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Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Three

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July 19, 2010 Tags: Science & Worldviews
Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Three

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

We often hear about the virtue of “teaching the controversy” when it comes to origins. The strategy is to lay out various options to students--options on which “experts” disagree--and let them make up their minds. This proposal appeals to America’s sense of fair play. America, from the days of its founding to its dynamic entrepreneurial culture of today has always celebrated the ability to break free of traditional ideas and boldly go where nobody has gone before.

The anti-Darwinians would have us view evolution the same way the founding fathers viewed the yoke of British colonialism. Just as the heavy hand of Britain had to be removed, so the yoke of Darwin must be cast aside as well, if we are to be truly liberated to find the truth. And what better way to find the truth than to have the options laid out in front of us, like the entrees on a menu waiting to be selected, or the candidates on a ballot waiting to be elected to office?

Despite the generous tone of such a proposal, it is a recipe for the production of widespread scientific illiteracy. Sending the message that we can “choose” our preferred science from a roster of options undermines the entire concept of science for it makes science seem like politics. Science is nothing like politics. Politics, at its best, is all about trying to create a society where people will be happiest. And the criteria for that change from time to time. Once upon a time women could not vote and that seemed OK. Now it is not OK. Once upon a time, education was not universally available and now it is. Politics is all about figuring out how things should be, based on how we would like them to be.

Science is the opposite of this. Science is about finding out how the world is whether we like it or not. And the lesson of history is that science is often not what we want it to be. Galileo’s arguments for the moving earth were not greeted with a chorus of “Amens” by his colleagues in Rome. John Donne expressed the concern of that generation when he wrote that this “new philosophy casts all in doubt.” Galileo’s ideas became the consensus slowly because they were true, not because they made people happy, or got selected by the majority from a roster of options.

The same thing is true of the Big Bang theory. Countless scientists went on record opposing the strange idea that our universe emerged in some kind of transcendent explosion beyond the reach of science. The Steady State Theory was developed by some leading cosmologists specifically to oppose the Big Bang because many scientists did not like it and wanted it to be false. But facts are facts and gradually a consensus emerged that the Big Bang was true.

In a more interesting development, we have watched “scientific racism” gradually be undermined by advances in genetics. It was once believed that certain races, like Australian aborigines, Africans, or Native Americans were demonstrably inferior. The textbook from which John Scopes supposedly taught evolution made this claim explicitly. But scientific advances in our understanding of human origins destroyed the foundations of these racist notions. All scientists though, did not welcome these advances. Racism runs deep and it was hard for some people to accept that their racism was based on an irrational and ultimately immoral prejudice and not on science.

But, once again, a consensus emerged that “race” does not have a biological basis. Many scientists are justifiably proud that science has dealt such a blow to humanity’s greatest social plague. This happened, though, through the achievement of consensus, as opposing viewpoints were undermined and the reluctant holdouts gradually came on board.

The same is true for evolution. Darwin’s ideas were not met with universal and unbridled enthusiasm. In fact, his key idea of natural selection was ignored for decades because most biologists thought it was too feeble to do the work Darwin assigned to it in The Origin of Species. The consensus about evolution that exists among biologists today took about a century to achieve. Thousands and thousands of reluctant, often brilliant, frequently cranky, scientists had to “come around” to Darwin’s view.

This is the meaning of “consensus” in science. Thomas Cudworth, on the Uncommon Descent blog, describes the embrace of consensus as “prostration before a self-selecting clique of experts.” This he says, “is repugnant to good science, to good philosophy, to the ideal of the university, and to the ideal of an open, free and democratic society.”

This does not make sense to me. Tens of thousands of biologists at thousands of universities spread around the planet are hardly a “self-selecting clique of experts.” And what does “self-selecting” even mean in this context? I would love to “select” myself to a tenured position at Harvard but I am unaware that such an option is available to me. The claim that the standard methods of science are “repugnant” to a “democratic society” is, alas, completely true. If only we could “vote” on what we wanted to be true, rather than have it imposed on us by the way things are.

Science is anything but democratic. Mother Nature casts the only vote and it is the job of science to determine how she voted. She votes only once and never changes her mind.

The scientific community is filled with creative, obstinate, and highly independent personalities. Anyone who attends a scientific meeting can see this clearly. Scientists dress strangely, have irregular hair, and are often socially odd. They can be abrasive and obnoxious. They despise convention and disrespect tradition. If there is any group that would be unwilling to bow before a “self-selecting clique of experts”, it is scientists.

A scientific consensus represents a hard-won victory over every imaginable sort of opposition. We should not set aside such consensus just because a tiny group of articulate outsiders offer us some ideas that we might like better. The ID movement has people with Ph.D.s to be sure. And a few of them have conventional scientific posts. But their pleas that we set aside scientific consensus must be ignored.

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

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Rich - #23681

July 27th 2010


There is no need to solve the great theological question about whether randomness is compatible with God’s complete control over events, if our only concern is to determine whether a series of mutations *random with respect to future selective advantage* could build up brand-new complex, integrated biological systems.  The latter question should fall within the realm of natural science, not metaphysics or theology. 

I think these two questions must always be kept separate:

1.  Is neo-Darwinian theory adequate from a scientific point of view?

2.  Does neo-Darwinism assume, assert, or imply a view of nature which is incompatible with the Christian view of creation?

Obviously, someone who answers “No” to the first question needn’t be preoccupied by the second (except as a philosophical or theological exercise).  But since all TEs known to me answer “Yes” to the first question, then they are bound to try to justify a “No” answer to the second question.  And while motivation doesn’t in itself invalidate an argument, it at least warns us that we might well expect some proof-texting and ad hoc reasoning—which we do in fact find in many of the harmonizing TE arguments.

Argon - #23685

July 27th 2010

Rich - #23677 “TEs do of course say that they are only “methodological” and not “philosophical” naturalists, and I am sure that’s technically right, but when you work out all the implications of their position (for most of them), there is no *practical* difference, when it comes to (a) their practice of science, and (b) what they think nature is really like. “

For the practice of science, I agree. This is no different from how Behe or Denton practice science. Phil Johnson hoped to develop a theistic science but that’s gone nowhere.

But given that TEs accept the resurrection, revelatory truth and the sovereignty of God, I don’t accept that they are blinkered stooges for philosophical naturalism. I’ve heard people like Denyse O’Leary & others often associated with the DI also make this charge, but in the end, I don’t think it corresponds with what I’ve observed of members in the American Scientific Affiliation who are sympathetic to TE.

Argon - #23691

July 27th 2010

Rich - #23681 There is no need to solve the great theological question about whether randomness is compatible with God’s complete control over events, if our only concern is to determine whether a series of mutations *random with respect to future selective advantage* could build up brand-new complex, integrated biological systems.

Well, you did ask me to weigh in on God and chance. I did, using some examples that were less Biblically sensitive (like the weather or nuclear decay). The concern you mention wrt mutations seems to have less to do with question of God and chance and more with the realms of scientific possibility. As you say, separate questions.

I think these two questions must always be kept separate:
1.  Is neo-Darwinian theory adequate from a scientific point of view?
2.  Does neo-Darwinism assume, assert, or imply a view of nature which is incompatible with the Christian view of creation?

Ah, but #2’s core is a profound theological question (though ‘imply’ is subjective). Rich, how do you answer question #2? Are you taking the position that we must have arisen by a mechanism that can be scientifically demonstrated to specifically create humans?

Rich - #23698

July 27th 2010

Argon (23691):

End question—No, that’s not my position.  My position is that we shouldn’t decide, a priori, that God would or wouldn’t have made his design detectable.  My position is that design *may* be detectable.  Many if not most TEs seem to deny that, or at least to pooh-pooh the possibility.  Thus, I don’t claim that ID *has* established design, or even *can* establish design; only that it *may be able* to establish design.  But I find many if not most TEs strongly resistant even to the possibility.

Anyhow, I don’t want to engage at length on theology.  But as you indicated a view that there was no problem with Christianity and Darwinism, I suggested where there might be such a problem.  I wasn’t pushing it, just putting it out, in case you hadn’t thought about it.  It appears that you have, and that your thoughts run along lines familiar to me.  I won’t say you are wrong, but just as a historical point, prior to the current incarnation of TE (1990s), it was in fact widely felt by many (not all) Christians that Darwinian thought and Christianity were in tension.  The recent love-in between the two, while not without antecedents, does not represent the typical reaction of much of the 20th century.

Rich - #23699

July 27th 2010


“Philosophical naturalism” means different things to different people.  If it means, there’s no God, but only nature, then obviously TEs aren’t philosophical naturalists, and no ID person would accuse TEs of naturalism in that sense.

But if “philosophical naturalism” means that we can be confident that origins can be explained by wholly natural means—not just that we use wholly natural explanations because that’s all the methods of science can handle [methodological naturalism],  but that it’s reasonable to assume that those methods *will* explain how things originated, and will never seriously mislead us—then many if not most TEs are philosophical naturalists when it comes to the inquiry into origins.  They don’t believe *just* that natural explanations are the best that science can come up with (but may be wrong); they believe that the natural explanations are *what actually happened*, and that the supernatural explanations are wrong.

Believing in a handful of NT miracles as special exceptions doesn’t change the overall naturalistic assumption.

ID questions the naturalistic assumption, not demanding special divine actions in creation, but not ruling them out, either—a sensible caution.

Gregory - #23711

July 27th 2010

“But given that TEs accept the resurrection, revelatory truth and the sovereignty of God, I don’t accept that they are blinkered stooges for philosophical naturalism.” - Argon

First, how many TE’s have training in philosophy? Ball-park %?

If few, then how can they justify speaking of ‘method’ & ‘philosophy’ (dua) with little training in philosophy?

Is it like the idea that everyone who gets a PhD is a ‘philosopher’? = )

Second, what is wrong with accepting that there are people who’ve given up believing there could be an answer that goes beyond Darwin’s, especially in places he admitted he was agnostic?

One could say there are wounded or bleeding fideists throwing themselves on ‘naturalism’ (qualified, by a method, of course) with no other choice; or call it what you will.

I agree with Rich: ‘theistic evolution’ is an uncomfortable & most often ill-defined concept-duo. As I’ve said before, there seems no hurdle to calling (or speaking of) oneself (as) a “Christian (or religious believer) who accepts many of the evidences & ideas that have been discovered & created in evolutionary biology.” The problem with ending one’s duo- with ‘evolution’ is you can then become an ‘evolutionist’!

penman - #23729

July 28th 2010




That’s why a lot of us don’t like “theistic evolution” (TE) & prefer to call ourselves “evolutionary creationists” (EC). We can’t let young earthers monopolize the biblical concept of creation.

Gregory - #23737

July 28th 2010

What if one points out that there are far more created things that ‘don’t evolve’ than that do ‘evolve’?

Would seeing it this way help people to get over the syndrome of wanting to say ‘Look, Ma, I’m a biologist!’ when it comes to prioritising the worldview-way they approach Creation?

Would there be any need to classify oneself as an ‘evolutionary creationist’ (or TE) if one could acknowledge a better balance between origins and process, between statics and dynamics, and that just as many things don’t evolve, maybe more than that do?

I smell ‘naturalism’ (following one of the first major naturalist-scientists in history) and not just the methodological kind for those who resist admitting the vast number of ‘things that don’t evolve.’

Argon - #23740

July 28th 2010

Rich - #23698: “My position is that design *may* be detectable.’

That’s my position too. However I don’t think biological design of the sort most ICers envision has been detected and I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about ‘design’ or a designer’s interfering with lab experiments. Likewise, I don’t see a need for scientists being concerned about the possibility of multiple, non-‘natural’ tweaks in the rate of radionuclide decay or changes in the speed of light when evaluating geologic or astronomic data.

Many if not most TEs seem to deny that, or at least to pooh-pooh the possibility.

Again, few TEs (‘ECs’ if that’s one’s preference), claim that design can’t be detectable. In fact, many TEs accept cosmic fine tuning arguments. A portion say that this is convincing and others would say its indicative but not conclusive.


Argon - #23741

July 28th 2010

”(…) Anyhow, I don’t want to engage at length on theology.”

This is fine, because if you can in principle accept that a process involving *apparently* random events can give rise to humans and without losing one’s faith then you’re already in the same boat with TEs (and Behe) over this theological problem. I find it a bit odd to ding TEs about a theological problem for which you’d accept the same answer. Myself, Imight have stated it like: “TEs and I share this same potential theological issue. “

I’ll grant that there can be tension, but at the core I don’t find these issues are qualitatively different from the problems of accepting an ancient Earth or the indeterminacy within quantum mechanics.

Rich - #23774

July 28th 2010


Often TE people have argued that design arguments are not valid in the absence of independent knowledge of the designer.  They use this argument in order to neutralize arguments based on arrowheads, etc., and keep design arguments out of biology.  That principle, if adopted, would rule out even “may be scientifically detectable”, since such TEs believe that independent knowledge of the designer is available only from revelation.. 

However, I grant you that other TEs have accepted the fine-tuning argument, e.g., Collins.  But in doing so, while taking the above position regarding biology, they make an artificial division, since the logic of the inference is the same in biology as in physics.  [As Denton’s argument shows. He consciously subsumes biology under a larger vision of cosmic fine-tuning, but most TE/EC people won’t go there.  (Lamoureux is one of the few open admirers of Denton among TE/EC people.)]

Anyway, very few TE/EC people have said, clearly, “design in living systems may be scientifically detectable”.  Sometimes, after hours of argument, one can draw such an admission from them, grudgingly and without enthusiasm.  My overall characterization is accurate.

Gods Own DNA - #23776

July 28th 2010


Have you discussed “design in living systems may be scientifically detectable” in detail elsewhere here? Could you post a link to the discussion if you have. I’d like to weigh in on the issue. Thanks.

Rich - #23777

July 28th 2010


I haven’t conceded that a process involving apparently random mutations can produce human beings, unless it’s admitted either that the apparently random mutations are in fact directly caused by God, or that there are some telic processes involved, i.e., some kind of tendencies built into living systems to evolve in certain directions.  Neither possibility is compatible with traditional neo-Darwinism.

Regarding Behe, he doesn’t say much on the theological question (it is his opponents, e.g., MIller and Ayala, who keep attacking him for bad theology, especially regarding the existence of evil).  But his conception of how macroevolution might have happened is in tune with my above paragraph.  In the past he’s allowed the possibility of direct control of mutations (without ever insisting on it), and he’s also allowed the possibility of Dentonesque telic but wholly natural developments (without dogmatizing about it).  He’s in fact a small-te theistic evolutionist, and I see no theological problem with that.  It’s the unnecessary insistence on certain stipulations which causes Behe to refuse the TE label.  And those stipulations all come from neo-Darwinism and/or certain theological commitments.

Rich - #23778

July 28th 2010


I don’t think I’ve discussed it elsewhere on Biologos.

Rich - #23781

July 28th 2010


I don’t assert any variation in radioactive decay rates, the speed of light, etc.  Those are YEC arguments, and it should be obvious to all here that I am not a YEC.

My argument against neo-Darwinian formation of complex new organs and systems is not based on a denial of any established laws of nature.  It’s based entirely on my perception that the capability of neo-Darwinian mechanisms to do the job has nowhere near been demonstrated.  In other words, it’s based on what I see as empirical and theoretical deficiencies in the theory, not on miracles, attacks on naturalism, etc.

I do grant the possibility of direct divine involvement in creation (as did all Christians prior to the Enlightenment), but that possibility doesn’t guide my skepticism of neo-Darwinism.  If I demanded direct divine involvement, I would automatically reject Denton, and I don’t.  My position is that God may or may not have played a hands-on role.  Darwin’s whole point was that he had no hands-on role, and neo-Darwinism has been faithful to Darwin’s intentions.  I keep open possibilities that others have closed down upon.

Rich - #23786

July 28th 2010

Gregory, penman:

I have no problem at all with the term “theistic evolution”, as long as its meaning is restricted to the bare minimum implied by the terms.  I.e., belief in God, combined with belief in evolution as the creative process employed by God.  If the definition is kept that broad, and that open, then Behe and a number of less well-known ID supporters could in good conscience call themselves theistic evolutionists.  But in practice, the majority of TEs affirm one or more of a set of auxiliary propositions which keep ID people out—indeed, in some cases seem deliberately designed to keep ID people out.  Thus, many TEs insist that god would not directly create evil; others insist that God would not make design detectable, to leave room for faith; others insist that design detection is invalid in the absence of independent knowledge of the designer; others insist (wrongly) that design requires “intervention”, and then denounce an intervening God (outside of a few Biblical miracles, that is) as an un-Christian God, a mere “tinkerer”, etc.  These stipulations, in no way required by the mere phrase “theistic evolution”, erect a Berlin Wall between the ID and TE camps.  Mr. Biologos, tear down that wall.

penman - #23834

July 29th 2010

Thanks for this comment. I still don’t like calling myself a TE, for the reasons set out in Gordon Glover’s book. He says that by “theistic evolution” logic, you could stick “theistic” in front of anything - theistic meteorology is his example, but you could have theistic geology, theistic electromagnetism, & goodness knows what else. It ends up being little or nothing more than “Here is this scientific fact, theory, or law, & by the way, I also believe in God.”

Also, I really don’t like being declassified as a creationist. I believe in God the Creator, as the Bible & the Creeds teach. The argument isn’t about creation, but about God’s methods of creating.

I can’t answer the other points, since they don’t necessarily form part of my own understanding of Evolutionary Creationism. I accept common descent, & I think natural selection is an important “mechanism” for producing biodiversity. What others may accept as belonging to their understanding of how God worked via evolution, I don’t think it can be dogmatized as essential to a TE / EC outlook.

What’s your own view on common descent & natural selection? (No doubt you’ve said it somewhere….)

Gregory - #23875

July 29th 2010

Thanks for sharing that, penman. I don´t call myself a TE either.

The argument you cite is of course not original to G. Glover. It still, however, makes much sense given that one doesn´t want to be associated with pejorative ideologies that one doesn´t agree with, just for the sake of natural-physical science.

A similar story has happened with ´evolutionary´ being placed in front of things. E.g. evolutionary economics, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary politics. This should be considered when looking at the concept duo ´evolutionary creation.´ I´m quite sure there´s a better way of expressing what this so-called ´position´ wants to express *without* needlessly taking the label ´evolutionary´ alongside ´creation´ too.

You say it well straightfowardly, penman:
“I really don’t like being declassified as a creationist.”

This is probably part of the reason ASA issued the statement: “We believe in creation!”

One issue to look at is the plural form of ´common descent´. Once one speaks of ´common descents´ they indicate a need to study bifurcations in the so-called ´tree of life.´ In the human realm, one could have more than one ´common descent´ & thus share in two otherwise separate ´traditions´.

Rich - #23877

July 29th 2010


I’m indifferent to whether people use TE or EC.  The difference is only rhetorical.  The substance of both is that God created through an evolutionary process.  And I’ve said I have no theological objection to such a position.  I see nothing in the Bible (I don’t read Genesis as a news report) and nothing in the tradition of Christian theology that would forbid God from using an evolutionary process.

I’m not holding you responsible for the views of all TEs.  I’m merely saying that I’ve read precious few TEs (other than Ted Davis) who don’t saddle TE with one or more of the theological demands I listed, or some other theological demand; and almost always the demands are phrased so as to say or imply that ID entails bad or unorthodox theology.  It is the TE desire to lecture ID people on theology, as much as any scientific disagreement, that separates ID from TE.  And as I’ve said, biologists or physicists who sporadically read bits of modern theology shouldn’t be posing as authorities on Christian doctrine.

Natural selection is real but can create nothing; it can only veto or confirm.  And common descent doesn’t in itself provide a causal account of evolution.  I’m looking for the latter.

Gregory - #23887

July 29th 2010

Don´t forget, Rich, that ID people under-represent themselves in theology (and human-social sciences) is a LARGE part of the problem.

Timaeus noted this on the Uncommon Descent thread a few weeks back, which Darrel Falk contributed to, given that the topic was K. Applegate´s thread. The desire to ´look scientific´ simply *cannot be over-stated* when it comes to the IDM.

TE people talk a lot more about theology than do ID people. Thus, ID people wouldn´t need to be ´lectured to´ if they could instead offer their own side of the dialogue.

I asked Demsbki *why not more ID theology* in front of a largely pro-ID audience. His answer was disappointing, as usual.

You´ll find several persons who are not just ´sporadic readers´ of ´bits of modern theology´ but who are in fact knowledgeable here at BioLogos if you want to bring along some fellow IDists to discuss theology. I doubt you´ll find many takers. They´re “trying hard to be scientific,” and not *just* philosophical or theological, as you know.

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