Why Steve Fuller is on the money

Over at Uncommon Descent there has been a thread running for over a fortnight majoring on sociologist Steve Fuller’s suggestion that ID ought to be upfront regarding its Abrahamic theistic assumptions, rather than sticking to a purely “naturalistic” scientific position that it cannot comment on the nature of the designer, though the attribution of design may have metaphysical implications. Gregory (also a regular supporter here), whose acquaintance with Fuller prompted the thread, has been getting a hard time (though, as always, giving one too) over Fuller’s presumption in trying to change ID’s terms of reference from those of its leading proponents.
Gregory mentioned that Fuller was sharing a platform with Stephen Meyer this weekend at a conference in Cambridge. As it happens, I’ve just returned from that conference and met both of them briefly, which was good. Regular readers may remember that this blog really took off from a review I did just over a year ago of the BioLogos noview of Signature in the Cell , and Meyer was kind enough to thank me for writing it.

The conference was actually not an ID conference, but was run under the auspices of the Philosophy group of the Tyndale Fellowship based on Tyndale House in Cambridge, where I did much of my reading for the Biblical Studies part of my theology training. So apart from Mayer and Fuller the speakers also included veteran “Christian Platonist” philosopher of religion and animal rights Prof Stephen Clark (whose argument for the essential irrationality of materialist science predates the similar one of Alvin Plantinga by many years) and Dr David Glass, of the University of Ulster, a trained philosopher but working now in computer science, whose position he described to me as much like my own – sympathetic to a limited form of evolution including design. Neither are directly linked to the ID movement.

The single most remarkable thing about the conference was… its fortuitous connection to a small and insubordinate Baptist house group I led in Great Baddow, Chelmsford nearly 30 years ago! The first person I met at the conference was a physics teacher from that group, whose conversations with an ID friendly mathematician in his northern retirement town led him to register. After I myself booked I discovered that one of the organisers of the event had also been in my group (which as far as I remember never discussed origins). I am pleased to have this confirmation of my high view of God’s providence! Who would have put the village of Great Baddow on the origins map?

But my main concern here is with Fuller’s presentation, which was spellbinding and provocative of much thought and prolonged discussion. His argument is well worth rehearsing in brief here.

First let me remind you of some of my thoughts here  and in the two subsequent blogs, in which I countered Elliot Sober’s suggestion that design is undetectable without knowledge of the designer by pointing out (a) that the human sciences invoke design not by rational argument, but from our innate human sensitivity to design, which is as axiomatic as our recognition of order and rationality in nature, and (b) that to the extent that humans are in some sense like God, we might well be able to detect his design on the same scientifically unexceptionable grounds. I had discussed this with my old physicist friend over coffee, before Fuller spoke.

Fuller’s argument ran like this. In the first talk, Steve Meyer had rehearsed his methodology, in Signature in the Cell, of “inference to best explanation” with reference to its use by the geologist Charles Lyell in his uniformitarianism proposal. Fuller pointed out that the strength of Lyell’s argument was that it is not an analogy, but a projection of the very same processes seen at work today to a longer time-scale. Therefore, he said, the design inference is weakened if it can only claim that design in nature is like, rather than identical with, human design.

But, he said, the scientific enterprise began on the Christian (or Abrahamic-faith) assumption that, because mankind is created in God’s image, we are equipped to “think his thoughts after him” – not only by apprehending the rationality of nature, but by recognising the self-same approach to design that humans exercise, in their limited fashion. We detect design, then, because there is a genuine continuity between the Creator’s design and our own. You’ll see that’s a similar conclusion to that I arrived at independently, though put more strongly and coherently. And that’s why the assertion that we are created in God’s image is central to ID, re-affirming as it does a foundational principle that once motivated science but has been forgotten.

But Fuller went further than this. He reminded us that one of the strongest counter-arguments to design in nature is that “a loving, omnipotent God, would not create the world of suffering we see around us.” This is not only a major plank of atheists like Richard Dawkins, but of Christian theistic evolutionists like Francisco Ayala and Darrel Falk (and many others ) in BioLogos. Fuller gave a historical review of how theodicy became an important area of endeavour around the early modern period, and particularly amongst those involved in the scientific project. It was a key part of William Paley’s natural theology (taking a very utilitarian, Malthusian line) and was a principle reason for Darwin’s rejection of God’s role in evolution: “If that (Paley’s theodicy) is what God is like, then let’s do without God.”

So, Fuller concluded, ID theorists need to grapple with theodicy in order to defuse the rejection of God’s goodness in nature – and they can only do that by asserting what God, the designer, is actually like and, to some degree, why he would put such care into designing pathogens and parasites. Not an easy task but, Fuller says, a necessary one. Incidentally, Fuller from his position as “a rational theist” (for which he thanks the Dover trial forcing him into grappling with ID issues), showed a very mature and nuanced approach to theodicy, recognising the need for what he called “pastoral sensitivity” whilst allowing, like Augustine, that what appears to us “evil” may well serve God’s good purposes at the macro-scale. He needs to start thinking in Trinitarian terms, I think, to begin to square that circle.

OK, will ID people agree, or disagree with Steve Fuller’s line of argument? In reply, I’d like to cite just one particular ID advocate, in the form of Dr Stephen Meyer, who was the first to raise his hand to comment at question time. He said that he’d heard Steve make similar points the week before at another joint event, and regretted that lack of time then had prevented his being able to reply. What he would have said, and wanted even more to say after this presentation, was how heartily he agreed with Fuller. He was, he said, tremedously excited at the prospect of bringing theology, in these terms, into ID’s research agenda. In particular, he wanted to run with the idea of ID people working to “discuss and adjudicate the models of theodicy with empirical evidence”.

I spoke briefly to Stephen Meyer over dinner later, and since he mentioned he does not follow Uncommon Descent he will have been unaware of the debate there during this last fortnight. Nevertheless his answer to Fuller casts light on the questions raised there about the attitude of the ID “hierarchy” to Fuller’s call for “coming out” with respect to the image of God and other specific theological issues. You’ll maybe remember (and Meyer reminded the Cambridge conference) that William Dembski has presented a fairly controversial version of theodicy in his book The End of Christianity. Whilst that was written in his “theologian” capacity rather than his “ID mathematician” role, its agenda maybe shows where the future needs to go.

When I spoke to Steve Fuller yesterday afternoon I raised my own biggest problem with such a change in direction – that it gives opponents ammunition for their claim that ID is really only creationism dressed up as science. He pointed out that since that claim is made anyway, there’s not much to be lost – and that it would be a price worth paying in the big game. It would appear that Stephen Meyer, at least, agrees with that assessement.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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30 Responses to Why Steve Fuller is on the money

  1. Alan Fox says:

    This sounds like a sensible move. The ID movement needed to move on in 2005. Better late than never!

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Hi Alan. Welcome to “the Hump”.

    I’m no expert on ID movement, but I suspect the Dover trial muddied the waters a bit.

  3. Alan Fox says:

    Hello Jon

    You may be aware that I am no fan of most ID proponents from when I spent a little time commenting in the BioLogos forum.. However, I have to say that Steve Fuller deserves credit for (like Behe) appearing for the defence. Steve Meyer was also set to appear (as was Dembski) but didn’t. There was some issue over separate legal representation which the school board lawyers weren’t keen on paying for.

    So a seasoned people watcher like me gets to wonder if this is the beginning of a road-to-Tarsus moment. It will free up the energy that is wasted on arguments from incredulity currently at UD for more useful pursuits, perhaps.

  4. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Alan – I do remember your posts on BL, and seem to remember your disagreeing with some people I was inclined to agree with, so we may have some creative discussion in due course!

    We have a saying in UK if someone asks directions: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.” In the 3 years or so I’ve been seriously following these issues, it’s become clear that over a century of culture wars (especially in US) has led to a situation a bit like Syria – all sides are committing atrocities, but there sometimes seem understandable reasons. And everybody’s in the wrong, often because of their responses to the wrongs of their opponents.

    So I can sympathise with ID’s suspicion of a science contaminated with naturalistic metaphyics, with creationists concerned to defend the Bible when science appears to require ditching it, and with TEs keen to have good science and concerned about creationist indoctrination. But to some extent in the same way I sympathise with Syrian Christians supporting the government and rebels jockeying for their own take on a replacement. Untangling the situation in favour of both good science and good theology (not to mention a healthy society) is not only a long and hard process, but one in which mediators inevitably become combatants too.

    I’m not too sure I want to play Kofi Annan though!

  5. Alan Fox says:

    Most of the troubles in the Middle East and Africa seem to have deep roots planted by former colonial powers, not least the British. It is tragic that people can disagree so violently over land, culture, beliefs that war and death ensue.

    That is partly why I am a strong advocate of secular government that will guarantee the right of all citizens to freedom of thought and expression, which of course includes the right to practise the religion of one’s choice except where that infringes on the rights of others. “I disagree with what you say but will defend, to the death, your right to say it” (and expect others to grant me the same!)

    I have been concerned that the creationist Christians who were apparently cooperating quite closely with right wing republican politicians in the US would gain some real leverage on the decision-making process (the “wedge” document was alarming and anti-democratic) but this scenario looks much less likely these days. Yet still I like to challenge views that seem absurd to me, such as claiming to believe the World is only 6,000 years old. Why Christians retain the Old Testament is beyond me! I think Thomas Jefferson was on the right track.

  6. Alan Fox says:

    BTW, I’m UK born and raised but now live in a quiet corner of France. I think that saying is often attributed to an old Irish farmer answering a request for the way to Dublin!

  7. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    …that saying is often attributed to an old Irish farmer answering a request for the way to Dublin!

    You’re right, of course. Being of Irish descent I claim it for myself!

    Why Christians retain the Old Testament is beyond me!

    Now there’s a prime example of mutual incomprehension. I can’t understand how anyone who doesn’t understand why we Christians retain the Old Testament would want us to retain the New.

  8. Alan Fox says:

    You’re drawing me in, Jon! I only stopped by as I still look at UD fairly regularly and you are one of the saner commenters still posting there. You linked here and I followed it.

    But, since you ask, whilst not at all drawn to the idea of a creator God, I can still appreciate the teachings of Jesus (filtered, I might suggest, by a little subsequent creative editing) as philosophy and akin to the golden rule.

    The old testament can be enjoyed as story telling but the OT God character seems to be modelled on a petulant spoiled child. There seems no philosophical connection to Jesus’ idea of a universal loving father. The OT simply isn’t needed and fundamentalists’ contortions in trying to bend reality to fit interpretations of ancient texts of, as far as I can see, unknown origins create unnecessary conflict especially with the scientific community when they could get on living the life that Jesus recommends.

    What do you think the OT brings to the table other than some rumbustious stories and the beautiful poetry of the Song of Songs? It certainly isn’t reliable history where it can be cross-referenced with, for example, ancient Egyptian records.

  9. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Where to start! Where to finish (easier – when my reply begins to look too long).

    1 – Jesus’s conception of God as creator, sustainer and governor of all things.
    2 – His conception of God as the beginning and end of history and purpose.
    3 – His conception of God’s immanence and transcendance.
    4 – His conception of the metaphysical structure of reality.
    5 – His conception of God as moral foundation and judge.
    6 – His conception of holiness.
    7 – His conception of the nature and role of humankind.
    8 – His conception of God as saviour and father (despite your doubts!).
    9 – His conception of God as covenant-maker (especially the concept of chesed, covenant-love).
    10 – His conception of humanity as divine community in the service of the world.
    11 – His conception of atonement, justification and reconciliation.
    12 – His conception of the final end of all things.

    There are many more, but 12 is a good, symbolic-looking number to begin with. Without understanding the biblical context of Jesus in this way, it’s impossible to begin to understand the teaching of Jesus in any exhaustive way. There’s evidence for that in the aberrations that develop when new Christian communities have only the NT available to them.

  10. Alan Fox says:

    AS you may have guessed, Jon, I don’t see that you need OT context, as you call it, to understand (or maybe I would prefer to say appreciate) Jesus’ teachings*, which were a break with the past and a move to encompass all people, not just Jews.

    *as they have come down to us – with some lensing.

    There’s evidence for that in the aberrations that develop when new Christian communities have only the NT available to them.

    Evolution in Christianity? We Darwinists predicted that!

    Jon, I am a lifelong dyed-in-the-wool heathen and comfortable with it. I do find religions and why religious belief is almost endemic in all present and past cultures fascinating. I really suspect there is a heritable element to the propensity to belief and I lack it. So feel free to curtail the conversation at any time.

  11. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Well, we’re off-topic, but until somebody else arrives to comment on Fuller…

    A teacher claims to be the fulfilment of, let’s say, Platonic teaching and quotes, or alludes to Plato on hundreds of occasions, actually instructing his students from Plato. It would be a brave man who would claim that knowing Plato was irrelevant to understanding his teaching. One could claim his dependance on Plato was a later invention, but mere assertion is such poor scholarship.

    Heritable belief/unbelief: well, they’ve claimed to identify God genes recently, haven’t they? So you have a C S Lewis, or a Paul Jones, or an Anthony Flew who are champions of atheism and then come to believe. Or, I suppose alternatively believers like Jonathan Edwards (jnr) or Charles Darwin who are famously believers and then become atheists. Would that be an epigenetic phenomenon, then? Care to suggest what prompts the acetylation of the relevant gene? In Paul Jones’ case it was associated with exposure to Billy Graham via Cliff Richard, or so he told me. An amazingly complex field, gene expression, don’t you think (but then I have identical twins – one a believer and one not)?

  12. Ted Davis says:

    I’ve said exactly this (that ID does itself a great disservice by bracketing “God,” theology, and the Bible) for many years, and for the same reason as Fuller–that theodicy can’t be tackled without a specific God in the picture, and that theodicy is the number one reason for unbelief among the new atheists (Steven Weinberg is an even better example than Dawkins, IMO).

    Welcome aboard.

    If this takes place, then let me predict a consequence. There will be a division of the house within ID, over the age of the earth as it relates to theodicy. See my comments on the Dover trial at http://home.messiah.edu/~tdavis/Intelligent%20Design%20on%20Trial.pdf and on Concordism and theodicy at http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-concordism-part-two. Basically, IMO, ID is for the most part a covert form of Concordism or old-earth creationism (pace Paul Nelson on one end and Mike Behe on the other end). Dembski’s book, discussed at some length in my BioLogos column, is a prime example. Once this becomes clearer to everyone (which it will, if Fuller’s suggestion is implemented), then I think the wheels will come off the ID wagon at the popular level, as the many YECs who follow it (not usually the YEC leaders, who don’t like ID b/c it brackets the Bible and doesn’t take the Flood seriously) will quickly jettison their allegiance.

    We’ll have to see if any of this happens, starting with the possible adoption of Fuller’s suggestion (which is really mine as well).

  13. Ted Davis says:

    The second URL got garbled by the final period, so here it is again: http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-concordism-part-two

  14. Alan Fox says:

    Jon, as if by magic, the big guns arrive to get you back on topic.Though it doesn’t seem as if you are going to get much of an argument with Dr Davis 😉

  15. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Hi Ted

    Welcome aboard the Hump also, and thanks for responding.

    I wouldn’t disagree with you about a profound reshaping of boundaries in future, and not only in ID – in the past I’ve considered that would be inevitable if the design argument gained traction, at which point the theological arguments would necessarily begin about the who and the how.

    Not being affiliated to any movement the only grief I’d feel would be on other people’s behalf. But there are as many different views as there are people, almost, in this field, so changing the boundary lines round them might not be so painful as it sounds.

    But even if I were a paid up ID person, I’d want to see the bigger picture – when I was a leader in a successful growing church, we were careful to temper anytriumphalistic thoughts with the realisation that we were only as successful as we were faithful, and that God could easily move the success to a better venture down the road. The brand was nothing compared to the Kingdom.

    I believe that when issues are discussed openly, the truth will eventually out, and the misapprehensions will fade. But FWIW Steve Meyer, who ought to know, was sanguine about the different theodical approaches that would necessarily become evident.

  16. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Yup, Alan – back to business! I can live very happily without arguments if they’re not required!

  17. Alan Fox says:

    …that theodicy is the number one reason for unbelief among the new atheists

    I had to look that up. An all-loving and all-powerful God cannot be reconciled with the evil found in this world? I wonder whether they have just found it a neat poser for Christian apologists. I have been a little flippant but I and the fellow atheists I have discussed views with generally just don’t get the concept of a supernatural God on a visceral level. Intellectual arguments on detail just don’t get seriously considered. Dawkins (as was Christopher Hitchens) is equally dismissive of all dogmas.

  18. James says:

    Alan Fox:

    I don’t have any problem with people who are “heathen and comfortable with it.” The problem today, however, is that we have heathens who are so uncomfortable with being heathen, that they can’t just live and let live with religious people, but have to angrily evangelize against religious people in the manner that some religious people angrily evangelize against heathen. So you get people like Dawkins, Coyne, P. Z. Myers, Atkins, Dennett, Hitchens, etc., whose response to religion is rage, denunciation, etc. You have people making absurd claims such as the claim that raising your children in religion is form of child abuse, etc. You have complete distortions of history in which religious life has been represented as wholly negative and secular humanist ideals have led to wholly positive results.

    Genuine, honest non-religion is not a problem for me. It’s ferocious modern anti-religion that is the problem. I know all kinds of stable, honest, kind agnostics. But the vehemently anti-religious people I know all seem to be dealing with some kind of psychic injury dating back to their childhood. It’s almost as if they have to repeatedly slay the thing they don’t believe in, to justify to themselves and others that they are right not to believe in it. This behavior is not the behavior of calm, rational people who have transcended the need for religion; it’s the behavior of people whose heart and soul are still entangled in some way with religion.

    As for your comments on the Bible, I used to be of your view, i.e., that one could just lift the sayings of Jesus out of their Hebraic and Jewish cultural matrix, and treat them as a kind of universal human wisdom. No doubt there are sayings of Jesus of that kind. But overall, Jesus’s teaching is deeply connected with notions found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In believing the opposite, I was under the spell of the Enlightenment, with its idea of religious “progress” from the “savage” Old Testament to the “higher” teaching of the New Testament. What undid my views was a close study, under world-class scholars, of the Biblical literature. I came to see that there are some very “savage” (i.e., harsh, uncompromising) teachings in the New Testament, and some very “enlightened” (i.e., amenable to modern moral sensibilities) in the Old Testament. And I came to see that, notwithstanding certain “Greek-sounding” passages in John and in Paul, not even John and Paul were promoting a universalistic Greek type of philosophy, and that the Synoptic Gospels definitely understood Jesus in light of Hebraic and Jewish antecedents.

    That doesn’t mean that Christians are bound to accept every teaching of Judaism or observe every law or custom recorded in the Hebrew Bible. It does mean that the idea of a free-floating, “purely spiritual” Christianity that has no intimate connection with the religion of the Old Testament is an unscholarly, ahistorical construct motivated by a philosophical or theological agenda of one kind or another.

    As for your speculation about the origin of religion in our genes, such speculations are easy, and worth about the amount of intellectual effort that has been put into them. We’ve had speculation about gay genes, genes for musical talent, genes for criminal propensities, genes for just about everything. Very rarely has anyone been able to nail down anything clear in these cases, and the case of “being religious” is much more amorphous than any of these cases.

    The most economical explanation of the human religious sense is that there is something “out there” corresponding to it. I know that is not a proof, but it’s logical. Even on evolutionary terms it’s logical; sight evolves because there is something to see; scent evolves because there is something to smell; perhaps the God-sense evolves because there is something to sense. But I’m sure you won’t take that line of argument.

    The question is whether you are an agnostic, which need not involve any element of willfulness, or an atheist, which almost always does involve an element of willfulness. If you are the latter, you will contrive to explain religion in evolutionary terms, no matter how implausible the arguments; if you are truly agnostic, you will admit that it is possible that the religious sense exists because there is actually something there to sense.

    Similarly, if you are an agnostic, rather than an atheist, you will admit that one possible explanation for the apparent design in living systems — which even Dawkins grants — is that it is actual design. Only if you have, on metaphysical rather than evidential grounds, ruled out the possible existence of any designer, would you cut off all teleological explanations. But that would not be science; that would be dogmatism.

  19. Alan Fox says:

    Hello James

    I shall have to be brief as I have a dinner appointment. I don’t recognize a lot of what you portray in arguments between gnu atheists (I don’t really think the sub-category is helpful; the gnus are just unapologetic or outspoken) and fundamentalist Christians that seems largely US centered. I would single Dawkins out for foot-in-mouth comments that detract from the often valid (at least in my view) points he makes. I don’t see much atheist rage; exasperation maybe.

    I could say a lot more but there is a clear issue of equality and respect for the views of others that typifies religious debate in the US. That’s why I said a secular environment is the only way to ensure religious freedom, by allowing it to be voluntary!

    Have to dash.

  20. Gregory says:

    Now James, here is a case where I agree with almost everything you have written. Can you imagine it could possibly be true? Let us agree then on those things!

    This is because you haven’t ranted against BioLogos, from which you were personally banned, or paraded the idea of ‘intelligent design’ as if it is the next best thing since sliced bread and that all who don’t agree with the phrase must be blind or small-minded or backwards or just plain not as intelligent as you.

    Thus, the only paragraph that needn’t have been written and with which I strongly disagree is the last one, which returns to the classic ID trope of apparent design = actual design. There you speak of metaphysics, designer (by which you mean Designer), teleology, science and dogmatism. Or to rephrase, “ID is a dogmatic metaphysics which avoids speaking about designers in the bid to become a teleological (natural) science” (when in fact, teleological sciences already exist, but are ignored by the IDM!).

    But then again, this was a thread about “Why Steve Fuller is on the money,” so I shouldn’t want to distract any more from that.

    “a secular environment is the only way to ensure religious freedom, by allowing it to be voluntary!” – Alan Fox

    It seems we hold different meanings of ‘secular,’ Alan. Here you seem to mean ‘non-committal,’ rather than ‘safe.’ You seem to invest ethical qualities of goodness in ‘secular’ that you do not allow for people to be ‘religious’ or ‘committed to dogma.’ After reading from Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” and engaging in many discussions of ‘secular’ and the 20th c. myth of ‘inevitable secularisation,’ my views have changed and I see ‘secular’ as not necessarily the liberating notion that you seem to embrace. Please correct me if I’ve misinterpreted your meaning of ‘secular.’

    Back to the main theme of the thread (or a least a side-issue, as Jon raises it), I don’t think it’s fair to count Francisco Ayala as a ‘Christian theistic evolutionist.’ At least, I’m not convinced he’s currently either a Christian or a theist – please provide evidence if you can show otherwise. He seems to be a convenient scapegoat for disgruntled anti-TE’s, which is Jon’s point in identifying a tribe of TE’s of which he is not part.

    Likewise, Darrel Falk believes in ‘evolutionary creation’ rather than ‘theistic evolution,’ which Ted Davis knows well from the distinctions he made at BioLogos. This may not deter you in any way, Jon, from continuing to call Darrel a theistic evolutionist, but it is and will be wrong of you to do this. Let the man be called what he wants to be called.

    Of course, I do agree with Fuller (and also Jon, if he agrees with Fuller on this, which he appears to, but it is not yet clear) when he says: “the assertion that we are created in God’s image is central to ID.” Likewise, however, I believe Jon would argue, as a professed TE, that “the assertion that we are created in God’s image is central to TE.” Please correct me if this is not fair or is inaccurate.

    Additionally, it is curious to me that Meyer was “tremedously excited at the prospect of bringing theology, in these [Fuller’s] terms, into ID’s research agenda.” Why? Because this option has been available to the DI-IDM since its inception, over 15 years ago. What has happened lately, in the past year or two tops, that Meyer is suddenly now ‘excited’ to include theology *in* intelligent design, to research theodicy as part of ID, or to build a theology of intelligent design? There’s still a significant piece of the puzzle missing here regarding Meyer’s meanings and motives.

    This is of course not about “the religious nature of ID,” but rather about “the deep theological roots of ID,” which Fuller has outlined at considerable length in his books and in speeches, such as it seems this one did at Cambridge.

  21. James says:

    Ted Davis:

    Glad to hear from you. I’ve enjoyed reading your columns on BioLogos, even though I can’t contribute to them because I was banned from BioLogos some time ago (for reasons that were never publically or privately stated to me). I think that your series is rich with objective historical information and helpful in advancing the discussion between parties which often don’t seem to have much in common.

    I think you are right that the problem of theodicy can’t be tackled without a specific view of God. But the question is why the problem of theodicy needs to be tackled by ID as such. ID’s stated project is not to supply the world with a theodicy, or a theology of any kind. Its stated project is to show that there is design in nature. That’s a huge project in itself. To expect ID as such to do more seems to me to be unreasonable.

    Now, ID proponents who are Christian (as opposed to, say agnostics like Dave Scot) will of course have to discuss theodicy. But I don’t see why one has to have an answer to the problem of divine justice to argue that the bacterial flagellum didn’t arise by chance. There’s no reason why theodicy needed to be raised in *Darwin’s Black Box*, for example. No one criticizes Galileo for not raising the problem of theodicy in his Dialogues. No one says that Newton’s argument in the Principia is inadequate because he failed to deal with the Fall. So why should ID people’s arguments be criticized for failing to engage in questions of revealed theology?

    Even if we are talking about some horrible organism such as malaria, if it can be shown that such an organism couldn’t have arisen by chance, but must have been designed, I don’t see that ID, as such, has any responsibility to go beyond that and ask the question: “Why would a good God design such a horrible thing?” A Christian, of course, will need to ask that question. But it’s not an ID question. ID questions are about detecting design, not about providing motives for the designer.

    If the criticism of ID is that it fails to provide an adequate theodicy and therefore is not an adequate account of Christian faith — well, it was never intended to be. It was intended as a refutation of neo-Darwinian evolution, and as a positive argument for intelligent design.

    It seems to me that your complaint is a bit like blaming the Wright Brothers for not having meals and movies and air-conditioned cabins on their first flight. They were trying to do something very crude — keep the darned thing in the air for a brief time. They proved that heavier-than-air flight was possible. They did not prove that one could travel from New York to Paris in luxury. That wasn’t their job. A full-blown argument concerning theodicy belongs to revealed theology; ID at most steps with one foot inside of natural theology. And natural theology is not Christianity; it’s merely a possible anteroom to Christianity.

  22. Alan Fox says:

    Hello Gregory

    By “secular”, with respect to government, I mean being unbiased or non-partisan on the issue of personal belief. I don’t think it is a government’s business to legislate on matters of private conscience.

    By way of illustration, lets examine the issue of masks. Several states in the US have laws against being masked in public. It was directed at the Ku Klux Klan. The French government recently introduced a law (very closely based on the Georgia statute) aimed at women wearing (maybe having to wear due to cultural pressure) the full niqab or burqa. The offence is punishable by having to take a “citizen education” course but the act of forcing another to wear a mask in public is up to 1 year’s prison and up to a 30,000€ fine.

    I thought, on balance, this was a reasonable shot at attempting a secular solution to a difficult issue. Yet, discussing it on a US blog site produced quite a bit of vitriol. How dare I presume that women might prefer not to have to go out in public under a tent!

    Am I being paternalistic? Is the right to go about in masked anonymity unchallengeable? I think good secular government should support individual freedom of thought but limit obtrusive behaviour.

  23. Alan Fox says:

    Fair enough, Jon!

  24. Alan Fox says:

    That previous comment of mine was prompted by my 10.45pm comment disappearing into moderation and, as the comment has now appeared, I assume it must have been a glitch. If so, please feel free to delete this comment and the 10.47pm comment.

    If there is a problem with my posting here, I’d appreciate a brief explanation (by email is fine).

  25. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    WordPress seems to have its own esoteric ideas on submitting comments for moderation. I’m normally on the ball to spot it, but occasionally (as on this unaccustomed busy thread) stuff appears late if I blink or go to a band rehearsal. Apologies.

  26. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    I was aware of Ayala’s ideological trajectory (he and Fuller seem to have crossed in the post), but felt his was the best name to use as BioLogos got him to review SitC. And he’s in the past self-identified as “Christian”. Regarding Falk and “IC” I take his liking for the term to be aspirational, being a refinement rather than an abandonment of TE. In any case, if I were being picky you yourself recently labelled my criticism of Falk a “TE vs TE argument”!

    Yes, I’ve come to a large degree of agreement with Fuller on the importance of imago dei to ID because of the arguments he’s given for it (as in my OP) – though I’d say there were other ways of expressing it in philosophical rather than theological terms that might work for IDers sitting loose to biblical faith. We intuit design by God as we do design by humans because we are made like him, as our reason is like his. Brief aside – assiduous philosophers would insist that means adopting metaphysical monism, but I prefer a common-sense approach: in some ways we are like God, in others he is completely different. Fuller seemed to nuance his presentation specifically to allow for that Christian commonplace.

    Is the image also central to TE? That’s a poser, because it might be central to my TE and nobody else’s, not least because I’m sympathetic to design inferences and committed to direct divine action in nature. If TE means anything more than being an evolutionist 6 days a week and a Christian on Sunday, then what distinguishes it from Darwinism is teleology. God is goal-orientated, using whatever means will fulfil what he has in mind. And if imago dei applies to our uniquely human faculties at all, then planning for a purpose is key – indeed it describes the whole action of which design is the second part (the first being conceiving the aim).

    Of course, if Joshua Moritz implies that image is solely based on appointment/election, then it doesn’t apply in the same way and you end up with a theistic evolution pretty close to naturalism – a God whose nature is so discontinuous with ours that we cannot reliably recognise either design or purpose in evolution, but merely accept it by faith.

  27. Alan Fox says:

    WordPress seems to have its own esoteric ideas on submitting comments for moderation.

    A bit like my spam filter!


    Not necessary! You can’t be blamed for a glitch!

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