[asa] Rejoinder 2B from Timaeus – to Don Nield

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Fri Sep 26 2008 - 09:34:29 EDT

In answer to Don Nield’s comments and question:

Regarding Denton’s distancing himself from the Discovery Institute – I have no knowledge and could offer only speculation. Who knows why someone leaves a group? It could be something as simple as personality conflicts; it could be geographical distance, if he was no longer able to spend much time in North America; or it could be a distaste for the political aspects of the ID movement (which are inevitable given the fact that Discovery is located in the U.S.A., where the First Amendment has unfortunately become a tool in the culture wars). Or it might be a mix of these things. Or none of them.

I’m not sure I agree that Denton has distanced himself from any particular claims of Dembski and Behe, but you haven’t specified the differences, so I don’t know what else to say.

I don’t know whether ‘no longer seeing evolution in terms of mechanism’ brings Denton closer to the TE position, because I find the TE explanation of how evolution works to be theoretically amorphous. One of the reasons I am here is to find out from you people whether there are any core, theoretically articulate propositions advanced by TE about the nature of the evolutionary process, or whether TE is little more than a faith-gloss upon standard Darwinism.

Also, note that while Denton has tried to get away from the language of “mechanism” (which in his view both creationism and neo-Darwinism share), he has replaced it with a language of “law” and “necessity”, not the personalistic language of “freedom”, “creativity”, “novelty”, etc., which some TEs revel in. Denton’s “nature” isn’t John Haught’s or Ken Miller’s. It’s more like Spinoza’s. It will appeal more to Christians of a disciplined, mathematical sensibility than to those of a romantic, personalistic sensibility.

As for the differences between Denton’s books, he comments at length about that, in terms of his intellectual development, in his essay in Uncomment Dissent, so I recommend that, though it can’t be fully understood without reading the books themselves. I have just read both of his books recently, with extreme care. I find that, while they are obviously different in purpose, and while he has changed his emphasis somewhat, they are not contradictory. The earlier book lays down the necessary groundwork for the later one.

For TEs, Denton’s first book should be mandatory reading, because most TEs are convinced that Darwinism is good science, and the first book shows that Darwinism is very poor science, even when “science” is restricted to the narrow view of causation and explanation demanded by Scott, Ken Miller, Dawkins, etc. For TEs, the second book should also be mandatory reading, but they will like it better, because it clearly endorses both evolution (as common descent) and a naturalistic explanation for evolution. However, the second book will require some mental adjustment for many TEs, because Denton is also absolutely insistent that life cannot be explained without reference to design, even from a scientist’s perspective. For him, design is no theological afterthought, no gratuitous exercise of “faith” that the Christian scientist can engage in, sitting in his easy chair in front of the fire, after a hard day at the lab (where the thought of “design” never entere!
 d his scientific head). For Denton, it is impossible to understand nature from a theoretical point of view without the notion of design; if you do not understand nature as designed, you simply do not understand nature; your theoretical grasp is insufficient. And he lays his reasons out in immense detail, with copious references to the literature of embryology, genetics, physiology, anatomy, cell biology, neuroscience, etc.

Both books are just lovely; fine scholarship and informed science (from a front-line medical genetics researcher with an astoundingly broad grasp of the life sciences and of the history of evolutionary thought) woven beautifully together. I don’t think that any evolutionary biologist should be permitted to write another line of scientific prose without having read both of them.

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Don Nield had written:

I now add my own comment. I am interested in the difference between Denton's two books. It seems to me that Denton has changed his mind on a number of issues, and he has now distanced himself from the Discovery Institute, and in particular he has distanced himself from the positions taken by Dembski and Behe. For example, he no longer sees evolution in terms of mechanisms. It seems to me that in making this move he has come a step closer to a TE position. Do you agree?

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Received on Fri Sep 26 09:35:05 2008

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