I went to check for any new stuff on the Third Way website of alternatives to Neodarwinism over the weekend, and noticed a further addition to the “Ts and C’s”. It seems they now consider themselves in danger of becoming ritually unclean:
It has come to our attention that THE THIRD WAY web site is wrongly being referenced by proponents of Intelligent Design and creationist ideas as support for their arguments. We intend to make it clear that the website and scientists listed on the web site do not support or subscribe to any proposals that resort to inscrutable divine forces or supernatural intervention, whether they are called Creationism, Intelligent Design, or anything else.
I notice that this seems less a clarification of their own secular beliefs than a plenary anathema: “Whatever any of those people say, whoever they may be, we disagree with it. Always. Completely. Yes.”
Now I suppose some such stance might be justified if Creationists and IDists (and the nameless others – TEs perhaps?) are making claims that James Shapiro and his colleagues actually believe in Creationism themselves, but I have to say that for myself I’ve only seen claims like that from skeptics like Larry Moran.
Equally if such Creationist sites misquote or misrepresent the cases being made by Newman, or Noble, or Jablonka, they are acting irresponsibly – though not particularly unusually in the parallel universe of the Internet. But all I’ve seen on ID sites, for example, argues along the lines of citing the evidence of one of these guys for the inadequacy of Neodarwinism (a shared concern), or for a teleological process (a shared concern). But the critique is usually added that he has failed to suggest adequate natural mechanisms for the arrival of his own preferred option, if Neodarwinism does fall short. Ergo design, etc. Which seems fair comment, in principle.
The objection seems to be that these “Creationists or whoever they are” are in the wrong in the very citation of Third Way evidence to support their arguments. But that would be a pretty strange intellectual position, wouldn’t it? The whole business of arriving at a position on something necessarily includes dealing with the evidence of ones opponents. It’s both normal, and legitimate, to say either “X‘s evidence doesn’t add up,” or “X‘s evidence actually supports my case better than his own.” Politicians routinely turn their opponents’ statistics back on them, and nobody (except a fool) cries that Republicans shouldn’t use Democrat survey results. Muslim apologists regularly cite radical liberal Christian academics to show that even the Christians don’t believe Jesus is God’s Son, and the problem lies with what the academics are saying, not with the Muslims who quote it. Why, even atheists sometimes use the writings of orthodox Christians in their own favour. The traditional response is to make corrections in reply (or ignore it altogether).
But it’s not even controversial – any academic book will cite hundred of sources with whom the writer only partially agrees, if particular arguments support his case. Nobody supposes that quoting Nietsche, even favourably, puts you on his side generally. That’s the way knowledge proceeds, so what’s the problem?
Well, in this case the answer seems to be a desire for the blanket exclusion of all who “resort to inscrutable divine forces or supernatural intervention.” Is that reasonable? The complaint of the Neo-scholastics against natural theology, mentioned in comments a couple of posts ago is that, far from resorting to an inscrutable God, Intelligent Design resorts to a God who is too scrutable for the general good. The same is thought to be true of those espousing Creation Science – they are claiming that the evidence on the ground supports a literalistic view of Genesis, ie that in this respect God’s work is transparent, and far from inscrutable. ID claims (rightly or wrongly, that is not my concern here) that some evidence in biology is best explained by intelligent design, which may or may not be from God but, in any case, will be operating through investigable secondary causes. To exactly the extent that the designer’s work can be so investigated, it is not inscrutable. So “inscrutability” isn’t actually the issue at all. The shibboleth really is that, at whatever remove from the biology itself, a divinity may be involved in some way, which cannot be countenanced.
So, we infer, all the Third Way researchers wish not only to distance themselves from, but to deny, any role for “divine forces” and, indeed, to consider that any of their work has been used wrongly should it be referenced by any who do allow for such forces. The first is their privilege as proprietors of the site; the second somewhat precious, as I have argued above. But both quite clearly reveal a metaphysical faith commitment on their part, which is prior to their practice of science and governs its course.
It’s worth just backing that up from the website itself. As I’ve suggested above, Intelligent Design proponents and Creation Scientists both work from a belief that God is, to some extent, actually “scrutable” in biological processes. To what extent that is the case depends on the individual, but at the most basic level every Theist believes that God’s work is seen in some way in Creation. Even the most Philosophical Classical Theist, denying the knowability of God’s being in itself, does not believe him entirely unknowable by analogy and through his work.
But Third Way believes “divine forces” to be inscrutable, and therefore won’t have any of them. If that were from scientific conviction, then it would follow that biology itself is perfectly scrutable, and that its scrutators have seen how it works clearly enough to exclude divinity as mistaken or, at least, superfluous. But is that what Third Way claims? Not as far as the mainstream theory goes, for starters. From their Mission Statement:
Neo-Darwinism… is clearly naturalistic science but ignores much contemporary molecular evidence and invokes a set of unsupported assumptions about the accidental nature of hereditary variation.
The Modern Synthesis, then, claims variation is accidental, but can’t (according to Third Way) support that assumption. So variation might not be accidental at all. If not, then it has teleological (for what else is “non-accidental”?) causes that, unlike those suggested by Creationists, can be successfully scrutinized. Presumably, then, those causes have been successfully investigated by Third Way, or else their exclusion of the divine must follow from faith, not from the evidence.
But alas! They do not claim to have seen through biology at all – in fact, they are all still making the attempt, it seems, from different, and not necessarily compatible, angles:
The web site therefore intends to present a wide variety of novel views about evolution but does not necessarily endorse any of them. Our goal is simply to make new thinking about evolution available in one place on the web.
The summary of their position, then, seems to be this: “So far, the processes of evolution are inscrutable enough that we are not able to agree about them, either with each other or the biological mainstream. But by faith we believe that we are on the right track and they will yield all their secrets in due time, and that God will not be one of them.”
Which doesn’t seem a very strongly evidenced position to me, but a prior commitment. Better, I think, if they just got on with their valuable empirical work and left the ideological jockeying to others.