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

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Sep 23 2008 - 11:55:36 EDT


I don't think I was pushing "culture war" issues. I hate the culture wars.
I thought I was responding to your original post, a key point of which is
that there is no inherent tie between accepting ID and rejecting CD.

I hear your reluctance to pursue this question of the tie between accepting
ID and rejecting CD, but IMHO it's the real heart of the matter between ID
and TE. The high-level questions of divine action and primary vs. secondary
causation are not really where the game is at, IMHO, though I agree with you
that they are far more interesting to discuss.

As to Phil Johnson and the tie between ID and CD, aside from books like
Darwin on Trial, check out his essay "Intelligent Design in Biology: the
Current Situation and Future Prospects," on the DI website: There, Johnson says:

There is an immense gap between the creative feats that Darwin's mechanism
is supposed to have accomplished in taking life from a unicellular starting
point up to the highly complex plants and animals of today, including
humans, and the modest temporary variations that it has actually been
observed to produce in nature. My hope was that the scientific community
would agree that it is legitimate to question whether known natural
(unintelligent) mechanisms can produce the immense quantities of genetic
information that would be needed to generate complex new kinds of organisms,
provided that the questioning was based upon scientific evidence rather than
religious doctrine or scripture.

He further says:

Nowadays I rarely see any attempt to prove that the Darwinian mechanism
actually has the power to create major new biological innovations. Instead,
the museums and magazines prefer just to tell the story of common descent,
assuming that random variation with natural selection (differential
reproduction) must have been adequate to perform whatever designing had to
be done. At the same time, mainstream science, although guided by Darwinian
assumptions, keeps providing more and more evidence of the enormous
information content of living structures. Even the core assumption that
genetic similarities are necessarily inherited from common ancestors is
contradicted almost daily by invocations of something called "lateral gene
transfer" to explain genetic similarities between organisms which are not
believed to share a recent common ancestor.

 Please note that I'm not attacking Phil Johnson here (nor am I agreeing
with him). It just seems to me that the tie between accepting ID and
rejecting CD is clear and pervasive in the heart of the ID movement. Even
if we can agree on a theology of divine action that makes room for both
intelligent "intervention" and common descent in creation, this will not
satisfy, it seems to me, most of the ID leadership.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
 On Tue, Sep 23, 2008 at 11:34 AM, Ted Davis <> wrote:
 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 12:04:17 2008

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