Re: [asa] restatement on ID as a "proof" of God (defense of Behe)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Apr 28 2009 - 11:46:24 EDT


Thanks for your reply. It is courteous in tone and articulate, one of the
best things you've written, and it clarifies your position. Some responses:

1. Sorry for the length of my last e-mail but I wanted to clear some things
up, especially in light of the fact that you and others here are very much
on guard against YEC and have a tendency to take criticisms of Darwin or
neo-Darwinism as rejections of "evolution".

2. Glad you took the time to read Behe. Not all his critics have.

3. Yes, there are many mechanisms of genetic change. Behe's point was that
malaria, having access to most or all of those mechanisms, was not able to
build much in the way of complex new structures, after very large numbers of

4. Don't forget that Behe has replied at length to all the critics of that
book on his blog. His answers may be adequate or inadequate -- I
can't always tell, because I'm not a geneticist etc. -- but they don't
strike me as in the least evasive. He seems to be able to grant points
against him that are fairly made. But he also notes when his opponents have
taken cheap shots at him, which is fairly often. I wonder if those cheap
shots have ever been made a subject on this list?

5. Darwin didn't say "single mutations" but "gradual steps" or the like.
And a "gradual step" might involve more than one mutation. (Darwin wouldn't
have had a clue.) The "gradual step" in Darwin is a minor morphological
change which confers some slight selective advantage. The task for modern
neo-Darwinists is specifying, in terms of modern genetic knowledge, what
those "gradual steps" might have been. And for the most part, they are
quite vague about what these steps were, which is not surprising, since in
most cases the genetic and developmental processes even in currently
existing species are not fully understood. Who can explain, in full detail,
how the body of blue whale is formed in the womb? Who has anywhere near a
complete list of all the functions of each gene in a higher organism? So
the question arises why neo-Darwinism feels so confident talking about
hypothetical genetic and developmental processes which took place in the
Cambrian seas, when it cannot even give a reliable answer to these questions
for species we can examine in the lab today. Scientific humility might
suggest a moratorium on speculations about unobservable genetic changes in
the past until we understand fully the mechanisms of life in the present.

6. Behe does not "empower" Coyne. Behe has done immense damage to Coyne
and Dawkins and all of them. He has reduced the belief in neo-Darwinian
mechanisms in the population at large. (His first book alone sold over a
quarter of a million copies, remember.) Collins and Miller, on the other
hand, empower Coyne (on the scientific side), because they give the
impression that neo-Darwinian explanations have pretty well done the job,
and that there's only clean-up detail to do, whereas in fact neo-Darwinian
explanations can't even explain 1% of what needs to be explained for
macroevolution by such means to be plausible. As I've said repeatedly here,
no one here or elsewhere can explain the origin of winged flight, whale
blowholes, etc., in any detail in neo-Darwinian terms. What we get from NDE
are wholly qualitative means of explanation -- storytelling. Behe asks
"where's the beef?" and receives no answer. Denton asks the same question,
and receives no answer.

7. The politics of the matter makes it clear who the threat is. For 14
years now (at least until this last year, when Coyne started his rumblings),
the neo-Darwinist atheists have focused entirely on the ID people, more or
less letting the TE people alone. Why have they done that, if Behe
"empowers" Coyne? Why must irreducible complexity, specified complexity,
probabilistic arguments, etc., be angrily shouted down, condemned as
unscientific, challenged in courts, etc.? Because those arguments, if
valid, would destroy Coyne's and Dawkins's and Myers's position, indeed
their life work and their scientific prestige, not to mention their access
to generous state funding. Collins and Miller say *nothing* threatening to
Coyne and Co. on the level of science, and Coyne and Co. (up until recently)
*couldn't have cared less* what Collins and Miller thought about religion,
as long as they kept it out of their professional discussions, which they
were quite willing to do. So the TEs have got a free ride from the
neo-Darwinists, up till recently. Coyne and Orr and Scott and so on have
tolerated TE faith condescendingly, as a personal eccentricity which does no
harm, because the TEs have vociferously backed neo-Darwinism. TE has thus
empowered the atheist Darwinists, not regarding their atheism, but regarding
their dogmatic neo-Darwinism. And from my point of view, since I believe
that Darwinism in any form is at best nowhere near proved, and at worst one
of the biggest errors or lies in the history of ideas, TE has empowered what
is very likely a falsehood.

8. One thing that is not often noted by TEs is that TE appeals mainly to
people who are already Christian. The benefit of ID arguments is that they
have an appeal for all kinds of agnostics, secular humanists, etc. who are
not Christian, but are still open in principle to the possibility of the
existence of God. Among this audience, I would argue, the ID approach is
far more likely to be an effective way of challenging Coyne, Dawkins, etc.
than the TE approach. After reading Behe etc., many a secular person comes
away thinking: "How could I ever have swallowed the Sagan-Dawkins story
that all this biological complexity came about by chance?" It is no
accident that Behe, Dembski, etc. have attracted a strong following among
unchurched but intelligent bloggers and writers with backgrounds in computer
science, math, physics, engineering, life sciences, medical sciences, law,
philosophy, etc. who have no religious background. The overt piety of
Collins or Miller or Lamoureux would turn many such people off and cause
them to remain in the atheist neo-Darwinian camp.

9. I actually welcome Coyne's latest writing -- and by the way, the very
brief discussion here of his recent blog post was far from adequate --
because it forces everyone to deal with the underlying metaphysics of
neo-Darwinism. The tacit agreement to stick only to the "science" of
evolution and not to talk about religion, which has been the modus vivendi
between TE and atheist neo-Darwinism, is coming to an end. I urge everyone
to read that blog post much more carefully, and to compare it with the
historically significant expositions of neo-Darwinism -- Gaylord Simpson,
Dawkins, Gould, Sagan, Mayr, etc. Coyne knows what neo-Darwinism is about,
and he knows that it is not nearly so easy to separate the science of
neo-Darwinism from the metaphysics of it as many here would like to believe.

10. As for why Behe does not embrace TE, I cannot speak for Behe, but I
suspect that he rejects TE because of the associations it has, not because
of the idea itself. TE is associated with angry anti-YECism, with angry
anti-IDism, with defending the status quo (i.e., allowing no scientific
criticism of neo-Darwinism in the schools), with an uncritical attitude
towards Darwinian mechanisms on the theoretical side, and often enough with
seemingly unorthodox or at least non-traditional understandings of Christian
theology. If all that TE meant were what its name implies -- that God
*directed* the process of evolution *in some way* -- I doubt Behe would have
any problem with it. Most Catholics don't. And I don't.


----- Original Message -----
From: "John Walley" <>
To: "asa" <>; "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 7:09 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] restatement on ID as a "proof" of God (defense of Behe)

> Cameron,
> I think I knew where you were coming from before this unnecessary lengthy
> email. But to get to your single purpose for being here, let's talk about
> Behe.
> I will give credit to Behe for having the testosterone to knock down the
> chance idol and take on Coyne, et al, and I agree that it would be better
> for all of us if Collins and Miller and Behe could all be in agreement in
> defense of the faith, but unity is not enough of a cause here. Behe needs
> to have his science right as well.
> A couple of years ago I read Behe's Edge and was initially very impressed.
> In fact I started a discussion about it on this list and much to my
> surprise I apparently was the only one that had read it at the time. But
> the discussion prompted some reviews and we had a very lengthy debate over
> a couple of months. I initially defended him and was very convinced that
> he had nailed it with his malaria example but then it became apparent to
> me that the mechanism he was attacking, that of single point mutations
> adding complexity, was really only a small part of the whole picture.
> I am no biologist but I know from reading the popular books that we have
> many other mechanisms that contribute complexity like Hox genes, drift,
> endosybiosis, retroviruses, germ cell infection, etc and Behe knows this
> as well so to build a case as if only single point mutations mattered is
> simply dishonest in my opinion. It is as if ID is fixated on Darwin's
> admission that if it couldn't be done gradually by single mutations then
> his model fails. But Darwin was wrong on that and that is not how
> evolution works so disproving it means nothing. in fact it only serves to
> continue the confusion and to remove the focus from where it should be.
> Now that gets us back to Miller and Collins. They are defending the truth
> on the right battle lines, that of embedded design but that is not
> necessarily scientifically detectable. Their point is not to prove special
> creation or to inject faith into science or the Bible into science
> classrooms. The Design argument is basically a philosophical and
> theological one and that is how it should be. To try to make it any more
> for that even for the noble reasons of defending God in a lost culture is
> faulty reasoning and doomed to faliure. Behe empowers Coyne but Collins
> leaves him mostly defanged with only philosophical arguments against TE.
> Behe is a pariah at a private university but Collins is still a prominent
> gov't scientist. How could this be if Collins' position wasn't more
> defensible? Don't you think they would like to do to him what they did to
> Sternberg if they could?
> This is the lesson that the church and ID needs to learn. There is a right
> way and a wrong way to defend the faith with science. To those that think
> it is an offensive weapon to vanquish the atheists, then I am not down
> with that. I do think it is a good defensive weapon and we should try to
> make counter arguments against atheism but that is what Collins and Miller
> are doing. I am not sure why Behe rejects TE and what point there is to
> doing so, but I think he needs to rethink this and possibly some form of
> unity between he and Collins and Miller could be possible in the future. I
> would like to see that but it has be in line with the science really does
> and does not tell us and not just on waging the Christian culture war.
> Thanks
> John
> --- On Mon, 4/27/09, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:
>> From: Cameron Wybrow <>
>> Subject: [asa] restatement on ID as a "proof" of God
>> To: "asa" <>
>> Date: Monday, April 27, 2009, 10:27 AM
>> John:
>> I perceive a continuing defensiveness in your remarks, and
>> in those of some others, so let me put you at ease by saying
>> a few things about where I'm "coming from".
>> First, I reject YEC, Creation Science, and the associated
>> arguments and religious sensibilities. And just for the
>> record, I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that
>> man has been around much longer than 6,000 years. Oh, and
>> throw this into the mix, if you're still suspicious -- I
>> think that Genesis 1 cannot be literally reconciled with
>> Genesis 2. Oh, and I also think the Flood story is a myth
>> (in the technical sense -- a pedagogical story about the
>> gods, in this case God). What other anti-fundamentalist
>> heresies would you like me to utter, to make you feel
>> comfortable?
>> Second, I have no objection to the idea of
>> "evolution" per se. Discoveries like Tiktaalik
>> make me yawn. Another intermediate form. Big deal!
>> It's only shocking to people who reject evolution
>> itself, which I don't. But it adds absolutely nothing
>> to our knowledge about the important theoretical questions.
>> It proves zilch, zero, zip, nada about the *mechanism* of
>> evolution, which is the only thing that interests me from a
>> theological point of view.
>> Third, I *don't* need the arguments of ID in the narrow
>> sense (proof of the design of the flagellum, etc.) to
>> believe in God. I got there long ago from "the starry
>> heavens above and the moral law within" (as Kant put it
>> beautifully, though I reject Kant's philosophy
>> generally, as the apotheosis of the Protestantism that
>> underlies TE and Christian modernism generally).
>> However, ID arguments *do* provide more concrete detail
>> about *just how* intricately ordered the universe is. They
>> strengthen traditional design arguments on the level of
>> detail. (Of course they add nothing on the level of
>> generality. There is nothing in Behe that would surprise
>> Aquinas or Paley, on the level of principle.)
>> Fourth, there are many, many people who think that
>> "evolution" has "proved" that there is
>> no God. That includes about 90% of the full-time
>> evolutionary biologists, by the way, a statistic which the
>> pro-Darwin scientists here -- very few of whom are
>> biologists, and none of whom are specifically evolutionary
>> biologists -- conveniently and shockingly ignore. When the
>> supposed experts in the science of evolution, the
>> evolutionary biologists, almost uniformly draw the
>> conclusion from their studies that God does not exist, that
>> is something that people here should not be turning a blind
>> eye to. After all, with all due respect to George Murphy
>> and Dave Siemens and others here -- none of you guys know
>> the alleged evolutionary mechanisms as well as the
>> evolutionary biologists do -- such mechanisms are nowhere
>> near your fields of expertise -- and *they* say that the
>> implication is that there is no room for intelligent
>> guidance there, and no room for God. And aiding them and
>> abetting them for decades have been great popular science
>> writers who have been atheist or agnostic -- Asimov, Sagan,
>> Gould, Dawkins, etc. And all of this has filtered down into
>> science fiction and comic books and so on. Generations of
>> Americans have been taught, directly or indirectly, that
>> evolution disproves God, or makes his existence very
>> dubious.
>> Now what do these guys mean when they say that evolution
>> has disproved God? They mean that they can account for all
>> of life in terms of "chance", i.e., mutations,
>> drift, natural selection (for anyone with philosophical
>> training, natural selection boils down to chance, too, but I
>> don't have time to prove that now; read David
>> Berlinski). They mean that "chance" can account
>> for everything that looks as if it were designed. People
>> here are quibbling with me about the various meanings of
>> "chance", and it's fine to discuss
>> "chance" differently in specialized contexts, but
>> to get caught up in the trees and miss the overall shape of
>> the forest here is intellectually irresponsible, given
>> what's at stake for the future of religious belief.
>> Everyone here *knows* that Mt. Rushmore wasn't sculpted
>> by "chance", and everyone here would reject the
>> thesis (even if they didn't know its history) that Mt.
>> Rushmore was carved out accidentally by a billion years of
>> weathering. I would hope that, if "the consensus of
>> geologists" were that Mt. Rushmore was carved out by
>> such means, people here would have enough common sense, and
>> enough gumption, to tell the consensus of geologists that it
>> was wrong. Now Darwinism -- the real thing, not the
>> watered-down, tamed, Christianized version some people are
>> endorsing here, but what Darwin meant, and what Dawkins
>> means, and what Gould meant, etc. -- asserts the biological
>> equivalent of Mt. Rushmore coming into existence by
>> "chance" in this sense. I won't argue the
>> point further; I know Darwin's writing reasonably well,
>> and I know Sagan, Dawkins, etc. well, and I am pretty sure I
>> have interpreted all these writers correctly. So if others
>> disagree with me, they had better trot out the texts from
>> Darwin, Dawkins, Gould, Gaylord Simpson, etc.; otherwise
>> I'll stick with my understanding of these writers'
>> meaning of the word "chance". (And, mutatis
>> mutandis, what I've just said applies to their usage of
>> "unguided", "random",
>> "accidental", "without foresight" etc.)
>> Now many, many members of the general public have come to
>> believe that Darwinian theory has proved that
>> "chance" in this sense can explain everything.
>> The value of Behe -- and this is a completely separate
>> question from whether the design inference is
>> "science" or merely a philosophical inference from
>> science -- is that he shows (a) that the Darwinists have
>> come *nowhere near* explaining the complexity of life in
>> terms of what they call "chance"; they have failed
>> to do so *even on their own assumptions*; and (b) that the
>> impression of design felt by just about everyone in the
>> history of the human race -- even by Dawkins -- is
>> *confirmed*, not weakened, by science, in particular by
>> molecular biology. Science reveals apparent design
>> "all the way down", so to speak. Now even if we
>> don't take Behe's work as a "scientific"
>> proof of design, it is a darned good *general* argument for
>> design. And more important, it shows that
>> "science" has not only not got rid of God; it
>> hasn't even got rid of "design". Science may
>> not "prove" God; but for any *rational* person,
>> any person not so filled with hatred for the idea of God
>> that he isn't *actively looking* for some hypothesis,
>> however improbable, to disprove God's existence, science
>> makes God (a generic deity, I mean, not specifically the
>> Christian God) the betting man's choice. The universe
>> doesn't quite provide a *proof* of God, but it strongly
>> tilts in that direction. (Note to Ted: I think that John
>> Polkinghorne would probably agree with my last sentence,
>> no?)
>> Does this mean that we should rest faith solely on
>> arguments like Behe's? *Of course not*. People believe
>> for all kinds of reasons. Some believe because of the inner
>> moral law. Some believe because of love. Some believe
>> because they have had some kind of religious experience.
>> Some believe on the basis of Biblical stories. Some believe
>> because they were brought up in good Christian (or Jewish or
>> Muslim etc.) families. There are all kinds of reasons for
>> belief in God, and ID as a theory of design detection is
>> *not* a required belief for theists. I have no problem
>> whatsoever with anyone here who is unconvinced that Behe and
>> Dembski have proved beyond a doubt the design case for the
>> flagellum, etc., if such a critic thinks that the
>> biochemical or mathematical arguments aren't decisive.
>> Behe and Dembski have offered these arguments, and they have
>> to be man enough to accept criticism of them -- as long as
>> the criticism is over the *arguments* and is not *ad
>> hominem* speculation about their motives (which it more
>> often is).
>> However, it is stupid, absolutely stupid, and
>> irresponsible, politically, socially, culturally, and
>> theologically, for TEs to do what they have done to Behe.
>> It shows political naivete of the highest order about the
>> nature of the world we are living in -- about who controls
>> the educational system, who controls the biology departments
>> at the Ivy League universities, and so on -- for TEs to have
>> attacked him in the way that they have, knowing what he is
>> fighting and why he is fighting it. What Behe has done,
>> like David facing Goliath, is to humiliate the high priests
>> of the chance-worshippers at Cornell and Chicago and Oxford.
>> He has called their bluff. They can't prove their case
>> on the biochemical level, and they know it. But before
>> Behe, only *they* knew it, and now all the world knows it.
>> Behe is thus a hateful traitor in the minds of Coyne,
>> Dawkins, etc., for defying the biological fraternity on its
>> central dogma of chance-worship. And what is his reward?
>> To be shafted in the side by fellow "Christians"
>> Ken Miller and Francis Collins and Denis Lamoureux and
>> Francis Ayala, while he's trying to argue with Dawkins
>> and Coyne and Myers and Orr.
>> The behaviour of TEs regarding Behe is contemptible, and if
>> I have one purpose in being here, it's to drive that
>> point home. The fact is that Behe has done more than
>> everyone on this list put together -- on the level of the
>> life sciences anyway -- to link up, in the public, secular
>> mind, the actual empirical findings of biological science
>> with the *possibility* of belief in God. (Note that I did
>> *not* say "to prove the existence of God".) A lot
>> of you here should be bloody ashamed of yourselves for the
>> things you've said about him (especially when half of
>> you haven't even read him, or have only read bits of him
>> cursorily, as I've already established), and for the way
>> you've cheered (or at best looked the other way) as his
>> blood has been spilt in book review after book review.
>> I'm the only one here (other than Ted Davis) who has
>> actually tried to help Behe. I wrote the only positive
>> review of Behe's second book to appear in a major
>> *secular* newspaper or magazine -- the Philadelphia Inquirer
>> -- and I took the atheist Darwinists to task in my review,
>> big-time, and incurred great hatred for it. And what were
>> several of you doing at the time? Running around to
>> Christian conferences, bad-mouthing ID and YEC? Why
>> weren't you helping?
>> I suspect that the major reasons for the rejection of
>> Behe's work by TEs are two. First, too many of you here
>> are convinced of the truth of the Darwinian mechanisms, even
>> though you don't have solid reasons for accepting them.
>> (As I've noted, most of you aren't biologists or
>> biochemists, and you accept the Darwinian mechanisms because
>> the experts have told you to, not because you've
>> verified them for yourselves. When I've challenged
>> people here to provide the details of the mechanisms,
>> I've been met with silence.) Second, many of you have a
>> fideistic theology which, in my view, approaches a
>> semi-Gnosticism, and with it you have absorbed a distaste
>> for natural theology. This is a reflection of the religious
>> composition of this list, as opposed to the wider ASA
>> membership or the Christian world generally. What many
>> people here forget is that many Anglicans, Catholics,
>> Eastern Orthodox, and even many main-line Calvinistic
>> Christians do *not* have an aversion to a limited natural
>> theology. The theological perspective of the anti-ID people
>> here tends to be narrow, and skewed toward a particular
>> corner of historical Christian belief, excessively
>> revelationist, Barthian, etc. And I don't object to
>> anyone being a pietist or Barthian, but I do object when
>> they make Barthian or pietist notions *the* standard for
>> what counts as Christianity. It simply shows historical
>> ignorance of Christian theology.
>> Of course, I'm fully aware that many people on this
>> list -- the majority, I would guess -- do not fall under the
>> criticism that I've just levelled. But there is a sort
>> of "list orthodoxy" pushed by a number of the most
>> frequent posters, and it's that "list
>> orthodoxy" that I'm challenging. It has already
>> cost the list one of its most intelligent and theologically
>> moderate contributors (David Opderbeck). And it's
>> likely to drive others away. It should be permissible, on a
>> list sponsored by the ASA, to: (a) doubt the adequacy of
>> stochastic mechanisms to produce the integrated complexity
>> of life, without being met with howls of derision for
>> violating the sanctity of "methodological
>> naturalism"; and (b) hold to a modest natural theology,
>> without being accused of Christian heresy or of violating
>> the boundary between religion and science. If it isn't
>> possible to do this, then this list is not an open forum for
>> genuine intellectual discussion, but a partisan TE club, no
>> better than places like Panda's Thumb or Uncommon
>> Descent.
>> John, I hope that this makes my position clear on
>> "design detection and God" -- and on a number of
>> other things.
>> Cameron.
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "John Walley"
>> <>
>> To: "asa" <>; "Cameron
>> Wybrow" <>
>> Sent: Monday, April 27, 2009 6:25 AM
>> Subject: Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List
>> Relations
>> >
>> >
>> > "The point of my original post to Ted was not
>> that TEs should do a better job of explaining miracles; it
>> was that many TEs seem to have serious doubts about the very
>> *occurrence* of the majority of the miracles."
>> >
>> > Cameron,
>> >
>> > To try to clarify this issue and to attempt to maybe
>> make the connection to your original question and
>> Wayne's response, please consider the following:
>> >
>> > Your quote above seems to be missing the mark as far
>> as categorizing TE's in my opinion. As a TE, I do not
>> have a problem with any of the miracles of the Bible or the
>> fact that God is a supernatural God and that miracles are
>> part of His divine plan for mankind. I think what I do have
>> a problem with is the taking at face value all of the
>> miracles recorded in the Bible. This is not because I
>> don't believe in miracles but that I have come to
>> realize that the nature of revelation through the Bible is
>> different than previously expected. As a result some
>> recorded miracles may contain embellishments that make the
>> miracles seem larger than what really happened, i.e.
>> Joshua's long day. So from that perspective, the
>> non-comittal nature of TE's responses to miracles should
>> not be confused with a doubt about God's propensity for
>> miracles, but that the record we have of them needs to be
>> examined carefully to establish which are actually
>> historical and which aren't.
>> >
>> > Now, if I may suggest, I think the reason you focus on
>> miracles so much is that you are using an appeal to the
>> extension of miracles to support your strong ID argument. It
>> goes something like this. "You believe in miracles
>> right, so why couldn't God have miraculously intervened
>> in creation?" and the converse is "you don't
>> believe in the miraculous intervention of God in creation,
>> you must not believe in miracles". That is what I
>> inferred from ID. But I think this is broken and is futile
>> to try to push on this list. I do not accept the correlation
>> between the miracles of the Bible and the necessity of Him
>> miraculously intervening in creation. And my rejecting that
>> intervention does not equate to not believing in miracles at
>> all.
>> >
>> > Thanks
>> >
>> > John
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