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Stephen Barr’s Own Private Idaho

Back in the early 90’s a movie came out with the peculiar title “My Own Private Idaho.”  The movie has nothing to do with my topic, but I’ve always been amused by the notion of a “private Idaho.”  In a comment to my previous post (Barr v. Arrington), Deuce captures perfectly the problem with Stephen Barr’s Darwinism.  Barr thinks he can have his “Own Private Darwinism” that means something completely different from the Darwinism universally accepted in the scientific community.  Sorry Dr. Barr.  As Deuce explains, language doesn’t work that way.  What follows from here is all Deuce:

I’ve read Barr’s writings on the subject of evolution for a while, and my take is that 1) Nullusalus is right that what Barr means by “Darwinism” is indeed a different position than what most self-identified Darwinists mean by it, and 2) Barry is right that he’s playing the part of the useful idiot.

To start with, let’s repeat that statement of Barr’s about the soul.

And what happens to morality and natural-law ethics if neo-Darwinism is right? Nothing, if we recognize that man is not merely a product of evolution. Man is not reducible to matter, not only as Scripture and tradition attest, but also as human reason can discern by reflecting upon its own powers.

Barr is right that natural law is not affected if we recognize that man is not merely a product of evolution. But as Barry correctly notes, this is terribly confused. Neo-Darwinism isn’t simply the theory that there is such a thing as evolution by natural selection. Even YECs would be neo-Darwinists if that’s all it took. Neo-Darwinism holds that the appearance of purpose we see in biology, *up to and including human reason*, is in fact merely a product of evolution by natural selection. The *whole point* of the theory is to explain (away) the appearance of purpose. What Barr is saying here amounts to “Neo-Darwinism doesn’t contradict Christianity, as long as we suppose that neo-Darwinism isn’t actually true.” Exempting the soul from neo-Darwinism is no more compatible with it than exempting the flagellum or the eye.

On multiple occasions I’ve seen Barr argue that “random” doesn’t mean unguided or unintended in science, but that it simply means that we are unable to observe any correlations in some data. But just because that definition of “random” is the operative one in Barr’s own branch of science (physics) doesn’t mean it’s the operative one in Darwinian evolution by random variation and natural selection. First of all, it goes without saying that we can’t observe any correlations in the variations that have led up to our existence. We can’t observe those variations at all because they occurred in the deep past before we were here to see them, so *of course* we can’t observe correlations in them! If that’s what the “random” in “random variation” meant, Darwin’s idea would be too trivial to even be a theory.

Additionally, in physics and other practical-application sciences, randomness plays a merely descriptive role. That is, we’re simply describing how things appear to us. In Darwinian evolution, however, randomness plays an explanatory role. The whole point of Darwinian explanation is to explain how things that appear to be intended could actually have originated without really being intended. Again, the whole point of Darwinism is to explain the appearance of telos in biology without having to appeal to actual intent. If the randomness referred to by the theory were merely an appearance (which, again, is impossible since biology *appears* non-random, and the “random variations” have no appearance at all since we weren’t there to observe them), but were in fact directed and planned, then the explanation for the appearance of intent would be… actual intent, and the Darwinian explanation for that appearance would be no explanation at all.

And again, Barr shows extreme naivety when he says the following:

Moreover, the scientific community has sat by while certain scientists and philosophers, claiming the authority of science, have waged war against religion using the neo-Darwinian account of evolution as a metaphysical weapon.

The reason that the scientific community have “sat by” is because they correctly understand Darwinism to mean the exact same thing that those “certain scientists and philosophers” mean by it. Indeed, it’s the exact same thing that DARWIN HIMSELF meant by it! The claim that purpose is an illusion *IS* the theory. Barr’s bowdlerized version of Darwinism is particular to him. It’s not the “real” Darwinism.

I’ve had a couple combox debates with Barr on this issue myself, and his reasoning basically comes down to this:

1) Scientific theories cannot confirm or deny the existence of purpose. 2) Darwinism is a scientific theory. 3) Lots of scientists and philosophers claim that Darwinism is an explaination for the appearance of purpose in life that denies the reality of purpose, and hardly any adherents of Darwinism disagree with them. 4) But if Darwinism really said what they claim, it wouldn’t be a scientific theory. 5) So Darwinism couldn’t possibly say what nearly all its adherents say it does, because Darwinism is a scientific theory. c) Therefore, Darwinism is completely compatible with faith.

Of course, the error here is obvious: the content of an idea, and what is meant by that idea’s adherents, is not affected in any way by Barr’s definition of “science.” The correct conclusion is that Darwinism isn’t science by Barr’s definition, but he doesn’t want to go there.

It’s the exact same reasoning he uses to claim that “random” in RM&NS doesn’t mean unintended. If it meant unintended, you see, then it wouldn’t be science, so that’s not what it means! The possibility that lots of scientists in a particular field are dedicated to something Barr wouldn’t consider science, and that most others don’t really care, is something he just seems incapable of even considering.

So, in conclusion, I like Barr, I think he’s a sincere orthodox Christian and not a heretic, but I do think he matches the definition of “useful idiot”. In fact, I think he matches it better than most theistic evolutionists, because most theistic evolutionists are snakes in the grass who knowingly promote a “strong” view of evolution (the essentially atheistic idea that it’s unguided and that purpose is an illusion) while engaging in misdirection to obscure that fact, whereas Barr is a genuine Christian who isn’t trying to sell materialism in an underhanded way, but who is being a dupe.

But when he says that “neo-Darwinism” doesn’t conflict with the faith, most people are going to take that idea to mean the same thing that “Darwinism” means to most people, including Charles Darwin, even if Barr has managed to convince himself that his personal definition has any truck among scientists and philosophers beyond himself. Basically, he’s unknowingly encouraging laymen to let their guards down against naturalistic metaphysics.

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45 Responses to Stephen Barr’s Own Private Idaho

  1. StephenB,

    HOWEVER, he has violated his Catholic (and Christian faith) by arguing that biological design is undetectable. It is pure nonsense to suggest that God revealed himself in cosmology and then went back into hiding in biology. Barr, and all Christian Darwinists take that irrational and heretical posture.

    I see Barr arguing that biological design isn’t scientifically demonstrable. But I don’t think that’s the same as arguing that ‘design is undetectable’ – just that it’s not a scientific issue. If Barr’s said that design in biology isn’t detectable at all, I’d like to see that.

    As for Charles, I suspect you misunderstand him. I believe Charles is asserting that any biological precursors to Adam and Eve at all – anything short of flat out direct creation from the ground up (Maybe with the whole YEC cart as well?) – is in conflict with the Bible. Or maybe I’m the one misunderstanding.

  2. nullasalus,

    I have interacted with Barr on this matter. When I challenged him about Romans 1:20, he started talking about the cosmological laws of nature, as if the biological realm was not covered in that passage. Indeed, it is, as you know, a tenet of the neo-Darwinistic paradigm that biological design is an illusion. Barr’s position is that design is “inherent in the evolutionary process.” which is his way of saying that faith in God’s evolutionary process provides the assurance, not the perception of design. In other words, we must believe that God designed life because we cannot apprehend it through observation. He really is double minded on this issue. I think Deuce above has it nailed.

  3. nullasalus

    I didn’t intend to suggest that Plantinga or Barr go the way of BioLogos, but that the failure to draw attention to the prevalent blurring between science and philosophy gives those who are happy to muddy the waters free rein.

  4. 4

    The Psalmist: “I am fearfully and wonderfully MADE.”

    Stephen Barr:* Yes indeed you are. You were made by Darwinian processes.

    The Psalmist: But surely a blind purposeless natural process cannot “make” anything in the sense I used the word.

    Humpty Dumpty: Oh give Stephen a break. Like me, when he uses a word it means exactly what he wants it to mean. If I want “glory” to mean “a nice knock down argument,” then it certainly does. And if my friend Stephen wants “Darwinism” to mean “a teleological process in which God works even though his work is empirically undetectable,” then that’s that.

    The Psalmist: But won’t it cause confusion for Dr. Barr to use the word that way when pretty much everyone else in the scientific community uses it to mean “a blind purposeless natural process”?

    Humpty Dumpty: Oh, I see. You’re a fundamentalist fanatic. Well, there’s no use allowing your comments to remain in our combox. Off with your head.

    *Not his actual words but my summary of his position. If I have misrepresented his position he can correct me if he ever chooses to interact with me.

  5. First of all, it goes without saying that we can’t observe any correlations in the variations that have led up to our existence. We can’t observe those variations at all because they occurred in the deep past before we were here to see them, so *of course* we can’t observe correlations in them!

    Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science — the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. ~ Ernst Mayr

    We must ask first whether the theory of evolution by natural selection is scientific or pseudoscientific … Taking the first part of the theory, that evolution has occurred, it says that the history of life is a single process of species-splitting and progression. This process must be unique and unrepeatable, like the history of England. This part of the theory is therefore a historical theory, about unique events, and unique events are, by definition, not part of science, for they are unrepeatable and so not subject to test. ~ Colin Patterson

  6. Just to note that I have some discussions of Barr from the point view of physics and theism. Similar difficulties arise there as in the evolution discussions you are having here.

  7. Bevets,

    Then we must refrain from calling evolutionary biologists scientists? I personally would rather expand the definition of science than to leave out biology, ID and other quasi scientific endeavors. After all, science used to encompass much more than it does now. Science used to mean “knowledge.”

  8. StephenB,

    Barr’s position is that design is “inherent in the evolutionary process.” which is his way of saying that faith in God’s evolutionary process provides the assurance, not the perception of design.

    I don’t see that. In fact, I think there’s much to be said for the view that the evolutionary process presents yet another case of design ‘as perceived’, not due to faith in spite of it. Yes, yes, I know there’s an army of Darwinists who say otherwise. I’ve never found their assertion persuasive.

    If Barr explicitly denied the appearance of design in biology and evolution, that would be one thing. When he affirms it, and the objection comes on the grounds of what Barr is said to ‘really mean’, I’m just not sold. You’re a Thomist if I recall – do the mundane processes of nature show evidence of design, in your view?

    And I don’t see Deuce saying that Barr is ‘double-minded’ on this issue. His point, as I took it, was that the ‘Neo-Darwinism’ Barr defends is not the ‘Neo-Darwinism’ most defenders of evolution speak of, scientists included, so when Barr says that “Neo-Darwinism is no threat to faith”, he’s bound to be misunderstood. Not that Barr is being deceptive.

    Jon Garvey,

    No, I understand what you mean – sorry, didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. I’m convinced that Biologos and others do enjoy ‘blurring the lines’ in the ways you speak of. I only meant to say that Plantinga and Barr wouldn’t be useful for their blurring purposes, since the way they engage in it would run counter to what both men, in my view, actually think – and they’re actually alive and around to correct them.

  9. Hey Barry- For your next post on this guy you can title it “The Barr Exam”- d’oh….

  10. By definition, neo-Darwinism is non-teleological process that doesn’t know where it is going and didn’t have man in mind.

    Yet Barr, who accepts and defends this paradigm BY NAME, doesn’t hesitate to re-frame it with contradictory rhetoric.

    So, for Barr, evolution did not know where it was going–except that it did; it did not have man in mind–except that it did; it is not teleological–except that it is.

  11. StephenB,

    By definition, neo-Darwinism is non-teleological process that doesn’t know where it is going and didn’t have man in mind.

    Yet Barr, who accepts and defends this paradigm BY NAME, doesn’t hesitate to re-frame it with contradictory rhetoric.

    Barr explicitly spells out what he thinks is wrong with Neo-Darwinism as commonly offered, points out what he thinks the limits and scope of science are, and interprets neo-Darwinism in that light. He explicitly affirms that God used evolution, knowing and intending the results in advance, from what I’ve seen.

    It doesn’t work to say what the definition of neo-Darwinism is and what Barr must mean by it, when the very article cited expressly has Barr *defining what he means by the words himself*. He’s not ‘reframing it with contradictory rhetoric’, he’s pointing out what he thinks Neo-Darwinism must mean, scientifically, given his view of science – and that happens to eviscerate it of quite a lot of things that others (Coyne, Dawkins, etc) insist the word means.

    Plantinga did similar, as Jon Garvey said, in his latest book. He expressly named claims to evolution being ‘unguided’ as metaphysics utterly extraneous to the science, and not part of any evolutionary theory rightly called scientific. Are you going to say Plantinga is contradicting himself? I can provide the quotes of him making almost exactly the same move as Barr, if you like.

  12. Nullasalus,

    But neo-darwinism really does exclude teleology because one of its 3 prongs is “random mutation.” If God chose a mutation, then it is not “random” mutation. It’s purposeful mutation and therefore not really neo-darwinism.

  13. bevets

    Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science — the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. ~ Ernst Mayr

    Collin

    Then we must refrain from calling evolutionary biologists scientists? I personally would rather expand the definition of science than to leave out biology, ID and other quasi scientific endeavors. After all, science used to encompass much more than it does now. Science used to mean “knowledge.”

    But even if it were true by definition that a scientific hypothesis could involve no reference to God, nothing of much interest would follow. The Augustines and Kuypers of this world would then be obliged to concede that they had made a mistake: but the mistake would be no more than a verbal mistake. They would have to concede that they can’t properly use the term ‘science’ in stating their view or asking their question; they would have to use some other term, such as ‘sience’ (pronounced like ‘science’); the definition of ‘sience’ results from that of ‘science’ by deleting from the latter the clause proscribing hypotheses that include reference to God (i.e., by removing from the definition of ‘science’ Ruse seems to be endorsing, the clause according to which science deals only with what is natural). Their mistake would not be in what they proposed to say, but rather in how they proposed to say it. ~ Alvin Plantinga

    I think it needs to be clearly understood that origins necessarily includes metaphysical assumptions. It is also unfortunate that (Material) Science is considered the highest form of knowledge in our culture.

  14. 14

    Collin, at 12 you have put your finger on the crux of the matter. For his own private Idaho type of Darwinism, Barr defines “random” as “that which is guided.” Well, he can privately define black as just a really dark shade of white, but he should not expect the rest of us to go along with him.

  15. Collin,

    But neo-darwinism really does exclude teleology because one of its 3 prongs is “random mutation.” If God chose a mutation, then it is not “random” mutation.

    Barr touches on this in his article, but not enough in that specific one. Plantinga does a better job. The short version is that what science can call “random” refers to correlations – statistically, the mutations creatures get are not biased towards favorable ones. Science isn’t capable of determining whether or not a given mutation, harmful or negative or neutral, was or was not intended, guided, or foreseen by God. This is one of Barr’s points, as well as Plantinga’s, and I think it’s a solid point at that.

    If someone replies – and someone will reply – ‘but the neo-Darwinists say otherwise! They say the lack of guidance is essential to the theory’, my response is what it’s been for years: so much the worse for their theory then, because that’s where the science stops and the metaphysics and theology has begun.

  16. Hi nullasalus

    On reading this thread I too was immediately reminded of Plantinga’s views on this point. Here is Plantinga in a debate with Dennett “Science and Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies“, American Philosophical Association Central Division Conference, 2009:

    The point is that a mutation accruing to an organism is random, just as neither the organism nor its environment contains the mechanism or process or organ that causes adaptive mutations to occur. But clearly a mutation could be both random in that sense, and also intended (and indeed caused) by God. Hence, the randomness involved in Darwinism does not imply that the process is not divinely guided. The fact (if it is a fact) that human beings have come to be by way of natural selection operating on random genetic mutation is not at all incompatible with their having been designed by God and created in his image. Therefore Darwinism is entirely compatible with God’s guiding, orchestrating, and overseeing the whole process. Indeed it’s perfectly compatible with the idea that God causes the random genetic mutations that are winnowed by natural selection. Maybe all of them. Maybe just some. Those who claim that evolution shows that humankind or other living things have not been designed apparently confuse the naturalistic gloss on the scientific theory with the theory itself. The claim that evolution demonstrates that human beings and other living creatures have not—contrary to appearances—been designed, is not a part of or a consequence of the scientific theory as such, but a metaphysical or theological add-on. Naturalism implies of course that we human beings have not been designed and created in God’s image, because it implies that there is no such person as God. But evolutionary science by itself does not carry this implication. Naturalism and evolutionary theory together imply the denial of divine design. But evolutionary theory by itself doesn’t have that implication. It is only evolutionary science combined with naturalism that implies this denial. Since naturalism all by itself has this implication, it’s no surprise that when you conjoin it with science—or as far as that goes anything else: the complete works of William E. McGonagall, poet and tragedian for example, or the Farmer’s Almanac, or the Apostle’s Creed—the conjunction will also have this implication [audience laughter].

    It’s clear to me there’s a significant distinction between evolution science per se and metaphysical baggage attached to the science.

    I suppose Barr could be faulted for ambiguous language but, really, what term nowadays clearly refers to the science but not the baggage? And if that’s his only fault, so what? His views seem pretty clear.

    Cheers

  17. nullasalus:

    I believe Charles is asserting that any biological precursors to Adam and Eve at all – anything short of flat out direct creation from the ground up (Maybe with the whole YEC cart as well?) – is in conflict with the Bible.

    There are several biblical verses that inform us man has a triune nature: physical body, immaterial soul and immaterial spirit.

    The Hebrew text of Genesis allows for interpreting ‘yom’ as 24-hour days or ‘indeterminate ages’, though neither interpretation self-reconciles perfectly, nor reconciles in detail with with our present scientific beliefs of the sequence of formation events that followed the big bang. I am an old-earth creationist. Gen 1:26, 1:27 and 2:7 uses 3 different words (translated as “make”, “created”, “formed”) from which different specific inferences may be drawn, but Jesus was explicitly clear that God “created” or “made” (depending on the Greek text) Adam & Eve in the beginning, which can mean produced from either ‘nothing’ or ‘prexistent matter’.

    While there is some interpretive latitude in the specifics of when and from what what God created Adam & Eve, there is no latitude that the only biblical view is God having done the creating of (and implicitly designing) two human genders in the beginning, and not their having evolved up from accidental, undirected processes.

    There is no semantic refuge in which a professing Christian, Barr, can claim to believe in Jesus as Lord and simultaneously disbelieve what Jesus believed.

  18. Clavdivs,

    Platinga’s approach reminds me of Dempski’s critique of theistic evolution. He argued that Occam’s Razor will eliminate God because we can explain everything perfectly without Him.

    Also, it seems to me that an atheist would rightly argue that no matter what evidence you could ever give, you could never convince someone there is no God because he could always be hiding there behind the random stuff.

  19. –nullasalus: “If Barr explicitly denied the appearance of design in biology and evolution, that would be one thing. When he affirms it, and the objection comes on the grounds of what Barr is said to ‘really mean’, I’m just not sold.”

    The problem is that Barr seems to say whatever he needs to say at any given moment. He defends critics of Collins and Miller, for example, when ID proponents chide them for saying that design only “looks” directed.

    To John West, Barr responds,

    “We are in the presence of mystery. God does not always show his hand. He is the “deus absconditus”, the God who hides. The splendor of creation indeed proclaims the greatness and power of God. But I certainly don’t know how God does everything He does, and neither do the ID people.”

    Get it. Leave Miller and Collins alone. God is hiding in nature. They are perfectly justified in saying that design is an illusion. (Except that I will bring him out of hiding when ID proponents challenge me, at which time I will play my “Splendor of creation” card).

    Also, notice the strawmanish characterization, implying that ID proponents claim to know how God does everything he does.

    At other times, when he is defending his contradictory argument, he confesses, under pressure, that “good design arguments can be made.” Well, that’s nice, I suppose, but it is hardly the issue. According to Romans, 1:20, design is “evident.” It needs no arguments. Remember, I am not discussing ID arguments or ID science, as such. This is all about being able to apprehend design in nature. Barr continually conflates the two issues, and it creates enormous confusion. Does he do this consciously? I don’t know. Does he consciously cause confusion when he redefines Darwinism? I can’t say.

    With respect to a specific question about the Bible’s teaching on design, more specifically the book of Wisdom as an interpreter of Romans 1:20, he says this:

    “It is noteworthy that this passage does not point at all to biological phenomena, let alone biological complexity.”

    Suffice it to say that this is just another strawmanish evasion. On and on it goes.

    –“You’re a Thomist if I recall – do the mundane processes of nature show evidence of design, in your view?”
    To me, the design in a DNA molecule is obvious. On the question about mundane processes, I am afraid I will need an example in order to provide a fair answer.

    –“And I don’t see Deuce saying that Barr is ‘double-minded’ on this issue.”

    I don’t think Deuce is saying that either. I will assume the responsibility for that characterization.

  20. I am sorry. That should read [Barr] chides ID critics who challenge Collins and Miller

  21. StephenB,

    Get it. Leave Miller and Collins alone. God is hiding in nature.

    I have no idea how you’re extracting that from what you quoted. I’ll say again, I recall Barr saying outright that evolution was guided and planned – that God knew what the results of evolution would be, and intended them. The most I ever recall Barr saying about Miller is him frankly saying he had no idea what Miller’s thoughts were on questions like these.

    According to Romans, 1:20, design is “evident.” It needs no arguments.

    Then I suppose Barr rejecting ID in no way suggests he rejects Romans 1 then, right? In fact, if someone were to argue favorably that ID should taken seriously because of Romans 1, they’d apparently be wrongheaded – the design in nature is such that no arguments are needed. And ID stripped of arguments doesn’t have much left.

    Incidentally, Barr’s defense of Collins is pretty bold: “I must also rise in defense of the reputation of Francis Collins, whose ideas are being garbled (again) by West. Collins does believe that every physical event that happens in the world is known and willed by God from all eternity.” Now, I don’t know if Barr has Collins right – but his defense is noteworthy because he doesn’t get wishy washy or evasive. He flat out says that Collins, as he understands him, believes in a God who knew and willed all physical events from eternity. Say what you like, but that’s absolutely not Barr defending some nebulous ‘God has some power over nature, but we know not how’ move.

    To me, the design in a DNA molecule is obvious. On the question about mundane processes, I am afraid I will need an example in order to provide a fair answer.

    Temperature rising and falling. The water cycle. Gravity. Are these regular and mundane processes teleological by Thomism, and by your view?

  22. I like both post 15 by nullasalus and 16 by Clavdivs. I think this line sums up an important problem:

    It’s clear to me there’s a significant distinction between evolution science per se and metaphysical baggage attached to the science.

    I suppose Barr could be faulted for ambiguous language but, really, what term nowadays clearly refers to the science but not the baggage? And if that’s his only fault, so what? His views seem pretty clear.

    IDists have come to use the term Neo-Darwinist to refer to someone who both accepts evolutionary theory and the “metaphysical baggage” of materialism. They are reluctant – resistant, really – to accepting any term which separates the evolutionary theory from that “baggage”.

    However, there are also theistic evolutionists such as Barr, Collins, Ken Miller and Keith Miller, etc, who accept evolutionary theory and have a different set of metaphysical beliefs attached to that acceptance – quite orthodox Christian theological beliefs.

    The IDists reject this position also. IDists see theistic evolutionists (TE) as a sell-out to materialism because they don’t believe that the design they (TEists) clearly believe in is scientifically discernable. The OP calls them “snakes in the grass”, and Philip Johnson famously said that TE’s were “worse than atheists because they hide their naturalism behind a veneer of religion.” Those are pretty harsh words to apply to what are supposed to be one’s fellow Christians.

    So we don’t have a neutral word for someone that accepts evolutionary theory without regard to their metaphysics. (I’ll point out that there are other non-theistic and yet non-materialistic perspectives that also accept evolutionary theory, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and various New Age spirituality viewpoints.)

    However, and I spent a long time discussing this a year or two ago here at UD, I think that TE’s position is extremely consistent with the fundamental idea of an onmi-everything divine being, and that the IDist’s insistence on there being scientifically discernable evidence for design makes them more like the materialists than the TE’s are.

  23. Aleta,

    However, there are also theistic evolutionists such as Barr, Collins, Ken Miller and Keith Miller, etc, who accept evolutionary theory and have a different set of metaphysical beliefs attached to that acceptance – quite orthodox Christian theological beliefs.

    No. It would be nice if this was the case, but no. “TEs” are not all the same, and the men you named can’t be collectively judged with regards to their views.

    Barr stands apart from Ken Miller, and arguably Collins, precisely because he is explicit about his beliefs – specifically, he’s explicit about God’s knowledge of, power over, and use of evolution. Keith Miller’s views I am unaware of, but Ken Miller’s record on this front is anything but clear. Collins’ views are a bit better than Ken Miller’s, but not by much – and the organization he started, Biologos, is downright famous for its leadership being out and out nebulous when it comes to these questions. About the only thing they’re explicit about is their condemnations of ID proponents and YEC/OECs.

    If TEs all took the view that Barr and Plantinga expressed, it would be one thing. Certainly there are orthodox theists who reject ID, for whatever reasons. But many do not take the Barr/Plantinga route. Instead they just stay extremely quiet and avoid detailing their views, which just feeds into a far more legitimate suspicion that they take on a wholly naturalistic view of evolution, regardless of whatever theistic beliefs they have.

  24. Thanks, nullasalus – I am not conversant, perhaps, with the differences in these people’s views. (I am most familiar with Keith Miller’s views – he’s the editor of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, and I also know Ken Miller and have read his book Finding Darwin’s God).

    I wonder what you mean by “a wholly naturalistic view of evolution, regardless of whatever theistic beliefs they have.” As the quote I offered above pointed out, there might be a use for a term which says “this person accepts evolutionary theory but has additional metaphysical beliefs about the nature of reality as they impinge upon the flowing of events in the natural world, including the possibility that they don’t believe in anything metaphysical at all”

    So, can you explain more about possible differences you see in the acceptance of evolutionary theory, on the one hand, and the acceptance of Christian theology, on the other. What is a way of accepting evolutionary theory as a TE that you think is valid compared to one that is not, or is your concern more that, someone, say Ken Miller, just hasn’t been explicit enough in his acceptance of Christian theology?

    I would be interested in hearing more about this.

  25. 25
    material.infantacy

    We should have faith that God operates through processes inexplicable by evidence, which are indiscernible from processes invoked to argue that no God is required. Trust that God works through the very processes, which if ever demonstrated true, make Him unnecessary.

    The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork, but biological life is veiled inextricably behind the illusion of purpose. The very rocks cry out in testimony to the Creator, but the jewel of His creation, made in His image, is indiscernable from the products of chaos.

  26. 26
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    I will grant Barr’s argument that Darwinism is compatible with Christianity. So what?

  27. 27
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    I think people spend way to much time arguing with Barr. It would be far more productive to simply grant Barr’s argument that Darwinism is compatible with Christianity. Followed by, So what? How does that make it true?

  28. Aleta,

    What is a way of accepting evolutionary theory as a TE that you think is valid compared to one that is not, or is your concern more that, someone, say Ken Miller, just hasn’t been explicit enough in his acceptance of Christian theology?

    Personally, I think the bare minimum would be affirming that God knew what the outcomes of evolution would be, and started the process with said outcomes in mind. Or even more of a bare minimum – affirming that science alone is utterly silent on the question of whether or not God knew the outcomes of evolution in advance, selected them, and ensured they came to pass. That is exceptionally weak, an easy bar to jump – Barr manages this and then some. Many TEs are utterly incapable of making this jump, for whatever reason.

    What is now and then said is something like this: “God gives nature freedom! He doesn’t plan things out and force nature to do what He wants – that would be mean!” Which, if it cashes out at all, cashes out to ‘God had no idea what the results of evolution would be. He certainly didn’t plan things. Somehow, beings in His image and likeness showed up. Lucky!’ There’s a lot of things that can be said for that view. “Orthodox” isn’t one.

  29. 29
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    By “it” I of course meant Darwinism.

  30. –nullasalus: “I have no idea how you’re extracting that from what you quoted.”

    Do you mean that you don’t know why I characterize Barr’s comments as “double-minded.” How do you interpret the words, “God is hiding in nature,” in the context of biological design?” How do you reconcile them with the words, “The splendor of God’s creation proclaims the greatness and power of God”

    –”Then I suppose Barr rejecting ID in no way suggests he rejects Romans 1 then, right?”

    Correct. The point is that when questioned about Romans 1:20, he answers by saying that he rejects ID. In other words, he doesn’t answer the question as asked. Indeed, as I pointed out earlier, he has implied that Romans 1 may not apply to biology.

    –”In fact, if someone were to argue favorably that ID should taken seriously because of Romans 1, they’d apparently be wrongheaded – the design in nature is such that no arguments are needed. And ID stripped of arguments doesn’t have much left.”

    I certainly would not argue that way. For me, it works like this: Romans 1 indicates that everyone can already detect God’s designs without going through a discursive reasoning process, such as proofs for the existence of God. Hence, they are said to be “without excuse.” Still, in an age where many reject the bible, lampoon philosophy, and clamor for “evidence,” it helps to have arguments based on empirical observations and the measurement of data.

    –”Are these regular and mundane processes teleological by Thomism, and by your view?”

    For me, the mundane processes indicate regularity (laws) which indicate order, which in turn, indicate an orderer. So, I would say that a teleological world view is the reasonable conclusion arrived at from a sound reasoning process.

  31. EM,

    It would be far more productive to simply grant Barr’s argument that Darwinism is compatible with Christianity. Followed by, So what? How does that make it true?

    Well, Barr’s actually pretty reserved on that front: “The question for science is whether the neo-Darwinian account of evolution is sufficient to explain all instances of biological complexity. Many scientists are supremely confident that it is—which is strange, given that so little is known about the steps by which some complex structures actually evolved.”

  32. StephenB,

    Do you mean that you don’t know why I characterize Barr’s comments as “double-minded.” How do you interpret the words, “God is hiding in nature,” in the context of biological design?” How do you reconcile them with the words, “The splendor of God’s creation proclaims the greatness and power of God”

    I suppose one way would be the context: Barr seems to be saying that we do not know how or even why God did various things. “The splendor of creation indeed proclaims the greatness and power of God. But I certainly don’t know how God does everything He does, and neither do the ID people.” So he seems to pass muster on the reading you have of Romans 1. And to be fair to Barr, I at least recall some making the argument that Christians should accept ID due to Romans 1.

    In other words, he doesn’t answer the question as asked. Indeed, as I pointed out earlier, he has implied that Romans 1 may not apply to biology.

    At this point, you’ll have to ask Barr. I don’t think your reading of him is the clearest one. I will say that the guy’s pretty accessible – try shooting him an email.

    Considering what he does affirm – that man is not reducible to matter, that God interacts with nature and the world, that even given an evolutionary process God certainly knew and directed the results ultimately – I have to wonder why anyone would come down on him this hard. Just because he rejects ID?

    For me, the mundane processes indicate regularity (laws) which indicate order, which in turn, indicate an orderer. So, I would say that a teleological world view is the reasonable conclusion arrived at from a sound reasoning process.

    Alright. Given this and what you’ve said, clearly you don’t think ID reasoning or inferences necessarily follow from Romans 1. But Barr also seems to endorse Romans 1 – I think saying he implied rejecting it with regards to biology because he principally spoke in terms of cosmology, closer to his field of expertise, is out on a limb. Write to him, see what he says.

  33. material.infantacy

    We should have faith that God operates through processes inexplicable by evidence, which are indiscernible from processes invoked to argue that no God is required. Trust that God works through the very processes, which if ever demonstrated true, make Him unnecessary.
    The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork, but biological life is veiled inextricably behind the illusion of purpose. The very rocks cry out in testimony to the Creator, but the jewel of His creation, made in His image, is indiscernable from the products of chaos.

    Very nice! Let us rejoice that those two paragraphs have been recorded for posterity.

  34. Thanks, nullasalus. My understanding of TE, and TEists I have known, is that they believe the first things you describe, and more. I have never known of people who took the second position you describe, and I can see how they would not be considered orthodox. When I talk of TE I am referring to people who believe that all that happens, from the beginning of time until the end, has been and will be as God wills, including the course of all histories, from that of the universe itself to the history of life on earth to the history of each person individually.

  35. Very nice! Let us rejoice that those two paragraphs have been recorded for posterity.

    Plenty of things are ‘invoked to argue that no God is required’, wrongly. The Big Bang, physical law and regularity, and more. I think ‘evolution’ is yet another case of this. As Plantinga roughly said, the only part of evolution science could hope to bolster is precisely the part that does nothing to the case for God’s existence.

    And on the flipside, as odd as it is to point out, ID is entirely predicated on the notion that even full-fledged instances of design do not require God as an explanation. Any design ID can see may well have a variety of explanations, not necessarily divine. I will forever point to how Crick reacted to his then-belief that the Origin of Life could not have occurred via unguided nature. Did he suddenly discover God in that situation?

  36. Aleta,

    When I talk of TE I am referring to people who believe that all that happens, from the beginning of time until the end, has been and will be as God wills, including the course of all histories, from that of the universe itself to the history of life on earth to the history of each person individually.

    I can see where you’re coming from. I used to think this myself – basically that any TE clearly would be taking Barr’s route. I pretty much grew up as a TE of sorts – evolution was taught in my Catholic school, and instinctively I saw no problem with it. Evolution – just one more way for a God to create. Pretty interesting method too. Kind of like procedural generation style programming, roughly.

    If Jon Garvey is following this thread, ask him what he sees over at Biologos. Or go check yourself. Try to find the affirmation from each contributor that ‘God wills’ what you speak of, specifically in regard to evolution. While some TEs (clearly) take that view, not all do. Instead you get talk about the ‘freedom’ God grants to nature, which – when you press and unpack it – cashes out to ‘God had no idea.’ Ayala in particular just loves this point, arguing that it ‘gets God off the hook’ for various Problem of Evil charges, because He was utterly unaware of what evolution would produce. And then, cagily, Ayala won’t even say whether he believes in God or not. Mystery of mysteries.

  37. 37
    material.infantacy

    Thanks SB, but it was a direct quote from II Contradictions 51:50-49, The New Old Testament version (TNOTV). Apologies for not citing initially. xp

  38. –nullasalus: “And on the flipside, as odd as it is to point out, ID is entirely predicated on the notion that even full-fledged instances of design do not require God as an explanation.”

    The way I would describe it is that ID passes no judgment on the designer’s requirements, which is not quite the same thing as judging that no Divinity is required.

  39. StephenB,

    The way I would describe it is that ID passes no judgment on the designer’s requirements, which is not quite the same thing as judging that no Divinity is required.

    I’m not so sure that can be gotten away with so easily. I don’t think ‘divinity’ or ‘supernatural’ are useful terms in these discussions – they’re pretty empty, in fact – but one of the best defenses of a common charge against ID (“It relies on miracles!”) is to note the spread of designers. I recall Dembski mentioning everything from platonic demiurges, powerful aliens or alien civilizations, Matrix-style computer programs, or otherwise, all being viable contenders to explain given instances of inferred design.

    And again, look at Crick. You have in that man an example of a committed atheist faced with what he thought was (what I think can rightly be called) a full-fledged ID inference. He didn’t blink on his atheism or materialism. He dove for the powerful alien civilization. His example is one reason I think that ID as an idea is going to make headway specifically with atheists in the future. If it wasn’t for the association of ID with Christianity, more atheists would probably be all over it right now. (Transhumanists, singularitarians.)

  40. I used to be in Barr’s camp, namely that the way God worked in the world, the way He directed events, both evolutionary and others, was to work in the areas that appear to us humans as random. Thus, I believed that Darwinism described the process of the creation of new species, but that the “random” changes were actually directed by Him. They only appeared to be random. I was aware that this was not the scientifically orthodox view, however.

    After I read Darwinism, a Theory in Crisis and Darwin’s Black Box, and also as I began to apply to the complex systems of biology what I had learned from my career as an IT professional about the requirements of making a major change to a complex system, I realized that not even God could have created new body plans, organ systems, or processes such as blood clotting, sexual reproduction, or insect metamorphosis via series of small incremental changes, as required by the theory.

    So it became obvious to me that neo-Darwinism simply couldn’t cut it as an explanation for the origin of all species, as Darwin originally claimed and as is still held by scientific orthodoxy. The only explanation left is that all macro-evolutionary change has been created, that is, designed and built out of whole cloth. After reading Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls by Michael Newton, I have come to believe that the engineers were souls very like us, although much more advanced than are the vast majority of us who occupy this planet at this time. Although, since all Creation is One, it is ultimately God who was the creator, just as ultimately it is God who is the creator of all that we humans, who are One with Him, create here on earth.

  41. nullasalus, It depends on which paradigm you are using.

    From a scientific perspective, ID methodology is powerless to make that judgment. That point can easily be tested. Simply work your way up from “irreducible complexity” and try to discern or speculate about the requirements or limitations of the designer. If you go through that exercise, you will find that it cannot be done.

    On the other hand, when ID critics ask Dembski related questions about philosophy or the philosophy of religion (who do you suppose that designer could be? or do you think God is the designer? or could it be an alien? etc.) then speculations abound concerning various possible identities.

    Typically, science deals with phenomenological questions; typically, philosophy deals with ontological questions. That is the point.

    However, I am going to give you the last word on this subject because I don’t want to get away from the subject of Stephen Barr, whose self-serving, private definitions have created so much unnecessary confusion.

  42. nullasalus

    “If Jon Garvey is following this thread, ask him what he sees over at Biologos.”

    I did a number of posts on it on my blog, which may cast some light, or not. Start here and here.

  43. StephenB,

    No need, I’ve said what I will on this for now.

    Jon Garvey,

    Thanks for the links. Hopefully Aleta will see part of the problem being discussed here. I know that for the longest time, I assumed that all TEs basically took Barr’s position. Many don’t. In fact the loudest ones don’t.

    I’d also note that the problem goes beyond mere open theism. In fact I’d think open theism exacerbates the problem in a way – limit God’s knowledge, and you seem to make it that much more justifiable that God will, as a matter of fact, intervene – precisely because He’ll need to to achieve what He wants. The omnipotent, omniscient God can more reasonably let nature unfold without, or with minimized, intervention.

  44. “The omnipotent, omniscient God can more reasonably let nature unfold without, or with minimized, intervention.”

    He can, but he doesn’t need to, and neither does he say that’s how he does it, so it’s mere presumption to tell him he has to.

    “Intervention”, of course, is the weasel word: it’s an unconscious admission that you don’t really believe God is sustaining and renewing everything anyway – otherwise any “direct” or detectable activity would simply be another form of control – like improvising instead of tapping your foot in time, maybe.

    Open Theism is quite happy to leave God without a lot of what he wants – a lot of “egregious genetic errors” etc . And yet in some of what I’ve read on BioLogos, there seems an attempt to cut off his arms and legs – he doesn’t do miracles, doesn’t govern chance, doesn’t impose his will … and yet he’s great at bringing good out of things, which is a pretty incoherent doctrine.

    Plantinga’s good on the false understanding of natural law in his new book – there is an implicit assumption that natural law applies only in a closed system – but if God exists it’s not a closed system.

  45. Re the “private evolution”, it’s bit like the gently-murmured advice: “No. You can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

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