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Olive Branch from Karl Giberson

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:

http://biologos.org/blog/through-a-glass-darkly-blog/

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.

 “Fair enough.

“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.

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20 Responses to Olive Branch from Karl Giberson

  1. This has easily been one of the best pieces I’ve seen out of Biologos since its introduction, and I’m glad to see an ID proponent receiving it so well.

    Hopefully it will set the tone for the future.

  2. 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.

    It’s pretty apparent where Giberson’s proposal would lead.

    Anyone here besides me willing to bet their life that most theistic evolutionists are really front loader’s in disguise but refuse to admit it?

    I’m pretty sure the second someone like Ken Miller tries to reconcile “evidence” of Darwinian processes with faith by saying, “Well, this all happened with God’s chemicals,” they are just displacing design at the origins of the universe to make their respective deities as non-interventionist as possible. Doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t “IDers” in their own beliefs even if they claim it isn’t science.

  3. Exactly the right response, Mr Cudworth. I left a few comments yesterday morning on Karl Giberson’s blog entry, and I’ll put an expanded form here.

    I have also urged a meeting of the minds—or at least of some of the minds—involving advocates of ID and advocates of TE. My own definition of “theistic evolution” (a term in use since at least the 1890s), based on decades of reading past and present examples, is simply this: God used the evolutionary process to create living things, including humans. I see nothing here to contradict the essence of ID, namely that some design inferences can be made from nature. If I were asked to place Mike Behe on the larger historical landscape of people who have talked about this, I would say that he could be considered an advocate of both TE and ID. So could Asa Gray, the first theistic evolutionist in America; so could Ken Miller, whose conception of divine action is actually pretty similar to that of Behe, as far as I can tell (if you doubt this, see what Behe wrote on pp. 357-58 of the book, “Debating Design”). Only the politics forces different conclusions, partly by insisting on more than this when TE and ID are defined.

    Divine action is indeed central to this potentially fruitful conversation involving TEs and IDs. You can’t really talk seriously about TE without talking about divine action; on the other hand, ID officially brackets “God” and “theology,” so ID proponents often get a pass; they can criticize what the TEs say, without having to offer an alternative conception. Down deep, however, I suspect that a lot of ID proponents would agree with TE proponents, in saying that God acts always and everywhere (as Isaac Newton would have put it), and that nearly all of that activity is *within* what we call the “laws of nature,” which are just our descriptions of the ordinary mode of divine activity. (This is why it can be erroneous to use the term “god-of-the-gaps” indiscriminately vs ID or the term “deism” indiscriminately vs TE. There are instances in which those things *can* be said accurately, but in many cases the charges are based on an incomplete assessment of the situation.)

    Unfortunately, however, I expect that the politics of the culture wars will probably affect the likelihood of any possible rapprochement—at least one that is on a fairly large scale. Old-style culture warriors, in my opinion, won’t want to participate in such a venture; they want to draw very sharp lines in the sand, and they know where they want them drawn. (This could be taking place in #2 above, where the author seems even to imply that Mike Behe or Michael Denton do not belong in the ID “camp.” The same post strongly suggests that ID is *not* “scientific,” that the specific identity of the designer just can’t be left out of the conversation. The TE folks are typically pretty clear about putting specific designers into their pictures.) The subtleties that must accompany any serious conversation about divine action, let alone serious efforts to interpret the Bible or to interpret natural phenomena (which, judging from my recent exchange with Cornelius Hunter, is not always going to happen here), are not the usual stock in trade of culture warriors. Unfortunately, in culture wars as in political debates, truth is all too often one of the first casualties.

    There are people on both “sides” of this issue, IMO, who need to be prepared to subordinate ideological convictions to the truth–as best they can discern it. What God knows to be the case is not always what we think God knows to be the case; we can only do the best we can, under the circumstances.

    I close with something that my good friend, Mr Boyle, said in one of his first published books, something that we use as the basis for our blog policy over at the ASA:

    “I love to speak of Persons with Civility, though of Things with Freedom. … railing at a Mans Person [is] such a quarrelsome and injurious way of writing [that] does very much mis-become both a Philosopher [i.e., scientist] and a Christian…” Robert Boyle, Certain Physiological Essays (1661)

  4. This is an excellent post, and I have to say that I was heartened to read Dr. Karl Giberson’s latest article. Let’s hope that the “olive branch” approach bears fruit, in the future.

  5. It was a h/t from the Biologos blog that pointed me to this essay. Let me repeat my comment here.

    I’m very encouraged by the acknowledgments and awareness of distinctions shown in both essays. Would that this set a positive trend in the discussion between the two camps, so that we can find common ground on which to stand in the real fight against the atheistic materialist philosophy that is our common opponent. I look forward to seeing progress on this front.

  6. “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.”

    Fair enough, but how does ID get out of Designer of the Gaps? Thus far, all the ID design detection machinery I’ve seen relies on showing that evolution can’t do something. How can it show positive evidence for design?

  7. F2XL (#2):

    I can’t think of any TEs who have endorsed front-loading, except Denis Lamoureux and possibly (though I’m going only on hearsay for this) Simon Conway Morris. Indeed, many of the TEs appear to be rather cool to the idea of front-loading. And Ken Miller, whom you mention, is vague, but appears to lean more toward “God intervenes indetectably” than toward front-loading. On what passages from TE writings do you base your conjecture?

    T.

  8. Heinrich:

    Regarding positive evidence for design, have a look at The Design of Life by Dembski and Wells, and Signature in the Cell by Meyer.

    Regarding “gaps”, neo-Darwinism is just “chance of the gaps”. It hypothesizes that at some time in the past, a series of unguided mutations (never listed) created a bat’s sonar, a whale’s blowhole, a bird’s flying power, the human eye, etc. Whenever it can’t say exactly *how* any of these things came into being, it says “mutations and natural selection did it”. That is about a clear and precise as “God did it”.

    Anyhow, ID does not pretend to offer a causal account, in the sense of a chronological, step-by-step account, of how things came to be. It merely infers that information from a rational agent had to be input at one or more points in the process. Darwinism in all its forms denies this. It says that organized complex integrated systems can be created with no input whatsoever from intelligent agency. That is wildly implausible, yet all of modern evolutionary theory has been based on it. Darwinian evolutionary biology is the least rationally defensible successful theory in the history of science. Its continued power rests in its status as the modern creation myth, not in its detailed explanatory capacity, which is almost nil.

    T.

  9. It hypothesizes that at some time in the past, a series of unguided mutations (never listed) created a bat’s sonar, a whale’s blowhole, a bird’s flying power, the human eye, etc. Whenever it can’t say exactly *how* any of these things came into being, it says “mutations and natural selection did it”.

    Scientific explanations are provisional, incomplete, inadequate and implicitly qualified with “we don’t yet know”. Plus they can only deal with observable reality. Beyond that, we are all free to choose our own belief system to overlay it all. It is only when a faith-based claim contradicts observable reality that there is a problem for religion.

    I get the impression that, in some quarters, there is concern that the inalienable right for someone to believe what they do somehow undermines religious faith in others. Should not faith be strong enough to not need cocooning from intellectual challenges and ideas?

  10. Timaeus @ 7

    Good to interact with you again. After you interacted with us on the old ASA email list another ID supporter Cameron Wybrow spent most of a year in very profitable discussions with the email list who as you know are mainly EC/TEs.

    “And Ken Miller, whom you mention, is vague, but appears to lean more toward “God intervenes indetectably” than toward front-loading.”

    After a lot of discussion Cameron posed a question to the ASA email list, as to whether or not we thought there were gaps and how such gaps might be filled. As best I recall everyone agreed that gaps exist in the current understanding and that many gaps would likely be closed as study continues BUT that it is unlikely that all the gaps will be closed and that God in some manner “intervened” beyond what nature normally is capable of.

    My expectation is that many ECs would consider “front loading” if such is found to be either part of the fine tuning arguments that most ECs accept or to be yet undiscovered laws of nature. To me the laws of nature are another name for Gods actions in his created world. Such actions are a part of God’s sovereign sustaining of all that exists on a moment by moment basis. Nature is never autonomous with any existence separate from God’s sustaining power and governance.

    (God + Nature) – Nature == God

    (God + Nature) – God == Nothing

    Elsewhere Ted Davis has defined acceptance of evolution as minimally the acceptance of common descent. Given that definition at least some who accept evolution would also accept front loading, for example Mike Gene. Sometimes the labels we receive don’t represent our positions very well.

    My hope is that a part of the ID camp who are Christians and a part of the EC camp can become co-belligerents if not allies. And yes I agree that ECs need to resist naturalism to a greater extent. At the very least we should stop treating each other as anathema.

    Dave Wallace

    ps As result of Timaeus and Cameron’s discussions I have become more skeptical of the modern evolutionary synthesis or mechanisms although for a long time I have asked how we know there was really enough time for evolution to work, in other words is time really deep enough?

  11. Timaeus @ 8

    In Meyer’s book he did a good job of describing a theoretical framework for the historical sciences. Thus there are always explanations to the best hypothesis that in the light of further understanding of nature may turn out to have a better explanation in the future as we understand more about God’s creation. In some cases I agree with you, ““mutations and natural selection did it”. is about a clear and precise as “God did it”.” except I would say that God did it all and what we do not understand is if God used secondary causes to bring about his plan.

    One of the differences between ID and EC is in terms of what the default expectation is when we don’t understand how God did it. ID tends towards an answer of design and ECs tend towards an answer of lets wait and see what we find out, as scientists attempt to understand God’s world. My opinion is that in the end we will find places where we never understand how God did it and will come to see that God intervened in a hand like fashion to use Van Till’s phrase. But my opinion and 2 bucks will get you a cup of coffee, at least where live in Ottawa. :-)

    A significant concern that I have with “of the Gaps” thinking is if someone needs there to be a Gap or needs there not to be a gap in order for their world view or religion to be validated. Thus even before I pick up a new book by Coyne or Dawkins I already have doubts as to their judgment on the state and trust worthiness of the science.
    Dave W

  12. 12

    This is all well and good. But in the end TEs are going to go with what’s acceptable in mainstream culture. The more acceptable ID becomes, the more of them will start doing what Karl Giberson has done.

    Philosophically, they are stuck between outright Christian fatalism and deism. If they deny ID arguments they deny any sort of design in the universe, including fine-tuning which is really an ID argument that came before ID was formalized. If they accept ID arguments they know they will be forced to accept that the information in DNA was designed independently of fine-tuning, and with that the approbation of the culture they have struggled so long and so hard to reconcile themselves to.

    I predict they won’t do it until ID wins on its own strength. The bottom line for TEs is not philosophy or science or theology. It’s compromise. They are politicians, and they will come around only when ID has won. That’s just who they are. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be TEs.

  13. Let me pick up on (a) the theme of this thread and (b) the mention by Timeaus of Meyer’s new book. Indeed, let me put them together, by noting that the ASA (of which I was recently president) recently launched our own blog, and one of the three main parts is for talking about books of interest to our members.

    http://www.asa3online.org/Book/

    ASA executive director Randy Isaac (who offers his own opinions, not those of the ASA itself, which contrary to some perceptions does not endorse any particular view on ID vis-a-vis TE) has been going through many of Steve Meyer’s arguments, explaining them and offering commentary. Steve was invited to be part of this from the start–he is also one of our members–but thus far he has not been able to do join in. (I know that Steve has many commitments.) My hope is that he will be able to do so, before too long.

    Steve had also planned to speak at least summer’s ASA meeting, but he had to withdraw owing to circumstances beyond his control. If anyone doubts what doubts what I am saying here about the ASA’s intention to be an open forum for Christians with serious stuff to say about science and faith, just go to http://www.asa3.org/ASA/meetin.....links.html.

    If there is to be a solution to the kinds of things that Karl Giberson and Mr Cudworth discuss, the ASA is likely to be part of that solution–to the extent that people on both “sides” allow it. Where else can there be a meeting of the minds?

  14. tragic mishap claims (#11) that TEs “are stuck between outright Christian fatalism and deism.”

    In the recent book, “Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue,” John Polkinghorne (perhaps the most prominent TE in the world) pictures God as “ceaselessly interacting with creation by means of continuous action taking place within the divinely ordained open grain of nature. Special divine acts in special circumstances of revelational disclosure are not excluded, but the expectation is that these acts will be comparatively rare and that they will occur for highly significant reasons. If the purpose of miracles is truly to be signs of deep significance, they will not be rashly and prodigally scattered throughout history. In fact, consideration of the biblical miracles stories shows that they concentrate around times of particular importance in salvation history: the exodus, the dawn of prophecy in Israel, the life of Jesus Christ, and the foundation of the church.” (pp. 174-5)

    I cannot decide which of those two things you highlight, tragic mishap — outright Christian fatalism or deism — Polkinghorne is closer to here. I’m sure he must be stuck there somewhere. Please help me out.

  15. Ted, in keeping with your point, and with reference to another post, I recently obtained the following definition by Bruce Waltke:

    —”By “theistic evolution” I mean that the God of Israel, to bring glory to himself, (1) created all the things that are out of nothing and sustains them; (2) incredibly, against the laws of probability, finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce ‘adam, who is capable reflecting upon their origins; (3) within his providence allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions—such as the meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs, enabling mammals to dominate the earth—to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially ‘adam; (4) by direct creation made ‘adam a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith; (5) allowed ‘adam to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their physical and spiritual Creator; ….”

    While I would disagree strongly with that formulation as the best interpretation of reality, the statement does compromise the basic Scriptural teaching that God “breathed life” into Adam (not necessarily by name) and, therefore, should not be characterized as a non-Christian world view. {There is no talk here of “emerging” spirituality or souls coming out of matter}

    (For what it is worth)

  16. My introductory phrase, “In keeping with your point” @14 refers not to Ted’s comments to tragic mishap @13 but rather Ted’s comments @12. In other words, I am not necessarily disagreeing with tragic mishap at 13, I am agreeing with Ted at 12 about the need for dialogue.

  17. tragic mishap @12:

    —”Philosophically, they are stuck between outright Christian fatalism and deism. If they deny ID arguments they deny any sort of design in the universe, including fine-tuning which is really an ID argument that came before ID was formalized. If they accept ID arguments they know they will be forced to accept that the information in DNA was designed independently of fine-tuning, and with that the approbation of the culture they have struggled so long and so hard to reconcile themselves to.”

    That’s right. If God revealed himself in nature, then that revelation applies both for macro-marvels and micro-marvels. It makes no sense to say that the Creator revealed himself through his handiwork with respect to cosmology and then went back into hiding with respect to biology.

    On the other hand, if some kind of rapproachment is in the works, I am open to it. Who needs all these intramural battles among Christians.

  18. Good grief, I made a typo and neglected to include the word NOT.

    Sorry, Ted.

    While I would disagree strongly with that formulation as the best interpretation of reality, the statement does NOT compromise the basic Scriptural teaching that God “breathed life” into Adam (not necessarily by name) and, therefore, should not be characterized as a non-Christian world view.

  19. 19

    StephenB, dialogue is good. I grow tired of it though when it’s quite clear that most of the TEs and YECs (I say this as a YEC), who should both be accepting ID with open arms, have no rationale for rejecting it. I am thus constrained to the irrational explanation.

    Ted as soon as I posted that I realized I did not mean Christian fatalism, which is a term most often used to describe Calvinism, but simply determinism. I have yet to meet a TE capable of denying the biblical miracles, at least those in the New Testament, because if they were capable of that they wouldn’t be Christians at all! But whenever the subject turns to ID somehow God’s “interventions” become a great cause for concern. I would like to know what the difference is between a “miracle” which is accepted without question and an “intervention” which is bordering on blasphemy. If you tell me the only difference is that one is in the Bible and the other is not, I shall be greatly disappointed.

  20. —tragicmishap: “StephenB, dialogue is good. I grow tired of it though when it’s quite clear that most of the TEs and YECs (I say this as a YEC), who should both be accepting ID with open arms, have no rationale for rejecting it. I am thus constrained to the irrational explanation”

    I agree. Indeed, I submit that when it becomes clear at different intervals that dialogue is useless, one should resume the posture of reaffirming one’s position and exposing the adversary’s errors.

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