William Dembski replies to theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk

William Dembski is much nicer than I am, and so he takes theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk to task very gently.

Excerpt:

In the paper to which Falk responds, I lay out four non-negotiables of Christianity as well as four non-negotiables of Darwinism. Falk and I are united on the four non-negotiables of Christianity, but differ a bit on those of Darwinism. The four non-negotiables of Darwinism that I list are common descent, natural selection, human continuity, and methodological naturalism. Because Falk and I both reject Darwinism, there’s quite a bit of overlap in how we view these four non-negotiables. Nonetheless, I think it will help readers of my essay and Falk’s response to clarify some of our differences here, subtle though they may be.

With regard to common descent, I agree with Falk that God could have brought about life by means of a large-scale form of evolution that links all organisms to a common ancestor. That said, I don’t accept common descent. I think the scientific evidence is against it (for my reasons, see my book The Design of Life, coedited with Jonathan Wells). Also, even though common descent may be acceptable in broad theological terms, I think it is problematic exegetically with regard to Scripture. Simply put, I think you’re going to have a hard time getting large-scale evolution out of Scripture or rendering the two compatible.

With regard to natural selection, Falk appears to accept that this is the principal mechanism by which organisms are brought into existence successively by an evolutionary process. At the same time, Falk does not want to see natural selection as devoid of purpose but rather as a mechanism through which God is able to accomplish his purposes. But in that case, in what sense is selection “natural”? Is Falk’s view of natural selection, when viewed as a scientific hypothesis, any different from Richard Dawkins’s? And if their views, taken scientifically, are the same, what is the evidence for the creative power of this mechanism?

Falk extols “God’s marvelously ordinary processes of creation: ordinary because they follow his natural laws so faithfully, marvelous because they have resulted in a world of complex and beautiful life.” In my view, the word “ordinary” is entirely out of place here. As I’ve argued with Robert Marks in a paper titled “Life’s Conservation Law,” even if life is the result of an evolutionary process driven by natural selection, it would have to be a form of selection finely tuned by an environment that is itself finely tuned (see our contribution to The Nature of Nature, edited by Bruce Gordon and me — the paper in question is available online here).

Falk takes exception to my thinking it “odd” that God would create by natural selection, and thus by a process that gives no evidence of intelligence. And he rejects my charge that such a method of creation “occludes” God’s activity. Falk, echoing Psalm 19, proclaims that all aspects of creation bespeak God’s handiwork and glory. Now let me concede that “oddness,” in the sense of what appears odd to us very limited human beings with our very limited vantages on the world, is not a good criterion for determining what God would and wouldn’t do. Still, it hardly seems that God is mandated to create via a process that provides no evidence of his creative activity — and nowhere does Falk admit that God provides actual evidence of himself in creation (at best he allows that nature provides “signposts” — but what exactly are these signs? who is reading them? why should we take them as pointing to God?). Moreover, for Falk to echo the psalmist is hardly an argument for the world proclaiming God’s handiwork and glory, because many atheistic evolutionists will deny Falk’s confident affirmations of divine perspicuity.

I’ve seen this directly. I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck. Thus, when Falk echoes Psalm 19, what more is he doing than giving expression to his own faith? Indeed, what more is he saying to atheists than merely “I see God’s hand in all of this and you don’t — you’re blind and I see.” Perhaps faith has given him sight that atheists lack. But in that case, how can it be claimed that God is not occluding his activity in nature? God, as omnipotent, can certainly make his existence and presence known to even the most ardent atheist – we can all imagine flamboyant enough miracles that would convince anyone.

Still, the more interesting question here is whether there is a rational basis for Falk’s faith that is grounded in the order of nature. ID, in finding scientific evidence of intelligence in nature, says there is. Falk, along with BioLogos generally, denies this. But in that case, how can he avoid the charge that the faith by which he sees God’s handiwork is merely an overlay on top of a nature that, taken by itself, is neutral or even hostile to Christian faith? Note that I’m not alone in thinking it odd that God would create by natural selection. Many atheistic evolution see evolution as a brutal and wasteful process that no self-respecting deity would have employed in bringing about life. Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and the late Stephen Jay Gould were united on this point.

There are three things that annoy me greatly and cause me to lose my temper. One of those things is theistic evolution, which to me is essentially atheism with unnecessary subjective verbiage added on top. My advice for discussing evolution with a theistic evolutionist is to never, ever allow them to talk about anything about religion. Just focus on the science and what the science can show. Anything else they say about their personal feelings and beliefs that isn’t scientific is just an attempt to deceive the listener. Never ever allow a theistic evolutionist to talk about possibilities – what God could or could not do. That is irrelevant to the discussion because it is outside of what science can show.

The central question when discussing evolution is this: can we use the ordinary methods of science, just as Dembski’s method for recognizing design based on specified complexity, in order to detect intelligent causes? Atheists and theistic evolutionists are united on the answer: NO. Darrel Falk and Richard Dawkins agree that there is no way for science to show that an intelligence is needed to explain some effect in nature, because natural mechanisms can do the job with the probabilistic resources available. Design theorists think that you can infer that intelligence is the best explanation – for some effects that pass the mathematical tests.

So you have atheists and theistic evolutionists on one side, and intelligent design people on the other side.

3 thoughts on “William Dembski replies to theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk”

  1. Well, I would reply that the universe is very large and could be filled with life, although, as I explain here, a lot of scientists are rejecting that notion.

    But a point is: what if evolution really is evolution, undirectedly following natural laws designed and emplaced by God, who otherwise just literally lets nature take its course?

    In that case, of course, the sceince of theistic evolutionists and of Dawkins, et. al., would not be different, as Dembski says. But as you have covered extensively, the real points of contention between atheism and theism is not in biology anyway, it’s in physics. If, as many physicists say and even Antony Flew came to admit, the universe is itself a powerful argument for a Creator, then the evolution question is barely even relevant.

    The question then becomes not whether there is a God but what kind of God there is. Flew never came to Christian faith; his god was basically Aristotelian. And what kind of God there is is not a question that can be answered by either physics or biology.

    I personally consider the evolution-or-not discussion a theological sideshow. Once God Creator is acknowledged, I think the rest pretty much falls into place.

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  2. Wintery, you say at the end, “Darrel Falk and Richard Dawkins agree that there is no way for science to show that an intelligence is needed to explain some effect in nature, because natural mechanisms cannot do the job with the probabilistic resources available. ” I think you meant to say ” Darrel Falk and Richard Dawkins agree that there is no way for science to show that an intelligence is needed to explain some effect in nature, because natural mechanisms can do the job with the probabilistic resources available.” Good post. Very important issue.

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