Home » Intelligent Design » Theology at BioLogos: An Invitation to Drs. Falk and Venema

Theology at BioLogos: An Invitation to Drs. Falk and Venema

Dr. Dennis Venema, lead geneticist over at BioLogos, whose evasiveness regarding divine action in evolution we thoroughly documented here, here, here, and here, appears to have noticed our efforts.

In his latest column over at BioLogos, he writes to Bilbo (70458):

“I’ve appreciated your work to hold the feet of certain ID folks to the fire over at UD.”

I guess I must be “certain ID folks,” because Bilbo’s recent extensive argument was directed at me.

But let’s be clear: Bilbo’s argument was focused wholly on my claim that there was tension between neo-Darwinian evolution and the traditional Christian understanding of divine providence, governance, and sovereignty over nature. He disagreed with me over that. But he did not at all discuss — in fact he refused to discuss — the main concern of my article, which was to show that Drs. Venema and Falk were so evasive on the question of divine action in evolution that it was impossible to be sure whether their position was orthodox or not. So nothing in Bilbo’s discussion with me gets Dr. Venema off the charge of deliberate dodging and obfuscation.

In any case, why should Bilbo have to hold our feet to the fire, when Dr. Venema can do that himself? He is completely at liberty to write a series of columns on BioLogos clearly answering the questions which he systematically ducked when they were asked of him by Crude, and thus dispel the charge that he continues to be vague and evasive. Or, if he wishes, he can write an extensive answer here, under this column, and even (gasp!) engage in conversation with us. We are happy to have BioLogos people responding here, even if they disagree with us.

One of the ongoing frustrations that ID people have had with BioLogos is, of course, that many of the theological positions taken there appear to be somewhat unorthodox, but are stated so elliptically, allusively, and sporadically (scattered here and there across the site, in various columns and comments), that it is hard to determine exactly what the BioLogos writers actually believe. This is the perfect opportunity for Dr. Venema to remove this continuing communications problem, by stating clearly, in one place, his own personal view of how (if at all) God is involved in the evolutionary process.

For example, he could state: “I believe that, given laws of nature created and sustained by God, that a bacterium could easily evolve into a human being without any special divine action (steering, directing, nudging, etc. — whether at the macroscopic or at the quantum level). I believe that random mutations plus natural selection are sufficient causes for the transformation. Therefore I would not speak of ‘guidance,’ and I could have, and should have, said that to Crude.” Such an answer would do quite nicely.

Or, if he holds a different view, he could state, for example: “I believe that evolution proceeds exclusively through laws of nature which are created and sustained by God, but I also think that, in order to get life started in the first place, God had to create the first cells by special divine action, and I think that in order to turn a prehuman hominid into man, another special divine action would have been needed.”

Or, if he is of a different opinion, he could state: “I believe, along with Robert Russell, that evolution is directed by special actions of God which, though not capable of detection by scientific means, cause evolution to produce different results than it would if God did not perform those special actions.”

Or, if he is more inclined to a Dentonian scenario, he could state: “I believe that evolution was programmed into the first cells by God to produce a whole series of pre-determined outcomes, including man, by purely natural processes, without any special divine intervention needed after the process began.”

Or he could state anything else that reflects his true position.

And on the question about evolutionary outcomes, he could state: “I believe that every single species that was produced by the evolutionary process, was intended by God, and that God did not leave anything to chance, but made sure that the evolutionary process produced exactly those species.” Or, “I believe that God did not intend any particular outcome of evolution, not even man, but intended only the general process, leaving it up to contingency to determine the specific outcomes.” Or, “I believe that God intended certain very specific outcomes of evolution, including man, but I also believe that he left a number of evolutionary outcomes (e.g., the color of the blue jay, or the existence of unicorns or legless lizards) to chance.”

And on the question of God’s love of “freedom” he could state whether by that he means only that God leaves the human will free (to accept or reject God), or whether he means that subhuman nature is also “free”; and in the latter case, in what sense a rock or a solar flare or a protein molecule is “free.”

On more general theological questions, he might indicate to us what denomination he belongs to and/or what theological school he subscribes to. We know that Dr. Falk thinks of himself as a “Wesleyan”; does Dr. Venema have the same self-identification? Or would he call himself “Arminian”? Or something else?

Answers such as these would greatly facilitate ID/TE dialogue. If we knew where Drs. Venema and Falk stood on the question of divine involvement in evolution, as clearly as we know where Dr. Coyne stands and where Dr. Denton stands and where Dr. Behe stands and where Dr. Russell stands, we would be much less likely to impute to them views which they do not hold, and to criticize them for such. But as it stands, we have to guess, from hints and ambiguous statements and evasions, what our TE friends probably believe, and it’s inevitable that we will sometimes guess wrongly. We’re not mind-readers — and in a serious academic discussion of theology and science, we shouldn’t have to be.

So I turn it over to Dr. Venema and Dr. Falk. Would either of those gentlemen care to drop in here and present a coherent, articulate account of his personal view concerning divine involvement in evolution? We are open to any and all explanations of how God is connected with evolution — we request only that we not be subjected to another repetition of the Wesleyan Maneuver.

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56 Responses to Theology at BioLogos: An Invitation to Drs. Falk and Venema

  1. “in a serious academic discussion of theology and science” – Cudworth

    Hmmm…I thought ID was particularly clear and insistent that it has *nothing* to do with theology? Thus, IDers are not (as far as ID goes) interested in “theology and science” discussions, but only in natural science-alone discussions. That’s a significant rub given the disciplinary insistency.

    This is indeed part of the gap between UD and BioLogos; the latter is openly interested in ‘science and faith’ discourse while the former is interested only in qualifying ID as a ‘scientific theory.’

    Likewise, one is interested in ‘origins,’ while the other is interested in ‘processes’ of natural history. Is it any wonder then that Thomas is finding a disconnect regarding his and BioLogos’ “personal views regarding divine involvement in evolution”?

    In fact I’ve *never* heard an IDer point to specific ‘interventions’ or ‘guidance’ (when, where, how) in/of ‘design in evolution’. Have any of you?

  2. Gregory:

    Hmmm…I thought ID was particularly clear and insistent that it has *nothing* to do with theology?

    Thus, IDers are not (as far as ID goes) interested in “theology and science” discussions, but only in natural science alone discussions.

    Please explain the reasoning process that prompted you to conclude that advocates for ID science are not interested in discussions about theology and science.

    Also, please provide your own personal response to the question that Darrell Falk refuses to answer so that we can return to the theme that ThomasC wants to address.

  3. Does ID have something to do with theology? If so, what?

    Please read “as far as ID goes” again to understand the point, StephenB.

    Thomas C wants BioLogos to embolden itself enough to answer for him a question that he has no personal answer to: how (+ when and where) did God ‘intervene’ in, ‘guide’ or ‘design’ evolution?

    If Thomas C has an answer, surely he could include it here, openly, plainly, forthrightly.

    I’d be pleased to hear that ‘ID’ is properly a ‘science and religion’ topic instead of being just a ‘natural science’ (particularly biological) topic. But for whatever reason, IDers seem reluctant to admit this.

  4. Oh yes, Gregory, and please provide your own personal response the question that Dennis Venema refuses to answer. Both Falk and Venema have evaded with issue. Will you continue to evade it as well?

  5. –Gregory: “Does ID have something to do with theology? If so, what?”

    It depends on which ID you are talking about. ID methodology, as expressed by Behe, Dembski, and Meyer has nothing at all to do with theology because it limits itself to an analysis of data. ID science, as understood by Hugh Ross, is intimately connected with Theology. So is ID philosophy/natural theology as understood by Thomas Aquinas. So is ID philosophy/natural theology as understood by Thomas Jefferson. See how easy it is to provide a straight answer to a straight question?

    –”Please read “as far as ID goes” again to understand the point, StephenB.”

    I did read it. I have no idea what is means. Do you know what it means? You wrote it.

    –”Thomas C wants BioLogos to embolden itself enough to answer for him a question that he has no personal answer to: how (+ when and where) did God ‘intervene’ in, ‘guide’ or ‘design’ evolution?”

    ThomasC has not asked such a question. Perhaps you should go back and reread his comments since you are seriously mischaracterizing them.

    –”If Thomas C has an answer, surely he could include it here, openly, plainly, forthrightly.”

    ThomasC has answered his own question many times just to set the right example. On the other hand, you (and the pundit/scientists at BioLogos) will not touch it. Why not?

    –”I’d be pleased to hear that ‘ID’ is properly a ‘science and religion’ topic instead of being just a ‘natural science’ (particularly biological) topic. But for whatever reason, IDers seem reluctant to admit this.”

    If you want to discuss the religious implications of ID science, then ID is properly a science and religion topic. Now, how about addressing the topic of the tread.

  6. Thomas C wants BioLogos to embolden itself enough to answer for him a question that he has no personal answer to: how (+ when and where) did God ‘intervene’ in, ‘guide’ or ‘design’ evolution?

    Whether or not Thomas C has a personal answer to the question is irrelevant.

    I think this has been previously clearly explained to you:

    BL is an explicitly Christian organization which claims a Christian mission.

    Thus, someone can ask Venema what role, if any, God plays in evolution or if God guides evolution in any way, and when Venema squirms and refuses to answer, it’s trouble.

    Venema’s part of an organization supposedly dedicated to showing that there’s no conflict between God/God’s acts and evolution. If Venema deals with any apparent conflict by eradicating God from the evolutionary picture, Ruse style, that doesn’t reflect well on BL.

    In contrast, ID isn’t committed to the idea that the designer of anything for which design is inferred is the Christian God.

  7. 7

    If we knew where Drs. Venema and Falk stood on the question of divine involvement in evolution, as clearly as we know where Dr. Coyne stands and where Dr. Denton stands and where Dr. Behe stands and where Dr. Russell stands

    Wait wait wait. We know where Behe and Denton stand? Really? So where do they stand? Sometimes they seem to be arguing for divine intervention, but other times they seem to be arguing that the design was all front-loaded into the Big Bang, and it was all natural processes since then. Behe at one point compares it to a trick pool shot that sinks all the balls in one shot. But this statement contradicts what Behe and all his followers say in numerous other places, which is that Behe’s arguments disprove the idea there are natural pathways to complex systems of interest.

    But you seem really sure that Behe and Denton are oh-so-much clearer than the TEs. So clarify for us, please.

  8. Nick,

    Behe at one point compares it to a trick pool shot that sinks all the balls in one shot. But this statement contradicts what Behe and all his followers say in numerous other places, which is that Behe’s arguments disprove the idea there are natural pathways to complex systems of interest.

    Where does Behe say there are “no natural pathways” – as opposed to no Darwinian pathways that are likely enough? Cites, please.

    And does it really contradict it, Nick? Are you saying that if evolution is entirely designed – if it is, in every act of selection and/or every act of variation, the result of a “trick pool shot” by a mind, that it is natural after all?

    I’d love for you to give a response to this, since it was one of the questions you ran away from last time we spoke.

    And there is one difference between Behe and Falk/Venema – Behe has given no indication that he has any problem with God in advance knowing and determining the outcomes of evolution (Remember, Nick, Behe is not anti-evolution – he accepts common descent. It’s the Darwinian version of evolution he targets.), just as Stephen Barr is entirely comfortable with God knowing and determining same.

    It’s here where Falk and Venema have dodged. I wish Falk would clarify here, because he seems like a nice enough and sincere guy.

  9. 9
    Thomas Cudworth

    Gregory, you wrote:

    “Thomas C wants BioLogos to embolden itself enough to answer for him a question that he has no personal answer to: how (+ when and where) did God ‘intervene’ in, ‘guide’ or ‘design’ evolution? If Thomas C has an answer, surely he could include it here, openly, plainly, forthrightly.”

    There is no point in my writing detailed and careful answers for you, Gregory, if you aren’t going to read them. In Part 2B of my original posting, you asked me this question before, in comment 39, and I answered it in comment 40. You never responded to that, and now you ask the question over again.

    Also, I didn’t even need to answer the question, because, as both nullasalus and I made clear to you in our answers, BioLogos is not being asked how or when or where anything happened, but only to confirm that it happened, i.e., that God did indeed play some active role in guaranteeing evolutionary outcomes. And they fudge even on that. Darrel Falk won’t even say whether God intended mice, for example, and all he will say about man is that God “began” with man in mind — implying that God might have changed his mind partway through the process. Not much of a guarantee of anything there. So much for governance, providence, omnipotence, etc. And Venema dodged every single term — guided, purposive, etc. — offered him, while refusing to substitute any term that was clearer or more precise.

    Neither of these fellows seems to want the public to know what, in their minds, is the extent of God’s control over the outcomes of evolution. Why do you suppose that is?

  10. 10
    Thomas Cudworth

    Nick:

    You can’t have read Nature’s Destiny, or at least, you can’t have read it very carefully. Denton’s view is not at all unclear. He says there are no interventions and that programmed designs unfold entirely through natural causes. And Behe’s view is that there had to be some design involved — that neo-Darwinian processes by themselves couldn’t generate radically new body plans. But as for the delivery of the design, Behe gives options, including Dentonian front-loading, and interventions. Both of these options are compatible with traditional Christian understandings of Creation, “Wesleyan” as well as “Calvinist.”

    What Behe’s followers say is irrelevant, because I spoke only of Behe himself. And he doesn’t say there are no natural pathways. He says there are no Darwinian pathways. (Or to be more precise, that Darwinian pathways are very, very unlikely for major structural changes.) Are you confusing “natural” with “Darwinian” because you haven’t, in six or seven years of studying the subject, got Behe’s thought straight, Nick? Or are you doing it deliberately, in a cheap attempt to score a debating point?

  11. If either Drs Venema or Falk wished to respond to any of the EXPLICIT questions raised above, we would be happy to host a guest post (probably via UD News for technical convenience for our guests). Other guests have used the service in the past, and found it okay.

  12. 12

    But as for the delivery of the design, Behe gives options, including Dentonian front-loading, and interventions.

    So, Behe is allowed options and all kinds of vagueness (how in the world could malaria or the genetic sequence of the bacterial flagellum be programmed into the Big Bang like a trick pool shot?????), but Venema and Falk are supposed to definitively put their foot down on claiming to know the detailed workings of the mind of God?

  13. but Venema and Falk are supposed to definitively put their foot down on claiming to know the detailed workings of the mind of God?

    Funny, Nick. I read through this entire post and nowhere saw any demand that Venema and Falk “put their foot down on claiming to know the detailed workings of the mind of God”. What’s been asked for is a very basic statement of their view of God’s knowledge and power, particularly related to evolution.

    The very fact that Behe, Denton and the rest are held up as examples despite their not giving exhaustive explanations of the operations of God show that what’s being asked for here is not that level of detail. You say that Behe responds with “options and all kinds of vagueness”, but that just illustrates the problem – Falk and Venema won’t even do that. And that’s all that’s being asked of them: with Behe and company, insofar as they discuss God, they make it clear what the scope and power they see God as having with regards to evolution.

    And to be fair, some others who deny God can know various things – open theists, for example – state outright their views.

    We’re waiting on Falk and Venema to do that.

    So thanks, Nick, for bolstering Cudworth’s question here. The fact that Behe and company’s statements are being used as the yardstick just illustrate how reasonable the question being asked of Venema and Falk is – and they have yet to answer even that.

    By the way, can we take your typical glossing over the correction – that Behe’s criticism is of Darwinian pathways, not “natural” paths (wait, what does natural mean Nick? You never answered that one ;) – to be a silent concession that the correction is right, to be followed by you forgetting this the very next time you open you write about Behe?

    And should I take your dead silence over the question I put to you – “Nick? Are you saying that if evolution is entirely designed – if it is, in every act of selection and/or every act of variation, the result of a “trick pool shot” by a mind, that it is natural after all?” – to mean you have no answer, or the answer you have should involve shooting yourself in the foot to give it?

    Waiting on you, as ever.

  14. Hi Thomas,

    So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Falk and Venema believe that God did not intervene in natural history and that the universe normally operates by statistically probable but undetermined quantum events. Would that be specific enough for you? Please try to keep your answer to around 50 words.

  15. 15
    Thomas Cudworth

    Nick (12):

    Thanks for your (implicit) concession that you were wrong about Denton. (I realize that a silent retreat from a point is the closest you are ever going to come to an admission of error in my presence.)

    Falk and Venema were never asked to describe “the detailed workings of the mind of God.” They were ask to state — without any requirement of scientific proof — how they conceived of God as acting in evolution. They were asked what, if anything, they thought God *did* in evolution, beyond sustaining the laws of nature. They could have answered: “He did nothing beyond sustain the laws of nature” or they could have answered: “He performed special divine actions at key points” or they could have answered many other things — copious possibilities were listed above, and they were not meant as an exhaustive set of responses. They simply chose to withhold their private opinions.

    As for Behe, I find nothing objectionable in giving more than one possible delivery system for design; what is wrong for a Christian is equivocating on the existence of design in the first place. Falk and Venema appear to do the latter. Maybe man was intended from the first, and maybe he wasn’t; maybe mice were intended, and maybe they weren’t; maybe the process of evolution itself was designed but none of its results were designed; maybe God’s providence rules over all events, but maybe God wouldn’t have guaranteed everything in advance because a “Wesleyan” God would want nature to be “free”; maybe God specially intervenes in the evolutionary process and maybe he just lets natural processes take their course, etc.

    Behe is absolutely clear that if Darwinian processes were the main vehicle of evolution, they would need to be supplemented by interventions, and that, alternately, if the process were wholly non-interventionist, it would need to be pre-programmed in some way. God’s sovereignty over the results of evolution is assured either way. But you can’t assure God’s sovereignty over the results of evolution when your only absolute commitment is to neo-Darwinian mechanisms (which can’t guarantee even a single evolutionary result), and when you are slyly flirting with open theism under the guise of “Wesleyanism.”

    Of course, Behe was only one thinker out of four that I named, and the local point I was making stands even without my reference to him; the local point was that many others are clear about God’s role in evolution, while Falk and Venema are not. And even that local point is not required for my overall argument, since it would be quite possible for Falk and Venema to be clear even if no one else in the debate was. There is nothing inherently difficult in stating one’s view on whether special action beyond the laws of nature would be required to get evolution to desired ends, or on whether God in fact had specific desired ends for the evolutionary process. So if you were really interested in a constructive conversation on the issue raised in the column, you’d discuss that issue, instead of seizing on a possible weakness in a single example.

    I get the strong impression that you haven’t even read the 4-part series that preceded this one, and the detailed clarifications that followed in the comments section; I get the impression you just dropped in here, gave the column above a quick read, and started your usual fault-finding schtick. I don’t spend hours carefully researching and crafting these columns so that intellectual tourists can come in and practice their drive-by shooting skills. If you are not going to address the substance of the whole series — were Falk and Venema justified in stringing Crude along endlessly when they could have just answered him? — and if you are not going to demonstrate familiarity with my analysis of the conversation between Crude, Falk, and Venema, and of past BioLogos statements on divine action in evolution, then I’m not going to answer any further of your questions.

  16. 16
    Thomas Cudworth

    Bilbo:

    “So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Falk and Venema believe that God did not intervene in natural history and that the universe normally operates by statistically probable but undetermined quantum events. Would that be specific enough for you?”

    The second part — “and that the universe normally operates by statistically probable but undetermined quantum events” — would not be acceptable unless it was further explained, because it seems to be offering some sort of subtle qualification (which might be a carefully prepared escape hatch) to the first part — “God did not intervene in natural history” — which is quite clear.

    Does “normally” give Falk and Venema the option of saying, “maybe he intervened in the Cambrian explosion and maybe he didn’t?” And does “quantum events” give them the option of pretending, much later in the discussion, that they really were defending the position of Russell, even though they’ve never given him the time of day on BioLogos, until Ted Davis came along, and even though Russell believes that evolution was guided — a word which Venema refuses to use? Your addition smells of “preparing Plan B in case the argument goes bad.”

    I prefer plain, simple English. If their position is “God did nothing in evolution except sustain the laws of nature, and random mutations and natural selection took care of all the rest” — then that’s what I’d like them to say, straight out, with no pussyfooting around. And yes, I would find that specific enough.

    And after they have said that, I want them to explain how that model of evolution can guarantee any results, which it must be able to guarantee if God’s providence is not to be thwarted.

  17. Thomas,

    I wanted to thank you for highlighting some of the discussion points in the various Wesleyan threads; I had largely glossed over those thinking I wasn’t interested in the main topics but there’s stuff in there that I am interested in and am always asking about! I am going to read those four threads now.

    Also thanks for your short summary of Dr Behe’s view. I found that very helpful as well.

  18. I’ve been reading (and blogging on) R J Russell, probably the most Evangelical-friendly of the current theologians of science. I think he would describe the position of Dennis Venema and other leaders at BioLogos as “statistical deism” (ie that God works in evolution only top-down through initial creation, natural laws and sustaining existence), which he says has hitherto been the commonest theistic evolution position. But he points out its weakness in not accounting for any possibility of divine action. Which is what Thomas Cudworth has been saying all along – the experts have noticed it as well.

    Divine action is central to formulating theistic evolution, given the claims of people like Sagan that evolution leaves nothing for God to do and, from the Christian viewpoint, that evolution offers insufficient means for God to achieve his creative and eschatological purposes. That’s why it has been extensively discussed by science and faith academics over several decades.

    Yet BioLogos (in my 3 years of activity there) has barely interacted with that debate – I only became aware of it through Russell. The “big hitters” in the field, including Ian Barbour, Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, Nancey Murphy and Russell himself, have barely warranted a mention there, only Polkinghorne even appearing on their “Perspectives” page (where even William Dembski and Behe get a mention). Venema, for example, spends whole series (like his present one) in demonstrating that natural processes cope quite well on their own, which may or may not put egg on the face of Michael Behe, but does nothing whatever to progress the “theistic” bit of “theistic evolution”.

    You can be sure that those in the recent Gallup poll who put theistic evolution well above naturalistic evolution (though below creationism!) in the US popularity stakes do so because they strongly believe that God somehow acts to guide evolution. So why is BioLogos, the leading organisation promoting TE, so indifferent to (and evasive about) the issue, and to the high-powered academic debate surrounding it for the last 30 years or so? Why are they so indifferent to Russell (with the exception of Ted Davis, a newcomer) who is far closer to building a rapprochement between historic Christianity and science than the likes of Michael Ruse and Francisco Ayala?

    The options would seem to be either that they are ignorant about the issue, or that they want to be ignorant about it because of some kind of prior commitments.

  19. Thomas: “I prefer plain, simple English. If their position is “God did nothing in evolution except sustain the laws of nature, and random mutations and natural selection took care of all the rest” — then that’s what I’d like them to say, straight out, with no pussyfooting around. And yes, I would find that specific enough.

    From what I’ve read at BioLogos, that would seem to be their position.

    And after they have said that, I want them to explain how that model of evolution can guarantee any results, which it must be able to guarantee if God’s providence is not to be thwarted.

    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.

    If they are mistaken, then I think it is an empirical mistake. Not a theological one.

  20. Bilbo, most mainstream theological accounts of divine providence have to do with rescue from persecution, meeting of daily need, recovery from illness and so on, rather than merely a large probability of human-like creatures evolving.

    Russell points directly to these aspects, and the direct Scriptural statements about God’s provision for individual creatures, in suggesting the inadequacy of “statistical deism” and suggesting one particular form of NIODA (non-interventive objective divine action) via quantum indeterminacy.

    Historically, limitation to such top-down causation has belonged to the liberal theological wing, and attribution of individual “providences” to God as a purely subjective response of faith. Evangelicals have been the ones maintaining that God acts objectively in the world.

    An organisation advertising itself as Evangelical should surely clarify its position on such a significant theological divide?

  21. Jon: “Bilbo, most mainstream theological accounts of divine providence have to do with rescue from persecution, meeting of daily need, recovery from illness and so on, rather than merely a large probability of human-like creatures evolving.

    Jon, you should know as well as I do that BioLogos believes that God rescues from persecution, meets our daily needs, provides recovery from illness and so on, and is willing to believe that God sometimes does this miraculously. What they don’t believe is that God sometimes acted miraculously in natural history.

  22. Bilbo

    What they don’t believe is that God sometimes acted miraculously in natural history.

    Strictly speaking Darrel (in reply to Dembski) said that God may perhaps act supernaturally in natural history (that’s an oxymoron, sorry), though he wouldn’t actually respond to requests to clarify that qualitatively or quantitatively.

    BioLogos does, however, as you say seem to accept daily special providence, answered prayer etc. But that again raises issues – since clearly no “top-down” causation is going to cover that, it requires the multiplication of supernatural intervention to an extent that’s even more problematic than allowing it in evolution.

    As I thought when reading Darrel Falk’s original article, part of the fault is in following the stark (and probably false) Enlightenment dichotomy of “natural” and “supernatural”. Once again, Russell covers this well (everybody ought to read him, Ted David tells me), but it doesn’t alter the underlying issue: is the probable evolution of something akin to humanity a theologically adequate statement of the work of God within creation? That’s something important to discuss, but most of the discussion so far is here, rather than at BioLogos. I’ll be interested to see how Dennis V responds to your coaxing on his thread there.

  23. “Davis”, not “David”.

  24. 24
    Thomas Cudworth

    Bilbo:

    “From what I’ve read at BioLogos, that would seem to be their position.”

    I already agreed with you, in our earlier discussion, that this probably is the private view of both Falk and Venema, and of most of the regular columnists on BioLogos. The question is why they so frequently tippy-toe around saying it so plainly as I have said it. Why did they string Crude along for so long, and even when they finally answered him, why did they not state their view as clearly as you and I have?

    The only reason that makes any sense to me is that they fear that a number of moderate evangelicals would be upset by such a belief, and so they try to say it in a beat-around-the-bush way rather than directly.

    Why would moderate evangelicals be upset by such a belief? Because many of them assume that “theistic evolution” means “evolution directed by God” — evolution in which God steers the process in one way or another, perhaps by generating favorable mutations at strategic times. This is what Asa Gray suggested, and what Darwin utterly rejected. Behe has often been understood to be suggesting something like “guided evolution” — though actually he has never committed himself to that — and insofar as he has been understood by TEs (at BioLogos and elsewhere) as supporting something like that, he has been rebuffed by the TEs as firmly as Gray was by Darwin.

    In other words, the popular conception of “theistic evolution” — the one almost universally held, from the time of Darwin until about 25 years ago, when the current crop of TE/EC and BioLogos people drastically modified the notion — was that evolution was driven by a mix of natural causes and divine manipulation. This makes evolution palatable for many moderate evangelicals. If BioLogos made it clear, beyond the possibility of misunderstanding, that by theistic evolution they did *not* mean that God was guiding the process of evolution toward particular ends, but in fact that God left the process to work on its own — many moderate evangelicals would jump ship, opting for ID, OEC, or even YEC. Theistic evolution for many Christians must mean guided evolution, or it’s no sale.

    “They argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is able to provide a large probability that human-like creatures would result.”

    I have read a good fraction of all the columns that BioLogos has ever published. I’ve never seen this argument (which better fits the *non*-Darwinian evolutionary scheme of Michael Denton) advanced as an official BioLogos view, and I’ve never even seen it advanced by any BioLogos columnist. Please provide links for me to the columns where this argument has been made.

    “If they are mistaken, then I think it is an empirical mistake. Not a theological one.”

    I will remind you of our earlier disagreement over the interpretation of neo-Darwinism. You continue to regard neo-Darwinian evolution as a near-deterministic process where results follow logically from initial conditions, whereas I hold the conventional view — the view of Darwin, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Dobzhansky, Gould, and most of the leading evolutionary theorists of the 20th century and virtually all the popular science writers of the 20th century — that neo-Darwinian evolution is a highly contingent process, and very open-ended, with outcomes utterly unpredictable. The people who have come the closest to saying that evolution can guarantee results — people like Denton, or, in a softer version, Conway Morris — are people who are more or less critical of the neo-Darwinian formulation of evolution — precisely because of its chanciness.

    It is because of your idiosyncratic interpretation of neo-Darwinism that you see no possibility of a “theological mistake” in putting together neo-Darwinism with Christianity. If you understood neo-Darwinism as most of the debaters understand it, you would see neo-Darwinism as championing a very chancy process, and therefore you would understand why its compatibility with traditional Christian understandings of God’s omnipotence, providence, governance, etc. is highly dubious. In short, I think your repeated failure to grasp the theological issue between ID people and TE people is rooted in your non-standard understanding of exactly what neo-Darwinism is saying.

    Of course, you aren’t the only one who fails to see why ID people are so exercised over the question. Falk and Venema don’t see it, either. But their reason is different. Whereas you think that neo-Darwinian processes can yield quasi-guaranteed results, and therefore see no problem with a Darwinian Christian theology of creation, Falk and Venema know that neo-Darwinian evolution *can’t* yield quasi-guaranteed results, but *still* think there is no problem with a Darwinian Christianity. The difference between your confusion and their confusion is this: your confusion is built on a faulty understanding of neo-Darwinism, but after that, your position is logically quite consistent; Falk and Venema, on the other hand, have a proper understanding of neo-Darwinism, but are completely lacking in logical consistency in the way that they try to put it together with the Christian understanding of providence, governance, etc. And when, in the course of debate with others, they start to sense the incoherence of their position, they try to excuse the incoherence by treating God’s action in evolution as profound paradox, as divine “mystery,” and so on. But this evasion has never been acceptable to ID people, and increasingly — as we see in the remarks of Crude, nullasalus, Jon Garvey and others — it is not acceptable to the more thoughtful TE people, either.

  25. “BioLogos is not being asked how or when or where anything happened, but only to confirm that it happened, i.e., that God did indeed play some active role in guaranteeing evolutionary outcomes.” – Thomas

    Unless you are challenging whether or not BioLogos people are Christians, Thomas (whatever you mean by that signifier) your question seems of little relevance. They are Christians; therefore they believe “God did indeed play some active role.” Evolutionary creation is in one way or another ‘guaranteed.’ So what’s the big fuss about? Are you not simply asking them to adopt ID language as their own instead of allowing them to choose their own linguistic preferences?

    “I want them to explain how that model of evolution can guarantee any results” – Thomas

    Does this not prove that you actually do want them to answer: how? Are you not asking for a guarantee from them that you cannot guarantee yourself, except for within your subjective, personal theology?

    “the last 50 years or so when all the traditions more or less caved in to liberalism” – Thomas (from 2B anti-BioLogos)

    Sorry, but I don’t share your pessimism regarding ‘liberalism’. I’ve seen enough ‘conservatism’ in recent years to highlight it as well. I believe in development of tradition and I’ve lived within the ‘other traditions’ from yours for the past 10 years. In the past 30 years, Thomas, have you lived outside of the U.S. for more than 3 months at a time or have you converted to a different branch or denomination within Christendom, thus allowing yourself to consider ‘liberalism’ with more than one lens?

    Wrt whether or not “the science is driving the theology” or vice versa, this is an important topic. From my observations of ID (& I’m assuming Thomas calls himself an IDer) it claims to be scientific and thus avoids theology as much as possible in a kind of variation on the Gouldian NOMA approach. Sure, there are overtures to theology within the IDM, such as Johnson’s reborn evangelicalism and Dembski’s work on “Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology” and more recently, “The End of Christianity” (technically not an ID work). But the general tendency is to claim ‘science-only’ wrt ID (which is where nulasallus, Jon Garvey, Timaeus and I disagree with the IDM). Do you dispute the IDM’s focus on ID-as-science, Thomas, even while you are trained in theology and not in natural sciences?

    Personally, Thomas, I don’t see Christianity as having come to an end or as potentially coming to an end anytime soon. Perhaps that is my unfortunate naivety compared with you. Liberalism has been and at times will continue to be healthy within Christendom, in contrast with conservatism. It would seem strange if you would deny this; it would seem hyper-conservative apologetically.

    “The first unorthodoxy lies [in] the specific contents of the view of BioLogos: the view that God might not be in control of every aspect of creation.” – Thomas

    Actually, I don’t see that as ‘unorthodoxy’ within Christendom. Do you not include free human choice as an aspect of creation, Thomas? If not, I don’t see how it would be ‘unorthodox’ for human beings to have/possess free will in contrast to what you seem to be promoting, as if every choice we make as individuals is ‘controlled.’ Again, Venema’s deferral to a higher question of ‘free will vs. predestination’ seems like a legitimate move on the topic. And in fact, speaking as an IDer, you cannot address the topic because “IDM-ID has nothing to do with theology, but only with science.” So, Venema took the discussion to a higher level than you-as-IDer can go. But of course, you are not limited to ID-science either!

    Your second ‘unorthodoxy’ opens up too many other questions that would take us away from the topic at hand.

    “Whatever process God used to create the world, it would be one in which the outcomes were exactly what he planned.”

    “for God to be in providential control of evolution, he would have to be involved in planning and/or governing in a much clearer way than BioLogos is willing to acknowledge.” – Thomas

    Yes, maybe so. So here’s the question, Thomas: how do you personally ‘detect’ or ‘prove’ or ‘identify’ the ‘providential control of evolution’ in a way that you can concretely convey to others? Is it only theologically? At this point, I don’t yet hear anything coming from you that hasn’t come already from Falk and BioLogos. Indeed, you seem to be ‘of the same cloth,’ so to speak. If you are not asking for scientific or philosophical ‘proof’ of the ‘control,’ ‘guidance,’ ‘intervention’ or ‘purpose’ within the ‘real’ evolutionary process of natural history, then what are you actually asking for? A simple theological nod of the head – “yes, evolution is guided,” but you can’t say how? That would prove very little that the choir hasn’t sung before.

    As Jon Garvey noted: “the role of God cannot be proven.” Surely he doesn’t mean theologically unprovable? So, again, what’s the problem? It seems IDers, including for now Jon Garvey (though unconfirmed), are attacking the theology of BioLogos, evangelical American Christians as they are, not Reformed enough, not Calvinist enough, not ‘orthodox’ enough,’ while they offer nothing concrete or specific in return, certainly not on the scientific level in the dialogue between science and religion.

    “Evangelicals have been the ones maintaining that God acts objectively in the world.” – Jon Garvey

    Here is a clear example of demanding evangelical ‘orthodoxy’ on a topic that involves religion *and* science. Catholics and Orthodox (as well as Muslims, Jews and Baha’is) demand the same things, but Jon wants to speak primarily about evangelical Protestants, at a site (UD) that is ‘beyond denominational’. If you’re going to criticise the ‘evangelicalism’ at BioLogos on behalf of ID, Jon, you’re simply reinforcing the irrelevance of theology at UD and wrt ID on the topic of evolution and creation. You are thus indirectly perpetuating the notion that ID is simply about natural science and not about theology (or philosophy) at all. Are you o.k. with that?

    “So the course of evolution must be somehow guided, or steered, or directed, or nudged, or programmed, or preset, or front-loaded, or designed, etc. And choose whatever terms you wish; if they are clear in meaning to a normal English-speaking person, BioLogos will waffle or hedge on all of them, without substituting any unambiguous language in their place.” – Thomas

    Sorry, again Thomas, but have you read BioLogos’ webpage? They say clearly and without any obfuscation: “We believe that God continues to be directly involved in human history in acts of salvation, personal transformation, and answers to prayer…evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.” I am not their apologist, but neither am I their theological judge and accuser. There doesn’t seem to be any waffling or hedging in those definitions. Again, it seems you have only a theistic (denomination) disagreement and not a scientific one with BioLogos.

    “I don’t think that Christians should surrender the doctrine of divine sovereignty, or even defend it in a muted and oblique way, merely because modern people are enamored with the notion of “freedom”.” – Thomas

    And I don’t either, Thomas. However, you should be clear that you are not defending a completely closed notion of free will, a throw-away of sovereignty. This is so especially if you are not willing to defend some notion of ‘openness’ and thus ‘absence of control’ or ‘hegemony’ (or something deterministic-sounding) in your challenges to BioLogos scientists.

    Again, I am not BioLogos’ defender. But do you really not see that ‘free will’ vs. ‘predestination’ is at issue here, which your personal theological preference (as well as mine and anyone else reading this) influences? Once you acknowledge that whether or not “God guarantees results” hinges on a person’s view of free will vs. predestination, progress toward reconciliation with BioLogos can commence.

    Wrt your claim that “man’s chief end is not freedom,” I suggest you read some works by Nikolai Berdyaev and/or Vladimir Solovyev. This speaks to the interest of a growing number of Protestants to look eastwards in order to address some of the questions that western-oriented Christianity (e.g. USA mired in YECism) has failed to resolve. In Berdyaev especially you will find a new view of freedom from your western one that enraptures rather than captivates. You will realise why ‘reformed’ and ‘designed’ sound so past-tense, ‘closed’ and backwards-looking, rather than the alternative ‘reforming’ and ‘designing,’ which are current and forward-looking and co-creative, along the lines of ‘open’ theology and EC visions.

    “If BioLogos made it clear, beyond the possibility of misunderstanding, that by theistic evolution they did *not* mean that God was guiding the process of evolution toward particular ends, but in fact that God left the process to work on its own — many moderate evangelicals would jump ship, opting for ID, OEC, or even YEC. Theistic evolution for many Christians must mean guided evolution, or it’s no sale.” – Thomas

    This is partly why they have adopted the term ‘evolutionary creation’ rather than ‘theistic evolution.’ And I didn’t realise UD was in the business of speaking for or to ‘moderate evangelicals’ in so far as the defense of ID was concerned. EC (and TE) means ‘guided evolution,’ don’t worry yourself over this, Thomas.

    Please don’t misinterpret me: the so-called ‘Wesleyan Maneuver’ is a clever name in the theological realm, Thomas (much more effective than ‘Christian Darwinist’). But what specific home-denominational tradition of your own would do you wish to put up against this, Thomas? Since ID defends no particular religious tradition(s), it is vulnerable to the recent claim of BioLogos senior fellow Ard Louis, that “ID is simply not Christian enough.”

    Gregory

    p.s. for the record, I agree with Thomas and think Bilbo is wrong about Christianity plus neo-Darwinism because he doesn’t seem to understand ideology in contrast with science; this is a common mistake. Thomas’ “why ID people are so exercised over the question” however makes little sense given the professed aim of ID-as-science, which has ‘nothing whatsoever to do with theology.’

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....r-part-2b/

  26. 26

    Falk and Venema don’t see it, either. But their reason is different. Whereas you think that neo-Darwinian processes can yield quasi-guaranteed results, and therefore see no problem with a Darwinian Christian theology of creation, Falk and Venema know that neo-Darwinian evolution *can’t* yield quasi-guaranteed results, but *still* think there is no problem with a Darwinian Christianity.

    Well what you are saying about the science is just bunk. People with a sufficiently high opinion of natural selection think that convergence dominates and that similar adaptations will thus reappear in similar environments. Notably, this is something that Dawkins and Simon Conway Morris agree on, despite the former being an atheist and the latter a theist.

    The alternative view, advanced by Gould, was that evolution is a very “chancy” process, but Gould was a *critic* of classic neo-Darwinism — classic neo-Darwinism is committed to the position that nonrandom selection dominates random chance in evolution.

    This confusion — derived from creationist propaganda that [insert surfer voice] “evolution is just so random, dude” — may be at the root of a lot of your hairsplitting here.

  27. Nick

    Conway Morris recently said, regarding convergent evolution, that “the manner in which life constructs itself must be dealing with some other principle which we’ve failed to identify.”

    He also said, “there are a lot of people who are more than happy with a Darwinian explanation but regard it as incomplete – just as Newtonian mechanics work extremely well, but you still need Einstein.”

    Do you think that all those people with a high opinion of NS, who think that convergence dominates, and indeed Dawkins, agree with Conway-Morris on that unidentified principle, and if so, what do you think it might be?

    If not, why does Conway Morris differ from them?

  28. 28

    Nick:

    Classic neo-Darwinism said that both random mutations and natural selection were essential components of evolution. Different theorists placed different relative weights on these two factors, but all agreed that the role of random mutations meant that there was an inevitable contingent aspect of evolution. Its results, unlike the movements of the heavenly bodies, are not predictable. You can’t say, given a bacterium 4 billion years ago, you will get an anteater in the Pliocene. You can’t even say, given a bacterium 4 billion years ago, you will get an anteater at any time. The process is too dependent on random mutations and shifting environmental conditions for such a precise form of predictability. Dawkins and Gould would both agree to this last statement.

    If you are talking Conway Morris, that is something different. But Conway Morris is already starting to move away, to some extent, from the conceptual framework of neo-Darwinism. I’m talking about classic neo-Darwinism here, and the reason I’m talking about it is (a) that’s what Behe and ID are attacking; (b) that’s what Venema, Falk, etc. are defending.

    (And by the way, BioLogos in particular emphasizes mutations and randomness much more than selection: note that Venema’s columns place much more emphasis on genomic alterations than on selection, and note that in the past month alone, BioLogos has run about six columns by four different authors in defense of “randomness.” So if you want to smack “creationists” for emphasizing randomness too much, then you had better spread the blame to cover your “evolutionist” friends at BioLogos as well. But that wouldn’t fit in with your political strategy, would it, Nick? To criticize BioLogos when it makes the same “mistake” as UD? You wouldn’t want to upset your TE allies by telling them “what you are saying about the science is just bunk,” would you? Not while you can still cynically use them against ID, anyway.)

    Your point about “nonrandom selection” is irrelevant to what we are discussing here. First, I did not claim that natural selection was random. Second, we are discussing whether or not evolution is steered, guided, directed, nudged, etc. The most ardent selectionist imaginable — someone like Dawkins — certainly does not believe that anyone is guiding, steering, or directing evolution. On that point, he and Gould, whatever their differences, are in perfect agreement. And Ayala says the same. The question is whether Falk and Venema agree, and if so, why they are not as forthright as the others in saying so.

  29. Gregory

    I won’t respond to the “not Reformed enough” stuff, which is unhelpful as well as plain wrong.

    I don’t need to avoid theology because I am not committed to ID. I discuss the issues here rather than on the specifically theological BioLogos site because when I’ve tried to discuss them there I’ve been blanked.

    Why else do you think these threads are populated by people who have migrated, or been banned, from BioLogos?

  30. As to threads at BioLogos that talk about random yet probable outcomes, I think that was the point of the threads on the Sierpinski Triangle. Given a limited amount of randomness one still gets very similar outcomes.

    Dennis Venema indicated that this is what he thinks is going on with Nature. Quantum mechanics suggests that Nature has a limited amount of freedom or randomness. Sub-atomic particles have some degree of freedom or randomess, but they can’d do anything at all. So there can be predictable outcomes. One could believe the same thing is going on in evolution. And that seems to be what Dennis believes.

    Now go ahead and explain why he’s a heretic and should be burned at the stake, which is what you really want to do to hin.

  31. Now go ahead and explain why he’s a heretic and should be burned at the stake, which is what you really want to do to hin.

    People are asking for clarification from prominent members of an organization that should be a leader and standard-bearer among TEs, and who instead trade heavily on vagueness and equivocation. You’re sitting here trying your best to reconstruct some outline-sketch of a position that Venema and can possibly have and are not getting the point: the problem here isn’t an inability to make up theories about what Falk and Venema “really mean” – we could do that all day. The problem is asking them to state what they believe for themselves, and do so clearly. What’s more, it’s being asked of them pretty politely.

    Yes, there’s a good chance if they really mean that nature is entirely unguided and God predicted or orchestrated nothing in evolution, they’re going to lose favor among the people they’re hoping to represent and convince. As well they should, if those people disagree with them. And for a guy who thinks what you do about 9/11, you should really be the last one to get pissed off about a reasonable demand for clarity and a straight answer from someone.

  32. 32
    Thomas Cudworth

    Bilbo:

    Triangles aren’t biological entities. The mathematics of randomness requires context-sensitive handling. That some kinds of order can arise out of randomness in some contexts, no one denies. That new body plans can arise out of the particular form of randomness asserted in neo-Darwinism, no one on the planet has proved, or come even close to proving.

    I saw Venema’s remarks. He came closer to stating his true views than ever before. However, his remarks are still very sketchy, and were shaped in part by your line of questioning, and I will not debate with him through your interpretive glosses. I might, in a few weeks, gather up his own statements, and comment on them directly. But I will wait for a bit, because he or Falk may take up UD’s generous offer to give them a column here for rebuttal (a courtesy BioLogos has never offered Behe after any of its numerous and often low attacks upon him).

    At this point I will say only that Venema’s excuse — that he sounds evasive only because he is so busy that he can’t give satisfactory answers — is pathetic. He could have spent *less* time in answering Crude by cutting out the evasions (delaying counter-questions and rambling speculations about freedom and mystery), and saying right up front what he really thought, which, based his remarks today, seems to be: “I don’t think the evolutionary process was guided in detail, but I think God set some general boundaries on what it could produce.” It took me one minute to think up and construct that sentence. It isn’t time that’s the problem; it’s intellectual and dialogical uncooperativeness.

    As for the theological question, Venema’s sketchy remarks don’t provide enough of a basis for assessing orthodoxy, so I’ll refrain from comment. In any case, I don’t want to burn anyone at any stake. If Venema said tomorrow: “Based on my intellectual conviction that the radically contingent system of neo-Darwinism contains the true description of biological evolution, and that this rules out the determination of specific evolutionary outcomes by even an omnipotent being, I have decided to depart from traditional Christian creation doctrine and adopt Open Theism,” I’d say “Fine, go your way in peace.” But if he tried to pass off Open Theism as compatible with the Bible or with the main stream of tradition, I’d throw a library of primary and secondary sources at him in full public view, so that other Christians would not be misled by a false description of historical Christian teaching.

  33. 33

    Gregory (25):

    I can only deal with a few of your many questions and comments, so I’ll select the ones which seem to me to keep the discussion focused on the main issue I’ve raised in these columns.

    First, you ask me:

    “… what are you actually asking for? A simple theological nod of the head — ‘yes, evolution is guided’?”

    Gregory, are you sure you actually read the column above? I gave a large number of examples of the sort of answer that I would count as clear and non-evasive. Maybe you only skimmed what I wrote. Have another look.

    Second, regarding free will, I’ve already explained at great length to Bilbo why it is irrelevant to what we are discussing. I’m not going to rewrite that argument again. If you want the full statement, you will have to read our exchange under the previous columns. But if you want it in a nutshell, there is a huge difference between human and subhuman beings. (A proposition that I think you will find quite amenable to your emphasis on social matters.) To say that God overrules the will of a human being poses certain philosophical and theological difficulties; to say that God compels a rock or a molecule or a gene to do something poses none. God could be an absolute tyrant over stones and snails and ferns and ichthyosaurs and mastodons and dodo birds, and over every stage of evolution up to and including the final stage that produces the first human being, while refusing to override the free will of Adam and Eve (or of Venema’s “population of 10,000″) or their descendants. The theological dispute between Christian ID proponents and BioLogos and ASA-TEs is over the activity of God between the origin of the world and the origin of man, not over the activity of God once man comes on the scene. (There are ID people who are every bit as “Arminian” on the question of human free will as Venema is. The difference is that they don’t extend the freedom of man to some imaginary “freedom of nature.”)

    Third, you wrote:

    “EC (and TE) means ‘guided evolution,’ don’t worry yourself over this, Thomas.”

    But Gregory, you won’t find a single place on the BioLogos website where that phrase is affirmed by any BioLogos personnel. Nor will you find any affirmation that evolution was “steered” or “directed” or “purposive” or “teleological.” I have also heard a number of TEs either deny that they believe in guidance or ridicule any notion of guidance as “tinkering” unworthy of God. And I have established, in front of your very eyes — though for some reason you refuse to acknowledge the evidence that is in front of your eyes — that both Falk and Venema artfully avoided answering Crude’s question whether or not evolution was guided. And they avoided not only the word “guided” but a whole range of approximately equivalent expressions offered by Crude. You have not yet asked yourself why they should do this, if it is such a slam-dunk that EC/TE means “guided evolution.” On your account, they should have answered: “Well, we’re Christians, so sure, we believe that evolution was guided.” They not only didn’t answer like that, they didn’t answer in any clear way, and after many tries, Crude simply had to give up. A person with only a moderately suspicious temperament would wonder what all the foot-dragging and stonewalling was about.

  34. I see from Dennis’s BioLogos answers that he would prefer Thomas Cudworth to use his real name – as he complained to Bilbo!

    Maybe his replies clarify the fact that I was right many months ago in saying that “freedom” in nature is being meant as “indeterminacy” and then equated with “freedom” meaning “libertarian free will”. And then (as by Gregory) somehow that is used to make evolution a theological issue to do with predestination and absolute physical determinism (is there a sectarian proverb in there somewhere – “To the Wesleyan evolutionist, everything is a matter of Calvinism”)?

    But that’s old news – nobody in this discussion (though we have to keep restating it, it seems)doubts that human free will is both a reality and a great good from God. Those of us who have studied theology have some idea why free will is good, too. It would still be good to hear from biologists how indeterminacy blesses non-sentient creatures, though, as I didn’t get much sense of that from my studies, indeterminacy being a radically different concept.

    Dennis likens evolution to playing chess with a grand master, who counters our moves within the constraints of chess with much better moves, so that he wins. It sounds a good analogy to me. All we need to know now is what analogy is being drawn between the grand master’s successive moves and God, and we will have the first outline of a BioLogos view of divine action in evolution.

  35. “The theological dispute between Christian ID proponents and BioLogos and ASA-TEs is over the activity of God between the origin of the world and the origin of man, not over the activity of God once man comes on the scene.” – Thomas Cudworth

    Thank you for finally speaking to this key point related to anthropology! This is where you are performing and promoting a theology-science inversion, Thomas. Granted, it has become a rampant problem in ID-TE-EC discourse.

    Frankly, I don’t think you have any ‘evidence’ that they do not have on ‘pre-human theology.’

    You are a theologian, are you not, Thomas? Thus, with due respect, it would make sense if sometimes you artificially turned things into ‘theological disputes’ which actually are not.

    Jon’s desire for BioLogos to come up with a kind of ‘theological biology’ (‘divine action in natural evolution’) is also noteworthy. But that’s quite different from ‘theological medicine,’ the latter which involves personal contact between doctor and patient in which ‘theology’ could be added to/intertwined with medicine. Purely objective medicine is of course mythological, rather than realistic. Can the same thing be said about theological biology?

    Thomas wrote: “you won’t find a single place on the BioLogos website…”

    As above, from the BioLogos website: “evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.”

    What part of that do you not accept or allow in your (science and religion) worldview, Thomas?

  36. And on the question of God’s love of “freedom” he could state whether by that he means only that God leaves the human will free (to accept or reject God), or whether he means that subhuman nature is also “free”; and in the latter case, in what sense a rock or a solar flare or a protein molecule is “free.”

    They’re not going to clarify that, because their position depends on equivocating between free will and purposeless blind mechanism for whatever persuasive force it has. Were they to be honest and clear about what they mean, it would be the end of their project.

    ————————————————————————–
    First, some background:

    - When we say that humans have free will, we don’t mean that their behaviors are random. We mean that humans act according to their goals, for their own reasons, based on logical relationships they perceive between premises and conclusions – that they are rational creatures in other words – and that this ability to reason is a basic reality and therefore not reducible to or an epiphenomenon of something else like blind mechanism and random chance.

    - The Wesleyan/Armenian vs Calvinist divide is about whether people need to be regenerated by a special act of God’s grace before they are able to love Him and be saved. It is *not* about whether God predicts and plans human action. Both agree that he does, as do all the other branches of Christianity. *Both* parties agree that, for instance, Judas Iscariot acted with free will, but that his actions were nevertheless not only known by God beforehand, but were, in fact, part of His plan of salvation. This isn’t the “Calvinist” position. It’s the Calvinist/Wesleyan/Armenian/Catholic/Orthodox position.

    - The Free Will theodicy is *not* meant to defend the idea that God does not know or plan human actions. Again, all branches of Christianity agree that He does. The Free Will defense is meant to give an account of why God might allow sin to exist. The argument goes that creating humans in His Image that have free will, and thus are capable of truly choosing the good and loving God, logically entails that they will also commit sin. Thus, if God makes creatures with free will (an objective good in and of itself), His plan for the world will have to include human sins (as with the case of Judas Iscariot). Again, it does *not* mean that those sins are outside God’s plan, or that they are not known to Him beforehand.

    - Even Open Theists, heretics that they are, only claim that *human* choices are not foreknown by God, because they wrongly believe that free will and God’s foreknowledge are incompatible. It’s not part of that position that God doesn’t even know the actions of unconscious matter, or that He didn’t foreknow and plan the existence of humans. If the Biologos folks are trying to suggest that (and it certainly seems that they are), then they’re even bigger heretics than the Open Theists.

    ————————————————————————–

    There are two ways of interpreting Biologos claims that the universe is “free”. On the one hand, they could mean that the universe actually possesses free will like humans do. This would be a rather odd notion, but it would still be compatible with the idea that God foreknows and plans everything that happens, just as with human free will. On the other hand, they could mean that the universe is “free” as in free of God’s planning and foreknowledge – that it’s genuinely random (in the sense of unguided by God, not necessarily in the sense of being non-deterministic) and unplanned. This, obviously, is incompatible with God foreknowing and planning what happens, since it’s a direct contradiction in terms.

    The Biologos guys are equivocating between those two definitions, because if they unequivocally choose either one, their whole position falls apart.

    They can’t say that the universe itself is an agent with free will, because A) that’s a silly position that would get them laughed at by nearly everyone, and B) it would commit them to an Intelligent Design position in evolution (recall that the direction of evolution is part of the universe’s “freedom” according to them) with the universe literally, consciously planning and choosing what creatures to make.

    On the other hand, they can’t state outright that the universe and evolution are blind, random, and unplanned by God because A) it would be too risibly obvious that they were advocating atheistic heresy, and B) it would destroy their “God loves freedom” claim, which depends on conflating chance with free will (“God loves mindless purposelessness” wouldn’t be very persuasive, would it?).

    For my part, I’m pretty sure they believe in the second definition. Notice that they offered the “God loves freedom” claim in response to nullasallus asking if God knew the direction of evolution beforehand, which makes no sense if that’s not what they mean. The reason they use the terminology of free will and bring red herrings like “Wesleyianism” and “Calvinism” (which, again, have NOTHING to do with God’s foreknowledge, which ALL faithful Christians believe in) into the equation is that if they were to simply say outright that man is a cosmic accident in a unguided material universe, everyone would see it as obviously tantamount to materialist reductionist atheism. Even if they did mean to say that the universe has actual free will (which they clearly don’t), it would make no sense as a response to nullasallus’ question, since Christianity teaches that man’s free will actions are foreknown by God and part of his plan. In their defense, I suspect they’re trying to fool themselves as well here as much as us.

    ————————————————————————–
    Some final thoughts:

    - I get the impression that some people think it’s mean or intolerant to judge what Biologos is saying as heretical. However, as Christians, we are commanded judge those who present themselves as Christian teachers. Preserving the faith we have been entrusted with and protecting the faithful from false teachers is infinitely more important than not hurting Venema’s and Falk’s feelings.

    - We’re often told that Darwinism is only about methodological naturalism, not philosophical naturalism. However, Falk and Venema have given away the game here. It’s pretty clear that *they* believe that adhering to Darwinian theory requires them to believe that God didn’t deliberately and knowingly bring man into existence, otherwise they wouldn’t have to tie themselves in philosophical knots and resort to such sophistry as conflating free will with blind unplanned mechanism to make their position seem compatible with Christianity.

    - The most worrying possibility is that they’re conflating free will with blind mechanism in the other direction. That is to say, that they’re suggesting that the human mind really reduces to blind material mechanism.

  37. 37
    Thomas Cudworth

    Gregory (35):

    Your (deliberate?) suppression of key words in my remarks creates a misleading impression.

    What I wrote was:

    “you won’t find a single place on the BioLogos website where that phrase ["guided evolution"] is affirmed by any BioLogos personnel.”

    You chopped off this quotation after the word “website,” thus deleting the crucial part of my statement, which referred back to your own phrase, “guided evolution.” Why did you do this?

    The statement you quoted from BioLogos does not say that God providentially achieves his purposes by “guiding” evolution. No regular BioLogos columnist, and no member of the BioLogos executive, has ever stated or implied that God “guides” evolution.

    “Guiding” suggests a special divine action, above and beyond the normal working of natural laws; or, at the very least, suggests a “setup” of the evolutionary process that “rigs” it in such a way that it produces certain outcomes. There has never been any statement on BioLogos, either officially or in the writing of any regular columnist, that God either guides or rigs anything.

    The question, which I have asked repeatedly, is how a contingent, stochastic process such as is described in neo-Darwinism, can be a vehicle for divine providence. By way of contrast, it is very easy to see how “intervention” can be a vehicle for divine providence. It is also moderately easy to see how rigging the evolutionary process in advance could be a vehicle for divine providence, though only if the rigging resulted in very tight rather than very loose constraints on evolutionary outcomes. But if both these routes — intervention, and very tight constraints — are explicitly or implicitly denied or rejected (as seems to be the case on BioLogos), it is very hard to see what “tools” God has for carrying out his intentions through the evolutionary process.

    Now Bilbo, who agrees with me that the BioLogos columnists reject guidance in the sense of intervention, was up until yesterday unable to show any evidence that any BioLogos columnist ever spoke of “rigging” or “setting up” evolution to get certain results. But now he has rushed over to BioLogos and, with some leading questions, has coaxed some very hurried and undeveloped notions out of Dennis Venema’s mouth, notions which *could* be taken to imply some sort of “rigging” — some sort of setting of restrictions which would channel evolution in certain general directions (though not to any specific results). But Venema never mentioned this before, not even in his extended conversation with Crude, where it would have been just the right sort of answer, and he certainly hasn’t developed the idea well enough yet for us to see whether the restrictions on evolution would be enough that God could guarantee, for example, the emergence of man, or even the emergence of primates, or of mammals.

    Further, so far this is only Venema’s opinion. Bilbo has no evidence that Falk, Louis, Applegate, Isaac, Giberson, or other past or present regulars would endorse it.

    So Bilbo has essentially thrown a desperate Hail Mary pass, in the hope of convincing us that BioLogos all along meant that God controls evolution through something like “rigging” or “constraining,” and he thinks that the pass has been caught in the end zone, wholly on the basis of Venema’s off-the-cuff suggestion. But in fact, Venema has not yet reached the end zone, no other eligible receivers are in sight, and the pass is still floating, with the firmness of the receiver’s hands very much in doubt.

  38. 38
    Thomas Cudworth

    Deuce:

    Thanks for some well-thought-out criticisms of BioLogos. Some of them overlap with my own; others seem to complement what I’m saying. Your remarks on the difference between random events and free rational choices are particularly appreciated. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard TEs make loose linkages between quantum randomness and the “freedom” of either human beings or of nature. But I can count the number of times that they — when asked by me or within my hearing — have *explained* those linkages: zero.

  39. Excellent analysis, Deuce. Thanks a lot.

    I’d just add that the question of whether BioLogos is theologically orthodox is only one part of the equation. Those of us espousing theistic evolution, who are Christians, are duty bound to giving an account of it that is theologically robust, and if TE’s most public Christian-based face fails to do that, it’s doing the Christian community a disservice.

    But the other question is, if less emotionally-charged, equally important, and that is the question of whether BioLogos is offering an intellectually coherent account of theistic evolution. Once more, those of us who are TEs want to be able to point to a scheme that works. Ideally BioLogos should be the forum where TEs hammer out the strengths and weaknesses to form a persuasive and developing programme. I for one feel cheated that my attempts to raise issues like this have been repeatedly stonewalled by a defensive mentality.

    If all theistic evolution means is “We believe the current scientific account of evolution, and we’re Christians too” then what, really, is the point?

  40. 40
    Thomas Cudworth

    Jon Garvey wrote:

    ‘If all theistic evolution means is “We believe the current scientific account of evolution, and we’re Christians too” then what, really, is the point?’

    Amen!

  41. Jon:

    But the other question is, if less emotionally-charged, equally important, and that is the question of whether BioLogos is offering an intellectually coherent account of theistic evolution.

    Yep. *Any* academic or thinker, secular or otherwise, would deserve to be called to account for publicly engaging the level of sophistry and equivocation that they have engaged in, and for showing such reckless anti-intellectual disregard for truth and logic. That they show such disregard in the context of presenting themselves as Christian teachers of theology that other Christians should adopt just makes it that much worse.

  42. Nick Matzke:

    The alternative view, advanced by Gould, was that evolution is a very “chancy” process, but Gould was a *critic* of classic neo-Darwinism — classic neo-Darwinism is committed to the position that nonrandom selection dominates random chance in evolution.

    In what way is “selection” non-random? Please be specific or admit that you are just spewing propaganda.

    Natural selection is a result- a result that has random inputs. Random inputs = randomized output/ result.

  43. “Why did you do this?” – Thomas

    Because you don’t seem to realise that people are free not to use the same chosen language that you use. Pourquoi vous ne comprenez pas? ?????? ?? ?? ??????????

    ““Guiding” suggests a special divine action, above and beyond the normal working of natural laws” – Thomas

    That’s fine for theology. But are you saying you are expecting a biological theory of “special divine action, above and beyond the normal working of natural laws” from BioLogos as they seek a balance between science and faith? If so, wouldn’t that pass beyond the proper sphere of biological sciences?

    It is ironic how the shoe is on the other foot now, with BioLogos defending natural scientific sovereignty (though, see sadness point below) and Thomas at UD pushing them to give theological answers on biological (and anthropological) topics!

    The proposition about making ‘non-theological disputes’ into ‘theological disputes’ and the ‘theology-science inversion’ I suggested you are displaying in asking for ‘pre-human theology’ are still on the table, Thomas.

    “The statement you quoted from BioLogos does not say that God providentially achieves his purposes by “guiding” evolution.” – Thomas

    You’re right, BioLogos website afaik does not use the term ‘guided’ with ‘evolution’. Surely you’ll accept that’s their prerogative and perhaps not beat a plowshare into a sword by requiring them to speak of ‘guidance’ simply because you and many in the IDM prefer to do so. Instead, their website says: “evolution is…a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.”

    Again, Thomas, do you agree or disagree with their statement (or is this just a joint semantic refusal)?

    “I think God is omnipotent and omniscient. That should pretty much answer all questions on that front.” – Crude

    That does say a lot, as well as the admission that, “in an ultimate sense,” Crude believes there is nothing that is ‘unguided.’

    “Venema never mentioned this before, not even in his extended conversation with Crude” – Thomas

    You’re making some progress then, bravo!

    Actually, I thought the conversation between Venema and Crude was rather compact, not extended. Venema made 4 posts (including 2 requesting clarifications) in the thread to Crude, totalling 1166 characters (with spaces). To put that in contrast, Thomas, you just wrote 3493 characters (with spaces) in message #37 to me here. Thus, please excuse if I don’t consider Venema to have had an “extended conversation with Crude,” even if you really do believe that, Thomas. We must have a substantially different understanding of what ‘extended’ means in this case, just as you have a particular view of ‘guiding,’ ‘rigging,’ ‘intervening’ ‘setting up’ or ‘constraining’ evolution that as a theologian you would like BioLogos biologists to adapt as their own chosen language.

    There are features of what Crude said that could also be scrutinised more carefully than has yet been done at UD. For example, Crude does mention human beings, which contradicts the provocative and imho interesting statement by Thomas: “The theological dispute between Christian ID proponents and BioLogos and ASA-TEs is over the activity of God between the origin of the world and the origin of man, not over the activity of God once man comes on the scene.”

    However, it should be noted that Falk did say in that thread: “I think God began creation with humans in mind.” Thus, it seems to me that humanity cannot be avoided in whatever ‘theological dispute’ Thomas or others at UD wish to have with BioLogos.

    A short request for clarity; since there is no single ‘theological authority’ in the IDM, it might be worth admitting, Thomas, that it is ‘your theological dispute’ with BioLogos and not necessarily ‘THE theological dispute,’ as surely there are others held by individual IDers also.

    Sad to say for Venema, no questions were asked to him and no discussion took place on the genetics topic of his thread. Perhaps this goes to show that people are vastly more interested in the theology and philosophy than in the specialist natural science involved.

    One final question, just a shot looking for light, no disrespect meant, accusation or trickery implied – just curiosity for the sake of clarity: Thomas Cudworth, are you the same person who posted under the name ‘Crude’ at BioLogos in the highlighted thread?

  44. Just a quick note to say that the many ???’s near the beginning of post #43 were actually meant as a question framed in a language with a different script, which seems not to be accepted on UD site, not as an expression of frustration or emotion.

    Thanks,
    Gregory

  45. Human free will is a radically different concept than freedom of nature. Nature does not have to be “free” in order for God to act on it or in it–or for man to be free. Even in a Newtonian universe where the current state of affairs dictates future physical events, both miracles and human free will are possible.

    The issue is not free will vs. predestination. The issue is teleology vs non-teleology. The purpose for obsessing over the first point is to avoid confronting the second point.

  46. –Gregory: “Because you don’t seem to realise that people are free not to use the same chosen language that you use. Pourquoi vous ne comprenez pas? ?????? ?? ?? ??????????”

    When recounting what ThomasC has said, you are permitted to use a different language form only if you faithfully capture the essence of what he wrote. You are not permitted to re-arrange his words in order to convert his arguments into strawmen so that you can slink away from the former and boldly attack the latter.

  47. 47
    Thomas Cudworth

    Gregory:

    Your explanation for truncating my sentence is unacceptable. It is not a question of what language I wish to use, or what language BioLogos wishes to use, or what language you wish to use; it is a question of accurate reporting of what everyone said. Without the reference to “that phrase” [i.e., "guided evolution"], the reader might miss the contrast I was making with the BioLogos passage, which does not contain any reference to “guidance.” But let this pass, since you now admit that BioLogos does not use the term.

    Nonetheless, you still aren’t grasping the issue. You try to dismiss any concern over the word “guided”, as if that is an ID imposition of a particular word on BioLogos. But you ignore the remarks I’ve made several times now, both in the original articles and to you, that it is not just “guided” but a whole range of terms suggesting intention, purpose, teleology, etc., that are rejected by BioLogos. It is not any single word that I’m concerned about here. The point is that the writers at BioLogos are rejecting an idea — teleology in the evolutionary process — which is essential if the evolutionary process is to be reconciled with traditional Christian theology. You are cavilling over word choice, and missing the major theoretical issue entirely. Organic evolution is either teleological or it’s not. The folks at BioLogos have no right to ambiguity on this point — not when they are claiming to reconcile Darwinian thinking with Christian theology.

    As for: “evolution is . . . a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes”: I have no theological objection to it. But you fail to make the crucial distinction between “evolution” simply and “neo-Darwinian evolution.” Without bearing this distinction in mind, you will never grasp the theological problem. BioLogos has from the beginning been committed to neo-Darwinian evolution, as its constant emphasis on random mutations and the rules of population genetics and its reverence for Ayala and Dobzhansky and many other things make clear; and it’s neo-Darwinian mechanisms that pose the theological difficulties.

    The conversation with Crude was extended over a three-day period. Venema had “two days off” in which to formulate a coherent answer, to amend for the grossly evasive tactics he had employed at the beginning of the discussion. He also had a chance to look at the extensive intervening discussion, on exactly the same topic, between Falk and Crude, which would have clarified for him (if he really had any doubt) what Crude was driving at. But when he returned, he still danced around the terms of Crude’s question, and the continued evasion was deliberate; I demonstrated that beyond a reasonable doubt. Venema hid from Crude much that was in his mind, and he refused to confirm or deny the appropriateness of any of the many terms which Crude had suggested.

    Venema was not interested in communicating with Crude. Someone who is trying to communicate does not simply dismiss the vocabulary of the other person. Someone who is trying to communicate engages the vocabulary of the other person — correcting it if necessary, suggesting better choices, etc., but all the while showing respect for the fact that his conversation partner finds these terms important and meaningful. Simply remaining silent about key terms, when direct questions have been posed about them — that is not collegial dialogue. That is obtuseness. And obtuseness has been characteristic of BioLogos from the beginning.

    I have the impression that you have read neither my columns nor my comments very carefully. Time and again you ask questions I have already answered, or raise objections I have already dealt with, without showing any sign that I have done so. You do it again here, when you quote Falk as saying that “God began creation with humans in mind” — apparently oblivious of my discussion of the ambiguity of that passage in Falk. I’m not going to repeat that discussion. You’ll have to go back and look it up.

    Your remarks to the effect that I am somehow imposing theological requirements on BioLogos’s discussion of scientific matters are ridiculous. BioLogos’s whole raison d’etre is to reconcile Christian theology — in particular the doctrine of creation — with Darwinian evolution. I did not impose any theological task on BioLogos; BioLogos undertook that task voluntarily. It’s not my fault if BioLogos is executing its task very poorly, by utterly failing to show the compatibility of a non-teleological form of evolution with the Biblical and Christian understanding of creation as the realization of antecedently conceived ends.

    Regarding another query: I do not claim to speak for all ID proponents. However, I know that I speak for a great number of them when I indicate apparent inconsistencies between the tradition Christian understandings of creation, omnipotence, providence, governance, etc. and an inherently non-teleological form of evolution. If you are a regular reader of UD, you must know that my criticism is widely shared by ID people. So why you are asking the question is beyond me. Sometimes you give the impression of asking questions merely to provoke a reaction, rather than because you do not know the answer to the question. I find such a conversational tactic to be discreditable to those who employ it.

    As for your final question, it is basic “netiquette” not even to ask it. I would therefore normally not answer, as you are not entitled to an answer. But in case anyone finds my efforts here faulty or inadequate, I would not want Crude — whose real name I do not know, but whose honesty and politeness put the slipperiness of Falk and Venema to shame — to be dragged down with me, so I will say, no, I am not.

  48. 48

    Nick

    Conway Morris recently said, regarding convergent evolution, that “the manner in which life constructs itself must be dealing with some other principle which we’ve failed to identify.”

    He also said, “there are a lot of people who are more than happy with a Darwinian explanation but regard it as incomplete – just as Newtonian mechanics work extremely well, but you still need Einstein.”

    Do you think that all those people with a high opinion of NS, who think that convergence dominates, and indeed Dawkins, agree with Conway-Morris on that unidentified principle, and if so, what do you think it might be?

    If not, why does Conway Morris differ from them?

    I can’t evaluate this unless you provide the source. Is convergence the unidentified principle he is talking about, which he later says in his talk or article that he has identified? By talking about life “constructing itself” is he talking about the origin of the very first life? (Since the origin of the first life is a rather different question than the later evolutionary change of life forms once life exists.) Etc. Conway Morris is a working evolutionary biologist, they usually talk pretty specifically about what they think is understood and what is not, so vague snippets of quotes out of context don’t mean anything by themselves.

    I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about inserting “poof a miracle happened” into scientific explanations, if that’s what you’re after.

  49. 49

    You can’t say, given a bacterium 4 billion years ago, you will get an anteater in the Pliocene. You can’t even say, given a bacterium 4 billion years ago, you will get an anteater at any time. The process is too dependent on random mutations and shifting environmental conditions for such a precise form of predictability. Dawkins and Gould would both agree to this last statement.

    Actually, anteater-type-things have evolved several times — anteaters, aardvarks, and pangolins, and probably others I’m forgetting — and both Conway Morris and Dawkins would say that it would happen again, given similar environments.

    If you are talking Conway Morris, that is something different. But Conway Morris is already starting to move away, to some extent, from the conceptual framework of neo-Darwinism. I’m talking about classic neo-Darwinism here, and the reason I’m talking about it is (a) that’s what Behe and ID are attacking; (b) that’s what Venema, Falk, etc. are defending.

    I don’t think you have much of an idea of what “classic neo-Darwinism” actually means within actual science. The chance-emphasizing ideas in evolutionary theory, e.g. neutral drift, punctuated equilibrium and species sorting, contingency, etc., were produced by critics of “classic neo-Darwinism”.

    And by the way, BioLogos in particular emphasizes mutations and randomness much more than selection: note that Venema’s columns place much more emphasis on genomic alterations than on selection, and note that in the past month alone, BioLogos has run about six columns by four different authors in defense of “randomness.” So if you want to smack “creationists” for emphasizing randomness too much, then you had better spread the blame to cover your “evolutionist” friends at BioLogos as well. But that wouldn’t fit in with your political strategy, would it, Nick? To criticize BioLogos when it makes the same “mistake” as UD? You wouldn’t want to upset your TE allies by telling them “what you are saying about the science is just bunk,” would you? Not while you can still cynically use them against ID, anyway.

    There is a much simpler explanation. The creationists are obsessed and paranoid about evolution in part because they think “chance” is somehow anti-God. BioLogos is attempting to convince creationists otherwise. Thus BioLogos gives some emphasis to the chance issue.

    Your point about “nonrandom selection” is irrelevant to what we are discussing here. First, I did not claim that natural selection was random. Second, we are discussing whether or not evolution is steered, guided, directed, nudged, etc. The most ardent selectionist imaginable — someone like Dawkins — certainly does not believe that anyone is guiding, steering, or directing evolution. On that point, he and Gould, whatever their differences, are in perfect agreement. And Ayala says the same. The question is whether Falk and Venema agree, and if so, why they are not as forthright as the others in saying so.

    Is anyone guiding the dice rolls at a casino? In lightning strikes? In earthquakes? Or are they statistically random? Yes or no, Thomas Cudworth, we deserve a clear answer.

    Whatever your answer to those questions, apply the same answer to random mutations in evolution and you’ll start to see what BioLogos is getting at.

  50. Nick Matzke-

    We deserve a clear answer- in what way is evolution non-random?

    The creationists are obsessed and paranoid about evolution in part because they think “chance” is somehow anti-God.

    Nick didn’t get the memo:

    As if it had to be said-

    In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.1

    The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.2

    Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.3

    As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.4

    click here for a hint:

    ‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.’ 5

    Thank you for your honesty Will Provine.

    1- Academe January 1987 pp.51-52 †

    2-Evolutionary Progress (1988) p. 65 †

    3- “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life” 1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address 1 2 †

    4- No Free Will (1999) p.123

    5- Provine, W.B., Origins Research 16(1), p.9, 1994.

  51. 51

    Nick (49):

    I’m fully aware of the existence of the orders Tubulidentata and Pholidota. And also the Monotremata, if you want to count the echidna among your list of anteaters. (And by the way, I didn’t have to look up those terms. I make no claim to be a biologist, but I’m more science-aware than you might imagine.) But note that when you add “given similar environments,” you are altering the picture set forth in my original claim. A bacterium of 4 billion years ago couldn’t be sure that *any* of its descendants would encounter the sort of environments that would make ant-eating skills an advantage in the struggle for survival. There might end up being *no* anteaters, or for that matter, no ants. That’s what I mean by the unpredictable element in evolution.

    Now, on classical neo-Darwinism. The term is ambiguous. Originally it referred to a movement, about 40 years or so after Darwin’s *Origin*, which placed an extreme emphasis on the role of selection. That is probably the movement that you are referring to in your comment. However, later the term came to be applied as a synonym of what was called “The Modern Synthesis” — a revision of Darwinian evolutionary theory worked out by many biologists, but with Mayr, Dobzhansky, Gaylord Simpson, and Julian Huxley as the leading voices. This synthesis was accomplished roughly between 1937 and 1947 and Huxley published a book on it in about 1944. The synthesis struck a better balance between mutations (seen as random with respect to adaptive usefulness) and natural selection (seen as the nonrandom factor). The modern synthesis was later able to incorporate the discovery of the genetic code in the 1950s and early 1960s without undergoing serious modification, and it is the notion of evolution that most high school and undergrad biology students were taught until fairly recently, and the one which was promoted by all the popular science writers, including those with Ph.D.s in the life sciences, in the mid-to-late 20th century. It is also the notion of evolution that was criticized at the 1966 Wistar Conference, is currently criticized by the ID people, and is upheld by most of the TEs at BioLogos and elsewhere.

    The term “neo-Darwinism” is unfortunate, as it can be confused with the earlier theory of that name (which was why Mayr didn’t like it, and preferred to speak of “the modern synthetic theory” or the like), but it is a term which has stuck, and is recognizable, and is used widely by ID people and by others, so that’s why I use it. (I’ve seen Lynn Margulis use the term in my sense, and James Shapiro uses it in my sense on page 1 of his new book on evolution, and surely these are two people who are quite qualified to speak about evolutionary biology.)

    You are understating BioLogos’s emphasis on chance and randomness. Yes, they are trying to show fundamentalists that “chance” need not be anti-God. But if they thought that chance was a virtually negligible part of the evolutionary process, or at most a minor feature of it, they would argue differently: they would argue much less often that chance is not opposed to God, and much more often that evolution is not primarily chance-driven. But that’s not what they do. Their columns on the subject of chance and randomness are encomiums upon the creative powers of randomness in evolution. God for them creates *through* randomness.

    For BioLogos randomness can do, it seems, virtually anything. Columns mention examples of crystals and triangles and other things to “prove” that order can come out of “randomness.” Applegate is impressed that a specially fabricated (i.e., designed, not randomly generated) set of magnetized pieces can fall into a spherical shape when juggled, and uses that as an argument for the power of randomness in evolution. Applegate even argues, from the fact that the immune system *makes use of* randomness, that it could have *arisen* via randomness. (Of course, that doesn’t follow at all, but logic is not the strong suit of the BioLogos team.) Ard Louis has also spoken of the need to acknowledge a substantial amount of randomness in the evolutionary process. So these people’s tendency is the opposite of what you are suggesting: not to speak against a popular misconception of Darwinian theory as based on randomness, but to insist on randomness as a major factor, and then celebrate and even baptize it for Christian use. But I haven’t seen a single critical comment of yours against this emphasis (which must strike you as an overemphasis) on randomness. It is only when ID people speak of randomness that you jump down their throats. The double standard — which is nothing new for you or your trainers at the NCSE — is most instructive.

    More important than the fact of your partisan approach, however, is the fact that, if there is as much randomness in evolution as the Modern Synthesis theorists believed, and as the BioLogos folk mostly believe, then evolutionary results simply will not be predictable. And then the question arises how God can “use” NDE/Modern Synthesis evolution to accomplish his ends.

    The phenomenon of “convergence” which you mention of course raises the interesting question: can the Modern Synthesis/NDE really account for it? I know of Conway Morris’s writing only indirectly, but all the quotations and summaries of his thought that I have seen indicate that he thinks that convergence is not fully explained merely because kindred sets of random mutations stumbled into similar environments. And when I’ve heard his thought described, I often wonder if he isn’t groping toward a conclusion similar to that reached independently by Michael Denton, i.e., that evolution is not a random walk through genomic possibilities that sometimes lucks into favorable environments, but is actually a biased process which can find solutions faster than a Darwinian sort of process would be able to do, because it has been designed for such solution-finding. That is, the process of evolution itself is intelligently designed — organisms were equipped from the start with the possibility of finding solutions faster than RM + NS alone could ever hope to achieve.

    I don’t find this idea silly, and I think it can be seen as compatible with some of the things that Shapiro is saying, and I think it certainly is more compatible with orthodox traditional views of God’s sovereignty, governance, etc. than the “statistical deism” (in Russell’s brilliant phrase) that most American and British TEs these days are peddling. (It’s not surprising that ID people are interested in some of the things that Conway Morris is saying.)

    No, no one is guiding the dice rolls at a casino, in my opinion. Or the striking of lightning. But of course — and this is where BioLogos people go spectacularly wrong, having no gift whatsoever for finding appropriate parallels and analogies — dice and lightning have almost nothing in common with living organisms, and any discussion of randomness in evolution would have to proceed much more carefully than discussions of randomness involving lifeless and mindless particles and forces. My view is that *if* evolution worked *only* by random mutations (and other stochastic events) filtered by natural selection, it would not be able to produce very much that was interesting. It would have to be guided either by some other internal tendency, or by some factor operating on evolution from the outside. Thus, if evolution can achieve complex integrated structures as frequently as is claimed, this would suggest either (a) that natural processes other than RM + NS — as yet unknown but effectively teleological processes — are operating or (b) that RM + NS are being supplemented by the non-natural direct steering of an intelligent being who has specific ends in mind.

    The problem I have with BioLogos is that it appears to reject (b) (and Bilbo agrees with me on that), yet appears to have very little interest in investigating (a). In its entire term of existence, not one column has been devoted to alternate evolutionary schemes, e.g., those of Margulis, or of some of the Altenberg group, or of Shapiro. They appear to be stuck theoretically in the 1970s, in a wholly gene-centered notion of evolution (incremental random genetic mutations producing new proteins and ultimately new organs and systems to be tested by natural selection). I thus don’t take BioLogos seriously as a source for information on the latest in evolutionary theory. But if they aren’t up on the latest evolutionary theory, then their great synthesis of evolution and Christianity is a synthesis of outdated concepts of evolution with Christianity. They therefore need some new blood there on the biology side, people who are not hidebound supporters of Dobzhansky, Ayala, etc., and people who actually go to secular scientific conferences on evolutionary theory and publish scientific research in peer-reviewed journals of evolutionary biology. If they could get Conway Morris writing for them, that would be a vast improvement. Five years of yesterday’s evolutionary biology is long enough.

  52. Nick

    Why on earth should you think I should be “after” “Poof a miracle happened”, still less that I should attribute such a view to Simon Conway Morris? He and I both became aware of evolution at around the same time, and probably from the same book, so less condescension might be in order.

    No, I was “after” the fact that Conway Morris obviously considers that classic Neodarwinism is inadequate of itself fully to explain convergence. I imagine he espouses some kind of self-organisation theory, though it’s not clear to me which. So I wondered if that were general, or if he was out on a limb here – which would be interesting, since he is possibly the world authority on convergence and is not to be dismissed lightly. Your post gave the impression that convergence is an entirely unremarkable prediction of ND, which I have never been aware depended on self-organisation theory.

    The quotes were from an interview in the latest Cambridge Alumni magazine, which has been plugged here actually, but which comes to me anyway. Fortunately it’s online here.

    I hope that gives you enough information to integrate his popular interview comments with all you’ve gleaned from his academic publications.

  53. Is anyone guiding the dice rolls at a casino? In lightning strikes? In earthquakes?

    The simple answer is ‘yes’: all things are foreknown by God and part of His plan, and hence guided by Him toward fulfilling his purposes (most purposes of which are beyond our ability to know much less measure statistically).

    Or are they statistically random?

    That’s a false dilemma and a red herring. The question here is not about “statistical” randomness. Statistical randomness is relative to the particular statistic being measured for by the person doing the measuring.

    Every letter of the post I’m writing is chosen by me. However, if you were to take the numbers corresponding to these letters’ position in the alphabet, and use them to play the lottery, you would surely find that, statistically, they are no better at producing winning numbers than any other method of choosing numbers. Hence, my writing would be statistically random with respect to the lottery, but is not random in the sense of being unplanned and for fulfilling my purpose of saying what I want to say. In the same way, God plans and guides all things for his mostly inscrutable purposes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t statistically random with respect to most things we can measure.

    In the case of human origins, it is Christian doctrine that, at the very least, God made man deliberately, so here’s a case where we know one of His purposes. Hence, if evolution was the method, this entails that evolution must have been guaranteed to result in the origin of man, and so the evolutionary events that resulted in man’s existence must have been planned and guided toward that end. Those events may have been found to be statistically random with respect to lots of things (were there any humans around to observe them and make statistical measurements, which of course there weren’t, which is why it’s nearly meaningless to talk about the “statistical” randomness of past evolutionary events to begin with), but they weren’t random for the ends that God used them.

    Whatever your answer to those questions, apply the same answer to random mutations in evolution and you’ll start to see what BioLogos is getting at.

    No, not really. They could have straightforwardly answered “yes” to the questions of whether God knew and made sure that evolution would result in humans, as an actually theistic evolutionist like Stephen Barr has no trouble doing, rather than insulting everyone’s intelligence by answering with logic-torturing gobbledy-gook about God respecting nature’s “freedom,” conflations of that “freedom” with human free will, and bizarre and irrelevant appeals to “Wesleyanism” to defend it.

    I also can’t help but notice that nobody is able to spell out Biologos’ position in a clear manner. It repeatedly comes down to making some evasive statements and hand-waving analogies, and then challenging other people to divine whatever it is they think they’re getting at.

  54. Is anyone guiding the dice rolls at a casino?

    Yes, the person who rolls the dice. The dice should go where that person rolls them.

    Have you ever seen the game being played?

  55. Darrel Falk’s now posted on Dennis Venema’s thread at BioLogos, saying that Thomas AND Bilbo both got the BioLogos position wrong. He refers them back to previous posts.

    “Mine to know, yours to find out.”

  56. Nick Matzke-

    We deserve a clear answer- in what way is evolution non-random?

    Or are you too afraid to answer?

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