Some Not Truly Random Observations on a Current BioLogos Discussion: Stuff They Get Away With When Eddie’s Not There

An interesting new BioLogos discussion is based upon a post by one “Dpiiius” who sports the alternate name of “Darius Beckham”.

The assertion is:

“I’m starting to think intelligent design theories are more plausible than the ones advocated by BioLogos researchers. The science is more sound, philosophically honest, and makes more sense of Scripture.”

It’s quite enjoyable for me, as an exile from BioLogos, to observe the ensuing discussion.

Joshua Swamidass gives this opening statement a “Like” even though he surely disagrees with it. Presumably he admires Darius’s directness and courage for walking into a lion’s den. Good for you, Joshua.

Then Brad Kramer, deftly concealing his sudden temperature rise 🙂 , responds with: “@Dpiiiius this is an interesting statement. Can you please elaborate what you mean?”

Slowly, the participants get into the nitty-gritty.

Joshua, after indicating that he thinks ID science is very bad, goes on to make the almost mandatory TE/EC “ID is bad theology” comment:

“Moreover, I think ID’s (implicit) theology is wrong too. This is tricky, because ID has no explicit theology. But ID makes no sense unless you think human effort by default can clearly reveal how God acts in this world, independent of His revelation.”

Of course, ID makes no claim to reveal “how God acts in this world”, but only that God has acted in this world — or, to be more precise with the more minimal ID claim, that we can infer intelligent design behind this world. But without ol’ Eddie there to challenge the statement, Joshua appears to get away with it.

Our old Unitarian friend George Brooks jumps in with his usual attempts to harmonize ID and TE/EC, imputing (as he often does) views to TE/EC proponents that are held by (or at least have been expressed by) only one TE/EC in the world, namely George Brooks:

“… those BioLogos supporters who believe God set up the Dinosaur-killing asteroid at the moment of Creation… other BioLogos supporters are perfectly comfortable with the idea that asteroid was created somewhere out in deep space, and aimed by God to collide with Earth at the desired speed and angle.”

BioLogos supporters who endorse either of those alternatives, where are you?

Certainly “beaglelady” is not warm to Brooks’s suggestion. She writes:

“And some of us don’t believe that God chucked that asteroid.”

Writing in her usual one-line form, beaglelady does not elaborate. But Darius is led by beaglelady’s pithy rejection to ask this question:

“Are you an athiest?”

To which beaglelady replies:

“Absolutely not! You are cheeky to ask.”

Darius apologizes, explaining why he misconstrued beaglelady’s laconic one-liner:

“I didn’t mean to be cheeky lol, you were just so blunt about not thinking God “chucked” an asteroid. I mistakenly interpreted it as you not believing in God at all! Sorry!”

To be sure, Darius jumped too quickly to a conclusion, but I’m sympathetic with him. I don’t think beaglelady is an atheist, of course, but for years on BioLogos, beaglelady has been making statements, some of them with a bit of a sarcastic edge, expressing doubt about the complete truth of the Bible, questioning both its historical veracity and its reliability as a moral compass. Yet whenever I used to ask her what such remarks implied about her own view of the Bible — and I certainly never asked her outright if she was an atheist, or accused her of such — I was dressed down harshly by a moderator. I guess they are going easier on the new guy than they go on Eddie, but that’s all right. More important is the fact that BioLogos enforces a principle of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to questions about religious allegiance — which is quite odd for an organization which is explicitly Christian and claims to represent evangelical tradition. Frankly, I don’t see why it should be beyond the rules for someone to ask someone what his or her religious position is. I think that the people questioned should be allowed to say, “I decline to answer your question,” but I don’t think the question should be forbidden in an explicitly Christian and evangelical forum. I don’t think a Christian writer like Darius was being “cheeky” at all.

It turns out that the reason beaglelady is so upset about the asteroid suggestion is the old theodicy problem: beaglelady is convinced that God would never will any evil or suffering, not even on subhuman animal life. This is a common motivation in TE/EC writing. It underlies the “ID must be wrong, because God would never design anything so nasty as malaria” arguments of Miller and Ayala.

We see this line of thinking in a remark of Christy’s:

“I think it’s more that some of us get a little squirmy about seeing destruction and death on a massive scale and attributing it to God’s intention. It’s sort of in the “God sent Hurricane Katrina” category.”

Of course, not all Christians balk at attributing evil and suffering to God, as the commenter Ad Caelum Eo (Jay) points out:

“Can’t comment there, then. We Calvinists with our absolute sovereignty of God thing.”

It is not nearly often enough observed that TE/EC folks are just as obsessed with “the problem of evil” as the YECs are; the only difference is the solution offered. For the YECs, the world was perfect and evil and suffering came with The Fall; for TE/EC, there is evil and suffering because God didn’t directly create the world, but left that task to an autonomous Demiurge called “evolution.” (Interestingly enough, neither OECs nor ID folks agonize nearly so much over “the problem of evil” — probably because they take God’s sovereignty more seriously.)

Of course, no discussion of a BioLogos column would be complete without noting the contributions of the cheery Jonathan Burke, who has this to say about the doctrine of divine sovereignty:

“And a mania about the sovereignty of God. Yes, I’ve certainly seen all this before.”

This, of course, from the man who has a “mania” about demons in the New Testament, insisting against the plain sense of the text that Jesus never cast any out, and from the man who has a “mania” about the complete non-separability of the soul from the body, etc.

The theological alliances at BioLogos are interesting. Here we have Brooks, the Unitarian, offering a vision of a pre-planned asteroid collision which wipes out the dinosaurs — a notion that is not actually held by many BioLogians as Brooks claims, but is in fact compatible with orthodox Protestant and Catholic notions of divine sovereignty. And opposing him we have the Episcopalian beaglelady, who (by virtue of presumably endorsing the Thirty-Nine Articles and the key points of Protestant theology affiliated with them) should be fine with killer asteroids; and beaglelady is supported in one direction by the Christadelphian Burke who belittles the notion of divine sovereignty and in another by mainstream evangelical Christy who is uncomfortable about a complete extension of divine sovereignty which would cover Katrina and killer asteroids. No wonder a newcomer like Darius is having trouble interpreting religious statements by beaglelady! At BioLogos you need a computer to keep track of all the permutations of belief and unbelief, orthodoxy and heresy.

On another subject, beaglelady, describing an ID-Darwinist debate at the Museum of Natural History, tries to get away with (and gets away with, since Eddie’s not there) this sneaky bit of sleight of hand:

“The science team included Ken Miller and Robert Pennock. The ID team included Michael Behe and Bill Dembski.”

Notice what she does? Not “the ID team” versus “the Darwinist team” (the assumption being that both teams consist of scientists); no, it’s “the ID team” versus “the science team” (implying that ID is anti-science). I certainly would have called foul if I had been there.

Other unchallenged anti-ID falsehoods include:

“Wasn’t it ID creationism?”

This of course repeats Eugenie Scott’s deliberate disinformation about ID, since ID is not creationism.

“Not to mention that some people here (e.g. Dennis Venema and Denis Lamoureux) used to be part of the ID movement.”

This is grossly misleading, at the very least. Dennis Venema was never part of the ID movement in any substantive sense. He had a brief period of time where he was sympathetic with ID, and possibly his wife, his kids, and a few students at Trinity Western knew of it; but there is no published book or article by him in support of ID. As for Lamoureux, overwhelmingly he has been anti-ID for probably two decades now; if he ever had a pro-ID phase, it was very, very brief and there are no published books or articles to support the claim. The suggestion beaglelady is making — that ID is so bad that even its big supporters abandon it — is illegitimate. Venema and Lamoureux simply don’t count as ever being deeply inside the ID camp.

To turn to some other commenters, this bit from Chris Falter is revealing:

“After 3 decades as a Young Earth Creationist, I spent a decade as an ID proponent before I gradually became convinced of evolutionary creationism (EC). The reason I spent a decade as an ID proponent was that I had read the works of major ID thinkers such as Behe and Dembski — and had not yet read the scientific literature that they were disputing.”

So Chris spent 10 years as an ID proponent without critically investigating ID claims about the science literature ID was disputing? Can we back-read that to his 30 years of YEC? Did he support YEC for 30 years without critically investigating the scientific literature that the YECs were disputing? Anyway, Chris apparently had the wrong idea about ID, and treated it as a sect of some sort, rather than as a critical analysis of current scientific claims. No one in the ID camp ever asked for supporters who were uncritical. Always the leaders have encouraged people to read the Darwinian literature. Behe, Dembski, etc. themselves based their own rejection of Darwinism on detailed study of the Darwinian literature, not merely on other people’s critique of the Darwinian literature. Yet it looks as if Chris was for 4 decades prone to read only one side of the story. As a TE/EC now, does he do the same? Has he actually read Darwin’s Doubt, Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, and other recent ID works, or does he reject them without reading them, based on rumor about their contents spread by other TE/EC folks? And when he decides that Behe has offered “bad science”, has he consulted Behe’s detailed rebuttal of every major scientific critic of The Edge of Evolution, which can be found on Behe’s web pagees on Uncommon Descent? If Eddie were still there, he would ask Chris about this; but he’s not.

The quality of Chris’s reasoning in rejecting ID is exemplified here:

“My point still stands: the events that ID has claimed to be astronomically improbable have been observed over and over and over.”

But of course this proves nothing. It’s in fact a prediction of ID that we will see astronomically improbable events in the universe — because designers are always actualizing improbable events. The occurrence of improbable events would prove what Chris wants it to prove only if we knew that these improbable events were caused by blind searches of “random” mutations. But that’s exactly the point in dispute, and Chris provides not a shred of evidence that blind searches can do the trick.

Finally, to clear the air, I must respond to a comment by Burke, who, picking up on Brooks’s comment that the poster “MATT” has ideas akin to those of “Eddie”, writes that MATT is:

“A very close friend, who in real life goes by the same name as Eddie!”

Nope, Jonathan, I’m not MATT, and I have no idea who he is. I agree with some of his basic ideas, however. I don’t endorse some of his polemical statements — I don’t think anyone who supports EC is a non-Christian or atheist, for example; but his heart’s in the right place. He senses that it’s wrong to make Christian theology the handmaid of current scientific theorizing, and run around drastically modifying both Biblical exegesis and systematics to make room for Darwin. He’s certainly right about that, even if he expresses himself in too aggressive and judgmental a manner.

I’m glad I’m not allowed to post on BioLogos, because I would waste too much time responding to remarks like those which I have considered above, and for the past few months I’ve occupied myself with more constructive activities — research and teaching in the history of science-religion relations. But I thought that it might be useful to some readers if I occasionally held the feet of some BioLogos figures to the fire, as time permits.

Edward Robinson

About Edward Robinson

Edward Robinson (Eddie) started his university career on a science scholarship, but ended up as a philosopher/theologian researching the relationship between religion and natural science. He has published several books and articles on religion/science topics in both mainstream academic outlets and denominational and popular periodicals. He has also taught courses in various departments in several universities.
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4 Responses to Some Not Truly Random Observations on a Current BioLogos Discussion: Stuff They Get Away With When Eddie’s Not There

  1. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Eddie

    Logging into a couple of threads at BioLogos this morning I see a pile of confusion which persuade me your post is not far off-beam. The problem is less anti-ID snark as such but, as we’ve complained for so long now, being such a broad church that orthodoxy looks like, and is treated as, appalling error.

    I’ll just pick up on one of your early points, which struck me last night before I read your piece. That’s the idea that because we cannot fully know God’s motives, we cannot know anything about design in the creation. At BioLogos, I’ve concentrated on pointing out that one can’t make that claim whilst simultaneously claiming to understand God well enough to know he wouldn’t create an old-looking world – the subject of a thread by Jonathan Burke.

    But in the case of creation, we have a simple statement: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” And another “Without (the Word) was not anything made that was made” And in Hebrews, “God made the heavens and the earth and everything in them.” There are numerous other such unequivocal Scriptures to the same effect. It is an absolutely fundamental tenet of theology, on which all else hinges including the gospel.

    So if we are Christians ECs we should actually know, in advance, that everything was designed by God – any other position is a detraction from that, and the source of the error needs to be exposed. That is indeed an entirely different matter from claiming to know why God did something, or why he did it in a particular way – there reverent agnosticism is certainly in order.

    And it’s a different claim too from belief that science can demonstrate God’s handiwork… but we’ve been working on why that might be difficult to support here, and in my view it arises from false metaphysical foundations – notably that there is some entity called “chance” that provides an alternative causal agency for design.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      I should expand – it’s only that belief in chance that makes God appear hidden, and it’s belief in ontological chance that is the bad theology in the equation. Let us remember that, before the Greeks began to separate off nature from the gods, and even long afterwards everybody, Christian, Jew and pagan, saw personal divine agency at work in all the events of the world, either directly or through divinely ordained natures and laws.

      • GD GD says:

        I often ask myself if “chance” is a term we use to avoid the harder scientific question of phenomenology and Nature. Real systems that we term natural are extremely complicated (many use weather as an example), and this may be approached scientifically via simplifications, analysis, and model constructs. All of these approaches have their strengths and weaknesses – but in biology and ecology, I am of the view that such systems in toto are beyond the ability of our current scientific enterprise – and when amateurs, such as often frequent BioLogos, get involved, we end up with pointless debates/exchanges on chance and random. Even chaotic systems can be discussed within a scientific context, so I am at a loss as to why such loose discussions of random and chance enthuse so many TE/EC out there.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          GD

          I’d be less troubled if it weren’t sometimes the trained biologists who want to preserve randomness (whether or not within a theistic framework), with the implication either that God doesn’t bother himself with planning details, allowing this strange created demiurge “chance” to spring surprises on Him as well as the universe; or else that in some UTTERLY mysterious way God creates this set of causes unknown and unplanned to himself, and yet is able to plan the outcomes. “Look! I can plan without even planning! And here’s a square circle too!!

          Needless to say (though maybe there is a need!) “randomness” in the scientific sense of “of unknown causation” is not only legitimate, but essential to the scientific enterprise, as your post indicates.

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