Tag Archives: Francies Collins

William Dembski reviews a new book by two theistic evolutionists

From Patheos, an opening statement by William Dembski. This is the first part of a four-part debate with two scientists of the Biologos group, which advocates for theistic evolution. (And not to be confused with the Biologic Institute, which is supportive of intelligent design).


Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, “There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin–not one–which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species” (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence. Repeatedly readers are informed that mountains of overwhelming evidence support Darwin’s theory and that the authors are “unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution.” And just so there’s no doubt, in that same paragraph, they reiterate, “There are certainly a few scientists who reject evolution . . . But these are never premier scientists.”

Oh, you reject Darwinian evolution; you can’t be a premier scientist. What counterexample would convince Giberson and Collins to retract such a claim? How about Henry Schaefer’s signature on a “Dissent from Darwin” list? Schaefer heads the computational quantum chemistry lab at the University of Georgia, has published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal articles, and is one of the most widely cited chemists in the world. Then again, Giberson and Collins look askance at this list (according to them, it has too many emeriti professors and not enough biologists). But why engage in such posturing about scientific pecking order in the first place? The issue is not who’s doubting Darwinism, but what are the arguments for and against it and whether they have merit. Giberson and Collins’ constant drumming of mainstream and consensus science is beside the point–science progresses by diverging from the mainstream and by breaking with consensus.

Because Giberson and Collins assert that natural selection is such a powerful mechanism for driving evolution–and one that admits no reasoned dissent–it’s worth recounting here briefly why the intelligent design community is so skeptical of it. It’s not, as theistic evolutionists often suggest, that we have a desperate need to shore up faith and morality and are using ID as our instrument of choice to accomplish that end. Rather, it’s that natural selection is, in essence, a trial and error tinkering mechanism for which all evidence suggests that its power is quite limited. Trial and error works fine when you have something that’s functional and are trying to enhance it or adapt it to a new situation.

But for natural selection, as a trial and error mechanism, to traverse vast swatches of biological function space, we need to see an extended series of small gradual structural changes (under neo-Darwinism, these are genetic mutations leaving effects at the phenotypic level) that continually improve, or at least maintain, function, with evolving functions and evolving structures covarying and reinforcing each other. But we know of no detailed testable (macro-)evolutionary pathways like this in any field, whether in the evolution of living forms or in the evolution of language or in the evolution of technologies. In fact, when we can trace such evolutionary pathways, we find that significant change happens in creative leaps, not via trial and error tinkering.

Everyone who has read Dembski’s opening remarks in this four-part series is raving about the quality of what he’s written. I was hoping to wait for the response before publishing his opening salvo, so we could balance it, but no reply has appeared yet. For me, there is only one issue in the debate about the origin of life: if natural causes can create life from non-life with the time and resources available on the early Earth, then show me the mechanism. That’s all I want to see – the evidence that natural causes can do the creating that the naturalists say that it can do. I don’t want to hear about feelings, possibilities, what God could or couldn’t do, philosophy, what church you attend, your favorite hymn, the way you were raised, your religious experiences, etc. I just want to see you prove that nature can do all the creating that you say it can do.