Re: [asa] Dembski on ID & TE

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Mon Aug 24 2009 - 10:50:57 EDT

>>> Schwarzwald <> 8/23/2009 8:49 PM >>> asks the following, concerning Bill a statement by Bill Dembski in which there is an implicit definition of TE:

"*Theistic evolution, by contrast, accepts the Darwinian view that Darwinian
processes generate the information required for biological complexity
internally, without any outside source of information.*" [from WD]

Considering that ID's compatibility with evolution (and really, ID's
definition, maybe even TE's definition) seems to come up a lot on this list,
this should be some pertinent information.

Off the top of my head, I get the feeling that Dembski is wrong about TE. Do
all TEs believe that "Darwinian processes generate the information required"
without any outside source of information? I think most TEs would simply
argue that design cannot be detected scientifically, and that therefore
"outside sources of information" of the type Dembski's talking about
(designers, etc) couldn't be detected even if they took place.

On the other hand, Dembski seems to be explicitly saying that ID is totally
compatible with evolution, but not "Darwinian" evolution. [from Schwarzwald]


Ted comments:

I agree with you, Schwarzwald. As you know, my own definition of TE, based on reading a very large number of TEs since the 1860s, is this: TE is the view that God used evolution to create living things, including humans. (Here "evolution" means descent with modification, by whatever mechanisms.) As I've said before, I've probably seen and studied more kinds of TE than most of those who are involved in the contemporary controversy -- most such folks look only casually at examples predating the modern creationism/ID controversy, often only to lift a supportive quotation out of its context. In other words, I do think that more weight ought to be given (in this case) to my view of what TE is than to the views of most of the current controversialists, most of whom don't see much of anything outside of the situation in which they are presently engaged.

IMO, my definition is more accurate (in some cases far more accurate) than any definition that limits the TE position to those in endorse the "Darwinian" mechanisms; furthermore, implicit within my definition is that God *creates* via evolution, which rules out the metaphysical claim that everything is "random," "unplanned," or "unguided." I doubt frankly that such a view would be theistic in any meaningful sense, and thus I would not include such a view in my definition of TE.

Now to be fair to Bill and others who identify TE rather narrowly with "Darwinian" views, there are examples of folks on both ends of ID/TE controversy who want to do that, for various reasons. Here is my own take on what is really going on.

Two factors are operative here.

(1) When some advocates of TE look at ID, all they see is a very strong tone and undercurrent of anti-evolutionism, i.e., opposition to common descent with modification. As I've often said, this is not an inaccurate perception: many ID proponents oppose common descent almost in principle, and I believe those folks do want the ordinary person to get the impression that ID is opposed to it. Thus, some TEs want to define their own category in such a way as to make it exclusive of ID -- even though many TEs do not hesitate to use ID-style arguments in cosmology (as I do). If ID had started off with a clear endorsement of (as vs an ambivalence or opposition toward) evolution, this factor would probably not be operative. At the same time, if that had taken place, the ID "tent" wouldn't be nearly as large. Politics again.

(2) When some advocates of ID look at TE, all they see is a very strong tone and undercurrent of opposition to ID, comparable at times to the similar tone exhibited toward YEC views (which most ID proponents also regard as not helpful). ID advocates want to know, among other things, where the TEs were when Guillermo Gonzalez was fired; they want to know where God fits into "Darwinian" mechanisms; and they want to know why they are not being given access to publish dissenting ideas in mainstream places, which TEs might be able to help them accomplish. More politics.

It's commonplace for people involved in the origins controversy to call for the "other guys" to make a few predictions, testable against evidence that might be forthcoming. The IDs want the TEs to "predict" the discovery of some specific pathways, fossil forms, or other things; the TEs want the IDs to show how ID can "predict" anything at all (I gather that Steve Meyer's book tries to do this).

Well, perhaps I should make a prediction, even though I'm an historian not a scientist. In fact I'll make two of them. Here you go.

(P1): If TDI were to revise their own definition of ID

(presently this says: "The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.")

to read something like this:

"The theory of intelligent design holds that humans and other organisms are related by common descent with modification, but that certain features of the universe and of living things exhibit show evidence of having been designed by an intelligent cause; undesigned and undirected processes such as natural selection are insufficient to explain this."

then, a lot of TEs would say "welcome home" and say that they believe in intelligent design, small i and small d. And, the wheels would come off the ID bandwagon, as YECs and OECs abandon it, but id would have broader support among working Christian scientists.

(P2): The prediction (P1) will turn continue to lack an empirical test. In other words, TDI isn't going to endorse common descent and the predicted consequences of doing so will not take place. Politically, it's too late for that. Politics, once again.

That's my four and a half cents on this one.


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Received on Mon Aug 24 10:52:17 2009

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