[asa] How we might have dialogue

From: Steve Matheson <smatheso@calvin.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 20:49:30 EDT

Here is one way I would envision a meaningful attempt at establishing common ground and mutual respect between an ID proponent (Timaeus) and an evolutionary creationist (me).


Hello and welcome to the ASA listserv. I hope you've gotten some of your questions answered during your time here.

As I've read your comments, I've noticed that while you and I have many areas of substantive disagreement, there are other aspects of our thinking that could form a solid basis for mutual respect and cooperation, maybe even affection. Here are a few that I have identified so far. There are surely more. I am very interested in your clarification or correction of my attribution of these positions and ideas to you, and am eager to correct any errors in such attribution.

1. I hear you saying that you have a strong affinity for certain teleological explanations because you are a Christian (and therefore a theist). And so, you reject non-teleological explanations of, for example, biological origins. Specifically, you reject -- in very strong terms -- theories of biological evolution that deny the involvement or oversight of the Creator. As you put it, you are opposed to "the notion that the evolutionary process is unguided by any designing intelligence." This was the first thing that you said here, and I think it's one of the most important issues we would want to discuss together. At least half of your words so far, it seems to me, deal at least tangentially with this issue.

And I am in complete agreement with you. As a Christian who affirms God's role as The Creator, whose favorite creed begins, "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth," I strongly reject any assertion that the biological world (or, for that matter, any other aspect of creation) unfolds unguided by God. In fact, my thinking emphasizes the sovereignty of God (in Christ) over all things, and I consider Colossians 1:15ff to be a central pronouncement regarding God's creative position. "Role" is hardly a sufficient word for God's position as Creator. It is when ID theorists like yourself are vigorously defending God as Creator that I find myself appreciative of your efforts. Perhaps our conversation will serve to inspire me to more frequently note this and to more readily applaud Christian ID thinkers for their insistence on the acknowledgment of our active Creator.

In other words, it seems to me that you and I should, on this basis alone, consider ourselves allies and partners, to whatever extent we see ourselves as working to affirm and proclaim the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ.

2. I hear you saying that you consider darwinian mechanisms, defined as natural selection acting on random genetic variation, to be insufficient to account for the diversity, complexity and design that are evident in biological systems.

Whether or not we disagree on this judgment (see below), I affirm your position as completely reasonable and respectable. There is real controversy among evolutionary biologists regarding the potency of various postulated mechanisms of evolutionary change. As you correctly and repeatedly note, detailed darwinian accounts of the stepwise development of biological systems are not on offer, and biologists of various persuasions regularly marvel at the intricacies of biological design. Moreover, as you have correctly observed, evidence of common ancestry is not evidence for or against a particular explanation for how the tree of life came to be. In other words, one can (in principle) express strong doubts as to the efficacy of darwinian mechanisms without making errors either scientific or theological.

Regarding your judgment, it's hard for me to say whether we disagree here or not, because by some simplistic definitions of "darwinism" I'm far from darwinian in my outlook. What I mean is that I tend to de-emphasize selection in my thinking, because I've been influenced by the ideas and work of (for example) Stephen Jay Gould and Michael Lynch, who in different ways have attacked strong versions of adaptationism. But I think it's fair to say that I give darwinian mechanisms a lot more credit than you do. We probably disagree on that point.

3. I hear you saying that ID theorists are frequently misunderstood and/or misrepresented on various topics, and that critics ought to be expected to respond to what the theorists have actually said or written.

I agree wholeheartedly on both counts.

And of course I expect the same fair treatment. Ideally, you and I would simply discuss each other's ideas, and not drag in the words and thinking of others. But when we do respond to the claims of others, we should expect integrity and due diligence, as well as some room to make mistakes and correct them. In my experience, people of good will who already trust each other can do this almost effortlessly, meaning that they can probe areas of disagreement without projecting spurious ideas or motives onto each other and without engaging in guilt by association. It's harder to accomplish in the sterile and anonymous world of cyberspace, but I've seen it work before.

4. I hear you saying that ID claims regarding the reality or detectability of design should be evaluated on their merits as scientific proposals, and not on their theological ramifications.

I agree wholeheartedly, and I am glad that you have made this point clearly and forcefully. While I think (as you do, I'm sure) that theological proposals of ID proponents should be critically evaluated like all other such ideas, I do agree that theological objections are too commonly used as arguments against scientific claims and proposals. (I have undertaken at least two major evaluations of scientific claims of ID thinkers, in areas I know very well, and my critiques were solely scientific, by which I mean that I did not address the theological assumptions or ramifications of the ideas in question.) You are correct, in my view, to identify this tactic as inappropriate and even obnoxious.

I will add that I expect the same hard-nosed approach to all other scientific claims, including the claims and proposals of those who you refer to as "Darwinists."

Well, those are just a few of the big ideas that came to me as I thought about how much you and I can build on together. My intention isn't to be nice (though I hope you detected some warmth), or to gloss over our very significant differences. My intention is to point to the foundation upon which we stand, so that I can later point to our disagreements as interesting but ultimately insufficient to drive us apart. This is important, I think, because I find fault with much of your work here, and it would be a shame if my criticism led to the impression that there is nothing of mutual interest or concern between us.

Steve Matheson

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Oct 2 20:50:17 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Oct 02 2008 - 20:50:17 EDT