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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dembski, Falk and Wood: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral, part 2

In a previous post, I referred to a debate on origins through posts to the BioLogos Forum's blog. William Dembski, a mathematician, philosopher and theologian, and a proponent of Intelligent Design, wrote a position paper, at the request of the BioLogos Forum. In it, he argued that Darwinism is not theologically neutral. Darrel Falk, an official of that Forum, and probably best classified as an evolutionary creationist, responded. Todd Wood, a young-earth creationist, also reacted, in his own blog. I consider Wood's response in this post.

I suppose that I ought to say that one can believe that God is intelligent, and a designer, or creator, without agreeing with all of the positions of the Intelligent Design movement. The ID movement argues that it should be possible to find scientific evidence that God not only created life, but there is what Michael Behe has called irreducible complexity -- there are processes, or structures, that are so complex that they could not have arisen by natural selection, but that God must have intervened during their development, if they arose over a long period of time. (Some ID advocates also believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, but some are not convinced of that. See here for information on ID, and here for some contrasts between ID and young-earth creationism.) ID scientists have actually not really come close to proving scientific evidence of God's intervention. They have, instead, tried to show that natural selection couldn't have produced some structures, or processes. Behe and Dembski are tow of the most important scientists who have attempted this. Their work has been seriously criticized by other scientists, Christian and not.

Dembski's paper is in two parts, here and here. Falk's response is also in two parts, here and here. Wood's reaction is here and here.

I first repeat the heart of Dembski's presentation, what he says are four non-negotiables of Christianity, and four of Darwinism:

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. 
Wood has trouble with both sets of non-negotiables.Wood says that there is no mention of man's fallen, sinful nature, and that C2 and C3 are "weird." He thinks C3 is negotiable -- it is possible to believe we are in the image of God, and arose by evolutionary mechanisms. He also points out that there are differences among Christians as to what the image of God means, or is. On C2, he believes that it would be possible to believe that some aspects of creation were so ruined by the Fall that they don't reflect God's glory. Wood has even more trouble with the other four non-negotiables. He points out that Darwin, himself, was not convinced of D1 -- he thought there was more than one common ancestor. (Not thousands or milllions, by the way.) He goes on to say that D1, D2 and D3 are not so much presuppositions, as they are derived from evidence.

Wood also believes that Dembski has misunderstood methodological naturalism, D4, and confused it with philosophical naturalism:
Methodological naturalism is an epistemological position that recognizes reasonable limitations to human abilities to sense the supernatural. In other words, methodological naturalism is a limitation on what I think I can know. How can that possibly "tie God's hands?" A consistent methodological naturalist when confronted with Christ's resurrection (or any miracle) could only say that science is extremely limited in such cases to understand what happened or how. There is no way that methodological naturalism could rule out the miraculous. That's what philosophical naturalism does.
See here for the Wikipedia article on Naturalism, which includes a discussion of methodological naturalism.

Perhaps most importantly, Wood is familiar with the writings of Darwin, and although he doesn't claim that Darwin was a Christian believer, he believes, and presents evidence to back it up, that Darwin was, like Einstein, sympathetic to the view that there was a Creator. Wood quotes from a letter Darwin wrote:

I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; & that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event & consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter.

I hope to deal with Falk's reaction to Dembski in a later post. Thanks for reading.

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