Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Calming the Debate

In last Thursday's post I mentioned this book review that appeared in the magazine Christianity Today. The same issue of the magazine contains this article from John Wilson suggesting ways to calm the debate between evolutionists and ID folks.

The article is a mixed bag. At times, Wilson hits it out of the park. After a brief discussion of recent work on the evolution of the immune system, he writes:

But that's the stuff of science. Built into this research are many assumptions based on the latest generation of evolutionary theory, ranging from fundamental governing assumptions to those more specific to this branch of study. So, for example, on a basic level, there's the assumption of common ancestry (hard to deny, it seems to me, though most of the ID people disagree, as does the formidable philosopher Alvin Plantinga) and an evolutionary conception of the family history of vertebrates.

How would an ID immunologist interact with this material? What assumptions would he accept? Which ones would he reject? What sort of work might he be doing alongside or in contrast to the research reported here? Those are the kinds of questions that need to be answered in the next stage, if ID is going to do science. “Design” needs to be fleshed out.

Exactly right. What Wilson overlooks though, both here and elsewhere in his article, is that ID isn't really about science at all. ID proponents don't answer the sort of questions Wilson is asking because they are far more interested in gaining political power than they are in furthering scientific inquiry.

Elsewhere, Wilson mostly hits it out of the park (a ground-rule double, perhaps):

Neither Intelligent Design nor theistic evolutionism, alas, is the most influential position among the evangelical rank and file, where Young Earth creationism still holds sway. Hence another unsatisfactory aspect of the current debate is the strategic refusal of the ID movement to engage in constructive criticism of the Young Earth view.

But haven't I just been calling for mutual recognition among Christians of their unity in affirming God as Creator, and for mutual respect? Yes, and there's no contradiction here. What is needed from the ID movement is principled disagreement. Whereas whole books published by various ID figures have been devoted to meticulously unpacking some of the errors perpetuated in the Darwinist literature (see for example the work of Jonathan Wells), they are virtually silent about the egregious intellectual errors that abound in Young Earth literature. By contrast, Hugh Ross, who has some affinities both with ID and with the theistic evolutionists, has been more forthright; his work could serve as a model in this respect.

As I have mentioned before, Jonathan Wells has unpacked nothing in his work. Far from exposing errors in Darwinist literature, Wells merely exposed his own propensity for intellectual dishonesty and his lack of understanding of very basic points of evolutionary biology. Also, I think Hugh Ross' work is itself so filled with errors that I would not hold him up as an example of anything to emulate. But Wilson's broader point is spot-on. ID folks will pounce on anything they can use as part of a rhetorical gambit against evolutionists, but they willfully ignore the blatant scientific errors coming from the Young-Earthers. And kudos to Wilson for recognizing that this failure to criticize the YEC's is strategic.

In other places, sadly, I think Wilson gives the ID folks too much credit:

At the moment, at least, there are no signs that the debate is cooling down—on the contrary. And there is a good deal to celebrate in that. In particular, the ID movement has performed an invaluable service in highlighting the way in which much Darwinian thinking rests on philosophical assumptions that have no scientific warrant. At the same time, the aggressive ID attacks on Christian scientists who have not rejected evolutionary theory lock, stock, and barrel—"accommodationists," as they are called in ID literature, where they are treated rather like collaborationists with the Nazis during World War II—have pushed theistic evolutionists to formulate their own views more cogently. And of course the attention garnered by the ID movement has also provoked a vigorous range of responses from hardcore Darwinians that are often inadvertently revealing—especially of the extraordinary arrogance that still infests the field—but which also at times score telling points against ID weaknesses.

Well, I like the last part of that last sentence, but otherwise I find little to admire in this paragraph. The words “ID movement” and “invaluable service&rdquol should not be appearing in the same sentence. This is not the place to rehash all of the philosophical balderdash ID proponents have come up with over the years, but I would say that ID defenders have contributed nothing of any worth to any scientific or philosophical discussion. No doubt I am one of those arrogant, hardocre Darwinians Wilson criticizes. But what he calls arrogance, I call telling it like it is.

As for prompting theistic evolutionists to formulate their views more cogently - please. That's like thanking criminals for forcing the rest of us to formulate our views against crime more cogently. The fact is that theistic evolutionists are living proof that a sincere and meaningful Christian faith can coexist with modern scientific thought. To the extent that this viewpoint gains traction, it becomes more difficult for ID proponents to achieve their political goals. That is why they attack theistic evolution with such venom.

The whole article is worth reading, and I recommend following the link. However, there is one blatant error in the article which we really ought to correct. In a paragraph critical of biologist Richard Dawkins, Wilson writes:

It was Dawkins who notoriously wrote in his bestseller The Blind Watchmaker: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane—or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that.” There is a good deal of this ritual strutting in the Darwinist camp.

Actually, Dawkins made that statement in an op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times some years ago. He did not include it in The Blind Watchmaker.


At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


For the logic and reason of the article you cite, I think the only way the debate over Evolution and Creationism/Inteligent Design will be calmed is if ID advocates admit that they are seeking to promote a political agenda. They certainly are not promoting science!

Also, in the final analysis, they must admit they there is no empirical proof for the existence of a deity, or any spiritual reality.

As a deeply religious person, I realized that a long time ago. I then deepend my faith via my own religious practice and thereby saw my become more meaningful vis a vis my understanding the real purpose of religion.

Yours truly,
Guitar Eddie

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