Re: Dembski's Response to Van Till and Harvey

Allan Harvey (
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 08:12:06 -0600

I'm pretty sure my comment on Bill Dembski's response didn't make it to
the list yesterday (though Dembski got his copy). He already posted a
partial reply (titled "ID does not equal Christian apologetics"), but I
thought people should see what he was replying to. Apologies if anybody
gets this twice.

I thank Bill Dembski for giving a frank response to my question, even
though I found it disturbing:

At 07:11 PM 4/10/99 -0600, William A. Dembski wrote:
>In this vein let me respond to a comment by Allan Harvey, who wants to know
>whether I subscribe to the following statement:
>>"While I believe the evidence does not support the theory of evolution,
>>and while it has been abused as a tool by those pushing an atheist
>>agenda, the Christian faith does not suffer if it turns out that
>>evolution is true. God can create however He chooses, and is not
>>diminished if His work in creation was through 'natural' processes."
>I cannot subscribe to this statement. If by evolution we mean evolution
>driven by naturalistic processes that give no empirical evidence of design,

As an aside, "naturalistic" is NOT what I meant, if you are referring to
philosophical naturalism. I used the word "natural", meaning the same
sort of processes involved in the Earth's orbiting the Sun, my
respiration, etc. The idea that "natural" processes are not necessary
"naturalistic" (in other words, that they do not mean God is absent) is
one I hope you can agree with -- if not then we don't have much common
ground on which to communicate.

>then I disagree with this statement. Things do not "turn out" to be true or
>false--either they are true or they are false. If evolution as Allan Harvey
>describes it is true, then ID is false. If ID is true, the evolution as
>Allan describes it is false (God-guided evolution where the guidance is
>empirically evident would in this case fall under ID). I think it makes a
>great deal of difference to our faith what we claim about nature and what
>is true about nature. If ID is false, then it undercuts Christian faith. If
>evolution that gives no empirical evidence of design is false, then it
>undercuts Christian faith. Christ assumed human nature and thereby assumed
>nature simpliciter. Consequently, if our view of nature is mistaken, then
>so will be our Christology and theology. The Book of Nature and the Book of
>Scripture both testify to God, and if we wrongly interpret either, we
>wrongly interpret both. At least that's my view.

Dembski seems to be saying that we can only affirm God as our Creator if
we can find empirical evidence of ID. Which would seem not only to
confirm fears about "God of the Gaps" theology in the ID movement, but
would be in conflict with the doctrine of providence, in which God's work
via his sovereignty over nature is just as valid as more interventionist
acts that leave footprints.

But maybe Dembski isn't really saying that the truth of theism depends on
empirical verification of ID as he sees it -- there is one statement that
needs clarification. That is:

>If ID is false, then it undercuts Christian faith.

This can be taken two ways:
1) Are you saying that lack of scientifically evident ID in nature would
*invalidate* the Christian faith?
2) Or, and this is what I hope, are you just saying that it would *make
Christian apologetics more difficult*? We all sometimes wish that God
would not "hide himself" but would show himself clearly for all to see.
To borrow from the movie "Contact," a giant cross orbiting the moon might
make our apologetics even easier. But somehow God seems to be
parsimonious in giving signs to help our apologetics (I'm also reminded
of Jesus' comments about an evil and adulterous generation looking for
signs). If God has chosen not to give us a big neon sign in the sky,
maybe we shouldn't expect him to have left signs in the biochemistry of
the cell.

Another way to ask this clarification is the following:

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that future scientists found
overwhelming evidence that all your "specified complexity" and Behe's
"irreducibly complex systems" had their proximate causes entirely in
"natural" (note that I did not say "naturalistic") processes. Would your
logical reaction be:
1) Become an atheist.
2) Or, say, "Oh, so that's how God chose to achieve his purposes. Too
bad, that makes my apologetics more difficult, but who am I to
second-guess God."

| Dr. Allan H. Harvey | |
| Physical and Chemical Properties Division | "Don't blame the |
| National Institute of Standards & Technology | government for what I |
| 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80303 | say, or vice versa." |