Thursday, May 10, 2012

Parting thoughts on Dembski and Falk

Last week, I posted two notes on the latest Southern Baptist voices essay by William Dembski at BioLogos (here and here). To review, I was dissatisfied with a number of issues regarding Dembski's argument, especially with his straw man "Darwinist." I got several really nice letters thanking me for my thoughtful comments, which was actually pleasant. I also got a few responses telling me that I just don't understand Dembski or ID or whatever. You know, I'm really grateful for all the letters I've gotten over the years telling me what I just don't understand. Judging by the sheer number of these letters, I must be dumber than a bag of turnips. So I'm very glad there's always someone willing to set me straight.

On the other hand, maybe I really do understand a bit more than people give me credit for. Perhaps I understand that the creation/evolution issue goes way beyond the meager territory staked out by the ID movement. I also suspect that most people don't care all that much about the issues that fire up the average ID advocate. You know what I hear most of the time? "If God created, then why ___________?" Fill in the blank with whatever issue you like. Natural evil, biological similarity, natural selection, etc. etc. etc. It seems to me that ID just wants to claim that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause," right? At least that's what I'm told by those who tell me I just don't understand.

The problem as I see it is that folks are usually willing to grant that premise. Remember that common question: "If God created, then why ___________?" Notice that "If God created" part? That's the skeptic granting the premise for the sake of argument. That tells me that the skeptic isn't all that interested in whether there might possibly be some evidence of design. They want a coherent, mature worldview package. They don't want you ducking their natural evil arguments by claiming that design with evil intent is still design. They don't want you dodging their incompetent designer arguments by claiming that bad design is still design. They want you to pony up and put forward a full picture of the who, what, when, where, and why of design. Whether or not some isolated system might or might not evidence design is just not a hair anyone cares to split. As long as ID refuses to go beyond design as inference, as long as they stay in their little ideological territory of inferred design, they aren't going to go much of anywhere.

(See, I think there's a difference between my understanding and my understanding things that others don't like to hear, but that's a post for another day.)

So when BioLogos comes asking for a summary of theological objections to evolution (which isn't the same as "Darwinism"), it seems to me that the proper response would be to give them what they asked for. Don't just claim that Christians can't be Darwinists. As we've seen in Falk's responses (here and here), he agreed 100%. Quoth Falk,
Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity. Quite simply, this is why I do not consider my views to be Darwinian and why I am not a Darwinist.
I was actually kind of surprised Falk didn't criticize much of anything else in Dembski's essay, but you know what? I think his response was tactically perfect. It's a positive, upbeat, winsome little missive, and there is nothing quite so charmingly disarming than to agree with your critics. Christianity and "Darwinism" can't mix? Sure thing, Dr. Dembski. That's why I'm not a Darwinist! Score one for BioLogos.

But here's where I think it all comes together: By limiting yourself to ID in responding to "evolution," all you can really do is respond to the ideological opposite of ID, "Darwinism," which I think no sensible Christian (or perhaps even person in general) would advocate. BioLogos wants to know what problems Christians might have with evolution, but perhaps ID can only talk about a certain mechanism whereby evolution is accomplished, which automatically puts them outside of the conversation should BioLogos disavow that particular mechanism. So what else you got, ID?

I understand Dembski has a new book coming out (co-authored with Denyse O'Leary) that will address theistic evolution, or at least that's what I'm told. I would hope there will be more meat to his arguments there, but the title (Christian Darwinism) does not give me hope. Time will tell, I suppose.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.