BioLogos summary

I guess I need to summarise the discussion I’ve had over the last five days on the thread about Darrel Falk’s reply to William Dembski over on BioLogos. I may be a little clearer now about what he meant to say, but in truth I’m little closer to knowing, except by inference, what he actually believes. I’ve probably, regretfully, made an enemy in trying to find out.

The first thing to say is that Darrel really didn’t reply to any of my questions directly. He sent me off to look at other BioLogos articles, and at the end really seemed to say that I didn’t understand what he was clearly stating from the very beginning, by pointing out various things he’s said subsequent to my posts to myself and others and implying that I’d distorted his clear meaning. He certainly hasn’t admitted to any lack of precision or clarity, so perhaps it is my comprehension that’s at fault. Though most people I have worked with over the years rate my comprehension as at least average.

The position  he has finally laid out for BioLogos against Dembski’s critique is, in my opinion, so equivocal as to clarify little, but I’ll try to list the main points as I see them:

  1.  Since God sustains natural law, it would not be “odd”, as Dembski claimed, for God to use it for the process of evolution. This is true, and Dembski did omit mentioning God’s sustaining hand in natural law, but this may well because the latter’s focus was on the undirectedness of Darwinian evolution as an “odd” way to meet specific  goals, rather than denying God’s upholding power which, as a Southern Baptist, I’m sure he understands.
  2. Having strongly suggested that evolution is a process of natural law as opposed to his other category, supernatural intervention, Falk’s invocation of divine upholding  doesn’t answer Dembski’s objection, for he avoided any mention of God’s other (Scriptural) role in nature, which is his governing of it. So in fact he didn’t answer the doubts about undirected evolution, but rather obfuscated it by taking a shot at Dembski’s “false” division of natural and supernatural. Even so he appeared to confirm that evolution is undirected, though upheld, by God. His explanation for how this might fulfil God’s purposes appeared to be (a) that we cannot know whether God’s purposes for nature are precise or general and (b) Given enough time, undirected evolution might be able to produce all God wants, only slowly.
  3. When pressed (repeatedly) for a statement on the role contingency has in evolution, he finally said that most people (evidently apart from me, who was working from his definition of it) understand randomness to be part of nature, though in fact it cuts across the definition he made of natural law, which majored on its reliability, predictability and even its mathematical accuracy. He then said that we cannot be sure if, or to what extent, God might govern through manipulating contingency – which, of course, undercuts any certainty he had implied about evolution operating naturally in a lawlike manner. Incidentally he also pointed in this regard to Simon Conway Morris’s claims about convergent evolution, but it should be noted that (a) this is disputed and (b) that it depends, in Morris’s own words, on “some other priciple that we’ve failed to identify.” One may note that, therefore, that reliance on natural law is an article of faith, since it depends on laws we haven’t yet discovered.
  4. At all stages in the discussion, Falk pointed out that he had not precluded the role of supernatural intervention in evolution. Unfortunately he failed to point out that he had implied, quite strongly, that it was unnecessary. But the caveat provides a bolthole for any suggestion that (a) undirected evolution might be inadequate and (b) that Scripture might imply that God does intervene. Indeed, Darrel seemed to wield “the supernatural God of the Bible” as a sword against the ungodly, as if it were I who doubted the possibility of the supernatural in evolution. It would have been good to pursue the question of whether such intervention, being unlike natural law unpredictable, ought not to be detectable in nature, but things were confusing enough already as it would probably have led to a discussion of contingency and statistical laws. Darrel has said before that design is not detectable in nature – or rather, that it may well not be.
  5. I almost forgot: Falk gave no clarification of the meaning of what he has formerly referred to as the “freedom” of nature. He pointed my to Kathryn Applegate’s article on a virus that uses Brownian motion to self-assemble, but that hardly seems a radical departure from Van Till’s “dead hand of design”. Whether he means by “freedom” merely “a degree of randomness”, or the greater degrees of autonomy proposed by Murphy (the evolution of “sinful” selfish behaviours) or the Open Theists and Process Theologians in TE, his emphasis thoughout was on the fulfilment of God’s purpose. Of course, that purpose could include self-determination, but we didn’t get even a “possible” on that in this thread.

Finally a couple of general observations. In the first place a description of life in which evolution mostly shows no specific signs of divine intervention, but some possible evidences for it, seems to me indistinguishable in any important respect from ID. Culture wars still rule (as is also, unfoetunately, shown by some of the comments on UD about this).

And secondly, though we have been left with a version of theistic evolution in which the possibility of God’s direct activity must be seriously considered, a great deal of the writing on BioLogos sets out to prove that God is not involved, whether that be through Dennis Venema looking at the falsity of irreducible complexity to disprove Behe, Karl Giberson talking about bad design or George Murphy denouncing the idea of a historical Adam.

In all kinds of ways, as my banking friend used to say, words and figures do not seem to match.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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3 Responses to BioLogos summary

  1. James says:

    You did very well, Jon. You raised the tough questions, and Darrel, for the most part, either failed to answer them or made them more obscure by his less-than-clear explanations.

    I would have helped you, but of course I was banned from the place long ago. I hope you heard me cheering all the way.

    I thought that Darrel started out well in his series with Bill Dembski. He was polite, and he was fairly clear in stating where he stood. But when it came to answering your questions, he seemed to fall back into the “obfuscating mode” that has been so typical of BioLogos. So he took one step forward, and one step backward. He failed to capitalize on the excellent start that he had made.

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks James. The net result is that the strapline is still “Just rewrite your theology and you can accept NeoDarwinian evolution fine.” There’s more work to do yet!

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