In a current BioLogos discussion, Dennis Venema writes this:
“I see evolution as God’s design for creating life, plate tectonics as his design for making continents, gravity as his design for making solar systems, and so on. I just don’t think the place to look for design is where “natural” explanations have not yet been worked out. I think it’s all designed.”
This is most interesting. It is nearly exactly the view set forth in Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny (1998). This book has been known to Dennis, and to all BioLogos columnists and management, for nearly two decades, yet not one of them has had a good thing to say about it. In fact, they have mostly ignored it, and even when it has been brought up by commenters on the BioLogos site the BioLogos elite have not discussed its ideas. Yet now, out of the blue, Dennis is endorsing an identical or similar view.
What is interesting is that, just after endorsing a view virtually identical to Denton’s, Dennis goes on to write:
“I used to hold the ID view. But I no longer find ID arguments convincing.”
But of course, Denton’s 1998 book is a sustained “ID argument” — an evidence-based case that a super-intelligence designed not only life but the entire cosmic, chemical and biological evolutionary processes. Denton uses the word “design” freely in the book, and emphatically in the conclusion. So what does Venema mean when he says that he doesn’t find ID arguments convincing? Apparently he finds Denton’s arguments (or arguments like them, made by others) convincing. The two things don’t add up.
The answer, I think, is this: Venema has long held a view that ID is inherently tied to an idea of “intervention.” He has voiced this view regarding Behe’s version of ID. In one discussion where he did this, I pointed out to him (I don’t remember the place at the moment, but if I find it later I will update this article with the link to the BioLogos page) that Behe had himself very clearly stated that ID did not automatically entail supernatural intervention, and provided him with a direct quotation from Behe himself, addressing that precise question on the Discovery website. Venema admitted that he had not seen that statement of Behe’s before, and bowed to the quotation. But I didn’t think, even then, that he was convinced by Behe’s statement; I had the impression that he was acquiescing momentarily in order not to seem to be churlishly denying Behe’s own statement about what he believed. And sure enough, now he is writing as if he had never seen the Behe quotation, and as if we had never had that discussion; he is back to insisting that ID requires “intervention” or “miracles” and some sort of failure of scientific explanation.
I wonder how Venema, and the folks at BioLogos, expect to have a good-faith discussion with the ID people, if they keep insisting that their conception of what ID is, is what ID is, instead of listening to the ID people themselves (like Denton, Behe, Sternberg and others) and taking them at their word for what they believe. The consistent theoretical position of ID (regardless of what individual ID proponents might choose to argue when speaking as Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, or anything else) has been that ID is about design detection, not miracle detection, and that ID is consistent with accounts of origin involving natural causes without recourse to miracles.
If Venema wants to say that he disagrees with Stephen Meyer’s version of ID, or Paul Nelson’s version of ID, etc., on the grounds that those particular individuals seem to him to explicitly tie ID to miraculous interventions, that would be fine. But he keeps speaking of “ID” generically, and then imposing his own inaccurate conception of ID theory on the entire ID movement.
Of course, he is not the only one at BioLogos to do this. I had several long discussions with Brad Kramer, where I chided him for imposing a similar definition of ID upon BioLogos readers. (Brad had previously admitted that the very first person who introduced him to ID — I think he said it was an evangelical high school teacher of his [in any case it was someone unauthorized to speak for ID], had told him that ID was a form of interventionist creationism; he still seems to have trouble getting that early notion out of his head.) And of course Karl Giberson and Francis Collins routinely maintained this same erroneous characterization of ID. They were corrected on it many times, but would never retract; textual evidence from ID writers made no difference to them. They were sure they could read ID writers’ minds; they were sure that the ID writers were really talking about miracles and interventions. And since they knew what ID people were thinking, they felt justifying in completely ignoring what ID people wrote. (It didn’t help that even back when Francis Collins [before his NIH appointment] was free to speak openly about such subjects, he refused to share a stage with and debate any ID proponent. Had he accepted ID invitations to debate, he would have found that he was mischaracterizing ID. But like that “hear no evil” monkey in the statue, he had his ears stopped.)
I have long thought Michael Denton’s thought was a sort of bridge between TE/EC and ID, a sort of blending of evolutionary and design accounts of origins. I have always hoped that there might be a rational discussion of design in nature, using Denton as a platform for discussion; my thought was that Denton’s pro-evolutionary and naturalistic account of evolutionary development would make TE/EC folks feel secure enough that they would listen to his arguments for design. But that has not come to pass.
There have been only two attempts along this line by people affiliated with BioLogos. Darrel Falk — after he retired from BioLogos, not while he was there — wrote a positive Amazon review of Denton’s 2016 book (not the 1998 volume referred to above, but there is some overlap in the ideas), and that was promising; but then, after a very short time, Falk pulled the review down — with no explanation. Had he turned against Denton’s new book? Nobody knew. And Sy Garte, who has some sympathy with BioLogos, but sees some value in some ID discussions, said some good things about Denton’s work on BioLogos — but as far as I can tell, Sy is currently not in the good graces of BioLogos, or at least not as highly regarded there as he used to be, and there hasn’t been anything nice said about Denton for quite a while there now. And in fact, I don’t recall Dennis Venema, or Kathryn Applegate, or Deb Haarsma, or anyone else chiming in under Sy’s review to agree that among the ID folks, Denton was the most promising. Further, I myself posted a news item on Darrel’s Amazon review right on the BioLogos site, and there was no support under my item from Dennis, Kathryn, or Deb, either for Darrel’s positive review or Denton’s book. It’s as if Denton is a dirty word around there.
I have my suspicions about the reason for the “silent treatment” of Denton. Denton’s 1986 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, was very influential upon the early ID movement, and, while not actually anti-evolution (as Denton clarifies in his third book, commenting on the first one) was very much anti-Darwinian, and BioLogos from its earliest days has championed the neo-Darwinian, gene-focused interpretation of evolution, a la Dobzhansky and Ayala. So even when Denton’s book came out clearly in favor not only of evolution, but even of naturalistic evolution (albeit teleological-naturalistic, not chance-naturalistic), I don’t think the BioLogos folks (except Sy, of course) were able to rise above themselves and forgive Denton (a) for giving aid and comfort to ID by his first book; (b) for wounding the intellectual amour propre of neo-Darwinians. Of course, I can’t prove that this is the thinking behind the cold shoulder given to Denton, but it fits all the known facts of the professional and camp allegiances of the majority of BioLogos personnel, past and present. In any case, if I’m wrong, there is nothing at all to stop Dennis, Kathryn and Deb from signing up here and explaining to me how I’ve totally misread their systematic snub of Denton’s writings. I’m willing to retract the above speculation if a better explanation is offered by them.
In any case, we have a situation where at least one version of ID thinking — the Denton version — is endorsed, at least in general terms, by Dennis Venema. I wonder where this might lead? Time will tell.