Home » Christian Darwinism, Intelligent Design » Bill Dembski on his discussion with BioLogos head Darrel Falk

Bill Dembski on his discussion with BioLogos head Darrel Falk

BioLogos head Darrel Falk has been in the news around here lately, and now – over at Evolution News & Views – Bill Dembski has replied to him (linking their previous exchanges at BioLogos):

Falk, echoing Psalm 19, proclaims that all aspects of creation bespeak God’s handiwork and glory. Now let me concede that “oddness,” in the sense of what appears odd to us very limited human beings with our very limited vantages on the world, is not a good criterion for determining what God would and wouldn’t do. Still, it hardly seems that God is mandated to create via a process that provides no evidence of his creative activity — and nowhere does Falk admit that God provides actual evidence of himself in creation (at best he allows that nature provides “signposts” — but what exactly are these signs? who is reading them? why should we take them as pointing to God?). Moreover, for Falk to echo the psalmist is hardly an argument for the world proclaiming God’s handiwork and glory, because many atheistic evolutionists will deny Falk’s confident affirmations of divine perspicuity.

I’ve seen this directly. I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck. Thus, when Falk echoes Psalm 19, what more is he doing than giving expression to his own faith? Indeed, what more is he saying to atheists than merely “I see God’s hand in all of this and you don’t — you’re blind and I see.” Perhaps faith has given him sight that atheists lack. But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature? God, as omnipotent, can certainly make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.

Still, the more interesting question here is whether there is a rational basis for Falk’s faith that is grounded in the order of nature. ID, in finding scientific evidence of intelligence in nature, says there is. Falk, along with BioLogos generally, denies this. But in that case, how can he avoid the charge that the faith by which he sees God’s handiwork is merely an overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith? Note that I’m not alone in thinking it odd that God would create by natural selection. Many atheistic evolution see evolution as a brutal and wasteful process that no self-respecting deity would have employed in bringing about life. Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and the late Stephen Jay Gould were united on this point.

Of course, the increasingly popular Darwinist option is to “Darwinize” the mind – to argue that rationality is an illusion, rending the discussion between Falk and Dembski superfluous.

But wait – doesn’t Falk think that Christianity can cozy up to Darwinism?

That said, there’s this also from Bill:

Moreover, I found it refreshing that Falk would distance himself and BioLogos from strict Darwinism, which Falk rightly sees as spanning not only the Origin of Species but also the far more theologically contentious Descent of Man.

Which is good news, but: Do Falk or BioLogians in general distance themselves from Darwin’s Descent of Man because it is very politically incorrect? Or because they know actual, science-based reasons for rejecting it? It’s the latter we want to hear about.

What aspects of either Descent or Origin do they distance themselves from, specifically?

Put another way: To what extent is the denial that they are Christian Darwinists a mere PR tactic or mere discomfort with the implications of Darwinism, as opposed to awareness of science-based reasons for rejecting Darwinism?

(Don’t forget the petition in support of star neurosurgeon Ben Carson, attacked by Darwinists.)

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17 Responses to Bill Dembski on his discussion with BioLogos head Darrel Falk

  1. Dembski wrote: “…it hardly seems that God is mandated to create via a process that provides no evidence of his creative activity — and nowhere does Falk admit that God provides actual evidence of himself in creation (at best he allows that nature provides “signposts” — but what exactly are these signs? who is reading them? why should we take them as pointing to God?).

    Following signs:

    Nature displays regularity. Why should it do so?
    Nature displays beauty. Why should it do so?

    Dembski continues: “But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature? God, as omnipotent, can certainly make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.

    Actually, this is a problem for Dembski: If God must make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist — even if it means using flamboyant miracles that would convince anyone, as Dembski thinks God must, then why hasn’t God done so?

    Dembski continues: “Still, the more interesting question here is whether there is a rational basis for Falk’s faith that is grounded in the order of nature.

    Yes, the fact that nature is ordered is pretty good grounds for think there is a God.

    ID, in finding scientific evidence of intelligence in nature, says there is [a rational basis for religious faith].

    But scientific evidence is a tentative source of evidence, since tomorrow’s science may always overturn today’s science. If our faith in God can only rest on ID, that’s a rather shaky basis for faith.

    To be continued.

  2. Dembski continues: “how can he avoid the charge that the faith by which he sees God’s handiwork is merely an overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith?

    Nature is neutral or hostile to Christian faith? How so?

    Note that I’m not alone in thinking it odd that God would create by natural selection. Many atheistic evolution see evolution as a brutal and wasteful process that no self-respecting deity would have employed in bringing about life. Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and the late Stephen Jay Gould were united on this point.

    It’s only wasteful if the creatures used in evolution had no intrinsic value to God. Does Dembski, Coyne, Dawkins, or Gould know this to be the case? How?

  3. Another signpost from Nature:

    Contingent Nature exists. Why should it?

  4. 4
    material.infantacy

    “Actually, this is a problem for Dembski: If God must make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist — even if it means using flamboyant miracles that would convince anyone, as Dembski thinks God must, then why hasn’t God done so?”

    Bilbo, I don’t see where Dembski implied that god “must” make himself known with flamboyant miracles, only that he could if he wanted. His point seems to be that God is perfectly free to create via a process which doesn’t explicitly conceal his involvement. Biology is just such a case, according to IDT.

  5. Bilbo I writes, “If God must make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist — even if it means using flamboyant miracles that would convince anyone, as Dembski thinks God must, then why hasn’t God done so?”

    The apostle Paul stated a basic truth when he wrote that the Creator’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that [opposers of truth] are inexcusable.” (Romans 1:20) Yes, “the heavens are declaring the glory of God,” and “the earth is full of [his] productions.” (Psalm 19:1; 104:24)

    But what if a person is unwilling to consider the evidence? The psalmist David said: “The wicked one according to his superciliousness [“arrogant as he is,” The New English Bible] makes no search; all his ideas are: ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 10:4; 14:1) In part, faith is based on the fundamental truth that God exists.

    Note the part in bold; it’s not God’s fault if the ardent atheist refuses to consider the evidence because it doesn’t follow his preconceived notions or biases.

  6. 6
    material.infantacy

    I don’t know that ID proponents or ID theory put limits on God with regard to how he must or mustn’t act. It seems that this restriction is imposed by TE — that god mustn’t be visible in biology, but is obliged to work behind the dice (perhaps this is too strong a framing?)

    Rather, ID places no limitations as to which created phenomena must conform to which mode of divine act, but instead infers the mode from an observation of detectible design. This allows for reasonable discrimination between a material and a formal cause — the substance and the device molded from it — with function being determined by a specific and contingent set of purposely integrated parts. And it just so happens that we find justification for this sort of inference in the pages of scripture.

  7. 7
    material.infantacy

    “Nature is neutral or hostile to Christian faith? How so?”

    I think that Dembski is implying the above is Falk’s issue, that his faith is exposed to the accusation that it’s subject to a nature which has no need of it.

    Dembski: “Still, the more interesting question here is whether there is a rational basis for Falk’s faith that is grounded in the order of nature. ID, in finding scientific evidence of intelligence in nature, says there is. Falk, along with BioLogos generally, denies this. But in that case, how can he avoid the charge that the faith by which he sees God’s handiwork is merely an overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith?”

    In my reading, the contrast here is between ID, which suggests that “intelligence in nature” is detectible, and Falk, who “generally, denies this.” Dembski is saying that it’s Falk’s faith which is subject to the accusation that it is simply an “overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith.” This is a nature which would, it is implied in a material view of origins, have no direct need of God for the creation of life.

  8. 8
    material.infantacy

    Bilbo asks, “Nature displays regularity. Why should it do so? Nature displays beauty. Why should it do so? … Contingent Nature exists. Why should it?”

    I’m not convinced that ID and TE proponents differ on the above in remarkably substantial ways. They are indicia of divine purpose.

    “Biology displays purpose” is where things get fuzzy. “Biology displays design” seems troublesome as well. Not for ID, but for TE. Purpose, apparent in design, expressed as objectively detectible, functional configurations and constraints, is taboo in TE as far as I can tell, because it challenges Darwinian evolution directly.

    It’s even been suggested, if memory serves, that cosmological ID is not so problematic for TEs. Apparently the line is really drawn at biology; God is not allowed to act here in a detectible fashion, which suggests that Darwinian evolution stands undefeated, regardless of its evidentiary status.

  9. Hi Material Infantacy (MI from now on),

    You wrote: “His point seems to be that God is perfectly free to create via a process which doesn’t explicitly conceal his involvement. Biology is just such a case, according to IDT.

    Dembski seems to be making a much stronger claim, that God must create via a process that does explicitly reveal his involvement. From his second essay at BioLogos:

    “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 world reflect God's glory].”

    According to Dembski,it is not enough for TEs to say that Nature’s contingency, regularity and beauty reflect God’s glory. They must also say that God’s activity in the origin of life and its species is scientifically detectable. Denying that it is scientifically detectable is undercutting {C2} — The world reflects God’s glory.

    I think Dembski’s position here is theologically and philosophically indefensible, but let’s assume it’s true. Now Dembski has a problem: God has given scientific evidence of his activity in the origin of life and its species, but most scientists do not recognize this evidence. Does Dembski see the scientific evidence because he has the eyes of faith? If so then to quote Dembski, “ Perhaps faith has given him sight that atheists lack. But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature?

    So in order not to occlude his activity in nature, not only must God provide scientific evidence of His activity in the origin of life and its species, He must also “make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.

    So if Dembski wishes to apply his criticism that Falk is claiming that God has occluded his activity in nature, then the same criticism can be applied to Dembski’s position. He can’t have his cake and eat it too.

    You continue: “I don’t know that ID proponents or ID theory put limits on God with regard to how he must or mustn’t act. It seems that this restriction is imposed by TE — that god mustn’t be visible in biology, but is obliged to work behind the dice (perhaps this is too strong a framing?)

    Unfortunately, I think both ID proponents and TEs are guilty of putting limits on God with regard to how he must or mustn’t act. I’ve already quoted Dembski saying that God must give scientific evidence of his role in Nature. And yes, I don’t think you are framing it too strongly in saying that TEs insist that God mustn’t give scientific evidence of his role in Nature. I grow weary of both camps doing this. I say, let’s look at the data and interpret as best we can. I think it points to ID, but I don’t make it a theological prerequisite to accept that point of view.

    You continue: “This is a nature which would, it is implied in a material view of origins, have no direct need of God for the creation of life.

    But this nature would still have need for God for its existence, and for its regularity, by which it creates life. That hardly seems neutral or hostile to Christian faith.

    You write: “It’s even been suggested, if memory serves, that cosmological ID is not so problematic for TEs. Apparently the line is really drawn at biology….

    I agree that TEs draw an unreasonable line between cosmological ID and biological ID. I understand their theological and philosophical reasons for doing, but I don’t their reasons are very good ones.

  10. 10
    material.infantacy

    Hi Bilbo,

    “Hi Material Infantacy (MI from now on)”

    That’s just fine, and actually preferred. You might find my post a little disorganized; but I hope I’ve communicated below, the gist of where I think the difference of opinion is between us.

    “Dembski seems to be making a much stronger claim, that God must create via a process that does explicitly reveal his involvement.”

    You may be correct (with qualification) and I’ll return to the point below; but the crux of my objection in #4 was to your claim that Dembski was insisting that “flamboyant miracles” were required to convince:

    “Actually, this is a problem for Dembski: If God must make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist — even if it means using flamboyant miracles that would convince anyone, as Dembski thinks God must, then why hasn’t God done so?”

    I was objecting to the “must” in regards to flamboyant miracles. Dembski’s point was rhetorical, that God could make his presence known to anyone by the use of such a device, and we could all imagine how he might do so (I know I could). He was not, in that context, suggesting that God is obligated to do so. (He seems to be questioning Falk’s use of Psalm 19, as to whether general revelation can speak outside of one’s faith to reveal God’s glory, if indeed natural law can be said to account for it by necessity.) Here’s the quote (EnV article):

    “Perhaps faith has given him sight that atheists lack. But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature? God, as omnipotent, can certainly make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.”

    So I stand by my original objection, but turn to your comment about C2:

    “According to Dembski,it is not enough for TEs to say that Nature’s contingency, regularity and beauty reflect God’s glory. They must also say that God’s activity in the origin of life and its species is scientifically detectable. Denying that it is scientifically detectable is undercutting {C2} — The world reflects God’s glory.”

    Yes, I believe he is questioning whether the concept has any teeth, if it is not rooted in our ability to objectively discern it. If general revelation is only applicable to those who already possess faith, then it has no value as a general revelation. And he does appear to tie this to scientific detectability, by reasoning that it’s the obvious way to validate whether something can be objectively determined.

    But is he really insisting a priori that God is obligated to be scientifically detectible in biology, or that it makes far more sense that he is? If evidence were lacking, that design is objective — and if Darwinian processes could easily account for it all — would Dembski still, by his theology and his C2, be obligated to the view that direct design was objectively detectible in biology? I think he would say “no,” and I’d love to get confirmation of that.

    Moving forward, within the remainder of your response you seem to be suggesting that Dembski’s claims versus those of TE are two sides of a coin. On the one side, Dembski says that God is bound to reveal himself in biology through scientific discovery; and on the other, TE claims that he mustn’t. Am I correct in presuming that you see these as two polar extremes, both unreasonable?

    I will presume to suggest that Dembski is opting to reason from what is observed: the appearance of design in biology . Being one who has labored to architect objective and scientific methods of design detection, he is beginning with an empirical observation that designed things bear characteristics which non-designed things do not. He is attempting to make a reasonable case for what we see. I will presume again to suggest that if design were not obvious, and not scientifically discernible, that he would find himself under no obligation to insist that it was (he could always look to cosmological ID for scientific validation). In other words, if Darwinian evolution actually explained biology, I don’t think Dembski would suggest, for theological reasons, that it mustn’t. He would not find himself compelled to see God’s direct design fingerprint in phenomena for which there was a perfectly valid law-like account; in that case, biological complexity could be accounted for, in many ways like ice crystals could. I would welcome correction on these points.

    On the other hand, we have TE. They also begin with the observation of design in nature; but they reason away from it. It’s suggested that God’s direct intervention in biology simply isn’t proper, and it’s preferable to posit a material process, e.g. Darwinian evolution. They are obligated to believe, absent compelling evidence, that the proposed law-like process is indeed responsible for the apparent design in nature, hence explaining the “appearance” of design, and not design itself. As Barry Arrington pointed out in another article, they actually find themselves in the position of explaining the illusion of design by a blind process which is, after all, designed.

    So in my view, Dembski is attempting to theologically justify a scientific inference, which verifies an axiomatic perceptual intuition (design); while TE is left trying to theologically justify a rather defunct theory, which is purported to explain why that intuition is false, but not actually. (I hope that is less a caricature than it sounds.)

    Best,
    m.i.

  11. Hi MI,

    I think you and I agree that Nature’s contingent existence, regularity, and beauty count as evidence for God’s existence, and I would say this is objective evidence, not subjective. Dembski, on the other hand, either doesn’t recognize these qualities of Nature as evidence for God, or doesn’t think them objective, or doesn’t think them strong enough. Instead, he thinks there must be scientific evidence in Nature. Let me quote Dembski more fully from part II of his essay at Biologos:

    …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).

    Let me repeat the significant sentences: “Darwinism doesn’t so much say that God doesn’t exist as that God need not exist.

    So Dembski seems to be implying that God isn’t needed to uphold contingent Nature, or uphold the laws that make Nature regular, or that the beauty that Nature displays is a reflection of the nature of her Artist. Instead, the only significant evidence of God in Nature, as far as Dembski is concerned, is the scientific evidence that intelligent design was needed to create and diversify life.
    Why would Dembski think this?

    Given that science is widely regarded as our most reliable universal form of knowledge….

    This certainly sounds like an acknowledgment that Scientism is true. For a trained theologian and philosopher to make such a statement is very shocking.

    So yes, I still see at least Dembski as being the other side of the coin from Theistic Evolutionists.

  12. 12
    material.infantacy

    Bilbo,

    “I think you and I agree that Nature’s contingent existence, regularity, and beauty count as evidence for God’s existence, and I would say this is objective evidence, not subjective.”

    I agree this is objective, and I can only presume that Dembski would agree; but I think that he is asking the same question I would ask: on what basis do we judge it’s objectivity, if not by science? Isn’t science our basis for objectivity in regard to the things observed? And why should this be a problem for theology if we find support in scripture? This doesn’t put science in a position to judge God, but rather makes science the method we have discovered for ascertaining the truth about general revelation; science is what God has provided for ascertaining objective truths about perceived reality.

    I’ll try and return to the rest as time allows. Thanks much! m.i.

  13. 13
    material.infantacy

    Correction to the above (#12): science is the method we have discovered for ascertaining the truth about general revelation, specifically in regard to physical effects and their causes. Science follows from, and is subject to, the laws of thought, which are themselves a part of general revelation, I would say.

  14. I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that science is what determines the objectivity of the evidence of God from Nature’s contingency, regularity and beauty. These are extre-scientific concepts. Science has nothing to say about them. In fact, science depends upon Nature’s regularity for its own existence.

  15. 15
    material.infantacy

    Bilbo, you are correct and I botched that hastily composed paragraph. I misunderstood “contingent nature” and then went off in two different directions. I think that science has nothing to say about philosophical concepts, but rather the other way around.

    Let me try and address some of your comments in #11.

    “So Dembski seems to be implying that God isn’t needed to uphold contingent Nature…”

    However Dembski says (referencing Phillip Johnson), “Darwinism doesn’t so much say that God doesn’t exist as that God need not exist.” This is entirely consistent with a material view of nature: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” If the cosmos itself is taken for granted — which science appears perfectly content to do — then a Darwinian view of biology would certainly suggest that God, “need not exist.” I can’t imagine that Dembski, as a theist, would accept Sagan’s suggestion, except for the sake of argument.

    Is it your view that Dembski is stating his belief that God is unnecessary to uphold nature — unnecessary for beauty and regularity? I suggest that Dembski is making reference specifically to biology, since that’s the context in which the statement is given. Darwinism certainly does make God unnecessary for biology, in the same sense that he is unnecessary for water to freeze. Yes, as theists, we can mostly agree that all these things require God for their existence and operation; but in the context of causes, cold is the efficient cause for ice. What is the efficient cause for biology: law or artifice? If law, then Darwinism is correct, and biology just happens, given sufficient conditions. If biology instead happens by artifice, then we would expect to find evidence of this, and I believe we do.

    You also take issue with this statement, “Given that science is widely regarded as our most reliable universal form of knowledge…”

    But isn’t it true that science is widely regarded as the most reliable begetter of truth about nature? One needn’t agree that science actually is the most reliable form of knowledge, to assert that it’s widely regarded as such. He appears to be asking why science is theologically excluded from providing evidence of God’s existence, given its status and centrality to the human investigation of nature. This seems perfectly reasonable. If Darwinian evolution actually explained biology, we wouldn’t even be asking the question. Since it doesn’t, and since there is qualatative and quantifiable evidence for direct design in biology, there doesn’t seem to be much use in making design detection anathema to science nor theology, especially when such objectivity is supported in scripture.

    Best,
    m.i.

  16. Hi MI,

    Your interpretation of Dembski may be correct (and I hope it is). But then his challenge to Falk is merely a rhetorical one. Dembski would already know that Nature reflects God’s glory, regardless of the truth or falsity of Darwinism. If ID’s claims are true, they merely make a strong case even stronger. So let’s not put stumbling blocks in the way of our brothers and sisters. If they think God’s natural activity can explain life, let’s not insist that their faith is defective. Likewise, I would say to them (and have said it to them), if we think God’s supernatural activity was needed to explain life, and that there is evidence of this, please don’t tell us that our faith is defective.

  17. 17
    material.infantacy

    Fair enough, Bilbo. Thanks for your time and courtesy. m.i.

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