24 June 2008

War declared on "spineless appeasers"

I very seldom read Uncommon Descent, for lots of reasons, two of the most prominent being that I am angered and sickened by culture-war rhetoric and I am uninterested in "design" as an explanation. But when Bill Dembski declared (culture) war on "theistic evolutionists" (see my post at Clashing Culture for links and discussion) I took notice (via the ASA listserv, populated by some who actually do read UD). And when the brilliant and decent Ted Davis posted a long comment on UD trying to explain to DaveScot (who refers to "theistic evolutionists" as "spineless appeasers") why many Christian evolutionists won't have anything to do with his movement, I thought I should try a comment, to see if there is a possibility of occasional dialogue.

I registered at UD a week ago, but didn't visit the site or comment till today, when I saw a piece at The Panda's Thumb pointing to a new post at UD by a new poster, one Thomas Cudworth. The author points to "incoherence" in the thinking of "theistic evolutionists" and it seemed like a good place to toss in some comments. In case my maiden voyage hits the iceberg of "comment moderation" at UD, or for those of you who just won't go to UD, here is the response I posted there this evening.

Just a few responses to Thomas' original post. I will respond as though the post was directed at me, but please don't assume that I speak for other evolutionary creationists. My focus is on why I can't "join" you in the ID movement.

1. I embrace evolutionary explanations because they have explanatory power. For the same reason, I embrace naturalistic explanations for the development of the human brain, and for the causation of cancer, and for the formation of the Grand Canyon. All of these explanations involve mechanisms that are referred to as "random." In fact, randomness and chance are interesting topics for Christians of all kinds and in nearly every aspect of scientific inquiry (if not all of life). In my view, to focus on these issues exclusively in the context of biological evolution is a huge mistake. If I thought the ID movement were really about wrestling with the notions of chance, providence and design in the analysis of God's world, I'd be happy to join the conversation. It's not, and I'm not.

2. I'm astonished by the casual claim that "Darwinian evolution" is "out of God's control" because of the role of "chance." Leaving aside some pretty clear statements about chance and God's providence in Scripture, I find the statement to be either a tautology ("Darwinian evolution is out of God's control because Darwin/Dawkins said it was") or a pronouncement regarding God's sovereignty that is anathema to me as a Christian (and especially as a Reformed Christian). In grumpier moods, or after reading some of the more obnoxious comments on this blog, I would suggest that such talk approaches blasphemy, but in any case I would not count myself among Christians who talk that way about God's world and his work. It's one thing to say you don't buy the Darwinian explanation, or to say that you're confused about the working of God's purposes in the midst of seemingly random events; it's another to declare that there are processes that God can't "control."

3. Regarding design, I don't have any desire at all to "ban the notion of design from science." In fact, I'm quite comfortable discussing design and wondering about the ways it can come about. I find most of the ID movement's claims about "complexity" and whatnot to be unconvincing (and Behe's work in TEoE is disastrously flawed), but I don't think the question is either silly or inherently unscientific. (Perhaps this means I'm not the kind of "TE" you have in mind.) On questions of design, my main difference with your movement is probably summarized aptly as follows: I think design is the question, and you think it's the answer. But this means I'm just not that interested in your movement's goals.

4. Unlike many on this blog, I don't harbor hatred for atheists, not even "unsavory" atheists, and I actively seek opportunities to interact with skeptics. I have many friends and very close collaborators who are atheists, and I just joined a collaborative blog that seeks to create constructive conversations among believers and skeptics, on scientific topics. Even if we agreed on everything else, your movement (or at least the corner of the movement represented by this blog) would be something I would carefully avoid, not only because I despise the culture-war rhetoric, but because the people you hate are many of the people I love.

Now, please let me sign off by saying that while I'll never join your movement, I do want to be counted as a "friendly critic" who is willing and able to identify areas of common ground between us. You approached some of that common ground in your post, and I thought it was worth a try responding in my first comment at UD. Sorry about the length...

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