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Theology at BioLogos: A Reply to Darrel Falk


In response to our discussion, here and here, of divine action in evolution, Darrel Falk has briefly commented, under #70521 of Dennis Venema’s recent column:

“Bilbo and Thomas have not accurately summarized our position.”

As evidence for this claim, he provides two links, one to Part 1 of his response to Dembksi, and one to the first part of what he calls a “great series” by Ard Louis:

In this column, I will examine only Falk’s response to Dembski. (Time permitting, I may review the series by Ard Louis at a later date.)

In the response to Dembski, Dr. Falk writes:

“I will begin by summarizing my view of the nature of God’s activity in creation. I think that God created all living organisms, including humans, through the evolutionary process.”

This is admirably clear, so far as it goes. But let us analyze it a little, to make sure we have its contents exactly right.

Does “the evolutionary process” mean what most biologists mean, i.e., a wholly natural process, which does not need to be supplemented by divine guiding, steering, nudging, intervention, etc.? Does it mean a process in which the natural powers of genomes, cells and organisms, in connection with naturally caused mutations, undergo a natural process of selection, without the input of any special divine action?

If so, this is exactly the view that Bilbo and I, in our discussions, have in fact imputed to Drs. Falk and Venema and to BioLogos generally, so it is hard to see why Dr. Falk would complain about our interpretation.

In fairness to Dr. Falk, Bilbo had just previously said something else — beyond what he and I agreed upon — about the BioLogos position. Under the aforementioned Venema column, he wrote (#70479):

“They argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is able to provide a large probability that human-like creatures would result (which is usually what everyone is worried about when they talk about God’s providence). And if it is a large probability, then by simply making the probable resources large enough, this in effect “guarantees” the results.”

It is possible that it is this interpretation that Dr. Falk is rejecting. If so, I would point out that this interpretation of the BioLogos position is not mine, but Bilbo’s alone.

There is another point to be clarified. Dr. Falk refers to “all living organisms”; does this include the first living organisms? The first living organisms could not have come about through organic evolution, since there were no prior organisms from which they could be derived. So they must have arisen through sheer accident, or through a process of so-called “chemical evolution,” or through direct creation — the direct manipulation of non-living matter to form it into living matter — by God. Which view does Dr. Falk wish us to infer as his own view?

Based on the furious assault of BioLogos against the views of Stephen Meyer, an assault led by Darrel Falk himself, the President of the organization, by Dennis Venema, its lead biological writer, and by big-league ex-Christian biologist Francisco Ayala, and based on the fact that BioLogos takes Meyer to be advocating direct divine manipulation of matter to create the first cell, one may perhaps justifiably infer that BioLogos rejects the direct creation of the first life, and believes that life arose either through sheer accident or via chemical evolution. And since “sheer accident” would be incompatible with belief in an omnipotent, providential, and governing God, presumably BioLogos opts for chemical evolution. If so, it would clarify matters if BioLogos would say so. In any case, Falk’s own view on the origin of life is not clearly expressed here. The best guess we can make is that his preference for naturalism after the first cell indicates a preference for naturalism generally, and that he opts for the chemical evolution scenario.

Dr. Falk goes on to make a number of points which ID people agree with, and therefore are not in dispute. Those ID people who are Christian concur with Falk, for example, in accepting the miracles of Scripture. Another point on which ID Christians are in complete agreement is that God does not merely create, but also sustains, nature and all its laws. Bill Dembski and Mike Behe do not deny that God can be said to act through the natural laws as well as through miracles. There is no issue between TE and ID here, and ID people often wonder why Falk and so many other TEs have so many times emphasized this point, as if it is something that ID people would not accept.

Dr. Falk then goes on to make the point that Genesis does not specify that God creates through supernatural interventions, and so we are free to imagine that he worked through natural causes. We could object that the simplest and most natural reading of the text is that God produced the various components of the cosmos directly, but that is not the point here. The point is that, whether God created directly or through natural processes, Genesis is loud and clear about the fact of divine intention and the fact that divine intention is carried out. There is no sense of accident or imperfect accomplishment of God’s ends. So whatever natural causes God might have employed, they were suited to the divine goals. We should expect, then, the theistic evolutionists would not object to language such as “guidance” or “steering” of the evolutionary process on the one hand, or, if they dislike such terms, of “programming” or “setting up” the evolutionary process to “unfold an implicit design” on the other. Yet every time they are asked to confirm any of these terms, or a host of equivalent terms, they become squirmy, captious, cavilling, and evasive. They will not consent to such language, nor will they provide any alternative language that has any theoretical clarity. They do not seem to have any confidence that God used a controllable natural process; they do not seem to take the language of intentionality and accomplishment found in Genesis (and in many other parts of the Bible) seriously enough. It is this resistance to the notion of divine control or governance — not non-literalness about days and light and waters above the firmament — which is the sore point between ID and TE.

The closest that Dr. Falk comes to allowing that God may guide or steer the evolutionary process to particular ends is in these statements:

“Still, given that there is extensive supernatural activity exhibited in God’s interaction with Israel and in the life of Jesus, it is entirely possible that he did work supernaturally in fulfilling the creation command, as well. Even though the miracles described in the Bible primarily serve some theological or pastoral purpose that stems from God’s earnest desire to make his presence known and to deepen his relationship with humankind, we should reserve judgment about whether only God’s natural activity was responsible. It is not clear though, that supernatural activity would often be God’s chosen mode of action millions of years before humans had arrived. Thus, we should not assume with certainty that God would choose to use supernatural flurries of activity if his ongoing regular activity—that described through natural laws—would accomplish the same end, albeit over a longer period of time. For all we know, God may prefer slowness, even though we seem to be inclined to think that faster is better.”

Here Falk admits that, if we are entirely honest, we simply don’t know whether or not God intervened to direct the evolutionary process. His initial conclusion from this seems to be that we should remain agnostic on the question. We would support such agnosticism, if consistently acted upon in practice. But of course BioLogos has never, in practice, remained agnostic on the question. The working assumption of all its writers, at least as manifest in their discussions of biological origins, is that God created exclusively through natural means. And so it is not surprising that Falk, having given with the right hand, immediately takes away with the left, by quietly indicating his preference for a purely naturalistic form of evolution.

So, what can we establish from Darrel Falk’s response to Dembski? First, that Falk believes that species were created through the process of organic evolution. Second, that Falk allows that God may have “twigged” the evolutionary process, but personally thinks that God didn’t do so. (Note: this would imply that God performed no special divine action to create man out of earlier hominids.) Third, that Falk does not want to comment on, and therefore probably rejects, the possibility that God “programmed” or “set up” or “front-loaded” the evolutionary process that so that it had to produce certain results. Fourth, that Falk probably believes that God created life through “chemical evolution” rather than through direct divine action.

What are the implications of this? First, that Bilbo and I, in our discussion, adequately characterized Falk’s view of how evolution works — exclusively through natural processes, especially random mutation and natural selection (and chemical evolution, if the subject is the origin of life). Second, that there is no reason on earth why Falk had to be so evasive when answering Crude’s questions. He could have just said: “I believe that God created all species through the natural means of organic evolution, without throwing in any special guidance to make sure evolution gave him the results he planned on.”

So again I pose my question? Why the dance? Why the constant avoidance of certain ideas — ideas suggesting teleology or end-directedness in the evolutionary process? Why the refusal to answer people who ask, in various ways, whether the process is end-directed? Why the constant concession that God could indeed have intervened in evolution, constantly rhetorically undermined by broad hints that God didn’t in fact intervene? Why the much greater concern with the freedom of nature (as we saw explicitly in Venema, and have seen elsewhere in Falk, Miller, and other TEs) than with the freedom of God? Is it because “the freedom of nature” can be construed to fit in with the open-endedness of neo-Darwinian evolution, whereas “the freedom of God” — with its implication that nature, including the evolutionary process, is at all times under the control of God — can not easily be so construed?

Dr. Falk can easily clear the air on all these matters. He can write an extended reply answering all our questions and criticisms here — one which does not contain the same evasions and irrelevancies which have led to our previous complaints. He can cut out the long pious statements of things that both ID and TE people agree on; he can explain why he and Venema dodged Crude’s questions; he can say more firmly that he does not think that God directly intervened in the evolutionary process; he can say clearly whether he thinks God directly engineered the first life, or left it to the stochastic processes of chemical evolution to produce it; he can say directly, without any excuses based on the soteriology of Wesley or Calvin, whether he thinks God’s intention was to guarantee all the observed outcomes of evolution or to leave some outcomes open; and if his view is that God intended to leave some outcomes open, he can answer (a) the scientific question how neo-Darwinian mechanisms could guarantee the existence of man without guaranteeing the stages that led up to man, and (b) the theological question how God can leave anything in pre-human nature open, given his control over all the laws of nature and all initial conditions, and his ability to foresee the detailed evolutionary results of any combination of natural laws and initial conditions that he might establish.

Until Dr. Falk, does this, his complaint that we have misrepresented him here seems to be without substance. We have represented his views, and those of his colleagues, as well as we can, given their equivocations, evasions, and lack of orderly and disciplined theological exposition. If they want us to to better, they must do better. We await their systematic reply.

My point is this. To use "evolution" in two different ways is intellectually dishonest, at least. If it means, in the generally accepted scientific sense, the neo-Darwinian sense, that there is no teleology, never, no how, no way, and it does, THEN God did not have any involvement in that process. To then turn around and claim that "evolution" is God's mechanism is irrational. They must mean some other kind of evolution as they certainly don't mean the Darwinian kind, do they? Oh, they do??? That's why they are irrational and not even worthy of debate. To say that God did it by not doing it is pathetic. That anybody listens is even more so. They need to rewatch The Fellowship of the Ring, particularly the scene when Gandalf queries Saruman: When did Saruman the Wise abandon reason for madness? Once reason is no longer the standard of truth, madness is all that's left. tgpeeler
tgpeeler You've got it really - but to be fair that's not the entire position, which is that (a) God created the evolutionary process and its laws and (b) God constantly sustains that process, like all things, in existence. A parallel might be designing a firework and then lighting the blue touch paper. And that would work fine if you just want coloured stars, but probably less well if you plan a soft landing on Venus. So that's why it's not sufficient to affirm that evolution fulfils God's purposes unless you say something about how precise his purposes are - coloured stars, or the Venus probe. Jon Garvey
Please forgive my lack of imagination or semantic inflexibility, but: (from post 28 above) "let’s call it “Y,” in which God keeps his hands off the evolutionary process, letting it proceed purely by natural causes" So TE says that God did it by not doing it. I understand now. tgpeeler
Joe, Sorry I didn't notice your reply earlier but it is in the wrong thread!! hahahahahahahahahha Oh well, it happens eh?
Yes, mutations, ie genetic changes, are directed by the organism’s genetic programming, similar to the way a computer’s programming directs its 1s and 0s on the various computer bus lines. Chance plays a very minor role.
Yes, you've mentioned this before. And we discussed where the programming may occur. I know you can't say yet where that programming is. I was going to ask: if there is additional programming other than whet's in the DNA is that programming just another part of the natural processes? But I assume you'd guess the additional programming comes from the designer? Yeah? Anyway, now you've got to find the additional programming! Jerad
At what level do you think the evolutionary process was guided? At the mutation level?
Yes, mutations, ie genetic changes, are directed by the organism's genetic programming, similar to the way a computer's programming directs its 1s and 0s on the various computer bus lines. Chance plays a very minor role. Joe
”we emphatically reject evolutionism.” Why? “Evolutionism is the atheistic worldview that says life developed without God and without purpose. Instead, we agree with Christians who adhere to Intelligent Design and Creationism that the God of the Bible created the universe and all life.”
I don't think that's in dispute - what is contested is (a) what BL thinks is the extent of that purpose and (b) whether their version of events is sufficient to fulfil it. Loose thinking seems much of the issue. For example, if we agree that "evolutionism" is "scientism" as applied to biological evolution, then this reply to Nick Matzke on the "scientism" thread at BL seems to qualify the definition of "evolutionism" you quote from the FAQ":
Does one qualify as subscribing to scientism simply because one believes that science points to a universe that is self-sufficient and independent of the existence of any deity? It seems to me that there is a difference between someone like Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould for example and others who consider the matter closed, and more specifically, closed on the basis of scientific data alone. We could even go further: atheism and scientism are not the same thing, even when the atheists are scientists. When does atheism become scientism? By the same token though, can one subscribe to scientism, while reserving a final definitive judgment about the existence of a deity?
That would suggest, by extrapolation, that "Evolutionism is the atheistic worldview that not only says life developed without God and without purpose, but that the matter is closed." It can hardly be that BioLogos doesn't reject the view that life developed without God if it's only held provisionally, surely? Jon Garvey
--BioLogos: “we are content to let modern evolutionary biology inform us about the mechanisms of creation with the full realization that all that has happened occurs through God’s activity.” --Gregory: "If that doesn’t answer Thomas’ repetitive question, simply by using a different tune than what Thomas is conducting, then I’m not sure what could display a position at BioLogos consistent with ‘orthodox’ Christianity as they view it." You say the strangest things. Why would you think that your inability to understand why BioLogos' statement is inadequate matters to those of us who do understand why it is inadequate? Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to grasp the subject matter under discussion. I'll give you a hint: God >>> Mechanism >>> Relationship..... StephenB
"I did not say I would not answer." Still, you didn't answer. "I may be waiting until the Second Coming if I reply first" Well, then that's what you'll have to wait for. Have you figured out yet that we are in time zones vastly apart? And 'weeks' is not a fair or accurate complaint, especially given that I'm a busy professor at the end of semester and you're a (retired theologian...?) _X_, with time 'on his hands'. Doubt however much you like, Thomas. I have a very direct and straightforward answer prepared for your question, if you decide to step up to the table and deal. "every English-speaker" is of course an exaggeration. You are playing semantic games to even suggest such a thing, Thomas, as if you speak so clearly while others don't. 'Get outside of yourself' has been offered in such situations. I am here waiting for your response to 'very relevant' questions directed (guided) to you in plain language. Now it seems like you wish to depart on your own thread from "questions you did not say you wouldn't answer." But as everyone sees, you still haven't answered them. Will you? At this rate, don't expect an answer from me before tomorrow, Thomas, because it is already late in the evening here. Gregory
Gregory: I did not say I would not answer. I said that I would give you a fulsome answer after you answered my earlier question. And since I tend to reply almost immediately, whereas your replies tend to arrive days or even weeks later than my questions, you can be guaranteed quick satisfaction if you reply first, whereas I may be waiting until the Second Coming if I reply first. It was therefore a very reasonable request on my part that you should take the lead. I also note that it would have taken less time for you to answer my question than to write the five paragraphs of peevish complaint that you in fact wrote. In any case, I doubt very much whether, even if I had answered your questions, you would have given a straightforward answer to my question. Based on your replies to me and to others here over the past couple of weeks, straightforward answers are not your style. Rather than answer a question, you will criticize the questioner's vocabulary, question his motives, or try to convert the question out of the field of discourse in which it was asked into a field of discourse in which you feel more comfortable. I'm sure that, even though the meaning of my question is transparent to every English-speaker (and, truth be told, transparent to you as well), you either would affect not to understand it or would declare it illegitimate on some grounds or other. And I don't have time to waste on gamesmanship like that. It seems, then, that you are just like the folks at BioLogos -- using every tactic available to avoid committing yourself on the question of divine action in evolution. I won't trouble you further, because it isn't worth the grief trying to extract answers from the stubborn. Thomas Cudworth
Well, Thomas, before you spoke about 'extensive' in regard to 3 days (time) for Venema to respond, now you are using 'very extensive' in regard to my brief reply (space) to Jon. Again, I think we hold different meanings of this term. Please don't ask me to bow to your meaning as if no other meanings are available and perhaps preferable. Re: #30, Sorry then Thomas, your prodding doesn't help; since you won't answer, I’m not going to answer you either. First, I think your question is the wrong question. Second, I suspect it is based on your personal theological pre-commitments, not on honest desire for truth that balances science, philosophy and religion, which is more what I’m interested in and what BioLogos, but not the IDM has made their primary concern. You didn’t answer my question (dare we call that 'evasive?') in a previous thread in this series, after you admitted to having at least studied theology at some period of your life, that perhaps you turn dialogues into ‘theological disputes’ (your words) that are perhaps not meant to be ‘theological disputes.’ Likewise, if you are not even willing to stand up as an IDer or ID proponent, then what’s the point in all of this talk of ID as a ‘scientific revolution?’ What I interpret you doing in this series, Thomas, is making (denominational) theological attacks on non-theologians at BioLogos. Maybe they deserve rebuke; maybe theological rebuke of natural scientists is a sport you like to play. But I don’t find it in good taste, brother. You are the thread initiator and can obviously do what you wish, but, sorry, you get no 'simple current opinion' answer from me if the real TC won't stand up on the 'very relevant' and compact, easy-to-answer questions I asked you. Gregory
Gregory: Since you had time to write a very extensive reply to Jon, you must have time to write a very short reply to me. Here is the question again: "Do you believe that divine action in evolution is limited to sustaining the existence of the world, and of the natural laws, which are then entirely capable of turning a bacterium into a man without any special divine intervention? Or do you believe that God has steered or adjusted the process from time to time, in order to keep it on track to achieve his goals?" This question can be answered in one sentence. Note that you are not asked for any scientific proof or any justification, but simply for your current opinion on the matter. Thomas Cudworth
“The picture you paint from the BioLogos quotes is of an organisation undergoing significant changes in its official viewpoint.” – Jon Well, I guess I was just cutting and pasting from my memory of discussions there, but if it looked like a painted picture, o.k. ;) I was curious to notice this ‘official’ change and recall the timing of it well. What I also find surprising is that Falk used the term ‘biologos’ without two capital letters. Again, for me the capitalisation of the ‘L’ has a story of its own that in several ways over-powers the critiques that are currently being levelled against BioLogos by UD commentators. But I actually see this recognition of ‘Logos’ in ‘biology’ as a place of overlap, e.g. in the sense that “The Language of God” should be embraced by ID-Christians who might realise it supports many features of their worldview, speaking out against naturalism and scientism. That F. Collins is not a ‘philosopher’ or ‘theologian’ does not take away from the effectiveness of that book in allowing people to see that a world-class scientist can ‘marry’ or ‘integrate’ science and religion in one and the same person. The Collins-haters, which constitutes a significant subset of IDers, seem to me to be displaying unnecessary culture-war tendencies, which I don’t personally find helpful in the broader discourse. Notice also that Falk wrote in 2010, “the shift to the common use of the term, “biologos” has not yet taken place.” Thus, it seems Falk already envisioned ‘significant changes’ if the defenders of 'BioLogos' as a term were to be successful in making this particular neologism more widespread in society; if they could extend the usage of 'BioLogos' this would change the landscape and thus avoid baggage involved with both TEism and ECism. That it doesn't seem to have (yet) become popular isn’t necessarily a slight against Falk’s desire for more people to realise that one doesn’t have to see science and religion in conflict or view evolution as a work of the devil or something antagonistic to the religious, as if evangelical Christians cannot accept limited evolutionary theories like most of the rest of the world, i.e. to embrace the fuller meaning behind 'BioLogos'. “Why then, do you suppose, have they fielded the criticisms of their Southern Baptist posters along the lines of “You have misunderstood our position,” and in the case of Bilbo and Thomas, “You have misrepresented our position”?” – Jon Funny to see the tables turned on ID here; if I had a Euro for every time I’ve heard an IDer say that ID has been misrepresented, I’d be a very wealthy man! This has indeed become a staple for some commentators, who want you to read every book put out by the IDM in order to ‘understand’ it and thus simply to minimize misrepresentations. I view that as a naïve and unrealistic request, while having made significant effort to engage with ID literature that gives a clear enough picture to enable making (what I see as) legitimate criticisms. For those who think there are no legitimate criticisms of ID, or who think ‘everything is designed/Designed,’ that ID is a 'worldview,' there’s simply not much comfortable space being made for open communication. You speak of “headline terms like “Evolutionary Creationism,” whose meanings seem at odds with how they apply them in practice,” but as I said above, their preferred terminology is ‘evolutionary creation’ and *not* ‘evolutionary creationism.’ I just searched for ‘evolutionary creationism’ at BioLogos and got no hits. In fact, I think their boat would be sunk if they tried to resurrect ‘creationism’ within a broader evolutionary paradigm. The focus is on ‘creation’ for a particular reason, as I’m sure you can understand, Jon. In their updated website (summer 2011 onwards), they say, ”we emphatically reject evolutionism.” Why? “Evolutionism is the atheistic worldview that says life developed without God and without purpose. Instead, we agree with Christians who adhere to Intelligent Design and Creationism that the God of the Bible created the universe and all life.” Do you find anything in particular wrong with that, Jon? They don’t accept either ID or ‘creationism,’ but acknowledge common ground with those who embrace them anyway. http://biologos.org/questions/biologos-id-creationism It is telling imo that Thomas is focussed mainly on a forum discussion, but seemingly not taking seriously the words, much more carefully thought through and ‘peer-reviewed’ by BioLogos staff (and summer students), which express beyond a doubt, “we are content to let modern evolutionary biology inform us about the mechanisms of creation with the full realization that all that has happened occurs through God’s activity.” If that doesn’t answer Thomas’ repetitive question, simply by using a different tune than what Thomas is conducting, then I’m not sure what could display a position at BioLogos consistent with ‘orthodox’ Christianity as they view it. People at UD want them to 'answer more' after 4+ years of existence, but others have been asking ID to 'answer more' (e.g. about the when, where and how of the guided-designing-sometimes-evolutionary-process) for 15+ years. To me that’s a significant fact to take into consideration in this discussion. Wouldn't you agree, Jon? Gregory
Gregory @ 29: I don't understand why you would need the answer to either of your two questions above to answer my final question in #28 above. You know your view on the question that was asked -- you knew it before you had ever read any of my columns, I'm sure -- and either you are willing to state it, or you aren't. Making your answer to a theoretical question conditional on my answers to personal questions seems to me be overly controlling, and a bit schoolboyish. Given your tendency not to respond with much alacrity, I am going to withhold my answers to your personal questions -- which are irrelevant to the question I asked -- until you have answered the question I asked. Then I will give you a fulsome account. Thomas Cudworth
Thomas, Thanks for your attempt to mediate and possibly clear things up between Jon and I. (I still may give you an answer on the other thread re: Crude’s questioning, if time permits.) If I may, I’d like to ask you two questions before I provide an answer: 1) Are you (or were you, if retired) a theologian, pastor, priest or clergyman by profession &/or education/training? 2) Do you consider yourself an IDer, ID advocate &/or ID proponent, i.e. do you claim to carry the label and/or to represent ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’? Jon has clearly stated that he doesn’t carry the label IDer or represent ID. But in the short time here, I’ve not read anything on this topic from you. Thanks, Gregory Gregory
Gregory and Jon, re posts 23, 25 and 26 above: I think I see where some miscommunication has occurred. Here is the relevant exchange: A. “I have the strong impression that a theistic evolution divorced from direct action by God is a minority, and quite recent, position.” – Jon B. "This is probably why BioLogos prefers to support the position called ‘evolutionary creation’ than ‘theistic evolution’" -- Gregory Note to Gregory: Jon was distinguishing between a position, let's call it "X," in which God literally steers the evolutionary process, guiding it to certain outcomes, and a different position, let's call it "Y," in which God keeps his hands off the evolutionary process, letting it proceed purely by natural causes. And John was saying that X has been the understanding that the general public has had of "theistic evolution" (by whatever names it may have been called) until very recently, and that Y is a much more recent position, and is the one pushed by BioLogos and by many American and British TE/EC leaders. Jon is also noting that the term "evolutionary creation" (EC) arose among those who either explicitly hold or very much appear to hold position Y, i.e., that God *keeps his hands off* the evolutionary process. (For example, one of the biggest pushers of the EC label is Lamoureux, who vigorously denies that God "guides" evolution.) Now, here is where I think there might have been a miscommunication: Jon has read Gregory's (B.) comment to mean: C. 'I, Gregory, suggest that BioLogos, wishing to give God a direct active role in evolution, favors "evolutionary creation" because it gives God a direct active role, whereas "theistic evolution" does not.' And based on this interpretation of Gregory's meaning, Jon is saying: 'But EC *doesn't* give God any more active a role in evolution than TE does. Whether they call themselves EC or TE, almost all the BioLogos folks, and most of the American and British Christian evolution-believing leaders, don't see God as having an active role in determining the specific outcomes of evolution, but reduce him to a sustainer of natural laws, leaving the outcomes of evolution to be determined by "randomness."' So the question to you, Gregory, is: when you said "B." in the context of Jon's "A," did you mean "C."? Were you suggesting that EC implies a hands-on God, whereas TE implies a God who just lets the process roll along? (As for the word "opposite," I believe that what Jon is getting at there is that the *popular* conception of theistic evolution -- the one that has been held by most people who have used the term for roughly a century now -- is that God is involved in a hands-on way, whereas the new elite opinion among the TE/EC leaders is that God is not involved in a hands-on way; so the popular and elite opinion are in a sense opposites. Thus, if BioLogos really wanted to affirm a hands-on God, it would make more sense for it to use "theistic evolution" -- which the public already understands to involve a hands-on God -- than "evolutionary creation" -- which appears, clearly in writers like Lamoureux, and more evasively in Falk and Venema, to rule out any hands-on activity. Thus, for them to use "EC" to indicate *more* divine involvement would confuse the public no end. And that is of course the problem, that the public -- outside of the elite TE/EC people -- are confused. Is BioLogos saying that God *does* anything in evolution -- anything more than he "does" when a rock rolls down a cliff -- or not?") One thing that might help, Gregory is if you stated your own position on divine action in evolution. Do you believe that divine action in evolution is limited to sustaining the existence of the world, and the natural laws, which are then entirely capable of turning a bacterium into a man without any special divine intervention? Or do you believe that God has steered or adjusted the process from time to time, in order to keep it on track to achieve his goals? This is a simple, straightforward question, and it shouldn't require a complex academic answer, or a Falk-like evasive answer. All that is being asked for is your current, unscientific, personal opinion regarding God and the evolutionary process. Thomas Cudworth
Yes Gregory - I misunderstood the point you were making. I see it now. The picture you paint from the BioLogos quotes is of an organisation undergoing significant changes in its official viewpoint. Why then, do you suppose, have they fielded the criticisms of their Southern Baptist posters along the lines of "You have misunderstood our position," and in the case of Bilbo and Thomas, "You have misrepresented our position"? One would have thought they might do better to answer, "Your objections refer to where we were a year or two ago, but things have changed/are changing since then." Or even "Watch this space." I can't say I've noticed the words quite matching the figures, in that the criticisms of myself and others have been made in the light of their explanations of their position, rather than against the meaning of headline terms like "Evolutionary Creationism," whose meanings seem at odds with how they apply them in practice. Jon Garvey
In Jan. 2010, Falk said this at BioLogos, speaking of the interchangeability of ‘biologos,’ ‘theistic evolution’ and ‘evolutionary creation:’ http://biologos.org/blog/emerging-voices/CP3#comment-1650 In Feb. 2010, he wrote this: “I prefer the term “biologos” to “theistic evolution.” As pointed out, “evolution” is one of those words that takes on many meanings. However, the shift to the common use of the term, “biologos” has not yet taken place. We’re fine with using “theistic evolution,” “evolutionary creation,” or “biologos” for now. Depending upon who is using the term, they usually mean pretty much the same thing. This is not about semantics. This is about helping people understand that God created through a gradual process and that coming to know this can enhance one’s understanding of the nature and activity of God.” By the summer of 2010 “In “Theistic Evolution and Evangelical Christianity two decades from now: Can they co-exist?” Falk presented a model for viewing evolutionary-creation, a term to replace theistic-evolution.” http://biologos.org/uploads/static-content/summer_2010.pdf In August 2010, Falk seemed to have already turned the corner in declaring his preference not for ‘theistic evolution,’ but for ‘evolutionary creation.’ http://biologos.org/blog/i-am-the-lord-of-the-dance-said-he http://biologos.org/blog/i-am-the-lord-of-the-dancesaid-he-part-2 Now, already mid-2012, this is BioLogos’ current position: “BioLogos prefers the term “evolutionary creation” over “theistic evolution” because it rightly puts the emphasis on creation as the noun, using “evolutionary” as an adjective that describes the means of creating. (After all, we don’t talk about “theistic immunology” or “theistic physics.”) Furthermore, “theistic evolution” has historically been used in ways that sound almost deistic; as a newer term, “evolutionary creation” does not have this connotation.” I hope this evidence makes it clearer, Jon. Likewise, I am well aware that EC stresses “the role of the Creator more than the role of evolution,” which is not the opposite of what I suggested. So, perhaps you misread me or I was not clear enough. I do agree with you that their preference (or at least Falk’s, Venema’s and Lamoureux’s) is “quite the opposite of the criticism that’s made of them.” Then again, you are one of those leveling those criticisms at BioLogos, for their (theological, much more than their scientific) teachings instead of for their definition of ‘evolutionary creation.’ p.s. the term ‘evolutionism’ was coined long before 40 years ago – it’s from the 19th century. Gregory
Gregory What's your evidence that BioLogos actually prefers EC to TE? Their FAQs suggest them as synonyms, with the "theistic" term getting extra exposition:
The BioLogos view celebrates God as creator. It is sometimes called Theistic Evolution or Evolutionary Creation. Theism is the belief in a God who cares for and interacts with creation. Theism is different than deism, which is the belief in a distant, uninvolved creator who is often little more than the sum total of the laws of physics. Theistic Evolution, therefore, is the belief that evolution is how God created life.
It's never been made clear there is a serious distinction, and TE is much more frequently used at BioLogos (in the FAQ "BioLogos" is preferred to either term). However, there is, as you say, a difference between TE and EC, which isn't really given prominence at BL but is seen on Wikipedia, quoting Denis Lamoreux. But it works the opposite way to what you suggest:
According to evolutionary creationist Denis Lamoureux, although referring to the same view, the word arrangement in the term "theistic evolution" places "the process of evolution as the primary term, and makes the Creator secondary as merely a qualifying adjective."
Denis, in other words, uses "EC" to stress the role of the Creator more than the role of evolution, which he feels "TE" reverses - quite the opposite of the criticism that's made of them on the basis of what they teach, rather than how they define it. What's in dispute is the content of the term, not it's etymology, which is as it must be. A government can call itself a "Democtratic Republic", but the term may or may not describe the reality - in some cases it's the tribute of hypocrisy that vice pays to virtue. My comment about evolution under challenege in the public domain was considered. In the US (the locus of the poll under consideration) the loss is from both types of evolution to creationism. I don't think the subleties of the debate are understood by most of the general public. In the intellectual forum, including simply those following the debate, I agree that evolutionism is being critiqued (as it was 40 years ago when I was studying, before the term was even coined). The mechanisms of evolution are also up for serious review around the edges of science, but I seriously doubt that recent developments have yet really captured the public mind - ID is still an also-ran in that poll, though the questions asked may have influenced its showing. Jon Garvey
--Gregory: "It is polemical to speak as you do about TEs, given that mature and balanced TEs are available to counter and rebut you." No, actually they are not available to rebut me. When I ask them hard questions, they make themselves unavailable. This is one of the many reasons why I have lost respect for so many of them. They know what is being discussed on this post and they absolutely refuse to address the problem (just as you refuse to address it). --"Indeed, there are people posting at UD who consider themselves TEs or ECs (and sometimes also IDers), so a bit more grace in discourse might be preferred." Clearly, you do not understand the debate. Take the time to make the distinction between legitimate TEs of the traditional stripe, like Nullasalus, Jon Garvey, Michael Behe, or anyone else who posits teleological evolution vs. those who distort the true meaning of TE in the name of TE, by seeking to reconcile teleological Christianity with non-teleological Darwinism. I prod the offenders only because the "graceful" approach didn't work. Accordingly, I am all for peacemaking, but it must be a peace founded on truth--not deception, misrepresentation, and evasion. Transparency is a virtue; dissimulation is a vice. I can do business with a militant atheist who says exactly what he means and calls things by their right name. I have much less patience with TEs who use words to confuse and obfuscate--or who ignore correctives so they can recycle the same errors at another time and place, hoping no one will notice. StephenB
"I have the strong impression that a theistic evolution divorced from direct action by God is a minority, and quite recent, position." - Jon This is probably why BioLogos prefers to support the position called 'evolutionary creation' than 'theistic evolution,' though people here still call them TEs. Of course, 'they' must be guilty of obfuscation again, rather than IDers preferring certain ways to label. ;) Do you see nothing positive in the position that claims 'evolutionary creation' without accepting the label 'creationism/ist'? Re: Supernaturalistic, there is work in the U.K. by Connor Cunningham - "Trying My Very Best to Believe Darwin" - on this topic, which even challenges Darwin (i.e. 'absolutely' a good thing according to IDers). "it’s evolution itself that’s under challenge in the public domain." - Jon No, I don't agree. It is 'evolutionism' that is 'under challenge.' Again, the problem is lack of recognition or distinction of ideology (e.g. naturalistic vs. supernatural). (So many post-Cold War Marx-haters among Anglo-Americans have tainted views of 'ideology'!) Evolution as (when it is) a responsible biological science, which you have said you support (as far as it is responsible), as a former medical doctor, Jon, is not under threat. Gregory
Gregory. I looked at "supernaturalistic" and couldn't get Mary Poppins out of my mind. Actually I posted before I noticed and couldn't then edit it. The dichotomy to which I refer is not between supernatural and natural (though I personally think that a false division, most Christians probably unconsciously assume it), but between a natural evolution sharply divided from supernatural personal provision. Though I don't have study data, I have the strong impression that a theistic evolution divorced from direct action by God is a minority, and quite recent, position. Theistic evoliution since Warfield has always meant "guided by God, not chance". In the US it's only such a "theistically-enhanced" evolution that is at all likely account for TE's continued good performance vis a vis unguided evolution in the recent poll (especially since that's the way the questions were framed in the poll). It also seems unlikely that the significant swing to creationism in that poll, more at the expense of TE than non-TE, would be because of a swing away from naturalism - it's evolution itself that's under challenge in the public domain. Jon Garvey
Hi Jon, Why 'supernatural BioLogos principle' and 'naturalISTIC BioLogos principle'? What makes you turn one into an ideology, while the other is not (i.e. rather theological)? Why not say 'supernaturalistic'? "it’s a dichotomy most TEs worldwide almost certainly wouldn’t make." - Jon First, this seems to be a dichotomy of many people, indeed, almost all who seriously entertain Paul de Vries' PoS regarding 'methodological naturalism' (which I don't, but you do), i.e. that 'supernatural' vs. 'natural' is an appropriate dichotomy to discuss in the 'science demarcation game'. Second, what is the evidence you base your knowledge on to speak of 'most TEs worldwide' in this case? Aren't you speaking only of an English-speaking, Anglo-American discourse, with limited knowledge, for example, of what's going on with Romanian, Chilean or Ethiopian TEs? Exaggeration is not helpful here and qualifies your adjective 'daft.' StephenB, You wrote: "I have observed the TEs aggressive and relentless behavior in my own church, the Catholic Church." If you'd read Beckwith or Ryland or heard them speak, you'd realise your claims of 'aggressive and relentless' are highly subjective and in their cases, wrong. It is polemical to speak as you do about TEs, given that mature and balanced TEs are available to counter and rebut you. Indeed, there are people posting at UD who consider themselves TEs or ECs (and sometimes also IDers), so a bit more grace in discourse might be preferred. Gregory
Stephen B - that's a theological and biological conundrum, for Job 38.39 specifically says that God hunts prey for the lioness and satisfies the hunger of the lions. So on the supernatural BioLogos principle, the lion is correct to say grace. But on the naturalistic BioLogos priciple, God has only provided the lion's meal by arranging evolution with a reasonable chance that something like the guy in the lion pit would evolve. As I've said before, it's a pretty daft dichotomy. But don't forget that it's a dichotomy most TEs worldwide almost certainly wouldn't make. Jon Garvey
Jon Garvey (wondering about the TE's potentially dubious approach to prayer)
So, do I pray that the lion won't eat me, or what?
The TE Christian stumbles into a lion trap: “Lord, if a Lion falls into this whole with me, please let it be a Christian Lion. The Christian Lion after falling into the whole raises its hands in prayer. The TE Christian: “Thank you, Lord for sending me this Christian Lion.” The Christian lion: “Lord, thank you for this wonderful meal.” StephenB
A definite maybe, then. It's a bit like Mr Micawber celebrating his deep friendship with David Copperfield by giving him an IOU. Jon Garvey
Darrell Falk and his co-author Karl Giberson addressing the world in USA today: “Like most scientists who believe in God, we find no contradiction between the scientific understanding of the world, and the belief that God created that world. And that includes Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.” Darrell Falk responding to Dembski: "I am not a Darwinist." So everything seems to turn on the audience and on which day of week the discussion is taking place. StephenB
Hi Thomas, I admit that it surprised me that he denied ever holding to 1) "I believe that probably God did not use His supernatural activity in natural history." But now he has committed himself to: 2) "I don't know if God has used His supernatural activity in natural history or not." I'll be interested in the BioLogos response to the latest Southern Baptist Voice. Bilbo I
Bilbo: Over on the BioLogos thread, you characterized Darrel Falk's position as follows (#70555): "Perhaps I don’t remember as clearly as I ought, but there seems to be a subtle shift in your position from earlier at BioLogos to the present: "1) I believe that probably God did not use His supernatural activity in natural history "to "2) I don’t know if God used His supernatural activity in natural history or not." Dr. Falk then replied (#70558), denying that he had ever held Position 1. In fact, Dr. Falk has very carefully managed to steadily convey *both* of these positions throughout his time at BioLogos. When backed into a corner, by ID people or others who complain that TEs cannot possibly know the mind of God and therefore cannot be sure that God would prefer wholly natural means over supernatural means, he always adopts Position 2, to preserve the appearance of theological humility and of an orthodox respect for God's sovereignty. But even when adopting Position 2 -- that God may have mixed in some supernatural twists with natural causes -- he always conveys, without quite saying it directly, a preference for wholly natural causes. And of course, he is the President of an organization whose columnists -- all hired or preserved in office by him -- have regularly proclaimed the superior genius of a God who works exclusively through natural causes, have regularly ridiculed a "God of the gaps," have never let readers forget Newton's proposed divine adjustment of the solar system and its eventual rejection by science, and have never let the possibility of supernatural causation enter into anything that they have written about the details of the evolutionary process. There is nothing in Venema's columns like: "Of course, God could have rotated this gene supernaturally"; or in Kerk's columns like: "Of course, the transition from land mammal to whale might have been aided by supernatural guidance." Nor, when the whole gang was savaging Meyer, was there any sympathy expressed for Meyer's conclusion, i.e., that the direct input of information was necessary in order to create the first life; the focus was on how wrong Meyer was to doubt that naturalistic science would one day crack the mystery of life. And Mike Behe -- who accepts an old earth and common descent and therefore ought to pass the litmus test of "established science" for BioLogos -- has been savaged repeatedly by the whole BioLogos team for (allegedly) postulating interventions -- which Falk says he doesn't object to -- to supplement the evolutionary process. BioLogos must be judged by its conduct, not by its tactical theoretical concessions. And its conduct shows that it strongly favors purely naturalistic evolution. BioLogos has in fact no raison d'etre if it *isn't* committed to wholly naturalistic evolution. Without that commitment, Darrel Falk's overtures to Coyne a couple of years ago -- which amounted to "You misunderstand us; we're evolutionists, too; we don't believe in this God-of-the-Gaps ID stuff, let's team up to defend good science!" -- would make no sense. If they don't object to the possibility of interventions in the evolutionary process, then their position is in principle no different from Behe's -- who also neither affirms nor denies the necessity of intervention -- and they should have all along been making overtures to him rather than to Coyne and Ruse and Eugenie Scott. So, Bilbo, you are right. Falk *has* intimated that he believes what you say, and all of the BioLogos columnists have done the same. But he is, and always has been, a master of ambiguity. It is that ambiguity which has held the whole BioLogos project together under the reign of Collins, Giberson, and Falk. Hence my recent four-part series, the purpose of which was to expose the ambiguity and evasiveness of Falk and Venema. But you were so concerned to argue with me about human free will and other things that you didn't deign to comment on the series' central issue. And now you've been caught by the ambiguity and evasiveness yourself. Maybe now you are starting to see my point. Thomas Cudworth
"Are you familiar with their ‘departure’ explanations?" I am familiar with Beckwith's explanation, but I don't know what that has to do with my comments. What is the connection? StephenB
"ID’s most prominent thinkers...I am not wise enough to know when or how often this happens." You might wish to become acquainted with the stories of Francis Beckwith and Mark Ryland, who are Roman Catholic Christians formerly associated with the DI that have left it and now reject ID theory. Are you familiar with their 'departure' explanations? Gregory
ThomasC, your analysis is probably the correct one. To be sure, it is very difficult to differentiate between nominal Christians and those who take their faith seriously enough to be shaped by it. Indeed, it can be dangerous spiritually to pass judgment on anyone’s ultimate intentions. So, I agree that the extent to which BioLogos members deceive their readers depends, in large part, on the extent to which they have first deceived themselves. Of course, we are safe to judge certain kinds of behavior and their negative cultural impact. I have observed the TEs aggressive and relentless behavior in my own church, the Catholic Church. Sometimes, they even push their dubious agenda in the name of the Church or one of the Church Fathers. Frankly, I find it very hard to take when one of these sophistic partisans slanders the name of Aquinas, or for that matter, Wesley or Newton, in an attempt to make it appear that these great thinkers were on the same page as they are. Also, I have not forgotten how a few of these powerful, yet badly-educated bureaucrats, presumptuously organized the Vatican Conference on Evolution, trying to make it appear that recent popes agree with their heretical position. Nor have I forgotten how, in the most cowardly fashion, they scrupulously avoided the company of ID’s most prominent thinkers, snubbing anyone who might scrutinize their arguments. At some point, self-delusion becomes intellectual dishonesty and malice, but I am not wise enough to know when or how often this happens. StephenB
cantor (5): I was giving Darrel Falk the benefit of the doubt, by assuming that by "evolution" he meant the conception of evolution that one would normally encounter in any book of popular science, i.e., the gradual transformation, accomplished by natural operations, of one-celled creatures into the variety of multi-celled creatures that we have today. But of course you are right that we should always probe more deeply into people's uses of key terms -- and this I did in the article above, by asking whether "evolution" included "chemical evolution" and by asking whether Falk allowed for some non-natural steering of the process, mixed in with the natural operations. Chance (8): Thanks for the Facebook reference. It supports some comments I made (in #24) under my previous column. I think that the popular conception of TE has *always* been "God is guiding (i.e., literally steering) the process of evolution." This is the problem with all these opinion surveys that give people only three options: atheist evolution, young earth creationism, or God-guided evolution. People who support BioLogos will of course vote for the third choice, but the majority of people who vote for the third choice have in mind a much more "hands-on" God than the BioLogos leaders do. (In fact, as far as the *process* of evolution goes, the BioLogos leaders would convey their belief more accurately by voting for atheistic evolution, since their causal account is identical with that of Dawkins and Coyne.) By the way, I like your new screen name better than the old one. StephenB (9): I certainly agree with you that there is a considerable amount of conscious deception on the part of BioLogos -- which explains a good deal of the evasiveness -- but I don't think it's entirely conscious. If it were entirely conscious, then I would conclude that they were atheists masking as Christians. But I think that in fact, in some confused way, they really believe both in the omnipotent, governing, providential God of Christianity, and in an unguided process which God keeps at arm's length distance from himself (so that nature can have its "freedom"). I think there is some "cognitive dissonance" going on. I think the BioLogos folk are trying to hold two incompatible truths together, and that the only way they can do this is to deceive *themselves*, in an unconscious or half-conscious way. So they aren't exactly *lying*; rather, they are self-hypnotizing so that they can live with the contradictions, and when they promote these contradictions, they are sincere. Yet enough rationality remains in them that they realize that others will not accept these contradictions, so they contrive never to address them in the full light of day. It's an internal struggle in which both conscious intention (refusing to look at the contradictions in the light of day) and unconscious acceptance of incompatibles (God can control outcomes using an uncontrollable process) play a role. I can to some extent forgive the BioLogos folk regarding the self-contradiction; they in most cases don't have the intellectual tools to deal with the contradictions they have embraced. (They don't know any philosophy at all, and they use mostly bad sources for theology -- generally very recent works written by liberal evangelical theologians from Britain and the USA, rather than classic early-to-mid-20th-century scholarly works and primary sources such as Calvin and Aquinas.) What I don't forgive them for is *not listening* when people whose knowledge of philosophy and theology dwarfs their own tell them they are making mistakes. Ignorance due to confusion is forgivable; ignorance due to willfulness isn't. Thomas Cudworth
Stephen, thanks for the response. I'm adding stragegic ambiguity to my personal lexicon. ;-) (Note that I have previously posted under the moniker, material.infantacy. Chance Ratcliff
--Chance Ratcliff: "It’s possible that BioLogos gleans some benefit from the equivocal definition of Theistic Evolution. How many TEs are under the impression that guided evolution is the definition of TE?" Yes, indeed. Politicians characterize this kind of dissimulation as "strategic ambiguity." Speak only in general terms and allow your listeners to read their own ideas and preferences into your comments. Accordingly, young skulls full of mush will read BioLogos' claim that "God knew what the outcome of this purposeless, Darwinian process would be" and mistakenly interpret it to mean that "God programmed the process to produce an intended outcome." For BioLogos, the name of the game is, "how can we fool em' today." StephenB
It's possible that BioLogos gleans some benefit from the equivocal definition of Theistic Evolution. How many TEs are under the impression that guided evolution is the definition of TE? I read a comment on Facebook some time ago that went something like this: "I thought I was a TE, but if it means that evolution is unguided, then now I'm not so sure." If the BioLogos aim is to drive a wedge between creationists and Christians that accept evolution, then they gain an advantage - perhaps a significant one - by letting it remain unclear that they support a purely naturalistic mechanism for evolution. If they were to unequivocally state that evolution is a blind process, many "TEs" might just reevaluate the applicability of the label to themselves. By letting "Theistic Evolution" slip and slide between notions of guided and unguided evolution, they are likely to garner more support from those unaware of the distinction's significance. How many guided evolution proponents would find more in common with creationists than with Darwinists? Could it also be that Darwinian mechanisms are not looking so good these days? Perhaps the equivocation allows BioLogos to shield itself from taking a position that can be refuted with evidence brought on by future discoveries. This century's biology may well be defined by the non-random and machine-like processes occurring within the cell, with precious little room left for RM+NS. Chance Ratcliff
Stephen, one of the most disjunctive things to me is the happy admission of personal answers to prayer, coupled with "evolution was bound to produce something like man at some stage." Why be chary about direct providence in evolution when one believes it's sloshing around all over the place now in billions of lives? The only logic seems to be that "miracles" (the wrong category for providence, anyway) don't occur in nature. So do I pray the lion won't eat me, or not? Jon Garvey
Jon, that's the same impression I get. What I wonder about, though, is this: If, as people like David Bartholomew ("God, Chance, and Purpose") say, convergent evolution gets you closer, but does not quite get you there, isn't that a little like God saying, "I knew something remarkably similar to you before you were in your mother's womb." StephenB
Darrel Falk: “I will begin by summarizing my view of the nature of God’s activity in creation. I think that God created all living organisms, including humans, through the evolutionary process.”
Thomas Cudworth: This is admirably clear, so far as it goes.
Thomas: this is as clear as mud. Any time someone uses the the word "evolution" without defining what they mean, there is no clarity. cantor
StephenB Possibilities are closed off by convergent evolution, I guess - we're back to the previous thread. Yet according to Russell, "statistical deism" has been the prevalent academic model of TE for 30 years or so, long before convergent evolution was on the radar. So CE would seem to make God a little more purposeful than he was under classic Neodarwinism, but inevitably less purposeful than he could be under deterministic 19th century Newtonian science, whereby he could guarantee the birth of John the Baptist on cue simply by making the right billiards shot at the moment of Creation. So does that mean ones view of divine providence is driven by theology, or that it is dependent on the current fashions in metaphysics of science? Jon Garvey
Joe, At what level do you think the evolutionary process was guided? At the mutation level? Jerad
If, as Falk and Venema believe, God created Homo Sapiens through a chance-Driven, Darwinian process that, by definition, could have produced many different outcomes, then how can God, through that same "open-ended" process, "close out" all other possibilities and obtain the the one-and-only, preferred outcome? StephenB
“I will begin by summarizing my view of the nature of God’s activity in creation. I think that God created all living organisms, including humans, through the evolutionary process.”
What does that even mean? ID is OK with the designer designing all living organisms, including humans, through an evolutionary process, ie a process of change over time. ID says that the evolutionary process is guided, ie designed, meaning organisms were designed to evolve and evolved by design. But anyway it appears that biologos is just a bunch of equivocators. No surprise there... Joe

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