Sometimes our commenters’ excellent insights need their own OP. This is one of those times. In the thread to the “naked, normal Darwinism” post Timaeus writes this regarding BioLogos’ Darrel Falk’s response to Bill Dembski’s BioLogos post:
Falk concluded his column with the words:
“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.”
What Falk is trying to do here — and what all TEs try to do — is to divide Darwinian evolution into a scientific part and a philosophical part, and call the philosophical part “Darwinism.” The standard TE move is then to say that random mutation plus natural selection is “good science” whereas the personal philosophical predilections of Darwin are “bad philosophy.” So neo-Darwinian biology — the biology which Falk and Venema absorbed at their alma mater’s breast — remains entirely valid, while the evil “Darwinism” is repudiated as a non-Christian philosophy.
This position would be valid if, as most TEs suppose (but entirely in contradiction with the facts), the philosophy of “Darwinism” were an arbitrary personal addition made by Darwin after his constructive scientific research was done. But in fact, what Falk is calling “Darwinism” is not some optional add-on to the “scientific theory, but a set of assumptions which is essential to making even the narrowly “scientific” part of the theory work.
The denial of teleology is central to the whole theory; it’s tied up with Darwin’s very notion of “science” itself. He makes that clear in his thematic discussions of the nature of “science” in the *Origin*, in his letter to Asa Gray, and elsewhere. The only teleology Darwin can allow is a set of intelligently-planned general laws of the universe, e.g., gravity, set out by God, which facilitate or make possible the existence of life; but the march of life itself, for Darwin, is a series of contingencies — accidents — in which variation and selection improvise their dance, a dance which has no compulsory steps, and no structure, and which never finishes. Nothing in life is “for” any purpose or end; everything occurs as an accidental deviation from the genetic average, or as an opportunistic use of that deviation in the competition for survival (a competition which itself is based on no evolutionary teleology, but just a blind, mechanical rush to feed and reproduce oneself).
So Darwinian science — just the science part — is not, as Falk erroneously supposes, neutral on teleology. The lack of teleology is the motor of the whole theory. That Falk (along with most TEs) cannot understand this just further confers my long-held opinion that people with Ph.D.s in science, though clever in their fields, are not necessarily good thinkers overall, since they cannot reason out the implications of the theories they work with every day. Scientists need more philosophy in their training.
On human exceptionalism: the lack of human exceptionalism is not simply a private sentiment tossed out by Darwin after his scientific work on man was done; it is at the heart of the argument of *The Descent of Man*. The premise is that even the “highest” things (ethics, spirituality, art, etc.) can be derived by tiny degrees from the “lowest” things, and all the modern rubbish about evolutionary ethics, evolutionary origins of religion, etc., which fills modern journals and books, is simply the detailed outworking of Darwin’s fundamental premises, as given in *The Origin of Species* and extended in *The Descent of Man*. If you accept that the instincts of the beaver and the bee can be explained mechanistically and non-teleologically, you can accept that man’s highest and noblest characteristics arose in the same way. There is no need to suppose any magic moment at which God added his “image” or a human “soul” to some hominid; the hominid will already be fully human, without any special blessing or gift of God, simply by the action of Darwinian mechanisms.
As for miracles, though in theory Falk and his gang admit that there may have been supernatural actions in the creation of life and species and man, in practice they pooh-pooh the idea, and search diligently for wholly naturalistic explanations. In other words, in practice, they do exactly what Darwin did, and what Darwin demanded that all natural scientists do. Regarding the Biblical miracles, the case is different; Darwin *did* reject Biblical miracles, whereas Falk does not. But Biblical miracles, as Falk points out, postdate the origin of life, species, and man. So the difference between Darwin and Falk on Biblical miracles has zero cash value in the way that science is done. It’s a difference which makes no difference. Falk may think Jesus walked on water, and Darwin may have denied it; but they both have exactly the same naturalistic account of how man got here.
Thus, Falk’s denial of “Darwinism” is worthless. Falk accepts neo-Darwinian science, which is basically Darwin’s science with the errors purged and the insights of Mendel and population genetics added. He believes that mutations that have no goal, and are not in any way planned or engineered with a specific outcome in mind, are capable of producing new, well-orchestrated body plans. He believes that man was created in that way. And when asked — repeatedly — by people on BioLogos — including TEs like Jon Garvey — to state whether God exercised any governance over the evolutionary process, he has ducked the question, as has his biological colleague, Dennis Venema.
If Falk *really* differed from Darwin regarding origins, he would not duck the question. He would say: “Yes, I believe that God exercised his divine governance of nature (not merely his divine sustinence of nature, but his divine governance) in order to keep the evolutionary process on track and make sure that man and all the other desired outcomes were in fact produced.” But you will never hear Falk say that. And the reason you will never hear Falk say that is that he accepts not just the “science” of Darwinism but the philosophy as well. He accepts the anti-teleology which lies as the very heart of the “purely scientific” part of the theory. He does not, of course, fully realize that in accepting the “science” part he is accepting the “philosophy” part. He is not well enough trained in philosophical thinking to see the connection. He has spent his life in the Church and in the lab, not in the library reading Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, etc. But he has absorbed unconsciously the anti-teleological philosophy which makes Darwinian evolution work. He is thus a “Darwinian” in the philosophical as well as the scientific sense.
He is not a “Darwinian” regarding his personal opinions about the Bible and Christian faith. But those opinions are irrelevant. All that Darwin needs, in order to persuade biologists to adopt an unwittingly un-Christian position, is to convince them that there is no teleology in nature, that randomness, drift, natural selection and other such undirected processes can produce miracles of organization. Once that belief is adopted, one is a Darwinian, no matter how loudly one swears that Jesus rose from the dead or that God answers prayer. Falk is a Darwinian. He is just unwilling to look seriously at the connection between the “purely scientific” claims of Darwinism and their philosophical underpinnings.
Nullasalus writes in response to StephenB’s comment:
As someone who has pounded on Falk and Biologos in the past, I’d urge a little more caution here.
I mean, if Falk is saying – and I haven’t read his whole piece yet – that he rejects Darwinism and believes that humanity’s arrival was intended and preordained even if by an evolutionary process, saying what amounts to “Well this is absurd, because Falk is a Darwinist and he rejects all teleology” just won’t fly.
At that point, you need to start pulling quotes of Falk either saying this or strongly implying it.
Timaeus responds to Nullasalus:
Good point. If Falk is willing to say that humanity’s arrival was preordained *and* that God took all necessary steps to make sure that the evolutionary process attained that preordained goal, then it would be wrong to argue that Falk is philosophically Darwinian.
Yet every time Falk is given an opportunity to clarify his position on whether God *did* anything to make sure that man actually arrived on the scene, he resorts to equivocation, obscurity, waffling, etc. Why does he do this?
The most natural explanation is that his loyalties are split down the middle. What he learned from Ayala etc. as a biologist teaches him that mutations and selection have no ends in mind, and that the evolutionary process is not directed toward anything. What he believes as a Christian is that man was meant to be here. His problem is that most human beings — those who are not BioLogos-TEs — are unwilling to think and live schizophrenically on questions of such importance. They want to know how something can be true in science (there was no plan in evolution) and false in theology (evolution produced the results God intended). So they ask Falk and his friends for clarification. And in return they get weasel words.
It’s really hard for me to feel sorry for Falk for the heat he is taking on this. He has invited it. All he has to say, to turn off the heat, is that he believes that God guided/steered evolution, or front-loaded/preprogrammed it, and he’s off the hook. But he won’t say anything like that. And I think it’s his loyalty to his school-days neo-Darwinism that prevents him from saying that. He doesn’t want to break ranks with the secular scientists he is trying to impress. He wants to keep their good-will. And to do that, he has to affirm an uncompromised anti-teleological naturalism in origins.
That’s my inference. It may be false. I don’t insist on it. But Falk could easily blow my inference away by openly stating what he thinks about the relationship between the evolutionary process and the divine plan. The ball’s really in his court. If he chooses not to swing his racket as the ball bounces past him, he loses the point. Those are the rules of the game.