What if Evolution is Compatible with Design After All?

Again, completely predictable. If he’s relying on mere claims, he’s also not being even slightly scientific.

I would bet a lot of money that you are correct.

I would be interested in knowing @swamidass’s definition of being “engaged with science.” My definition would not include data-free parroting of pseudoscience and endorsement of gross misrepresentations of the evidence itself.

Yes, but one does not need any training in biology to spot blatant pseudoscientific IDcreationism.

Yes, on the ID side I’m reasonably good. I even spotted when Kojonen cited a reasonably obscure IDer like Jonathan Witt, whose inclusion seems to indicate that Kojonen has ventured rather deeper into the ID echo chamber than I previously had evidence for.

I also noticed that Kojonen quoted Olle Häggström out of context in using him to defend Dembski against Wolpert’s indictment of his work. Yes, Häggström contradicts Wolpert’s claim that “NFL does not apply to the situation of two or more coevolving species”, but only in order to then state:

But yet again, the story is the same as in the evolving-fitness-landscape setting: the arguments in Section ‘Dembski’s error’ show that also this extension lacks relevance to evolution.[1]

However, I had not previously heard of Andreas Wagner, let alone have familiarity with his work, so I’m in no position to tell to what extent Kojonen may be misrepresenting his work.

Likewise, the ‘Laws of Form and Convergence’ section proceeds from the Carroll quotemine to Gould naysaying to Daniel Weinrich to Jose Jiménez to Denton to a lengthy discussion on Simon Conway Morris, which discussion starts with the claim:

In addition to the evidence from biochemistry cited by Denton, Wagner, and others, support for an understanding of evolution in which “laws of form” play a significant role also comes from convergence, notably discussed by Simon Conway Morris (2005, 2009, 2010, 2015) and George McGhee (2011). Convergence refers to the independent evolution of the same biological outcome in two or more different lineages, beginning from different starting points. For example, dolphins and sharks have similar streamlined bodies and dorsal fins, even though dolphins are mammals and sharks are fish. Paddle-shaped limbs for swimming have evolved independently seven times, and a structure as complex as the eye has evolved independently 49 times (although some regulatory genetics are shared). Examples of convergence are ubiquitous in biology.

I’ve heard of Simon Conway Morris of course, but am not nearly in a position to say whether his views are in any way amicable to Kojonen’s claims.

Beyond that, I have a suspicion that Kojonen may become the ‘new and respectable face’ of the Design argument. So some expert scrutiny of his work may have prophylactic benefit.

Here is the link to the Worldcat listing of his book:

Anybody interested can hopefully use this to find a copy in a library close to them.

Alternatively, for a more pleasant experience, one can stick red-hot knitting needles into one’s own eyes.

I say that because I searched inside on Amazon for “Axe.” Total BS.

Ah. Yes, that would settle it. I cannot say I am surprised that Kojonen is a clown, because it always does come down to this. But I do find it strange that these people are so often so willing to abase themselves by citing such garbage. Perhaps, of course, he is too dim or too ill-informed to know that he’s citing garbage. But that, while it may salvage his honesty, is not much help for the quality of his work.

What’s weird is that I’ve had this guy cited to me by a couple of people, favorably, in the past. What seems to happen is that people who have no real grasp of even the most basic biological facts find this kind of over-the-top ludicrous theorizing highly intellectual – gorgeous, artisanal intellectual craftwork, the very finest. And they imagine, poor bastards, that the mere tinkerers and toilers in the real world of living things could not compete, intellectually, with these greats. They imagine that while the “technicians” may be stuck in some sort of materialistic rut, they themselves are immune, for they have drunk from the purest streams of fine thought.

Of course, the reality is just the other way around. What these people imagine to be the higher truths are in fact the lower falsehoods. What they imagine is grand intellectual enterprise is asinine word-butchery.

The grand, integrative insights – how often do they come from people so dim that they cite the likes of Douglas Axe? I cannot say such a thing is strictly impossible, but it would be shocking, in practice, to see it, ever, in the history of the world. No, the deep intellectual insight that integrates ideas from multiple fields into some grand new overarching paradigm – that comes, in fact, from those lowly technicians. All theory – at least, all theory worth a damn – is emergent from fact, and if you haven’t got the facts, your theory is bound, as in this case, to be utterly unworthy of the attention of intelligent people.

But one does see this sort of thing from theologians. I think that there is an intellectual laziness that comes from “working” on ideas that can never be tested or meaningfully scrutinized in any way at all. And that laziness leads to an unwillingness to learn some basic biology, and rely on legitimate and trustworthy sources. Legitimate, trustworthy sources, in fact, are boring; they tend to confirm that biologists have got the major problems more or less in hand, and it’s not very exciting, daring or edgy to say that they do. If you want to be this kind of useless intellectual gadfly who says things that fly in the face of conventional wisdom and make poorly-informed people at cocktail parties go, “oooh,” far better to get your facts from the worst and most dishonest sources.


Joshua @swamidass, any thoughts?

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Are you suggesting that because some ideas can never be tested, that the people proposing them tend to forget that other ideas (including some of their own) can be tested, and wallow in a sort of self-imposed rosy view that everything is unknowable so there’s no point in trying?

  1. It is a mistake to group Kojonen with ID.

  2. He affirms the key points of evolutionary science, including the common descent of man.

  3. He isn’t claiming to make a scientific argument.

  4. Even if he is wrong if ID morphed into his approach that would be a good thing in the end.

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  1. Why?

  2. So do some IDers; not a difference.

  3. What is he claiming to do?

  4. Would it? Why? And what in fact is his approach? I can’t tell from anything he said or cited. Specifically, how is evolution compatible with design, to any greater extent than Behe and Denton are already saying?


Indeed. It’s that reality-doesn’t-matter thing, and one sees it again and again. The absurd book by Robert Shedinger looks like it would make a marvelous companion volume to Kojonen: another theologian who was so bad at scientific understanding that he got completely fooled by the DI into thinking he could come up with some cool, edgy stuff that the po-mo kids would eat up. Biology is a social construct! Soon they’ll get around to “organisms don’t exist,” but this is a middle-stage of brain liquefaction and so we’re not there yet.

Not when he cites multiple cdesign proponentsists to make his arguments. He’s been taken, like a fool: hook, line and sinker.

So does Behe. It doesn’t make him not a clown; it means he has the nose and not the shoes.

No? He’s claiming that he can add to the explanation of natural phenomena. That’s the domain of science. If you are saying that he is bringing a pseudoscientific argument to it, and therefore isn’t making a scientific, but rather a pseudoscientific argument, then you’re right. But I suspect that you’re saying that despite making claims that fall squarely within the domain of science, he gets a get-out-of-evidence-free card by virtue of his membership in the Theology Mark Of The Month Club.

In other words, this raging nonsense is better than that raging nonsense? That’s praise, but it’s a bit thin. Wouldn’t it be better, when he is making a bad argument on the basis of dishonest sources, to say that there’s very little to choose between here, and that we should probably resolve scientific issues by turning to science?


So you’re certain (as in swearing on a Bible) that nothing in the book lies entirely within the realm of science?

There are a lot of people who have faith that God has guided evolution, AND they are perfectly aware those probability arguments are remains-of-bovine-digestion-processes.

AND there will always be people like that, especially on forum such as this where they can easily find the argument they seek. In statistical terms, this is not a representative sample of the general population.
You know the old saying, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail”? We have an analogous situation here. If we spend all our time arguing with the religious fringe about xxxxxx, then we tend to see all people of faith as being on that religious fringe.

There is a longer story here that I don’t have time to share just now. In short, most people of faith are very reasonable about science, and we don’t hear from them often enough.

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I missed this before my previous reply.

I am perfectly happy to be wrong about Kojonen, but he seems to be engaged in the sort of argument which only persuades people who already have that sort of faith.

A review of the table of contents makes the answer to that pretty clear. Almost all of it does.

What I am failing to understand, I think, is why the bar is presumed to be so very, very low for theologians seeking to invade the realm of scientific inquiry. Why is it that we are expected not to have the same scorn for this that we would for Erich von Daniken or Velikovsky? Why is it that someone is excused for his ignorance when he purports to have something worthwhile to say about biology but relies heavily upon people who are known to be wholly dishonest and utterly unreliable?

That someone is a theologian is clearly no excuse. There’s no commandment, “Thou shalt not cite reputable sources.” And these people, if gotten into the right sort of mood, would be happy to say how they think that the things they think about have the lofty quality of being the great problems, the deep concerns, the true mysteries of existence itself. They ought to bloody well be held to the standard of not behaving like fools when it comes to seeking to understand and comment upon biology. If they cannot or will not do it, then one has got to just admit that these people do have, and can have, nothing of value to say at all.

I think there is a widespread and dangerous view that, because the particular intellectual weaknesses of theology flow from the character of those theologians’ religious beliefs, one should be polite about the mind-numbing shallowness of it all. But if that politeness is ever called for, it is when the theologian is in his own domain, counting angels and whatnot. It is not called for when he purports to contribute insights to a field he plainly knows not one damned thing about.


One obvious problem with this is that Kojonen is apparently a ‘respectable’ Science and Religion scholar, and his book seems to have been well-received by that crowd. This may lead those who are unfamiliar with ID’s backstory to assume that the ID arguments, that Kojonen repeatedly cites with approval in his book, have a degree of legitimacy.

Beyond that, I have a suspicion that the entire field of Science and Religion may, both due to their sympathies in that direction, and their apparent lack of rigor, prove a welcoming bridgehead for ID into academia. The fact that Kojonen took his Carroll quote-mine from the book of a prominent Science Religion scholar, that was titled Is There Purpose in Biology?, certainly gives credence to both suspicions.


I would eagerly read a book titled “Is There Purpose in Theology?” though I’m pretty sure that Kojonen has demonstrated, once again, the answer to that question.

@rope notified he plans to join the discussion here. I request (and insist) that the discussion is respectful of him here, and focused on academic engagement with his points.

There are several anonymous/non-academic participants in this discussion who should step out of this conversation unless directly addressed. @moderators may create a comments thread soon too.


That would suggest Kojonen possesses a degree of openness inconsistent with being an IDer.

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I can respond to some questions and clarify a few points. If there are actual misunderstandings of biology or the relevant evidence in my book, I would be glad to hear.

The purpose of my article was to introduce the idea of the compatibility of evolution and design, as well as the symposium on the book which was published in Zygon. I am surprised that the idea seems so difficult to understand - I personally thought that my own explanation, as well as Glass’ and Wahlberg’s papers, were quite clear, though not focused on the scientific details. The compatibility of evolution and design-based explanations is a philosophical question though, so the philosophy is very relevant and should not be dismissed! If you reject the compatibility, this will also be based on philosophical ideas, so the philosophy cannot be avoided.

For the science, perhaps we need a further article on PS in the future to summarize the evidence. Before that, I will have to direct you to the summaries in my book, or to Peter Jeavons’ article in the book symposium for one aspect of it: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zygo.12840 .

On the Carroll quote, I do not understand how Tim formed the opinion that I have not read Carroll’s original work. It is true that I found the quote from biologist Denis Alexander’s book, whose commentary on it I quote, but of course I read the source myself as well. But in my academic culture, if one finds a quote through another scholar’s work, it is considered polite to also reference that scholar, not merely the original work. It’s a kind of tip of the hat, a show of gratefulness for their work.

Also, nothing about the context quoted by Tim invalidates my use of the Carroll quote. The idea of laws of form or physical constraints influencing the direction of evolution does not require that these factors solely determine what evolves, and I discuss arguments for the importance of contingent historical events a few pages later in my book. It seems there has been some misunderstanding here.

On the relation of the argument to ID, the idea of design I defend is indeed distinct from ID - nor are design arguments are historically restricted to the Intelligent Design movement. For instance, my defense of the idea is philosophical and compatible with the success of evolutionary explanations. I do discuss some ID arguments in the book, arguing (among other things) that several responses to these arguments themselves end up providing evidence for teleology. But this is just one part of the case.

And yes, I am indeed very familiar with both ID arguments and the responses to them, so I am not uncritical here. After all, I did write another book, The Intelligent Design Debate and the Temptation of Scientism (Routledge 2016), for which I tried to read everything I could get my eyes on, including lots of more obscure pieces. I have also written on topics like methodological naturalism.

I hope this clarifies some things!


2 posts were split to a new topic: Side/Comments on What if Design is Compatible with Evolution

It may be my misunderstanding, but it appears to me that this idea of “physical constraints influencing the direction of evolution” is trite to the point of meaninglessness. I don’t think it is any profound insight that evolutionary processes are incapable of producing an animal the size of an elephant that can fly using the wings of a bumblebee because the laws of physics prohibit this.