EVOLUTION INSTALLMENT TWENTY FIVE

PART FOUR: THE CHRISTIAN’S APPROPRIATE RESPONSE

Chapter 10: A Sample of Theistic Evolution

This chapter really belongs in Part Two: Why God and Evolution Don’t Mix. It was placed here after the nuts-and-bolts discussion in Part Three to permit the reader to first become familiar with some of the more technical concepts introduced earlier before being exposed to rebuttals involving those concepts. This chapter will introduce a real, live theistic evolutionist named Denis Alexander through portions of his book entitled Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?1

Creation or Evolution was written by a self-styled Christian evolutionist. The warmth of his writing style and his assertions of belief in a Jesus who died for our sins lead the reader into an empathetic appreciation of his commitment to his faith. After reading a few pages of his quietly stated, yet assertive style, the reader is almost convinced that this gentleman can be a committed Christian while embracing evolution. He seems to be quite comfortable believing in both.

As we shall see, however, the self-comfort that he conveys to his readers comes at a cost, which is a certain myopia regarding very important issues associated with both God and evolutionary theory. We suspect that at some future time, as suggested by Michael Behe in his discussion of theistic evolution2, he will be exposed to a moment of truth wherein he will be forced to choose between making a full commitment to either God or evolution. Hopefully, by reading his own words with a view toward understanding his mental and emotional location, our own readers can avoid entering or remaining in the very real and dangerous situation to which he has exposed himself.

We shall focus herein on his views regarding the conflict between evolution and intelligent design presented for the most part in his Chapter 14: Intelligent Design and Creation’s Order, as it is there that we may discern where he locates himself in the two naturally-opposing camps of naturalism and creationism and, hopefully, why.

The chapter begins with a rather condescending, superficial introduction to what Alexander calls the Intelligent Design endeavor as an “anti-Darwin movement that seeks to identify highly-specified examples of design in living organisms, putting these examples forward as evidence for a designer.” What he meant by this description is anybody’s guess. More appropriate and understandable definitions of what the movement is about are available3. Moreover, although numerous biological examples of design readily may be found in support of Intelligent Design (ID), the endeavor involves a great deal more than seeking examples. Its basic theories have far more explanatory utility than Darwin’s “modification” and “natural selection” and have been found to be amenable to the development of derivative concepts, some of them of a quantitative nature, that permit the subjection of biological systems to analysis.

We suggest as a more elegant alternate to Alexander’s definition the following taken from the Preface to William Dembski’s book Intelligent Design: “Intelligent design is three things: a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action. Intelligent Design therefore intersects science and theology. . .In its treatment of design this book focuses not so much on whether the universe as a whole is designed but on whether we are able to detect design within an already given universe.” [Note: other ID works address other non-biological issues, including the “anthropic principle”, an assessment of the precision with which universal physical constants uniquely support life.]

Alexander’s introduction to ID in his Chapter 14 continues with mention of Phillip Johnson’s input to the field, which is marred by a purely speculative appraisal of the Dr. Johnson’s motivation (goaded by Dawkins) in getting involved. Any person who has read more than one of Dr. Johnson’s works to any reasonable depth is capable of appreciating how far beyond merely Dawkins that Johnson’s concern extends. Nor is Johnson particularly concerned with individual evolutionists, but rather the logic by which they arrive at their conclusions.

Alexander generously acknowledges the influential roles that Drs. Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe and William Dembski have played in laying the groundwork for ID research. Indeed they have. Johnson, the legal expert and master of logic and the use of words, has exposed a number of ambiguities, misrepresentations, outright frauds, and logical faults associated with evolutionists and their writings, from present-day neo-Darwinists all the way back to Darwin himself; among other accomplishments in the arena of biology, Behe has furnished, with his “irreducible complexity”, a powerful conceptual tool for comprehending the boundaries of utility for Darwin’s notion of “natural selection”; further, he has applied this tool to the analyses of existing biological systems and the establishment of values for those boundaries; and philosopher-mathematician Dembski has formalized the criteria for distinguishing design from naturalistic processes, permitting the quantitative analysis of biological systems to that end. These three alone have developed ID to the point that it represents a serious challenge to the theories, both new and old, associated with evolution.

But there are many others, as can be seen by a quick scan of the chapter notes. Despite Alexander’s indifference to their contributions, they are important players in the ID movement. They also have mounted a formidable intellectual opposition to pure naturalism. Their numbers include the late Grant Jeffrey, James Kushiner, Nancy Pearcey, Gerald Schroeder, Ralph Muncaster, Geoffrey Simmons, and Stephen Meyer, whose seminal work Signature in the Cell may be the single most important explanatory book in the ID movement’s growing arsenal of intellectual material. And these are just the authors whose works we are familiar with.

Alexander made a brief foray into the history of the ID movement by selecting a 2005 incident involving a “Christian” judge, highly-suspect anti-ID parental protests, and a ruling that ID is “not science”4. There is a wealth of material associated with the history of the ID movement that directly contradicts the conclusions which Alexander wished his readers to reach in this biased and oversimplistic account, among which are two court cases which Johnson thoroughly analyzes, one of which is discussed in Chapter One of Darwin on Trial and the other in Chapter Two of Defeating Darwinism.

Alexander proceeds to accuse both William Dembski and Michael Behe of acknowledging the reality of “common descent”, supposedly in contradiction to their intrinsic beliefs regarding ID. His accusation of Dembski is relatively inconsequential. Therefore, we shall focus here on his attack on Behe. Quoting Alexander, “On the other hand, Michael Behe holds firmly to belief in an old earth, our shared ancestry with the apes, and for a significant role for natural selection in the evolutionary process, writing that: ‘It’s hard to imagine how there could be stronger evidence for common ancestry of chimps and humans’. Therefore one has to be cautious in assessing the views of ID proponents, because they do represent a diverse range.”

We won’t comment on the condescending nature of the last sentence other than to identify it as condescending. Alexander supplied a footnote to identify the source of the quote as Behe’s The Edge of Evolution. He conveniently left out the chapter or page number. We supply it as follows: Chapter 4: What Darwinism Can Do; pp. 70-72. We’ll also supply the context in Behe’s own words. After discussing the similarity of hemoglobin genes between humans and chimpanzees, and particularly an identical coding anomaly within the DNA of both that he perceives to be an error, Behe concludes that chimps and humans share a common ancestor. He sums up the consequence on the bottom of page 72:

“The bottom line is this. Common descent is true; yet the explanation of common descent – even the common descent of humans and chimps – although fascinating, is in a profound sense trivial. Is says merely that commonalities were there from the start, present in a common ancestor. It does not even begin to explain where those commonalities came from, or how humans subsequently acquired remarkable differences. Something that is nonrandom must account for the common descent of life.” [All italics in the original] Elsewhere, Behe affirms his view that this “nonrandom element” infers a designer. For example, in The Edge of Evolution5, he makes the following comment:

“Repeating Darwin’s own mistakes, modern Darwinists point to evidence of common descent and erroneously assume it to be evidence of the power of random mutation. . .There is no evidence that Darwinian processes can make anything of the elegance and complexity of cilia.”

What he is saying is that evolution has an element of truth: microevolution works, and there is plenty of evidence of system commonalities in living creatures. But, just as there is a vast gulf between microevolution and macroevolution, there is an equally vast gulf between similarities in the DNA of two creatures having similar characteristics and the differences in their DNA. Both macroevolution and common descent show strong evidence of guidance, which lies beyond the capability of a purely naturalistic process.

Alexander continues on to claim that some of the players involved in ID aren’t Christians, and that the movement itself makes little or no reference to Scripture. While we fail to perceive what point the man is trying to make, other than to accuse the Catholic Michael Behe of inconsistency, we are aware that the ID movement itself has been forced into this quasi-secular position by its evolutionist opponents, who had belittled or ignored the arguments of the predecessor movement creationism on their self-proclaimed assertion that science and religion had nothing in common. Despite his personal claims, he certainly can’t assert that evolution is more godly than ID. If ever he were to declare that kind of notion more forcefully, his evolutionist associates would have him for breakfast. We wonder if, as suggested by Dembski6, many of his associates already consider him to be some sort of useful idiot.

Having made this rather weak ad-hominem attack on Behe, Alexander next trains his sights back on Phillip Johnson, asserting that “In 1996, Phillip Johnson declared with regard to ID that ‘This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science. It’s about religion and philosophy.’” Unfortunately, Alexander didn’t furnish a reference for this quote, but we have found plenty of commentaries of Johnson’s that reveal this attack as deceptive. The real intent of Johnson’s comment is quite the opposite of a statement regarding ID; rather, he is applying it to evolution, complaining about evolution not being scientific, but instead being a philosophical and religious system. This can be demonstrated with reference to Johnson’s own words. In Defeating Darwinism7, for example, he writes:

“The science educators teach the students that they were created by evolution and that evolution is a purposeless and unsupervised natural process. Of course those statements go far beyond the scientific evidence and state a religious position, but educators also insist with a straight face that they are not saying anything about religion or God.”

Again, in his same book, Johnson writes8:

“In other words, evolution is not a fact, it’s a philosophy. The materialism comes first (a priori), and the evidence is interpreted in light of that unchangeable philosophical commitment. If the evidence seems to go against the philosophy, so much the worse for the evidence. To a materialist, putting up with any amount of bad practice in science is better than to let that Divine Foot in the Door!”

From these and numerous other commentaries of a similar nature, it is manifestly clear that Dr. Johnson regards evolution as more of a philosophy and religion than a true science. It is because of the evolutionists, not the ID proponents, that the debate has the nature more of philosophy and religion than of science. We agree with Alexander in his suggestion “that Phillip Johnson’s 1996 statement is exactly right.” – but in the opposite context.

[to be continued]

NOTES:

1.Denis R. Alexander, Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?, Monarch Books, 2008

2.note 1, Chapter 11, as quoted in that chapter.

3.cf. note 5, Chapter 11

4.Alexander, Creation or Evolution, p. 294

5.Behe, The Edge of Evolution, pp. 95 and 96

6.note 5, Chapter 11

7.Johnson, Defeating Darwinism, p. 54

8.Ibid., p. 81

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