical to the biblical doctrine of creation.”

Randy, you are absolutely correct. The world is full of evangelical Christians who accept randomness in many other forms. Dembski just has to slip “random” in at every opportunity even though Darwin never mentioned it and Darwinian evolution merely requires that some variation between individuals is heritable, a fact that everyone accepts.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69883

May 10th 2012

Melanogaster,

Please tell me more.  What is the importance of “non-Darwinian” drift?

Are you telling me that Dawkins is opposed to “the gene’s eyeview of evolution” after others have indicated that this is his bottom line?


PNG - #69887

May 10th 2012

I don’t want to take away from whatever melanogaster wants to say, but I was going to point out someplace else (which I have lost track of) that you seem to assume that neutral changes make no difference in an organism, which isn’t necessarily true. Neutral just means that a change makes no difference in reproductive fitness. It is true that there are a large number of mutations in intergenic and intronic regions and silent positions in coding regions that don’t change anything except the genome, but a change could have morphological or physiological effect and not affect reproductive fitness. A change in eye color comes to mind as a possible mutation that might have a noticeable phenotype, yet no effect on fitness. There are biologists now who think that substantial changes in an organism might come about by neutral mutations (I think this is what melanogaster was referring to) but I don’t know enough about the evidence or arguments to comment.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69894

May 10th 2012

PNG,

Thank you for your comment.

It would seem that the issue is Natural Selection.  When I had my argument with Stephen a little while ago he was trying to say that because new species can be created by genetic drift Natural Selection plays no role in their formation, thus creating a hole in Darwinian theory.

The view that I tried to express was that Natural Selection, which is for me ecologically based, is always in play.  If genetic drift is neutral, that is it makes no difference in reproductive fitness, then then there is no reason for NS to select that kind of change out so it is selected in.  This certainly does not indicate to my understanding that Natural Selection does not apply “genetic drift” except if you define it as changes that do not change reproductive fitness, and as far as I know it is NS which itself determines this.

The problem seems to be emphasis.  I am primarily concerned about NS because for me that is what makes the system work.  Steven who seems to be a specialist is primarily concerned about genetic change or variation, because that is what evolutionary biology is about today.  Therefore we have a differemce in point of view.

I freely admit that I am not a specialist.  In large part that is why I visit these forums, to learn more about this topic from others who have different perspectives.  Sometimes it seems that others do not think that I have a right to express an opinion if I do not share their point of view. 

Again thank you for your comment and I hope that Melanogaster also responds.   

 

Now what they people are saying is that Natural Selection does not apply to genetic drift because these changes did not  


melanogaster - #69898

May 10th 2012

Roger:
“Please tell me more. What is the importance of “non-Darwinian” drift?”

There’s no need to put it in scare quotes, Roger. Its importance in this political debate is that it shows that all of the people Dembski portrays as “Darwinians” are perfectly willing to accept and study non-Darwinian mechanisms.

Scientifically, drift is incredibly important. It is in tension with natural selection, for example, and is sufficient to produce speciation in the presence of geographical isolation. There is a large body of experimental literature, particularly using bacteria.

“Are you telling me that Dawkins is opposed to “the gene’s eyeview of evolution” after others have indicated that this is his bottom line?”

No, Roger, I am telling you that he is communicating the ideas of others. Your portrayal of him as some sort of titan controlling the scientific enterprise is ludicrous. He stopped doing science many years ago.

PNG:
“Neutral just means that a change makes no difference in reproductive fitness.”

Correct. Roger just doesn’t get it. I would suggest that you replace the word “change” with the word “allele” as all populations have existing polymorphisms that are sufficient to drive evolution if God stopped all mutations tomorrow. This is the critical fact that Dembski has to conceal by using the word “random” whenever possible.

Roger:
“When I had my argument with Stephen a little while ago he was trying to say that because new species can be created by genetic drift Natural Selection plays no role in their formation, thus creating a hole in Darwinian theory.”

These things are ADDITIONS to Darwinian theory, not holes.

“If genetic drift is neutral, that is it makes no difference in reproductive fitness…”

Roger, you’re making a massive, massive category error. “Neutral” is not an adjective that applies to the noun “genetic drift.” Please learn the most basic things before forming strong opinions about them. The adjective “neutral” refers to the relative fitness of alleles, OK? Drift is a mechanism.

“The problem seems to be emphasis.”

No, the problem is your inability to grasp basic ideas. I suggest separating them from people as a solution.

“I am primarily concerned about NS because for me that is what makes the system work. Steven who seems to be a specialist is primarily concerned about genetic change or variation, because that is what evolutionary biology is about today. Therefore we have a differemce in point of view.”

His POV is based on knowledge, yours is based on ignorance.

“I freely admit that I am not a specialist. In large part that is why I visit these forums, to learn more about this topic from others who have different perspectives.”

I would suggest that you try to learn without personalization. It’s possible, you know!

“Now what they people are saying is that Natural Selection does not apply to genetic drift because these changes did not”

Try to avoid putting silly words into the mouths of others, OK? Stop making false claims about what people are saying and ask questions!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69911

May 11th 2012

Melanogatser,

I appreciate your efforts to straighten me out.

That said, I still think that both Dawkins and Dennett who have written extensively on the ideas of Charles Darwin do not seem to have a problem with the label of Darwinists.  Maybe a better name would be neoDarwinists, because as everyone knows and they point out Darwin knew nothing about genetics and this aspect of the theory was incorporated into Darwin’s Theory of Evolution long after his death.  However as they say and most people agree the basic structure of his Theory still stand as far as I can tell.  Maybe you disagree.

As you say genetic drift is non-Darwinian because it deals with the variation of the genotype I do not see how it necesarily affects the basic Darwinian view of Variation and Natural Selection that I am following. 

Now it does seem to question the neoDarwinian concept that variation takes place at random through genetic mutation.  I am sure that this is an important question for you and other evolutionists, but again I have tried to make clear that I am concerned about Natural Selection and not Variation.

If neutral applies to the relative fitness of alletes, then there is no basis for natural selection, right?  Selection is based on relative fitness of allete, correct?  Thus genetic drift does not mean that natural selection does not occur, but that natural selection selects all alletes if none has a relative advantage. 

Now if I somehow indicated that the gene’s eye view of evolution was original with Richard Dawkins when in fact it is not, forgive me.  Actually I was following my partner in dialogue Steven who claimed it as Dawkins’ point of view.  Then I found Stephen Jay Gould’s criticism of this view on the internet.  I certainly have no problem with giving dcfredit where credit is due.

Whether Dawkins exerts undue influence over science I have no way of knowing directly, but I have read reports from people with no reason to lie that seems to indicate that he does or he certainly tries.  This has nothing to do with his contributions to science.

I only know from what people report.  Your denial does not prove anything without any evidence.           


Roger A. Sawtelle - #69916

May 11th 2012

I probably upset Melangaster by trying to defend myself, but let me take his advice to ask questions, because I do value his thoughts on these topics.

My only problem is that this will take us even further off topic tha we already are, so let me encourage any who might continue this forum on a more on topic subject.

This said,

What is important concerning genetic drift?  Is it just an interesting sideshow, esp maybe to ID’ers, or is it an important cluse as to how evolution actually works?

Also what is your opinion concerning Group Selection vs. Kinship/Gene’s Eye View?  A serious debate or just journalistic hype?   

 

  


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