Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Introduction

| By Deborah Haarsma on The President's Notebook

Today on the BioLogos Forum, we begin a series responding to Darwin’s Doubt (2013) byStephen Meyer. Meyer holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University and is Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. This significant book makes a comprehensive case for Intelligent Design, referring to an extensive body of scientific literature.

BioLogos and other evolutionary creation leaders have been in conversation with Meyer and other leaders in Intelligent Design for many years. See, for example, exchanges in 2009-2010 on the BioLogos site regarding Meyer’s Signature in the Cell[1]many articlesin the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, a 2010 conference by the Hill Country Institute, and a 2012 symposium at Wheaton College. This blog series continues the conversation.

In today’s culture, “intelligent design” is often used broadly to refer to the work of an intelligent being in the universe, in opposition to “godless evolutionism” (see this helpful introduction from BioLogos Fellow Ted Davis). Within this broad scope, the views of evolutionary creation, old earth creation, young earth creation, and the monotheistic faiths would all fall under “intelligent design.” These groups are united in rejecting the views of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne who argue that religion is just superstition and cannot be reconciled with science. Those who accept this sense of intelligent design generally believe that science and religion are not at war, but can inform and enhance one another. At BioLogos, we believe that God is the living and active Creator of the whole universe, from initiating the Big Bang to providentially sustaining his creation today.

When capitalized, however, “Intelligent Design” refers to a more particular set of views and arguments as exemplified by the work of the Discovery Institute and this recent volume by Stephen Meyer. The views of the Discovery Institute (DI) and the views of BioLogos(BL) have a lot in common. Unlike young earth creationists, most DI leaders accept that the universe and earth are billions of years old, as we do at BL. Most DI leaders also accept a time scale of billions of years for the appearance of first life and subsequent species on earth.

DI and BL agree wholeheartedly that an intelligent being fine-tuned the laws of nature, designing the universe to be a place of life. The fundamental parameters and laws were crafted so that stars and galaxies could form, carbon could be produced in abundance, and life could flourish on Earth. Unlike militant atheists, we see this as evidence that the universe was created with purpose and intention.

Yet with all these similarities, there are significant areas of disagreement between the views of Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Creation (more on different positions). The biggest difference is in how the two views counter atheistic evolutionism. Both reject the idea that the science of evolution disproves God or replaces God, but take very different approaches.  Intelligent Design claims that the current scientific evidence for evolution is weak, and argues that a better explanation would make explicit reference to an intelligent designer. Evolutionary Creation claims that the current scientific evidence for evolution is strong and getting stronger, but argues that the philosophical and religious conclusions that militant atheists draw from it are unwarranted. Evolutionary creationists respond to atheists by pointing out that in Christian thought, a scientific understanding of evolution does not replace God. God governs and sustains all natural processes, from gravity to evolution, according to his purposes.

Perhaps because we accept the science of evolution, the misconception has developed that BioLogos believes God must always use natural causes. This is not the case. At BioLogos, “we believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as ‘natural laws.’ Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture.” (See more on miracles). The debate is over how much God chose to use miracles over the eons of natural history, and here BL and DI assess the evidence differently.

In upcoming posts we respond to Meyer’s scientific and philosophical arguments. We begin tomorrow by featuring a review first published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) by paleontologist Ralph Stearley who evaluates Darwin’s Doubt alongside two other recent books on the Cambrian and Ediacaran periods, countering Meyer’s arguments for the extreme suddenness of, and lack of precursors to, the Cambrian explosion.[2] In coming weeks, we will feature a review by philosopher and historian Robert Bishop, who addresses the overall argument of the book, assessing the rhetorical strategies.

Geneticist Darrel Falk (BioLogos Senior Advisor for Dialogue) will also offer some reflections on the book. Note that BioLogos Fellow for genetics Dennis Venema also responded recently to DI arguments from genetics, explaining the evidence in support of common ancestry of humans. For a discussion of arguments from information theory, we recommend the December 2011 special issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Finally, we’ll feature an article from theologian Alister McGrath that responds, not to Darwin’s Doubt in particular, but to the overall apologetics approach of Intelligent Design.

As you will read in these posts, these scholars are carefully considering the evidence and explaining the findings to those outside their field of expertise. This kind of attention to evidence counteracts another misconception about BioLogos, namely that we uncritically accept the consensus of mainstream science simply because it is the consensus. We do take the consensus among scientists seriously, when it has been tested by extensive peer review among those who are experts in an area and when it is supported by multiple independent lines of evidence. Since no individual can be an expert in all the disciplines relevant to the evolution of life, we need to rely on the expertise of others. But ultimately it is the strength of the evidence itself that convinces us that species developed through the processes of evolution. Evolutionary biology is a rapidly developing field, with several areas that do not yet have a consensus. These include the particular mechanisms of evolution posited by the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and the development of the very first life form (see “At the Frontiers of Evolution” by Venema and more in Bishop’s review). The case is still open in these areas, and most evolutionary creationists feel it is too soon to claim that these must be places where God acted miraculously rather than through natural mechanisms.

At BioLogos, we embrace the historical Christian faith and uphold the authority and inspiration of the Bible. Several leaders at the Discovery Institute, including Meyer, share these commitments. The organization, however, has chosen not to make specific religious commitments, welcoming Jews, Muslims, and agnostics as well as Christians. This difference is integral to our contrasting approaches to apologetics. DI seeks to make the case for the designer in a purely scientific context, without specifying who the designer is. At BioLogos, we take the approach that science is not equipped to provide a full Christian apologetic. Rather, we believe in the triune God for the same reasons most believers do – because of the evidence in the Bible, personal spiritual experience, and recognition that we are sinners who need the saving work of Jesus Christ. Because of these beliefs, we look at the universe through the lens of biblical faith, and see a glorious creation that testifies to the God we know and love. How do we make the case for God if we accept the mainstream scientific results for evolution? Stay tuned for the closing piece of this series by theologian Alister McGrath. In the meantime, take a look at John Polkinghorne’s views of the resurrection and natural theology, this sermon from leading Pastor John Ortberg, and a blog series from BioLogos Content Manager Jim Stump.

The debate between intelligent design and evolutionary creation is relatively minor in the larger work of the church. Both views are held by fellow believers seeking to be faithful followers of Christ, as is young earth creation. Yet damage can be done to the church if popular apologetic techniques get attached to incorrect science. The purpose of this series is to seek truth, including pointing out scholarly weaknesses and inaccuracies as we see them. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Prov 27:17) We welcome the iron to be sharpened on us in turn, and have invited Stephen Meyer to post a response to the reviews in this series.

  1. The 2009-2010 review of Signature in the Cell included posts by Darrel Falk on December 29, and byFrancisco Ayala on January 7. Responses from Stephen Meyer were posted on January 28 and March 8-9, with rejoinders from Falk on January 29 and March 10-11[return to body text]
  2. While not a review of Darwin’s Doubt, Keith Miller recently updated his excellent overview of the Cambrian explosion in the June 2014 issue of PSCF, available online now for subscribers. [return to body text]


About the Author

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma serves as the President of BioLogos, a position she has held since January 2013. Previously, she served as professor and chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gifted in interpreting complex scientific topics for lay audiences, Dr. Haarsma often speaks to churches, colleges, and schools about the relationships between science and Christian faith. She is author (along with her husband Loren Haarsma) of Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (2011, 2007), a book presenting the agreements and disagreements of Christians regarding the history of life and the universe. Haarsma is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.


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