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Bill Dembski’s second installment at BioLogos

Christian Darwinism central gave him a chance to respond, accompanied by a church steeple graphic, in case anyone missed their point.

(Here’s the first part.) In “Southern Baptist Voices: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral? Part II,” Bill Dembski writes,

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).

Creationist Todd Woods doesn’t like it already and didn’t like the first part either.

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17 Responses to Bill Dembski’s second installment at BioLogos

  1. I haven’t read the current installment, but I would like to take a moment to comment on Wood’s first critique of Dembski. There are many in the creation movement who don’t understand ID, and I think that Wood is one of them. The problem is that many in the creation community make the same fatal flaw that the Darwinists do – they mistake ID for creationism, and criticize it on that basis.

    If you look at Wood’s critique, he critiques Dembski for equating evolution to natural selection. But that is not at all what Dembski does! Dembski equates *Darwinism* to natural selection. It is only if you presume that ID=creationism that you would think that Dembski was being critical of all possible theories of evolution. He is not, and never has been.

    In fact, ID is not about a specific natural history at all, but it is rather about causation, and what kinds of causes and preconditions are necessary to create certain kinds of effects. In short, designed systems require intelligence – and that says nothing about the natural history of the system, or the mechanism by which it was built through time, only what necessary preconditions must be met for it to work correctly.

    With that in mind, the reason why ID has a problem with *Darwinism in particular* but not *evolution in general* becomes clear – Darwinism simply doesn’t include the necessary preconditions for what it claims to be able to describe – the origin of all biological information through physical means. There certainly may be other evolutionary theories that do this. Michael Behe has proposed one, for instance, which has the information for evolution pre-coded into the Big Bang.

    For more information on ID an common descent, see here.

  2. 2
    material.infantacy

    Dembski writes,

    “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?”

    Exactly. A Darwinian pathway to biological life and its diversity is no better than a myth. No viable mechanism for it exists. Even the primary modus operandi of Darwinian evolution, heritable variation, is a contingent internal mechanism with startling complexity and deliberate, purposeful specification. It’s a bit of a mystery why Christians should feel the need to make peace with an alternative creation story that has no support from the empirical.

  3. 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.

  4. Bilbo,

    Why not go into detail? I’d like to see your criticisms.

  5. Agreed, nullasalus, so would I. I’ve been reading Bilbo’s commentary since about 2003 or ’04. But perhaps criticisms that detail being “embarrassed by Dembski’s essay” would best be written elsewhere than on a blog founded by Dembski himself? Offending the host is usually, as a global norm, not deemed to be proper manners.

    I notice Bilbo I’s exact same message as #3 was also posted on BioLogos forum. It seems so difficult given the political climate these days to find neutral ground! Your ‘culture war’ is a challenge for non-USAmericans to mediate, if only we shouldn’t presume.

  6. 6
    material.infantacy

    Bilbo,

    “…I was embarrassed by Dembski’s essay. I expected much better from a man who is a trained theologian, philosopher, mathematician, etc.”

    That’s quite a bomb to drop with absolutely no reasons given. Why not elucidate? Do you think nobody would find an ID proponent’s critique of Dembski’s essay interesting, even engaging? Hell, I’ll buy the popcorn. I’m not disputing your right to the opinion, but “embarrassed” is a strong word that begs for elucidation.

    Did you expect his magnum opus here? Would an exquisitely crafted theological, philosophical, and mathematical treatment complete with notation and proofs have played to the audience over there? Would that have made all the difference?

    I’d also be interested to know, if you’d oblige and are interested in such questions, why anyone should bother too much about theological refutations of scientific theories that have no empirical support regarding their core proposed mechanism. Wouldn’t theology and science both be better served if theories are simply evaluated on their merits?

    It’s as if some are trying to purchase evidence for Darwinism with two bits worth of theological parity. I have yet to perceive a great value in the theological debate over Darwin. It’s a ruse, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a distraction from the evaluation of the empirical evidence. My preference would be for ID advocates, Dembski included, to focus on the evidentiary issues. It’s anyone’s right of course, but it just looks like window dressing.

    As I see it, the only theological objection necessary to Darwinism is instead logical: randomness is logically incompatible with purpose. Certainly we could object theologically to Darwinism based on a plain reading of Genesis as a historical account of creation, but as you know, that view of Genesis is contentious. Barring those sorts of disagreements, the theological issues seem abstract: theology can argue persuasively that theism justifies our trust in logic; and logically, chaos and purpose share no explanatory space when it comes to the necessities for engineered systems.

    Best,
    m.i.

  7. Hey Bilbo- how about the following for a theological objection to Darwinism:

    HT to Pez.

    As if it had to be said-

    In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.1

    The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.2

    Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.3

    As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.4

    click here for a hint:

    ‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.’ 5

    Thank you for your honesty Will Provine.

    1- Academe January 1987 pp.51-52 †

    2-Evolutionary Progress (1988) p. 65 †

    3- “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life” 1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address 1 2 †

    4- No Free Will (1999) p.123

    5- Provine, W.B., Origins Research 16(1), p.9, 1994.

  8. Since my time on the library computer is up, my details will have to wait until tomorrow, or you can see my reactions to Dembski at my own blog.

  9. Count me among those who think Dembski was right to raise this issue. Indeed, I think he understates the case. Christian Darwinists recruit young skulls full of mush by claiming that one can reconcile the Bible’s end-directed account of creation with a process that doesn’t know where it is going or where it will end. In that context, the word, “contradiction” describes the situation very well. As important as it is to respect evidence and demand its presence before accepting a given proposition, it is even more important to be able to think logically and realize that no amount of evidence can invalidate the law of non-contradiction. Evidence does not inform the rule or right reason; the rules of right reason inform evidence. A logical person will reject Christian Darwinism in principle.

  10. Bilbo I,

    I checked out your blog quickly and may return to it if time allows.

    “Move over, Jerry Coyne. William Dembski wants to join you on the Scientism bandwagon.” – Bilbo

    That’s a pretty emphatic statement!

    One question I’m curious to put to you: do you think the term ‘Christian Darwinist’ is appropriate for describing any, some or all leaders of BioLogos?

    In Falk’s response: “In the way that matters most, we are not continuous with animals. For philosophical and theological reasons, Darwin did not recognize this. Darwin, I believe, was wrong. I, like Dembski and like Southern Baptists in general, am not a Darwinist.”

    And: “I agree with Dembksi that Darwin’s views were not theologically neutral. Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity. Quite simply, this is why I do not consider my views to be Darwinian and why I am not a Darwinist.”

    Notice, however, that News still refers to BioLogos as “Christian Darwinism Central.” Why? That’s the President who denied Darwinism point blank.

    Might it be possible that BioLogos, in particular Darrel, chose the question that Dembski was asked and paid to respond to: “Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?” Could anyone here find out who framed the question and if Dembski was involved in the question or just with his answer?

    Of course, it should be noted that nowhere does Darrel define ‘Darwinism,’ and it is remembered that he removed it from BioLogos’ Questions section this past summer, after receiving complaints (including from me) about it. Thus, if Darrel isn’t willing to come up with a definition of ‘Darwinism’ so that we can know what he means, then the two could simply be speaking past one another.

    Who knows, Darrel may actually have framed the question with the direct intention of distancing himself from ‘Darwinism’ as Dembski defines it rather than making his own clear statement. In either case, this ‘change of tune’ (again, nullasalus’ words), seems to signify a rupture between how UDers paint BioLogos – i.e. with their very wide Darwinism brush – and how BioLogos view themselves. UD people almost seem to treat BioLogos folks like most Protestants erronously think about Orthdox Christians – that they worship icons, rather than worshipping God the creator and saints who worshipped God.

    Such views as ‘Christians worshipping Darwin’ are simply wrong. Would Darrel take a step forward to recognise that and if he did would you UD folks willingly drop the adolescent “Christian Darwinist” label?

  11. I’ll just reprint my reactions here (Dembski’s remarks in italics, with my reactions following):

    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.

    1) It’s not at all clear (to me) from Scripture that (C3) is true. We are told that Humans are made in the image of God. We are not told about the nature of the other creatures on earth are or how they differ from us.

    2) It’s not at all clear (to me) that (D3) is true. It seems possible for a Darwinist to hold that just as there are sudden changes in physics or chemistry, when a certain threshold is reached, so there may be a sudden change in biology when a certain threshold is reached. Humans may or may not be continuous with other animals.

    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)….

    3) But such an objection is sound only if we know that the creatures that existed previously but are extinct now only existed for the purpose of bringing us about and had no intrinsic value of their own. And how would we know that?

    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).

    4) But a non-teleological process such as Natural Selection is in tension with (C1) only if we know that it was unwise for God to create using this process. How would we know that?

    5) And Natural Selection is in tension with (C2) only if the process of how God created different species is the only way that the world reflects God’s glory. Does Dembski really want to maintain that? Unfortunately, it seems that he does, since he writes:

    … 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.

    Does Dembski really buy the idea that if Darwinism is true, then God need not exist? Supposedly, Dembski is a professional philosopher. Is he really saying that he can’t think of any other reason why God might need to exist than as an explanation for the origin of species? I’m afraid so, since he writes:

    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).

    Move over, Jerry Coyne. William Dembski wants to join you on the Scientism bandwagon.

    The most difficult tension to resolve in our present discussion is the one between Human Exceptionalism, (C3), and Human Continuity, (D3)

    The problem for Dembski is that both (C3) and (D3) are the least defensible positions for Christianity and Darwinism, respectively.

  12. Joe: “In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.1

    Science depends upon concepts that cannot be scientifically justified, e.g., cause, induction, objective physical world, other minds, past events, mathematics, etc. All of these concepts have deep concord with Theism, but not with Naturalism. A good book to read is Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies; Science, Religion, and Naturalism. I especially recommend chapter 9.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.3

    If by Naturalistic evolution you mean the belief that both evolution and Naturalism are true, then yes, there is deep discord between that and Theism. However, any conjunction of propositions, one of which is “Naturalism is true” will be deeply discordant with Theism.

  13. When I wrote in #12, “All of these concepts have deep concord with Theism, but not with Naturalism,” I meant that the grounding of our beliefs in those concepts has deep concord with Theism, but not with Naturalism.

  14. Hi Bilbo-

    Darwinism and naturalism go hand-in-hand and Will Provine, not me, is the guy to give credit to for the quotes.

  15. I guess we need to define “Darwinism,” Joe. I define it as Behe defined it in EoE, consisting of three parts: Common descent, natural selection, and random mutation. Given this content, I don’t see how Darwinism entails Naturalism. I think it’s logically possible for God to exist and for Darwinism to be true.

    Yes, Provine said it, but apparently you think it makes sense, given Darwinism. I don’t.

  16. Of course what Provine says makes sense, given darwinism. Given darwinism there isn’t any difference between a god and no god at all.

  17. Bilbo-

    Newton’s first rule of scientific investigation tell us not to add entities unless it is required. And if darwinism rules evolution then we do not add an entity.

    It is that simple.

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