It’s all in the mind, maybe

The publication of the US dictionary of psychiatry, the DSM, got into some of the usual blogs I read because of people’s doubts about its perceived medicalisation of “human distress”. Now I see the furore has spread across the Atlantic by a critical report against clinical psychiatry by the Division of Clinical Psychology, representing (the Guardian says) 10,000 practitioners.

As a GP I encountered every variety of psychological disorder, including some that now have a name but didn’t then, and a couple that have since been declassified (you’re not allowed now to experience distress for homosexual inclinations, and are required to treat it politically by campaigning for same-sex marriage). I sectioned people to mental hospitals, referred them to counsellors and cognitive therapists, dealt with them myself and, in mercifully few cases, suffered the grief of their suicide or even their killing of others. And if you ask what my working model was for such situations, the answer is “eclecticism”. With a medical bias, given my training. People often got better.

The argument over the existence of mental illness has been going as long as I have. I did a year of social psychology at university, and remember the visiting consultant from Fulbourn Hospital being heckled by socially enlightened Marxists who knew for sure he was just a tool of capitalist oppression. Our reading list included The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz, but no textbook of psychiatry.

R D Laing’s The Divided Self was also required reading (and still on my shelf), as its conventionally new-left author dismissed the illness model of schizophrenia in favour of a phenomenological and existentialist approach. Ironically his career was later blighted by (on his own admission) alcoholism and clinical depression, whose very existence as illnesses the anti-psychiatry movement denied.

In the forty years since, schizophrenia, depression and alcoholism have all continued to blight lives, trendy books notwithstanding. But existentialism, like Marxism, has long since disappeared. Crude brain disorder as a cause has also been debunked, though I did meet one patient who’d had a prefrontal leucotomy. Paradoxically body surgery is still used for gender disorders, and even birth certificates are doctored for this, but not the brain. ECT has gone the way of straitjackets, even though it worked. Tricyclics gave way to Prozac as the wonder brain drug for all, which in its turn has come to be seen a useless placebo serving the interests only of the drug companies. Amitriptyline’s great for neuropathic pain, by the way – a shame about the depression.

But the psychologists, for their part, making the same criticisms as forty years ago, are still informed by discredited (though once scientific) psychoanalytic theory, by even less theoretically-based counselling skills and at best by cognitive therapy, which was being pushed as the only way forward near the end of my career, but which wasn’t obviously more successful than anything else. And psychologists can only pick up the pieces of those “poisoned” by the psychiatrists because they themselves had nothing useful to offer in the acute stage, when the patient thought his wife was a spy or was suicidal because she became convinced she was a failure at everything.

Well, the fact is that human mental disorders are extremely distressing and dangerous, and if we don’t understand them fully, we all have to muddle by as best we can with whatever tools we have, and especially kindness and empathy … which are still in short supply, it seems, in public health services on both sides of the Atlantic. But as science, it remains pretty clear that our certain knowledge is very small indeed, and thoroughly disputed. I guess part of that is because contemporary science isn’t really at all sure the mind even exists, so it can only treat brains. And psychologists have historically treated the brain as a black box and concentrated on the Cartesian ghost in the machine (and his mother, of course).

My actual point in discussing all this is not to bemoan the confusion, ignorance and culture wars in this field. You can’t win them all. In any case, the antipsychiatry case has, in my view, been significantly exaggerated. But my purpose is to point out that throughout it all we, typically, convince ourselves that we are the enlightened generation that understands what all previous ages could not. The march of science has led us to the scenario of two rival sciences slugging out the most basic concepts whilst being certain of nothing: yet we fool ourselves it is actually secure knowledge.

Take as an example the discussion of Jesus’s miracles, and specifically the casting out of demons. Some charismatics see demons everywhere, and can spend a lifetime casting them repeatedly out of the same unfortunate people. Mind you, that’s about the same cure-rate as for many psychiatric diagnoses – and considerably less than Jesus’s cure-rate using the same paradigm. But apart from that it’s very hard for a modern person to consider demonisation seriously, especially in connection with what we, if not psychologists, call mental illness. If we are psychologists we’re committed to “mental distress” as a model, which still excludes the “demonic” category a priori. And that would be fine if, in nearly every discussion of the New Testament outside or inside churches, people didn’t say, “We now know, of course, that mental illness isn’t caused by demons.” Cue for jettisoning biblical inerrancy.

And we know that how? By not knowing for sure whether either the disease model or the distress model has any validity whatsoever, and how they work if they do. It seems that, cut to the bone, the certainties of our society reduce to, “Some of us choose to believe ill-defined diseases cause minds to malfunction. Some of us choose to believe ill-defined circumstances cause minds to malfunction. None of us chooses to believe demons do so.” We may well be right on any of those three counts – but let’s not pretend the deciding factor is better evidence. It’s primarily just worldview conditioning, tinged with a smug sense of our own superiority.

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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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37 Responses to It’s all in the mind, maybe

  1. Some thoughts:
    Ivan Illich (Medical Nemesis) would say ‘I told you so’ about the progressive medicalisation of mental dis-ease since his day.
    For example, today’s generation of children have a much higher chance of being ‘diagnosed’ with a ‘mental health disorder’. I see it in my practice, and so do my wife and daughter, both primary school teachers.
    These days, when a child is disobedient, abusive, or violent to his parents, teachers or fellow pupils he is ‘diagnosed’ as having ADHD or, perhaps Oppositional Defiant Disorder (wonderful!) and the child is prescribed a drug – Ritalin, or the like. The doctors and parents collude in this folly. What kind of adults will these children turn out to be? If their parents are anything to go by, I have an idea and it’s not a happy one.

    “Some of us choose to believe ill-defined diseases cause minds to malfunction. Some of us choose to believe ill-defined circumstances cause minds to malfunction. None of us chooses to believe demons do so.”

    I don’t routinely go for any of these explanations. Of course, I don’t rule out organic brain disease, and I do accept that our circumstances may have an impact on us, and I am open to the possibility that people may be demonised.
    However, I would say that most people are entirely responsible for what goes on in their minds and it is their disordered thinking that makes them sick. ‘As a man thinks in his heart, so is he’. Yes, it’s all in the mind.
    If I have any solution to offer it is CBT (my own brand, of course). Unfortunately many either see no need to change the way they think, or do not want to, or (wrongly) say they can’t. They go away sad.

  2. Gregory says:

    “existentialism, like Marxism, has long since disappeared” – Jon G.

    Sorry Jon, but you’re wrong on both counts. Cold War warrioring doesn’t resonate with young people today – that’s a generation ago. If you mean in the Anglo-American English 50 years+ discourse, perhaps. But you’ve still got David Harvey and Terry Eagleton to deal with (and the history of J.D. Bernal and others).

    And if you think ‘existentialism’ has disappeared, obviously you are not on Twitter, Facebook or most regional or global social media sites. Existence is not something taken lightly by post-modern thinkers.

    Marx’s Capital was a best-seller once again in Germany in 2009, after the world financial crises, sparked in USA and England. People are discussing Marx’s alternatives to ‘captialism’ again around the world as you read this. Is this unknown to you?

    As for existentialism, goodness, why not wrestle sometime with recent birthday boy Soren Kierkegaard here on “The Hump of the Camel”? So much time sucked into the wasteland of IDism and TEism. As you’ve noted, this blog started with your response to IDist Stephen C. Meyer! Is it because ID appears to be the only possible option ‘movement’ suitable for evangelical Englishmen on the British Isles? That just doesn’t make sense or seem reasonable to me as a non-evangelicalist Canadian in Eastern Europe who has seen through the IDM’s smokescreen.

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Hi Gregory and Jon,

      (Oh I just realised, Gregory thanks for putting me on to Heller – great stuff)

      On the subject of new and old philosophies – I have read a couple of columns by Slavoj Zizek – who seems to be influential. My impression is that he is well into Hegel, most likely Marx, and also has things to say about religion (although I think he is an atheist).

      Has his thinking, and others like him, had an impact on the currents going through current theistic circles?

  3. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Well, you may well be right, Gregory – old philosophies never die, they just move down through society and become popular worldviews.

    Tony Blair was famous for trying to make Britain “modern”, whereas the V&A Museumlast year held a retrospective exhibition on post-modernism from 1970-1990 – apparently it had died before most people ever heard of it, and before our prime-minister decided to drag us kicking and screaming into the nineteenth century.

    I remember writing something on Kierkegaard many moons ago, but if he even finds his way on to the Hump, it’s likely to be in connection with theistic personalism rather than ID, which he seems to have avoided in his writing for some reason.

  4. Gregory says:

    As an example, I was visiting with a neo-Marxist last night, who happens also to be a theist, just like T. Eagleton. There was some rumour put forward in the USA that Marxism, Freudism and Darwinism had died or disappeared. Do you know where this myth originated and what kinds of folk propagated it?

    Here’s a hint:

    RWW = evangelical Protestantism, USA-style. (Does Shawn Akers of ‘Liberty Counsel’ not realise that Yates’ poem, written in 1919, was almost 40 years after the death of both Darwin and Marx?) – I had a chuckle at the label of calling the DI “the Evangelical Church of the Unnamed Designer” ; )

    Perhaps you finally need to come clean in a post here focussed on ‘Intelligent Design’ instead of usually against TE (which you are at the same time still for) because you seem to have consumed some of the arguments they are making, e.g. wrt Marx, Freud, Darwin. If you are wrong about this, how many more problems are there with your consumption of IDist rhetoric?

    There seems to be a generational issue involved here because decades now pass as fast as centuries used to, of course in a metphorical sense. To my generation, ‘post-modern’ isn’t just negative jargon; it is existential reality. We do not live in the ‘modern’ age anymore; we’ve moved beyond it. Perhaps your children can resonate with that also, Jon?

    Yes, not only Blair, but also Putin-Medvyedev and Chavez and many other political leaders around the world speak of ‘modernisation’ programs and policies. But the epoch, the era, the age is not ‘modern’ anymore. We live in a time of instantaneous electronic-information transfer and networks, which supports this blog. That is a ‘post-modern’, post-industrial, generally post-prefix age, seeking for a more positive than just ‘post-‘ label that it/we has/have not yet found.

    We need to put behind us shallow American evangelical Protestant philosophies that simply are detrimental to human understanding on a global scale, that mistake reality for a prejudiced desire that things are they way they want them to seem. That is where an earthquake of awareness, uplifting of the spirit is most needed; in the creationist backwaters of American self-righteousness as if it is the evolutionary trajectory that all world societies should follow. It was similarly Victorian England’s civilisational superiority that drove the Darwin-Spencer-Huxley ‘survival-struggle’ motif. But that is coming to an end now in a WMD era of cyber-terrorism, second-life and The Matrix/SkyNet.

    Thus, Jon, much of how we come differently at the topic of ‘Intelligent Design,’ ‘Creationism’ and ‘Theistic Evolution / Evolutionary Creation’ hinges on how I am of the Star Wars generation, Generation XY, while you are of the British Baby Boom generation. Likewise, and perhaps more difficult for communicative purposes, I have been released from the cage of Anglo-American thought, by living and studying in Western Europe and later Eastern Europe, involving another language and sampling perspectives that do not fit into narrow American PoS (as demonstrated in ‘methodological naturalism’). That is likely why I have seen through IDism’s smokescreen, while you continue to be smokey, and why I state clearly the distinction between ‘theistic evolution’ and ‘theistic evolutionism,’ while you continue to equivocate ‘ideology’ with ‘science.’

    Kierkegaard wrote philosophically and theologically. He was anti-institutional, like many young people are today. He realised he lived in an ironical age, an age where identities were being challenged. But he was a ‘personalist’ not only in the negative sense, but in as much as Karol Wojtyła was also a ‘personalist.’ You may want to look more deeply at Catholic personalism, Jon, instead of what you strangely call ‘neo-theism,’ because personalism actually supports at least one of the most important claims you have made in this conversation, the protection of imago Dei in godmanhood (bogochilovechestvo). The univocal predication of IDism and their heterodox-Aristotelian externalist formal and final causality is clearly distinguished from Feser’s supra-IDist, neo-Thomist approach.

    Do you really reject historical Christian personalism, Jon, or just a monster of your own making (like so-called Warfieldian-TE)?

    Kierkegaard avoided writing about IDism because that late 20th c. American ideology did not exist in his time. That is rather obvious, though IDists make ludicrous claims such as ‘A.R. Wallace was the founder of ID’. Nevertheless, what id ‘theory’ claims to encompass, including historical-theological design arguments, were well within the scope of what Kierkegaard acknowledged and spoke in his writings. Again, this is why distinguishing Uppercase ID from lowercase id is so valuable; it protects ‘traditional theists’ from willfully swallowing IDism. Perhaps one day you will acknowledge this important distinction, Jon?

  5. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    If ID or American Evangelicalism have any view on Freud or Marx, then I have never been aware of it. I did, however, experience the decline and fall of Freud in clinical psychology over an entire career (it was considered severely past its prime even when I was at University).

    As for Marxism, probably the last person to consult on its status is a Marxist. Its primacy is not what it was, however.

    Yes, I do reject Christian personalism, as first propagated by Biddle in the 17th century, and as first taught within the Church in the nineteenth century. That is a very specific position to reject, based on a very specific understanding of the term “person”, as applied to God. It is not to be taken as a rejection of the three persons of the Trinity, nor as implying that I do not insist on personal relationship with the Father through Christ.

    The only thing it has to do with IDism is that that movement is almost as contaminated by Neotheism as TE is, but with less dramatic theological consequences.

    The post has nothing to do with ID at all – or even TE, come to that.

  6. Avatar photo GD says:

    Oh, I see – my comments were not posted yet – sorry for the repeat.

  7. Avatar photo GD says:

    Now I am confused – my comments are not shown because they are waiting moderation?

  8. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Sorry GD – WordPress occsionally sucks in comments for moderation for reasons of its own, and if I’m not on the case (like, asleep!) it takes a while to post them. I think we’re square now.

  9. Gregory says:

    I guess then the only relevance to the OP is that the statement “existentialism, like Marxism, has long since disappeared” is simply wrong.

    GD – you’re welcome for link to Heller. Texts for “Philosophy in Science” are available on-line here: I find it helpful for moving radical evangelicalists towards Orthodoxy and Catholic thought. The ID vs. TE/EC debate is usually far too emotive and ‘conceptualistic’ when evangelicals are driving the ship. And IDism is clearly an evangelical invention, even if the leaders double-talk that it is not.

    Re: Zizek, this might clarify his views re: atheism –

    Yes, he is influential, but not for my tastes. Re: his influence on theological circles, I’m not sure about it. Had Jon even heard of him before you mentioned him? Will he just treat Zizek (and Heller) as yet another “kooky Eastern European” (just like Thomas Szasz)?

    IDism “is almost as contaminated by Neotheism as TE is, but with less dramatic theological consequences.” – Jon Garvey

    That would likely make an interesting thread if you’d care to expand on it, Jon.

    • Avatar photo GD says:


      Zizek seems like an outgrowth of Hegel/Nietzsche/Freud with a smattering of everything an atheist could dream of, including their belief they present of the highest morality, which is … yes you’ve guest it, atheism. I find statements such as “the point is, rather, to make him or her aware of another—disturbing—side of something he or she knew all the time” entertaining – however I also find some of what I have read so far confronting, and this is ok.

      I try not to laugh when I read the NYTimes article which states that atheists are the source of all truth … and only violent religious people are the truly religious. This type of tirade brings them little credit and may prevent us from trying to penetrate their inner violence, and try to see their world.

      I will look through more of Heller.

      In any event, my affairs have given me a window of opportunity that provides time for these interesting diversions. I think the window will close soon.

      Regards to you and Jon.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


        I’ve just heard on the news a Church of Scotland leader say, “It’s time the Church caught up with society.” That’s an interesting reversal of the historical Gospel – one wonders what makes our society so apt to be caught up with, as opposed to the Roman, or the mediaeval, or the Tudor or the Shinto etc which needed to be subverted by God’s word. I guess it must be our atheism!

        • Avatar photo GD says:

          Hi Jon,

          I may share some musings with you (do not tell Lou about this as I do not have testable evidence) – I wonder at times if the type of person who was so religious they went out looking for witches to burn at the stake, may now be the type who is a zealous atheist – just a thought.

          More serious – I have mused over the notion of belief (theist) and absence of belief (real atheist) – I muse there is much more to this then may meet the ‘intellectual’ eye.

  10. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    That would likely make an interesting thread if you’d care to expand on it, Jon.

    Yeah, I did make a start on such a post once, but the truth is that one mostly encounters it in tangential remarks from “footsoldiers”, and there’s not nearly so much influence on the core ideas of ID as there is in TE, so I felt it would be a rather unbalanced piece.

    ID Neotheism mostly shows itself in things like arguments that bad design doesn’t preclude all design per se. That of course is absolutely true from a non-theological design inference standpoint, but does betray the theological presuppositions of its proponent: you don’t accept a bad-design category at all unless you envisage that your designer sometimes gets things wrong. TEs make the theological point more overtly, like Ayala’s implication that attributing the human jaw or back to God is blasphemous, let alone parasites and so on.

    Similarly, the “nature’s freedom” anthem is sung less, being in fact a point of criticism of TE by ID (as it is by YECs, OECs and I suspect many ordinary folk who’ve read some of the TE literature). Yet if freewill gets discussed on, say Uncommon Descent, the autonomous view of human freedom is assumed. It’s not being discussed as part of ID, but shows that supporters of ID come from the same theological stable in some ways as TEs.

    There’s also some mileage in the broader criticism (as made by Feser) that the image of the engineering-type designer depends on making God a mere artisan amongst artisans, a la Neotheism. There’s some truth in that, but it’s exaggerated I feel as most serious ID concepts revolve around information, which I think is a fundamental feature of “design” in the older, general sensethe Victorian TEs used, and not a simplistic view of God as a jobbing builder.

    I’m trying to work out how the new knowledge of evolution and of information theory meshes with Thomist concepts of formal and material cause, given that Aquinas had, I guess, no real concept that there were detailed developmental mechanisms, or of new forms arising at other than the moment of original creation. That would be a more worthwhile piece if I ever gained any insights.

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      If I may be so bold Jon – why do you spend (waste) so much of your time on ID or not ID? No criticism – just a thought – if Darwin’s ideas are inadequate, what would a non-testable ID notion bring to the debate. If, as some claim, Darwin’s thinking is the apex of scientific endeavour, what would debates on ID bring to such a (spaghetti monster) marvel?

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


        The short answer is that it’s hard to avoid talking about ID when Gregory’s about. But the truth is:

        (a) I take design, understood as intentional creation, to be the key issue in the theological debate on origins. The means, including secondary efficient causation, that God employs are of lesser importance, though of practical interest, obviously, as they interact with science. This is the key beef I have with modern TE: it often specifically denies the Christian doctrine of creation: ie that every fly, or human or power or principality exists only because of God’s design and will.
        (b) ID is a major player on the current scene, like YEC, and it would be foolish to ignore it.
        (c) Furthermore, it contests both modern TE and the ruling Darwinian paradigm on the question of design, which makes it my co-belligerent on that issue in some respects, just as YEC might be on respect for the Bible even when its assumptions are wrong.
        (d) Related to that, some of ID’s insights are worthy of serious consideration: a position that has impressed not only Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, but atheists like Anthony Flew (who became at least a Deist through it) and Thomas Nagel (who accepts its critique of Darwinism) should not be dismissed – and even more so when so much of the criticism directed at it is self-evidently as polemic and spurious as that directed (often by the same people) against historic Christianity.

        As Gregory mentions somewhere, the post that got this blog off the ground was a comment on just such a bigoted critique of Stephen Meyer’s book (Nagel’s “book of the year” at one stage). If historical circumstances had been different, that book, or the work of William Dembski, might well have been written from the “theistic evolution” tradition I described in the recent series of six. And that tradition, as I tried to point out, was a position that credited science when it was due, criticised it without fear when necessary, and subordinated all such matters to the rule of faith of biblical Christianity.

        Such a position is desperately needed today – somebody needs to be reminding people that it is society that needs to be transformed by God’s word, not God’s word that must conform to society.

        On your specifics, it seems to me that even back in Asa Gray’s day it was understood that chance and divine action were formally indistinguishable. But outlying chance, which is demonstrably and increasingly shown to be necessary to Darwinism, is unpersuasive to those with open minds.

        Most people are taught, wrongly in my view, that undirected evolution is easy and inevitable, and that their natural impression of design in nature, and therefore of a divine power, is foolish. If however they see the choice as actually being between design and a process near incredible on scientific grounds, then like Flew they may begin to follow their God-given instincts. And they may hear the gospel and be saved.

        • Avatar photo GD says:


          A few remarks – intentionality is comprehensible within theistic outlooks, as this is consistent with Biblical teachings that God is creator and sustains the creation. I can understand your discussion on secondary causes, and also the tension between Darwinian thought (removes teleology from biology and assumes it is all pointless, purposeless and ‘random) and a more philosophical outlook that includes ‘the arrow of time’ as a purpose to the Universe. Theologically I do not see any possible reason to re-examine my outlook on these matters.

          These matters seem to me more philosophical and theological and thus depend on the position one takes. So using ID (whatever Gregory thinks requires small letters or caps), as a weapon in such an argument has the flavour of, ‘the creation has beauty, our understanding leads us to the elegant, and so on’. My (limited) understanding is that this notion has a lot to do with the early thinking of people such as Newton and Boyle, with the addition of design and the ‘clockwork universe – this I take to be an addition to the ‘prime mover’ outlook.

          I guess my question goes back to scientifically including an additional notion to Darwin’s ideas – that of a non-definitional design notion. I do not see a reason to view Darwin’s ideas as anything but inadequate, and predict that real progress in biology may only occur when people seriously examine the question of life – since an understanding of this is seriously poor, and the hurdles immense, I think these debates will continue for many years.

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


            Your last question is interesting. More and more papers suggest a teleology within life (maybe what someone called “teleonomy” to try and keep God out). If that were established, it would certainly encourage re-examining the Prime Mover, as purpose of any sort needs an explanation.

            And yet the story goes that design in nature ought to be undetectable scientifically (I’m never quite sure of the proof of that, apart from excluding it a priori); which raises the question of how one could possibly establish such a perfectly natural teleonomy if it existed, as James Shapiro and others wish? And if one couldn’t, then a potentially major explanation of living organisms would be lost.

  11. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    Following on from your views here and on BioLogos on the inadequacy of Darwinian evolution, and also the interminable and inconclusive grilling of hananD by the Fruitfly there, this paper seems to be another important milestone:

    Denis Noble’s a physiologist whose approach is via systems biology. But he’s no fool (though of course I’m sure they’re lining up to say he doesn’t understand evolutionary theory!).

    Here’s a video of his lecture if interested:

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Thanks Jon – he is another voice that recognises a need for progress in the area – however I have a feeling that a real breakthrough may require more than what he is discussing. It is nice to see that we have scientists who are willing to seek new ways of thinking.

  12. Gregory says:

    I thought GD’s question was spot-on.

    “The short answer is that it’s hard to avoid talking about ID when Gregory’s about.”

    Oh, please Jon, don’t blame me for your fetish with IDism and your lack of willingness to clarify yourself in regard to it thus far! You’re back posting at UD these days, apparently fawning IDists who are so marginal from actual scholarship and sensibility as to deprive yourself of credibility by association. Those are the implications of GD’s bold question, though he puts it more delicately than I do.

    “I take design, understood as intentional creation, to be the key issue in the theological debate on origins.”

    Then you are speaking of ‘Design’ as intentional Creation. But you seem to wish to dance to the tune of American evangelical neo-creationist Protestantism in the song of IDism instead. There’s a much deeper stream of thought, Jon, that you don’t seem to have yet discovered. And if it’s a “theological debate on origins” that you’re mainly interested in, then it isn’t IDism, but ‘the design argument’ that you are citing and defending.

    “ID is a major player on the current scene, like YEC, and it would be foolish to ignore it.”

    No, this is where you simply haven’t done your homework, Jon, and haven’t explored the broader science, philosphy, theology/worldview discourse. Most mature TE’s, not the small troup you follow Timaeus (and his shadows) into believing they are the leaders. Most TEs have grown to ignore IDism as simply an un-feasable scientistic proposition.

    Granted, at first they thought it had potential. But then, after stunts like the Polanyi Centre, after ‘cdesignproponentsists'(will you write a thread about it?), after school board manipulations and obvious PR propaganda, Jon, how can you *not* see how it is actually best to move beyond the fiasco of IDism?! Francis Beckwith, Robin Collins and Mark Ryland; just three examples who associated themselves with IDism and the DI, but willfully and faithfully broke from it. Why don’t you study them, Jon?

    To even suggest “ID is a major player” is so narrowly misconstrued as to be laughable. IDism has indeed provoked more science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse, yes, of course! But it has also obscured reality and nevertheless stolidly insisted on being a ‘natural-science-only’ theory, which is, again, laughable. Do you not see through this scientistic charade, Jon?

    I saw this personally inside the DI, Jon. But you don’t need to accept a single word I say here on your blog if you find it insulting that you might be wrong about IDism and its link to right-wing American politics and neo-creationism.

    “This is the key beef I have with modern TE: it often specifically denies the Christian doctrine of creation: ie that every fly, or human or power or principality exists only because of God’s design and will.”

    Why are you so ready to exchange the concept of ‘Creation’ for the concept (as you write it, with small ‘d’) of ‘design’?

    Christians who accept biological and geological evolution are not required to ‘deny the Christian doctrine of creation.’ That is simply an absurd suggestion, Jon! Who have you been listening to that makes you imagine that this even could be true?! I asked Denyse O’Leary if she is not ashamed of herself for questioning the ‘faith’ of those beside her in the pew. It sounds all too individualistic and entitlement-begging to be true!

    Let me just suggest that your views of ‘modern TE’ are dreadfully wrong, Jon, perhaps given that you seemingly haven’t studied Catholic and Orthodox scholars who accept biological and geological evolution. Have you even read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin or Theodosius Dobzhansky, Bergson or Whitehead? Many living Catholics and Orthodox whom I’ve met are just as critical of ‘Darwinism’ as you are, and of YEC as you are, and yet they have found an unmistakeably higher and more coherent balance of the scientific evidence with philosophical and theological knowledge (i.e. than returning to Warfieldian TE as if that is ‘progressive’ for our times today!). The fact that you still call yourself a TE blatantly shows the inconsistency.

    “somebody needs to be reminding people that it is society that needs to be transformed by God’s word, not God’s word that must conform to society.”

    The Catholic and Orthodox Churches do this aplenty. You quoted a Church of Scotland ‘reformer’ saying what you abhor.

    The ‘teleological’ theme is quite telling because this is where IDism has simply missed the boat. Too late. No more tickets. What is demonstrated is among the most dehumanising proposals to ever have been presented as a ‘scientific’ theory.

    Your ‘design in nature’ talk is simple regurgitation of IDism. That’s where you got it from and what you are limited to in stressing it. Yet if neither you, nor anyone (else) in the IDM will openly face Adrian Bejan (a more accomplised scholar than any IDist, Expelled Syndrome aside), it shows that you’ve not yet done enough thinking or reading to be taken seriously.

    “design in nature ought to be undetectable scientifically”

    Is this why you lean your PoS so heavily on Anglo-American thinkers (e.g. P. de Vries)? Look East, Jon, the answers are well ahead and waiting for you.

    The main point is that ‘detectable scientifically’ is the flagship ideology of IDism. Their philosophy of nature is highly under-developed on the global scale, which includes Orthodox and Catholic scholars. Indeed, ‘systems’ thinking mainly comes from the East, from the creativity and faith which is a direction I highly suggest to turn to, instead of condescending about ‘kooky Eastern Europeans’ in the future.

    But again, Jon, I welcome dialogue and am glad if we can respectfully agree to disagree re: Design/design as a scientific, philosophical, theological/worldview topic. Again, too late with too many other responsibilities to be writing…

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Hi Gregory and Jon,

      I am uncertain as to the gist of the disagreement between you two – I have an idea of Jon’s outlook, in that TE needs a purpose/teleology, and perhaps ID may add this. I am uncertain as to the position adopted by Gregory.

      For clarity, I will restate my position, that Darwin’s ideas form the basis for the current paradigm of biology, but my contention is that this is inadequate, and one way to (humorously) illustrate this is to point out that bio- means life, and thus they do not understand the thing that their discipline is meant to do (I know this is a simplification). However space does not permit a detailed discussion of my view on the inadequacy of Darwinian thinking.

      I would be very interested in hearing (if possible) a short statement of Gregory’s position on this topic. Cheers.

  13. Gregory says:

    “I have an idea of Jon’s outlook, in that TE needs a purpose/teleology.”

    We are agreed on this. Added, however, that various ‘sciences’ already involve studies of ‘purpose/teleology,’ while others categorically don’t. Which ‘sciences’ study purpose/teleology in your view, GD?

    “…, and perhaps ID may add this.”

    Weren’t you just asking Jon: “why do you spend (waste) so much of your time on ID or not ID?”

    The ‘perhaps’ doesn’t seem necessary as long as IDism calls itself a ‘science-only’ endeavour. Jon knows this quite well. They are too stubborn to change their tune because doing so would spell doom for the IDM and its right-wing evangelical Protestant funding channels. Coming clean to defend an ‘old’ Earth would send shockwaves through this American-born movement, so even though it is commonly acknowledged as ‘bad science’ or ‘pseudoscience,’ IDism as an ideology takes no official position on the age of the Earth.

    My position is that both IDism and TE/EC are parts of a larger science, philosophy, theology/worldview conversation. Call it an interdisciplinary or inter-realm discourse if you like. TE/EC *openly* (i.e. no IDist double-talk or ‘wedge’ approach) involve at least science and religion/faith/theology/spirit/worldview (depending on the organisation, usually one of these combinations is used). What is most problematic with TE/EC is their low-level philosophical work as a source of integration or synthesis between “science and ‘combination two'”. This is witnessed most acutely in the shallow discussions of ‘Methodological Naturalism’ and generally weak philosophy of science grown in the western analytic tradition.

    “Darwin’s ideas form the basis for the current paradigm of biology, but my contention is that this is inadequate”

    Again, we are agreed. How does ‘post-Darwinian’ biology look and who’s new name or what title will it take? There doesn’t seem to be a clear candidate for this yet. IDism is clearly not a suitable candidate. That’s part of science as a process of knowledge generation, discovery, innovation, etc. that sometimes lulls – long or short – occur between major or minor breakthroughs. The larger point is that the academic field of ‘biology’ is only one field involved in the conversation and far too much attention has been given to it for the health of ‘this topic.’

    If you’d like to repond, GD, I’d be curious how you define ‘this topic,’ since that may also be a source of uncertainty regarding various positions.

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Hi Gregory,

      Thanks for your reply: “My position is that both IDism and TE/EC are parts of a larger science, philosophy, theology/worldview conversation. Call it an interdisciplinary or inter-realm discourse if you like. TE/EC *openly* (i.e. no IDist double-talk or ‘wedge’ approach) involve at least science and religion/faith/theology/spirit/worldview (depending on the organisation, usually one of these combinations is used).

      I will try and make this brief – if you wish for a more detailed exchange perhaps I may need to use your blog instead of Jon’s.

      On the subject of Theistic Evolution, I do not recognise this phrase as my own outlook requires all of the physical sciences to provide a level of certainty (my subjective assessment) before I would consider these as part of my faith/theological worldview. Thus I have very little constructive comment on TE/ID/EC. The biological sciences are permeated with uncertainty and change, and infected with controversy that draws from various positions, including theistic and atheistic. Since I commence from an Orthodox position that draws on extensive tradition and scholastic endeavour regarding Christianity, I develop my worldview within that context.

      While I find various aspects of philosophy and sociology interesting, I do not consider myself sufficiently expert to view these in the same way I view the faith/science conversation – thus I have an opinion that I think is well informed, but do not push this area as hard as that based on the physical sciences.

      So what is my view on the creation and humanity on earth? I take the purpose in life to be derived from my faith/theological view, and think that we should work towards a world that solves our many problems – I divide this between my professional activities (what I can do) and my hopeful outlook (what I hope may transpire in the world).

      On creation etc., I think that the general outlook on the beginning of the Universe is useful and this will continue to develop from the work of maths, physics and chemistry. Geology has also provided us with a very broad outlook of time spans for earth, and the general evolutionary outlook has shown us that life has existed for a considerably long period. The Orthodox view on Adam and Eve is sufficient, and the existence of other human beings during that period is also reasonable.

      I agree with your suggestion of a larger conversation, but remind you that this is a VERY ambitious project with very many pitfalls. I have spent time considering how we use language and what we believe is ‘a human being’ with all the baggage that goes with this.

      This will have to do for the time being.

      • Gregory says:

        Hello GD,

        Sorry for the delay during busy days. Let me respond in part to your message.

        You wrote: “On the subject of Theistic Evolution, I do not recognise this phrase as my own outlook requires all of the physical sciences to provide a level of certainty (my subjective assessment) before I would consider these as part of my faith/theological worldview. Thus I have very little constructive comment on TE/ID/EC.”

        I guess it is curious to me that you acknowledge no ideology whatsoever that you hold. I.e. to me, TEism, IDism and ECism are all ideologies. This doesn’t necessarily mean something negative in a Marxian or Althusserian context. It can simply mean ‘a way of organising one’s ideas’ such that we all have ideologies, some of which play out higher in priority for our worldview than others.

        As such, I try to keep an open ear to ‘physical sciences’ as much as possible given my alternative focus on human-social sciences. But I have no problem including physical ‘theories’ about evolution or quantum mechanics or gravity or electromagnetic forces into my broader worldview. It doesn’t seem you reject evolutionary biology, at least not wholly (i.e. whereas you may have objections to one or a few variants of evolutionary theory, you nevertheless still accept it on broad terms).

        This is confirmed when you write: “the general evolutionary outlook has shown us that life has existed for a considerably long period.”

        A relatively new field studies this specifically, led by an Australian David Christian: – This demolishes YECism as completely irrelevant. Should we be sad for their psychological sommersaults to deny such things? ; )

        “The Orthodox view on Adam and Eve is sufficient, and the existence of other human beings during that period is also reasonable.”

        Yes, I agree. Probably even I can say here ‘we agree,’ to include most others visiting Potiphar.

        “While I find various aspects of philosophy and sociology interesting, I do not consider myself sufficiently expert to view these in the same way I view the faith/science conversation”

        Well, yes of course not. Nevertheless, you are to some degree both a philosopher and a sociologist, caring about wisdom and making observations about the society(ies) you live in. Whether or not you have ‘theories’ and/or ‘methods’ of doing philosophy or sociology is less important. I am not, likewise, a chemist, or a (retired) medical doctor, or a priest/preacher/pastor. So I doesn’t seem that lack of expertise need restrain us entirely from exploring how each others’ fields impact science, philosophy, theology/worldview conversations.

        IDism ignores humanity (almost) completely. If it didn’t, it would study ‘designers,’ which by pseudo-intellectual fiat it disallows. At least TE/EC (which can be less ideological, meaning simply theists who accept limited evolutionary biology, geology, cosmology, etc.) can include humanity in its focus by involving theology/worldview openly. IDists rail and complain about atheism regularly, but their ideological position of insisting they are defending a ‘strictly scientific’ theory draws a line in sand that the IDM is still (psychologically) unable to cross.

        No more time to explore further for now…
        – Gr.

        • Gregory says:


          “…and the existence of other human beings during that period is also reasonable.”

          What is controversial is whether or not those ‘creatures’ should be categorially/taxonomically called ‘human beings’ or not. Hominids, o.k. non-Adamites, or pre-Adamites, o.k.

          ‘Human being’ has a distinct connotation depending on the time and place it is spoken. Today there are discussions of transhumanism and posthumanism. But what does ‘pre-human’ or ‘non-human’ signify in the transition from e.g. Neanderthals to Adamites? Just something prior to Miraculous Intervention?

          No offense, GD (or Jon), but there is no ‘chemical’ theory of ‘human beings’ by a living or past chemist (or M.D.) that I would instill much value in. It’s anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists – intertwined with their worldviews – that are ‘experts’ on this topic. If ‘theologians’ wish to make their case as ‘experts about human beings’, then they seem to need to make themselves more relevant than they did in the 20th century (and some previous ones too).

          • James says:

            I certainly disagree with the proposition that social scientists are “experts about human beings.” Since a good deal of social science has amounted to biological reductionism (e.g., Skinner, sociobiology), I would trust an old-fashioned theologian or philosopher or historian or novelist to define the essence of humanity far more than I would trust most social scientists. It was social science that taught modern people to think of themselves in terms of “drives” “adjustments” “stages of grief” “reactions” “bonding” “social stratification” and other chemical, geological, clinical, or technological-sounding metaphors, as opposed to notions such as “love” “desire” “will” “sin” “truth” “wisdom” “justice” “soul” etc. Allan Bloom, C. S. Lewis, Mark Twain, and George Orwell are far wiser guides than any sociologist or psychologist I’ve ever read, when it comes to understanding the *humanness* of human beings.

  14. Avatar photo GD says:


    Hate to be a bother but my comment is now again waiting for moderation – luckily I have saved a copy of this post and will re-post it if needed.

  15. Avatar photo GD says:

    Hi Gregory,

    Your comments cover a large area and I will try to respond to some points that may be common to our interests. Yes, worldviews are common to us and I have mine; I often equate ideology with a politically active position and in this context, I see it more as a way of convincing/deceiving people to obtain personal power over others. However I think you may use the term in a way I use worldview – so there is little to discuss regarding the term.

    On the broader area of faith and reason, I consider that I seek to be informed from areas such as philosophy, sociology, and the arts (esp poetry and great literature), while I am actively engage in the physical sciences (esp chemistry). This obviously brings greater emphasis regarding the physical sciences (this can be seen for example, from my insistence that we address aspects on the origin of life (biology = life knowledge), the theories on how the earth could sustain life, enzymes, and so on) all of which obviously have a strong chemistry flavour. I also examine the way a scientific theory is assessed as adequate or not (drawing from PoS), and I have tried to understand psychology as it seeks to provide insights into human beings.

    My effort on faith and reason however, has gone ultimately into examining my own thinking and feelings, with reference to the Bible, on the great questions. Consequently, I regard language and our ability to put our thoughts into words as central to this, and I have used mainly poetry to this end – this is recognition of the importance of language and how we as social beings communicate with each other. As a sociologist you may appreciate this type of activity/interest.

    Thus I do not see a ‘chemical theory of human beings’ and instead have developed a thesis that I use in my poetry; this essentially says that human beings can be described by phrases such as: (i) I am, I exist, (ii) I am an active being engaged in a world of objects, and (iii) I am a being who forms a male/female relationship, has the capacity for worship, and so on….

    I find anthropology and history interesting, but on classifying pre-humans, I am sceptical regarding the accuracy and reliability of our current understanding. You might say that I consider my capacity to doubt scientific endeavour as a strength, as it has served me well as a research scientist. I trust you and Jon find these comments interesting.

  16. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    I think my own response to the question of who best understands the nature of humanity is that it’s likely to be those who are wisest and look deepest into their own hearts and those of their fellows – which probably means mainly those outside any of the modern branches of academia.

    So give me a poet rather than a natural scientist, a saint rather than a theologian, or a mother rather than a social scientist. Me, I write songs (or used to, before I started interacting with academics), though those decades in medicine helped too.

  17. Gregory says:

    Jon, why restrict yourself to ‘the nature of’ the object/subject in question?Humanity is partly natural, to be sure, but it is also more than ‘just natural.’ Don’t you agree?

    Like GD, “I regard language and our ability to put our thoughts into words as central to this.” That means being careful how one’s phrases frame the topic. In this case, ‘the nature of humanity’ implies a naturalistic approach to humanity, at least as I read it, which is likely not what you mean to imply.

    I agree with you regarding ‘wisdom’ and looking into our own hearts. But I don’t see why you say ‘probably’ as you do. I’ve met academics who are both wise and ‘reflexive’. Perhaps either you haven’t or you are simply brushing ‘modern branches of academia’ with too broad a stroke? You are not an academic, neither is James or penman, but GD and I are employed in Academia in higher education. So, please be careful how you apply your brush.

    Of course, a few poets are/were natural scientists, more than a few saints are/were theologians and quite a few mothers are/were social scientists.

    I was at a conference recently with economists who are trying to ‘(re-)humanise’ the field. The notion that in rational choice theory and game theory, or in neo-classical economic theory generally, the ‘humanity’ is removed from the ‘equation’ is not lost on them. This is a relatively new movement of scholars who are against dehumanisation. But perhaps one should blame the scholars who dehumanised their fields in the first place (starting with natural scientists and mathematicians?), rather than praise those who are attempting to reverse this trend?

    That seems to be the strategy of gloomers, while I tend to be more optimistic, constructive and cornucopian. That said, I am encouraged by GD’s words about poetry and physical science, reluctance to accept anthropolgical ideas disguised as atheism and general rejection of both IDism and TEism/ECism.

    • Avatar photo GD says:


      I am curious to know from you how physical sciences and maths may de-humanise, or re-humanise anything – I can understand how economics would involve choice by humans (e.g. consumers of products), but if we focus purely on physical sciences, I can only see one aspect, namely these activities are performed by human beings. Perhaps you have another view on this?

      • Gregory says:

        Hi GD,

        Thanks. Let me respond when my post to James and his claims about sociobiology and reductionism pass through Jon’s moderation settings. There’s something important to be said about reflexivity, which neither James nor Jon seem willing yet to allow on the table. We are people in this ‘conversation,’ after all, not just bots spewing impersonal ‘thoughts.’

        – Gregory

  18. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    We’ve had the discussion about the “nature” of (the word) “nature” before, and I’m happy not to argue the toss, and agree that we’re not talking about a naturalistic approach.

    My comment was really just to flag up that there is no one academic speciality that has a monopoly on the human condition, and that it’s possible for people in any field to miss the boat entirely (and give ground to humble ploughmen etc). Of course I agree that the intelligent and educated can also be wise – but as you mention in your para on dehumanisation it doesn’t always come with the academic territory.

    Why, there are even psychiatrists who understnd people are people!

  19. Gregory says:

    First, I said “anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists.” You are none of these, are you James?

    Having shared a building with some of these folks certainly doesn’t qualify you for possessing knowledge about what they (we) study. It seems to me that “any sociologist or psychologist I’ve ever read” actually accounts to almost nothing in your case. Likely nothing in the last 20 years, other than Steve Fuller’s work on science and religion. You might want to try Michael Burawoy, Anthony Giddens, Piotr Sztompka, Margaret Archer, Christian Smith, et al. There’s more ‘humanity’ being studied than you seem to realise from your lofty ‘history of ideas’ and ‘western religion’ training and home base. Or try Bourdieu, Gouldner, Touraine and others, along with Burawoy and Giddens, on ‘reflexivity.’ Archer was the first woman president of the ISA and founding member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, so perhaps you could glean some lessons in ‘humaneness’ from her.

    Second, sociobiology was perpetrated mainly by a biologist (E.O. Wilson) and his natural scientist colleagues, *not* by human-social scientists. Alexander, Hamilton, Trivers, Maynard-Smith, et al. These are *not* human-social scientists.

    Besides, the things you rant about are about 30 years outdated, as if you are arguing with ghosts and not with present issues.

    Third, so you have no trust for human-social scientists? So what? Why should anyone listen to a person who obviously doesn’t understand sociology?

    Mark Twain!!! C.S. Lewis’ apologetics is fine, if it’s understood for what it is, but his ‘science studies’ is below par. There are better Brits than Lewis and obviously more current. And to elevate even higher, one needs to go East on this topic, not West.

    • James says:

      I concede not having read recent sociological and psychological literature. (Actually, that is not quite true — I read several recent sociological papers in the field of “animal studies” not long ago.) However, I think my characterization of the general tendency of those subjects — as they apply to religious studies, anyway — was certainly true when I went to graduate school.

      For what it is worth, I *do* acknowledge the existence of “humanistic” social scientists — I think of people like Peter Berger and Erich Fromm and Philip Rieff — but my impression is that, at least in North America (the case may be different in Europe) that their approach is regarded as too old-fashioned, too “subjective,” not “scientific” enough, and that North American social science still tends to think it should ape the natural sciences, i.e., be mathematical, be filled with technical jargon the average citizen cannot understand, and be reductionist.

      I accept your correction about sociobiology. However, I think that, though it might have originated with a biologist, I would have no trouble finding social scientists who endorse it, or endorse ideas very close to it. In my experience — again in North American universities — most sociologists (to use just one subject as an example) are secular humanists who believe that man arose via blind accident, and many of them are therefore inclined to interpret all “higher” aspects of human beings as sublimated forms of “lower” animal behavior.

      On the other side, I also have the sense that anthropologists, on the whole, are even in North America less narrowly reductionist than many sociologists and psychologists. I think that anthropologists have a healthy tendency to say “Let’s see what this other culture is like, let’s try to understand the way these people perceive the world” — which militates against reductionism.

      You must be aware, of course, of the strong trend in psychology (especially among those on the “biology” side of psychology) toward reductionist explanations of morality, religion, etc. You must be aware of the dominant view that the mind is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain, and of the frequent skepticism regarding free will. (It’s all just how our neurons fire.) I am sure you deplore those trends. So I suspect that you and I can agree on part of what I am saying.

      If Eastern European sociologists are more humanistic, I say, more power to them! But here in North America, where I have to live, I have seen my kids educated in a public school system run by Ph.D.s in Education driven by a reductionist sociology and psychology of the most disgusting Anglo-American positivist variety, not your Eastern European variety. So perhaps you can understand my remarks as coming from a living context, and as reasonable in that context.

      Remember what I was responding to: your statement that social scientists were “experts” on human matters. My point is that, while this may be true of some social scientists, it is not true of social scientists generally. Many of them are fools on human matters, because they adopt a method of studying human matters based on the natural sciences which cannot help but distort what human beings are. I think you yourself would agree that aping the natural sciences has been very bad for the understanding of human things, and have said so in many places. So if you are willing to qualify your original statement, to something like: “for human and social things, we can learn more from the better social scientists and humanities scholars than from natural scientists” — I would wholeheartedly agree.

      What’s wrong with Mark Twain?

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