Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Fri Apr 24 2009 - 22:32:40 EDT

> Your objection regarding the term "Darwinian" is a verbal technicality,
> Dave; my point remains the same if you change it to "neo-Darwinian means",
> or if you add in any number of newer "mechanisms" which are currently mooted
> around (drift, etc.), and call it "neo-neo-Darwinian means".  All of them
> are chance mechanisms, ultimately, when all the fancy language is stripped
> away.  The task of neo-neo-Darwinism, then, is to prove that chance can
> produce integrated complex systems.  Behe's argument is that it can't.  He
> may be right, or he may be wrong, but there is no point in obfuscating the
> issue.  The choice is, and always has been (since the days of the ancient
> Greeks) "by design or by chance".

No; this confounds two definitions of "chance", as do many
antievolutionary and atheistic to deistic claims. The assorted
mechanisms underlying evolution that biology can study include several
that have an element of unpredictability (from a human perspective).
This includes things that are random in the mathematical sense, i.e.,
best modeled by a probabilistic model (such as whether a particular
mutation will occur and whether it will become established in a
population), things that have some other mathematical pattern but are
not humanly predictable (such as mathematically chaotic events-ones
with a well-defined formula that is so sensitive to precise starting
conditions or disturbances that real-world calculation of long-term
outcomes is impossible without omniscience, or ones without adequately
precise predictive models). However, other components of evolution
are very non-random (such as selection).

However, the presence of such aspects tells us nothing about things
being "chance" or "random" in the metaphysical sense of unguided or
purposeless. Science can't test that. Biblically, God is sovereign
over such things and knows their outcome (of course, details of this
are debated along the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum). The fact that
there are "random" aspects of evolution in scientifically measurable
senses fails to tell us anything about God's involvement. Science
does not detect a direction or purpose in evolution, but neither does
history detect a direction or purpose in human events. In hindsight
and being theologically informed, we can sometimes see God's purposes
in events. We can always assume that His purposes are being achieved,
whether we see them or not (Romans 8 "all things work together...",

A particularly illustrative example here comes from the Cambrian
radiation. Gould overestimated the magnitude of variation in it and
saw this as evidence of metaphysical chance. Similar overestimates
of the magnitude (probably ultimately if not directly deriving from
Gould; they are commonplace in biology textbooks, etc.) are invoked by
some ID advocates as evidence of a gap in evolution. In both cases,
previously held philosophical assumptions are claimed to be supported
from the scientific data that doesn't actually tell us something one
way or another.

It's true that a fundamental choice in interpreting the world is
between metaphysical chance versus some sort of ultimate purpose.
However, the ultimate fundamental choice is between faith in Jesus and
anything else. The theologies of Wells and Dawkins both lead to
eternal perdition.

> The problem with TE (at least in most of its formulations) is that it is
> simply unclear about the extent of the complexity-building powers it allows
> to chance.  To read TE writers, the cause of mutations etc. is sort of
> chance, and sort of God's action, and sort of neither, and sort of both --
>  that's what TE sounds like, to an outsider seeking theoretical clarity.  It
> sounds vague.

There are a variety of views, related to the Arminian-Calvinist
spectrum as well as questions about exactly how God interacts with the
universe. How loosely one applies the T part of TE also is key here.
If you include more deistic or heterodox approaches such as process
theology or Dowd as well as more orthodox approaches under the "TE"
heading, then the range of formulations will be wide. Additionally,
TE suffers from the fact that its advocates tend to have more of a
science than a theology background (not that ID or creation science
doesn't have similar theology deficiencies-the average theologian
probably recognizes that there are plenty of much more important
theological issues), and some prominent advocates such as Ken Miller
seem rather vague theologically. On the other hand, there are several
TE sources that are much clearer on such issues, and the problem may
lie with the reader coming in assuming that evolution=atheism (as YEC,
ID, and militant atheism like to assert) and trying to force TE into
that erroneous framework.

> ID, on the other hand, is razor-sharp in clarity on that point.  It draws a
> line in the sand.  It says that chance is simply not sufficient.  It says
> that there must be an input of intelligence.  The input might be before the
> Big Bang, with no further inputs necessary (front-loaded naturalistic
> evolution).  It might be at one or more points after that (intervention,
> quantum-concealed or otherwise).  ID does not specify.  But it says that the
> input is necessary.

Not exactly-there is a wide range of things more or less under the ID
heading, and Denton or Raelians would give a different spin than Behe,
who in turn differs a lot from the Johnson-Wells-popular version of
things. Additionally, ID advocates sometimes claim that chance is not
sufficient and sometimes the more limited claim that it's worth
investigating whether chance is sufficient.

> Tell me, Dave:  do you believe that chance mechanisms -- include the whole
> passel of them if you want -- could, *utterly unguided by God or some other
> intelligence*, turn atoms into Adam, molecules into Mendel, bacteria into
> Bohr?  And if you do believe that, why do you bring God into the picture at
> all?  And if you don't believe that, how does your view differ substantially
> from Behe's, except in jargon?

I'm not the Dave you asked, but here is my answer:

Every single event is guided by God. Mechanisms unguided by God do
not exist. In other words, on the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum, I'm
predestined to be at the Calvinist end of things.

However, this implies that science will have no way to detect God's
presence, because there are no counterexamples. Science examines
God's ordinary ways of running things and is usually incompetent when
it comes to theological questions.

The reason I bring God into the picture is theological. Both
historical evidence (primarily the Bible) and personal experience
support His existence, and Christianity seems to me to be the best way
I have encountered to make sense of everything.

The major differences with Behe are first, that science is not a good
place to look for information about God (note that this is a
disagreement with Dawkins as well, and in many ways Dawkins et al.
have an ID-like approach). Second, I do not see any evidence that God
cannot achieve atoms to Adam, etc. without miraculous intervention.
As noted before on the list, Behe has also said that intervention is
not necessary, but he seems to claim that it happened, and he has not
distanced himself from the popular ID claims that it is necessary. I
do not see any solid evidence that the process by which God created
our physical bodies involved anything qualitatively different from the
ordinary patterns that we call natural laws. I can't see any solid
evidence regarding how God gave us our spiritual aspects-it could be
emergent, basically front loading, or more intervention-style. I
don't think that God could not intervene miraculously, just that
there's neither a theological need nor a lack in natural laws that
would require it nor good scientific evidence of a gap in evolution.

Basically, I could classify myself as a "probably entirely
front-loaded" ID advocate as far as evolution is concerned if it were
not that ID is primarily marketed as antievolutionary with a bunch of
lousy arguments.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Apr 24 22:33:13 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Apr 24 2009 - 22:33:13 EDT