[asa] Rejoinder 1 from Timaeus: to David Opderbeck and Ted Davis

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Sep 23 2008 - 11:34:54 EDT

Hello again, everyone. Timaeus back again. Greetings to all from Athens.

I'm grateful for the many encouraging and friendly responses I've already
received. I want to offer my first rejoinder.

I think that the first order of business is to reply to the posts by Ted
Davis and David Opderbeck, because they raise an issue that must be cleared

out of the way if we are to have a conversation about ideas, rather than
culture war matters. So I'll reserve this entire post for Ted and David,
making reference to a post by Mike Gene, and then answer other people in
one
or more multi-answer posts.

The concern of Ted and David is whether ID can really be so easily divorced

from anti-evolutionary forms of Christian creationism as I have made out.
This is a legitimate question, and I will answer it to the best of my
ability.

First, to David Opderbeck. Yes, it may well be true that many Christian
churchgoers who currently like ID would like it less if they thought it
wasn't
clearly opposed to organic evolution. I suspect that such Christians are
largely Protestant, and of what one might call a literalist variety of
Protestantism. And yes, it may well be true that Focus on the Family or
other organizations and individuals are going around saying that ID
disproves evolution. But I think it is unfair to make ID as a theory
responsible for that. You know, there are low-grade preachers on
television
and radio who preach a "Gospel of prosperity" - if you're a faithful
Christian, you'll get rich. This "Gospel" is a travesty of the real
Gospels, and has no basis in the teachings of Jesus, the book of Job, the
tradition of poverty and humility in mendicant and monastic orders, etc.
It
would be wrong to blame Jesus or Aquinas for this shallow preaching.
Similarly, it's wrong to blame Behe or others for the misuse made of ID
ideas by people who are not intellectually careful, are too lazy to read
their books and essays, and are driven by an agenda of personal piety or
cultural conservatism rather than the love of theoretical truth. I
certainly take no responsibility for the teaching or activity of any of the

people or groups you are referring to. I don't know what they have said or

done, and even if they have said or done things which I disagree with, I
simply refuse to spend any time defending them here. I want to discuss
ideas on a high level, with intellectually penetrating people, not with
James Dobson.

I think part of your point is that the leaders of ID don't do enough to
disabuse people of the misunderstandings. You mention Phillip Johnson. He

is one of the few ID people I haven't read any substantial amount of, and
I've
read none of his opinions on common descent, so I can't comment on what he

says. If he personally believes there is plenty of evidence against common

descent, he of course has every right, speaking only for himself, to
present
that evidence. That's not dishonest or misleading. However, he shouldn't

represent ID as such as being against it. But does he do this? I stand
ready to be informed, but so far, the only indirectly relevant remark I've

read of his is that Gish and Morris (who, I believe, both deny common
descent beyond the microevolutionary level) are "misguided". That wouldn't

automatically lead me to infer that he's against common descent. Beyond
that I have no comment on Johnson. As for the rest, I think Behe has been

clear throughout, and doubly clear since the time of his last book.
Dembski, at least in his theoretical writings (I haven't read his popular
theological writings), has steadily refused to pronounce on ID grounds
against common descent, and has frequently reminded objectors that ID can
make room for it. I'm not sure where Meyer and Wells stand. Nelson is
often represented as expressing doubts about common descent, but when he is

so represented, he is reported as being frank about it, not concealing it,

so if it's true, he's not misleading any church constituency. But
remember,
I look not only inside but outside of the Discovery Institute for ID
arguments. So you have Denton, an ex-fellow of Discovery, who insists on
common descent in his major work, Nature's Destiny. And we can go far back

in time, to people like Bergson, to find other evolutionists who accept
common descent entirely, while rejecting the Darwinian mechanism. The
combination of common descent plus intentionality or design has a solid
intellectual pedigree. It's that combination that I'm defending. If some

ID theorists have been less than forthcoming to their church constituencies

(which I don't know), you of course have every right to rap them for it, if

you find it politically or religiously dishonest. But I'm trying to stay
away from the whole culture war business here. I want to discuss the
soundness of the theoretical notions in ID, TE, and Darwinism, and to see
how much common ground can be built up between ID and TE.

Now, to Ted Davis. I spent a great deal of time trying to craft a perfect

reply concerning the numbers of ID supporters who believe or don't believe

in common descent, but it was long and laboured and I couldn't get out what

I wanted to say. Then Mike Gene came along and said it exactly:

"In terms of the general population who'd say they "accept ID" on some
survey, I suspect denial of CD is the majority position. But in terms of
the population who regularly think, read, and write/post about ID, my
guess
is that acceptance of CD is the majority position (or near majority).

You need to distinguish between the ID Movement (which draws from elements
of the Creationist Movement and gets all the attention) and the concept of
ID which, thanks to the internet, draws a grassroots network of
iconoclasts,
oddballs, and rabbit lovers."

My first reaction to this was, "Who was that masked man?" Thanks, Mike,
it's
what I wanted to say to Ted.

As for Ted's question about what we can expect in the future, my guess is
that we will continue to see some slow but steady growth in the "common
descent plus design" faction of ID, but will also see a solid core of "no
evolution beyond microevolution" people, sticking it out. And I don't
object to that group of ID supporters, as long as their argument is based
not simply on an interpretation of the Bible, but offers genuine scientific

arguments against common descent. There are such arguments. They haven't

convinced me, but they aren't entirely worthless, either. Someone isn't
automatically stupid, uninformed, wicked, etc. (as Dawkins suggests) just
for doubting common descent. I'm guessing that Behe doesn't think that
Nelson (who is allegedly anti-common descent) is stupid or uninformed. Of

course, I agree with Ted that there are scientifically challenged people
who
doubt common descent. But there are smart ones, too. Just as there are
theologically stupid and theologically uninformed Christians, who believe
in
the truth of Christian theology for all kinds of dumb reasons (watch some
of
the late-night and early morning Christian talk shows and evangelists if
you
doubt it), and there are bright and informed Christians, who believe in it

for good reasons. In both cases, we should listen to the smart ones, and
ignore the stupid ones.

But I repeat: I think it's most productive, for the sake of my goals here,

for me to take common descent as an irrefutable datum, and then ask: Can
the pure neo-Darwinian mechanisms (by "pure", I mean Dawkinsian, without
the
"touch-ups" added by theistic evolutionism) explain the movement from a
bacterium to a Behe? If they cannot, then there is no need for ID
proponents to find the proverbial "Cambrian rabbit". It is not necessary
to
disprove common descent to show the inadequacy of the Darwinian mechanism.

Already the most sophisticated biological theorists and philosophical
critics of Darwinism (Sternberg, Denton, Kaufmann, Berlinski, etc., some of

whom have not even endorsed ID and therefore cannot be called partisan) are

starting to show this. And the more the engineers and computer programmers

and statisticians move into biology, pushing aside the old school
neo-Darwinism of Coyne, Dawkins, Gross, etc., the more cracks in the
neo-Darwinian mechanism are going to appear. But let's discuss that topic

in another post.

I'm sorry for the length of this, but I really want to push people here to

resist the temptation to keep bringing up the political or intra-church
behaviour of this or that person or "the ID movement". I could say a lot
of
things about the behaviour of certain TE proponents. For every time
someone
says that an ID leader is being dishonest with his church followers by not

telling them the straight dope about common descent, I could speculate that

certain TE writers of bestselling popular books have compromised their
Christian faith to toady up to the Darwinists, for reasons of ego and
career
advancement. But all this leads to is rehashing old injuries and restating

old suspicions (often uncharitable) about motives. I want to talk about
the
truth-content of the ID and TE positions, not the sociology or psychology
or
politics of ID and TE proponents. I want to attempt to clarify exactly
what
neo-Darwinism is saying, and exactly what ID and TE are saying (because I
think that many people in both TE and ID camps are not very clear or
careful
about ascertaining the exact claims of the various positions) and I want to

investigate possible compatibilities and incompatibilities between the
three
positions on the scientific, philosophical and theological levels. There's

a hope of progress if we stay on that level. I hope I can persuade people

here that this is the way to go.

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Received on Tue Sep 23 11:35:43 2008

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