Shapiro versus ID

Howard J. Van Till (
Sat, 5 Sep 1998 09:16:15 -0400

I wish to thank Pattle Pun for posting a copy of James Shapiro's essay,
"Scientific Alternatives to Darwinism: Is There a Role for Cellular
Information processing in Evolution?"

Professor Pun introduced Shapiro as a person "who is open to the
Intelligent Design movement." My reading of his essay, however, would lead
me to the opposite conclusion.

There is agreement only in the limited sense that both Shapiro and the ID
movement have criticized what they consider to be substantial shortcomings
of both biochemistry and a strict gradualist version of Darwinism for
explaining biotic evolution. As Shapiro puts it, "Localized random
mutation, selection operating 'one gene at a time,'...and gradual
modification of individual functions are unable to provide satisfactory

The ID movement interprets this as evidence that some extranatural agent
(called an 'intelliigent designer' in their literature) must therefore have
imposed certain novel forms on matter because matter doesn't have the
requisite capabilities do accomplish what mainstream biology presumes to be
possible. (Sound familiar? Christian proponents of ID presume the existence
of gaps--missing caabilities--in the Creation's formational economy. In
other words, they espouse what I would call a "low view of Creation's
gifts" for self-organization and transformation.)

What I got from my reading of Shapiro is that he sees in recent advances in
biology substantial evidence for the functioning of several *biological*
processes (note that he goes far beyond Behe's limited focus on
*biochemical* processes) that do hold the promise of providing the
satisfactory scientific explanations that gradualist, local random
mutation, Darwinism is unable to provide.

As contrary to ID as it can be, Shapiro's conclusion is that there is no
need whatsoever to appeal to some unknown 'extranatural agent' to go into
molecules and cells and to impose new assemblages by non-natural means.
Shapiro offers four examples of the types of biological processes that
appear able to accomplish what needs to be done.

To put Shapiro's line of thought into my vocabulary, he sees growing
scientific evidence that "the formational economy of the Creation is
sufficiently robust to account for the evolutionary actualization of all
life forms." In other words, Shapiro has a higher view of the Creation's
capabilities for self-organization and transformation than do the promoters
of ID (or of any other version of episodic creationism). No need to appeal
to occasional irruptive interventions by which novel forms are impposed by
an overpowering divine agent. The conceptualization of creaturely
capabilities was sufficiently creative, and the gifting of the Creation
with capabilities was sufficiently generous that something as remarkable as
biotic evolution was possible.

This is somethoing for Christians to *celebrate*, not to denounce!

Howard Van Till