Over at BioLogos, President Deborah Haarsma has posted a column on ID/TE relations that is in some respects admirable, and certainly an improvement on many past things written about ID on BioLogos.
Here I present in full my response to her column. I am publishing it here because it is rather long, and I suspect BioLogos may not want to publish such a lengthy piece in the comments section.
Dear Dr. Haarsma:
Thank you for your irenic and constructive remarks in your recent column. It is probably the fairest column in the history of BioLogos on the specific subject of how ID and TE/EC agree and disagree. You seem to have gone out of your way to find and stress points of agreement between ID and TE/EC. This is laudable, and not (in my experience) typical of the TE/EC community and certainly not typical of the past management of BioLogos. Again, I thank you.
A number of your remarks warrant queries or correction or qualification or expansion. I provide such additions in my extended response below. I take up your points mostly in the order in which they appear in your article.
1. “At BioLogos,we believe that God is the living and active Creator of the whole universe, from initiating the Big Bang to providentially sustaining his creation today.”
I understand this. What I do not understand is why BioLogos and its authors have generally been so reluctant to use the word “design.” For example, I have rarely or never seen the statement, “We at BioLogos believe that God is the designer of the whole universe.” Does BioLogos not believe that God designed the universe? Similarly, I have rarely or never seen anyone at BioLogos affirm “God planned and guaranteed the specific outcomes of the evolutionary process.” Does BioLogos not affirm that? If not, why not? Is it not a logical inference from “God is the living and active Creator?” If not, what does it mean to be a “Creator” who does not design what he creates, who does not plan the exact outcomes of creation, etc.?
I find BioLogos (and TE/EC in general) to be very murky in this area, almost as if it wants to use “Creator” in a very broad sense, to leave lots of “wiggle room” for God not to design anything in particular and not to be responsible for all evolutionary outcomes.
2. To be fair to you and BioLogos, I acknowledge that the following statement in your column partly addresses my above complaint:
“DI and BL agree wholeheartedly that an intelligent being fine-tuned the laws of nature, designing the universe to be a place of life. The fundamental parameters and laws were crafted so that stars and galaxies could form, carbon could be produced in abundance, and life could flourish on Earth.”
I applaud BioLogos if this is now its position. However, I have never seen such a direct statement on BioLogos before. I have on occasion seen oblique statements which might seem to agree with it, but of course all the columns in which those statements appear have the caveat “the views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BioLogos.” But now we have the President of BioLogos, who surely does represent the views of BioLogos, speaking of “designing” the universe to be a place of life. That is an an important admission — one that should have been made as an official statement of BioLogos years ago.
3. “Unlike militant atheists, we see this as evidence that the universe was created with purpose and intention.”
Again, I applaud this statement. And again, it has more force because it comes from the President. So fine-tuning is “evidence” that the universe was designed, created with purpose and intention? Agreed! But many TE/EC proponents over the past 20 years have avoided saying that in so many words. Instead, they have frequently said:
(a) that science, as such, is by nature incapable of detecting design (and that broad general statement would have to include even cosmic design, and thus would exclude counting “fine-tuning” as “evidence” of any kind);
(b) that it is only through “the eye of faith” that fine-tuning or anything else could provide an argument for design (that is, if you are already Christian, you look at the universe in such a way that fine-tuning etc. provide a further confirmation of what you already believe, and therefore fine-tuning arguments are legitimate, but if you don’t as yet believe in the existence of any God, exactly the same fine-tuning arguments are illegitimate and of no evidential value).
I am pleased to see the President of BioLogos distance herself from the rigid methodological narrowness of (a) regarding the nature of science, and from the rigid Protestant fideism of (b) regarding natural theology. I can only hope that her attitude will rub off on many of her TE/EC colleagues.
4. “Intelligent Design claims that the current scientific evidence for evolution is weak, and argues that a better explanation would make explicit reference to an intelligent designer.”
This is not correct as it stands. It would be more correct to say “many Intelligent Design proponents claim …” As you surely know, Dr. Haarsma, the DI has many times made clear that “evolution” and “intelligent designer” are not opposed explanations; I would refer you to the excellent introductory essay in Jay Richards’s book, God and Evolution, for the general DI (and ID) position on this. I would also remind you that Michael Behe and Michael Denton speak of evolution and intelligent design, not evolution versus intelligent design. (They do sometimes oppose intelligent design to neo-Darwinian *explanations* of evolution, but not to “evolution” itself.) And certainly Behe and Denton do not find the evidence for evolution to be “weak.” At times Richard Sternberg has also given the impression of accepting evolution itself, and of contesting only the neo-Darwinian account of it. And there are many followers and defenders of ID, including Vincent Torley, Denyse O’Leary, and others, who have said that they have no in-principle objection to “evolution” but only to the comprehensive claims made about the mechanisms of evolution by neo-Darwinists and other mechano-materialist writers. All of this makes clear that ID per se, even the DI per se, takes no rigid stand on the question of common descent or macroevolution. At most one could say that there is a preponderance of anti-evolutionary opinion within ID. So that is what should be said, rather than what was said here.
5. “Perhaps because we accept the science of evolution, the misconception has developed that BioLogos believes God must always use natural causes. This is not the case. At BioLogos, “we believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as ‘natural laws.’ Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture.”
What a person really believes is reliably determined only by his or her practice, not by his or her formal statements. It is true that BioLogos has made many statements like the above; no one contests that. What is not clear is that such statements have any effect at all on the way BioLogos writers discuss origins. In practice, it seems, the working assumption, the de facto belief of most TE/EC proponents, especially the biologists, is that, when it comes to origins, God worked through natural causes (as opposed to the Biblical miracles where he employed supernatural causation). When it comes to origins, TE/EC people regularly put the onus on others to show that non-natural causes were involved. But there should be no such onus, if BioLogos genuinely believes that God may have used either natural or supernatural causes in any given case. Rather, the principle of “best explanation” should be employed; and if the “best explanation” for, say, the emergence of modern horses, is a naturalistic one, but the “best explanation” for the origin of life is a non-naturalistic one, then a Christian should have no problem accepting either. But it is clear from the BioLogos-sponsored attack on Meyer’s Signature in the Cell that the naturalistic explanation for the origin of life was to be preferred — even though not a single one of the BioLogos critics of Meyer’s book (Falk, Venema, Ayala) was a specialist in origin of life research or could come even close to providing a naturalistic account for the origin of life. So I do not believe it is entirely sincere for BioLogos to claim to be open to supernatural causes for origins. Formally, that is the case, but in practice we see no evidence of such openness, and it is in what people do, not in what they say, that we discover their operative beliefs and commitments.
6. “The debate is over how much God chose to use miracles over the eons of natural history, and here BL and DI assess the evidence differently.”
Again, this is not accurate. The DI is not committed to the position that miracles were employed. It is committed to the position that design is detectable. There are non-miraculous ways (at least in principle) of delivering design, and Denton’s Nature’s Destiny (a book which has been out for 16 years now but which has never been discussed on BioLogos) provides one hypothetical scheme for such delivery. Again, a better statement would have been: “Many ID proponents appear to believe that many miracles would have been needed to produce our current world, and BioLogos disagrees with that.” The constant equation of the ID position with miracles is a sore point in ID/TE discourse, because ID people have corrected TE people time and again on this point — scores of times on BioLogos alone — and TE people, including Giberson, Collins, and now yourself, keep slipping in the “miracle” language. Conversation in good faith requires allowing the people with the other position to speak for themselves, and refraining from imputing to them claims they have not made.
7. “At BioLogos, we embrace the historical Christian faith and uphold the authority and inspiration of the Bible.”
Again, what is crucial is not what people say but what they do. I concede that BioLogos has repeated endlessly its loyalty to Christian faith and the Bible. I also believe that BioLogos people are sincere in making this affirmation. I do not question their motives. But unless the contents of what BioLogos teaches are in fact what the Christian faith and the Bible teach, the affirmation is of little value. And indeed, much of the criticism of BioLogos (coming not just from ID people, but from creationists and even from atheists) has concerned just how compatible BioLogos positions are with the Bible and the Christian tradition.
This is often hard to determine, because the overwhelming emphasis on BioLogos (outside of Ted Davis’s columns) has been on fossils and genetics, and systematic and orderly discussion of Christian theology (as opposed to scattered theological observations thrown in here and there in the columns) is extremely rare there. Nor, when commenters ask the columnists for clarification on their theological positions, is much help given. Usually theological questions are evaded or met with silence. In five years, no BioLogos columnist or President has as yet committed to the doctrine that man, and not possibly some intelligent octopus or dolphin (as in Ken Miller), was intended by God and that God made sure (whether by intervention, front-loading, or some other means) that man and not some other creature was the end result of evolution.
Certainly past columnists on BioLogos, including Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, and Karl Giberson, made statements which directly or indirectly challenged “the authority and inspiration of the Bible” as that phrase has always been understood in American evangelical Christianity. And it does no good to say that BioLogos columnists speak only for themselves and not for BioLogos; when the general tendency of the columnists is in a certain direction, and no columnists are invited to write for BioLogos whose views are in the opposite direction, a tacit policy preference is evident. The fact that BioLogos was regularly inviting Enns, Sparks, and Giberson, and not inviting, e.g., Alvin Plantinga makes the disclaimer invalid.
Finally, “the historical Christian faith” has never been precisely defined by BioLogos, which gives it much wiggle-room. When pressed, some BioLogos biologists have said that they are “Wesleyan” rather than “Calvinist,” and their views on randomness and on the “freedom” of nature and on the lack of fixed outcomes of evolution, they have defended in “Wesleyan” terms. Yet close analysis of Wesley’s actual writings on creation — which have never been discussed on BioLogos — shows that Wesley’s views on creation (free will is a different matter) were no different from those of Calvin. And even if the two differed, why would Wesley count as a stalwart of “the historical Christian faith” and Calvin be discounted? Who at BioLogos is deciding what is part of “the historical Christian faith” and what is not? Does any columnist or executive officer at BioLogos possess a doctorate in historical theology?
8. “DI seeks to make the case for the designer in a purely scientific context, without specifying who the designer is. At BioLogos, we take the approach that science is not equipped to provide a full Christian apologetic.”
These two statements are not in conflict with each other. No one, literally no one, in the ID movement thinks that science can provide a Christian apologetic. Arguments for a designer are not arguments for the truth of Christianity. They are not Christian apologetics. They may facilitate Christian apologetics, in the sense that they remove atheistic objections that “science has proved there is no designer.” But no one at the DI thinks that the bacterial flagellum is warrant for accepting Christ as one’s Savior. This point, therefore, is a dead letter.
9. “This kind of attention to evidence counteracts another misconception about BioLogos, namely that we uncritically accept the consensus of mainstream science simply because it is the consensus.”
Dr. Haarsma, there is good reason for this “misconception.” The former Vice President of BioLogos, Karl Giberson, in fact took this position (not de jure, but de facto) in BioLogos columns a few years ago. A number of very intelligent objections, from a wide variety of commenters, including TE commenters, protested Giberson’s slavish following of consensus. It was pointed out that his conception of how science operates was largely mythological and not in line with either the actual practice of scientists or with the most sophisticated thinking on the nature of science (Kuhn, Feyerabend, Polanyi, etc.) He did not deign to respond to any of his BioLogos critics (though he did respond to one critic from outside the site, very inadequately).
10. “We welcome the iron to be sharpened on us in turn, and have invited Stephen Meyer to post a response to the reviews in this series.”
Excellent! And I think this should be a general policy: when ID people are attacked on BioLogos, they get a chance to respond in columns of adequate size to defend themselves. Will you commit to that, Dr. Haarsma?
This was rarely the case under the old management. Behe was attacked regularly, often in multi-column series, and many views were falsely imputed to him by BioLogos writers; but as far as I know, he was never offered even a single column to defend himself.
It is true that Stephen Meyer was given a chance to respond to Ayala’s criticism of his first book; but the then-President of BioLogos, Darrel Falk, undermined the presentation, first by making objections to posting Meyer’s response unless Meyer changed it, and second, even after agreeing to post it, by prefacing Meyer’s published response with a grumpy complaint that Meyer’s response was insufficiently respectful to a biologist of the stature of Ayala. The effect was, “We’re going to keep our word to allow Meyer his response, even though we don’t think this response deserves to be published.” This was a double standard, as Ayala has consistently been disrespectful of ID proponents, condescending to them theologically as well as scientifically, and he was tacitly disrespectful of Meyer by his negative review of a book he clearly had not read with care (since he dealt with almost none of Meyer’s arguments). Dr. Falk let his personal allegiance to Dr. Ayala cloud his judgment. I hope that BioLogos will not again attempt to poison the well for Dr. Meyer when he tries to make his defense, but will simply present what Meyer writes without negative editorial comment.
Dr. Haarsma, I hope I have been polite and constructive. You are welcome to sign up at The Hump of the Camel and respond to this column; or, if you wish, you may write a new column of your own on BioLogos as your answer. I will read it with interest.