[asa] Re: Coyne vs Collins

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Thu Apr 30 2009 - 10:31:28 EDT


I apologize for sending a bit of my anger (almost entirely directed at
Coyne, I am sure you will agree) in your direction in my opening sentence.
The reference of course is to your expressed wish that TEs also be targeted
by the atheists, and (as I put it), with the launching of BioLogos you have
your wish. In fact, as I've very often pointed out here and elsewhere, TEs
have never enhanced their prestige by voicing their Christian convictions in
connection with their activities as scientists; it's always been seen, at
best, as a tolerable if puzzling expression of outmoded beliefs. That isn't
the same thing as scorn, obviously, and that's what we're talking about with
Coyne. I scorn his scorn, and now I must ask myself whether this is just
one more instance of those who scorned Christ on the cross.


That is my main reply, Cameron, and though I will now add two things I do
not want to do so without a noticeable transition; I do not wish to blend my
apology into something of less importance.

You say, "if famous Christian scientists like Collins and Polkinghorne keep
telling the world that neo-Darwinism is *entirely sound, as science* --
Coynes and Dawkinses will be with us always." I agree, but Polkinghorne's
view is not identical to Collins' view. P rarely writes about this -- he
sticks with what he knows best, physics and theology and philosophy of
science -- but a glimpse of his position can be found in "Belief in God in
an Age of Science," pp. 94-5, where he says (toward the start of a passage
that I don't have time to quote fully but should), "No reasonable person
doubts that [neo-Darwinism] is a component in the history of life but that
it is the sole and totally adequate cause of all that has happened is simply
an article of blind belief. It is a scientifically interesting question to
ask whether there might be more to the story than has been told."

I can almost hear your gasp, Cameron. You must now be wondering, what keeps
P from placing himself in the ID camp? What could it be, other than a lack
of nerve (i.e., being an invertebrate) or a desire to keep the respect of
his friends in the Royal Society? There are probably some other, different
reasons (I can think of at least three good ones that I will leave aside
here) he would give, but here is something that he says in the recent
volume, "Intelligent Design," ed. Dembski and Ruse, on p. 175:

"Although the carefully chosen language of the ID movement recoils from
using the word *miracle*, its picture of the developing history of life
carries the clear implication that it is seeded with numerous miraculous
interventions, discontinuous acts in which new entities are specially
created. How else could one suppose complex designed systems to have sprung
into being, other than through a direct act of intervention by an
intelligent designing agent? And to be perfectly frank, what credible
designing agent could there be other than God? One has to ask what evidence
could be offered to support this extremely strong claim."

You should really read this whole essay (not long), esp the portion dealing
with ID (I think this is his longest direct statement about ID, but it's
less than 3 pages in all), to see his reservations, but (obviously, for
anyone who knows John personally or has heard him speak a few times) a
reticence to challenge his scientific colleagues cannot possibly be among

My second point, Cameron, is to applaud what you say below, which is pretty
much identical to some utterances of my own, voiced both here (where many
are TEs) and in a place where nearly all were ID supporters:

"The smart strategy is to let ID people undermine arrogant atheism in their
own way, let TE do things its
way, and see who gets to Dawkins and Coyne first."

I cannot tell you how much I would like to see this be true. Perhaps this
is one reason why P directly addresses this only rarely (and, in a volume
about ID with Dembski as editor perhaps he was asked to or perhaps he
thought he should): although his own approach is definitely not ID (he
thinks that inferences to design are metaphysical, not scientific, among
other things), he is a truly humble person (even more so when compared with
many other world class scientists) who has the concerns of a Christian
minister for the whole body of Christ. Few (and to my regret I do not think
I am among them) have been as careful as P to carry themselves as he does;
Behe strikes me as a similar person, though IMO not really in P's league in
terms of his larger understanding of the science/religion issues -- hardly
anyone is.

Speaking now as an ASA member with an historical view, I would say that
things could have gone much better, had there not been some pretty rancorous
conversation about ID and TE, going back nearly two decades. The ASA as an
organization did what it could to advance helpful conversation, and it still
does (this list as I've often said is not a good indicator of the actual
situation, only a small subset of our members and lots of non-members but
mostly people already convinced that one view is right and the other wrong).
 Doubters need only read PSCF, or attend this summer's annual meeting, or
note who our Council members are and have been for quite a few years.
However, many years ago around the time and after the time when Phil Johnson
had spoken (as a keynoter) at our annual meeting, at least once but perhaps
twice (I was there one year and there may have been another), some things
were said that were profoundly unhelpful to the future of that conversation.
 Others were also part of this, both ways (I can't overlook the highly
questionable theological approach that Howard Van Till kept pushing) but in
the course of that conversation Phil made it clear that those who didn't
agree with his confrontational tone (as in the wedge strategy) and his deep
doubts about how the fossil record is usually interpreted and esp about MN
were probably selling their souls for prestige. It's been very hard to get
past that, ever since.

I remember saying to both "sides," in separate places, how TEs and IDs tend
to have different visions of what it means to make science a Christian
vocation. Those thoughts are undoubtedly archived somewhere (those said
here could be found by anyone with the inclination to look). I urged
acceptance of both views of this, but this message is not easy to get across
-- perhaps impossible to get across to the larger culture, when Henry Morris
and Ken Ham have if anything an even lower view of both "evolution" (which
for them also includes the OEC views of many ID proponents) and especially
of TE than that of William Jennings Bryan, who was fond of saying that TE is
the anesthetic that dulls the pain while the faith is removed. (Yes, it's
hard to imagine holding a lower view of TE than that, but one thing Morris
did not lack was imagination.) Johnson's rhetoric is more sophisticated
than that of Morris or Ham, but at least on this point it is aimed in the
same direction. Undoubtedly the fact that InterVarsity Press published some
of his books, and others by other authors that have a very similar tone (an
example is Ben Wiker's book, "Moral Darwinism," which tries to undermine not
only evolution but chemistry and physics as well, and makes open war on the
kind of voluntarist theology of creation that I know you respect a great
deal), has been a bad thing: those books get read by Christian students, who
are then led to think what Johnson and Wiker think instead of what
Polkinghorne thinks. The good news here (which I have second hand but I
believe reliably) is that IVP is about to get out of the business of
publishing books like these.

Cameron, you are the kind of dialogue partner that we need more of around
here (IMO), to wake us out of our dogmatic slumbers. For our part (I should
really say for my part), however, it would probably benefit you to study
more some of the American controversy about religion and science, which by
your own admission you have not paid attention to hitherto. I think it
might help you see more fully just why it's so hard to get past the
rancor--though we really must keep trying.

My very best wishes, Cameron,


To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Apr 30 10:39:04 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Apr 30 2009 - 10:39:05 EDT