The Massive Confusion On ID and Evolution


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #21

That would be a good thing for them to deal with and change. It would help.

(Edward Robinson) #22

It seems to me that about two months ago, or more, after you asked me to help out with Greg, I wrote a longish post to him saying that one didn’t need to be anti-evolution to be pro-design. I now can’t find that post – maybe it was moved in one of the many split-offs. I wish that one could go behind the dashboard and find “all the posts I wrote to Greg”, but I don’t see a way of finding all posts by the name of a particular addressee. If you know how to do that, let me know, and I’ll find the post, and link to it.

I think you tonight asked me to say something to Ashwin, and I was going to do that. On which thread in particular were you objecting to Ashwin and saying my input would be useful?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #23

This one: Greg on the Forum. Though you can feel free to start a new thread to address him and others on it. Thank you.

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #24

Win what?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #25

Make our case, and help a lot of people come to terms with mainstream science. Same thing we do every night Pinky!

(George) #26

What an odd sentence!

What would Behe say about such a puzzle… because there is a designer… there isnt common descent?

Have you been reading about his discussion on the Holy Pool Shot?

There is a video clip and everything!


Are you taking the position that nature and divine intervention are separate things?

If I understand it correctly, part of this design detection is determining what evolution would do compared to intelligent design, correct? IOW, evolution is not a part of intelligent design.

(Edward Robinson) #28

I’m saying I would still use the word “evolution” to describe descent with modification, even if the natural process of inheritance, variation, etc. were supplemented by direct divine alterations of either genes or gene expression or environmental conditions. I’m saying that “evolution” – as I use the term – might involve both what most people call “natural” processes and also some of what many people call “intervention” or “tinkering”. Note that I say “might” rather than “does”, because I don’t insist that interventions happen – I merely grant the possibility.

Again, because “evolution” is an ambiguous term, it is better not to use it. Unambiguous language would be: “What unguided, unplanned natural processes can do, as opposed to intelligent design.”

This just repeats the confusion which some ID cheerleaders have promoted. Evolution – meaning descent with modification – could easily be part of an intelligently designed creation. Evolution as Darwin understood it could not be. Evolution as most of the neo-Darwinists of the mid-20th century understood it, could not be. But evolution as Asa Gray understood it, or as Teilhard de Chardin or Bergson understood it, or as Michael Denton understands it, or as Michael Behe understands it, could be. What I sincerely wish is that all defenders of ID would renounce, now and forever, the use of any contrast between “design” and “evolution”, and speak instead of “design vs. unguided processes” or “design vs. chance” or the like.


At least in my opinion, that only adds to the confusion.

(Neil Rickert) #30

“Intelligence” is also an ambiguous term. There’s more disagreement about the meaning of “intelligence” than there is about the meaning of “evolution.”

(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #31

And design is also an ambiguous term.


Might i suggest that you pay closer attention to what I actually write about ID?

As I said when I first arrived, I am all about pointing out and avoiding bad arguments for ID. Do you have an example of a bad argument for ID that I have made?

As far as I can tell you’re the only one to question the truthfulness my statement.

(Edward Robinson) #33

Of course it would, for you, since you’re a professional biologist, and in the world of people you normally work with, it’s axiomatic that evolution is a process caused by natural causes only. So you would prefer to keep to the familiar use of terms. But for those of us whose professional training is “religion and science” or “history of science” or “history of ideas” or the like, the term “evolution” is a term that has had multiple uses and we’re used to seeking for clarification when someone uses it. (For that matter, the term “natural” has had multiple uses, as has “science”.) And also, we are not dealing in the academic arena alone here. This is a blog site, and people who are not academics read what is posted here, and comment here. So popular usage of terms has to be taken account of here. In popular usage, “evolution” can be used of a supernaturally-guided process of modification as well as a purely natural one. So popular discussions on a topic where religious, philosophical and scientific ideas often intercross are bound to have a more anarchic use of words, and that’s why it’s important for people to define the terms they use.

The advantage of the term “descent with modification” is that it doesn’t have as much room for misinterpretation as the term “evolution”. Organisms descend from other organisms, and sometimes in the process they become modified – but neither the descent nor the modification is tied to specifically natural or supernatural causes. Thus, Behe accepts descent with modification – you and I can agree on that. But does he accept “evolution”? You and I would not agree on that, because “evolution” means something narrower for you than for me. So I could agree to accept your narrower use of “evolution”, but that still wouldn’t solve the problem of how to label someone like Behe, who accepts common descent. We still would need a term to distinguish him from ID thinkers who don’t accept common descent. We could say Behe was a “common descentist”, but that is longer, clumsier, and less familiar a term than “evolutionist”.

This would apply to other thinkers outside the ID orbit. Henri Bergson accepted descent with modification, but he thought it was due to a internal “life force” interacting with the material world. Is that “evolution”, in your books? Maybe not, but it isn’t “creationism” either.

I’m open to suggestions for some term that would cover not only Darwin, Gould, etc. but also Behe, Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin, etc. But in the meantime, at least you can’t accuse me of slipping in some sneaky meaning of a term, when I’ve set forth how I’m using the word.

(Edward Robinson) #34

Among academics, probably true. Among the people on the street, probably the reverse is the case.

True, because design is often used to mean nothing more than “pattern”, and not all patterns are generated by intelligence. But in context, usually we know what is meant. We know, for example, what Paley meant by design, and we know that Darwin had studied Paley very carefully and was responding to him all through The Origin of Species. We know what Dawkins means when he says that biology is the study of things that “look designed but are not.” Most of the time in these discussions, we know what people mean by saying something is designed, as opposed to happening by chance or by mechanical necessity. In cases of doubt, it’s reasonable to ask an author or speaker what sense of “design” he is employing.


The problem is that ID claims to be operating in the world of professional biology. It is also being claimed that the professional biologist are wrong. This is about the science, not popular beliefs. Therefore, it is the scientific definitions that should be used.

That phrase was coined by Darwin, and I highly doubt that he considered supernatural causes as part of the process. Again, this is using a scientific term and trying to redefine it for rhetorical purposes instead of scientific purposes.

(Edward Robinson) #36

Well, many ID folks – like Ashwin here – do use “evolution” to mean change by natural causes only, so you should be happy with that. But that still doesn’t solve all problems. Let’s say we say that Behe does not believe in “evolution” but in “ID” instead. We still need a label that distinguishes him from Young Earth creationists and Old Earth creationists. What label would you suggest?

And take a more difficult case, that of Michael Denton in Nature’s Destiny. He not only accepts descent with modification, but even insists the whole process took place naturally (though the universe was set up for it ahead of time by a supernatural mind). So he accepts naturalistic evolution plus intelligent design. Shall we say that his view is “evolutionary”, because it’s naturalistic, or shall we deny it the label “evolutionary”, because he thinks the natural processes take place within an overarching design? And what about Conway Morris, a student of Gould, accepted as a bona fide evolutionary theorist by scientists? Do his ideas of convergence, which sometimes seem to border on the idea of built-in design or planning in evolution, discount him as a believer in “evolution”? There are gray areas here.

Agreed, Darwin understood the process to be totally natural. But that doesn’t mean the phrase itself implies wholly natural causes. One can coherently use the phrase to include the possibility of non-natural causes. And again, if we disallow non-natural causes for “descent with modification,” we still need a term for those who accept descent with modification, from bacterium to man, who conceive of that process as involving non-natural activity, either along the way or at the planning stage. So the terminological problem doesn’t go away. For an agnostic scientist, the issue probably never arises, but in the popular arena where evolution and religion are constantly being interrelated, some term would be useful. Do you have any suggestion that betters the terms currently being employed?


ID supporter would work.

That’s theistic evolution, or evolutionary creationism over at BioLogos. It’s the same as theistic thermodynamics or theistic meteorology. This view of theology has God acting through all of nature instead of working against nature in the case of ID/creationism.

Again, this reeks of an attempt to redefine a well understood and widely used phrase for purely rhetorical purposes.

(Edward Robinson) #38

Michael Denton is a Fellow of Science at Culture at Discovery, which is an ID organization. They have published four of his books in the last three years. You can call his scheme “theistic evolution” if you want, but if so, then one kind of “theistic evolution” falls under ID. They don’t like Denton much at BioLogos.

And as I’ve said before, ID per se does not insist that God works against nature. Some ID folks do, some don’t. Behe’s example of the pool shot shows that Behe doesn’t conceive of ID as necessarily involving miraculous interventions. Of course, all of this is stated many times on the Discovery website, and in the writings of ID folks. Dembski, Behe, Richards, and others have been explicit that ID is compatible with natural-cause versions of evolution.

You can read bad motives into it is you like. However, the idea of God being involved in direct ways in evolution is a very old one, not some sinister new invention of Discovery. Asa Gray, the botanist, was Darwin’s right-hand man in the USA and did much to promote Darwin’s books and thought in the USA, and he thought that God took an active hand in evolution. Henri Bergson thought that the “life force” – which was not God, but neither was it “natural” in any sense you would accept – directed evolution. The idea was well-known to most educated, cultivated people, even to most biologists, for many decades after Darwin. But modern biologists are for the most part utterly ignorant of the history of their own discipline, and so they aren’t cognizant of these historical facts. They mostly care only about results published in technical journals in the past 5 years, or maybe, if they in a generous mood, in the past 10 or 20 years. Evolutionary thought before that, they care about as much as designers of modern computers care about vacuum tube technology.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #39

@sygarte and @T.j_Runyon like Denton a lot.

(Edward Robinson) #40

I don’t know what Runyon’s association with BioLogos is – is he just an occasional poster there, or he an organizational insider? Sy is definitely not an insider. For a while they liked him at BioLogos, and ran his articles, and so on. But he hasn’t been around there too much lately. He told me on the Hump, about a year or so ago, that he is now somewhat of a persona not grata around BioLogos. I don’t know all the reasons for that. I do, however, find it interesting that the only guy who has ever (in my hearing, anyway) said anything nice about Denton on BioLogos is now out of favor with them!