Re: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Jun 26 2009 - 20:52:26 EDT

To Charles:

Thanks for your kind words. I try very hard to write as clearly as I can,
and I often extensively edit my posts before sending them, so it is good to
hear that I make sense to you.

Beyond one book review (on Behe's *The Edge of Evolution*) published in The
Philadelphia Inquirer, I haven't really published anything worth mentioning
on ID. My most extensive public thoughts are here in this discussion. My
published scholarly work is in the area of religion and science, with a
special focus on the ideas of "creation" and "nature" in Western religious
and philosophical thought. Your university library may have one or both of
my books on the subject. If you are interested in hearing more about them,
I would be glad to discuss them with you privately. But neither book is
about evolution. My interest in evolution, however, goes back many years,
and for the last five years I've been immersing myself in the ID-Darwinism
debate, and more recently in trying to understand the tensions between ID
and TE, why they are so great and how they might be reduced. I'm convinced
that there is a substantial potential "overlap zone" between those ID
proponents who do not dogmatically reject evolution and those TE proponents
who do not dogmatically reject the possibility that design could be

I can't yet formally recommend Meyer's new book, because I haven't yet read
it, but I suspect, based on the essays of his that I have read, that it will
be lucid, scholarly, and well-written for the intelligent lay person.

Regarding how evolution and ID should be discussed in schools, etc., if the
discussion were not so polarized in the USA, I would say, just leave it up
to the good judgement and common sense of the teacher. But on this issue,
it seems that a number of Americans, on all sides of the question, are
incapable of resisting the temptation to run to lawyers and courts. Be that
as it may, regarding the lower schools, I have already suggested a couple of

1. A "disclaimer" preamble to evolutionary study, which biology teachers
and textbooks might employ, in order not to leave the impression that
Darwinian theory is a flawless body of truth or that science can
automatically claim competence regarding theories of origins. I think that
Ted Davis concurred with the spirit of my preamble.

2. There is no need for evolutionary biology to be taught in the early high
school grades at all. We teach 9th and 10th grade biology here in Ontario
quite competently without ever discussing evolution. Grade 9 biology here
(being part of Grade 9 general science) focuses entirely on cell biology --
learning the parts and functions of plant and animal cells,
including some basic genetics -- without any reference to the question of
the origin of cells or of organisms generally. Grade 10 biology (again part
of Grade 10 general science) is entirely about ecology -- food chains,
nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle, water cycle, pollution, etc. -- and does not
touch on questions of biological origins. Thus, biology in Grade 9 and 10
is good, solid, descriptive biology which students need to know to be
successful in the science later on, and the issue of evolution is never
raised. You could do the same thing in the States. In fact, it would be
very sensible to do so, since evolution is a much greater sore point there
than here. So I recommend deferring the study of evolutionary theory until
eleventh or twelfth grade. That move alone would take much of the edge of
the controversy; parents are less protective of 16-to-17-year-olds than of

But I think you were asking how ID should be taught at the university level.
Well, it may not need to be taught directly at all, depending on what else
is being taught by the textbook or by other professors in the department.
For example, if the students are being taught that we do not know the
function of most of the DNA but are working hard to find it, there may be no
need to mention ID. But if students are being taught that large amounts of
junk are just what we should expect, given that life evolved by Darwinian
means, so that we can assume that large tracts of the DNA are
non-functional, then it would be wise to mention ID, because ID suggests
that most DNA will be functional. ID gives greater reason to expect that a
function will be found than the "junk" view, and therefore encourages
scientists to look harder rather than to give up, and therefore is less of a
science stopper.

Similarly, if the textbook or the other biology professors are simply
teaching the structures and functions of the cell or organism or system, and
are not making historical comments about how the cell or organism or system
came into being, you may not need to mention ID at all. But if they are
constantly offering far-fetched scenarios involving strings of genetic
accidents producing intermediate stages of dubious selectability, it would
be quite appropriate to mention the notion of irreducible complexity, and
raise the question how far known genetic and selective mechanisms are
capable of generating irreducibly complex systems. This would not be
endorsing ID conclusions as the truth; it would merely be employing an ID
concept as a brake upon highly speculative and often utterly untestable
evolutionary scenarios. Indeed, the phrase "ID" wouldn't have to be
mentioned at all; the question could be posed simply as an engineering
problem: how could stochastic mechanisms built up the "flagellar transport
system" mentioned in *The Edge of Evolution*? Such questions would keep
evolutionary speculation honest.

On another point:

I think that most ID proponents (most of the ones I know of, anyway) see
strong indications of design in all of nature, not just organic nature. Many
ID proponents support the ideas of Guillermo Gonzalez, for example. Many
are impressed with Michael Denton's account of the anthropocentric "tilt" of
the basic physical and chemical laws. If ID has focused more on biological
nature, that is for natural reasons, since the battle between design and
chance does not seem to come up in physics and chemistry in the way that it
comes up in evolutionary theory. No one finds it theologically upsetting if
a chemical combination sets off a fire by chance, or if a meteoroid smashes
through a barn by chance, but people do find it theologically upsetting to
think that whether or not human beings ever existed might well have been
simply a matter of chance.

From the ID point of view, some TE proponents have a most peculiar attitude
regarding design in nature. For example, Francis Collins seems to come very
close to endorsing a fine-tuning argument for design in nature regarding the
fundamental laws of physics, but when it comes to biology he rejects design
arguments. Yet from the ID point of view the argument for design in living
nature is at least as compelling as in the case of non-living nature.

In short, I don't perceive the difference you perceive between ID and TE
people on this point. I think that ID people largely see the whole
universe, not just the bacterial flagellum, as saturated in design. I think
they have focused on a few celebrated biological cases for heuristic
purposes, and that people have misunderstood that to mean that ID thinks
that design appears only occasionally and miraculously, and mainly in
organic phenomena. But that is not what most ID people think.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Austerberry, Charles" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, June 26, 2009 12:52 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

>I appreciate Cameron's careful distinctions. I think Cameron correctly
> identifies the essential core of ID theory, such that people can have
> fruitful conversation about its potential usefulness and potential
> problems, without being distracted by the many non-essential positions
> that often accompany it. And several on this list have likewise
> correctly identified the essential core of TE.
> I appreciate Cameron's thoughts in the same way that I appreciate
> Michael Behe's. Cameron explains the philosophy better than anyone else
> I've read, and Michael explains the science better than anyone else I've
> read. I strongly disagree with them both on important points, but I
> appreciate and respect their work.
> Cameron, what published work(s) of yours on ID might I be able to read
> and publicly cite (beyond this list)? I apologize if you've already
> provided the references and I missed them. I know you recently
> recommended a new book by Meyer, but thus far I've not found his writing
> as helpful as yours on this list.
> Here's one aspect of the conversation that I'd like to pursue. On some
> occasions Cameron has expressed the view that design in living things is
> obvious, and that only misguided presuppositions prevent opponents of ID
> theory from adopting the ID perspective. (I would disagree.)
> But at other times Cameron sounds more like St. Thomas, arguing only
> that some teleological arguments are completely viable alternatives to
> ateological arguments, but not (in the absence of a theistic faith
> perspective) clearly stronger or logically compelling. With that I would
> agree.
> I suspect that St. Thomas's "five ways" of arguing for the existence of
> God continue to be viable, perhaps with minor modifications. I think
> it's interesting that his fifth way (the design argument) invoked design
> in non-living as well as living things, though he certainly emphasized
> living things.
> Here I see one contemporary distinction between ID and TE. Most ID
> proponents seem to argue that recent discoveries in molecular and
> cellular biology fundamentally elevate design of living things to a
> qualitatively different plane than design of non-living things,
> something St. Thomas or even Charles Darwin could not have imagined
> given the limited science of their respective times.
> TE proponents such as myself, as I see it, do not emphasize the
> distinction between life and non-life as much, tend to argue for design
> in creation that encompasses both, and are skeptical of ID claims that
> design in living things must be qualitatively and fundamentally
> different than design in non-living things.
> Cameron and others, would you say my perceptions about that difference
> between ID and TE are correct?
> Another question I'd like to discuss at some point is, what kind of
> changes in biology teaching would thoughtful ID proponents such as
> Cameron want to see in high school and college classrooms? I've tried
> to counter colleagues when I discover them teaching atheistic
> metaphysics as if that were an inevitable conclusion of science. But
> beyond that, I think Cameron would not be satisfied with my own teaching
> since I take the same sort of approach that the Millers (Keith and
> Kenneth), Francis Collins, Conway-Morris, etc. take towards teaching
> evolution. Cameron seems to feel strongly that something is missing,
> and that "Darwinism" must be strongly balanced if not countered. I'm not
> asking for a rehash of what's already been posted recently, but I still
> have a very fuzzy notion of what it would mean to teach ID theory in a
> molecular or cellular biology science class with any kind of integrity.
> Mike Gene has some interesting proposals on his The Design Matrix web
> site, but for technical reasons that I cannot go into now, I think he is
> mistaken.
> Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
> Chuck
> Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor of Biology
> Hixson-Lied Room 438
> Creighton University
> 2500 California Plaza
> Omaha, NE 68178
> Phone: 402-280-2154
> Fax: 402-280-5595
> e-mail:
> Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education
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Received on Fri, 26 Jun 2009 20:52:26 -0400

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