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Deborah Haarsma
 on January 19, 2015

Reviewing Darwin’s Doubt: Conclusion

Our series reviewing Darwin's Doubt concludes with a rejoinder to Stephen Meyer and a summary of the dialogue.


darwins doubt stephen meyer

Let me begin by thanking Steve Meyer for taking the time to reply to our reviews ofDarwin’s Doubt and for his willingness to again share his thoughts on the BioLogos blog. I’m pleased that we share a good understanding of the purposes of this dialogue: our two organizations are not attempting to change each others’ views; rather, as Meyer writes, “Constructive dialogue between parties with significant disagreements can, in the best case, expose both common ground and the true nature of those disagreements.” In my introduction to the series, I outlined how I saw these areas of common ground and disagreement, and the series authors have discussed these in more detail. Meyer’s response shows that he and I still do not see eye to eye on where the differences really lie.

Like many organizations, BioLogos is a community of people who do not share exactly the same views. Our statement of What We Believe expresses our common commitments, including the core tenets of Christianity, acceptance of the evidence for evolution, and the rejection of ideologies such as scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge. For this series, we deliberately invited multiple authors, not only to bring in expertise in various scholarly areas but to show some of the different approaches within our community to intelligent design arguments. None of these are an official BioLogos position. Moreover, the commonality among the authors is their scientific concerns with Darwin’s Doubt, not methodological naturalism, as I’ll discuss below.

Our authors, especially Falk and Stearley, spent considerable time and effort to note the strengths they saw in Darwin’s Doubt, including the importance of the question it addresses, while also stating their fundamental disagreement with its scientific arguments and conclusions. In fact, Falk felt it was so important to address the broad areas of strength and weakness that he used the limited time he had for this project to discuss these themes, rather than addressing more detailed genetics arguments (BioLogos is open to a future, more technical dialogue on genetics). However, these measured responses were inaccurately painted by Meyer as “conced[ing] my main scientific critique of evolutionary theory” and calling the authors “reluctant” and “uncertain.” Other Discovery Institute blog posts (e.g. here and here) further mischaracterize the views of these BioLogos authors as either praising Darwin’s Doubt or saying “who knows?”

While our series could have included even more scientific detail (see my introduction to the series for links to past scientific analyses), Meyer’s response does not address the specific scientific concerns raised by our authors. We invited physicist and philosopher Robert Bishop, as an expert in Steve Meyer’s field of the history and philosophy of science, to respond to the book. In addition to critiquing the rhetoric and overall argument, Bishop investigated several papers in the primary scientific literature cited by Meyer, arguing that the original context of these quotes does not support (or even contradicts) Meyer’s case.

We also invited paleontologist Ralph Stearley to respond to a main topic of the book, the Cambrian explosion. Stearley’s article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith analyzes scientific errors in Darwin’s Doubt relating to the incorrect contraction of the Cambrian explosion interval into 6 million years, the neglect of important evidence from trace fossils, a lack of discussion of significant time depth for spongiomorph radiations, and in general a disinterest in the emerging picture of successive ecological transformations occurring as the backdrop to the Cambrian explosion.

In addition to these detailed scientific critiques, Stearley, Bishop, and Falk all raised larger concerns with howDarwin’s Doubt portrays the state of research today. While the authors agree with Meyer and mainstream biologists that one mechanism of evolution (natural selection) is insufficient by itself to explain the development of animal body plans, they did not call the Cambrian explosion “unsolved” or “awaiting a solution.” They all referred to the modern, extended neo-Darwinian synthesis, which includes multiple evolutionary mechanisms (e.g., symbiogenesis, developmental constraints, and epigenetics) acting alongside natural selection to generate and constrain novelty, as well as the exciting work being done to apply this synthesis to the Cambrian explosion. Falk sees bigger developments going on here than Bishop and Stearley, but they all see it as an extension of existing models and a promising area of research rather than, as Meyer characterizes it, a failed program. Bishop shows that one of the main problems with the design inference in Darwin’s Doubt is the failure to address the modern synthesis of multiple evolutionary mechanisms. Far from not responding to the science in Darwin’s Doubt, all three authors address the fundamental scientific argument in the book. These authors are not acting out of some philosophical bias, but giving their scientific assessment of the state of the field and current scientific evidence.

Meyer wrote that all the series’ authors, and BioLogos as a whole, are driven by methodological naturalism (MN). MN is the idea that scientific research should seek only natural causes and explanations when investigating the natural world. However, Bishop addresses this in only a brief portion of one piece and the other authors do not discuss it at all; Falk and Stearley both told me of their surprise that Meyer attempted to deduce their views on MN from their contributions. For the record, BioLogos as an organization affirms the methods of science but does not have a position on the use of the term MN in discussing intelligent design and divine action. As our faith statement says, we affirm special divine action in the natural world (answers to prayer, miracles, the Incarnation, the Resurrection) and we affirm natural processes as divinely governed. Beyond this, members of the BioLogos community nuance the complex issue of MN in various ways. Series author Robert Bishop argues elsewhere that MN is a theologically well-motivated approach for understanding the workings of God’s creation. Program Director Kathryn Applegate writes of methodological naturalism as a useful distinction from metaphysical naturalism, i.e. that the search for natural causes and explanations in science is distinct from the belief that these explanations are the only source of truth and knowledge. Board chair Jeff Hardin approaches the topic with lay audiences as a way to disentangle metaphysical claims from scientific method. Grantee Loren Haarsma and Board member Ard Louis argue that it is not essential to demarcate science as a naturalistic methodology. Fellow Ted Davis discusses the history of the idea as “a difference of opinion about the nature of science itself.” Senior Scholar Jeff Schloss shows the difficulty of demarcating the natural from the supernatural. I and other evolutionary creationists prefer to see the practice of science as a completely Christian activity rather than an activity that adopts the methods of naturalism. The views of BioLogos on MN cannot be easily generalized and are not the driving force behind our concerns with the scientific content of Darwin’s Doubt.

Furthermore, we at BioLogos are unified in our rejection of scientism. Some of us think the border between science and non-science is fuzzy and not amenable to easy demarcation, but all of us believe that science cannot explain all there is. We’re concerned that Meyer’s view concedes too much to scientism by implying that a search for divine intelligence ought to be subsumed under the rubric of science, as though claims must be scientific in order for them to be taken seriously. With the exception of some vocal reductionist atheists like Peter Atkins and Richard Dawkins, most scientists would resist the claim that truth is only discoverable though science. Christian scientists need not cordon off their faith in order to do real science; neither must Christians claim a scientific basis for their faith.

I hope my reflections here have addressed some of the questions Meyer asks about the views of BioLogos and are a step forward in our dialogue. Despite our differences, we cannot forget that the views of BioLogos and the Discovery Institute share key areas of agreement. Both groups celebrate the evidence that the parameters of the cosmos are fine-tuned for life, and many staff at the Discovery Institute join us in affirming an old universe and biblical Christianity. And, while the groups disagree on how God acted in the development of life, BioLogos joins the Discovery Institute in affirming that this universe is not the meaningless product of a blind process, but was designed by an intelligent creator with the purpose and intent of bringing about the life we see today.

This was the last document in the series "Reviewing "Darwin's Doubt"".

About the author

Deb Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is an astrophysicist and frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University. She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.