Murray and Churchill: Mere Theistic Evolution

Thanks for alerting us @BenKissling. Just added it to the OP.

Thats what we have been asking ID to do for years. This problem definitely isn’t unique to TE. Also, not sure how much of it is a problem. It’s a theological position. People’s theology differs. ID claims to be a scientific position. So it’s more of a problem for those folks.


I am not OEC, ID, or EC. Technically, I am TE I suppose, but I am certainly not well described by it. The category is so large and diverse as to be meaningless. Even @pnelson agrees I’m a zebra. Though my tribe has been growing of late.

In your view @BenKissling, is Behe TE or not? He affirms common descent, so that makes him some flavor of TE, right?

There will never be a consensus TE position for this reason. The actual groupings are more granular. Learning some more here will be helpful.

Incidentally, that was my objection to their paper. I told Mike that by his definition, I am not MTE, because I disagree with him there.

Hi Ben,

You aren’t the only person who thinks that Meyer and I missed responding directly to Murray and Churchill. That whole EPS session was a lot of talking past each other.

But I couldn’t bring myself to write, or deliver orally, a response to Murray and Churchill (M & C) which took as given the assumptions in their approach which I see as highly disputable – in particular, methodological naturalism (MN). As I said above in this thread, MN represents the genuine dividing line between TE and ID (more about that below). While M & C said in their long (16,000+ word) defense of TE that they weren’t assuming MN, in practice, they were. I have no interest in playing in a game where the rules have been rigged against me, and Meyer, from the start. For Steve Meyer, marrying Christianity to a dying theory (neo-Darwinism) is a bad idea on all counts. So we talked about what matters to us – and left much of the audience wondering why we didn’t take up the issues as defined by M & C.

ID is fully compatible with universal common descent (UCD), which explains why I can work with Mike Behe, Michael Denton, Günter Bechly, and other DI senior fellows or affiliates (some of whom I cannot name, for their own safety) who accept UCD. What defines ID? The reality of mind or intelligence as an empirically detectable cause. This can be the case, as a matter of empirical content and scientific method, with UCD or ~UCD as a separate question concerning the best geometry or topology of relatedness for the history of life. So Mike Behe and I have had a nearly 30-year disagreement about UCD, yet consider each other colleagues in thinking about ID.

ID is not compatible with MN, which rules out the very thing – mind as a real cause – which makes ID distinctive.

So if you’re doing your taxonomy of positions on origins, watch for MN. I think you will find classifying views with MN as the key diagnostic will give you “natural” groups. To use the jargon of cladistics, MN is the synapomorphy defining TE, when compared with ID. In all current versions of TE that I’ve examined, design is never empirically detectable.


What is your take on “front loading” or “billiard shot” approaches, where the principles and natural laws are initially set up, or designed, to yield nature as we know it [ I’m not suggesting the idea is necessarily popular around here ]? That sort of involves both design and MN.

In all my years of reading ID writings, all I can recall seeing are negative inferences and assumptions.

Where is the empirical detection of an intelligent cause for living things?


This is of course completely false. MN doesn’t rule anything out, it just says you must be able to compare predictions of models to measurements. MN is actually used to study design by humans and other animals.

What Paul Nelson here really means is that he wants to dispense with the predicting anything based on models-stuff, and just jump straight to concluding that “what we see is what the designer wants”.

If Paul Nelson disagrees he’s welcome to tell me what kind of experiment I can go into a laboratory and perform, or what kind of measurement I can make, that MN says I’m not allowed to do.



I don’t think we’ve interacted before, but I find this statement fascinating. As someone “outside” of ID, this has always been what I see as the one thing that unites those who accept ID, but I’d never seen it stated before.

What I don’t understand is why you think this. Once you accept this statement, ID makes sense, but I see no reason that it must be true. I am honestly interested in why you think reality of mind or intelligence is an empirically detectable cause.

What does this mean? I think there are some intriguing design arguments that don’t use the methods that ID uses. Are those not empirically detectable? What about the argument by Conway Morris? He sees design in convergence. Does that design count as empirically detectable? If not, why? I think you can be TE and still believe design is detectable. I define TE as the idea that God created through evolutionary processes in a way that’s consistent with the known laws of nature. You can be make design arguments from biology working from that definition.

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I think you all are missing @Pnelson’s point. This is all a performance. It does not have to be logical or coherent. It might even be designed to provoke your responses with calculation contradictions.

I like T.S. Eliot’s thoughts for the old man of the trenches.

Think neither fear nor courage saves us.
Unnatural vices are fathered by our heroism.

@pnelson is a soldier. He must know the giant is imaginary, but he is weaving a tale to tell. So he tilts. Sure, his friends are flabbergasted, warning he is misdirected. As you know, science does not work as he claims. His courage fathers an impudent giant out of piece of useful machinery.

What are we afraid of though? The windmill shrugs him off without a scratch.

If he must, let him charge. We cannot stop him, so enjoy the show. The charge won’t end till he tires of his heroism.


I am but Panza to his errantry. Vintage stuff?

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9 posts were split to a new topic: Paul Nelson and Omphalos

The design inference I laid out based on specified complexity is intelligent design. Some, like Behe, may not agree, but the simple fact is that all design inferences, including fine tuning, can be reduced to Dembski’s specified complexity formulation.

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That’s all and well but there is still no consensus, and probably never will be, on what that means and what we should see in the world. Fossil record? Genomes? Biogeography? For ID to have any real explanatory power these types of things need to be answered. And every ID Proponent seems to have a different one. ID claims to be the alternative to modern evolutionary theory. But according to you all there is is a concept of CSI. No other consensus on anything else. Which is my point. How can we criticize an alternative explanation when everyone in that camp has a different one? CSI has no predictive power. So it doesn’t help here. It doesn’t tell us what we should see in the rocks for instance. So we can’t criticize ID outside of CSI. We can criticize Meyer’s argument about the Cambrian, but then someone in the ID camp who accepts UCD can come along and say “this doesn’t do anything to refute ID. ID is fully compatible with UCD. The fossil record you just explained is what we would expect on ID with UCD.” ID can be a moving target too.


@BenKissling, you are correct here, of course. You are a YEC, but I give you credit for actually understanding ID, acknowledging that Behe affirms UCD, and still making the space for him. That is admirable.

I understand you must reject UCD, at least of humans, but I’m not sure it would be fair to call you anti-evolution, due to this tolerance.

Why is that many other IDists seem so anti-evolution?

EDIT: Seems I spoke to soon @BenKissling! Sorry to mischaracterize you here.

No. As I said, UCD is compatible with ID. I would argue ID is compatible with MTE that M&C present. That’s what the meeting should have been about IMO. On the one hand, I don’t think M&C were acting in good faith. On the other hand, they presented an opening that should have been taken.

In my experience most TEs don’t attempt to clearly define what they, or evolutionary biologists, mean by “random”. M&C made it clear that “random” means “physical determinism that is modeled mathematically as random”. This was a wide open door to ID probabilistic arguments that any ID theorist who has considered Ken Miller’s approach should have recognized immediately. The basic dynamic here is they are admitting it’s not really random, and therefore the random model is false in the absolute sense. Obviously, the randomness in the evolutionary model is an approximation based on ignorance. It is only used for its utility. ID claims we are not ignorant enough to accept the random model as an accurate approximation anymore. It has lost its utility. Questions should have been asked of M&C such as:

Would you accept the possibility that our scientific knowledge of the “relevant facts” could increase to the point where the random model is no longer useful?

Regardless of their answer, that’s an opening to explain how a design inference fits right into their definition of MTE. At that point they would have been forced to either accept ID for real, or reject on the grounds of MN and admit that their definition of MTE includes MN. Nelson went right to their implicit acceptance of MN, which they hid behind the skirts of mainstream evolutionary biology.

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Maybe another reason I am not TE. I’m pretty clear what I mean. I do not mean ontologically random, but just “not fully predictable from a human point of view.”

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Why can’t one accept MTE, accept the possibility of detecting design, but also believe that the design arguments that have been advanced by ID proponents are not convincing?


ID is not a paleontological or geological theory.

The purpose of a paradigm shift is not to prove itself to people who are never going to agree with it no matter what happens. The purpose of a paradigm shift is to accept the new paradigm and then do research taking its basic tenets for granted. You do exactly the same thing.

Okay @BenKissling, I’m starting to understand your logic here.

From your point of view, evolution is natural process on its own. That is its definition, which you hold intrinsically opposed to ID. So, for you, ID and evolution are at odds, and Behe is not TE.

From my point of view, however, evolution is basically UCD. That is its definition, which you agree is compatible with ID. I don’t really like the TE term because it lacks specificity, including both Behe and me, because we both affirm UCD.

Is that about right?

That is perhaps the reason why. If you define evolution as anti-ID, you can’t. But also think he is relying on the fallacy of the excluded middle. Maybe God designed but we cannot detect it.