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Theology at BioLogos: The Curious Case of the Wesleyan Maneuver – Part 2A

In Part 1 of this posting, I introduced “the Wesleyan Maneuver,” one of the great BioLogos devices for getting away with an evasive and unsatisfactory account of the relationship between divine action and evolution. Here in Part 2, I wish to illustrate the Maneuver by means of a real example.

Perhaps the most memorable example can be found at:

http://biologos.org/blog/understanding-evolution-is-there-junk-in-your-genome-part-3

On this thread, a poster named “Crude” ventured to ask Dr. Dennis Venema – the leading columnist at BioLogos on matters of genetics and evolutionary theory – for his view on the role of God in the evolutionary process. The exchange that followed illustrated many of the typical features of discussions on this subject with BioLogos personnel, including the final resort to the Wesleyan Maneuver. To be sure, the exchange does not perfectly match the idealized pattern given in Part 1, but it is close enough for the purpose of our analysis and critique.

In the first comment (67555) under Venema’s column, Crude asked:

“In your view, is evolution an entirely unguided process? Or was it guided by God, even if not in a way science is capable of detecting?”

One would think that such a straightforward question would generate a straightforward answer. Not so. The immediate reply from Dr. Venema (67556) was:

“Can you define ‘guided’ for me, as you see it?”

One would not think that the everyday English word “guided” was so tricky as to require definition, but Crude did not object, and restated as follows (67563):

“Broadly and for the purposes of this question, guided as in ‘God knew what the results of evolution would be before they took place, perhaps at the moment of creation. And that God likewise had the ability to choose different outcomes either at that beginning or during the process.’”

We would now expect Dr. Venema to be forthcoming with a couple of paragraphs of exposition of his view. Here is what we got instead (67564):

“I’m not trying to be coy here, but much turns on precise definitions. One more question of clarification – if God is omnipotent and omniscient, is there anything at all in the entire cosmos that is, in your view, “unguided”?”

Venema’s procedure is masterful. Without actually defining “guided” himself, and without saying whether or not he thought that evolution was guided, he shifts the question back to Crude. Yet Crude persists, by answering Venema’s question (67565):

“In an ultimate sense? Perhaps not.”

So Crude concedes that in one sense everything could be said to be guided. But of course, with regard to Darwinian evolution, which is a contingent process with no guaranteed outcome, the question is whether God guides evolution in a special way, above and beyond the general sense in which he can be said to “guide” everything. Presumably Crude, having granted a general, universal kind of guidance of all natural events, is now awaiting Venema’s opinion on whether there is, in addition to that, a more particular kind of guidance that dictates particular outcomes of evolution. (Later on, Crude gives examples, e.g., was the emergence of mice guided?)

But Venema at this point drops out of the conversation. He has implicitly promised to answer Crude’s question, if Crude answers his; yet the answer does not come. Does Venema think that, because of Crude’s answer to his question, he is free? Crude does not think so, for he says to “Merv” (67567): “I’m not letting Dennis off the hook. I’m still waiting for his answer.”

Venema does eventually answer, after a delay of two days, during which the argument is taken up for him by Darrel Falk, who engages in a lengthy conversation with Crude. But when he does answer, he picks up not on the original question that Crude had asked him, but on a comment Crude made to Merv (67567):

“I said from the start I’m fine with Dennis explaining what, if any, power he sees God as having over evolution.”

Venema replies (67689):

“Well, If that’s what you’re truly asking, then it’s an easy answer.”

If that’s what Crude was asking? Is Venema questioning the sincerity of Crude’s line of questioning? If so, the effect is rather insulting. But even odder is the implication that Crude’s question was unclear from the start, and is only clear now. I would wager that every reader of the BioLogos thread knew what Crude was getting at from the start, and that Venema understood it, too; thus, had he not decided to make difficulty, he could have saved Crude much effort by answering the question the first time. But be that as it may, he continues:

“I believe God created and continues to sustain the entirety of the cosmos, moment by moment. We observe that sustaining both in what we would call natural mechanisms and supernatural events – both have their source in God, and both are means of His providence.”

Notice that the word “evolution” – used in the reformulation of the question which Venema has just approved – does not appear in Venema’s answer. Instead of talking about what God does in the very specific process of “evolution,” Venema talks about God’s relationship to something much broader and more general – to the “cosmos.” And what Venema says is not clear. He says that God “sustains” the cosmos, with no indication what “sustaining” involves. But as generally used by TE/EC people, “sustaining” refers to a “general” divine action by which the world and its laws are preserved in existence, as opposed to a “particular” divine action by which God interacts uniquely with one part of nature to achieve a particular effect (e.g., the parting of the Red Sea). So Venema’s answer may well imply that there is no special activity of God going on in the evolutionary process.

This impression is confirmed by Venema’s avoidance of the original word used by Crude, “guided.” Even though he now claims to understand what Crude originally meant, he does not return to Crude’s chosen verb. So we are left wondering: is “sustaining” different from “guiding”? If so, how? Is Venema’s answer: “No, God does not guide evolution – he sustains it”? If so, why does he not say so, and then explain the difference between the two?

Venema’s expression “both in what we would call natural mechanisms and supernatural events” confuses matters. First, what is the significance of the caveat “what we would call”? Is Venema suggesting that our understanding of these terms needs correction? If so, why does he not offer the needed correction, rather than leave us guessing what he thinks is inaccurate about the terms? To raise doubts about terminology, and then fail to resolve those doubts, is deeply counterproductive. And second, if there is a valid distinction between natural and supernatural, how does Venema divide up past actions between the two? Does he take the line of most TE/EC people, and say that “supernatural events” occur only in the case of Biblical miracles, whereas all the changes in the evolutionary process are wholly “natural”? Or is he leaving the door open for the possibility of supernatural interventions in the evolutionary process? To mention the two options, without clarifying whether both, or only one, is relevant to evolution, is to confuse matters, when Crude’s question was about the “power … God has over evolution.”

To be continued …

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31 Responses to Theology at BioLogos: The Curious Case of the Wesleyan Maneuver – Part 2A

  1. Those who know me here will know that Venema is not my favourite BioLogos contributor by a long shot. I kept watch on the thread in question, but wasn’t a contributor. If I remember, Jon Garvey was present there and this fuels his ‘sustaining’ vs. ‘governing’ point, which has some validity. But at the same time I’ve never seen Jon give a non-theological argument for ID, which would not satisfy people in the IDM, who insist ID-is-science.

    What I’m curious about, given that several weeks ago I requested just such a thread as this one that T. Cudworth has now produced (thanks!), is how an IDer would answer Crude’s question, i.e. how does ID speak to the ‘how’ of guided evolution?

    So far, we can see the distinct GRAMMAR chosen by BioLogos in contrast with DI-based ID. BioLogos does not prefer the language of ‘guidance’ and makes no claim of ‘scientific knowledge’ of how evolution is guided. They *all* believe in ‘intelligent design’ (small id) and that God creates via natural evolutionary processes, so guidance is implicit, though not scientifically explicit. What Cudworth seems to be asking for is for BioLogos to do the work that ID has pretense to claim is possible; to make a ‘scientific’ proof of (particular) divine action ‘in biology’ or ‘in nature.’ In this case, probabilistic reasoning (cf. EF) would not qualify as ‘evidence of guidance,’ and something more is requested.

    “is there anything at all in the entire cosmos that is, in your view, “unguided”?” – Venema

    “In an ultimate sense? Perhaps not.” – Crude

    This answer actually says A LOT! Please be reminded that there are ‘universal designists’ out there, even here at UD, who cannot and will not admit of *anything* that is not ‘designed’ (read: ‘unguided’); evil and hatred and murder and lies included. Welcome theodicy back in the door, ID?!

    Imo, Venema *should* have answered the second part of the initial question: “Evolution was ‘guided’ or is ‘sustained’ by God, even if not in a way science is capable of detecting.” This seems to be the position Venema holds but is for some reason (no tenure at TWU?) not courageous or bold enough to articulate.

    ID posits ‘design’ as a ‘teleological’ term, but it says next to nothing about the supposed process of ‘designing’ the biosphere, iow, it also leaves the guiding/designing/intervening process silent from a natural scientific viewpoint. So, though I am not defending Venema’s vacuousness in philosophy of science, I still don’t see what Meyer, Behe or Dembski have offered or currently could offer that BioLogos did not. Sometimes admitting that one doesn’t have an answer to how ‘God acts in nature’ should be seen as humility rather than weakness. Specified complexity speaks with clarity to ‘particular divine action’ no more than generally saying that “God created and sustains the entire cosmos (incuding the biosphere)” does, wouldn’t you folks here agree?

    Cudworth’s final paragraph in this thread reverts to the over-stretched dichotomy between natural and supernatural, which is imo outdated and unnecessary nowadays. There are better ways of confronting ‘naturalism’ than to use this approach. It shows that he doesn’t have answers to his or Crude’s questions about ‘intervention’ (another TE-avoidance term) any more than Venema or Falk does. But neither Crude nor Thomas are leaders of an organisation that’s been backed by the Templeton Foundation to promote science and faith discourse, involving ‘evolutionary biology’ and challenging the anti-intellectual plague of YECism in the USA.

    Here at UD the late-modern plague of YECism is nourished by papering-over its real and present danger to Christendom, to Islam and to Judaism, to the Abrahamic faiths – because ‘age-of-Earth science’ is deemed irrelevant to ‘design science’ (as if Earth was not also ‘designed’ in a particular time-space event!). It is like an elephant in the room, but the YECs still participate here, while ID promotes ‘good science.’

    So it is not a surprise that maneuvering theology is being criticised by Cudworth instead of maneuvering science, which is the expressed goal of the IDM – to build ‘a new kind of science’.

    That said, I’m looking forward to the 3rd part of Cudworth’s series, which focuses on the ‘Wesleyan Maneuver,’ since it highlights a particular Christian theological tradition, a move for which ID is not renowned. Of particular interest might be if a Wesleyan ID-proponent were to speak up in defense of Wesleyanism, though of course wrt to evolution and ID that would be only to speak of theology and not science, because ID has nothing to do with theology or philosophy and only with natural sciences, just as does evolution, right? ; )

  2. One would not think that the everyday English word “guided” was so tricky as to require definition, …

    Most evolutionists consider that evolution is guided by natural selection. Most ID proponents don’t think that counts as guided.

    I’m puzzled that you have a problem with asking for clarification of “guided.”

  3. Neil,

    I think the issue is at what temporal point and in what manner the “guidance” is exerted.

  4. Gregory,

    It is like an elephant in the room, but the YECs still participate here, while ID promotes ‘good science.’

    Honestly, Gregory – as someone who used to have complete contempt for YEC, who never was and still is not a YEC, I have to say: this idea that one has to fight, fight, fight the YECs whenever possible, just strikes me as so wrong-headed. Frankly, and I say this with all seriousness – quite a number of the assorted materialists and naturalists take positions vastly more insane and intellectually repugnant than anything the wildest YEC can offer. The difference is in social perception and cultural attitude.

    What I’m curious about, given that several weeks ago I requested just such a thread as this one that T. Cudworth has now produced (thanks!), is how an IDer would answer Crude’s question, i.e. how does ID speak to the ‘how’ of guided evolution?

    Easy answer: ID can’t respond to the question posed, because the relationship between Biologos and ID is disjunct. And this is by design. (Cue canned laughter.)

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

    ID is a concept and set of (in the view of its advocates) scientific claims which, in and of itself, is detached from religion.

    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. (Saying, ‘Well he probably believes God guides it all but he can’t say that because he doesn’t have tenure perhaps’ is not guaranteed, since there’s another option: Venema doesn’t believe God has anything to do with evolution.) 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. Now, one can conceivably believe that if the Christian God exists, then we should expect ID to find something – just as someone may believe that if the Christian God exists, science should point to the universe having a beginning. The existence of such a hypothetical person doesn’t make Big Bang theory, considered as a scientific hypothesis, say anything about God – nor would it make ID, considered the same way, say anything about God.

    Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that if an ID proponent is (say) a Calvinist, then clearly ID commits one to Calvinism.

  5. Neil Rickert:

    Most evolutionists consider that evolution is guided by natural selection.

    Natural selection is a blind and mindless result. Just what type of guidance can it provide- please be specific.

  6. Gregory:

    ID posits ‘design’ as a ‘teleological’ term, but it says next to nothing about the supposed process of ‘designing’ the biosphere,…

    ID is about the detection and study of the design. Ya see reality dictates that in the absence of direct observation or designer input, the only possible way to make any scientific determination about the designer(s) or specific process(es) used, is by studying the design and all relevant evidence.

    That said there are plausible mechanisms such as a targeted search or built-in responses to environmental cues.

  7. Joe,

    I’m sure you already know the answer to your question so I hesitate to answer but natural selection culls life forms that are not fit and favors those that are more fit. In a given environmental niche certain characteristics allow some life forms to out compete their niche-mates and therefore generate more offspring. Guidance clearly does not mean a purposefull process and it’s not the term I would have used.

  8. Jerad @7:

    Which is to say that “natural selection” is just a label attached to the statistical result of some real process (for example, mutations at the genetic level).

    Natural selection is not a force. It doesn’t guide anything. I doesn’t do anything. It is just a convenient term we use to describe the resulting outcome of some other (quite often undefined) process.

  9. Eric,

    I’ve always thought of ‘natural selection’ as just the way the environment favours some life forms over others. And even then ‘favours’ sounds intentional. But it does entail animals with heavier coats being ‘more fit’ to live in arctic conditions. Or animals with rudimentary eyes being better able to find food than those without (ignoring other ways of detecting nutrition). Or some plants being able to attract pollinators. And opposed to selection by breeders. But both forms of selection work with the same underlying mechanism: a stream of variation caused by genetic mutations. Without the mutations there would be no variation clearly.

    So, I agree. It doesn’t guide in the same way that a breeder guides by picking out characteristics desired and then favouring variations closer to the goal. But it does ‘favour’ variations that are better able to exploit the environmental niche. Perhaps we should just say that natural selection is the result of the sum of lots of environmental pressures??

  10. 10

    ID has nothing to do with theology or philosophy and only with natural sciences, just as does evolution, right?

    ID is claiming equality with a theory like evolution. As an ID advocate, I personally could care less whether we decide to view ID as having clear theological implications or not, so long as Darwinian evolution ends up in the same boat. So make the rules and the definitions, says ID, but we will force you to apply them equitably.

  11. Jerad:

    I’m sure you already know the answer to your question so I hesitate to answer but natural selection culls life forms that are not fit and favors those that are more fit.

    Umm, “fit” wrt biology means reproductive success and as such is an after-the-fact assessment.

    In a given environmental niche certain characteristics allow some life forms to out compete their niche-mates and therefore generate more offspring.

    According to Mayr whatever is “good enough” makes it through. And with cooperation even the not so good enough can make it.

    But anyway, evolution is “guided” by whatever happens to survive and reproduce.

  12. Joe: Natural selection is a blind and mindless result. Just what type of guidance can it provide- please be specific.

    Thanks, Joe, for making my point. The different sides disagree about “guided”, and therefore it was entirely appropriate for Venema to ask for a clarification of what was intended.

  13. Joe,

    ‘Fit’ is an after-the-fact assessment . . . yeah, I guess so.

    ‘Good enough’ . . . yeah, okay.

    Yup, those who survive and reproduce create the next generation. I’m not sure what your objection is . . . . are you saying the environment has no effect?

  14. Jerad:

    Perhaps we should just say that natural selection is the result of the sum of lots of environmental pressures??

    That’s getting closer. I like to keep our eye firmly on the ball and recognize that natural selection is just a label.

    Consider a prototypical example: We have a certain population, call it Population X, made up of phenotypes A and B. We take a snapshot today, make a note of how many individuals are in group A and how many are in group B. We come back some time later and take another snapshot. If there is some change in the ratio of individuals in groups A and B we ascribe the change to “natural selection.” In fact, however, this is just a label attached to the fact that there has been differential survival (sometimes incorrectly referred to as differential reproduction — it is really the survival that matters).

    What actually caused the differential survival could be any one factor or any combination of dozens of factors: heat, humidity, water, food, sunlight, cold, storms, poor reproduction, predators, mutations, dumb luck, etc. In some cases we have a dim, vague idea of what, perhaps, could possibly, in some way, have contributed to the differential survival. In most cases we haven’t the slightest clue (particularly when we are looking at the deep past).

    To say that natural selection “did” something or “caused” this or that is really just another way of expressing our ignorance of the real underlying cause. If we knew, for example, that a particular population was wiped out by a freak storm, then we could say so and would have no need to refer to extraneous terminology which adds no substantive information to the explanation of what happened. We could give a full and complete explanation of what led to the differential survival without ever referencing the term “natural selection,” thank you very much.

    I do not suggest that we must never use the term. There is a legitimate need in our human language to use shorthand terms for certain things, particularly complicated or poorly-understood things, and “natural selection” can be a useful shorthand term if used judiciously.

    What I do strongly object to is the extremely pervasive tendency to invoke natural selection as an explanation of changes in populations and, by extension, changes throughout the history of life generally. Natural selection isn’t a force. It doesn’t select. It doesn’t create. It doesn’t guide. It doesn’t do anything. It is simply a label applied to the results of what are generally poorly defined and poorly understood processes — a label that in reality is not an explanation at all, but simply a placeholder for our current lack of understanding.

  15. Eric,

    I think what you say is true: natural selection is a blanket term for a combination of events and pressures that have forced a shift in population genetics. The events and pressures will vary from situation to situation and there is no conscious selection involved. These sorts of considerations always come up when considering speciation . . . a few squirrels move to the other side of a valley which has a slightly different ecosystem, a population is split because of a flood, some lifeforms are transported to a distant land via trees being washed out to sea because of a storm. You will find such discussions in the evolutionary literature and used as a support for evolutionary theory. Especially in the geographic distribution arguments.

    I don’t have a problem with the term ’cause I understand what it means but I see your point that it could be misleading. Trouble is . . . it’s been in use for 150 years and switching would cause further confusion. I live in England and the common term for forcing someone into doing something is ‘pressurised’ instead of ‘pressured’ and no way are they going to change!! Perhaps it’s better just to make sure the meaning is clear.

  16. Jerad-

    ID is not anti-evolution, meaning as far as the “evolutionary literature” is concerned everything could be by design.

  17. @ nullasalus #4

    “this idea that one has to fight, fight, fight the YECs whenever possible, just strikes me as so wrong-headed.” – nullasalus

    We are agreed. It seems to me a great waste of time. But confronting YECism (=bad science) is a significant part of BioLogos’ mission and one thing that distinguishes it from the IDM and DI. Given the anti-science and anti-intellectualism in much of the Protestant evangelical Church in the USA (cf. test scores, surveys, books like “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” etc.), perhaps it could be said that they are filling an important role that DI (and many others) is not interested to face? Space for overlap is that there is a ‘scientific’ question about age of Earth, which many people think about when they hear ‘Darwinism,’ which IDers seek to over-come and/or replace. So I don’t see them as totally excluse topics; i.e. age of Earth, Darwinism and ID.

    That said, I don’t see why asking the following question is disallowed: “how does ID speak to the ‘how’ of guided evolution?”

    Is it worth repeating? – What Cudworth seems to be asking for is for BioLogos to do the work that ID has pretense to claim is possible; to make a ‘scientific’ proof of (particular) divine action ‘in biology’ or ‘in nature.’ If that is not what he’s asking, then what does ID bring to the table about ‘guided evolution’ that BioLogos does not? Or are they at the current time equally unable to defend ‘guided evolution’ using the tools of ‘natural science’ (narrowly or broadly defined)? Like you, nullasalus, I’m not convinced that speaking of a ‘biological science’ called ‘ID’ makes sense or that it can scientifically detect the action of designing/guiding evolution. Proposing front-loading as speculation is quite different from contending for an interventionist process of guidance/governance by an unembodied/transcendent designer/Designer.

    You wrote: “ID can’t respond to the question posed, because the relationship between Biologos and ID is disjunct.”

    Sorry, but I don’t see the relationship influencing ID’s ability or inability to answer the question. Venema’s perhaps not the sharpest tool in the philosophy of science shed and squirms away from direct questions left and right (whether raising free-will vs. predestination counts as squirming or hiding or not). At the same time, perhaps Venema *does* believe God has something to do with evolution, it’s just that he can’t ‘scientifically’ say what that is. The man claims to speak in tongues, after all!

    If IDers could connect the dots for him, using a kind of ‘designed/guided evolution’ approach ‘in biology,’ wouldn’t it be good for the biological community to hear the ‘scientific proof’ for it? Would Venema not appreciate the assistance? Again, this gets back to ‘is it scientific’ or not? Venema just seems to be saying, “That’s where theology comes into play;” no biological science of guided evolution need apply.

    “Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that if an ID proponent is (say) a Calvinist, then clearly ID commits one to Calvinism.” – nullasalus

    Don’t worry, I don’t. I do question whether an atheist could accept ‘design’ by an ‘unembodied, transcendental designer/Designer’ (that is intelligent/Intelligent) because to me that would contradict their atheism. ID makes the most sense within a theistic worldview; this is what the implicationism of the so-called ‘science’ of ID is meant to lead non-believers to conclude. Calvininsts are surely more likely to accept small id than atheists and agnostics; what I’m not yet convinced about is whether or not they’re more likely to accept TE or ID or if those two ideologies are even necessarily opposed to each other. It’s not just about the science, is it?

  18. Gregory,

    Given the anti-science and anti-intellectualism in much of the Protestant evangelical Church in the USA (cf. test scores, surveys, books like “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” etc.), perhaps it could be said that they are filling an important role that DI (and many others) is not interested to face?

    I suppose I’d differ here in that I now question the importance of facing it, versus facing other issues. I’m vastly more concerned about the TEs who give off the impression that believing in God and evolution makes one into a Venema or Dowd or even a Falk than I am about those who insist that being a Christian requires believing in YEC. The latter concerns are already amply replied to in public and powerful ways. The former are not.

    That said, I don’t see why asking the following question is disallowed: “how does ID speak to the ‘how’ of guided evolution?”

    It’s not disallowed, it’s just – from the ID view – a question ID doesn’t answer. The claim is that ID concerns itself with inferring something was or wasn’t designed, not with how it was designed.

    What Cudworth seems to be asking for is for BioLogos to do the work that ID has pretense to claim is possible; to make a ‘scientific’ proof of (particular) divine action ‘in biology’ or ‘in nature.’

    I don’t see Cudworth asking this at all. He seems to want Biologos to actually answer the question of whether God knew what the outcomes of evolution would be in advance, and if He determined those outcomes. Not ‘how’ He knew and determined, but ‘that’ He knew and determined. YECs don’t know ‘how’ God could have created the universe. And not ‘how he could have created it recently, given what science says about the age of the earth’. Take all that age-evidence and evolution-evidence away, and the YEC still can’t answer the how question in an engineering sense.

    At the same time, perhaps Venema *does* believe God has something to do with evolution, it’s just that he can’t ‘scientifically’ say what that is.

    Nowhere was Venema asked to state ‘scientifically’ what that is. In fact, if I recall right, the questions specifically allowed for Venema to believe that God knew of and achieved these goals, but that this knowledge is not the stuff of science. He punted there too.

    For being one of the more prominent faces at Biologos, that’s pretty troubling. If He really has that much of a problem talking about these things because of university concerns, why is he at BL?

    I do question whether an atheist could accept ‘design’ by an ‘unembodied, transcendental designer/Designer’ (that is intelligent/Intelligent) because to me that would contradict their atheism.

    ID doesn’t commit one to the view that the designer is ‘unembodied’ or ‘transcendental’ in the way I think you’re saying so. That Dembski may believe this about the designer does not cash out to ‘this is what ID says about it’. In fact Dembski’s famously stated that ID, as ID, can’t say much of anything about the designer.

    It’s not just about the science, is it?

    It never is. But having extra-scientific motives and hopes about the science doesn’t change what the science is, does it?

  19. Thanks nullasalus,

    We’re pretty much on the same page on this. However, I’m a fair bit more concerned with Dowd than with Falk or Venema, given that the latter two both teach in private Christian universities and the former with his Gaia-friendly wife call themselves evolutionary evangelists (or something like that). I find YECs more damaging to good balance between science, philosophy and religion because they openly distrust science; I guess others would say the same about what ECs do wrt philosophy.

    “He seems to want Biologos to actually answer the question of whether God knew what the outcomes of evolution would be in advance, and if He determined those outcomes. Not ‘how’ He knew and determined, but ‘that’ He knew and determined.” – nullasalus on Cudworth

    This seems to be why Venema answered with a ‘free will vs. predestination’ defense. If Cudworth is asking about divine foreknowledge, does he suggest the Catholic/Orthodox position is that God ‘determines’ every outcome, i.e. mineral, vegetable, animal and human? As for my approach, drop the first 3 categories; can we say the same for human beings created imago Dei in terms of God determining every outcome? I guess this overlaps with theodicy too; the Calvinist is going to give a different answer from the Baptist, who will answer differently from the Catholic and the Orthodox, even just within Christianity.

    It seems to me that people are stuck on a Gould vs. Conway Morris dilemma here, with respect to “outcomes of evolution.” If a person claims we (you and I and us as individuals and societies) are still ‘evolving’ today, then the question of ‘does God determine tomorrow’ is open on the table. We each like to think we are free in some way, that we are not just automatons, not robots, not totally determined by our environment, by our families or peers, by our past, by the communities we live in. Yes, we can speak of and believe in Providence, but at the same time in some sense we are ‘free,’ wouldn’t you agree? Does it make sense then that “God knowing the outcomes of evolution in advance” becomes a significantly different conversation in this context, as opposed to the purely naturalistic or even the natural scientific context?

    With respect to ‘unembodied’ and ‘transcendental,’ you’re right; I’ve been re-reading Dembski lately. It’s hard to keep track of ‘what ID says about it’ based on the variety within the movement. This is one thing that makes tracking down definitions from IDers so problematic.

    Actually, re: changing what the science is, you might like to check out Edmund Husserl and the idea of a ‘double hermeneutic.’ Motives are not as innocent in the history of sciences as some people (let’s call them scientific objectivists) would like us to believe. I feel no shame in acknowledging that humans (myself included) make mistakes and take wrong turns in science, fail repeatedly, have incomplete information, imperfect rationality, etc. This is the human side of doing science that is often forgotten amidst the ‘science=progress’ ideological drum beat.

  20. 20

    Gregory

    I find YECs more damaging to good balance between science, philosophy and religion because they openly distrust science

    I feel no shame in acknowledging that humans (myself included) make mistakes and take wrong turns in science, fail repeatedly, have incomplete information, imperfect rationality, etc. This is the human side of doing science that is often forgotten amidst the ‘science=progress’ ideological drum beat.

    Perhaps I will not be alone in asking for some clarification here.

  21. Clarification: Don’t worry, TM, you’ll likely catch up when the time is right. Btw, now understood, the pseudonym is indeed fitting, after hearing more about your YEC-son-of-YEC-M.D. story.

    As you know, Jon was an M.D. too, but he isn’t a YEC, just like a vast vast majority of M.D.’s. Keep telling yourself the same secure story then, as if your human side is deliberately wiser than the global scientific community’s conclusions about ‘age of Earth,’ validated by most Catholic and Orthodox Christian scholars and theologians. Surely one’s father cannot be wrong on geological and cosmological subjects, since he is/was a medical doctor, or could he?

    “The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means: the impossibility of crows.” – Franz Kafka

  22. We could all do with a “human side” that is deliberately more humble than that of the global scientific community, couldn’t we?

  23. 23
    Thomas Cudworth

    I thank all the people who have commented on my post here and on the other posts in this series. I’m glad the series has generated some thoughtful discussion.

    Mr. Rickert:

    Though I doubt very much that Dr. Venema misunderstood what Crude meant by “guidance” even at the very beginning, I concede to you that it was reasonable for him to ask Crude what he meant — once. But after Crude’s repeated clarifications, Venema failed to comment on the word “guided” and failed to comment on the other words which Crude offered to him as equivalents. And when Crude asked, near the end of the exchange, whether he had understood Venema correctly, Venema simply did not answer. So it was clear that Venema was consciously avoiding answering the question posed, and was determined to make difficulty for any reformulation of the question that would require taking a clear position on a matter that Venema did not want to take a clear position on. At the end of the exchange, no reader could possibly be sure what Venema meant by the freedom of nature, or how this “freedom” was related to guidance, providence, or anything else mentioned in the discussion. And this is standard practice at BioLogos, and elsewhere in TE-dom, especially among the biologists.

    Gregory and nullasalus:

    Good discussion.

    To Gregory I would say that my purpose in this column was not to elaborate an ID position, but only to show how the appeal to mystery and to Wesleyanism is a means of papering over the deep inner contradiction between an evolutionary process which is “free” and therefore (one would think) unguided, not determined, etc., and one which is under the control of a providential God. The question how ID evolutionists (such as Behe and Denton and StephenB) connect evolution with divine action is a good one, but would require a series of its own, and this series was long enough already.

    To nullasalus I would say that your words — “Not ‘how’ He knew and determined, but ‘that’ He knew and determined” — are exactly right. TEs will not be clear on the second point. They seem to want “knew” without “determined.” And you can have “knew” without “determined” if your God is Greek rather than Biblical. The problem for the TEs is that the Biblical God is not just a passive knower, but also an actor, while their model of evolution makes God a passive knower (sustaining natural laws, to be sure, but apparently never involved in contingent events, at least, not where biological origins are concerned). They seem to want to say (though they will never say it directly) that God doesn’t do anything special in evolution; yet, since the outcomes of neo-Darwinian evolution are contingent and governed by no general laws (and therefore can’t be guaranteed from any initial position), it is hard to see how God could have “used” neo-Darwinian evolution without at least occasionally doing something special to keep it on track. If ID and TE people could have an open discussion about this question, it might be very profitable, and might help bring ID and TE people together; but the TEs block all possible discussion by refusing to answer straightforward questions about exactly what it is that they are saying.

    I thus think that Crude did a great service to the truth, by politely pressing Falk and Venema. It is now not possible to doubt that BioLogos is to some extent willfully evading certain lines of criticism of its views. And when such willful evasion becomes known, the world will draw its own conclusions. They may be the wrong conclusions. But if so, the fault lies not with the world, but with BioLogos, for deliberately withholding its true views when it would be quite easy to state them.

    Whoever Crude is, my hat is off to him.

  24. Gregory,

    However, I’m a fair bit more concerned with Dowd than with Falk or Venema, given that the latter two both teach in private Christian universities and the former with his Gaia-friendly wife call themselves evolutionary evangelists (or something like that).

    I’d think the same, but there’s a particular problem, Gregory: the other TEs are not condemning Dowd. In fact, many of them were willing to take part in his little show. I don’t take that to mean all of them are onboard with his crap. I do take it to mean that they were willing to associate with him, and none – to my knowledge – have spoken out against him. When you find yourself in the company of the likes of Dowd and Spong, you really have to ask yourself whether the movement you’ve signed onto is off-track, and just what your contributions are adding up to.

    And before you note it, I will openly call out ID proponents and leaders whenever they do something I can’t be onboard with and I become aware of it. Granted, I’m a nobody. But I should hope being a somebody would only make the encouragement to do this all the more pointed.

    It seems to me that people are stuck on a Gould vs. Conway Morris dilemma here, with respect to “outcomes of evolution.” If a person claims we (you and I and us as individuals and societies) are still ‘evolving’ today, then the question of ‘does God determine tomorrow’ is open on the table.

    Here’s the problem with this kind of emphasis: Venema wasn’t given a binary choice of, “Well, does God direct absolutely everything in evolution and know each and every outcome down to the atom? Or does God know nothing whatsoever?” The door was opened to God guiding some things, knowing the outcomes of some things, but not guiding or knowing the outcome of other things – even many things – in evolutionary history. Even among open theists, it’d be one hell of an open theist who thinks God never did or never could guarantee any result of evolution – especially when humans can. (It’s one form of intelligent design – artificial selection, etc.)

    That’s why I think the concern about automatons is (ha ha) artificial. Venema could have said, “I think God probably chose, guided, and orchestrated some outcomes of evolution, but not all.” or any variation thereof. Instead, he tried to change the topic, never gave a straight answer, and pulled out. That’s worrying.

  25. Thanks for the link, nullasalus. Point taken. I’d visited this site some months ago before the ‘digital audio course’ was released. Yes, I do find it worrying for the reasons you suggest. Especially with Polkinghorne, who seems to be turning into a Peacocke!

    Again, I’m not defending Venema’s performance. I’d have taken quite a different strategy if that question were put to me. You’re right though, regarding what he could have said. It makes one wonder why he didn’t go that route. I know someone nearby to him who might know about that; you’ve reminded me to ask when timing permits.

    p.s. @ Phinehas #22
    “We could all do with a “human side” that is deliberately more humble than that of the global scientific community, couldn’t we?”

    Not sure where you’ve been and who you’ve worked with, but I’ve lived in several countries in the past 15 years and worked with many humble and good scientists, in a variety of fields. The condemnation or fear of scientists by YECs is actually quite disturbing; it displays a vast distortion of truth while at the same time they claim interest in defending and promoting truths of God’s universe and of humanity.

  26. 26

    Thanks for the clarification Gregory. You have no idea why you denigrated YECs for “distrusting” science while also believing science is full of human error. Ad hominem attacks provide excellent clarity.

  27. You’re welcome tragic mishap! If you’re willing to learn, there are people willing to teach. It would be a ‘tragic mishap’ for a person to be unwilling to seek education when they obviously quite badly need it.

    Actually, I do know why I denigrated YECs. The loss here is yours. What you don’t seem to realise is why your ‘pseudo-science’ parading as knowledge is not accepted. You might think it is because people are not as righteous as you are, not as gifted with divine knowledge or grace, not as privileged; that they’ve gone astray. You don’t care that 98% of educated humanity globally thinks you are ignorant and backwards…on purpose. You wear this YEC symbol as a proud label of rebellion. How could anyone ever change your anti-scientific mis-understanding to embrace a post-flat earth Old Earth perspective except God?

    Scientific history demonstrates many human errors; this does not make science 98% wrong!

  28. What percentage of educated humanity globally thinks that anyone who believes in God’s existence is ignorant and backwards?

    What percentage stops to think about whether their thinker might be compromised?

    What percentage neither knows nor cares about the difference between General and Special Revelation?

  29. Phinehas, Sorry, haven’t a clue about what you’re getting at. Care to elucidate?

  30. 30

    Gregory, please elaborate on what you meant by your “post-flat earth” comment. I could use a laugh. It’s been a busy week.

    Also it seems we have a sliver of an answer to my actual question:

    Scientific history demonstrates many human errors; this does not make science 98% wrong!

    No human error makes science wrong. If science is wrong, then it’s wrong because it’s wrong when measured against a superior standard. Of course, if science is the standard than it cannot be wrong by definition.

  31. Reality and truth are the standards. You won’t find many better allies, TM, on the topic of ‘challenging scientism’ than you would with me. But your interest seems to lie elsewhere, hanging on outdated (cf. ‘intellectually repugnant’) ideas and feelings.

    My apology, now I must withdraw from discussion and take nullasalus’ advice from #4. YEC is not worth fighting about. Carve your anti-science niche in IDs ‘big tent’ as you wish – I won’t be visiting or count as your one-trick pony ally.

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