Eddie's Response to Review of Crossway TE

A review of the review (by @eddie) to add to the mix: The Crossway Theistic Evolution Book: A Response to Joshua Swamidass

@moderators note: the review to which this responds is here:

S. Joshua @Swamidass: Still, this book leaves me with a burning question. As a scientist in the church and a Christian in science, I see firsthand the strength of evolutionary science. What version of theistic evolution could be theologically sound? This question, I hope, can be received with empathy by a new generation of theologians. Help us find a better way.
http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/theistic-evolution-a-scientific-philosophical-and-theological-critique-2 7

This review, in turn, is of the Crossway TE book:


Excellent, thank you @jongarvey. I gotta say I don’t even disagree with most of it. Real substantive and thoughtful issues raised. @pnelson and @jongarvey there interest across the fence in continuing this conversation? This dialogue could positively shape how Peaceful Science forms.


I think Edward Robinson’s review is spot on in pointing out that the leaders (e.g. Collins) of theistic evolution tend to have a crude, simplistic theology and rarely engage in depth with historical thought on creation. But that’s unsurprising because most of them are primarily scientists who are not well educated in these fields. And their books (e.g. The Language of God) are mostly read by an audience of science-inclined Christians who are OK with that. Most TE leaders only claim that they’ve found a way to rationalize their faith and science, not that they’ve built up a sophisticated synthesis of the two that is going to replace Augustine or Aquinas or Luther. And for a lot of us that’s enough.

So I think this is a clear case of philosophers and scientists talking past each other. And I see it also in Robinson’s review. For example, take the following:

They are assuming that the Christian God would never make his actions in creation such that human beings could infer his existence from them. But what gives the TEs the right to assume that? Where do they get this assumption?..It’s an assumption springing from a particular form of Christian piety, and not a form that all Christians share. So it’s presumptuous.

This seems to show a lack of understanding of the typical scientific mindset. I can’t speak for all TE scientists, but when you have spent your whole life studying systems that obey a set of simple physical laws very well, the natural tendency is to assume that nature as a whole is primarily governed by similar regularities that are easily analyzable by science. Miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus, are certainly possible, but they can’t occur with a lot of regularity, because that would make science increasingly difficult, if not impossible. One cannot analyze a system that keeps getting lots of injections from an outside source which might not be governed by regularities (e.g. the will of God). From there, the conclusion is drawn that even if God intervenes in the natural order, He must be doing it in a subtle, imperceptible way that won’t mess up my science, because so far my science has been been going on fine assuming methodological naturalism!

This is why speculations on special divine action (SDA) by people like Polkinghorne tends to be looking for gaps in the science that we may never understand (e.g. chaos or quantum mechanics) to give God room to work His magic, instead of arguing against mainstream scientific arguments like ID.

I completely agree with Robinson though, in that to truly harmonize faith and science you will need to be trained in both areas.


The Language of God was read by secular biologists too. It had a huge impact. Remember that Collins is not merely a popularizer of TE, he also honestly confessed how he came to follow Jesus. That cannot be dismissed or forgotten. He was a confessing scientist.

Maybe more plausibly we have to be engaged in true interdisciplinary dialogue. Wouldn’t you say we are making progress here even though few of us (none of us?) are dual trained?


4 posts were merged into an existing topic: The Perils of Digital Dialogue

To summarize the four points @eddie makes, which I think are all largely correct, look at this list. Articulated this way, I would agree with them entirely:

  1. This only represents part of ID, some in the ID movement are theistic evolutionists too. One of the most prominent examples is Michael Behe.

  2. Most EC/TE probably do reject a non-interventionist view of evolution, however many of the visible leaders over the years have not always done so.

  3. We ought to leave open the possibility of legitimate natural theology, a theology that legitimizes detecting divine design in nature in some way, even if it scientifically bounded. Opposition to the scientific arguments for design, should not metastasize into a general “no” to natural theology outside of science.

  4. Is there a theistic evolution that could be theologically sound? Yes. There are various ways to do this. You point to The Hump and Peaceful Science as hopeful places where this is growing.

I like @eddies explication of a better way here. I think this really is a good way forward.

A couple pushbacks @eddie.

  1. You offer Behe as an example of a theologically sound evolutionist. Behe is even more silent on theology than Francis Collins. He is a secular voice, even if he personally has a vibrant faith. No one can assess his theological soundness. He has stayed away from theology entirely, and might be entirely incoherent for all we know. How could any of us possibly know that? The only virtue (relevant to you) he has is that he is part of the ID movement. That alone is not a valid way of defining theologically-soundness.

  2. Pascal, Newman, and Barth are important to theology too, and their voices are worth reflection and recovery now too. There are also Lutheran voices too, that might legitimately balance against your position (@Philosurfer). I am willing to grant there needs to be a careful rebalancing of our view (even my view) of natural theology. Rather than delegitimizing these important voices, or using them as a trump card against natural theology, I want to bring their insights into dialogue with one another. That may not have been possible in the past. It is now. Let’s give that a try first.

  3. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the real solution is not dual-trained scientist-theologians, but legitimate dialogue with genuine engagement and cross-disciplinary engagement and education. There will never be more than a couple idiosyncratic few that are dual trained. However, an interdisciplinary conversation can include any scientist/scholar ready to engage with humility. That is why, for example, I think these digital dialogues are so important. They increase the pace and depth of these interactions, while at the same time decreasing the friction and barriers to entry.

@Eddie, it seems we have immense common ground. I’m glad you are here now too. It seems we might be able build something positive here. Looking forward to seeing what this becomes.

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You said you were giving only a couple of pushbacks, but then gave three. :smile:

On the first point, I agree that being an ID proponent does not by itself guarantee theological soundness. On Behe, I don’t think he has said enough in detail about theology to anyone to assess all his theological views. However, in what he has said about his Catholic Faith, and about God, I have seen none of the flirtations with Open Theism that are found in the writings of certain ECs (Polkinghorne and Oord explicitly, but there are plenty of hints in Miller, Falk and others), nor have I seen any other sign that he departs from conventional Catholic orthodoxy on any Christian doctrine; whereas many EC leaders seem to be constantly pushing the envelope, whether about God’s sovereignty, Adam and Eve, the Fall, the reliability of the entire Bible, and other things. I have every reason to believe that insofar as Behe holds to a theological position, it is a mainstream Catholic position, and such a position, however much I might differ from it in some details, is still broadly within the boundaries of orthodox Christian faith. (As are traditional Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican and many other positions.)

In any case, I’m not setting up Behe as an authority on Christian or Catholic theology, and I don’t think he claims to be such. He has said that his ID investigations are motivated by scientific interest, not theological interest, and I take him at his word. That may not be true of all ID proponents – it may be that for some of them the theological interest is the motivation for supporting ID. But I think it’s true of Behe, and of Denton, and of some others: there is a genuine theoretical interest in ID that is not governed by Christian apologetics.

On your next point, I would never deny Pascal, Newman or Barth a place at the theological table. My objection to the repeated invocation of their names – always in the context of attacks on ID – is that they are being set up by certain EC writers as paradigms of good Christian theology, when in fact they are just theologians, and therefore mortal, capable of error. If Barth says that no natural theology is possible, that’s fine, but if he expects me to agree with him, he has to give his reasons – especially given that all the pre-modern Titans of Christian tradition disagree with him. And if don’t find his reasons compelling, I can deny his conclusions. He is not the Pope of Protestantism, who can dictate doctrine and expect conformity from all Protestants.

Remember, Joshua, many ECs have said outright that ID is “bad theology” – and then have gone on to invoke Barth, Pascal and Newman as the corrective. I would rather these ECs said, “I personally don’t prefer the theological idea of a God whose design is detectable; I personally prefer the portrait of God’s hiddenness that I see in Pascal, etc.” That would be humbler; it would be admitting the subjectivity of the EC’s judgments; the claim of “bad theology”, on the other hand, implies that the EC in question knows so much Christian theology that he is qualified to referee between Barth and Paley – which is absurd, when most of the ECs making these judgments haven’t read nearly enough of the primary sources in theology to make such a final judgment. It would take a doctoral-level knowledge on natural theology to make such a judgment.

I agree that there aren’t many people around trained well in both science and theology, but there are more of them than people think. One needn’t necessarily have a Ph.D. in both to be knowledgeable in both. One might have a Ph.D. in biology and a Master’s degree in theology or religious studies. On one might have a Master’s in Physics followed by a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible. There are people like this, but most of them are busy doing academic teaching and research work in universities, and aren’t spending their time blogging. But I agree with you that in practice we don’t always have doubly trained people handy, and have to make do with interdisciplinary conversation.

That works, best, however, when there are no chauvinistic professional assumptions underlying the discussion, e.g., the assumption that science gives reliable, objective knowledge whereas theology is subjective and all its conclusions uncertain. (Often in these discussions, if “science” supposedly says something is impossible, the theologians and Biblical interpreters are just expected to change their interpretation or their systematic theology, whereas it never works the other way around, that the scientists are expected to change their theories or review their data if the implications of their theories clash with orthodoxy.) Interdisciplinary dialogue also works best when scientists who don’t have much theological knowledge don’t get brittle and defensive when some of their claims are questioned. Certainly in the past some of the figures on BioLogos have been very defensive, and very unwilling to concede any points to people trained in theology. (As, e.g., when Darrel Falk spoke of the Wesleyan tradition of the “freedom of nature”, but then, when shown that Wesley said nothing of the sort, abandoned the discussion without retracting or modifying. That kind of defensiveness by scientists who dabble in Christian theology gets in the way of genuine progress in dialogue.)


Great @eddie, it seems we are on largely the same page.

Now just stop defining yourself in opposition to TE/EC. They aren’t in the room. Deal with us. You do not need a lengthy critique of EC in every post. It makes you look like you are suffering from PTSD. It undermines your point. Frankly, it usually distracts you from your point. This is Peaceful Science. Move past defining yourself in frustration with and opposition to them. When you are here, engage with us.

Sound like a good plan?

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I’m happy to move forward, and not talk about the past. However, the same conversational rules should apply not only for EC but for ID. If people here start talking about the Wedge Document or about ancient evolution debates in Kansas or Texas, I think I’ll scream. I’m interested in the theoretical question whether or not there is detectable design in nature, and in theological questions about God’s relation to nature and the evolutionary process, not in arguing about how certain creationists or ID proponents have behaved with their political hats on. So if you would rather I didn’t talk about the past, that is fine, but please make similar comments to others if they should bring up Wedge, Dover, Pandas and People, etc. Let’s have a “New Deal” (to borrow a term from political history) where the old quarrels are set aside and the goal is to understand substantive issues in science, philosophy, and theology: design, teleology, evolution, natural laws, chance, providence, creation, image of God, Fall, etc. I won’t bring up the past sins of BioLogos columnists if others here agree not to harp on the political activities of some ID proponents.


@eddie, when the issues of ID come up, we need to talk about them without distracting with the issues at BioLogos. Likewise, when the issues at BioLogos come up, we need to talk about them without talking about the issues at ID. That is how we should do this. If that is hard for you, just ignore these threads. However, it will happen here. I will also not allow that process of honest account to be subverted.

These things will come up as history lessons. We care a great deal about truth here. This is an important part of recent history that students need to know about. ID, also, benefits from talking about these things and learning how to avoid repeating the past.

Issues with BioLogos and EC/TE also come up regularly. However, it is always touch and go. I do not want us to be come defined by our critique of them. These threads, frankly, are much more likely to be shut down.

So focus on that.

I agree @eddie that everyone needs rules here. We cannot be throwing out controversial things to distract from real issues.

Sill, believe a truthful account of all these things all around (both of ID and EC/TE) is important. However, those with axes to grind are not good at giving truthful accounts. Advocates struggle with honesty. I do not want your advocacy here.

I want to engage in the bigger questions. As I’ve said, if you struggle to see an honest account of ID without dragging BioLogos into it, stay out of those threads. If you struggle to see an honest account of BioLogos/TE/EC without slipping into long winded repetitions of things you’ve already said, stay out of those threads. Of course, if you can help make sense of either ID or BioLogos in a non-wounded, informed and dispassionate voice, join in.

That is how it is going to work. I want to be fair to both Discovery and BioLogos, but also think that a truthful account of both is important now. That truthful account is important and will even be helpful for them both. However, any hint of axe-grinding, and it fails. I want to be fair to both. If you think I am not being fair, tell me privately instead of posturing publicly against me.

@Eddie, how is this for a new deal?

Let’s talk about the Wedge Document.


We will, but not today. We need to get better at managing and preparing for these contentious conversations first. Also, I am hopeful that an honest ID advocate might rise up to do this hard work with us. Burying the past does not work. This needs an account.

Trust me. We will. It is part of our inheritance. It needs to be received, with all its good and bad.

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@eddie, i should not blow too quickly by this.

I agree to do that in most situations, and you’ve just seen what I plan to do. Substantive issues should not be dismissed by throwing the bomb of Kansas and Dover and Wedge into the arena. That is not fair. Usually, we will push that into a new thread, or postpone it entirely.

Eventually we need to talk about this. I do not think we are ready yet. When that happens though, that will be the starting point. It will not be used as a distraction from other concerns.

I hope that was clear the first time around, but just wanted to be clear.

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I agree that if the political side of things (the behavior of ID, New Atheism, etc. as movements) needs to be discussed, it is best discussed as a separate topic of its own. I have no objection to that. If people aren’t interested in those topics, they don’t have to participate on those threads. But where the topic is genealogical Adam, or teleology in nature, or natural theology, or methodological naturalism, or whatever, I think that “side shots” related to the political or culture-war arena should be discouraged. I know that you will try to avoid such “side shots”, I and I promise to make the same effort. Also, I think the others here will do the same. I’m impressed by the other commenters here, many of whom I’ve not seen before on other sites, but seem intelligent, informed, and open-minded. I think the quality of people here is high. I’ll do what I can to keep the tone high and the discussion intellectually useful.


Why? This IS the front line of the culture war arena.

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I think he is saying that if he is talking about irriducible complexity as an argument just screaming Dover is not helpful. I’d agree. There are major problems with that argument. Intiating a fire drill prevents us from making that clear. Pushing those conversations into charged conflict detracts from our ability to stamp out bad arguments.

At the same time, if someone complaines about anti ID bias, they should not be surprised if this causes us to bring up Dover. Whether it’s fair or not, Dover is one major reason ID is not liked. Silencing that fact does no one any good.

It will take judgement to how and when to bring it into conversation. I’ve looked closely at ID arguments. There is no reason not to take them seriously. They often have errors that arise in understandable ways, and can serve as important object lessons that increase public understanding. Even if they end up being right in some cases, they are not scientific arguments and have no place in public schools.

Crying Dover to disrupt explication of them doesn’t ultimately work. It just confirms fears that they aren’t being heard, and discourages scrutiny into there claims.

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2 posts were split to a new topic: Remember Dover, Kansas, or both?

Agree, but rewriting history shouldn’t be allowed either.

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I totally agree. Reconciliation is not possible without truth. Dishonesty about the past does not serve anyone.