[asa] Rejoinder from Timaeus 4B – to Don Nield

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 15:13:04 EDT

Hello, Mr. Nield.
Thanks for your gracious reply. I’m sure I sounded a little irritable, so thanks for responding so gently. Here is my response to what you’ve written. (The numbers of my points don’t correspond to yours.)
1. I am not certain what implication you think I took from Denton which Denton did not intend. But leaving that aside, you had previously said, in effect, that Denton had moved away from the notion of design. The pages I pointed you to in Nature’s Destiny establish beyond doubt (since they are Denton’s own conclusion, reiterating the thesis of the book) that Denton believes in design (and uses that word) and in the teleological conception (as he understands it) of nature. And as I already said, the words “design” and “teleology” and the concept of design are found throughout the book. It is one thing to say that Denton has abandoned the image of the watchmaker; it is another to say that he has abandoned the notion of design. He retains design, but no longer envisions it in watchmaker-like terms. I press this point because the readers of your previous note would carry away the wrong impression of Denton if they thought he rejected design. He does not rejec!
 t but affirms design. He rejects the watchmaker image of design. That is one of the main differences between the older and the newer book.
2. Just because a book has an older date does not mean that it is dated. True, more is known about biology since 1986, and one would expect that Denton would be quite willing to retract all factual and theoretical statements in his earlier book which have been shown to be untenable by later research and thinking. But it is not dated in every sense, and it is not dated in the sense that it is no longer worth reading. Let me make two points on this. First, in the essay in Uncommon Dissent, which you read, and which was written after both of his books, Denton indicated that he is still quite proud of his first book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, as a critique of Darwinian mechanisms, and that it is still of value on that score. Though after ETC he had abandoned “watchmaker” thinking as the implicit alternative to Darwinism, he still thought that Darwinism failed as an explanatory hypothesis for the observational data, and that ETC was still valid for many of its argu!
 ments which illustrate this. Second, Gerd Korthof, whose critique of Denton was referred to by Mike Gene, said that the book was, though flawed in some ways, still of value, and more than of value: Korthof (a firm evolutionist) said that one cannot fully understand the foundational assertions of Darwinism without reading Denton’s first book! He says it right there on his web-site, in his review of the book, in the opening section. That is a pretty strong statement, and, given that Korthof disagrees with much of my own position, and with the ID position, and therefore has no bias on my side, it confirms that my own judgment of Denton’s first book is not faulty. True, Korthof warns that the book might be misleading in parts (not everywhere) for those of insufficient biological knowledge or lacking critical minds, and is not recommended for such readers. But most of the people on this list have, I trust, some biological knowledge and/or a critical mind. Thus, I thi!
 nk Korthof’s assessment of the value of the book for critica!
 l reflec
tion upon Darwinism amply confirms my recommendation, despite his caveats.
And I would add: don’t assume that everyone on the ASA list is very familiar with scientific critiques of Darwinism. For many people here, I would imagine that by “the critique of Darwinism”, they understand (1) obviously religiously-motivated stuff by Gish, Morris, etc.; (2) stuff by the current crop of ID writers. I suspect that many people here are unaware that before ID even got started, and independent of Creation Science, there was a serious argument to be made against Darwinism WITHIN SCIENCE. Denton gives that argument in a very literate, coherent form. In my opinion, no one should say that they accept Darwin or neo-Darwinism until after reading Denton’s first book, and chewed very carefully on the arguments in it. After reading it, they can surely read reviews of Denton, such as Korthof’s, to try to get a balanced view of Denton’s arguments. But there is no excuse for not reading Denton, for anyone who believes that there is no serious intra-scien!
 tific critique of Darwin. To do so is to willfully put on blinders.
3. You write: “I agree with you that ND is very convincing about fine-tuning, but the
TE’s that I know are happy to accept that.” I am glad that you agree with me about the quality of the argument in Denton’s second book, but still, this statement makes me think you have not fully understood Denton’s argument, or else have not fully understood the position of some TEs. Francis Collins, for example, accepts fine-tuning arguments in the realm of physics and astronomy, but rejects them in the realm of biology, where he thinks Darwinism rather than fine-tuning explains the appearance of design. I believe that many TEs take essentially Collins’s line on this. Denton does not. He extends fine-tuning all the way from physics and astronomy through to biochemistry, biology, and anthropology. For him, fine-tuning pervades the realm of nature. Denton’s universe is more theoretically coherent than Collins’s, because he does not divide nature into a fine-tuned realm governed by necessity (laws, constants, etc.), and an evolutionary realm governed by !
 contingency (Darwinian processes). For Denton, all of nature is governed by necessity, from top to bottom, and contingency plays a very minor role. I believe that a good number of TEs will find this teleological, necessitarian and anti-Darwinian position unacceptable.
4. I am well aware that Matheson, Miller, Collins and Lamoureux do not accept evolution “in the godless sense”. I have never doubted that these men believe both in evolution and in God (though sometimes I wonder about Miller). My argument has been that specifically Darwinian evolution (not “evolution” in general) conflicts with certain fundamental claims of orthodox Christian theology. I have therefore been accusing these people, not of atheism, but of intellectual inconsistency. I have been trying to point out their failures, not in faith, but in logic.
At the heart of my disagreement with these men is my belief that they have misstated the situation. They think that Darwinism proper is a harmless purely scientific theory, and that it has only become anti-Christian when certain Darwinians have adopted, as an unrelated add-on, an atheist, “scientistic”, secularized world view. I disagree with their analysis of the situation. I think that it is based on an insufficiently close reading of Darwin (I think some of them have not read much of Darwin, or not read him at all), and in any case on an insufficiently philosophical reading of Darwin. (The fact that none of them has any rigorous training in philosophy may have something to do with this.) I think that Darwinism has at its heart an anti-orthodox theological bias, and that this bias is no mere add-on, no private quirk of Darwin which could easily be subtracted from Darwinism, but which actually guides and shapes the whole theory. If I may use an image: the TEs th!
 ink that the anti-religious elements in modern Darwinism are like the spoilers, decals, or “mag” hubcaps that people put on their cars, which can be removed without altering the function of the cars. I think that the anti-theistic features of Darwinism, in particular its understanding of chance, are the very motor of the car. I think that Christians should trade in for a new car. They can still choose a car from the Evolutionary Motors Corporation (EMC). But it should be Denton model, or a Behe model, or a Mike Gene model, or a Bergson model, not a Darwin model.
5. Yes, I am starting to see that TEs hold a wide range of positions. Dr. Harvey’s posting was helpful on this point. But I have an idea which will help me to see individual positions more clearly. See my other post today, which asks everyone to answer an exploratory question.
Hi Timaeus:
I noted Ted’s suggestion that we slow things down,so I have waited a while
to respond to you. I now do so briefly. I confine myself to the first part
of your message, and I will snip the rest (re my response to Mike Gene)
which deserves a separate response.
1.I did take on board your statement that you had read carefully both of
Denton’s books. By my statement that you have read into them something
that is not there I simply meant you have taken an implication from those
books that Denton himself would not have intended. I apologize for giving
you the impression that I might have been saying that had not read those
books carefully. For the record I mention that I own both books. I have
read the second (ND)in full. Because it is obvious that the first (ETC)is
severely dated (after all, it appeared in 1985) I have paid less attention
it. I mention now just one of the ways that ETC is dated. Nowadays much
more is known about evo-devo –- the way in which small changes at the
genomic level can lead to large changes at the structural level.
2.I agree with you that ND is very convincing about fine-tuning, but the
TE’s that I know are happy to accept that. As I understand it, the ID
position that you are advocating goes beyond fine tuning.
3.Steve Matheson is on this list, so I will leave him to respond himself.
I have read little by Francisco Ayala, but I question your association of
him with the other four people that you have named. However, I have read
quite a bit by Denis Lamoureux, Ken Miller and Francis Collins and I do
not recall seeing anything that would imply that they would not agree with
the falsity of Darwinism in the narrow godless sense that you are using
that term.
4.Others on this list have already told you that there is no single TE
position. The people who are generally classified as TE’s hold a range of

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Received on Thu Oct 2 15:13:41 2008

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