Re: The rhetoric of argument

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Mon Sep 09 2002 - 08:22:44 EDT

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    >From: "Robert Schneider" <>

    > As a follow-up to my recent posting on the rhetorical strategies of =
    > ID proponents, I think this opening paragraph of Dembski's response to =
    > Howard's critique of "NFL" exmplifies the rhetorical assult against the =
    > notion that creation and evolution go together that ID proponents (and =
    > especially YEC proponents) regularly use. In the first sentence, the =
    > term "theistic evolution," which is used regularly to characterize =
    > thinkers like Van Till, downplays the fact that they hold a theology of =
    > _creation_, that they are seeking to articulate a notion of divine =
    > action in creation, whatever theological model they are articulating. =20

    The term "theistic evolution" has always struck me as one that misplaces the
    emphasis. I have resisted using the term as a label for my approach for more
    than two decades. My passion is to grow in my understanding of God and of
    the God-world relationship, not to add a theistic aura to any particular
    scientific theory. So far, the ID approach has failed to aid me in that
    pursuit. In fact, I see its advocacy of the necessity of form-conferring
    divine intervention as a step in the wrong direction.

    > I don't know if Howard would agree that his opposition to ID is =
    > "implacable." I would say that at least since the "First Things" debate =
    > with Johnson in 1993, he has been at it for nearly a decade, and has =
    > remained unconvinced of the various permutations of ID arguments; in =
    > that respect his opposition has been "relentless," one of the meanings =
    > of "implacable," one with a less negative connotation.

    I would be content with words like "persistent" and "unflagging."

    > In the second sentence Dembski uses the word "naturalism" without =
    > qualification, another rhetorical technique of ID proponents. If you've =
    > read enough of their literature and in particularly Dembski's work, then =
    > you might assume that Dembski is using the term to mean what he =
    > regularly says it means. Howard has taken pains certainly since that =
    > 1993 debate with Johnson to make clear that he accepts, as do the vast =
    > majority of scientists, "methodological naturalism" as the =
    > epistemological stance under which science is done, and he has also =
    > taken pains to point out the distinction between methodological =
    > naturalism and a metaphysical naturalism that grants existence to =
    > nothing outside of the empirically discernable. However, ID proponents =
    > refuse (a word Dembski uses to characterize portions of Howard's =
    > argument) to grant this distinction.

    After making a distinction among four varieties of "naturalism" that I find
    particularly relevant to the evaluation of ID, I said the following in my
    "E. coli at the No Free Lunchroom" essay:

    "The ID movement, we noted, is committed to the defeat of "naturalism." But
    toward which form of naturalism does it aim its rhetorical guns? There may
    be some variation in the ID literature, but the consensus seems to be that
    it doesnĽt really matter very much. In the judgment of most ID proponents,
    the distinctions outlined above are effectively meaningless because all of
    these versions of naturalism agree on the key proposition to which the ID
    movement takes exceptionăthat there is no way to detect divine action
    empirically. The distinctions noted above are judged by ID spokespersons to
    be hollow rhetorical distinctions without an empirically discernable

    > Perhaps I am being unfair to =
    > Dembski here, but it seems to me that to imply that someone like Howard =
    > "justifies that naturalism theologically" insinuates what people like =
    > Johnson say quite bluntly, that we who accept evolution as the best =
    > current scientific explanation for the way God's creation emerges over =
    > time, have capitulated to the atheistic philosophical materialism that, =
    > in their view, underlies modern science. (Recall that Johnson labeled =
    > "methodological naturalism" as "methodological atheism.") =20

    No, I don't think you are being unfair to Dembski or to other ID advocates.
    I have long been irked by the rhetorical strategy of first having the word
    "naturalism" loaded with all of the negative baggage of "maximal
    naturalism," then using the word naturalism (unqualified) to label all
    opponents of ID. It's a strategy that may work effectively with a general
    audience, but I must admit that it sends me in the opposite direction.

    > The rest of the sentence--"as though it were unworthy of God to =
    > create by any means other than an evolutionary process that carefully =
    > conceals God's tracks"--is a fine piece of polemic. It insinuates the =
    > hubris of assuming what are or are not worthy ways of God to create. =
    > And its concluding phrase expresses ID's own assumption that God's =
    > tracks are there to find. The question is, are they there to find =
    > theologically or are they there to find scientifically, or both?

    Is it possible that the ID movement assigns more value to scientific
    tracking than to theological tracking? Wouldn't that be an irony?

    > This =
    > writer has no trouble affirming by faith that "the heavens declare the =
    > glory of God and the firmament shows God's handiwork;" I accept the =
    > theological dictum, as early as Tertullian, that God is known through =
    > his works as well as through his Word; and I love Augustine's statement =
    > that the creation is "God's love song" (carmen dei).

    Thanks, Bob, for your contribution to this discussion.

    Howard Van Till

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