Greg Cootsona: What About Intelligent Design?

Actually one quick-ish reply: Did you read this response to the ENV review (which I found troubling on a number of levels)? It is posted on the PS blog site, but just in case: My Reflections: The State of the Conversation

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I stepped away from the forum, did some other work, then watched the debate last night, and look what happened! Let me ponder these and get back in a bit.

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Ok, in contrast to a previous comment, I now see your question. I’ll answer to the best of. my abilities… which means in this case pondering what you’ve written for a bit.

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Good to hear Mark M. Hopefully I won’t be too controversial, but here is a “sample” of what I think is pertinent…

I understand that people, many times will speak to, and use Language that is consistent with their Vocation, or Academic Expertise. I cannot point to my Dissertation to make my “case” (I don’t have one). If I point to other people’s Dissertation, or Scientific Peer Reviewed Papers… the people I run with, “get glazed over” eyes. Let me emphasize this… most of the people I run with, want simple (but True) communications.

Here comes my controversial point, and you could say my “non-Academic” challenge:
The writer says:

“For one, we don’t have to believe that God’s creation is DETECTABLE through irreducible complexity.”

I disagree, but how about in Non-Biology areas, is there Any Way to “Detect” that Somebody was involved, over Nobody being involved? Since this movie came out, I have asked the simple question… “Why are Jodi Foster, and the Computer Geeks Excited?” I get a lot of Anger, from Skeptics, when I show this clip… just saying this tells me Something!

That’s a real non-sequitor. Quite often, we cannot detect the influence of outside interference. You come with a very strong presupposition that God’s guidance is detectable by science, but what if you are wrong? Certainly @Cootsona in correct in asserting we do not have to believe that every-time God does something it is detectable by science.

In fact, historical theology has held that we affirm God providentially governs all things, but we can’t be sure precisely how unless He tells us. Which is in fact a statement that the mechanisms of God’s involvement in the world are usually hidden from view. That’s the default reality of how most Christians have understood “detectability,” and I think it is right.

The question of SETI, to be clear, is a distraction in another way, because no one is claiming SETI is God, certainly not you!

I would go further and say that it is biblical that God’s involvement in the world is purposefully hidden (by God) so that we must have faith…we will never be able to prove through scientific means that God does or does not exist. It is a test for salvation, God declares over and over that we must have faith, we must trust in Him. That is the only design that I would hold to.

Well, there is Jesus and his one sign, the proof that Paul offers on Mars Hill…

I’m not sure if I’ll answer every piece, but let me offer some responses.
First of all, I don’t think we should “bow down” to scientists–that sounds like worship or at least obeisance! I do think we should respect scientists in their vocation, and the vast majority of scientists accept evolutionary theory, which has been tried, tested, and improved for 160 years. It guides multiple fields of science.
Second and related, if we aren’t scientists (I’m not), it behooves us to listen carefully to what they are saying. Analogously, when I’ve done work in Christian faith and business, I listen to business leaders talk about what they do.
Finally, as for your reading, it sounds like you’ve covered a lot of the territory.

But even Jesus says:

Matthew 11:25-27 - 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Eddie, I didn’t find the ENV review incredibly enlightening in understanding or commenting on my work. In fact, I was quite disappointed. Frankly, it struck me as torrent of words without deep insight, but a fair degree of posturing. And slipping on a banana peel as the graphic? When a friend of mine did sleuth out the identity of the unnamed author, and I pursued the conversation via email, for the sake of dialogue, I found we were both Christians. I know we, in the church, can do better.

Nevertheless, since the review does represent both Discovery Institute (DI) in their tone and substance, I have a few ideas–in addition to the blog entry I posted elsewhere. Along the way, let me offer some context in addition.

I could certainly offer more nuance than the six pages in Mere Science and Christian Faith, but even a couple of years after I wrote this, I still think I got at the nub of the problems of ID. (And, for what it’s worth, I have read several ID books not mentioned in this mini-chapter. The book is for a popular or “trade” audience, and I keep pushing the limits with my endnotes and bibilo! That was one of the reviews cheap shots.)

To the context: The book is on mainstream science—the kind that’s been tested for decades or even centuries—and how that affects Christian theology. As you’ll see, theology, philosophy, and the history of ideas are my strong suit. And since I was writing for InterVarsity Press—who published several key ID books in the past—it felt necessary to write something on ID. But I also realize that ID is not mainstream science for excellent reasons and that it’s philosophically defective. I also realize that ID, though it has some adherents outside the U.S., has faded markedly in its influence since Philip Johnson came and spoke at my church in the early 2000s.

Yes, my degrees are not in the sciences; instead they are in theology, history of ideas, classics, modern literature (especially French), and philosophy, which includes the philosophy of science. My Ph.D. focused was not in religious studies–that’s what I teach at Chico State University–instead my research and writing was in science and theology, and I was trained at the Graduate Theological Union by a physicist-theologian (among others). For that reason, I have learned my entire scholarly career to lean on scientists in various fields to check my facts and assertions (which is frankly something even a biologist should do when talking about physics).

Finally on a personal note, I knew Philip Johnson reasonably well—we were members of the same church for over a decade. He’s a brilliant law professor, and I liked him and his wife, Kathy. Still he seemed to love the spotlight, which was probably a weakness. He also didn’t have much knowledge of science, in my experience. I think his prominence as a spokesperson was a misstep for the ID movement. Stephen Meyer is a friend of several of my good friends (if that makes sense), who studied with one of the great philosophers of science at Cambridge, Peter Lipton (as I understand it). I find him to be a much more formidable voice. Nevertheless, in the conversation with other philosophers of science and theologians, I don’t ultimately find his positions convincing.
Does that help?


Thanks for pointing this out. I have read it. I agree with you that the tone of the ENV review was not always a good one. I was not saying that every choice of words in the ENV review was just or fair. I was concerned, however, with the substance of the charge of the ENV article, i.e., that on key points you were actually misrepresenting ID argumentation, and that was the focus of my inquiry. And it has so often happened that people who misrepresent ID writing have not read much of it, that when the author listed your citations – by no means representative of ID writing over the past 20 years – the question did arise in my mind how much you had actually read. Hence my question.

Part of what made that exchange difficult is that @Cootsona’s chapter wasn’t public, but now it is so you can read for yourself the key points he was making.

Dear Greg:

Thanks for your calm and measured reply. See my other short reply to your other note, currently waiting approval.

I would argue that even in a limited section of a book, where you can’t be expected to give a thorough review of ID literature, the sources cited for ID theory should be representative sources, not sources which the movement itself has distanced itself from. Of Pandas and People definitely should not have been used, given the complex story of the editions of that book and its later appearance in the Dover Trial. Citations should have come from Darwin’s Black Box, The Edge of Evolution, Signature in the Cell, The Design of Life, Darwin’s Doubt, No Free Lunch, and Nature’s Destiny. That might have given the reader more confidence that you were familiar with ID at its strongest, rather than at its weakest.

Our training is very similar. Our subject interests greatly overlap. My Ph.D. was in religious studies, but my doctorate was directly on science and theology. I’ve taught a few undergrad courses on science and religion. If you like, drop me an e-mail address via the private message system here, and maybe, as time permits, we can swap academic stories.

I’m sorry; I don’t see where the link to the chapter has been posted above. Can you give it to us again?

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I appreciate your comments, and I take your remarks about more sources as a “friendly amendment.” Still I have to return to the fact that the book was written for non-specialists. My book, “Negotiating Science and Religion in America” provides a notable contrast. On other fronts, I don’t have any problem with letting out my email publicly: I’d love to hear those stories!


I hear you. My analogy was… “I will trust Atheist Heart surgeons, that have a 99% heart surgery success rate”, but if these same surgeons say the Heart got here by Random Mutations, I am skeptical of that! So, it is good to be Careful when going into Surgery… but when you go into Surgery, Evolution is really not going to help you.

I agree, I think he definitely hides things… the question is, does he hide everything?. I don’t think so. I am sure you guys have answered these questions for years, but you have to catch me up, so sorry for asking them.

I agree, we “don’t HAVE to Believe”. The question is, “Can we Detect”? SETI thinks that they can detect Someone. If God is a “Someone”, then I don’t see why we cannot Detect his handiwork. I could be Wrong, in the same way Jodi Foster could be wrong in claiming Aliens are executing the Prime numbers. As far as a Christian worldview goes, “Clearly Seen” would seem to indicate that we can “Detect” his handiwork.

What surgeons say that? What biologists say that? Color me skeptical.

Evolution isn’t merely random mutations, and we have no way of determining if they are ontologically random any ways.

I never said God hides things. Rather the details of his work are hidden, because of human limitations.

Is it everything? No. I didn’t say that either…

And that turns out it be a nonsequitur. He made a reasonable statement, and you’ve gone down an off topic tangent…which is just marginally related.

@Cootsona’s point on that one is strong.