Ann Gauger's Response to My Themelios Review

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Recently, my review of the Crossway book on TE was published in Themelios: Three Reviews of the Crossway Theistic Evolution Book. I concluded that article asking:

Shortly after that, we discussed BioLogos’s response to the book: BioLogos and the Crossway TE Book. @Eddie also published a very thoughtful response to my review: Eddie’s Response to Review of Crossway TE, and became a regular contributor here at Peaceful Science too.

I am pleased to report now that @Agauger, one of the authors of the TE book has responded to my review too. This is is the first of a three part response.

I want to say a few comments about this part, and will plan on a full response after all three parts are completed.

Swamidass brings his own particular point of view to his review. He defines himself as a Christian who affirms evolution, while also rejecting the name theistic evolutionist. Yet in many respects, though not all, his review parallels the concerns of theistic evolutionists.

I want to thank @Agauger for accurately representing me here. For those curious why I am not a theistic evolutionist, please read my reasons here:

Lastly, a little history will show why we were invited to participate. It wasn’t for religious reasons. The book was designed by the original editors, J.P. Moreland, Wayne Grudem, and Chris Shaw, to be a response to the three main aspects of theistic evolution: scientific claims, philosophical claims, and theological claims. It was not a Discovery Institute initiative, nor an ID initiative. The editors of the TE book asked Stephen Meyer (and me) to be editors: Meyer to frame the book’s scientific response, and me to assemble the needed chapters for the scientific response. We did not make a case for ID, or a theological argument for ID . (The one exception is Douglas Axe, who contributed a summary of arguments from his book , Undeniable. )

I know that Swamidass is a Christian who affirms evolutionary science. I will not use his religious belief to challenge the sincerity of his science, his motivations, or his beliefs, in any respect. Let him give us the same respect and acknowledge that what we do is science, even if he disagrees with our conclusions.

I want to agree with @Agauger here. ID is not putting forward a religious argument, but a scientific argument with which I disagree on scientific grounds. Moreover, any religious motivations they have would never be valid grounds alone by which to dismiss them. I understand @Agauger’s concerns here, but was not discussing this as a reason to dismiss them.

Personally, I have religious motivation to study and understand evolutionary science. I want to know the true structure of the living world, so I can be an honest servant of the Church. Frankly, it is because of these religious motivations that I came to understand evolutionary science well enough to turn away from ID arguments that at first seemed so convincing to me. Those religious motivations do not make my work less trustworthy.

In agreement with Ann Gauger, religious motivations alone, if they are found in the ID movement, should not be reason enough alone to dismiss ID. As @AGauger points out too, many people associated with ID also were convinced by ID before they became Christians. This also is an example of the “genetic fallacy”. Those of us that care about logic, evidence, and science should not dismiss argument merely because they are relevant to religious concerns. I agree with Gauger here.

With that, I’ll look forward to the next parts, and respond more completely then.

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Three Reviews of the Crossway Theistic Evolution Book
Another Response to My Themelios Review
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

The next article is really excellent. I hope that @Jongarvey and @eddie take a look too.

Swamidass likes to tell a story of a tree. The tree has an appearance of age, but it is really quite young. His lesson is in the form of a question: Why would God create a tree that looks a hundred years old but that is really only a week old? This story is pitched at anyone who doubts the evidence of neo-Darwinian evolution and favors (as I do not) a young age for creation. Swamidass would say, I think, “Why make life look evolved, if it isn’t?” A fair response would be, “Why make life looks designed, if it isn’t?” Josh rejects the label, but I would ask the same question of any theistic evolutionist.

A couple brief clarifications.

  1. I reject neo-Darwinian evolution. It was falsified in the 1960s and replaced with The Neutral Theory of Evolution.

  2. I think there are good answers to the question. It is not merely a rhetorical argument, and theologians have responded in good ways:

  3. Regarding Ann’s retort, I believe that life looks designed because it is designed, by a process that is partly explained by evolution. This is true even though I remain unconvinced by ID attempts to formulate this in math and science.

I’ll look forward to responding in more detail. Great questions are raised here, that I hope could lead to increased understanding.

(Dan Eastwood) #3

Agauger wrote

I believe that life looks designed because it is designed …

I find it interesting how people (such as engineers) who are trained to design things may see the world as designed. I’m a statistician, trained to understand probability, and I see randomness everywhere.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

Astute observation. Note, also, that I both see randomness everywhere and “design” everywhere too.

This is perfectly sustainable as a theological or philosophical position if we are diligent in rejecting bad scientific arguments in support of design. The potential legitimacy of “design” as a theological claim, however, is a very bad reason to presume with can some how come to the same conclusion when limited to language, rules, and tools of science.

If all ID proponents want is for divine “design” to be a legitimate proposition in the larger conversation, they could just drop the scientific case which is all to often laden with problems.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #5

So, I’m just realizing that after Ann’s next article, there are going to be 7 articles published that reference me at ENV this month. Is that a record? What does it mean?

One thing I want to say about this set of articles is that they are focused on substantive issues, and do not have any hint of ad hominem. I’m very thankful for this, and hope we will return this good will by doing the same.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #6

60 posts were split to a new topic: Side Comments on Ann Gauger’s Response to Themelios Review

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #7

Ann’s final article is here:

There are interesting things coming to the surface here, but it bears emphasizing that I had only 2,000 words to address a 1,007 page book, 2 words per page. This is just the opening part of an ongoing conversation. It is to be expected that I did not deal with every point in the review, and leave many questions unanswered.

I’ll be reaching out to @Agauger, and if there is interest, I’ll be publishing my next entry in this exchange in the coming weeks.

Side Comments on Ann Gauger's Response to Themelios Review

I would be interested to see if @Agauger could explain why she thinks recombination rates and chromosomal rearrangements should occur at any constant or predictable rate. We expect substitution mutations to tick along at a reasonably constant rate, but I haven’t seen anyone ever claim that chromosomal rearrangements and large recombination events should behave the same as substitution mutations within the auspices of neutral theory.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #9

A post was split to a new topic: Side Comments on Ann Gauger’s Response to Themelios Review

(Dan Eastwood) #10

I agree that ID is valid as a philosophical view, and from certain religious views. I have encountered a fair number of people who ignore the theological implications of ID.


Why comment anything further?


Are you asking her because she is a practicing scientist doing research in this area? Or because she is a paid staffer of DI?


Since most mutations come from the father the Y chromosome should have accumulated more substitution mutations since the split with the chimp lineage. This is what we find, as noted by Dr. Gauger:

Then Dr. Gauger makes this strange statement:

Without going too deeply into all of the issues within that statement, the one that really jumps out (at least to me) is why Dr. Gauger thinks that the rate of indel mutations and recombination events can be directly compared to the rate of substitution mutations. These involve very different mechanisms, so I am wondering if she has any reason for thinking that the number of bases affected by recombination, insertion, and deletion should be the same as the substitution rate, or that the indel and recombination rates should be predictable like the substitution rates are.

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My question still stands "why is Ann Gauger relevant? Is she at the forefront of analyzing ancient genomes? Is she part of a lab or an institution doing cutting edge research on genomes?


She is relevant in the small world of ID/creationist debates, but not outside of it. This isn’t meant as a criticism, either. There are tons of really good scientists out there who aren’t big players in their scientific field.

The one positive is that Dr. Gauger is willing to engage in meaningful scientific discussions.

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Scientific discussions about what? non-scientific items? As far as I can tell, she isn’t a practicing scientist any more.


I don’t know how appropriate it is to directly post links to discussions at BioLogos, so I hope the mods can forgive at least one transgression. Dr. Gauger has a few posts in the thread below and makes meaningful additions to the conversation.

Dr. Gauger has published with Dr. Axe over at BioComplexity. Say what you want about the quality of the journal, but at least there is some real bench work found in the paper. As far as I know, Dr. Gauger is still employed by the Discovery Institute where she has access to a lab, and in my discussions with her she was planning future experiments. I have a lot more respect for ID proponents who actually handle some pipettes now and again.


BioComplexity journal is an ID journal. Marks is editor in Chief, Axe is Editor. They have published about 5 papers in the past few years total - all supporting ID. This is psuedoscience.


I was focused more on the effort than the results, along the lines of the old saw, “it is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all”.

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Well then I would like to suggest a subscription to the Journal of Improbable Results.

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