Greg Cootsona: What About Intelligent Design?

I would say it is Directly related. The question on the table is… Can you Detect intelligent activity? Unless I mis-read the article, it sounded like @Cootsona here "“For one, we don’t have to believe that God’s creation is DETECTABLE through irreducible complexity.” Yes, we don’t HAVE to. The fact that we don’t HAVE to believe, does not mean much to me. I don’t HAVE to believe it, I am betting that you Can detect it. Jodi Foster is betting on a Mathematician, I would say that is a good bet!

Thanks, Greg.

I’ve now read the book excerpt, and can throw in some remarks for you to take home. They are points that have been covered on this site ad nauseam, so if others here respond to me with their usual arguments, I will just ignore those arguments (I only have so many hundred hours per year to repeat myself).

1-- You move from “neo-Darwinism” in point 1 to “evolution” in point 3, but the term “evolution” is ambiguous, and if used to refer merely to a process of “descent with modification” is not automatically opposed to ID – as has been spelled out many times on the Discovery site, and in Mike Behe’s writings, especially his newest one, Darwin Devolves. For Behe and the ID folks, “neo-Darwinism” is kind of shorthand for “descent with modification driven entirely by unguided, unplanned factors.” It is this which Behe argues is not scientifically tenable, and it is this which many ID writers equate with atheism.

The great clarification which ID potentially offered was to shift the debate from “creation versus evolution” (which had long grown sterile) to “design versus chance” (which was a logically, mathematically, and empirically tractable distinction). Whether particular ID arguments work or not, it is of course fair to debate, but it’s not listening to what ID at its best is saying to pit it against “evolution.” (I add in your defense that, as many ID proponents are also quite vigorous creationists, their expressions often foster the “ID vs. evolution” impression, and to that extent ID as a concept has suffered due to the writings of many of its own proponents. But if you read with discrimination, you will see that the upper tier of ID writers are usually more clear than the second or third-string members of the movement.)

2-- You write:

“As part of their strategy—and partly due to rejection by professional scientists—they promoted their own textbook, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins .”

This has already dealt with in the ENV article. Here the ENV article rebukes you justly. Of Pandas and People was originally published by a different organization, before Discovery was founded. When you speak of “their” strategy, you are speaking of the strategy of some followers of ID who later revised that book, cutting out the language of creationism and inserting the language of intelligent design, to make the book seem less creationist and more scientific, with an eye to getting the book into the public schools. But it was not Discovery Institute that made those changes to the book – it was still published by someone else. And Discovery opposed the school board – Dover – that was trying to impose an ID policy that included that book. Discovery’s position at the time was (and still is) that ID should not be mandated by school boards. Your apparent reliance on the Wikipedia account here betrays you. Discovery people have begged fair-minded opponents not to judge ID theory by either the contents or the politics of the Pandas book, but by the other works I’ve mentioned, and respect for a debating opponent should incline you to do this.

3-- Finally, you raise some potential theological objections to ID. None of the objections you raise are new: they have been floating around since the days of the old ASA discussion list, they continued on BioLogos, and they show up in other places. They have many times been answered by ID proponents. For example, in the writings of ID leader Jay Richards, Roman Catholic and Thomist, and holder of a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion, notably in his God and Evolution, and also in the work Aquinas and Evolution by Michael Chaberek, a Polish Dominican. Scholars on this level certainly understand “dual causation”, as you request. I recommend that you read these works. In any case, questions about the theological adequacy of ID, when they come from the Templeton/BioLogos side, always make me see red, given my lifetime of study of Western Religious Thought; I’ve never seen a higher incidence of theological heresy than among TE/ECs, who flirt with everything from Open Theism to a deeply flawed Bible. Falk, Giberson, Applegate, etc. are not exactly well-trained on questions of divine causality, and they have said things that are ill-advised about providence, omnipotence, etc.

My own theological orientation is Classical-Christian, and my intellectual heroes are people like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Thomas More, Jonathan Swift, C. S. Lewis, and so on. I don’t identify with either fundamentalism or evangelicalism. If you think of my comments above in this light, the meaning I get out of “intelligent design” may be clearer to you. If I get a chance, I’ll write to you and maybe we can see if we have any theological common ground.


I’m not sure you are reading him (or me) closely.

The movie Contact doesn’t even appeal to irreducible complexity. The concept itself is not even well defined (Which Irreducible Complexity?). Even if design is detectable, maybe it isn’t by IC.

You have some question in the table, but maybe they aren’t our questions, I very much encourage you to read to understand and to be understood. Don’t just repeat the same thing we’ve heard before. Expect that disagreements will persist, but we could understand each other.

OK, let me give it another shot.
The article says…

“ID has not been sustained scientifically. So be careful of promoting it. As mere Christians engaging with science, let’s be sure the scientific findings we promote are legitimate. Here conversation with scientists we know can keep us from a multitude of intellectual sins. At the same time, it’s always worthwhile to engage those thinkers who are convinced by ID and find out their reasons why.”

  1. I am actively promoting it.
  2. I am convinced by ID.
  3. It is up for debate on whether I am a “thinker”.
  4. “Find out their reasons why”?
  5. My “Why” is I think you can Detect Design (Somebody).
  6. I hear you that you are unconvinced about IC
  7. I hear you that you feel that tallking about other “Design possibilities” is a logical fallacy.
  8. Lastly, I am reading/listening to you, thanks for your input.
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That doesn’t sound like a criticism of @Cootsona’s article, but an endorsement of his encouragement to dialogue across differences.

You are not a scientist and yet you are convinced ID is good science. How do you know that? What if you are wrong? How would you be able to find out? What would it look like?

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I don’t recall saying this.

That’s true. Do you understand why?

3 posts were split to a new topic: Comments on Greg Cootsona and ID

I would like to emphasize that we need to be careful of the language of God’s being detectable through complexity. The language of “witness” (Ps. 19, Ro.1:19-20) is more biblical. It’s also the problem of saying complexity is the locus of this witness. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
By the way, Joshua, I think your reply is on target about whether some of the comments are about my article, and so I won’t much respond to those. Just FYI…

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Eddie, this is good. Thanks for what you wrote, and most of it contains friendly amendments. Of course, I’ll pass by those and offer a few rejoinders.

To 1: I don’t agree that “‘neo-Darwinism’ is kind of shorthand for ‘descent with modification driven entirely by unguided, unplanned factors,’” even if Behe et al. think different. Still, today, after more reading and research in the past two years, I think “extended evolutionary synthesis” seems like a better option. What do you think? Nevertheless, we have to be careful about this “design vs. chance” discourse! From a scientific perspective, what design exactly? The design isn’t entirely evident unless a teleology is supplied from outside. Are human beings better designed than dinosaurs? Yes, if it is about giving conscious praise to our Creator. But no, depending on the natural environment. Put another way, we believe God is providentially working through history, but “from below,” that’s not always easy to see. Something analogous is true in natural history.

To 2: I agree that “their” could have been clarified. Good point. Still, ID in general and DI in particular promoted Pandas. So they bear some responsibility. Once again, be careful of reading too much into a wikipedia page as my only source–this is a trade publication, not an academic book.

To 3: I love your theological orientation! I also thinks it’s unfair to group me into the “BioLogos” crowd–though I respect their views, I don’t work for them; I’m just an advisor. The term “Templeton” is way too vast to create a “Templeton School” or something like that. If you wanted more detail on what I’ve written about God’s actions in the world, “God and the World” spills considerably more ink, to choose just one source. And I have to repeat: Mere Science and Christian Faith is a trade publication in which I’m trying to introduce readers to the topic. It’s a “field guide.” Simply put, I do know there are rebuttals to these critiques of ID. I haven’t read every single one, but the ones I have simply do not offer convincing arguments.

Let me finish by saying that I think we do have some theological common ground. I’d love to know more.

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More than that. Pandas was originally a specifically creationist text, and DI people edited it lightly to create a new edition that was no longer specifically creationist, just ID. Let also recall that this was the source of “cdesign proponentsists”.

Thanks, Greg. I tried to send you something today, but my gmail account said that your address was not well-formed. I tried it (copied and pasted from here) exactly as it was, and then without capitals, and got the same result. Yet the address you gave matches the address given for you on your school’s website. I’m stumped. I’ll send you an e-mail for me by PM here, and see if we can work contact from the other end.

Greg, thanks for the reply. I can’t reply to Josh, because there is a “Newb” 2 post limit. That limit is a good idea, they should use that on Facebook! Here is my controversy…

  1. If the Bible were never written, and Jesus Christ had never lived I would still not be convinced of Evolution’s claims.
  2. If the Earth is not just 3.5 Billion years old, but instead is 3.5 Billion (Squared), I would still not be convinced of Evolution’s claims.
  3. If we are going to use the Bible as a Truth Source, in my view, “Made” is clear, and I am not betting on Evolution getting the job done.

The good news, for you, is many/most Christians are going to be “civil” to you when you claim Evolution got the job done. If you take the opposite view you will be Firmly opposed. Oh Well! On a side note, Josh does not feel that Perfect Solar eclipses are a possible piece of evidence, that Somebody was involved. This view is flat out baffling to me!

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I’ll reply to your contents only in sketch form here; the rest we can discuss privately, probably next week or the week after.

1-- I wasn’t offering that statement about neo-Darwinism as what the word mean historically; if you want to know that you can of course read Mayr, or Gould’s Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I was merely remarking on its use in Behe and many other ID writers, who tend to use it more loosely.

2-- Extended evolutionary synthesis. If you want Behe’s reaction to some of the key proposals of the synthesis, read Darwin Devolves. He argues the extended synthesis fails to solve the problem that Darwin and classical neo-Darwinism couldn’t solve: the origin of significant new biological innovation. I’m not here to argue that Behe is correct about this. I’m merely pointing out that for him, it’s not a good use of time to worry about whether the extended synthesis is a mere expansion on neo-Darwinism, or a partial correction of it, or whatever. The point is not the label, it’s the thing itself. In the end it relies largely on what he calls unguided mechanisms, i.e., relies too much on chance. (And I trust you have read Behe enough to know that he allows that chance can do some things, a point he repeats and stresses in DD.)

3-- Discourse about design vs. chance. Yes, it can get very tricky, as I know from the past four decades of reading Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Paley, Darwin, Bergson, and many others on the subject. I was not denying that the subject requires careful treatment. I was merely noting that it avoids something which “creation vs. evolution” discourse commits one to: that either creation or evolution is true, and the two conclusions are therefore at war. I decided, long before I had ever heard of ID, indeed, before Discovery even existed, that “creation vs. evolution” was an unreasonable polarization, and had abandoned it. Yet Creation Science had insisted on that polarization, at most allowing, grudgingly, some “microevolution” (as it calls it). On the other hand, when I picked up my first ID books, what did I find? Behe – accepted common descent. Denton – accepted common descent. In other words, at least as far as our bodies go, we come from primitive ancestors. That’s not creationism or creation science or scientific creationism or anything of the sort.

So you could be an ID proponent and not be “anti-evolution”. Sure, there are many ID proponents who are anti-evolution, but that is their personal judgment, often based on a particular Protestant reading of Genesis; it’s not an ID position as such. Being suspicious of the power of unguided mechanisms to (by themselves) create major organic change does not in itself commit one to opposition to common descent, even universal common descent. Thus, the way is open within ID for “God created through a process of evolution” – and there is at least potentially some overlap between ID and TE/EC.

4-- Unfortunately, due to cultural and personal factors (of which no small one is that a large number of the leading Protestant TEs – Isaac, Falk, Venema, Giberson, Haarsma, Murphy, Lamoureux – started out as creationists, or at least were raised in strongly creationist communities, or were at one point converted to and for a time defended a creationist form of belief), there has been bad blood between the groups (ID and TE/EC). I do not think this will be gone until the last of the generation that quarreled in their churches and denominations and seminaries over The Genesis Flood has slithered off this mortal coil. The personal investments, religiously and professionally, of that generation of fundamentalists-turned-TEs, are too great for it to envision dialogue with even the most evolution-friendly of IDers. The scars of the battles of the 1960s through 1980s still hurt too deeply. But this time is fast approaching. Already the older TE/EC leaders most prominent in the most trenchant attacks on ID are in their late 1960s; most of them no longer have university teaching or research positions. A generation of Christians, interested in origins, is arising who really aren’t interested in rehashing old debates the 60-70-year-olds heard in the 1970s between Duane Gish and some atheist, etc., a generation capable of taking the best ideas of both ID and TE/EC. I look to them. The old guard of anything never changes its mind, it just dies off.

5-- May I mention two of the best books about ID written by non-ID proponents?

Del Ratzsch – Nature, Design, and Science
Rope Kojonen – The Intelligent Design Debate and the Temptation of Scientism

Both these authors treat ID with respect. They are critics of it, but they grant it some value. If every ID critic wrote like these two, the whole debate over ID would have taken a much more constructive course, better for science, better for education, better for avoiding polarization in the culture. Unfortunately, most criticism of ID has not been so careful or measured, not even criticism from Christian quarters.

6-- Thanks for clarifying your relationship to BioLogos and Templeton. I also understand the limited purpose of your chapter in question. I was just trying to explain why some ID folks might react the way they did to some of your points.

This is all I will say here, but you can drop me that private email, and we can continue later.

Are you sure ?
Doesn’t Roman 1-20 below refute your claim:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.

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I don’t think @Mark10.45 was saying that all of God’s involvement in the world was and is hidden. Moreover, scripture refers both to God’s transcendence (his “otherness” from the world he created) and even long periods of silence—while also manifesting his invisible qualities as mentioned in the Romans passage.

Jesus spoke of some of the ways God’s ways and purposes are kept hidden from us and the Apostle Paul wrote of the mysteries of God. Redemption history is a mixture of divine silence and hiddenness as well as divine revelations at key periods.

Was God “directly” involved in aiming the massive body known as the Chicxulub impactor, which wiped out the dinosaurs and led to the environments in which humans thrived? The Bible is silent and we know little about God’s involvement and purposes in that event.

Yes I am sure, and no my “claim” is not refuted, in fact Romans 1 is a great example of how the truth is hidden from those that prefer to walk in darkness. Interesting that you picked that chapter, read the whole chapter, some pretty obvious references to God hiding the truth from those that practice Godlessness and choose to tolerate sin. This is what precedes the verse you picked, specifically referring to the fact that we must have faith to understand the Word:

Romans 1:16-19 - 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel [c]of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who [d]suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is [e]manifest [f]in them, for God has shown it to them.

Jesus speaks similarly in Matthew 11:

Matthew 11:24-26 - 24 "But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Ezekiel 39:23-24 - 23 The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they were unfaithful to Me, therefore I hid My face from them. I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. 24 According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I have dealt with them, and hidden My face from them.” ’

Isaiah 29:14 - Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”

Jesus states specifically that some scripture is given in parables with the specific purpose of hiding the truth from those that prefer sin -

Mark 4:10-12 - 10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the [d]mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that

‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’ ”

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Hi Greg. That’s a choice that would probably make most evolutionary biologists grimace. The extended evolutionary synthesis isn’t really a thing – it’s more a label a few people stuck on a grab bag of disparate ideas of varying importance. My impression is that it’s quietly fading away even as a label.

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Thanks for this. I’m not sure I need to respond specifically, but I hope we continue the conversation at some point, in some venue, in the future…


Steve. Thanks for this reply! I haven’t written this anywhere yet, and so there’s time to find an alternative. Is there a better word you’d use? In generally, I find myself regularly taking refuge in the simple word “evolution.” How does that work?

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‘Evolution’, ‘evolutionary biology’, and ‘evolutionary theory’ can all be fine, depending on context and what you mean. As can ‘common descent’, of course.