Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri May 29 2009 - 05:19:52 EDT


Thanks very much for your reply, which is overwhelming in the number of
concerns it addresses, and goes beyond the limited discussion that I was
trying to engage you in. But I understand that passions run high in these
matters, and one topic quickly gets attached to another. :-)

1. On the probability thing: I don't believe that you are interpreting
Behe's *Edge* argument correctly, but I want to do some more research before
I insist on that, so let me leave that aside for now and come back to it in
a future post. However, whatever Behe may have said or meant, note that
*my* argument said nothing about mutations having to be simultaneous. In
fact, I was explicit that they were sequential, and I was assuming that the
mutations in question occurred hundreds, thousands, millions, tens of
millions of years apart. The point is that a probability theorist has the
right to inquire into the probability of the sequence, just as he has the
right to inquire into the probability of the sequence HTTHHTTHTHTH. You
seem to be denying that it is ever legitimate even to wish to calculate that
probability, and I think that probability theorists simply would not agree
with you.

I can imagine a sequence of events in my life which would raise all kinds of
alarm bells even though the individual events occurred years apart. Suppose
that every time I drove into New York State, I got a flat tire within a mile
of crossing the border. Suppose that it happened once in 1979, twice in
1981, three times in 1983, twice in 1985, and once each in 1990, 1996, 2000,
2001, 2003, and 2005. Further, suppose that I never got a flat tire
anywhere else during the same period. And further, suppose that the cars
which crossed the border both ahead of me and behind me, including many that
used the same brand of tire, never got flat tires on any of those occasions.
The probability theorist, if asked what the probability was of my getting a
flat tire on exactly that sequence of occasions, would calculate it as the
product of the probabilities of the individual events. And when the very
low probability number emerged, let's say (1/100)^14, I would be rationally
justified in inferring that someone (human, alien, divine, demonic, a
leprechaun, a gremlin) had "intelligently designed" my sequence of flat
tires. So, analogously, it doesn't matter whether the mutations occurred
simultaneously or over time; there is still the question why evolution has
the apparent directionality that it does. There is no reason why the
mutations should so conveniently build one upon the other, if the process as
a whole is directed as Dawkins says it is (i.e., not directed at all).

Yes, I know there is the possibility of exaptation and so on. But such
explanations are usually ad hoc and very limited in power. Ken Miller has
provided one -- exactly one -- possible useful intermediate for the
bacterial flagellum. Where are all the other intermediates, and what
functions did *they* serve? Ken Miller has nothing to say. They may have
existed; but we have no way of knowing that they did. And even if we could
dream up some imaginary organelles in a graduated sequence, running from
plain bacteria through the Type III secretory system through to the
flagellum, and could fantasize environmental conditions in which each of
these organelles would provide a selective advantage, there would still be a
requirement on the evolutionary theorists' part to show what alterations in
the bacterial DNA/protein machinery would be required to produce all of
these intermediate, functioning organelles. A tall order indeed -- with
nothing to show for it yet. Yet both atheist Darwinists and TE Darwinists
shout loudly that Ken Miller has "refuted" Behe's argument by citing the
Type III secretory system. Miller has done nothing of the sort. He has
provided the equivalent of one island, thirty miles from shore and twenty
miles from the next mainland; he has not provided a chain of islands capable
of being crossed by a swimmer who can do only a mile at a time. His
argument is just plain weak. And this is an example of what I mean by
evolutionary biologists resting satisfied with very sketchy and inadequate
accounts of the nitty-gritty details. Darwinian "explanations" rarely get
further than Ken Miller's does. Or if they do, I haven't seen it.

As for your example of your own particular genetic makeup, I think you will
find that such arguments are dealt with in Dembski's various writings,
including *No Free Lunch*. He doesn't use your particular example, but I
think his remarks about drawing the bullseye around the arrow after it has
hit the tree are probably relevant to it.

Please bear in mind that I am not arguing that design has been proved in any
particular case. Nor am I even arguing that design inferences are
"scientific", though I am suspicious of the view of many that they must
automatically be excluded from the realm of science. I am arguing only that
it is entirely reasonable for a scientifically-trained person to look at a
sequence of mutations which just happens to produce a series of wholly
functional intermediates en route to completely transforming a wolf into a
whale, and to be *very* suspicious that Darwinian mechanisms alone can
account for that sequence. Even if one does not make the move to "design"
based on that suspicion, the suspicion itself is wholly in keeping with the
spirit of the skeptical scientific mind, and I do not know why so many
people here are lacking in such suspicion.

2. On theology: I have no clear conception of how God guides, steers, or
plans evolutionary change. However, I have no objection to "continuous
meddling", as you put it. The Bible depicts God and nature as being
mutually responsive (as my doctoral dissertation and first book purported to
show), and "continuous meddling" would fit that picture better than a "stop
and start" model which is Deistic most of the time, with dramatic miracles
thrown in a few times for special purposes. Of course, Ted and George would
want that "continuous meddling" to be invisible rather than of the
parting-of-the-Red-Sea sort, and that would be fine with me, too. But I
would also insist that there is no conflict in principle between "continuous
meddling" and a design inference. A God who continuously meddles might well
leave a "design trail", and that, for me, is a question best addressed by
the empirical evidence found in Creation, not pronounced upon on a priori
theological grounds.

3. On your comments about the internal problems you and others have with ID
people, I cannot easily comment. As I stated when I joined, I come from a
land and an environment where the whole YEC-OEC-ID-TE tango strikes most
people as bizarre. Canadians just don't wrangle about the Bible,
creationism, etc. the way Americans do. They *never* did, even back when
Canada was a much more religious country than it is now. (At one point, in
the 1950s, Church attendance in Canada was higher than in the United States,
and there was hardly a Genesis literalist to be seen). I find a lot of the
historical background that is animating many of the players to be culturally
alien, and irrational. It looks very much like a bitter intra-family
Protestant evangelical feud, and I have a hard time to know what to say
about it.

I will say this: I have seen a leading TE proponent siding with an atheist
Darwinist, angrily attacking Behe, on national television. Your claim that
the TEs are willing, but the ID people won't have them, is hard to square
with that fact. If Behe is being tag-teamed by an atheist and a TE, it is
hard to put the blame on the ID people for not trying to build a "common
front" against atheism. And when Ken Miller, in his first book, scorns ID
more visibly than he scorns atheist Darwinism (he criticizes both, but his
criticism of Dawkins is notably more polite than his criticism of ID), and
when Collins makes sure to include a chapter against ID in his first book,
and writes an endorsement for Ken Miller's second book (which repeats
Miller's ID-bashing), and when TE Denis Alexander in Britain takes definite
swipes at ID, the notion that TE is quite willing to build a "common front"
with ID against atheism is quite unsustainable. I believe that desire for a
common front exists in Ted Davis; it may exist also in Polkinghorne and/or
Gingerich (I don't know the thought of either of them very well); it is not
true of the big-name popular-writer TEs, and it does not appear to be true
of most of the contributors to the PEC book or of many of the TEs who post
here. TE seems to be characterized by a dislike of ID almost as strong as
its dislike of YEC, and almost as strong as its dislike of atheist
Darwinism. With this kind of attitude being projected by TEs, a common
front is unlikely. (And yes, you can go on about real or alleged past
offenses of Bill Dembski or Phil Johnson, but the point is that people must
learn to rise above the past. If they can do it in Northern Ireland, they
should be able to do it in the American evangelical world. But sometimes I
think that the internal bitterness of the American evangelical world makes
Northern Ireland look like a Sunday School picnic.)

4. ID proper does not pit design against evolution. That may have been the
case in 1994, but it certainly isn't the case now, at least, not among the
leading ID theorists. (And it was never the case for Behe.) Dembski, in an
important passage in *No Free Lunch*, acknowledges the compatibility of
fully naturalistic evolution with design theory. And ID more and more
attracts engineers, computer scientists, life scientists, etc. who are not
from the fundamentalist Christian world, and who have no anti-evolutionary
baggage. The emphasis within ID now, among those who are going to be its
future leading theorists, is not "design instead of evolution", but rather
"design in addition to chance and natural laws as the explanation for
evolution". One can see this in the work of Michael Denton, who has
distanced himself entirely from the evangelical Christian context, and aims
his arguments not at conservative church people but at a broader religious
and secular audience which accepts macroevolution as a fact.

(P.S. I am not stating in an unqualified way that macroevolution is a fact;
I am merely saying that, if it is a fact, ID as such is not threatened by
that, in the way that YEC is. This is why new fossil discoveries such as
Tiktaalik are non-threatening to many ID proponents, who have no objection
to evolution as such. Their attitude is mine: if macroevolution is true,
of course we can expect discoveries such as Tiktaalik; now tell me exactly
how Tiktaalik was produced via Darwinian mechanisms, and how it was
subsequently transformed by Darwinian mechanisms.)

Finally, in answer to your question:

> So, Cameron, a question for you is this: what is the proper response to
> Dawkins? Should we be trying to defeat his science? Or should we be
> pointing out the illegitimate use of science in the defense of atheism?

The proper response to Dawkins and to all Darwinists (neo-Darwinists, etc.),
is to point out to the world how sketchy and lacking in detail the "science"
is, and how much the "scientific argument" usually boils down to "actually,
we have almost no clue how this happened, but one thing we are sure about is
that it must have happened naturalistically".

In my view, there is no point whatsoever in adjusting Christian theology to
a "science" which is theoretically unclear, sketchy on detailed mechanisms,
and based on our woefully incomplete understanding of biology. On the last
point, we don't even know how a mammalian body is formed in the womb, in
anywhere near adequate detail, and we don't know what 90% of the DNA is for;
yet evolutionary biologists feel no hesitation in offering uncontrolled
speculations about hypothetical evolutionary pathways in the pre-Cambrian,
involving hypothetical ancestors whose character is not known, a
pre-Cambrian ocean whose ecology is not understood, and scraps of fossils
from which no DNA can be retrieved. If ID has done nothing else of value in
the world, it has been of value in drawing public attention to the loose and
irresponsible character of many of the speculations of Darwinists. For the
defects of Darwinian theory are not mere "gaps" in explanation; the defects
are more glaring than that. Darwinism is great at cranking out books on
"big concepts" -- drift, neutral theory, selfish genes, sociobiology, random
mutation, selection, etc. -- but is very weak on the mechanical details of
the alleged transformations, and has been very weak on such details since
the days of Darwin. The secular public, which worships Darwinism as its
creation narrative, needs to hear that; and the Christian public, many of
whom think that Darwinism must somehow be synthesized with Genesis, needs to
hear that.

You know, Dinesh d'Souza, in his latest book, reports that two-thirds of the
physicists in the world supported the Steady State theory as late as 1959.
So was it the obligation of thoughtful scientific Christians in the 1950s to
adjust the Christian doctrine of creation to the Steady State Theory? If
not, then why is it the obligation of Christians to adjust Christian
theology to neo-Darwinism, especially when, if certain current indications
presage the future -- e.g., Denton, Sternberg, Kaufmann -- Darwinism may be
in deep trouble very soon, just as the Steady State theory was in deep
trouble when the cosmic background radiation of the Big Bang was detected?

Of course, nothing I have said is aimed at "evolution". It is all aimed at
"Darwinism". The theoretical barrier between ID and TE is not "evolution".
It is Darwinism. From ID's perspective, TE says to Dawkins and Coyne: "You
are 100% right about the Darwinian mechanisms of evolution, but you are
wrong to infer from that the non-existence of God." ID says that this is
too generous a stance. ID says that Dawkins and Coyne are not 100% right
about the Darwinian mechanisms of evolution. It says that they are
substantially wrong about those mechanisms, or at least, that their case for
the power of those mechanisms is much, much weaker than they are letting on
to the general public.

So ID is not asking TE to surrender "evolution". ID is only asking TE to
refrain from making the complete correctness of Darwinian mechanisms -- and
more generally, the complete adequacy of chance plus natural laws -- an
essential component of evolutionary theory. Behe is an example of an ID
person who fully embraces the TE idea that God guides or plans evolution,
while rejecting or severely qualifying the explanatory ability of the
Darwinian mechanisms. I think that if Behe and Ted Davis sat down together,
they would agree on pretty nearly everything except whether design detection
is "science" or merely "science-informed philosophy". But if Behe and Ken
Miller sat down together, they would disagree on very many central issues.
What I am saying is that if TE follows the path of Ted Davis, there can be a
partial overlap between ID and TE (excluding some ID people and some TE
people at the extremes), and a common front can be built. But if TE follows
the path of Miller and Ayala, there is no hope for a common front, and ID
and TE will continue to shoot each other in the foot while Dawkins and Coyne
look on in a combination of bewilderment and delight.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Terry M. Gray" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Sent: Friday, May 29, 2009 1:44 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

> Cameron,
> A+ for you answer. And, I found no fault in your other calculations with
> respect to 5 (or 64) successive heads ;-)
> You may ask what is the probability of flipping five heads in a row, but
> that question is irrelevant to an evolutionary account. This in fact is
> the fundamental flaw in Behe's "Edge" argument. He demands that all the
> mutations happen at once to create the binding site and ends up without
> question with virtual impossibility. This is irreducible complexity gone
> awry. This is the same case that Dembski makes in his grocery shelf model
> of the chance origin of the bacterial flagellum. But no evolutionist that
> I know thinks that evolution occurs like this. The current functional
> biological form may well be irreducibly complex. But that fact tell us
> little about its history or origin. As the coin flip has the same
> probability in each of three successive steps, so does the building of a
> binding site. If producing the first mutation is within the realm of
> plausibility as Behe admits, then the next mutation required has close to
> the same probability. If natural selection is present (and genetic drift
> might actually be enough here), as is the case with pre-adaptation,
> co-option, exaptation, or whatever people are calling it these days, then
> calculating the probability of the combination as the product of
> individual probabilities is completely off target.
> I have never heard anyone seriously advocate for the production of the
> original cell or of any molecular machine via chance alone that would
> allow you to calculate probabilities the way you are suggesting. Many of
> the steps would involve physical-chemical process that would be in the
> category of "necessity"--for example, compartmentalization due to
> spontaneous membrane formation due to the presence of amphipathic (having
> a water soluble end and a water insoluble end). I will be the first to
> admit that we don't know how the first cell arose. Some of the recent
> genetic evidence suggests that there might have been genetic systems
> prior to cells. I have no idea how to calculate the probability of the
> first cell forming and I don't think anyone else does either. For all I
> know it may be very easy and we're just not seeing it. If we figure it
> out, we will think it's easy and we'll wonder what took so long.
> Any historically contingent event would be most likely be near impossible
> via similar probabilistic arguments. What is the probability of my
> particular genetic composition predicted from even a couple of
> generations ago? A particular sperm and egg. A particular group of
> independently assorted chromosomes. A particular set of recombination
> events. A particular set of parents and grandparents. The particular me
> is infinitely improbable. Yet here I am (knitted in my mother's womb and
> fearfully and wonderfully made--continuing the argument for God's
> involvement in all the steps).
> As for your other questions:
> I think I agree with Ted on the broad definition of TE. I do prefer EC
> (for reasons everyone gives) and have used that label long before it
> became popular. I think I gave some definition/description in my earlier
> post, but here's another way to put it. Evolution (even Darwinism)
> describes in terms of secondary causes (detectable via scientific
> methods) the way God created the various forms of life on earth. I
> offered my "continuous meddling" view to describe how that works but
> that's not essential to the simple definition (although I can't live
> without it myself).
> The only issue I have with ID is its insistence that design is proven to
> the exclusion of an evolutionary explanation. I don't see it and I don't
> see any reason to fight with atheistic evolutionists on the basis of
> scientific claims. Of course, we don't know the whole story and, of
> course, what we think today will be different tomorrow--that's the way
> science works. I'm open to design in principle; although the way I see it
> actually working is that we simply stop in trying to explain the origin
> of something. We take it as a given, as "the way the world is" (much the
> way Dawkins thinks about "why the laws of nature are what they are").
> Theologically, I would understand "the way the world is" to be a claim
> about how God created the world. Dawkins thinks it's a stupid question.
> I'm not sure that design would function scientifically for me other than
> to suggest that further investigation is unwarranted and fruitless
> (especially if the designer is God; if the designers are LGM then perhaps
> we can eventually learn what they did and how). This is how ID has always
> appeared to me, to be a premature science-stopper. Now the fact of the
> matter is, if God created some parts of the universe in such a way as to
> prevent a further explanation of their components or origin, then we will
> be banging our head against the wall if we try to find them. Perhaps
> that's where we are today in some areas (mind/brain, life/non-life,
> human/non-human, pre-cambrian life/post-cambrian life). I don't think so
> and I think there is lots of interesting ideas to try out and develop
> given the broad strokes that we have in place as of now. And, for what
> it's worth, to me the fact of macroevolution (common ancestry, for which
> I think there is nearly indisputable evidence--
> although clearly, smart people disagree with me) does tell us something
> about whether we should expect to discover the mechanism.
> But, you see, for the most part ID does insist on the exclusion of the
> evolutionary explanation. I have pleaded for years--it's now turning into
> decades--for a united front against the atheists on the basis of
> philosophical, religious, and worldview issues. I can join arms with Phil
> Johnson and Mike Behe and Bill Dembski. I can even join arms with Henry
> Morris and Duane Gish and Ken Ham to resist philosophical naturalism and
> atheistic materialism. BUT THEY WON'T HAVE US. ID (and YEC) insists on
> being anti-evolutionistic. The only way to critique the worldview seems
> to be to critique the science. But most of us find nothing wrong with the
> science. When he's on track and keeps to the biology, Richard Dawkins is
> brilliant. Stephen Jay Gould was extraordinary in his discussions of
> evolution. Of course, they didn't always agree with each other, but they
> are both great writers and spokespersons for evolutionary science.
> And why? That's the part I don't get. Why not do the science and let the
> chips fall where they will? Do we really think that science can challenge
> our faith? Actually, I do get it. What IDers want is the same thing I
> want. They want science not to be used as the instrument of Atheistic
> Naturalism. But that's philosphy, religion, and worldview. And that's
> what we must resist in the classroom. Why resist evolutionary science?
> Why even "teach the controversy" (we don't do it anywhere
> else--elementary and secondary science education teaches the current
> consensus, perhaps a decade behind--it always has--my professors in
> graduate school once explained that the difference between undergraduate
> courses and graduate course was that "we lie to you less"). It has little
> or even nothing to do with evolutionary science. What it betrays to me is
> that they believe like the atheists that if science explains then God is
> not involved. All the IDers I know would deny that, and I'm glad for
> that. Perhaps I should be more generous, that if they can show that
> science doesn't explain everything then atheism loses its claims and so
> via this wedge, religion can be restored to its rightful place in the
> public square. It's a misguided project, personally, I think it has set
> the discussion back 50 years or more. To give them the full benefit of
> the doubt, perhaps they actually believe that the current theory is
> flawed. Well, bring it on. They can't even convince most Christian
> scientists who are fully sympathetic with their philosophical, religious,
> and worldview disposition, let alone the broader scientific community.
> And this does get personal. Most evolution-friendly ASAers have had to
> deal with an evangelical laity that is largely informed today by ID and
> YEC perspectives. Church leaders don't have to take evolution seriously
> because Mike Behe said in Darwin's Black Box and Phil Johnson said in
> Darwin on Trial and Michael Denton said in Darwin: A Theory in Crisis
> that it's all hooey. So you guys who do take evolution seriously are
> suspect in our church--you don't believe the Bible, you've been
> hoodwinked by the prevailing views among scientists, you've been kowtowed
> into towing the line lest you get expelled from your ivory tower, you
> take your science more seriously than your faith, etc. Believe me, I've
> been there. You see, we're hopelessly trapped in the middle. Black and
> white is always easier. To see Jerry Coyne rant about Francis Collins and
> Denis Lamoureux borders on the hilarious. These guys are dyed in the wool
> evolutionists. Give them a biology classroom and they're going to teach
> exactly what Jerry Coyne does. But to hear Phil Johnson call these same
> people accommodationists, deceived by the academic community, that our
> view is vacuous (yes, I'm still stinging from that one from 1994,
> although it was clear to me even then that it said more about him than
> about me), is equally hilarious. I'm extremely conservative in my
> theology--
> you'd never guess it from my critics.
> So, Cameron, a question for you is this: what is the proper response to
> Dawkins? Should we be trying to defeat his science? Or should we be
> pointing out the illegitimate use of science in the defense of atheism?
> Perhaps we should say "what do you expect from an atheist?" Perhaps we
> need to be as bold with our religious views as he is. But that doesn't
> mean we have to change the science. Mentioning these religious options in
> the public school science classroom has the advantage of clearing the air
> with respect to science as science rather than science as a propaganda
> tool in the hand of one or the other religious perspective. Whether
> that's possible in today's litigious and heated climate remains to be
> seen.
> TG

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri May 29 05:23:00 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri May 29 2009 - 05:23:01 EDT