In which Eddie & T_aquaticus discuss ID, TE, and naturalism

To answer your first question: Nothing’s wrong with TEs taking any position they like. What’s wrong is for people like Applegate, Collins, etc. to lean on their authority as scientists to imply that they have any special knowledge of deep questions connecting philosophy, theology, and science. If they say, “I don’t think design inferences belong in science, but I’ve spent my scientific life doing purely technical work, and know nothing about the history or philosophy of science, so don’t go by me,” that would be fine. The important thing to me is that, when people are offering an opinion in a field they don’t know, they qualify that opinion appropriately.

So, for example, I don’t enter into disputes here about the technical side of genetics, because I don’t know it. But I do enter into disputes about “what Darwin said” or “what Gould said” or “what Shapiro said” or “what Behe said”, where I know the relevant texts. I will talk about the history and epistemology of science, because I have been reading world-class scholarship in those areas for 40 years now. On the other hand, when some TE leaders carelessly lump design inferences in with “discussions of purpose, value, and meaning,” they show that they haven’t thought through the epistemological questions nearly carefully enough, and thus disqualify themselves from serious public discussion. If they want to say those things in the neighborhood bar (though I doubt most of them ever frequent bars), that would be fine; in that setting, improvised BS is socially acceptable. But not in a setting where there are Ph.D.s in the room who have done doctorates on the relationship of religion and science.

To answer your second question: Where have you been? I have discussed my disagreement with TE leaders over this question and other religion/science questions for years, about 8 or 9 years on BioLogos, and about 5 years on Hump of the Camel. Look up my columns on Hump of the Camel.

What we are discussing at the moment is not the validity of ID, but TE positions on methodological naturalism, NOMA, demarcation criteria, design inferences, etc. My remarks here are focused on these things.


Instead of arguing about your opinion of their expertise, why don’t we focus on what they are saying?

Wouldn’t this necessarily require a discussion on the whether ID is valid science within the confines of methodological naturalism?

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So you think the TEs are reasonable to accept miraculous events that leave no evidence?

You think they are doing a service to “good science” by arguing that the causal nexus was never broken in the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc., while giving a free pass to getting up from the dead, feeding 5,000 people with the food equivalent of 7 Happy Meals, parting seas for just the right amount of time to let tens of thousands of Israelites and all their property through, and closing them at just the right time to drown every last soldier and horse of Pharaoh’s army? You think that accepting such things uncritically is good for science as you conceive it?

I find it odd that you are scientifically outraged that someone should suggest that the origin of life required design, but don’t blink an eye when TE leaders say it’s perfectly compatible with being a good scientist to hold that God violated the causal nexus countless times between the era of Abraham and the era of Pentecost, but never before or since.

That’s because Venema, etc. are concerned with apologetics. I’m not. I’m concerned only with what seems to be “the best explanation” for a phenomenon – at the moment. If “the best explanation” at the moment later turns out to be false, due to new information, then a new “best explanation” can be adopted. The apologetic side of things doesn’t concern me.

I think you have the impression that I lean to a designed origin of life in order to shore up Christian belief somehow. That’s not the case. I think design is the best current explanation for the origin of life, and I’d think so if tomorrow someone proved the entire Gospel account of Jesus was a fraud cooked up by the early Church. If the best current explanation happens to dovetail with what the Bible and Church teach, that’s a bonus, but it’s not the reason why I regard design as the best explanation.

The problem with BioLogos folks is that their whole motivation is apologetic – apologetic for a particular harmonization of faith and science. My motivation is theoretical, and that’s why I never got on well with the BioLogos folks. Most of them don’t have a theoretical bone in their bodies – when it comes to philosophical matters, anyway. Most of them are scientists in one compartment of their brain, and pious believers in another, and they tend to keep the compartments separate. No philosopher can rest content with that kind of non-integrated approach to reality.


I’ve never noticed even a speck of outrage in anything T_aq has written. Are you sure you’re not projecting?

Then given the amount of time you devote to posting here, wouldn’t your concern lead you to take an interest in, say, the “technical side” of genetics, as it is rather important in understanding evolution?

What exactly do you mean by “technical” and by “purely technical”? I see contempt conveyed in your use of the terms, but not much else other than a profound misunderstanding about how science is done.

And we all know that reading is so much more effective than doing, is that it?

That sounds like a justification for you integrating some genetics into your approach to evolutionary reality. :smiley:

I read about genetics and other areas of biology all the time. Lately I’ve been reading a book with lots of plant and animal physiology described in detail. But I don’t pose as a scientific expert. My complaint about BioLogos folks is that when they discuss science/faith questions, they will be understood as experts in that area by many in the evangelical churches – and they’re not. They’re just scientists who happen to be Christian evangelicals, not scholars in the field of science and religion, or Christian theology, or history of Christian thought about creation, etc. But they don’t like being reminded of this in public, naturally enough; no one with a public mission likes to be undermined in view of the public. But it has to be done, because sometimes they are misleading their flocks regarding a number of important historical and theological matters.

If the shoe fits, wear it; if it doesn’t, then don’t worry about it.

History and philosophy of science involves understanding ideas about science, and therefore its primary sources are texts, not nature itself.

As for “doing”, Craig Venter has “done” more than most geneticists on the planet, in terms of actually making new stuff, but you don’t seem to have any respect for him. And James Tour has
“done” more with molecules than many a biologist or biochemist, in his creation of the nanocar, but you don’t seem to have any respect for him. What you call “doing” in science, I call “airy evolutionary speculation, largely based on just-so stories, involving lots of subjunctive verbs.”

I have done, and I do.

For example, when they say that a Christian can know of design in nature “only through the eyes of faith,” I have pointed out Biblical statements that say or imply that human beings as such (they don’t have to be Christians or Jews) can see that there is a mind behind nature.

And when they say, “design” doesn’t belong in science because questions of “purpose” belong to theology or faith, I have pointed out that “purpose” has multiple meanings, and not all of those meanings are implied in “design,” so that “detecting design in nature” means detecting purpose in nature only in one limited sense (an arrangement of means in the light of a end) not in the bigger sense that they are talking about, i.e., “What is the purpose of my life?” or “Why did God create the universe?” The latter notions of purpose are rightly excluded from the study of nature, but not the former.

If you had been a participant on BioLogos since its beginning, as I was, you would have seen dozens of such objections, from me and others, on the theme of science/faith demarcations, NOMA, etc. And you would have seen that most of the BioLogos leaders dodged the objections, either by remaining completely silent, or by giving a short half-baked answer and not remaining to deal with follow-up objections. With the exception of Ted Davis, when it comes to theological, methodological, or philosophical questions, BioLogos leaders are entirely lacking in intellectual stamina. They can’t sustain their views at anything beyond a superficial level.

If you read my columns on Hump of the Camel, and Jon Garvey’s, you will see that what we object to at BioLogos is not that BioLogos endorses evolution, but that in order to harmonize faith with evolution, it distorts the contents of Christian theology to produce various monstrosities of theological liberalism.

I’ve said over and over again that one can be a Christian and accept “evolution,” if by that one means “descent with modification.” But it doesn’t follow that every theological or philosophical statement made by a Christian scientist who accepts evolution is good theology or good philosophy. And it doesn’t follow that Christian scientists who accept evolution know very much about the history of biological thought, the history of evolutionary theory, the history of science generally, the history of Christian thought, the doctrines of Calvin, Augustine, Luther, the philosophy of science, etc. It’s important that Christian lay folk reading BioLogos columns understand that Kathryn Applegate may be a very good cell biologist, that Deb Haarsma may be a very good astronomer, etc. but that these people have no intellectual training regarding other matters that they about, and should not be regarded as any kind of authority in theology, history of evolutionary theory, etc. When they talk about the other stuff, they may be right or wrong, but they are just laymen tossing out ideas.


I think it is reasonable within Christian theology to accept miraculous events on faith when there is no evidence to contradict it.

Of course I give a free pass to faith based beliefs. It isn’t my job to tell people what to believe, and I celebrate the basic human right of religious freedoms. I am simply pointing out that it is bad apologetics to pit religious beliefs against science and empirical facts. If someone said that if Heliocentrism is true then God doesn’t exist, what would you say to them?

I don’t understand why you find that odd. The design argument states that life could not come about through natural processes while the theistic scientific position (e.g. Venema’s position) says that life could have come about through natural processes. They seem like very different positions to me.

Why do you think design is the best current explanation?

I am aware that you like to endlessly argue over meaningless semantics. That really doesn’t interest me.

The heart of the problem is pitting your claims about design against a mountain of evidence supporting natural causes. That is what TE’s are arguing against.

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If you had any training in philosophy or theology, you would know that the issues at stake in the passage you dismiss are real, and that it is not a matter of “meaningless semantics.”

I have never done that, here or anywhere. I have steadily maintained that “designed” is not automatically opposed to “natural.” That is also the official position of Discovery, of Behe, of Denton, etc.

Of course, something that is designed might be executed by supernatural means as well as natural means. But design theory, as such, tries to establish only the fact of design; the manner of its implementation – through secondary natural causes, or by direct primary causation – is a separate question.

I have spent thousands of hours in discussion and debate with the TEs. I have interacted with the majority of their most important and prominent leaders, sometimes in lengthy private e-mail conversations. I know what they say, as well as or better than anyone else here. I have told you what some of them have argued. I have told you my objections to those arguments.

I have not said that everything the TE leaders say is wrong. I have highlighted the particular types of statement – about theology, about NOMA, about demarcation, etc. – that I am referring to here. You keep bringing up other things that TE leaders have said. It is not surprising, as your main “beefs” in these debate concern biology, whereas my main “beefs” concern theology. The BioLogos crew are mostly really bad theologians and philosophers, and mostly really bad philosophers and historians of science. Their discussions of demarcation, etc. are superficial and naive. And when challenged, they will not engage with critics on these points. They are too defensive, too easily wounded, to engage in hardcore academic debate on this stuff. Yet in every graduate seminar I ever took, it was bare-knuckles debate over such issues, running for two hours in the seminar, and often for four or five hours more at the grad pub after class. I’m not used to the academically anemic response of the TE leaders. As Shania Twain sang, they “don’t impress me much.”

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This is irrelevant. I don’t tell people what to believe, either. I’m not talking about whether a belief should be allowed socially or legally, but about whether a belief is logically consistent with other beliefs held by the same person.

I am asking you whether you personally think that it is rational for a human being to believe that in the past there were people who violated the causal nexus in the ways described in the Bible, and I’m asking you whether you think TEs are being logically consistent in having not the slightest reservation about violations of the causal nexus in some cases while being utterly hostile to any suggestions of violations of the causal nexus in other cases.

I guarantee you that Spinoza, for example, would have said that the TEs were being massively inconsistent here. He would have said they were half-hearted rationalists, grasping the right end of the stick when it came to rejecting miraculous creation acts, but cravenly weakening due to attachment to religious tradition when it came to the miracles of the Bible. I find Spinoza’s relentless consistency more admirable than your apparent flip-flopping here.

Give me someone like Spinoza, or give me someone like Thomas Aquinas, but don’t give me typical TE/EC leaders. I like my intellectual systems coherent, not blurry and fuzzy.

That’s not accurate. The claim of ID is more cautious. It is that “the best explanation” for the origin of life at our current state of knowledge is that design was involved. And involvement of design does not rule out parallel involvement of natural causes. For example, in Denton’s work, design and natural causes together produce the origin of life.

Read Denton’s Nature’s Destiny, and his most recent three books. Those contain a small fraction of the reasons that have persuaded me. Also, read James Tour’s explanation of why an origin without design is very problematic from the point of view of a synthetic chemist. Without actually endorsing ID, Tour shows the difficulty of the anti-design position.


The Discovery Institute lists intelligent design separately from natural law:

Behe states quite clearly that if natural processes produce IC systems then intelligent design is falsified:

You, yourself, argue against abiogenesis by natural processes and for design, pitting one against the other.

On a more general note, we have to wonder what would falsify intelligent design in a scientific sense.

I am more interested in discussing what they say instead of your opinion of their expertise.

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Your exegesis of the statement by Discovery is sloppy. You need to read a wide range of Discovery statements in order to get the overall picture, before seizing upon single expressions in one statement, out of context. And you and I have gone on at great length about the meaning of Behe’s statements before. I don’t care to repeat the arguments I’ve already made. We clearly don’t agree on what Behe explicitly demands and on what Behe implies, and further repetition of our arguments isn’t going to alter either of our interpretations.

To be precise, I argued against abiogenesis by accidental sloshing about of simple molecules; that does not exhaust all “natural” explanations. If nature has an inbuilt teleology (which pretty well all the biologists here seem to deny, explicitly or implicitly), then natural processes might produce life, but it wouldn’t be by accident.

On the other hand, I have no objection in principle to saying that life began by a miracle. It’s true that if that is the case, then science could not explain the origin of life. But so what? Why should it be taken as axiomatic that science will be able to explain the origin of life? There is no reason for a philosopher to make that assumption. Even a scientist can’t make that assumption, except as a working assumption. There’s no a priori epistemological warrant for assuming that science will be able to explain all origins – unless one is committed to a metaphysics of materialism. But science boasts of being metaphysically neutral, so it can’t adopt such a metaphysics. All it can do is say that if life began by wholly natural causes, then it might have been in a way like this…

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I don’t share the faith based beliefs with Christians, but the main point is that they are faith based beliefs. Is it rational for a human being to believe through faith? I know plenty of believers, and they seem pretty rational. Personally, framing the question of religion in terms of rational or irrational arguments seems inappropriate and unfair. When someone claims that they have scientific evidence for their claims then we are stepping into a different arena.

I also think TE’s are being logically consistent when they draw the line between faith based beliefs that aren’t contradicted by science and faith based beliefs that are contradicted by science. Your favorite punching bag, Dr. Francis Collins, had this to say:

Design and natural causes? How is design different than natural causes?

I’m not a mind reader.

I’m just asking about the blatant inconsistency of your applications of the term. Wouldn’t your contempt apply just as well to your heroes Shapiro, Behe, and Denton?

It seems to me that those who agree with you have superb credentials, while you have utter contempt for the credentials of those who disagree with you–even when they are the same credentials!

How do you manage that degree of cognitive dissonance?

I don’t recall saying anything that would lead any rational person to think that.

But doesn’t Venter completely violate your emphasis on training? He had no training in genetics!

I lack respect for him wrt evolution because he’s ignoring the evidence.

Francis Collins has done far more than Tour, but you don’t have any respect for him.

Here’s what I do; I try to figure out what single-base/residue substitutions do to cardiac muscle and why they kill some people but not others, so that we can prevent the deaths and disease.

Do you see any evolutionary speculation, airy or otherwise? Any just-so stories?

And I have discussed what they say, on the point in question. You just aren’t listening, because you couldn’t care less about the theological side of BioLogos, but are interested only in their defense of evolution. And my opinion of their expertise is relevant, insofar as it explains why so many of the things they say are stupid, uninformed, shallow, undefended, etc. If they had expertise in philosophy and theology, they would not say so many foolish or unsubstantiated things. No one any graduate seminar in theology and science at a serious university reads what Falk or Applegate have to say about faith and science. BioLogos’s personalistic approach is beneath the notice of serious academics in the field. Nobody at Ivy League schools gives a fig about the personal angst ex-fundamentalists had to go through in coming to accept evolution, or about apologetic concerns. BioLogos is sub-academic.

You keep saying that I have things wrong, but then never explain how they are wrong.

So how do you determine if chemical reactions are accidental or not?

It seems to me that you are using the axiom that if science doesn’t have an explanation then God is the best explanation, as if God is the default answer for everything.

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I do respect Collins, as a geneticist. As an advanced theorist of evolutionary mechanism, however, he knows diddly, and no one active in the field of evolutionary mechanism cares what he thinks. And as a theologian and philosopher, his ideas are kindergarten stuff, really low-level.

And I respect such work. It’s good empirical science. What I don’t respect is the BS style of argument you use in your off-hours, arguing on websites about evolutionary theory, which is not your specialty. I couldn’t care less what you think about evolutionary mechanisms. If I want to know about those, I will consult those who work full-time in that field, not some other kind of biologist who thinks he knows lots about evolution merely because he’s a biologist.

No, because every one of those men has shown a much wider range of intellectual concern, and much more capacity for broader intellectual reflection, than the technical specialists I was referring to.

I explained how you were wrong about Behe’s position in many past discussions, referring to passages in detail. I won’t go over that again.

No, that’s not what I said, and not what I meant.

What I said was that there was no reason to assume that science could explain all origins. It might be able to do so, or it might not. Obviously if God created by direct supernatural action, science would reach a stone wall in its inquiries, and would not be able to go further. I don’t assert that as the case, but since it’s logically possible, all thought about origins has to take it into account.

There are three broad explanations for the origin of life:

God designed it, then created it supernaturally.

God designed it, but its implementation was carried out wholly naturally, i.e., by some sort of front-loaded teleology built into matter from the beginning.

No one designed it, but lucky bounces of matter produced it.

I think #3 is the least plausible, for reasons you can find in the various sources I’ve indicated.

And how is that different from your Trinity of Behe, Denton, and Shapiro?

No, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be spitting out “technical” as though it was a curse.

If you respected the work, you’d look into it, and you’d quickly realize that I’ve done far more than Doug Axe and Ann Gauger combined in the area of how amino-acid substitutions change both structure and function.

No, you don’t. You consult with Shapiro, Behe, and Denton. Each of them is “some other kind of biologist who thinks he knows lots about evolution merely because he’s a biologist.”

How do you deal with such massive cognitive dissonance, Eddie?

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That’s perfectly reasonable.

Just as obviously, if God was only designing through the natural mechanisms we measure and observe in biology, the ID movement would reach a stone wall in its inquiries, would not be able to go further, and would resort to writing repetitive books aimed at credulous laypeople.

And that’s exactly what we observe!

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