According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Differences Between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolutionary Creationism" - Part 5

Final Assessments (Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt": Robert Bishop, Part 4)

by Robert C. Bishop
September 9, 2014

Today's entry was written by Robert C. Bishop. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: As the next installment of our Reviewing Darwin’s Doubt series,
we present the last post of Robert Bishop’s four-part review of the book.

Over the course of this series of posts, we’ve seen how Meyer uses the biology literature to build his case that Intelligent Design (ID) is currently the best explanation for the origin of life. In this final post, I want to step back and consider this case as well as the place for God as Creator in the midst of the developing evolutionary synthesisthat’s been taking place.

If we set aside the divide-and-conquer and question-shift strategies and take the biology literature that Meyer surveys on its own terms, then the argument for ID looks much weaker. The reader may perceive that there has been a bait and switch in Darwin’s Doubt. Charles Marshall’s review of Darwin’s Doubt in Science last year suggests that the problems in Meyer’s book are due to his “true belief” in an Intelligent Designer.[1] And Meyer provides plenty of evidence for this conclusion.

He systematically paints the evolutionary biology literature as challenging neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, mistaking the normal process of theory development and modification for admissions of “weaknesses” in or “criticisms” of evolutionary theory. His case for “weaknesses” and “scientific criticism” is bolstered by selective quotations from the literature under the divide-and-conquer and question-shift strategies. An informed reader gets the impression that Meyer reads the literature hunting for support for his pre-conceived view rather than in search of insight into what evolutionary and developmental biologists are actually saying.

This hunting for ammunition can lead to claims such as “The technical literature in biology is now replete with world-class biologists routinely expressing doubts about various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory, and especially about its central tenant, namely, the alleged creative power of the natural selection and mutational mechanisms,” and that there is a “growing body of critical scientific opinion about the standing of the theory” (p. x). Three remarks are in order regarding Meyer’s claim. First, as Gilbert et al. (1996) make clear[2], they are focusing on an extended synthesis with natural selection and mutations. Second, the world-class biologists Meyer references (e.g., Simon Conway Morris) roundly reject Meyer’s assessment of what they themselves are saying. For instance, Meyer has cited Gilbert and others to the effect that current evolutionary theory is inadequate to explain macroevolution before, but as they have pointed out, they make no such claims.

Third, to say that there is a “growing body of critical scientific opinion about the standing of the theory” is misleading. A fundamental problem is that Meyer mistakes the normal scientific processes of investigating, revising, and extending a theory for “raising doubts” about the theory. The work of historians and philosophers of science as diverse as Thomas Kuhn and Phillip Kitcher have helped us recognize the normal business of scientific theory development is complex and rather messy. However, it’s possible that when hunting for support for a pre-conceived view one might mistake this messy process for “raising doubts” about a theory.

Clearly the kind of mischaracterization in Darwin’s Doubt is rhetorically important: It makes mainstream evolutionary biology look much weaker and more confused than it actually is. So, when Cornelia Dean writes that “There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth” (quoted by Meyer, p. xi), she exhibits a much better grasp of the practices of biologists and the biology literature than Meyer does.

From a history and philosophy of science standpoint, Meyer’s way of framing things is disturbing. Every scientific paradigm is incomplete and always under development. Evolution is no different. It’s been well-known for decades among evolutionary biologists that macroevolution was a promissory note that was expected to be fulfilled as they continued to develop and extend the neo-Darwinian paradigm. More questions than solutions have been generated about the connections among genetic variations, natural selection, and the origin of higher taxa; but this is standard fare for any scientific theory (e.g., we have more questions about Einstein’s theory of general relativity than we did in previous decades as physicists continue to develop and extend the theory). The picture of evolutionary theory and developmental biology presented by Meyer doesn’t help us understand what scientists working in those areas actually do and what their debates actually are about. Nor does his framing help us understand whether evolutionary and developmental biology needs explicit reference to an observable intelligent cause.

The biology literature that Meyer surveys actually exhibits a remarkable self-critical sifting that makes theory development possible. Scientists test and correct one another’s ideas and continue to develop their theoretical frameworks. Gilbert et al. (1996) illustrates this beautifully, laying out a narrative of self-reflection, testing, and theory development in action as the story of the return of embryology and homology to evolutionary biology. This story is particularly relevant, because the discoveries we’ve made in evolutionary development the last thirty years provide eye-popping examples of why it’s important to recognize how even the most well supported theories in science can change and become stronger when evidence from seemingly unrelated fields provide unlooked-for contributions. (For instance, the discovery that deleting specific regulatory gene sequences leads to the production of a reptilian jaw in mice (Gilbert et al. 1996, p. 364)—exactly the sort of thing one would expect if regulatory networks played crucial roles in channeling embryological development.)

Where Is God in All This?

Finally, there is a theological issue to all of this. Many Christians are strongly supportive of ID, but should they be? ID eschews the Bible and theology, taking a thoroughgoing secularist approach to the quest for evidence for intelligent causes in nature. Such a secularist view obscures the status of nature as creation, an arena of Triune care and action (see my white paper). Moreover, ID focuses solely on scientific methods as the only viable means for detecting intelligent causes in nature. This cedes far too much to scientism[3], reflecting the dominant technocratic ethos of the times rather than a reflective Christian approach to understanding the Triune God’s relationship to creation.

Recall Meyer’s dichotomy highlighted in the third post of this series: “Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding or designing intelligence played a role. Advocates of Intelligent Design favor the latter option and argue that living organisms look designed because they really were designed” (p. 340). Our choice appears to be either intervention from outside, beyond natural processes, or natural processes with no intelligent influence whatsoever. Yet, this is a false choice. Those pursuing evolutionary creation approaches (e.g.,B. B. Warfield) have been exploring theologically robust alternatives where God is active in creation through the very processes of evolution. Passages such as Genesis 1:24-25, Psalm 104, Job 38-42, among others, picture God and creation both at work. Indeed, Genesis 1 affirms that the Earth functions to originate life, not just reproduce it. All of this takes place under the superintendence of the Son and enablement of the Spirit.

Therefore, when biologists investigate evolution, development, and other biological processes, they are exploring the functionality of God’s creation and theorizing about God’s normal ways of working in the world (see my white paper). Many scientists don’t understand that this is what they’re doing, but there is no way to avoid it becausethey are studying a creation designed by our Triune Creator. This doesn’t mean that scientists always get things right; all scientific knowledge is provisional. But it does mean that Christians don’t face the false choice presented in Darwin’s Doubt between evolutionary science and God.

  1. Charles R. Marshall, “When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship,” Science 341:1344.
  2. Scott F. Gilbert, John M. Opitz, and Rudolf A. Raff, “Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology,” Developmental Biology 173 (1996): 357-372.
  3. Ian Hutchinson, Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism. Belmont, MA: Fias Publishing, 2011.

Robert C. Bishop is the John and Madeline McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science and an associate professor of physics and philosophy at Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his master’s degree in physics and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. Bishop's research involves history and philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. Bishop is the author of The Philosophy of the Social Science and co-editor of Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Determinism.

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