Olive Branch from Karl Giberson
|April 15, 2010||Posted by Thomas Cudworth under Intelligent Design|
Biologos supporter Karl Giberson has recently posted what seems to be an olive branch to ID. As we rarely get these from the TE/EC/Biologos camp, I think we should respond graciously to Dr. Giberson’s overture.
His remarks, under the heading, “Through a Glass Darkly”, are found at:
I was grateful when Dr. Giberson backed away somewhat from the tendency of TEs to throw out “God of the gaps!” as a shibboleth against ID. He wrote:
“Not all ID theorists insist on this however. I had a chance to chat with Michael Behe when we were on a panel a few months ago at Brigham Young University; I pressed him to find out just how far apart we were. I knew he accepted common ancestry and rejected young earth creationism, just as we do at BioLogos. Behe insisted that “design is empirically detectable” but he did not insist that such design requires intervention by God.
“Perhaps it would be most appropriate to say that ID “tends to slip into god-of-the-gaps,” rather than equating it with god-of-the gaps, as its critics tend to do.”
I am grateful that Dr. Giberson is capable of noticing the exaggerations of some of his anti-ID colleagues, and pleased that he shows determination to find out what ID proponents say about themselves, and does not rest content with inaccurate second-hand reports. For this I thank him.
I would add that Behe is not alone in his position. William Dembski, for example, has said that ID does not in itself require gaps in natural causality, and therefore does not rule out a wholly natural process of evolutionary change, provided that the natural process is understood not as chance-driven but as designed. Also, Michael Denton, a proponent of lower-case “id” – intelligent design – does not believe that any intervention by God to fill any “gaps” was necessary. He believes that the process of evolution was pre-programmed into nature, back as far as the origin of the universe, in the fundamental laws and constants of nature and the fundamental properties of the elements.
Of course, ID does not rule out gaps, either. ID is compatible with the view that new information was “input” into the biological realm at various points, e.g., at the origin of life, during the Cambrian explosion, at the origin of man, etc. But it does not require such a view. It is also compatible with the view that design-achieving information is constantly being input into the system, but so subtly (perhaps “under the cover” of quantum indeterminacy) that a scientific observer cannot find any discontinuity in nature. But it does not require that view, either. All that ID insists upon is that the integrated complexity observed in biological systems is in important respects the product of design. The means by which the design was brought into nature – via a front-loaded scheme that operates naturalistically, via subtle indetectable steering, or via “spot miracles” to fill in the “gaps” – are not part of design theory per se.
It is precisely because ID focuses on design detection that it is compatible with many different views of how biological order emerged. Thus, ID is a “big tent”, which can embrace people who don’t accept macroevolution at all, and also those who accept chemical and biological evolution “from molecules to man”. What unites all ID proponents is not a particular account of origins, but a rejection of non-design in favor of design. Within that big tent of design, there are of course ID proponents who will never accept theistic evolution because they do not believe that macroevolution has in fact happened; but there are ID proponents who do believe that macroevolution has happened, and others who are open to being persuaded that it happened, and such ID proponents are not in principle opposed to “theistic evolution” – the idea that God creates through a process of evolution. It is only when TE/EC/Biologos people start putting all kinds of unnecessary “riders” into the contract – e.g., insisting that design can never be detectable in principle, or that design must not be detectable because God is a Barthian God rather than a Thomistic God, that such evolution-friendly ID people back away.
Another way of putting it is this: TE is the belief that God guided or at least planned evolution; ID is the belief that design in nature is detectable. TE as such says nothing either way about the detectability of design, and ID as such says nothing either way about the occurrence or non-occurrence of evolution. Therefore, neither group needs, on definitional grounds, to deny the core belief of the other. It is only those ID people who insist on rejecting evolution on principle, and only those TE people who insist that God’s design must not be detectable, that have no common ground. But in between, there is an overlap zone, which I think that neither TEs nor ID people have fully explored, because of reckless past charges on both sides which have generated great mutual distrust. I think we should be exploring this overlap zone, and I therefore welcome Dr. Giberson’s non-dogmatic approach.
I also thank Dr. Giberson for acknowledging that TE/EC/Biologos can tend toward Deism. This has been a very great concern of those ID people who are Christians or traditional theists of any kind. ID people often get the sense that, while TEs may be very sincere in their professions of belief in God, their God is redundant from an explanatory point of view, because they seem to hold the same view of nature’s self-sufficiency as do Dawkins, Coyne, etc. And again, ID’s answer to this “redundancy of God” is not necessarily to give God a role in the “gaps” – to insist that one or more things were accomplished by miracles or ruptures in the causal nexus. ID’s way of showing the non-redundancy of God is to argue that the universe is not just energy and matter, but energy, matter, and information, and that information, at least all the really important information, comes, directly or indirectly, from an intelligent designer. God is thus, for theistic ID proponents, genuinely explanatory in accounting for nature in a way that he is not for some TE/EC/Biologos people.
For some TE/EC/Biologos people, it seems, intelligent design is a personal religious gloss put upon nature, which one can equally reasonably reject (Dawkins, Coyne) or accept (Collins, Lamoureux); nature does not “tilt” in favor of “yea” or “nay”. ID people (Behe, Meyer) believe that nature tilts in favor of “yea”. That is not the same as saying that science can prove God’s existence. It is saying that the very structure of nature, while not offering a decisive proof, gives concrete reasons for inferring the existence of designer of nature. The man or woman of science, more cognizant than the average person of the incredible amount of integrated complexity in biological systems, and of the amazing degree of fine-tuning in the laws and constants of nature, has more than sheer religious faith to go on. Belief in a designer is not simply an arbitrary personal preference; it has a rational basis.
Again, I think there are some TEs who come close to saying this. I think that Dr. Polkinghorne, while stopping short of saying that science can “prove” the existence of God, has indicated that science seems to provide at least some strong circumstantial evidence for God. At least, that was the drift of his argument in an extended podcast interview of last year. We can quibble over whether ID’s inference to a designer should be called “science” or only a philosophical inference based on the results of science, but in substance I don’t think ID’s position – on that point, anyway – is far removed from that of Dr. Polkinghorne. There is not such an absolute cleavage between our knowledge of nature and our knowledge of God that the one is entirely disconnected from the other, and that one has no evidential value in relation to the other.
In sum, I second Dr. Giberson’s proposal for a new exploration of what ID and TE have in common, rather than what separates them. I think the best TEs and the best ID people have a strong sense of design in nature that is not merely a subjective impression but which points beyond nature to a designer of nature. I think that many TEs are at least open to the possibility of design detection, however reserved they may be about particular design inferences, and I think that many ID people are aware of the danger of god-of-the-gaps reasoning in both science and theology, and are open to the idea that God works through natural causes (provided that an underlying design, rather than chance, is understood to be at work through those natural causes). There is plenty of room for agreement, and plenty more for discussion.