Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Oct 13 2009 - 18:26:45 EDT


Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your willingness to listen and to
engage in a give-and-take conversation.

I agree that Dover was not the best case for ID people to be involved in,
and I've said that here and elsewhere. On the other hand, Behe never
defended the specific illegal and foolish actions (the lies, the clumsy
handling of the issue, etc.) of the Dover school board trustees. He only
defended the legitimacy of intelligent design as an approach within the life
sciences. That's nothing different from what he had said before, in
settings quite different from Dover. He was there to set the record
straight about intelligent design, not to defend Biblical literalism or the
control of school boards by fundamentalists. Even if in one sense Behe was
being used by such people, in another sense he was seizing upon an
opportunity to educate the public regarding the nature of ID. And if he
hadn't testified, it could easily have been made to look as if all the
leading ID proponents were "chicken" to defend their views on the scientific
side. He had to make a judgement call, and only in historical perspective
will it become clear whether his decision to participate was helpful or
harmful to the cause of ID. Thus, your characterization of "getting taken
captive by the YECs at Dover" is a bit unfair.

There's no comparison between Behe and Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter is vulgar
and self-consciously offensive; Behe is a gentleman. (As are many other ID
proponents, e.g., Stephen Meyer.) Even if you did not intend it, your
parallel was in very bad taste.

You wrote:

CW -- "Behe's argument does not pit interventionism against
non-interventionism. It pits design against chance."

JW -- This is a good crystallization of Behe's position and I contend it
violates MN and causes the problems above.

How so? If I set up a mile-long chain of dominos, so that, when the first
domino is tipped, a chain action follows which causes the final domino to
flip a switch to launch a rocket to the moon, the entire chain of activity
is entirely explicable within methodological naturalism; yet it is also
entirely designed and planned. No violation of natural laws was required to
launch the rocket; yet the design of the domino set-up was absolutely
required (in this instance) to launch the rocket. Design and natural causes
worked together hand-in-glove, with no violation of MN. How do we know that
some analogous process was not involved in the Cambrian explosion or the
origin of life? You say that you understand Behe's argument, yet your
objection shows that you do not, and that you are still seeing him as
arguing for miracles. You are still confusing him with Ken Ham and Duane
Gish and Henry Morris.

I did not concede that the claim that Behe illegitimately mingled philosophy
with science was a "valid criticism". I conceded that it was a "plausible
criticism". For it to become a "valid criticism" in my mind, I would need a
demonstration from someone that it is absolutely necessary for science to
insist on an abstract notion of method which must be followed to the last
jot and tittle, even where it threatens to mis-explain nature, when it seems
that a more open conception of science could do justice to the data, while
offering a better explanation. For example, it certainly looks -- at the
moment, anyway -- as if intelligent design is necessary to explain the first
life, and that "methodological naturalism" has led scientists down the wrong
path on this subject. But by your ground rules, we should keep banging our
heads away, looking for naturalistic explanations for the origin of life,
for the next hundred years, for the next thousand, even for the next
million, and even if the case for a naturalistic origin never gets any
better than it is today, indeed, even if gets worse, i.e., looks more and
more improbable, *at no point* should we ever concede, based on everything
we know, that design is the best *rational* (not religious) explanation. I
would say, if that is the kind of sheer stubbornness that "methodological
naturalism" requires, then let's scrap methodological naturalism in favour
of a more intellectually honest way of investigating nature. But I don't
believe that methodological naturalism, which is a sensible pragmatic
principle, requires such idiotic, ideological stubbornness. Methodological
naturalism is fine in its place. But in the hands of Eugenie Scott and
NCSE, it is merely a scientific-sounding cover for unacknowledged atheism,
and that is how it's used in the culture wars.

I didn't say that methodological naturalism was a capitulation to the
Enlightenment. I said that *a rigid boundary between science and faith* was
a capitulation to the Enlightenment. NOMA, a principle which many here seem
to hold dear, is the result of capitulation to the Enlightenment. I could
argue this in detail, but it would require a long essay on the history of
Western thought from Kant through to Stephen Jay Gould, and I'll save that
for a future publication. In any case, it was merely a prefatory remark to
my main point.

I was not speaking of teaching ID in the classrooms. I don't think that
properly teaching ID concepts would do any harm, but most high school
science teachers right now have no competence to teach it (they don't even
have the competence to teach Darwinism in most cases), and they have been
brainwashed against ID anyway and would only use the classroom lessons to
take cheap shots at ID, cheap shots which the students would not recognize
as scientifically groundless in most cases (and frequently atheistically
motivated). I would be content if Darwinism were taught more critically,
e.g., if Michael Denton's critique of Darwinism were required to be taught
alongside of the views of Mayr and Dobhzhansky and Dawkins and Gould, and if
impressionable 14-year-old students were made aware (as they are not made
aware now) that some of the fossil finds on which human lineages are
reconstructed are limited to a single tooth or bone fragment, and that many
of the "classic" images of prehistoric creatures are in fact artist's
reconstructions based on incomplete skeletons and no soft tissues, and that
in many cases we have almost no information on the details of ancient
environments and that therefore the determination of "selective pressures"
in those cases is necessarily highly speculative, and that no biologist on
the ASA list, or for that matter in the National Academy of Science, can
explain how even one major new organ or system evolved in anywhere near
demonstrative detail.

I do not understand why you think a scientific method should try to "keep
out" Muslim views or YEC views or anything else. A scientific method should
try to determine what is true about nature, and let the chips fall where
they may, as far as whether the results please or offend any religious
groups. Thus, I think it is perfectly appropriate to teach schoolchildren
information that would allow them to infer that YEC is impossible -- BUT
only on the proviso that schoolchildren are ALSO taught information that
would allow them to infer that design is a more reasonable explanation for
the origin of life than abiogenesis by random recombination of atoms. If
science class isn't going to worry about offending fundamentalists, neither
should it worry about offending atheists. What offended ME about the Dover
Trial was the self-righteousness of the atheists in the ACLU and the media
who condescendingly lectured the fundamentalists for trying to control the
contents of science class in order to promote their religion, when the
atheists quite plainly wanted to make sure that nothing was taught in
biology class, in Dover or anywhere else in the country, that could lead
students to infer the existence of a designer, since the existence of a
designer would threaten their own atheist religion. And they claimed that
they were defending "constitutional neutrality regarding religion". Right.


----- Original Message -----
From: "John Walley" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; "asa" <>
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 6:23 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

"I know the exact boundary between science and faith, and design inferences
fall on the faith side of the boundary."

If we substitute MN for science in the above and tone down knowing and
exact, then yes I will own that quote. And you labeling MN as a
"capitulation to the Enlightenment" affirms my point. You see MN as an
artificial constraint that is designed to keep God out of science. Even if
so it still serves a useful purpose because it keeps YEC out and muslim
creationism out and new age quantum mechanics out as well. And defining
science in any way to not keep these out yields chaos in the classroom. To
oppose MN to push your ID barrow, you have to open up this can of worms and
draw speculations from all these ideological groups and others and that is
best kept out of science. So if you agree with this conclusion you will see
the value of MN. Sure you can debate whether the Bible has more historical
and scientific concordism than the Koran but lets not call that science and
lets not do it in the science classroom.

I will concede that Behe "brings philosophical conclusions into science" is
a more accurate description than crossing the boundary from science to faith
and I am glad you concede that it is a valid criticism. My apologies for my
edtorial error about crossing the line and my conclusion of you being

"Behe's argument does not pit interventionism against non-interventionism.
It pits design against chance." This is a good crystallization of Behe's
position and I contend it violates MN and causes the problems above. Now am
I saying that Behe as a scientist is not allowed to draw his own
philosophical conclusions and state them publicly? No and in an ideal world
it would be great if we could all freely and publicly draw conclusions about
Christianity and the Christian God. But the fact that this is a very
polarizing issue and it strikes at the very heart of the athesit lobby means
we have to use wisdom in how we present it. Getting taken captive by YECs at
Dover is not a good example. And that is going to be the result of pushing
ID now, it is going to get smeared like Dover unless it is handled much more
politically expediently and that is why I keep bringing up Collins. I wished
you guys could see this simple comparison. ID would be a lot less
 repulsive to the culture if it was not so tightly coupled with science that
was falsifiable and what most objective people don't want taught to their
kids. I have to agree with the atheists on that.

"It appears to me that Collins is willing to sacrifice adequacy of
explanation, if necessary, in order to adhere strictly to an abstract notion
of scientific method, whereas Behe thinks that it would be better to
sacrifice an abstract notion of scientific method in order to achieve
adequacy of explanation." This is another good distillation of the
differences between Collins and Behe and I agree with its accuracy. And
within the church and private circles I think Behe is right, God does
provide the explanation. But you can't just take this to the public square
without expecting push back. I may have my political opinions but I can't
just voice them all at work without running the risk of getting voted off
the island. You guys are the theological equivalent of Ann Coulter, you like
to just throw it out there and to hell with who gets offended.


----- Original Message ----
From: Cameron Wybrow <>
To: asa <>
Sent: Mon, October 12, 2009 1:45:00 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....


What you mean by "strong ID advocates ... don't clearly see the boundaries
between science and faith" translates into:

"I know the exact boundary between science and faith, and design inferences
fall on the faith side of the boundary."

You are of course entitled to that opinion, and of course others will
differ. Behe differs. I certainly differ.

I think that the idea of a rigid science/faith boundary is itself somewhat
suspect, smelling of a capitulation to the Enlightenment, but even if I were
to accept your conception that faith and science are in watertight
compartments, it would not follow that the design inference is on the
"faith" side. It could be on the "science" side. Or it might be that there
is a third "zone" which is neither that of science nor of faith, but of
philosophy, and that design arguments belong in that third zone. This, I
believe, is Ted Davis's position, and also, I think, Schwarzwald's position.
Thus, Behe's "error" is not that he draws doctrines derived from faith into
science, but that he brings philosophical conclusions into science. There is
a certain plausibility to this latter criticism of Behe. However, regarding
your criticism, I have yet to be shown any part of Behe's scientific
discussion that smuggles in premises from faith.

"MN", as you call it, i.e., methodological naturalism, is not challenged by
Behe's arguments. He has not insisted that evolutionary change be explained
by reference to non-natural causes. He has repeatedly said that he admires
Denton, who is explicitly naturalist, and he has repeatedly said that
evolution could have occurred in an entirely natural way, without requiring
any special interventions. Intelligent design as an explanation is not
incompatible with an entirely natural delivery system for the design. Behe's
argument does not pit interventionism against non-interventionism. It pits
design against chance.

My question, "What crosses the line between science and faith" did not
indicate that I was "oblivious" of anything; rather, it was a complaint
about your writing style. You had written:

"You could make the case that he is using it to differentiate it from
Dentonian or Mike Genian but again *that is crosses* the line from science
to faith so I don't consider *that* useful or helpful or relevant."

I assume the phrase "that is crosses" is an editorial error for "that
crosses". But even so, the referent of "that" is unclear.
Thus, I asked for clarification: *What* crosses the line between science and
faith? Denton's theory? Mike Gene's? Something Behe said? Or my
interpretation of why Behe was using the qualifier "Darwinian"? Your writing
wasn't clear. I decided that you probably meant that Denton inferred God
from design, and that you thought that this was illegitimately sneaking
faith into science. And my point in response was that Denton did not infer
the *Christian* God from design, but meant by God only an intelligent
designer of some kind, and therefore was not appealing to "faith". If I
misunderstood you, chalk it up to your ambiguous use of the pronoun "that".

I don't know what you are thanking me for "reminding" you of, but I
certainly did not wish to "remind" you of anything which would lead you to
imply that Collins has a better understanding of scientific method than
Behe. Behe is just as aware of Collins of the advantages of seeking natural
explanations for things that happen rather than positing supernatural
interferences. As a biochemist, Behe does not explain processes like
digestion or protein synthesis with reference to special actions of God. In
this respect he differs from Collins not at all. But Behe does not make an
abstract insistence on method the be-all and end-all of science. The *goal*
of science is to explain nature, not to maintain a certain investigative
method at any intellectual cost. If explaining nature in some cases requires
(as Behe thinks it does) a conception of design, then design inferences fall
legitimately within the realm of science. It appears to me that
 Collins is willing to sacrifice adequacy of explanation, if necessary, in
order to adhere strictly to an abstract notion of scientific method, whereas
Behe thinks that it would be better to sacrifice an abstract notion of
scientific method in order to achieve adequacy of explanation. So which is
more important in science, the adequate, rational explanation of causes, or
the maintenance of an abstract requirement of method? It does not seem to me
obvious what the right answer is, nor do some of the greatest philosophers
of science (who have wrestled quite seriously with teleological explanation)
think it is obvious what the right answer is; TE people, on the other hand,
just take for granted that consistency of method trumps adequacy of
explanation every time.

I did not intend my distinction between biochemists and geneticists to be
"profound", though if I have achieved profundity accidentally I am most
gratified to be informed of it. In any case, I am glad that you found my
suggestion useful.

Your last two sentences are unclear in meaning. I can't determine who is
breaking away from which traditions. In any case, here is my statement:
theistic evolution is not a departure from Catholic faith if all that is
meant by "theistic evolution" is the simple statement that God guided or
planned the process of evolution. The Roman Church has given the green light
for that speculation. Many Catholics are already theistic evolutionists in
this broad sense. But theistic evolution as it is often understood here and
elsewhere is a narrower proposal, implying a rigid separation between
spheres of knowledge such that the two (science and theology) can never
intersect, and that no natural knowledge of God is possible. This runs
against the grain of mainstream Catholic faith since the time of Aquinas,
and of course Aquinas's thought has many precedents in the Church Fathers.
It is this narrower notion of TE that I have asserted to be a primarily
 Protestant notion. It is too bad that there does not exist a label by which
Protestant-TE could be distinguished from TE-in-general. Behe is certainly a
TE-in-general, since he both believes in God and accepts macroevolution, but
he does not like calling himself a TE because of the way that term is
generally used in Protestant evangelical circles. He does not hold to the
theological and methodological premises which are generally insisted upon by
the leading Protestant TEs. On these matters I am in agreement with Behe.


----- Original Message ----- From: "John Walley" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; "asa" <>
Sent: Monday, October 12, 2009 9:43 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....


My response to Schwarzwald in another thread applies to you here. The mote
in the eye of the strong ID advocates is that they don't clearly see the
boundaires between science and faith. You show that here as well.

In your own words, "Behe's primary scientific argument is that Darwinian
(neo-Darwinian, etc.) mechanisms cannot explain the phenomena, and that the
existence of some sort of designing intelligence is a more reasonable
hypothesis to account for them. That's it. " Yes that's it. That conclusion,
although rational and logical and valid, is outside of the realm of science
if you uphold MN which I do. Then in the next sentence you ask "What
"crosses the line from science to faith"?" making it clear that you are
totally oblivious to this.

In contrast, I think Behe and ID in general consider MN a convenient
ideologically inspired and artificial constraint and therefore owe no homage
to it, where Collins and science in general respect its purpose. I think it
is fair to say this is at the root of the tendency of ID to confuse science
with faith and my previous diagnosis of the condition was incomplete without
it so thanks for reminding me.

I will admit though that your distinction between the outlook of a
geneticist and a biochemist is vary valid however and possibly even
profound, and also your observation between Catholics and Protestant TE's. I
would say though that Catholics don't need to become TE's though because it
is no departure from their faith but a logical extension of it. Not so in
Protestantism though which does require they break away from their tradition
which explains why all TE's would be Protestant.



To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Oct 13 18:50:57 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Oct 13 2009 - 18:50:58 EDT