Intelligent Design

Venema’s Epilogue – A Response

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Dennis Venema writes an epilogue to explain further why he now rejects intelligent design and embraces evolution, or biologos as his community likes to call it. I would like here to respond to his comments.

Firstly, he claims that he grew up and rejected the Sunday School level of theology. But accepting the multi-layered nature of Scripture is something that all Christian have to come to terms with, but this doesn’t mean we have to give up on reading Scripture literally as part of that layered structure. Theology also offers a great depth of intellectual though in terms of for instance understanding free will in light of divine election, or trying to get to grips with an Augustinian or Irenaean theodicy. In other words, growing up and encountering a rich intellectual stream of thought doesn’t force us to abandon belief in design or a literal creation. Furthermore, growing up and coming to terms with theology is as much a relational process through simple trust in God’s Word as being purely intellectual.

Secondly, he writes that Genesis has all the hallmarks of an ancient near-eastern worldview. But Ernst Lucas for instance writes that Genesis is a polemic against near-middle eastern worldview. The pagan cultures at the time had early beliefs in evolution, (i.e. the later Theogeny of Hesiod), and the ancient cultures believed in long ages (i.e. the Sumerian King List), even though they had some names common to the Genesis account. Genesis has always radically stood out against pagan beliefs proclaiming the personal, relational Creator of all things who created mankind in his image, as opposed to an impersonal force, or various disinterested deities who indwelled idols, or planets and stars.

Thirdly, Venema believes evolution is well supported scientifically. Some aspects are I agree, such as cyclical changes to the size of beaks of Galapagos finches, but that is merely natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic material and is a long way from finding evidence for the meta-narrative of evolution. Supporters of evolution love the ‘big story’, or the ‘just so’ stories, but often skim over the detail leaving that to our imagination. Many of us find this unsatisfactory and we think scientists should pick through the complex detail if it is to be a genuine science. On this basis I wonder why I should give up the biblical ‘big story’ when such weak arguments in science are presented by evolutionists. The response as Venema intimates is that sceptics are not sufficiently gifted intellectually to understand evolution, and somehow evolution believers live at a higher level of thinking. But instead, we have worked out that the reason why we don’t understand how evolution works is because it is logically incoherent at many levels. For instance, evolution is based upon weak analogies (animal A looks like animal B) whereas design relies upon univocal thinking from the doctrine of the Imago Dei; Evolutionary thought also often uses self-evidencing explanations, what we might loosely call circular reasoning.     

Fourthly, he claims to have experienced God’s Holy Spirit. That is Great! But I would suggest that Venema needs to consider how Enlightenment ‘rational’ thinking reawakened ancient evolutionary beliefs; led to a rejection of design and belief in miracles in creation, to a rejection of the Resurrection, even to rejecting present day miracles (i.e. from Hume); also in criticising Scripture through the Germanic Higher Biblical Criticism, or naturalising Christian faith through Schleiermacher. Instead, those of us in the charismatic movement find coherence between belief in present day miracles and belief in intelligent design and-or special creation. An interesting research project might be to look at how growth in intelligent design (and-or special creation) mirrors the growth of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement.

15 Replies to “Venema’s Epilogue – A Response

  1. 1

    Steno,

    Interesting thoughts. Don’t exclude the growth of the evangelical movement altogether and single out Pentecostalism and charismatics. What we’re seeing now is a complete rejection of Darwinian thought not on the basis of any particular sect’s beliefs, but on the basis of clear thinking on origin of life issues based in first principles of reason. Darwinian thought is lacking (and many Darwinists themselves admit it) in a coherent explanation of how evolution could have started in the first place. Thus, the just-so stories are really intended to insulate them from ever needing to think about these issues rationally.

    It starts from materialist assumptions, which they view as the default position. They are unaware that the assumption itself requires that it be the default rather than any other more primary rational considerations. Thus to start out with the assumption without any other rationalization other than “because that’s what science observes” is a very telling ignorance. In other words, that’s precisely where the circularity you identify begins.

    Those who are able to see beyond such assumptions will be open to alternatives to Darwinism. This is why contrary Darwinian views are not limited to the religious. The movement stems from a rejection of viewing materialism as a default, and a recognition that there is no default apart from where the evidence leads. That’s where a truly scientific method should be directing us; not simply to confirm a metaphysical position circularly held as a default.

  2. 2

    I have to add: Part of the reason (in my view) Biologos members have their particular views is that they’ve bought into the idea (despite their religious pretentions) that materialism is the scientific default position, without having rationally examined where such a position is based. They are the ones who are creating the divide between religious belief and science by their very acceptance of the metaphysical assumptions that should be reserved exclusively to atheism.

  3. 3
    AMW says:

    Hi Steno,

    You wrote:

    Thirdly, Venema believes evolution is well supported scientifically. Some aspects are I agree, such as cyclical changes to the size of beaks of Galapagos finches, but that is merely natural selection acting on pre-existing genetic material and is a long way from finding evidence for the meta-narrative of evolution. Supporters of evolution love the ‘big story’, or the ‘just so’ stories, but often skim over the detail leaving that to our imagination. Many of us find this unsatisfactory and we think scientists should pick through the complex detail if it is to be a genuine science.

    Venema earlier posted a series on evolution and biological information, listing some of the evidence he sees in the details. Part 1 (of 6) is here.

  4. 4
    lastyearon says:

    An interesting research project might be to look at how growth in intelligent design (and-or special creation) mirrors the growth of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement.

    Why would the Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design have anything to do with the growth of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    As to this comment:

    ‘Fourthly, he claims to have experienced God’s Holy Spirit. That is Great!’

    Seeing that both my brothers ‘experienced God’s Holy spirit’ shortly after my mother’s death in the 1970’s, when they went to a Pentecostal church where they had been invited, I am greatly impressed by this statement of Venema’s.,,, because I was especially impressed by my older brothers conversion to Christianity by God’s Holy spirit when I was growing up, especially since my older brother is of a somewhat basic serious character, and is one of the last people on Earth that I would have considered to be given to any flights of emotional fancy. Moreover his conversion was intense, and lasting. He would try to relate to me the deep, incomprehensible, love he had felt at that moment of his conversion, although I just kind of shrugged his experience off at the time (although I wish now I had listened more carefully to him on his advise for me to accept Jesus at that time since I would have saved myself immense heartache in my life). Moreover, my older brother has not wavered on his faith in God since, some 35 years hence. Whereas my little brother had a similar deep experience of God’s presence at the time as my older brother had, and yet, though I do not doubt my little brother’s belief in God to this day, my little brother’s lifestyle is, as they would say in Pentecostal circles, of the ‘backslidden’ variety. Why do I bring this ‘personal’ stuff up??? It is just to illustrate that having a deep personal experience of God, as sacred as that moment is to people that have had it, does not guarantee that your walk with the Lord, thereafter, will be faultless. Thus, while I don’t doubt Venema’s experience, the experience by no means guarantees that Venema has a lock on the truth thereafter. In fact I would argue that those who have had to establish their faith over the long term, instead of ‘instantaneously’, are much more careful as to discern the truth of their faith than those who have gained their faith more or less instantaneously. Though the details may vary for each person, as a general rule of thumb, I would hold this to be true.

    Sara Groves – Something Changed – music video
    http://www.vimeo.com/28076423

    C.S. Lewis – Evolution and The Christian Experience – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/7060815/

  6. 6

    Thanks for sharing this, BA.

    I’ve met a lot of Christians who seemed to believe that they did have a lock on truth that was contrary to what I had come to believe. It’s nice to know that we don’t necessarily have to trust what other Christians have to say on matters, but we can always trust God’s Holy Spirit on matters.

    My first exposure to Christianity was through a friend I met from across the street around 1981. At the time, since becoming a Christian, I took his thoughts as the gospel truth.

    A few years ago I came across the guy after not seeing him for about 25 years in a store nearby my house. He was living out of his car after suffering serious mental health issues. I had not realized at the time I met him that the guy was schizophrenic and was prone to some delusional thinking. At the time I met him I knew next to nothing about mental health. Now of course, I have 20+ years experience working with mentally ill people, so when I saw him again that day it all came together. Strangely though, I believe God used him to reach me. Just because a person may have a thinking disorder does not mean that God can’t use them for His purposes. Eventually several of my siblings also became believers.

  7. 7

    Actually it’s here:

    http://biologos.org/blog/evolu.....ent-design

    I read through part one and plan to read the other 5 parts. One thing struck me right off the bat (leading me to where I believe he’s going) is that he’s immediately assuming what he’s trying to prove in that he’s stated that RM + NS HAS been shown to produce novel information. In other words he’s assuming that the emergence in biology of novel information is evidence that necessarily RM + NS has produced it.

    He argues that Meyer avoids the evidence for this when in fact Meyer does not believe the evidence is convincing for that very reason. It’s not the evidence that is the problem, it’s the conclusions reached by the evidence. This guy needs training in logic if that’s what he believes.

    I can’t believe that Trinity Western, an Evangelical college would allow him to teach with such a limited understanding of the logic involved here. He makes errors all over the place that even a non-scientist like me can spot. My sister worked for the college for a while, and she left due to some problems with what she perceived as a cold, stoic, non-Christian atmosphere. No wonder!

    It’s not so much evidence he sees in the details; rather it’s viewpoint confirmation he forces on the details. If he were to step back and take a closer look without the materialist blinders on, he wouldn’t jump to conclusions so readily. He lacks critical thinking in that regard. Don’t they teach logic at Trinity?

  8. 8
    tjguy says:

    Interesting post by Steno. At first, in point number 4, I thought he was criticizing the Pentecostal/charismatic movement and almost blaming it for the rise of anti-evolutionary ideas, but I see that is not true. Venema professes to have experienced the Holy Spirit. That gives indication that he is a true believer, but it says nothing about whether his theology is trustworthy or not.

    In the Bible, believers who check out the claims of teachers such as even the great Apostle Paul to see if they are in accordance with God’s Word, are commended! Paul had experienced the Holy Spirit too and yet it was important for his followers to check his teaching and keep him in line. Venema may be a knowledgeable scientist, but his theology fails this test miserably. Working with faulty theology will lead any scientist, Christian or not, to anti-biblical conclusions.

    Claiming a personal experience with the Holy Spirit is really meaningless in this debate as every believer can claim this.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    I saw that in his first post that Venema referenced the infamous Lenski long term evolution experiment as to the generation of functional information over and above what was already present in the e-coli, yet even Lenski’s very own, latest, paper on the experiment gives severe pause for anyone as to claiming proof of functional information generation from the experiment:

    notes:

    Mutations : when benefits level off – June 2011 – (Lenski’s e-coli after 50,000 generations)
    Excerpt: After having identified the first five beneficial mutations combined successively and spontaneously in the bacterial population, the scientists generated, from the ancestral bacterial strain, 32 mutant strains exhibiting all of the possible combinations of each of these five mutations. They then noted that the benefit linked to the simultaneous presence of five mutations was less than the sum of the individual benefits conferred by each mutation individually.
    http://www2.cnrs.fr/en/1867.htm?theme1=7

    Genetic Entropy Confirmed (in Lenski’s e-coli) – June 2011
    Excerpt: No increases in adaptation or fitness were observed, and no explanation was offered for how neo-Darwinism could overcome the downward trend in fitness.
    http://crev.info/content/11060....._confirmed

    New Research on Epistatic Interactions Shows “Overwhelmingly Negative” Fitness Costs and Limits to Evolution – Casey Luskin June 8, 2011
    Excerpt: In essence, these studies found that there is a fitness cost to becoming more fit. As mutations increase, bacteria faced barriers to the amount they could continue to evolve. If this kind of evidence doesn’t run counter to claims that neo-Darwinian evolution can evolve fundamentally new types of organisms and produce the astonishing diversity we observe in life, what does?
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....47151.html

    Michael Behe’s Quarterly Review of Biology Paper Critiques Richard Lenski’s E. Coli Evolution Experiments – December 2010
    Excerpt: After reviewing the results of Lenski’s research, Behe concludes that the observed adaptive mutations all entail either loss or modification–but not gain–of Functional Coding ElemenTs (FCTs)
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....41221.html

    further notes:

    These following articles refute Richard E. Lenski’s ‘supposed evolution’ of the citrate ability for the E-Coli bacteria after 20,000 generations of the E-Coli from his ‘Long Term Evolution Experiment’ (LTEE) which has been going on since 1988:

    Multiple Mutations Needed for E. Coli – Michael Behe
    Excerpt: As Lenski put it, “The only known barrier to aerobic growth on citrate is its inability to transport citrate under oxic conditions.” (1) Other workers (cited by Lenski) in the past several decades have also identified mutant E. coli that could use citrate as a food source. In one instance the mutation wasn’t tracked down. (2) In another instance a protein coded by a gene called citT, which normally transports citrate in the absence of oxygen, was overexpressed. (3) The overexpressed protein allowed E. coli to grow on citrate in the presence of oxygen. It seems likely that Lenski’s mutant will turn out to be either this gene or another of the bacterium’s citrate-using genes, tweaked a bit to allow it to transport citrate in the presence of oxygen. (He hasn’t yet tracked down the mutation.),,, If Lenski’s results are about the best we’ve seen evolution do, then there’s no reason to believe evolution could produce many of the complex biological features we see in the cell.
    http://behe.uncommondescent.co.....or-e-coli/

    Lenski’s e-coli – Analysis of Genetic Entropy
    Excerpt: Mutants of E. coli obtained after 20,000 generations at 37°C were less “fit” than the wild-type strain when cultivated at either 20°C or 42°C. Other E. coli mutants obtained after 20,000 generations in medium where glucose was their sole catabolite tended to lose the ability to catabolize other carbohydrates. Such a reduction can be beneficially selected only as long as the organism remains in that constant environment. Ultimately, the genetic effect of these mutations is a loss of a function useful for one type of environment as a trade-off for adaptation to a different environment.
    http://www.answersingenesis.or.....n-bacteria

    ===========

    Lenski’s work has also shown that ‘convergent evolution’ is impossible because his work showed that evolution is ‘historically contingent’. This following video and article make this point clear:

    Lenski’s Citrate E-Coli – Disproof of Convergent Evolution – Fazale Rana – video (the disproof of convergence starts at the 2:45 minute mark of the video)
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4564682

    The Long Term Evolution Experiment – Analysis
    Excerpt: The experiment just goes to show that even with historical contingency and extreme selection pressure, the probability of random mutations causing even a tiny evolutionary improvement in digestion is, in the words of the researchers who did the experiment, “extremely low.” Therefore, it can’t be the explanation for the origin and varieity of all the forms of life on Earth.
    http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v12i11f.htm

    The loss of ‘convergent evolution’, as a argument for molecular sequence similarity, is a major blow to neo-Darwinian story telling:

    Implications of Genetic Convergent Evolution for Common Descent – Casey Luskin – Sept. 2010
    Excerpt: When building evolutionary trees, evolutionists assume that functional genetic similarity is the result of inheritance from a common ancestor. Except for when it isn’t. And when the data doesn’t fit their assumptions, evolutionists explain it away as the result of “convergence.” Using this methodology, one can explain virtually any dataset. Is there a way to falsify common descent, even in the face of convergent genetic similarity? If convergent genetic evolution is common, how does one know if their tree is based upon homologous sequences or convergent ones? Critics like me see the logic underlying evolutionary trees to be methodologically inconsistent, unpersuasive, and ultimately arbitrary.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....37841.html

    Origin of Hemoglobins: A Repeated Problem for Biological Evolution – 2010
    Excerpt: When analyzed from an evolutionary perspective, it appears as if the hemoglobins originated independently in jawless vertebrates and jawed vertebrates.,,, This result fits awkwardly within the evolutionary framework. It also contradicts the results of the Long-term Experimental Evolution (LTEE; Lenski) study, which demonstrated that microevolutionary biochemical changes are historically contingent.

  10. 10

    Ah, I get the connection now. I wasn’t getting it before. Thanks. Makes sense.

  11. 11

    LYA,

    See tjguy’s post at 5 below for clarification.

  12. 12
    Starbuck says:

    Ernst Lucas for instance writes that Genesis is a polemic against near-middle eastern worldview.

    I can’t speak for Dr. Venema but I don’t see this as opposite of what he meant. For example, one essay over there puts it this way:

    The biblical writer was essentially saying: “You have heard that the world came into existence some other way… but I’m telling you instead that it happened this way.”
    here

  13. 13
    bornagain77 says:

    As for the integrity of Genesis, as far as I can make out in my limited knowledge of the subject, I find that Genesis is unique, among all the ancient sacred texts of the world (near east especially included), as to positing a completely transcendent origin of the universe by God;

    The Uniqueness of Genesis 1:1 – William Lane Craig – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBXdQCkISo0

    ‘Among all the ‘holy’ books, of the world’s major religions, this idea in a coherent form is unique toi the Bible 5. (only the Holy Bible was correct in its claim for a transcendent origin of the universe. Some later ‘holy’ books, such as the Mormon text “Pearl of Great Price” and the Qur’an, copy the concept of a transcendent origin from the Bible but also include teachings that are inconsistent with that now established fact. (Ross; Why The Universe Is The Way It Is; Pg. 228; Chpt.9; note 5))

    ,,, ‘And if your curious about how Genesis 1, in particular, fairs. Hey, we look at the Days in Genesis as being long time periods, which is what they must be if you read the Bible consistently, and the Bible scores 4 for 4 in Initial Conditions and 10 for 10 on the Creation Events’
    Hugh Ross – Evidence For Intelligent Design Is Everywhere; video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4347236/

    The best data we have [concerning the Big Bang] are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the bible as a whole.
    Dr. Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate in Physics – co-discoverer of the Cosmic Background Radiation – as stated to the New York Times on March 12, 1978

    “Certainly there was something that set it all off,,, I can’t think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match Genesis”
    Robert Wilson – Nobel laureate – co-discover Cosmic Background Radiation
    http://www.evidenceforchristia.....38;id=3594

    “There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.”
    George Smoot – Nobel laureate in 2006 for his work on COBE

    “,,,the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world,,, the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same.”
    Robert Jastrow – Founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute – Pg.15 ‘God and the Astronomers’

    ==================

    Moreover, Genesis, besides stunning confirmation for the transcendent origin of the universe, which should be enough to make any true ‘scientist’ drop his jaw in wonder, and contrary to widely held views by the public,,, Genesis has stunning historical/archeological confirmation as well;

    The following video is downright eye-opening with its evidence for authenticity of the Bible:

    The Physical Ashen Remains Of Sodom and Gomorrah – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwTVFk1HK3Y

    TABLE OF NATIONS (GENEALOGY OF MANKIND) by Tim Osterholm
    Excerpt: The fact is, that wherever its statements can be sufficiently tested, Genesis 10 of the Bible has been found completely accurate; resulting partly from linguistic studies, partly from archaeology, and, more recently still, from the findings of physical anthropologists, who are, to this day, recovering important clues to lines of migration in ancient historic times. As implied in verse 32 of Genesis 10, this Table includes everybody; meaning that so-called fossil man, primitive peoples (ancient and modern) and modern man are all derived from Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
    http://www.soundchristian.com/man/

    Of related interest; Rainbows are formed by what are called ‘Quantum Catastrophes’. Thus, since I find Quantum Mechanical phenomena to be thoroughly Theistic, as to the necessity of providing a coherent non-local (beyond space and time) causation, that does not dissolve into absurdity as postulated ‘non-reductive’ materialistic causes do, then yes I actually do think God does form rainbows;

    Quantum Catastrophes
    Excerpt: Catastrophes [1] are at the heart of many fascinating optical phenomena. The most prominent example of such a catastrophe is the rainbow.
    http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~ulf/catastrophe.html

    further notes:

    “In Extraordinary ways, modern archaeology has affirmed the historical core of the Old and New testaments – corroborating key points of the stories of Israel’s patriarchs, the Exodus, the Davidic monarchy, and the life and times of Jesus.”

    Jeffery Sheler – ‘Is The Bible True’, U.S. News and World Report, Oct. 25th, 1999, pg.52

    This is a gem of a quote from a Bible skeptic who thought it unfair to use the Bible as a guide in archeology since,,,:

    ‘he knew immediately that, proceeding in this way (using the Bible as a guide), “she would certainly find that building”
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-it-makes/

    Jericho Unearthed – Bible Confirmed Once Again – video
    http://vimeo.com/27636080

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    OF note: Venema is mentioned in passing in this following peer-reviewed paper that was just released:

    Can the Origin of the Genetic Code Be Explained by
    Direct RNA Templating? – Stephen C. Meyer* and Paul A. Nelson
    Excerpt: The origin of one of the most foundational features of all living organisms—the genetic code—requires careful analysis. Despite the problems with the DRT model described above, some have argued that the model shows that biological information arises directly from chemistry. For this reason, Arthur Hunt and others have claimed that the DRT model of Yarus et al. shows the “very heart” of the theory of intelligent design “is wrong” [13]. Citing Yarus et al., Dennis Venema has likewise said that the evidential strength of the DRT model exposes “a serious flaw” in the argument for intelligent design [14], as presented in the recent book written by one of us (Meyer), Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (hereafter, Signature) [25].,,,
    http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/.....O-C.2011.2

  15. 15
    JDH says:

    I don’t know about you, but I find Dennis’ writing style incredibly thin and lacking in substance. His writing is like his own journey. He makes great extrapolations from some of the most rudimentary examples. His arguments are of the type that only convince the choir. I hope he matures in his thinking and comes back from his position. But I am not betting on it.

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