Re: [asa] Rejoinder 1B from Timaeus: to Mike Gene, Jack Syme, et al.

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Wed Sep 24 2008 - 10:44:40 EDT


Good stuff.

You said: *[In orthodox neo-Darwinism] Nobody's running the show.*

I respond: I think any TE who is not a process theologian will agree (and
even some process theologians will agree) that this defnition of
neo-Darwinism is fundamentally inconsistent with theism and particularly
with Christian theism. None of the Christian TE's I have ever met,
including the folks on this list, would accept the notion that "nobody's
running the show." But now we have a definitional problem, because I think
that definition of "neo-Darwinism" is contested. Most of the folks here
will say that neo-Darwinism / evolution as a science simply elides
metaphysical questions about who might or might not be running the show.

You said: *By "theistic Darwinism", I mean a form of theistic evolution
which asserts both that God directs or pre-plans evolution, and that
evolution takes place by Darwinian mechanisms. The problem arises, of
course, in that those mechanisms, as understood by Darwin and his later
successors, do not allow for God to direct evolution personally. This means
that the theistic Darwinist must either fudge on the Darwinism, i.e., say
that Darwin was wrong about the adequacy of his mechanism, or abandon direct
divine governance of evolution and push God back to the role of a

I respond: I see two problems with this statement.

The first is the definitional problem mentioned above. You are defining
"Darwinism" differently than any TE I've ever met. Obviously, if
"Darwinism" by definition means "no God allowed," then the game is over. I
cannot understand why ID advocates don't seem to believe TE advocates when
the TE folks say "that's NOT what we mean by 'evolution'."

The second problem is this dichotomy between "direct divine governance" and
"push God back to the role of a front loader." When you say "direct" divine
governance, what do you mean? What would "indirect" divine governance look
like and how would it be distinguished from "direct" divine governance?

It seems better to speak in terms of causation. Orthodox Christian theology
holds that God is sovereign, and therefore everything is in some sense
"governed" by God. Yet, orthodox Christian theology also allows that God
doesn't necessarily "cause" everything that happens. For example, God is
not the cause of evil, but at the same time the existence of evil does not
diminish God's sovereignty. Aquinas worked through this tension using the
concepts of primary and secondary causation (see the Summa Contra Gentiles).

Why can't this same concept of distinguishing sovereignty and causation
apply to nature? Take the example of the birth of a baby. Psalm 139 tells
us that God "knits" and "forms" the unborn baby in the womb. When we
baptize or dedicate an infant, we declare that this child is a special gift
from God, not a random accident.

Yet, we can't scientifically detect any "direct" knitting or forming of the
fetus by God. By ordinary observation, the baby's development seems like a
seamless developmental garment, starting with fertilization and ending in
birth. Yes, there are some critical periods in which development
accelerates, and there are some aspects of cell differentiation for which we
don't yet have a full explanation, but there is no suggestion that these
"gaps" can't eventually be explained. Moreover, the fact that *this* sperm
fused with *this* egg and that the zygote survived to make *this* baby seems
like a stochastic event. There does not seem to be any explanatory filter
for which gametes will survive to produce babies -- aside from the Darwinian
filters of selection.

Are these facts about babies a theological problem for Christian theists? I
don't think so. God's "knitting" of the baby is a picture of God's
sovereign providence, which in this instance is completely transparent to
what we observe in nature.

It seems to me that the same *could* be true for the history of life on
earth. Of course, this doesn't mean it *must* be true -- God is free to act
as He chooses. But if it is the case the evolution is a seamless garment of
secondary causation, I don't see that in itself as a problem for Christian

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
On Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 9:48 AM, Ted Davis <> wrote:
> Hi.  I'm back.
> I want to reply now to several other people who answered my initial
> posting.
> To Mike Gene:
> True, Dawkins and Gould did not entirely agree.  Gould brought the
> contingent element up front (rightly, I think), and Dawkins downplays it.
>  But natural selection, despite Dawkins, can only explain the survival of
> the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest.  Natural selection can sculpt,
> but the block of stone that it sculpts has to come from mutations, and given
> Dawkins's rejection of God, angels, Demiurges, etc., the mutations cannot be
> intelligently guided.  (We'll leave aside his curious, ID-like proposal of
> aliens, heard in the Expelled film!)  So chance plays a big part in
> evolution, no matter what Dawkins says.  But you're right, I never defined
> orthodox neo-Darwinism.  I meant basically that random mutations plus
> natural selection are, taken together, completely sufficient to explain the
> rise of all species on earth (beyond the earliest).  And the random
> mutations, in classic neo-Darwinism, are NOT understood as really coming
> indetectably from the finger of G!
>  od (as in some versions of TE).  They are understood to be "naturally
> caused" random events, i.e., a cosmic ray here, a chemical change there, an
> electric jolt in the right place at a fortuitous time, etc.  Nobody's
> running the show.  For classic neo-Darwinism, if God exists at all, it's
> only in Darwin's sense, as the source of the natural laws; and for Darwin
> God must NEVER interfere, even a teensy-weensy little bit (as Darwin stated
> explicitly in the Origin), with the system of natural laws he has set up.
>  That would be a "miracle", and for Darwin the notion of miracle is
> something that science must completely disallow.  And Coyne, Dawkins, Sagan,
> Gould, Gross, Scott, etc., are all onside with Darwin on that point.
> Thus, to add a designing, intervening intelligence, whether transcendent or
> immanent, to explain the origin of even one feature of even one creature, is
> to add a non-natural element to nature, an element the existence of which
> Darwin and all orthodox neo-Darwinists deny.
> However, I agree with you that Darwinian processes need to be supplemented
> by intelligence.  So does Behe.  And I agree with you that it is very
> possible that the intelligence was built into creation from the beginning.
>  Essentially that is the position of Michael Denton.  And the advantage of
> Denton's position is that it allows for an entirely naturalistic operation
> of evolution; there are none of the tiny little miracles that Darwin
> forbade.  God does not have to sneak in and do little miracles, hidden
> behind quantum fluctuations, as some TEs have speculated; he has given to
> nature the capacity, indeed the destiny, of evolving on its own, to a
> predetermined end.  Further, Denton's position does not require absurdly
> low-probability events, in which co-ordinated mutational sequences capable
> of building complex organs arise by chance; for Denton, those mutational
> sequences were programmed from the start.  So Denton avoids miracles on one
> hand (and thus is more naturalisti!
>  c than either "creationists" or those TEs who believe that God sneaks
> miracles into nature indetectably), and on the other avoids the ludicrous
> improbability of the classic "chance" explanations of neo-Darwinism.  He is
> thus superior, from an ID point of view, to neo-Darwinism, and, from the
> point of view of "methodological naturalism", he is superior to either
> creationism or certain forms of TE.  In a way, Denton provides a perfect
> blend of ID and TE.  He thinks design is detectable, and he thinks it is
> programmed from the beginning of creation, to run naturalistically.  The
> only thing he is not clear about in his two books is whether or not God is
> the cause of all this.  It is not clear whether his references to God are
> figures of speech, and that he is speaking as an agnostic, or whether he
> believes in God, and if so, what particular God.
> It sounds as if your position is close to, if not identical with, Denton's.
>  Have you any comments on his work, if you've read it?
> To Jack Syme:
> No, ID does not imply supernatural "intervention", as you put it.  It is
> compatible with such intervention, but does not require it.  See my
> discussion of Michael Denton above.  Design is compatible with perfect
> naturalism.  Both Behe and Dembski have stated this on various occasions.
> To Christine Smith:
> In the strict sense, "design" implies an intelligent designer, but even
> atheists use "design" when they talk about biological systems, because, in
> their view, they behave as if they were designed.  It's a handy, practical
> way of talking, and English is flexible enough to accommodate it.  But we
> always have to keep in mind that "design" for Dawkins and Co. can never be
> meant literally.
> You can't show "intent" directly, because you can't get inside the mind of
> the designer.  But you can infer intent from the arrangement of interacting
> parts of a structure, machine, system, etc.  We know that someone intended
> to make our automobile.  We do not of course directly view or perceive the
> "intent", which is invisible, as "intelligence" and "mind" are invisible,
> but we rightly infer intent whenever we see a car, a clock, a sculpture,
> etc.  The argument of ID, of course, is that we can infer intent in the case
> of living structures as well.  And this does not require the belief that God
> created each species individually.  It is compatible with God's
> "front-loading" an evolutionary program into creation at the time of the Big
> Bang, or the first cell, or whenever.  The "intent" is still there, but
> there are no miraculous separate acts of creation.  It's all packed into the
> one great miracle of creation itself.  As I've said before, ID !
>  as such has no theory of how design is instantiated.  It is an inference
> to the fact of design, based on the results we see in nature, not an
> inference to a particular mechanism.
> To Merv:
> You're right; I didn't call for mandatory education in ID.  Nor does the
> Discovery Institute.  It calls only for a more critical teaching of
> Darwinian theory.  And since, in my view, all science should be taught more
> critically, I see no objection to that.
> We seem to agree that there is a sense in which science must not be the
> mere handmaid of theology, and another sense in which theology is the more
> encompassing study, into which science and all other studies somehow must
> fit.  And we agree that more humility in both science and theology is called
> for.
> You asked about books.  For the critique of Darwinian mechanism, see
> Denton's first book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.  There's not a single
> religious argument against Darwinism in the book.  All the arguments come
> from standard scientific literature.  For Denton's positive alternative to
> Darwinism, see his second book, Nature's Destiny.  They are two of the best
> books on evolution you will ever read.  And Denton, while an ID theorist of
> sorts, belongs to nobody's party.  Highly recommended for all IDs and TEs
> (who will like much of him), and for all neo-Darwinists (who will hate much
> of him, but need to hear it).
> To D. F. Siemens:
> I never argued that difficulties with Darwinism show that we must abjure
> naturalism.  Michael Denton has shown how you can keep evolution (understood
> as common descent), get rid of the implausible parts of Darwinism, and
> maintain naturalism.  See my remarks above, to the others.
> I never said that "I don't know" is to be replaced by "an intelligence did
> it".  That would  presuppose that we can scientifically know only things
> that are produced unintelligently, and that we have to jump beyond science
> to speak of intelligent design.  I believe that for a full understanding of
> life, you have to understand both the non-intelligent causes (natural
> selection and random mutation) and the intelligent ones (design, whether
> administered miraculously or naturalistically).  You need a designing
> intelligence not just to explain the bacterial flagellum, but to explain
> just about everything interesting in living organisms, but that is not at
> the expense of material and mechanical explanations, which still apply.
>  Intelligent design is not some miraculous principle that undercuts science;
> it fills out and completes science, not in the sense of filling in "gaps" in
> mechanical explanation, but in the sense of revealing the supervisory
> principles which sta!
>  nd over mechanical explanations and work with them, as the architect
> stands over the workmen but does not actually do any of the work.  You
> cannot explain a building without an architect.  But architects are not
> supernatural, and their thinking and planning does not violate any of the
> laws of bricklaying, wiring, cement pouring, riveting, etc.   For more
> evidence that intelligent design is an absolute prerequisite for the
> evolution of life, see again Denton's two books, and of course Behe's two
> books.
> To George Murphy:
> From your various posts, you seem to be very learned in theology and
> physics.  The article to which you point me is clear and well-written.
>  However, it misrepresents ID, and contains some other weaknesses.
> ID does not stop scientific research with the answer that "God did it".  ID
> opens up new areas of scientific research by keeping open the possibility of
> design.  We now know that "junk DNA" is not all junk; it may turn out that
> almost none of it is junk.  It was neo-Darwinism, with its overly-hasty
> surmise of the accidental accumulation of genetic crud through millions of
> years of mutations, that caused scientists to think in terms of "junk DNA".
>  ID would have naturally predicted that some use would be found for most or
> all DNA.  And now some use has been found for some of the "junk".  And if
> Denton and others are right about front-loading, the huge tracts that seem
> unused even now have played or will play a vital evolutionary role, since
> the whole history of life has to be implicitly contained in the DNA.
>  Darwinism, with its insistence on freak mutations and lucky adaptations,
> was the science stopper regarding junk DNA.
> ID has never claimed that the activity of the designer can be observed by
> science.  ID has claimed only that the results of the designer's activity
> can be observed; the designing activity itself, and the existence of the
> designer, are inferred, not observed.
> It is not true that traditional doctrines of providence have held that God
> acts ONLY through natural laws.  He can act through natural laws, or through
> dispensations from them.  This is clear from the Bible, and from the
> writings of every significant Christian theologian in the history of the
> religion.  I do not understand the theological motivation for a revisionist
> theology which would deny this.
> The passage about carbon atoms is not on the point.  ID has never denied
> that intelligence is actualized in the world through natural processes.  ID
> is not threatened by the fact that carbon atoms are formed through
> mechanical processes which are unintelligent and don't know what they are
> doing.  In fact, as Denton shows, the utility of the carbon atom is
> interlocked logically with millions of other "anthropic coincidences", in an
> interrelated system of mutual sustenance which is inconceivable on the basis
> of chance alone.  And these anthropic coincidences don't stop, as Francis
> Collins believes, with physical/chemical laws.  They extend all the way up
> through biochemistry, to the cell, to embryology, to the structure of the
> brain, etc.  Everything is produced by natural forces, as you say; but at
> the same time it is choreographed by intelligence.  The two realities are
> complementary.  There is no filling in of gaps with miraculous design.  Not
> in my version of ID, a!
>  nyway.
> I have nothing personally against Luther, but he is less open to natural
> theology than even Calvin, and Calvin less so than Catholicism, Anglicanism
> or Orthodoxy.  I don't tell anyone what Christian theology they should have,
> but it must be recognized that Luther does not speak for Christianity as
> such.  Nor, despite his courage, does Bonhoeffer, on theoretical issues.
>  Nor does Pascal.  Nor does Barth.  There is a natural theology tradition
> within Christianity.  No one is obliged to make use of it.  But it's there,
> and it would take great temerity to argue that it is unorthodox or
> heretical.
> To Gregory Arago:
> I thank you for your contrast between "visible" and "invisible" theistic
> evolutionists.  It cannot simply be assumed that one position represents
> "true" Christian theology, and the other position "false" Christian
> theology.
> To Burgy:
> Thanks for bringing up Biblical miracles.  This topic needs to be dealt
> with by at least some TEs.  Why are no miraculous actions allowed in Genesis
>  everything having to be turned into evolution via natural processes 
>  whereas New Testament miracles are accepted by most TEs without blinking an
> eye?  What hermeneutical principles allow for this selective reading of the
> Bible?  I am not convinced that TEs have their act together when it comes to
> Biblical exegesis.
> To Dennis Venema:
> By "evolution", I mean simply the transformation of one species into
> another, by means unspecified.  I mean "evolution" as a process, not an
> explanation.
> By "theistic evolution", I mean the belief that evolution has occurred, but
> that it is either directed in an ongoing way, or pre-planned in advance, by
> God.  This does not exclude the involvement of natural causes as well.
> By "theistic Darwinism", I mean a form of theistic evolution which asserts
> both that God directs or pre-plans evolution, and that evolution takes place
> by Darwinian mechanisms.  The problem arises, of course, in that those
> mechanisms, as understood by Darwin and his later successors, do not allow
> for God to direct evolution personally.  This means that the theistic
> Darwinist must either fudge on the Darwinism, i.e., say that Darwin was
> wrong about the adequacy of his mechanism, or abandon direct divine
> governance of evolution and push God back to the role of a front-loader.
>  But if God is a front-loader, the "chance" aspect of Darwinism must largely
> vanish; and besides, most TEs hold to a view of God's interaction with the
> world which is anathema to the Deistic feel of front-loading.  So "theistic
> Darwinism" is a seriously "conflicted" position, to say the least.  But that
> is what many TEs seem to believe:  that both Darwinism and theism are
> simultaneously !
>  completely true.   I certainly would like some clarification on how this
> can be so.
> I think I have now answered everyone who responded to me on the first
> round.  I thank all for the conversation, and welcome further comments.
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Received on Wed Sep 24 10:45:44 2008

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