Theology at BioLogos: A Reply to Darrel Falk
|June 19, 2012||Posted by Thomas Cudworth under Intelligent Design|
“Bilbo and Thomas have not accurately summarized our position.”
In this column, I will examine only Falk’s response to Dembski. (Time permitting, I may review the series by Ard Louis at a later date.)
In the response to Dembski, Dr. Falk writes:
“I will begin by summarizing my view of the nature of God’s activity in creation. I think that God created all living organisms, including humans, through the evolutionary process.”
This is admirably clear, so far as it goes. But let us analyze it a little, to make sure we have its contents exactly right.
Does “the evolutionary process” mean what most biologists mean, i.e., a wholly natural process, which does not need to be supplemented by divine guiding, steering, nudging, intervention, etc.? Does it mean a process in which the natural powers of genomes, cells and organisms, in connection with naturally caused mutations, undergo a natural process of selection, without the input of any special divine action?
If so, this is exactly the view that Bilbo and I, in our discussions, have in fact imputed to Drs. Falk and Venema and to BioLogos generally, so it is hard to see why Dr. Falk would complain about our interpretation.
In fairness to Dr. Falk, Bilbo had just previously said something else — beyond what he and I agreed upon — about the BioLogos position. Under the aforementioned Venema column, he wrote (#70479):
“They argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is able to provide a large probability that human-like creatures would result (which is usually what everyone is worried about when they talk about God’s providence). And if it is a large probability, then by simply making the probable resources large enough, this in effect “guarantees” the results.”
It is possible that it is this interpretation that Dr. Falk is rejecting. If so, I would point out that this interpretation of the BioLogos position is not mine, but Bilbo’s alone.
There is another point to be clarified. Dr. Falk refers to “all living organisms”; does this include the first living organisms? The first living organisms could not have come about through organic evolution, since there were no prior organisms from which they could be derived. So they must have arisen through sheer accident, or through a process of so-called “chemical evolution,” or through direct creation — the direct manipulation of non-living matter to form it into living matter — by God. Which view does Dr. Falk wish us to infer as his own view?
Based on the furious assault of BioLogos against the views of Stephen Meyer, an assault led by Darrel Falk himself, the President of the organization, by Dennis Venema, its lead biological writer, and by big-league ex-Christian biologist Francisco Ayala, and based on the fact that BioLogos takes Meyer to be advocating direct divine manipulation of matter to create the first cell, one may perhaps justifiably infer that BioLogos rejects the direct creation of the first life, and believes that life arose either through sheer accident or via chemical evolution. And since “sheer accident” would be incompatible with belief in an omnipotent, providential, and governing God, presumably BioLogos opts for chemical evolution. If so, it would clarify matters if BioLogos would say so. In any case, Falk’s own view on the origin of life is not clearly expressed here. The best guess we can make is that his preference for naturalism after the first cell indicates a preference for naturalism generally, and that he opts for the chemical evolution scenario.
Dr. Falk goes on to make a number of points which ID people agree with, and therefore are not in dispute. Those ID people who are Christian concur with Falk, for example, in accepting the miracles of Scripture. Another point on which ID Christians are in complete agreement is that God does not merely create, but also sustains, nature and all its laws. Bill Dembski and Mike Behe do not deny that God can be said to act through the natural laws as well as through miracles. There is no issue between TE and ID here, and ID people often wonder why Falk and so many other TEs have so many times emphasized this point, as if it is something that ID people would not accept.
Dr. Falk then goes on to make the point that Genesis does not specify that God creates through supernatural interventions, and so we are free to imagine that he worked through natural causes. We could object that the simplest and most natural reading of the text is that God produced the various components of the cosmos directly, but that is not the point here. The point is that, whether God created directly or through natural processes, Genesis is loud and clear about the fact of divine intention and the fact that divine intention is carried out. There is no sense of accident or imperfect accomplishment of God’s ends. So whatever natural causes God might have employed, they were suited to the divine goals. We should expect, then, the theistic evolutionists would not object to language such as “guidance” or “steering” of the evolutionary process on the one hand, or, if they dislike such terms, of “programming” or “setting up” the evolutionary process to “unfold an implicit design” on the other. Yet every time they are asked to confirm any of these terms, or a host of equivalent terms, they become squirmy, captious, cavilling, and evasive. They will not consent to such language, nor will they provide any alternative language that has any theoretical clarity. They do not seem to have any confidence that God used a controllable natural process; they do not seem to take the language of intentionality and accomplishment found in Genesis (and in many other parts of the Bible) seriously enough. It is this resistance to the notion of divine control or governance — not non-literalness about days and light and waters above the firmament — which is the sore point between ID and TE.
The closest that Dr. Falk comes to allowing that God may guide or steer the evolutionary process to particular ends is in these statements:
“Still, given that there is extensive supernatural activity exhibited in God’s interaction with Israel and in the life of Jesus, it is entirely possible that he did work supernaturally in fulfilling the creation command, as well. Even though the miracles described in the Bible primarily serve some theological or pastoral purpose that stems from God’s earnest desire to make his presence known and to deepen his relationship with humankind, we should reserve judgment about whether only God’s natural activity was responsible. It is not clear though, that supernatural activity would often be God’s chosen mode of action millions of years before humans had arrived. Thus, we should not assume with certainty that God would choose to use supernatural flurries of activity if his ongoing regular activity—that described through natural laws—would accomplish the same end, albeit over a longer period of time. For all we know, God may prefer slowness, even though we seem to be inclined to think that faster is better.”
Here Falk admits that, if we are entirely honest, we simply don’t know whether or not God intervened to direct the evolutionary process. His initial conclusion from this seems to be that we should remain agnostic on the question. We would support such agnosticism, if consistently acted upon in practice. But of course BioLogos has never, in practice, remained agnostic on the question. The working assumption of all its writers, at least as manifest in their discussions of biological origins, is that God created exclusively through natural means. And so it is not surprising that Falk, having given with the right hand, immediately takes away with the left, by quietly indicating his preference for a purely naturalistic form of evolution.
So, what can we establish from Darrel Falk’s response to Dembski? First, that Falk believes that species were created through the process of organic evolution. Second, that Falk allows that God may have “twigged” the evolutionary process, but personally thinks that God didn’t do so. (Note: this would imply that God performed no special divine action to create man out of earlier hominids.) Third, that Falk does not want to comment on, and therefore probably rejects, the possibility that God “programmed” or “set up” or “front-loaded” the evolutionary process that so that it had to produce certain results. Fourth, that Falk probably believes that God created life through “chemical evolution” rather than through direct divine action.
What are the implications of this? First, that Bilbo and I, in our discussion, adequately characterized Falk’s view of how evolution works — exclusively through natural processes, especially random mutation and natural selection (and chemical evolution, if the subject is the origin of life). Second, that there is no reason on earth why Falk had to be so evasive when answering Crude’s questions. He could have just said: “I believe that God created all species through the natural means of organic evolution, without throwing in any special guidance to make sure evolution gave him the results he planned on.”
So again I pose my question? Why the dance? Why the constant avoidance of certain ideas — ideas suggesting teleology or end-directedness in the evolutionary process? Why the refusal to answer people who ask, in various ways, whether the process is end-directed? Why the constant concession that God could indeed have intervened in evolution, constantly rhetorically undermined by broad hints that God didn’t in fact intervene? Why the much greater concern with the freedom of nature (as we saw explicitly in Venema, and have seen elsewhere in Falk, Miller, and other TEs) than with the freedom of God? Is it because “the freedom of nature” can be construed to fit in with the open-endedness of neo-Darwinian evolution, whereas “the freedom of God” — with its implication that nature, including the evolutionary process, is at all times under the control of God — can not easily be so construed?
Dr. Falk can easily clear the air on all these matters. He can write an extended reply answering all our questions and criticisms here — one which does not contain the same evasions and irrelevancies which have led to our previous complaints. He can cut out the long pious statements of things that both ID and TE people agree on; he can explain why he and Venema dodged Crude’s questions; he can say more firmly that he does not think that God directly intervened in the evolutionary process; he can say clearly whether he thinks God directly engineered the first life, or left it to the stochastic processes of chemical evolution to produce it; he can say directly, without any excuses based on the soteriology of Wesley or Calvin, whether he thinks God’s intention was to guarantee all the observed outcomes of evolution or to leave some outcomes open; and if his view is that God intended to leave some outcomes open, he can answer (a) the scientific question how neo-Darwinian mechanisms could guarantee the existence of man without guaranteeing the stages that led up to man, and (b) the theological question how God can leave anything in pre-human nature open, given his control over all the laws of nature and all initial conditions, and his ability to foresee the detailed evolutionary results of any combination of natural laws and initial conditions that he might establish.
Until Dr. Falk, does this, his complaint that we have misrepresented him here seems to be without substance. We have represented his views, and those of his colleagues, as well as we can, given their equivocations, evasions, and lack of orderly and disciplined theological exposition. If they want us to to better, they must do better. We await their systematic reply.