RE: [asa] Conversation with Timaeus

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 03:26:59 EDT



This is a response to several points in the foregoing discussion. Let me say for clarification that I do not describe myself as a theistic evolutionist, or necessarily a believer in "Intelligent Design" (but definitely a believer in an intelligent Designer). More than likely my true position may be very close to yours, and I guess I'd have to describe it as: "Willing to acknowledge the valid conclusions of science, while being agnostic as to whether God has acted in a hidden or direct way in guiding the development and/or creation of organisms over time."


I will write on several points, as outlined below:


1. Definition of Darwinism


Timaeus wrote:

"From the ID point of view, it often seems as if theistic evolutionists are far more concerned about theological questions than they are about scientific ones. ID people want to reverse that priority; they want to put the focus on science, and they want to do it by re-opening the argument about neo-Darwinism."


"There is nothing in ID as such that is theological"


Elsewhere you wrote of distinguishing evolution from "Darwinism", as taken from Darwin's own works to explicitly exclude any form of divine involvement. Yet, this definition of "Darwinism" as a scientific model fails, because Darwin himself apparently included within it certain theological/philosophical presumptions. This by definition makes it not pure science, but a mix of science and philosophy. It is the philosophy parts of Darwin's own work, if I'm not mistaken, which would be rejected by Theistic Evolutionists of today, specifically because they are not scientific but anti-theistic philosophy. So it seems to me that you are setting up a false dichotomy, whereby Darwinism or neo-Darwinism is portrayed as the standard scientific model, but in reality it's not the scientific part of the theory that you (along with TEs) reject, but the philosophical part.


It seems from the above that by invoking Darwinism in the manner you (and apparently Darwin) have, you are automatically discussing theology, not science, and equivocating a bit on definitions. Randy just commented on your definitions of various terms appearing to "have it both ways", and I think this merits some further discussion.



2. The scientific value of ID and "God of the Gaps"


You have clarified your point that you believe in common descent, but don't believe that the neo-Darwinian mechanisms as currently understood are sufficient for explaining everything. I think most scientists would essentially agree, with the qualifier "as currently understood". Thus intelligent design is invoked as the explanation for the unexplained source of the mutations/variations.


a. Since you want to talk about science, I have to ask what does this postulate contribute to science? What good is this hypothesis to the progress of scientific investigation? It's one thing to say, "we don't think such an explanation will ever be found"; and quite another to say that the above claim is actually scientific, in terms of benefiting the progress of scientific research.


b. If ID concludes that something displays (perceived) characteristics of design, what difference does it make to science? Does science say, "Okay, since this characteristic must have been designed, we should leave it alone because it can't be explained." Or does science carry on doing what it always does, seeking to find relationships, causes, etc., and potentially end up closing the gaps that ID has claimed exist?


c. If science is obliged to stop investigating natural causes of so-called "designed" areas, then isn't ID truly called a science stopper?


d. On the other hand, if science (independent of ID claims of design) is obliged to continue seeking natural explanations, then what good is ID to the pursuit of science? I hope you would agree that ID's scientific claims must be subject to falsifiability. What does ID provide to science that is of scientific value? If the only thing that ID can provide is the answer (or the claim), "This thing must have been designed (presumably by a non-natural Designer), not naturally developed", but it can't provide anything of more substantive value, then the primary purpose of ID really is theological/philosophical, not scientific.


e. And if science is obliged to continue seeking natural explanations, and does in fact falsify ID's claims, then how do you avoid the charge that ID is merely a "God of the gaps" argument? Given science's success over time at explaining previously unexplainable phenomena, what makes you so certain that science won't have the ability over time to develop plausible and useful "natural" explanations to things that it can't now explain?


f. I'm in no way trying to say that God is uninvolved in things that we designate as "natural". I have a higher view of God's providence than that, which can accommodate primary and secondary causation of "natural" things. But isn't that what ID is trying to do, in making the constant point that "these things are designed, so therefore there is evidence of a designer"? If the focus of ID is on things that give apparent evidence of a designer, what does ID claim about the involvement of a designer in things that are (so-called) naturally occurring? If some things are designated "natural" (i.e. the marks of design are not evident), does ID lose its ability to make any claims about the involvement of a designer of those things?



3. Scientific vs. Theological claims of TE


Timaeus wrote:

"The TE people do not seem (from the ID perspective, anyway) to want to talk about these things [scientific issues]. They seem to prefer to talk about the kind of God that Christianity requires, and the kind of world that that kind of God would have created, and how that world can be made to match the world as described by Darwinism."


Like you, I do believe that many of the theological arguments of people like Ken Miller seem a bit hollow to me, and not especially compelling. Especially when they try to argue that theistic evolution provides a good and maybe a better view of God and his providence than other forms of Christian theism. But for you to imply that Ken Miller and others seem to focus on theological, not scientific critiques of ID, is false. Their strongest, and I believe more compelling arguments are the strength of scientific evidence for the established evolutionary principles, which includes evidence against the hypotheses advanced by leading ID theorists.


And since ID in its present form has only been making these claims for probably a decade or so, to say that science hasn't clearly responded and refuted ID claims is a little presumptuous. I've read how science has already taken Behe to task over his claims made for the bacterial flagellum in the 1990's, and at least put significant holes in his arguments that such a system couldn't have developed over time. I don't believe science has closed the book on that discussion, and such things take time to research.


Further to this, Gregory wrote:

"TE may be mainly philosophy and it may be mainly theology, but it has yet to be shown that it is mainly science."


This is not fair to the discussion, because perhaps by definition (or at least by implication) theistic evolutionists basically accept the findings of mainstream science on the evidence for common descent, genetic development and mutation, natural selection, gene transfer, and etc. So to say that they haven't shown that it's "mainly science" is misleading, and off the mark anyway because who says it should be "mainly" science? Most of the difficulty for believers (at least believing scientists) is on the theological issues, which is where more of the time is spent in discussions such as this. In this sense, from my perspective I think Theistic Evolution is mainly philosophy, because it accepts the mainstream science pretty much as found (and which continues to develop over time), but posits that God is providentially in charge of it all.


So Ken Miller may be right that it's mainly philosophy, but I would be interested in how others who characterize themselves as TE would respond to that statement.




Jon Tandy


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Received on Mon Sep 29 03:27:43 2008

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