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Monday, May 07, 2012

Dembski and Falk: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?

The BioLogos forum has posted a position paper from William Dembski, on the subject of whether or not Darwinism is theologically neutral (he claims that it is not) as well as a response to Dembski from Darrel Falk. Dembski's paper is in two parts, here and here. Falk's is likewise in two parts, here and here. The BioLogos forum sets forth a list of 13 beliefs here. It is hard to imagine most Christians having any problem with those beliefs. However, quite a few have a problem with part of the opening statement, as follows: "committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith, guided by the truth that 'all things hold together in Christ.' [Colossians 1:17]" Perhaps it's too simple, but the BioLogos forum team are often called evolutionary creationists. Dembski is one of the leading spokesmen of the Intelligent Design Movement, which rejects evolutionary creationism*. He has earned doctorates in mathematics and philosophy, and also advanced training in theology. Falk, who is President of BioLogos, is a biologist by training.

I found Dembski's writing to be respectful of Christians who disagree with him, and he seems to understand at least some of the thinking of such people.

In Dembski's part 1, he sets forth these non-negotiables:

Non-Negotiables of Christianity:

  • (C1) Divine Creation: God by wisdom created the world out of nothing.
  • (C2) Reflected Glory: The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity.
  • (C3) Human Exceptionalism: Humans alone among the creatures on earth are made in the image of God.
  • (C4) Christ’s Resurrection: God, in contravention of nature’s ordinary powers, raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

Non-Negotiables of Darwinism:

  • (D1) Common Descent: All organisms are related by descent with modification from a common ancestor.
  • (D2) Natural Selection: Natural selection operating on random variations is the principal mechanism responsible for biological adaptations.
  • (D3) Human Continuity: Humans are continuous with other animals, exhibiting no fundamental difference in kind but only differences in degree.
  • (D4) Methodological Naturalism: The physical world, for purposes of scientific inquiry, may be assumed to operate by unbroken natural law. 
At least some of these non-negotiables can be questioned. One question that occurred to me is in relation to C3. I would say that all creatures (and, for that matter, all rocks) are made in the image of God to some extent. They bear unmistakable marks of their creator. I would agree that humans are more in the image of God than any animals, or other organisms, or than any non-animate entities. It is possible that we may have computers or robots that are also more in the image of God than any animals, but we aren't there yet, and may never be. (See here and here for more about the idea of the image of God.)

His strategy is to explain how the two sets are in tension. He specifically avoids using "conflict," because he says that the languages of religion and science are different enough that it is difficult to know if you have found a real conflict.

Then, in part 2 of his essay, Dembski explains why he thinks that there are tensions, and which tensions are most important.

One tension, in Dembski's mind, at least, is that "it seems odd, given (C1), that God would create by Darwinian processes, which suggest that unguided forces can do all the work necessary for biological evolution." These unguided forces, if they are so important, are not evidence of God's wisdom, he says, nor do they reflect God's glory. (C2)

On the contrary, it seems to me that if there were a God who was able to create a universe, with properties such that unguided forces could bring about living things, in all their diversity, that would be strong evidence of His wisdom, and add to His glory. 

Dembski sees another problem. He says that "Francis Collins . . . denies that our moral capacities represent the natural development of the same essential capacities in other primates. Yet to say that our moral or cognitive or linguistic capacities are unprecedented in the rest of the animal world flies in the face of Darwinian evolution, certainly as Darwin conceived it." (Collins is a Christian, an author, and one of the most important scientists of our time. He is the founder of the BioLogos forum.)

I see what Dembski is talking about, but it seems to me that it could have been that God took some sort of pre-human, and, by miracle, installed those moral capacities. Also, it could be that the appearance of language, spoken and as thought, changed moral capacity by itself.

But Dembski also makes another important point. He claims that there is not sufficient evidence that natural selection can produce the complex structures we see in living things, and, thus, wonders why Darwinianism is important enough to examine. He writes ". . . the evidence for the creative power of natural selection to build complex biological forms is nil."This claim has been disputed at considerable depth, and some of the disputation is by Christian scientists who are convinced that natural selection can, and has, produced complex structures. In fact, there is a series, published by BioLogos, entitled  "Evolution and the Origin of Biological Information," which is reasonably accessible to the intelligent non-scientist, and refutes this claim of Dembski, and the ID movement, with examples. Here's a link to the final installment of that series. There are links to the other parts in that post.

As I write this, I have not read Falk's response to Dembski. I have read an important response to Dembski, by a Young-Earth Creationist, Todd Wood. I hope to post on what Falk and Wood have to say about Dembski soon.

Thanks for reading!

*There are several positions on origins among Bible-believing Christians. They include Intelligent Design, Young-Earth Creationism, and Evolutionary Creationism. See here for a summary, giving the weaknesses and strengths of these and other such beliefs.

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