A good video of William Dembski with rubbish sound is posted on UD here. It confirmed to me the conclusion that the divisions in the science-faith spectrum are usually drawn in the wrong places. There are really only two important positions, corresponding to design and non-design. Period.
Take for example an exchange I had with Eric Kretschmer on BioLogos. His post was on his interactions as a science educator with Creationists. He seems a nice guy, but I think he misunderstands where the worldview-boundary truly lies. Pressed by people like Chip and Eddie Eric affirms:
And yes, I do believe God intended humanity to exist, not as an unitended byproduct, but rather as His “image bearers” to glorify Him.
That is, of course, a restricted answer that doesn’t deal with the rest of creation, but in its own right it is absolutely a design inference. As Dembski helpfully reminds us, the etymology of “information” is “the imposition of form” on matter (which in its turn is etymologically derived from the word for “building timber”, or more generally raw material). So in classical philosophy, as I should have realised, the admission of the existence of “form” is necessarily the admission of the instantiation of information. All those arguments about DNA not “really” containing information are utterly meaningless if one agrees there are “endless forms most beautiful.”
Theistically, if one concedes that God has any say whatsoever in the final form of something, then to the same extent it is he who provided the information cicumscribing that form. Ergo, to the exact extent God intended man, he instilled the information that distinguishes man from mere formless matter.
Dembski also reminds us that, absolutely intrinsic to the idea of information is the restriction of degrees of freedom – that is what information is actually all about. Dembski gives the example of a joke in which Bill Gates commissions a bust of Beethoven, and receives back a cube of marble, the sculptor saying that all the material for the bust is in the block, and that all Gates has to do is remove the excess. Gates pays him with a free copy of the forthcoming Windows OS to market as he wishes – and gives him a blank disk, saying that all the material for the programme is on it…
Another telling analogy I heard on a documentary about Syd Barrett, the former member of Pink Floyd whose mental health sadly degenerated. A friend said he used to lie on his bed staring at the ceiling for hours, and attributed it to “wisdom” in that all possibilities remained open whilst he did not actually commit himself to any one action. Such “freedom”, of course, is indistinguishable from captivity. Only the restriction of form gives the freedom to exist substantially.
Exactly how that information gets from God to the “form” he wills is, as far as the question of design goes, irrelevant. It could be by special creation, by directed evolution, by genetic front-loading or by extreme fine-tuning of the Universe. One might argue for or aginst one or the other on the grounds of evidence, but you’ll still have a theistic design inference, so the difference is trivial. Bill Dembski says as much regarding his own position: he may doubt common descent, but it’s not a significant issue to him, and neither is evolution – provided that information is seen to come from somewhere: forms do not just happen, though there is no particular reason why God should not have enfolded “form” within raw matter so that it emerges during an evolutionary process – and Dembski would be as happy with that as Conway Morris would.
Here’s an extreme “hands off” example of design. I once treated a professional photographer, who rather sheepishly admitted that he’d once found a patch of black ice in Chelmsford town centre, and stood around with his camera knowing that sooner or later a car would fall foul of it and crash. He got the accident shot he planned, and sold it to the local paper as he’d intended all along. In this case, his design was simply the freezing of an instant he did not engineer (though which he might have prevented!), which is no different conceptually from Maxwell’s demon shutting and opening the door on molecules to create an isolated patch of vacuum. So even were God somehow (and untheologically) to have no influence over nature except to confirm it if it happened to concur with his will, then it would be a bog standard case of Intelligent Design.
Now the only fundamentally antithetic position to this is to say that God does not instantiate information in matter – that he is not responsible for forms. Note that this would make a statement like that I quoted from Eric Kretschmer impossible to make, or incoherent if it were made. However, to the extent that someone talks about “nature creating itself”, or “exercising freedom”, or being involved in “co-creation” without making it clear that he means no more than secondary causation, then he is denying that God has formed it. It is doubtful, in such a case, what “theism” would mean, for what God has not formed he has not created. In Genesis 1 terms, if John Walton is to be believed, form truly does follow function. Even the creation of raw matter is no more than the limitation of its possibilities to whatever physical properties and laws God has given it.
To my mind, then, there are actually two forms of so-called theistic evolution, one of which belongs firmly within the same territory as Intelligent Design and Creationism, the arguments between them being, in the end, of minor importance. The other belongs firmly in the same camp as naturalistic materialism, and as has been pointed out by others, their disagreement over the existence of God is of small import because he does nothing … or more specifically, he forms nothing, meaning he is not the source of its information content.
As ever, there will be those whose inclination is to try and straddle the divide between those two fundamentally incompatible positions, and such people are likely to occupy the ground where the two meet, ie within present day theistic evolution. That makes it a potentially uncomfortable place to be, unless doing the splits is your particular skill.