Panel Discussion on Mere Theistic Evolution - EPS 2019
“Panel Discussion on Mere Theistic Evolution - EPS 2019”
EPS Panel Transcript
MICHAEL MURRAY: John and I would like to thank all of you for joining us for this somewhat unusual session today. We want to thank our five commentators, as well, for giving our paper their careful attention.
The session today will run as follows. I'll start with just a few opening remarks on behalf of John and myself, after which we'll have our five panelists, each of whom will speak for up to 20 minutes. After that we'll present some brief responses to the comments, and then we'll take a five minute break. After that we'll reconvene. That should take us to about two hours, and that will leave us hopefully a full hour at the end for some Q&A.
Some of you may not have seen the notice in the conference proceedings concerning this session. The notice requested that you read the paper in advance – the paper that's going to be the subject of discussion. We made that request because we're not presenting the paper. So hopefully you read it. If not, you can open up your electronic device right now and try to read it. It's 28 single-spaced pages, so I don't think you'll get to it. Good luck. That makes this session somewhat unusual. It's more like what we in philosophy would call “an author meets critics” session but it's different in a few ways. One is that the target is not a book, it's an article. Second of all, it's not even really an article. It's a book review. And third it's not published. So that does make it a little strange.
Why did we set it up this way? Let me explain. Many in the audience are likely familiar with the work that will be the main subject of the discussion today, and that's the 2017 volume entitled “Theistic Evolution” which was edited by an interdisciplinary team that includes J. P. Moreland, Steve Meyer, Chris Shaw, and Wayne Grudem. The volume weighs in at a hefty 1,008 pages and represents an extended critique of theistic evolution and to a limited extent the defense of intelligent design as an alternative. If you've seen the book you’ll know it was blurbed by numerous Christian scholars who celebrated what was described as the most sustained and [stringent] critique of a view that is the result of bad science and heterodox theology – that view is theistic evolution. Here, for example, is the commendation of the book from former EPS president Angus Menuge who said,
Repeating the error of medieval Christianity, theistic evolution absolutizes the words of finite, fallible humans and relativizes the Word of an infinite, infallible God. As this tremendous and timely collection thoroughly demonstrates, scientific stagnation, circular philosophy, and heterodox theology are the inevitable results. This is simply the best critique of theistic evolution available.
As philosophers who are engaged in conversations about evolution and Christian theology, John and I were needless to say intrigued and eager to dive into the volume. When we dove, what we found was not what we expected. Instead of a critique of theistic evolution, the volume consists of a wide-ranging series of articles that argue against areas claimed by certain self-described theistic evolutionists. But in our view, at least, the volume never articulates the core commitments of theistic evolution. So one's left to wonder: are the arguments here a fatal attack on the view itself? Or do they only address articulations of the view by this or that individual?
As we finished the volume it seemed clear to us that the core insights of theistic evolution hadn't been undermined by the book in fact. So we thought there'd be some value in laying out those core insights and showing why the arguments offered in the book don't hit the target. In essence, that's what the paper is. Given that the book is 1,008 pages long, we hope you can forgive us for writing a twenty eight page single-spaced response. It's the length of our paper that really prevents us from presenting it here since we also have commentators by five other people. So for those of you who haven't read it, let me at least describe what's in the paper. I can't argue for it because that would take the whole twenty-eight single-spaced pages, but I can at least tell you what the basic theses are.
First, because theistic evolution in our view wasn't clearly set out in the volume we wanted to start there. This view, which we're calling mere theistic evolution, represents what we take to be the core convictions of those who defend the compatibility of orthodox Christian theism and evolutionary biology. The view has three commitments: theism, an old universe and old Earth, and the conviction that evolutionary theory provides the best explanation for the complexity and diversity of life. Those are the three core commitments. Second, we articulate in the majority share of the paper the main lines of criticism offered in the volume against theistic evolution, and they are as follows. I only have five slides and they outline these five criticisms that are offered in the book.
Here’s the first one. Christian theism includes the claim that God providentially superintends the workings of creation and is meticulously involved in the origins of the variety of living things including humans. Evolution denies that the trajectory of evolution is guided or superintended in any way, and so the views are not compatible. We claim that this common criticism is incorrect. Bill actually will comment on this as well in his remarks.
Second, Christian theism includes the claim that God sometimes at least performs special divine acts which bring about states of affairs in the natural world that exceed the powers of natural substances to actualize. Evolution requires us to affirm that the only cause to play a role in the origin of life’s complexity and diversity are natural causes. And so the views aren't compatible.
Third, Christian theism includes the claim that the workings of nature point to or give us evidence for the existence of God. Theistic evolution denies that God's existence or activity can be inferred in any way from the theory or data concerning biological evolution. So the views are in tension, not incompatible.
Fourth, Christian theism is committed to the notion that humans at least have immaterial souls. Evolution is inconsistent with the notion that humans have immaterial souls. And so the views aren't compatible.
Finally, Christian theism entails a variety of theological claims concerning the origins and operations of various aspects of the natural world especially concerning the origins, activity, and prodigy of the original human pair. Wayne Grudem lays out twelve such claims in the volume, all of which he argues are incompatible with [?]. The two views are thus inconsistent.
Those are the five main claims, we say.
In the paper we show (we think we show anyway) that these arguments are mistaken, and we argue they're mistaken in each case not because of what they claim is entailed by Christian theism (though perhaps others might think the supposed entailments to hold) but rather because of what they claim follows from theistic evolution. In some cases the authors of the volume only show us that a view held by a particular theistic evolutionist is false or at least troubling, not the core view itself, so we claim. In other cases they make claims about what evolution entails that just in our view aren't correct, and in this paper we try to explain why they're not correct.
If the only value of this paper was to show (if indeed it shows) where the arguments of the volume go wrong, I'm not sure we would think it's worth the time and the effort for all of us and frankly for all of you. But we think the value extends further than that. We think that one thing that should trouble all of us about the discussion of evolution in evangelical circles is the acrimony and tribalism that it's spawned or encouraged. Disputants segment themselves into various camps and proclaimed their conviction that failure to align with them will lead to the destruction of Christianity, or morality, or science, or democracy, or the future of the church, or Western values, or human decency, or something like that. So in the paper we ask and answer the question: Just how different are the two main rivals that are represented in the book – theistic evolution and intelligent design? And the answer is not as much as you've been told. Critics of theistic evolution have told us that the view rules out providence, miracles, natural theology, Adam and Eve, and so on. But those claims aren't correct. It's perfectly compatible with theistic evolution to hold that God providentially guides the workings of nature both through ordinary providence and miraculous intervention even in ways that in principle might be detectable and in ways that allow for the full range of views that are held concerning Adam and Eve. When it comes to the workings of the natural world, theistic evolution only falls apart when the evidence shows that evolutionary explanations aren't good explanations for the complexity and diversity of life. So as long as one doesn't think that the quantity and quality of divine intervention undermines the claim that evolution is a good explanation for the complexity and diversity of life, theistic evolution remains a viable option.
We think that this means that most people who call themselves intelligent design theorists also qualify as theistic evolutionists, and as a result rather than dividing into camps and upholding rival conferences and seminars we think we should come together shoulder to shoulder and recognize that when it comes to core convictions we don't fundamentally disagree, although particular articulations of theistic evolution can and will be at odds with one another on important matters including things like Adam and Eve and methodological naturalism and many other things.
Evolutionary theory is a good explanation for the complexity and diversity of life. It might also be the case that natural mechanisms alone can't explain all of that complexity and diversity. It might also be the case that these natural mechanisms can't explain it all, and that these mechanisms need to be supplemented by divine designing activity at the creation or subsequently. As we say in the paper, and in reply to comments, meteorology is still a good way of explaining the weather even if God sometimes miraculously calms the winds and the waves. We may or may not be able to figure out or discern just when that designing activity was or is being carried out. If we can figure it out then design will be detectable even if theistic evolution is true. If that's right, and we argue in this paper that it is, then there are not, in fact, two camps pursuing irreconcilable programs of intellectual inquiry. It's not true, and we should stop saying that it's true. This is important not only because failing to see it leads to division and infighting but because the failure has scared evangelicals away from becoming full participants in the scientific enterprise. By propagating fear about the practice and implications of science we're not only keeping some brilliant Christian minds from becoming leaders in STEM fields but we're in addition forfeiting the opportunity to interrogate some of the fascinating and revealing aspects of the book of God’s works.
With that, let me briefly introduce our panelists for today. First we're going to hear from Tom McCall, professor of biblical and systematic theology and director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical School. He'll be followed by William Lane Craig, professor of philosophy at Biola University and Houston Baptist University. After Bill, we're going to hear from Steve Meyer. Steve is the director of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. Then we'll hear from Paul Nelson. Paul is currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and adjunct professor in the Master of Arts program in science and religion at Biola. Finally, we'll hear from Jeff Schloss. Jeff is the T. B. Walker Chair of Natural and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Center for Faith, Ethics, and the Life Sciences at Westmont College. With that, let us begin. Thanks very much.
TOM MCCALL: This is an important event. I think this is exactly the kind of conversation we should be having, and I’m deeply honored and grateful to be part of it. Seriously, thank you.
What I say here, I say as a theologian; I’m not a scientist. I’m a mere theologian, and a pastoral-sensitive and pastoral-motivated theologian at that.
I'm impressed by how much common ground there is here. In particular, I'm thinking of how both sides, if we have to talk that way, are motivated by pastoral and even apologetic concerns. Both of those who produce 1,008 page tomes against theistic evolution, and those who are open to theistic evolution our driven to articulate and defend their views by a concern to maintain both intellectual credibility and spiritual vitality of the faith. I know that what I'm saying here is pretty basic, but I also think it's important. So I don't want us to lose sight of this point. These basic concerns are, of course, driving the authors and editors of the big book in a rather different direction than the authors of the paper that at our consideration. The authors and editors of the big book have different emphases and do come to some rather different conclusions on several issues. I confess upfront that I find myself sympathetic to concerns from both directions. J. P. Moreland, for instance, sounds the alarm about the prevalence and power of scientism in our time. I share that concern. I, too, worry about the dominance and hegemony of scientism. I'm grateful for J. P.’s stout resistance. I'm with him on that. At the same time, within some evangelical Christian circles I see a pronounced distrust of science. This suspicion is not even the [distributor or steady], of course. I don't know too many Christians who are resistant to, say, cancer treatments or pacemaker implants. I do, on the other hand, know many Christians who are happy to appeal to scientific support of some pro-Christian truth claims or even to [?] the scientific credentials of well-trained scientists who are Christians. But when it comes to certain fields or areas of study, there is considerable mistrust and suspicion. Moreover, as work by Elaine Ecklund and others has shown evangelical Christians are underrepresented and sometimes significantly underrepresented in some fields in the natural sciences. To put it plainly, there are a lot of Christians who are physicians and engineers; not so many leading researchers in certain fields in biology. This is discouraging. It's concerning to me.
So I want to oppose scientism but I also want to do all that I can to encourage good science, and indeed I want Christians not only to engage in science but also do so while motivated and supported by theology. I know we all want this, but I want to avoid setting up any unnecessary conflicts, any artificial conflicts. Thus our topic of discussion is to me of immense importance. We all, I take it, want to affirm all that is explicitly taught in Scripture or that is entailed by what is taught in Scripture, and we all want to affirm and encourage good science. We all, I take it, want to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
What does that mean particularly with respect to theistic evolution? Here I find it unfortunate that the possibility of mere theistic evolution (or what I’ll refer to as MTE), is not really considered in the big book. It's understandable that it isn’t, but it is unfortunate. Consider the definition of theistic evolution that is offered there – TE: God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by natural processes. As a definition I find this to be critically ambiguous. It might work as a summated description of the views of some proponents of theistic evolution. I'm sure it does. But it doesn't tell us much about theistic evolution more broadly. And it almost certainly does not capture the commitments of MTE. This leaves us in a place that I find unfortunate – where arguments that purport to overthrow TE (theistic evolution generally as defined in the big book) may or may not be so much as relevant to MTE. Even if successful against some expressions of theistic evolution, it's hard to see how they can be taken as decisive against mere theistic evolution. So, again, what are we to make of this?
Here I think it's important to get clear (or at least somewhat clearer) on the rationale for mere theistic evolution. The paper we've read under our discussion raises this issue and makes some key points. I’m going to pause here because it seems to me that some of these crucial points are often overlooked and easily misunderstood, at least in the conversations I've had. So I want to highlight some of the main points here.
So far as I can see, the mere theistic proposal is simply a theory that seeks to make sense of two sets of claims drawn from several lines of data. I take it that this kind of theory production is the sort of thing we do regularly, maybe all the time, in science and theology. Consider any two sets of claims A and B. These A and B, for our consideration, are not completely disparate. We are not talking about non-overlapping magisteria or shouldn't suppose that we are. Now suppose that both sets of claims A and B seem to enjoy considerable support. Both are plausible or probable or what-have-you, but A and B at least initially seem to be in tension. It's not immediately obvious how to hold to both A and B with consistency, and in reflecting the situation some people are tempted to give up on A and others are tempted to give up on B. But then someone else comes along and says, “Hey, chill out; there's a way that both A and B could be true. Here it is.” All we have to do is add some proposed reconciling theory R to what we think of A and B. So then this reconciling theory R is supposed to almost make sense of both A and B. Perhaps this reconciling theory itself isn't demanded by the support for either A or B. Well, so what? As the authors of our paper point out, these sorts of moves are made regularly when theologians consider various challenges. The Bible seems to teach or presuppose or imply or what-have-you both meticulous providence on the one hand and the reality of human freedom and responsibility on the other. Some theologians and philosophers think it can't be the case that both are true. It's either meticulous providence or freedom. Pick one. Enter Molinism. Enter Bill Craig. [laughter] Molinism is, as our authors remind us, the name of a sophisticated proposal that aims to unify two sets of commitments – a commitment to human free will on one hand and to God's providential control over all the world's events on the other. Now, Molinism’s defenders will sometimes argue that their view is actually at least minimally suggested by Scripture, thus the appeals to 1 Samuel 23, etc. But the main point of the theory is to unify the two major sets of claims, both of which seem to be very well-supported by biblical teaching. The success of Molinism does not depend on the successful deployment of a particular proof text or set. As our authors remind us, the theory does not aim to provide any positive evidence for the existence of God or for the reality of human free will nor does the theory itself aim to explain how human agency works in any illuminating sense. Thus, if one were to objective to Molinism, and one did so on the grounds that it does neither of those things, you’d just be misunderstanding the point and the value. Molinism, of course, is, as they mention, a test case. I think we could multiply these sorts of issues over common topics in theology, arguably even creedal affirmations like Calcedonaian Christology and Trinity doctrine which are put together in an effort to help hold together several disparate sets of claims.
As a layman, it seems to mean that this is the kind of thing that happens regularly in science, too. I've seen several examples of this where there's some set of claims that are empirically supported A and another set B. And we're not sure how to put these together then someone comes along and says this is how it works. That other theory about how it works may not have anything going for it in the way of scientific support. I'm thinking of instances with respect to, say, the evolution of New World and Old World monkeys where the explanations don't make any appeals much less good ones to morphological or genetic issues. They just say we have this set of beliefs and we have this set of beliefs and here's how it goes together. I think this happens in theology. I think this happens in science. I think that is what is happening here with respect to mere theistic evolution. So whatever one makes of the merits of Molinism, it's misguided to reject the theory on the grounds that it doesn't provide evidence, say, for the existence of God or meticulous divine providence or free will or anything like that. It's just not trying to do all that. Its success hinges not on the ability to provide such evidence but on its ability to maintain the different affirmations together. It strikes me, with respect to mere theistic evolution, as both misguided and a bit odd to criticize it for not giving us evidence for the existence of God or we're not adding anything new to our knowledge of biology. It's simply trying to make sense of two sets of claims which might seem to be disparate and even perhaps inconsistent. On the one hand, the important traditional theological claims, and on the other hand the common scientific explanations of the complexity and diversity that we see in our world, especially in biology. So if mere theistic evolution does that well then it succeeds.
So the question, again, is not, “Does it make additional scientific claims?” nor “Does it give us additional positive reasons to believe in God?” That's the natural theology question that served us earlier. Nor is it yet, “Are the views of various prominent proponents of theistic evolution consistent with core Christian beliefs (of a broadly traditional sort)?” In many discussions of these matters and at various places in the book I worry that these sort of questions get conflated. It seems to me that they're not to the main point.
So back to the big question: Does mere theistic evolution do its job well? Does it succeed in holding together two sets of claims drawn from different data mines? More precisely, is it able to maintain core Christian doctrines of a traditional sort while also accepting the core claims of evolution or biology. This to me seems like the central issue; not “Does it add to our knowledge of the science itself?” or “Does it do more natural theology?”
For the present purposes I want to focus on two important issues both in theology and anthropology. The first is a return to mind-body issues. Murray and Churchill note that several authors in the big book are concerned about what happens to the human soul in a theistic evolutionary framework. Here's a rough summary. It's too rough, but let's just go with it of what I take the basic argument to be.
1. Evolution entails either physicalism according to which there just is no soul or an emergentist account of the soul according to which what is called the soul emerges from what is physical and prior.
2. Neither physicalism nor emergentism is consistent with biblically grounded and philosophically satisfying theological anthropology.
3. Therefore evolution is not consistent with biblically grounded and philosophically satisfying theological anthropology.
It seems to me that many proponents of theistic evolution reject the second premise. Thus they argue that non-dualist accounts of the human person are more congruent with biblical teaching as well as much cooler in terms of contemporary neuroscience and more in vogue with contemporary metaphysics. Moreland and others disagree, of course. And the arguments go on. Moreland argues that common appeals to neuroscience aren't successful while John Cooper and others argue that a holistic dualism is the best account of biblical teaching. The common battleground in these discussions is the second premise, that is that neither physicalism nor emergentism is consistent with a biblically grounded theological anthropology. But Murray and Churchill make a different argument. They say that the first premise is mistaken, that is that evolution entails either physicalism or emergentism. They say the first premise is either mistaken or at least premature and not adequately established. As they see things the argument of this book is flawed no matter what one thinks of the second premise.
What do we make of this? I'll confess my sympathies for some kind of holistic dualism. I'm not a physicalist for several reasons. I'm not attracted to emergentism. But it also seems to me that Murray and Churchill are right. It's wrong, or at least still very premature, to assume this first premise – that evolution entails either physicalism or emergentism. Here again it's important to keep the earlier observations I made about the rationale for mere theistic evolution in mind. The fact that many prominent theistic evolutionists accept the first premise and rejected two is not the issue. In fact it's not really relevant in considering the question of [?].
That’s one issue. Turning to another. Let’s considered briefly the quest for the historical Adam and Eve. Let's consider Wayne Grudem’s arguments against theistic evolution. He makes a series of bold claims. Among these he says that according to theistic evolution Adam and Eve were not the first human beings. They were never sinless. Human death was not the result of sin. God did not act directly or specially in the creation of the first humans. It seems to me that Grudem’s main argument can be summarized along with what will now be familiar lines.
1. Evolution entails conclusions that are inconsistent with any claims that there was an initial human couple from which all other humans descend.
2. Any biblically faithful theological anthropology will include the affirmation that there was an initial human couple from whom other humans descend and whose actions did adversely affect all humans (that’s the doctrine of original sin).
3. Therefore evolution entails conclusions that are inconsistent with any biblically faithful theological anthropology.
Defenders of this first premise (again, that evolution entails conclusions that are inconsistent with there being a first human couple) make an impressive array of arguments. For decades studies on paleontology have produced morphologically-based challenges to the notion of a historical first couple. In more recent years (or decades now), studies in human genetics have provided evidence of an ancestry that shared in common of other primates as well as evidence that the initial human population would have had to emerge as several thousand breeding pairs. On the basis of such evidence many theistic evolutionists accept the first premise and then reject the second. They argue that science demonstrates the impossibility of a historical Adam and Eve, and then they often argue that the Bible is properly understood (that is within its ancient Near Eastern, second temple Jewish, Greco-Roman context) really doesn't demand a historical Adam and Eve anyway. As we can see this sort of argument purports to show the incompatibility of evolution and a properly biblical theological anthropology. To avoid the conclusion many theistic evolutionists accept the first premise (sometimes with enthusiasm) and reject the second. Again, in the interest of transparency, let me say that the second one still seems right to me. I'm not persuaded by the claims of some biblical scholars that we don't need a historical Adam. But I'm also not convinced the big book argument is successful. For, again, I don't think that the first premise is unassailable. To the contrary, I think there are multiple ways of contesting the claims made there. There are multiple ways of having an important first couple and these going different ways and they've been around for quite a while now and some of them and others have emerged very, very slowly.
In conclusion, let me say that in hearty agreement with the big book crowd, I'm opposed to scientism and actually quite concerned about the magnitude of its impact. I think we really do live in a culture where research scientists are seen as high priests. They know the secrets; they can promise good fortune. They're qualified to deliver pronouncements about matters far beyond their expertise and far above their pay grade. With the big book, I'm concerned about this hegemony. More positively, I appreciate very much and I wholeheartedly agree with the fundamental convictions of the authors of that big book that Holy Scripture is wholly true and finally normative in all of our theological theory-building. I think I’m [finally] accountable to how God has revealed himself and his works and all of my theorizing should strive to be informed by and consistent with such revealed truth. So amen to all that. But I'm also concerned about the possibility we may choose the wrong battlegrounds. Indeed, it's my commitment to biblical authority in the face of scientism that motivates this very concern. I don't want to see us tie biblical authority to matters that simply are not issues of biblical authority. If, again to revisit the historical Adam issue, we are really sure the contemporary evolutionary science rules out the possibility of a historical Adam and we are equally sure that the Bible demands the reality of a historical Adam then, yeah, we have a problem. It's one or the other, and Christians committed to the truthfulness and authority of the Bible will go the right way. But if we are not so sure, we shouldn't be tying these issues so tightly together. To do so runs the very real risk of devaluing the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible in the eyes of many people, people old and young, scientists and clergy, seekers and saints alike. So are we so sure? I don't think we've even yet tested the viability of mere theistic evolution. I can't see why it shouldn't be considered a live option that's worthy of further consideration. So far as I can see we're not in a position to conclude that it has been weighed and the balances have been found wanting. Instead I don't think it's been weighed in the balances at all, at least with respect to the theological discussions. There's considerable criticism throughout the book of John Walton and [Pete Ends and Scott McKnight and Carl Garrison] and others (some of whom are my close friends) and some of them I actually agree with and find helpful. But in many places the arguments are not simply that convincing. For instance, the chapter on historical theology seems to equate la Peyrère’s pre-Adamitism with refurbishment views of historical Adam. These aren't the same thing. Pre-Adamite theory holds that there are humans before Adam, that Adam was simply the first Jew. The refurbishment proposals can hold that any hominid ancestors are strictly speaking pre-human and thus insist that Adam was the first human. Similarly, the chapter on the Old Testament concludes with a recitation of the Westminster longer catechism Q&A 17. But then without doing anything to show that mere theistic evolution is inconsistent with it. John [Currant] claims that Pelagianism is almost an inevitable result of the denial of the historical Adam and Eve. In that same book [Guy Waters] says that semi-Pelagian and Pelagian conclusions “followed directly” from a denial of a historical Adam. They actually don't give us arguments for these conclusions, and it's actually far from obvious that they're correct. In point of fact, some prominent theistic evolutionists are likely more liable to the opposite of heresy if anything for their enthusiasm to affirm original sin lead some people close to something more like Gnosticism – sin and suffering are a necessary part of embodied life. As I said earlier, Grudem’s definition of theistic evolution is remarkably rough and simply can't be considered adequate to the task at hand.
Overall the mere theistic evolution proposal really isn't evaluated. I think it should be engaged. Obviously there's more work to be done. There are many remaining questions about a wide range of issues. These deserve further reflection. There are further questions that I have and I take to be important about divine providence, about what is sometimes called natural evil, about human uniqueness and morality and significance, and so much more. These, I think, need to be considered carefully and taken with full seriousness.
In the conclusion of one of the chapters in the book, Moreland says that the Christian community expects more courage out of its leaders. I couldn't agree more. He also says that we run the risk of making our own desired views of biblical interpretation more authoritative than the text itself. Again, I couldn't agree more. I would only add that I think that the Christian community sometimes needs to see a little more patience and a little less pressure to crank out answers to really hard questions on very complex issues. Thank you.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I also thank Michael and John for the privilege of participating in this important panel.
One of the things that I appreciate about Michael and John's paper is their candid embrace of the label “theistic evolution” for their view. This strikes me as much more accurate and straightforward a label than the euphemistic appellation “evolutionary creationism” recently adopted by some theistic evolutionists which seems clearly an attempt to co-opt the label “creationism” in order to make their view more palatable to evangelical Christians.
It will be helpful at the outset to note the very limited scope of Michael and John's response to the volume Theistic Evolution, hereafter SPTC. They state that the volume as a whole conveys the message that for Christians with traditional doctrinal commitments no version of theistic evolution that adheres largely to consensus views in biology will be a palatable option. They maintain to the contrary that it is incontrovertible that there are versions of theistic evolution that are immune to many of the key criticisms advanced in the book. More specifically, they argue that there are versions of theistic evolution that are consistent with traditional doctrinal commitments concerning divine providence, miracles, evidence for theism, and non-physical souls. It is evident then that their concern is with doctrinal criticisms of theistic evolution.
Immediately I felt myself rather left out of the conversation for I am a Christian with traditional doctrinal commitments but any reservations I have about the viability of theistic evolution have nothing to do with such doctrinal commitments. My reservations are not theological but scientific in nature. I think that a great many of the contributors to SPTC would lack what Michael and John call a confidence in the explanatory power of the evolutionary approaches employed in current biology. Only at the end of their paper do Michael and John address scientific objections to theistic evolution, however, and here they content themselves with pointing out a couple of alleged missteps by Nelson and Gaguer, et. al. They say very little to inspire confidence in the explanatory power of the evolutionary approaches employed in current biology. So I find that Michael and John's statement of the third plank of theistic evolution to be problematic due to its ambivalence. Initially they state all versions of theistic evolution affirm that the complexity and diversity of life are best explained by appeal to evolutionary processes that have been operative over long periods of time where the relevant processes include those that constitute what has been called the modern evolutionary synthesis. Notice the relevant explanatory processes include, but are not limited to, those of the modern synthesis. This is “mere” indeed for even a Michael Behe (who thinks that the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection explain very little of the origin of biological complexity) would count as a theistic evolutionist on this characterization since he would agree that the mechanisms of the modern synthesis are included in the evolutionary processes. So would a classical progressive creationist like Bernhard Ramm who posits sequential miraculous interventions on God's part to drive evolutionary advance. So Michael and John's statement of the third plank of theistic evolution needs to be tightened up a bit if we are to exclude from its fold ID theorists and progressive creationists. Something like their gloss – a confidence in the explanatory power of the evolutionary approaches employed in current biology – might do the trick. That would seem to preclude a Michael Behe's counting as a theistic evolutionist. But then, as I say, their paper does very little to defend theistic evolution so characterized against the scientific objections leveled against it in SPTC. Rather, the burden of Michael and John's paper is to defend theistic evolution against theological objections to the viewpoint. On this score, I think that they do an admirable job. Consider each of the doctrinal commitments they mention.
First, divine providence. Here they render the considerable service of correcting the misinterpretation often given by popularizers on both sides of the debate that when evolutionary biologists say that the mutations responsible for evolutionary change occur “randomly,” they mean “by chance” or “purposelessly.” If they did then evolutionary theory would be enormously presumptuous since science is just not in a position to say with any justification that there is no divinely intended direction or goal to the evolutionary process. How could a scientist know that God did not supernaturally intervene to cause the crucial mutations that led to important evolutionary advances or transitions? For example, the reptile-to-bird transition. This fact became clear to me during the course of my preparation for my debate with the eminent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala on the tenability of intelligent design in biology. According to Ayala, when evolutionary biologists say that the mutations that lead to evolutionary development are “random” they do not mean “occurring by chance.” Rather, they mean “occurring irrespective of their usefulness to the organism.” This is hugely significant. The scientist is not, despite the impression given by partisans on both sides of the debate, making the presumptuous philosophical claim that biological mutations occur by chance and hence that the evolutionary process is undirected or purposeless. Rather, he means that the mutations do not occur for the benefit of the host organism. If we take “random” to mean “irrespective of usefulness to the organism” then randomness is not incompatible with direction or purpose.
Alvin Plantinga has made this same point in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies. Plantinga chastises scientists who have recklessly asserted that according to evolutionary biology the evolutionary process is undirected or purposeless. Such claims, he says, are not properly part of the biological theory itself but are a philosophical add-on, an extra-scientific assertion. In support, Plantinga cites the eminent evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr who wrote, “When it is said that the mutation or variation is random, the statement simply means that there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism in a given environment.” This is the same definition given by Ayala.
Such a definition of “random” is quite compatible with God's causing mutations to occur with a certain end in view. For example, suppose that God in his providence causes a mutation to occur in an organism not for the benefit of the organism but for some other reason (say, because it will produce easy prey for some other organism that he wants to flourish). In such a case the mutation is both purposeful and “random.” Indeed, I want to underline Michael and John's corrective by drawing attention to a theory of providence only later alluded to in their paper, namely a Molinist account of providence based upon God's middle knowledge. Given divine middle knowledge, supernatural intervention in the evolutionary processes are not necessary for God's direction of the evolutionary processes. For God could have known that were certain initial conditions in place then given the laws of nature certain life forms would evolve through random mutation and natural selection. And so he put such laws and initial conditions in place. Obviously, science is in no position whatsoever to say justifiably that the evolutionary process was not under the providential direction of a God endowed with middle knowledge who determined to create biological complexity by such means. If the evolutionary biologist were using the word “random” to mean “undesigned” or “purposeless,” evolutionary theory would be philosophy, not science. But the evolutionary biologist is not using the word “random” in that sense. Properly understood, random mutations are entirely compatible with teleology and a robust doctrine of divine providence.
The second doctrinal commitment Michael and John discuss is God's miraculous activity in the world. Unfortunately, having ignored a Molinist account of providence in their first doctrinal section, they give an unnuanced characterization of miracles in the second section. For they characterize extraordinary providence (or miracles) as God's bringing about his desired outcome by, among other things, ensuring that a process within creation unfolds in a radically different way than is typical for processes of that kind. This characterization is ambiguous. God's middle knowledge enables us to distinguish a kind of extraordinary providence that involves no divine intervention in the series of natural secondary causes and hence no miracles, but which is discernible and distinguishable from God's ordinary providence by its atypical and highly coincidental nature. Miracles, by contrast, involve God's intervention in the series of secondary causes to bring about an event which is impossible for natural causes operative at the time and place of the event to bring about.
The question then is the degree to which theistic evolution precludes postulating divine interventions in the evolutionary development of life. Michael and John stipulate that any miracle claims must be consistent with the affirmation that the complexity and diversity of life are best explained by appeal to evolutionary processes over long periods of time. Theistic evolution, they state, is not consistent with any position on which miraculous activity is deemed critical to explaining much of the world's biological complexity and diversity in light of alleged explanatory deficiencies in evolutionary theory. That still leaves me wondering. Suppose the postulated miracles are infrequent but nevertheless occur at pivotal junctures in the evolutionary development of life forms. I suspect that in order to distinguish theistic evolution from progressive creationism, Michael and John will want to preclude such a view as counting as theistic evolution. But then later they say theistic evolutionists can affirm that God acted miraculously in order to bring about various species without having to deny any of the principles essential to theistic evolution. Indeed, as noted above, theistic evolution is even compatible with at least some set of claims that affirm that God has acted miraculously outside of the evolutionary processes to bring about changes in the biological domain. This leaves me confused as to the degree of miraculous activity mere theistic evolution permits. Again, I see nothing doctrinally objectionable in a view that postulates very little divine miraculous activity in the course of evolution of biological complexity. We have no theological grounds for requiring that God's interventions must be frequent or pivotal. Rather, the question is, again, scientific. Is an account of the development of biological complexity which appeals to practically purely naturalistic causes explanatorily adequate.
The third doctrinal commitment concerns the viability of natural theology. Michael and John point out that the resources for a robust natural theology are much broader than the development of biological complexity. In my own work I have defended at least six arguments for the existence of God, none of which appeals to biological complexity as a basis for inferring God's existence. Indeed, the cutting edge of design arguments these days concerns the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants and quantities of nature which must be in place before the origin of life and the evidence of biological complexity can even take place. Theistic evolutionists can be strong proponents of arguments for an intelligent designer of the cosmos based on fine-tuning.
Here Michael and John make what is in my opinion perhaps the most important point in their paper. Theistic evolution is not offered as a scientific theory. Rather, it is a way of integrating a scientific theory with a theological perspective. They explained the epistemic value of theistic evolution lies primarily in its power to unify or synthesize two sets of claims. On the one hand we have a set of theological claims concerning the God who created the world and providentially governs his creatures. On the other we have a set of scientific claims that posit evolutionary explanations for the complexity and diversity we see in biology. Theistic evolution provides a coherent synthesis of these two sets of claims, and this is its primary epistemic value. I think that because ID is offered as a scientific theory, ID proponents mistakenly think that theistic evolution is also offered as a scientific theory and therefore they criticize its scientific value. It is so important for mutual understanding that ID advocates realize that theistic evolution is not a scientific theory much less a rival scientific theory. Rather, it is a view which tries to integrate scientific theory and theology.
In the interest of time, I'll skip my fourth point or doctrinal commitment concerning non-physical souls and go to their contrast of ID and theistic evolution in various ways. I think that their presentation serves unfortunately to foster a false image of ID that is as much an obstacle to mutual understanding as is the false image of theistic evolution as a scientific theory. I suspect that many theistic evolutionists misunderstand ID because they take it to be, like theistic evolution, a view integrating theology and science rather than as a scientific theory. Just as some ID theorists wrongly take theistic evolution to be a scientific theory rather than an integrative view, so some theistic evolutionists take ID to be an integrative view rather than a scientific theory. Each advocate is viewing the other as a mirror image of himself. But ID theorists have been adamant in insisting that ID is not theistic. Over and over again they have explained that they are not offering a theory that infers to God as the designer of the universe but simply to intelligent design and no more as the best explanation of biological complexity. The designer could be extraterrestrial life forms or laboratory technicians experimenting with our microworld in their lab. I recall a conversation I once had with ID theorist John Bloom about the objection that ID would require no more than Zeus to explain biological complexity. He nodded slowly in approval, Zeus will do, he said. Zeus will do. I suspect that many people think that ID theorists’ denial that their theory is theistic is disingenuous; a way of sneaking creationism into public schools with a wink and a nudge. But that fails to take ID seriously as a theory. That ID theorists are serious and not positing God as the best explanation of biological complexity is evident in their response to the problem of natural evil in the course of evolution. They rightly point out that ID makes no claim whatsoever that the designer is good. ID is not a view attempting to integrate theology and science. It is a rival scientific theory to mainstream biology that postulates intelligent design as an explanatory component of that theory. Indeed my main reservation about ID is whether the inference to intelligent design is not better thought of as a metaphysical inference rather than a scientific inference. My inclination would be not to offer an alternative scientific theory to the current paradigm but just to question that paradigm’s explanatory adequacy and to supplement it with a philosophical postulate of a designer.
I have good friends and colleagues on both sides of this debate, and I hope that my comments here today may promote better understanding and serve to bring us closer together.
STEPHEN MEYER: Good afternoon. I appreciated, first of all, the invitation to be part of this panel and the interest that Michael and John have shown in the book that I helped contribute to. I edited the scientific section of the book, and I wrote a scientific and philosophical introduction. I also appreciate the irenic tone of their opening remarks as well as Bill’s and the professor from Wheaton, Tom. I'm really actually most looking forward to the conversation. There's a lot to build on especially in the previous remarks.
There's an important implied question in the introduction to our colleagues paper, and that is: Could or should Christians with traditional doctrinal commitments accept theistic evolution as defended by Murray and Churchill (mere theistic evolution)? I would like to comment on both of those questions, but really only have time to do one. Murray and Churchill put forward what I call a reconciliation thesis. I'm very interested in this question of whether or not doctrines of divine providence or divine action or divine creation can be meaningfully reconciled with theistic evolution as they affirm it where they affirm that the complete adequacy of the evolutionary processes that are promoted by both neo-Darwinists and advocates of the so-called extended synthesis. I think there is a logical tension there, and there is also an epistemic cost to the attempt to reconcile the two doctrines. There's a loss of empirical relevance and richness. There's a loss of explanatory power. And there's a loss of parsimony in the implied explanation that is required of a theistic evolutionist with respect to the question of apparent design. I can't really explain that now, but I'd like to get back to that in the discussion because it directly engages really all the points that have been made and especially Bill’s the last time. I don't think the only issue implied is the definition of randomness. There are other aspects of the understanding of the Darwinian mechanism that I think do challenge a robust notion of teleology. But I'd like to set that aside because in the spirit that you mentioned I think we have given far too much authority to mainstream scientists or consensus scientists concerning the question of the adequacy of Darwinian mechanisms. Rather than looking at the question of “Can we reconcile orthodox evolutionary theory with orthodox theological commitments?” (especially in relation to the doctrine of providence and creation), I want to look instead of the question, “Should we?” By that I mean are we under an epistemic obligation to accept the claims of orthodox evolutionary theory, and most importantly and in particular, claims about the complete adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanism and those additional mechanisms that are being formulated as we speak by evolutionary biologists under the heading of the extended synthesis. Our colleagues opposite have very clearly – and I appreciate this, as Bill does as well – very clearly just embrace the key tenant . . . there are three meanings of evolution. They embraced all three and especially the third which I think is the most philosophically and theologically significant, and that is, they say, “. . . implicit in what follows . . . is an endorsement of evolution as a very good explanation of (the complexity of life), and not simply the best (explanation) among a rather poor set of candidates.” So they embrace the empirical claims of evolutionary theory, in particular the adequacy of the proposed mechanisms. That's what I'd like to focus on. Should Christians accept evolutionary theory? The “should” here has the sense of are we under an epistemic obligation to accept these claims?
I want to say “no,” and I'd like to tell you a story to get into this. In 2016 November I attended a conference for Royal Society in London. The Royal Society arguably is one of the most august scientific bodies in the world. The conference was called by leading evolutionary biologists who wanted to examine what they call new trends in evolutionary theory. It was called by evolutionary biologists who are really done with neo-Darwinism – the idea that mutation and selection can explain the origin of biological complexity. They were exploring and discussing the prospects for formulating new mechanisms that would have the capacity to explain the kind of complexity that we see. The opening talk in this conference was given by Gerd Muller, a prominent evolutionary theorist from Austria. His talk was titled “The Explanatory Deficits of the Modern Synthesis,” and they were legion, and they were formidable. They included things like the origin of phenotypic complexity (the complexity of visible body types), the origin of anatomical novelty (the origin of major new innovations in the history of life). They included the discovery that many of the mutational processes that we observe are actually biased in just the way that we've been told they aren't, that is to say they are being directed towards an outcome by pre-programmed adaptive capacity that's under so-called algorithmic control, a complex information processing system that itself, I think, bears evidence of design and requires prior explanation. Another big problem is the origin of non-gradual modes of transition which means abrupt fossil appearance of most of the major groups.
Gerd Muller previously had co-authored a book at MIT Press with Stuart Newman. On page 7 of their opening essay they very clearly stated that though neo-Darwinism is still the mainstream evolutionary theory, it has “no theory of the generative.” It can explain small-scale variation very well. It doesn't explain morphological innovation – the origin of new form. When I first encountered that – that was about 2004 when I read the book – I thought this is quite extraordinary. That's the very question that Darwin was supposed to have settled in 1859. We have leading evolutionary biologists telling us that that question is now wide open; it has not been settled.
In addition, there's an oft-repeated aphorism now that is afoot among many evolutionary biologists: natural selection and random mutations explains the survival, but not the arrival, of the fittest. We heard this quoted a number of times at this conference. This was first stated by Hugo De Vries in 1905, but it has become a common aphorism among evolutionary biologists. In other words the mechanism of mutation and selection explains small-scale variations but it doesn't explain major innovations. And yet, one of the core commitments of theistic evolutionists is the idea that first the adequacy of these processes and that this in some way are processes through which God is working to create. Deborah Hersman at BioLogos says “. . . gradual process of evolution was crafted and governed by God to create the diversity of all life on earth.” She goes on – evolutionary creationists (she refers to the euphemistic title) “accept that natural selection and other evolutionary mechanisms, acting over long periods of time, eventually result in major changes in body structure.” In other words, macroevolution. Our colleagues have affirmed a very similar view. They say, “all versions of theistic evolution affirm that the complexity and diversity of life are best explained by appeal to evolutionary processes that have been operative over long periods of time.” In other words, they affirm the modern evolutionary synthesis. They do go on to offer a caveat and say, “One key process in this synthesis is (mutation and selection) . . . But it need not be the only important . . . process.” They therefore allow for the so-called extended synthesis – the possibility of other evolutionary mechanisms supplementing the creative power or lack thereof of mutation and selection.
Nevertheless, at the conference in London, after it was all over, one of the organizers, Suzan Mazur, wrote a reflective retrospect on the conference and said it was characterized by a lack of momentousness. The presenters did a good job of explaining the problems with neo-Darwinism but did not propose or formulate mechanisms that could adequately account for its explanatory deficits, in particular, the lack of creative power associated with a mutation-selection mechanism.
I think there's an irony here. At just the time when leading evolutionary biologists are explicitly acknowledging a crisis in the explanatory power of evolutionary theory and particular the explanatory power of the mechanisms that have been proposed as the creative engines of evolutionary change, Christian science and faith groups are urging the church to accept evolutionary mechanisms as the means by which God created. I would like to focus on that key claim – that key phenomena. Are we under an epistemic obligation to accept the creative power of mutation and selection and other similar evolutionary mechanisms as they've been proposed?
In my book Darwin's Doubt, one of those big events in the history of life that Bill Craig talked about – the Cambrian Explosion – I explicate four main challenges to the creative power of mutation and selection, and these are scientific challenges. I have time only to explain one, but I would like to explain it in a little bit of almost elementary detail precisely because of the problem is scientism. We, I think, are far too ready to accept the authority of scientists or the consensus view and think that non-scientists can't understand the arguments that are advanced in support of those views. I think the arguments for the creative power of natural selection and mutation are readily understood and the problems therefore with that claim for the creative power are also equally understood. So I'd like to explain just one of these arguments, and it concerns the origin of genetic information and what are called protein folds.
If you remember your basic biology, DNA contains information in a digital form. That information is expressed in the form of complex molecules called proteins that have beautiful three-dimensional shapes that allow them with a hand and glove fit to perform various functions inside cells. They catalyze reactions at rates much faster than would otherwise occur. They build the structural parts of nanomachines, miniature machines inside cells. They help process the information on DNA, among many other functions. This is a key thing in the history of life – how do we explain the origin of the information that's present in living systems? I wrote a book, as I said, about the origin of the major groups of animals – the first major origin event in the history of life, the Cambrian Explosion in which you have major new body plans arising very abruptly in the fossil record. In the theistic evolution volume, paleontologist Gunter Bechly and I wrote an article about seventeen major such events in the history of life. The pattern of fossil discontinuity and abrupt appearance is pervasive up and down the stratigraphic column. In any case, when you encounter events like this, when you think about this from an engineering standpoint or a bioengineering standpoint or an evolutionary standpoint, it raises a big question which is: Where did the information come from to build all these new forms of life? Just as in the case of our computer world where if you want to give your computer a new function you have to provide new code. The same thing is true in life. If you want to build a new form of life you need new organs and tissues, you need new cell types, new cell types require new proteins, and new proteins require new information in the DNA molecule. So where does that information come from? How would it arise by the mutation-selection mechanism?
Some of you here remember – just basic biology here – Watson and Crick discovered the double helix of the DNA molecule. They discovered the structure of the molecule in 1953. In 1957 Crick puts forward something called the sequence hypothesis in which he realizes that the chemical subunits along the spine of the DNA molecule are functioning like alphabetic characters in a written language or digital characters in a section of software. That is to say it's the arrangement of these characters in accord with an independent symbol convention later discovered and now known as the genetic code that allows the DNA molecule to store and express information. So to build new proteins you need to have a whole lot of this information encoded in DNA. The neo-Darwinian idea is that those mutations that randomly changes (in the sense described earlier – non-teleological, but random in the sense described earlier) these mutations will change the arrangement of the characters in a functional sequence. If we can understand this by analogy to either computer code or human language, we know that in our own use of digital information that as random changes arise they tend to degrade the information. In fact if you think of a section of software that perhaps corresponds to a given program, if you start changing the zeros and ones at random you're going to degrade that information and destroy the program that's present long before you'll ever get a new program or operating system. So when you begin to think about the digital revolution in biology, that began to make scientists think about how would this in this mechanism generate new functional information? Here's the degrading. Now, there's a reason in both computer code and in English language that functional text is readily degraded by random changes, and that is there are far more ways of arranging code to go wrong then there are ways to go right. That is to say, in the case of a twelve letter English sentence, for example, for every one twelve letter string that's meaningful there are a hundred trillion ways of arranging those same letters that will result in gibberish.
The question in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s was: is this same kind of prohibitive ratio present with proteins and DNA. My colleague Doug Axe took that question on and asked a very important follow-up question: how common or rare are sequences (i.e. proteins, amino acid sequences) among all the possible combinations of amino acids. In other words, are the functional arrangements of DNA sequences and proteins as rare as, say, functional computer code is to all the gibberish or functional English sentences are to all corresponding gibberish. If you've got lots and lots of gibberish, as you start to change the original functional sequence you're going to fall into a non-functional abyss. That has been the concern in biology. In other words, for every one of these folded proteins that do a function, how many ways are there of arranging these corresponding amino acids? Well, it turns out there's a prohibitively small ratio of function-to-gibberish. Axe worked on this question for about fourteen years at Cambridge University. He came up with an answer – 1 over 10 to the 77th power. In my book I show that even four billion years of replication events since the origin of life till now do not provide enough opportunities to meaningfully search a space of possibilities that large. So the idea that mutation and selection is a plausible means of generating even one new protein structure called a protein pol is implausible in the extreme. It does not provide an adequate explanation for the origin of genetic information.
Let me amplify Axe’s conclusion with some more recent work that we didn't get to discuss in the book. There's a protein scientist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel who has shown that Axe’s results can be generalized and that there is an underlying thermodynamic reason for the prohibitively small ratio that Axe determined. Remember my analogy. We've got computer code. You start randomly changing it. You drop into a functional abyss before you ever get to a new functional program or operating system. It turns out that the same thing applies in the protein and DNA case. In fact, functional DNA degrades more quickly than English sentences or computer code. What Tawfik showed was that as you accumulate mutations they quickly degrade the structural thermodynamics stability and function of protein folds, and folds are the critical structures. They give proteins their ability to do their jobs. So what is called stable tertiary structure is lost long before the mutations in question – the accumulating mutations – can generate a novel fold, just exactly like the computer example I just gave. He showed that his work applies with large classes of what are called globular proteins, not just the beta lactamase enzyme that Doug Axe studied. There are quantitative implications of Tawfik’s work that reinforced Axe’s estimate of rarity. In fact, Tawfik was no friend of ID or religion or anything. He's very much a mainstream scientific materialist naturalist. He characterizes the origin of new folds as “something close to a miracle.” He goes on to say we have no evolutionary account of how these came to be.
This is highly significant because the protein fold is the fundamental unit of innovation in biology. You can't get new cell types. You can't get new tissues or organs if you don't first get the protein folds to service those larger structures. We do have many examples of small mutational changes, a few point mutations, slightly altering the function of preexisting folds, but no examples of novel protein folds arising. And yet they are in this fundamental unit of innovation.
What we have is I think actually a fundamental challenge to the creative power of mutation and selection. At the very base of biology – at the level of DNA and protein that makes all living systems possible. It's not only neo-Darwinism that has failed to explain this, but instead also the post neo-Darwinian theories and mechanisms that have been proposed under the heading of the extended synthesis. In my book Darwin's Doubt I examined almost all of these and since the ones I didn’t I've analyzed since, and what I found is that these newer models of evolutionary theory and innovation either do not address the problem of the origin of biological information and protein folds or they do so by presupposing prior unexplained sources of information to do so. That's only pushing the question back to an earlier locus.
Let me introduce one other quick problem, and it's related to this. That is not just the origin of the proteins and genes themselves but the integrated networks of complexity that they form that are called developmental gene regulatory networks. To build a new body plan you need genes and proteins – gene products – interacting in very specific ways so that genes produce protein products, the protein products turn on and turn off different parts of the genome at just the right place. This whole system is beautifully choreographed and regulated. When scientists such as Eric Davidson at Caltech have mapped the functional relationships out between the genes and gene products and the parts of the genome that they regulate, they have invariably produced diagrams that look like integrated circuits. They have that type of integrated complexity. This poses a big problem for evolutionary theory because when things are tightly integrated – in fact it’s a rule of mechanical and electrical engineering – the more tightly integrated a system is the more difficult it is to perturb the system without [defecting] the whole. What Davidson found was that as you start to try to mutate – any mutations that induce changes in these core regulatory elements – immediately shuts down animal development. But to build a new animal you need a developmental gene regulatory network. So if you start with one developmental gene regulatory network you take it into another. If you want to get from here to an animal body plan, well you've got to have one of these that works. To evolve from this gene regulatory network to another one in order to build a new body plan you've got to be able to alter these. But this is the one thing we know can't happen or doesn't happen empirically. We have very good empirical research showing that developmentally gene regulatory networks are resistant to mutational perturbation. That’s another huge problem.
Those are two of the problems I discussed in my book Darwin's Doubt. It might be helpful for you to know that in making these arguments – those of us in the ID world – have been engaging top people on the other side. My book was reviewed in Science in the fall after it was released in 2013 by the terrific evolutionary biologist and Cambrian paleontologist Charles Marshall. I’ve been in touch with him as recently as last week. We had a great debate on British radio one time. This was his response to my book, and I appreciate it very much because it was right on point. He critiqued what I had actually said:
Meyer's case . . . depends upon the claim that the origin of new animal body plans requires vast amounts of novel genetic information. In fact, our present understanding of morphogenesis (body plan building) indicates that new phyla were not made by new genes but largely emerged through the rewiring of gene regulatory networks of already existing suites of genes.
You don’t need a PhD in biology to analyze and critique this response. What is Marshall presupposing? First of all that you can't alter developmental gene regulatory networks which has been shown empirically to be false. In fact, he knows that. He worked with Davidson. This was a pure postulation. But secondly he presupposed three discrete sets of genetic information. The information is present in the gene regulatory networks which are composed of multiple sets of genes operating in close coordination. But also the genes upon which they act for building the body parts – the already existing genes. And thirdly to rewire a gene regulatory network would require multiple coordinated changes in code, another source of information. So in order to answer my argument that the mutation-selection mechanism and other similar evolutionary mechanisms had not explained the origin of information, and yet only design could, he responded by simply presupposing prior unexplained sources of information. You don’t need a biology degree to understand it, you just need to know basic and formal logic fallacies, in particular in this case begging the question. So I think we've been entirely too sanguine in the Christian world about the authority of evolutionary biologists in telling us that there isn't an adequate explanation for the origin of complexity in [form]. For that reason I do think we actually address one of the main theses of the mere theistic evolution proposal which is the adequacy of those same proposals. I think our critique stands. Thank you.
PAUL NELSON: I, too, would like to thank John Churchill and Michael Murray for the invitation, but especially for taking the book seriously. Every author wants to have the kind of scrutiny – 16,000 words actually. It's on its way to being a second book. That kind of scrutiny. I found there essay very provocative. It made me think, and I appreciate that as well.
My remarks will tend to follow along with Steve's but I'm going to focus on a different issue, and that is I think the real challenge for theists is not the theory of evolution as a scientific theory. Rather it is the underlying naturalism that defines evolution. That's a problem because as we know from Scripture you cannot serve two masters, and one of them will dominate in the end. If it's naturalism, that is going to be very unhappy for many theists or any Christian.
Consider a logical puzzle. We have here two biologists, academics, John and Mary. Both evolutionary biologists. Both who accept evolution as the case. John says evolution means theory A. And Mary contradicts him. She says, no, evolution means negation-A. Yet they both claim to be doing evolutionary theory. So what does it mean? Unless we are willing to assert a plain contradiction, whatever they are working on cannot refer to the same scientific idea. Something else is holding them together within their discipline. It is not a theory. That shared commitment, that proposition, is naturalism as I want to argue in the next twenty minutes.
Quick definition. Scientific explanation may not refer to God or transcendent intelligence as a cause. I have to disagree here with Bill Craig. I think intelligent design, while it's not a theological idea per se, it does need for its internal coherence to refer to transcendent intelligence. That's an important issue that I hope we can discuss in the hour that we have for open debate. The precise flavor of naturalism here doesn't matter because both methodological and philosophical naturalism accept what I'm calling my quicky definition. So we don't need to worry about that issue.
As I said a moment ago, this demarcation of “evolution” via naturalism raises problems for theists generally, but for theistic evolutionists in particular. The quotation marks here indicate my interlocutor – it may be John, it may be Michael. They're saying, “Hey, wait a minute. You're overselling this ‘A versus negation-A’ view of evolutionary theory. Isn't it far more cohesive than that?” Let’s look at the evidence. Now, in my discussion paper which was distributed earlier, I consider the following A versus negation-A situation. John says all organisms share a common ancestor. Universal common descent is a fact like the roundness of the Earth. I cite Francisco Ayala clearly in my discussion paper to that effect. Mary says baloney! It is not the case that all organisms share a common ancestor. Universal common descent is false. Thank you very much. When I was a student, universal common descent was taken to be as certain as the shape of the Earth. Today within evolutionary biology it is very much up for grabs. This is not appreciated by many people outside the discipline of evolutionary theory but it's in fact the case. In my biology talk which you did not expect to hear at EPS but you're going to get one anyway, I want to address a problem that touches on what Steve mentioned, but I'm going to come at it from a different angle. It is thought that Charles Darwin gave us the tools to answer this question: How did different animal body plans arise? Here's the elegans – the wonderful little worm. There's Drosophila. There’s the purple sea urchin on which Eric Davidson did his main work. Think of yourself as a consumer of scientific theories and you're pushing your cart down the scientific theory aisle at Costco reading the descriptions as you go. You read one box and it says, “This theory can tell you why bristle number and patterns of venation on the wings of Drosophila vary slightly under certain conditions.” You turn the box around and you say, “Where did the fly come from?” You would not be happy with a theory of evolution that told you about minor differences and yet left the fly itself or the worm or the sea urchin unexplained. One hundred and sixty years after Darwin this problem is harder to solve today than it was for him. Evolution as a scientific theory has singularly failed to answer this question. The reason has to do with natural selection itself, the main complexity-building mechanism within standard theory.
This was very much on display at the Royal Society meeting three years ago that Steve and I and actually several other intelligent design theorists attended. Dawkins puts it this way: The theory of natural selection gives us a mechanistic causal account of how the big things came to look as if they have been designed for a purpose. That is a proposition that we can test, and it's actually false, although I admire Dawkins for his clarity. The fundamental problem is easy to grasp. It has to do with how animals develop and what natural selection requires. We can express it as a three point argument – actually it forms a paradox. From developmental biology (looking, for instance, at Drosophila or C-elegans or the purple sea urchin) we know how that process works. We start with a single cell – the fertilized egg – and you gradually, using the developmental gene regulatory networks that Steve alluded to, construct an animal. The early stages determine what follows. If you want to modify the form of any animal you have got to change its development. It follows necessarily because that's how the animal is, in fact, constructed. So, for an event like the Cambrian Explosion where you see this astonishing diversity of novel animal form, you're going to have to modify development to get that paleontological signal to show up. Now the paradox: mutations that occur early in development that affect body plan formation are not tolerated by embryos. If Drosophila has told us anything over the last hundred years it's that if you want to fly at all there are certain events early in development that cannot be tinkered with. This isn't mystical. It flows directly from the logic of how development works, which Steve mentioned. Now, I got to go into the details. Right? It's a biology talk. The problem comes from the logic of natural selection itself, and it's paradoxical in a way. The design theorist like me is actually more diligent in following the logic of natural selection and the evidential demands it makes on an investigator than many people within evolutionary biology who use it as a magic wand. I'm going to be the best evolutionary biologist I can and stick to the logic of this process. You need variation. There’s some Tigers here. Some stickleback fishes. Some ladybugs. You see variation there. That variation has to make a difference to reproductive output in a consistent way. If it varies from generation to generation, that's genetic drift by definition. And you've got to be able to pass the variations on to the offspring. If A, B, and C are satisfied, natural selection will occur as night follows day. So I'm not challenging the reality of this process. What I'm saying is it doesn't do what Darwin and Dawkins thinks it could do.
Let’s start with variation. What characters are varying? Let’s look at tigers. You've got coat, color, and pattern variations – and that one tiger on the left I’m not sure he should be in the group photo! He really missed out in the stripes department. What's not varying? They all have a brain stem. They all have a functioning gut. They all have a functioning circulatory system. There are certain non-negotiable features of what it means to be a tiger that do not vary because if they do you lose the system itself. The stickleback fishes and with the ladybugs, there are again lots of variations but they tend to be in relatively minor features of the system. This creates a problem because if you are going to have macroevolution it's got to happen at the deep level of the phenotype.
I met this guy (he's a UK developmental biologist who works on evolution) when he came to Chicago when I was a graduate student for a sabbatical. At this point in his career he was becoming increasingly unhappy with the theory that he had been educated in and was teaching. In this publication he said we have no Darwinian account for the origin of body plans. We don't know how they arise. His reasoning followed very closely what I've just told you. You've got to modify development in ways that animals – I'm speaking strictly about animals here – seem not to tolerate. I've debated Massimo a couple of times. He's actually a very interesting guy. He got a PhD in evolutionary biology, and then a second one in the philosophy of science. He bailed out of evolutionary biology and now is a stoic. He teaches philosophy in New York City. At the time that he was still in the field, he gave a talk to the National Science Foundation where he said the theory we have in our textbooks will allow us to explain minor quantitative differences among forms. It does not tell us how new structures come to be. Again, I want to reiterate the themes that Steve stressed which is we in the Christian community should look skeptically at many of the claims made by evolutionary biologists because I think they are much more motivated by naturalism than they are by the actual power of the theory.
Where does the problem arise? Really it starts with Darwin, but in the 20th century as the neo-Darwinian synthesis came together, Dobzhansky, Meyer, and others faced a dilemma – macroevolution occurs over long spans of geological time to which we do not have observational access. So if Dobzhansky, in one of the founding documents of neo-Darwinism, “Genetics and the Origin of Species 1937,” right as he's laying out his program, says we've got a problem. We can't observe macroevolution directly. So what can we do? We are going to have to extrapolate from what we can see to what we can't. So all variations relevant to macroevolution begins at the lowest level. And it's the same throughout. You'll notice this is a fractal pattern. The evolutionary process over time, given a steady supply of variation and the operation of selection, will get macroevolution where disparity in form across the horizontal axis is proportional to time elapsed. The key claim is that variation is small scale and that's what runs the macroevolutionary engine. That's the fuel. Now, in the very next paragraph, Dobzhansky says, “I'm going to do this reluctantly.” Why that adverb? That adverb is there because in Russia one of his mentor's was Yuri Filipchenko, a geneticist who managed to survive Stalin. Filipchenko coined the terms micro and macroevolution in the early 20s. Because Filipchenko said there is a qualitative difference between what happens within a species and what happens between species, and we need nouns to make that distinction. These terms were not invented by Creationists. They were invented by a Russian zoologist-geneticist who said there is a fundamental difference between the processes of micro and macroevolution hence the terms. Dobzhansky is reluctant because I know he can hear, or I would imagine he could hear, in his head his mentor's voice saying that's probably going to fail. In fact, I think the latter half of the 20th century evolutionary biology has shown the consistent failure of microevolution to expand these macro changes. The problem again is not mystical or hard to understand. It comes from the logic . . .
Look at these. These are expanding cones of developmental decisions to build those animals. And in those cones, a cell number and degree of differentiation are going up, genetic regulatory circuits (these gene regulatory networks that Steve alluded to) are active. You can see from the causal structure of that cone, events that occur early are overwhelmingly likely to be deleterious or lethal because their consequences cascade downstream. So the problem is, again, the Darwinian paradox. To have macroevolution you need deep variation. You need mutations expressed early in development with wide-ranging consequences. But the embryo says to you, and the experimental evidence on this point is unequivocal, the embryo says to you, I don't know where I'm going now. I thought I was going to be a fly. You tinkered with my key regulatory elements. I've been thrown off track.
Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus won the Nobel Prize for figuring this out in Drosophila. I was a freshman at Pitt studying evolutionary biology when this paper was published. I remember the excitement surrounding them because with Germanic thoroughness they, using a technique called saturation mutagenesis, marched down the chromosomes of Drosophila hitting absolutely every relevant locus gene with respect to what it takes to build a fly. And what they found – it's kind of a form of reverse engineering – was Drosophila doesn't like that. The mutation that occurs here is much more likely to be destructive or, in fact, the evidence that we have is when they affect body plan they are invariably lethal than something occurring later that might affect a much smaller number of cells. This is the developmental cascade in Drosophila. The mutations that Nusslein-Volhard and Wieschaus induced, most of the very dramatic ones, occurred here. This is one big cell. In the mother, in her egg chamber, she's building this and she's pouring in information – messenger RNA – which attaches to the inside of the cell membrane. After fertilization it is translated into protein and actively transported through this one big cell to set up that banding pattern. So some of the mutations they induced crash the system at this point. But what's being established here is the head to tail, back to front, axes of the fly, and everything that's going to give you a fly going only here to the larval form – the maggot – has got to be set up there and triggered. Here's a figure from their paper that won them the Nobel Prize. We have four columns here. On the left is the wild-type larval form – the normal form. On the right are the mutants. The regions colored in pink are those that could be affected by the mutations that they induce. You can see you get dramatic changes. These would be macroevolutionary changes if you saw them in the fossil record. The problem is all the mutants on the right are dead. They're not going anywhere. The genius of this experiment is they were able to recover these larval cases. That's how they could do the analysis. You work your way backwards and you figure out where are these regulatory elements, what are they affecting, what does Drosophila need to get to the adult fly.
So we go back to my paradox – animal body plans are built in each generation by a step-wise process. There's Drosophila. It's interesting when you look at the history of the use Drosophila as a model system, Morgan in the early decades of the 20th century said we're going to do experimental evolution. We're going to show how evolution works by subjecting these poor flies to heat, x-rays, chemicals, and so forth. We'll mutate them in every way possible. And the answer that comes back if we listen to nature is the fly said there is an envelope outside of which we will cease to be, and you can discover it by perturbing our development. This is very well supported not just from Drosophila but from the other model systems of developmental biology. You want to mutate that in a fundamental way and change its form or something like the Cambrian Explosion, you've got to start here. Now we can close the circle. We have our paradox. Those are the mutations that will not be tolerated by the embryos.
In some cases there are mutations that are tolerated that occur early, but you know what they don't affect? They don't affect the global body plan. The only exception is loss of structure. So you can buy wingless flies and feed them to your anole. There are no – unless it's on a special sort of island fauna where there aren't any predators – there are no populations of wingless flies out there in the wild. They are not evolutionary competitors.
Now, I'm a junior at Pitt studying evolutionary biology, and this paper is published by John McDonald, a Drosophila geneticist who works on evolution. He’s now at Georgia Tech. I'm skinny. I have all my hair. I’m unmarried. It’s the first Reagan administration. It's a long time ago. He is summarizing twenty years of research going back into the early 60s leading up to this point. If you go as I do (I’m a member of the Society for Developmental Biology), if you go to an Evo-Devo meeting where evolution and development are brought together to try to solve this problem, this is well known. It is not a mystery. Why is a problem like this that has led to a great Darwinian paradox – and as he puts it, Steve says mutations we see are not that ones we need, the ones we need are not the ones we see. Actually in the paper this whole paragraph is in italics so you can't miss it. He really wants you to see this. Why is a deep unsolved problem like this still with us decades after it was discovered? It has a lot more to do with naturalism than it does with the theory.
Eric Davidson and I met in China twenty years ago. We had a long conference there on the origin of animal body plans. In the last two decades of his career he was increasingly outspoken about the failures of standard theory, that we needed to try something new. This is a problem. It's a problem for theists who want to marry their theism to a scientific theory that is dying. One of the things that Steve and I saw in London was a range of proposals to solve the problems that gave no indication that they were going to be solved.
Here's our final paradox, and I'll finish on time, and that truly is a miracle. Remember these are evolutionary biologists talking. There's not a Christian in the room. There's not a crazy intelligent design theorist like me in the room: You’re basically wrong. That's A-negation-A. Not to worry. It's all within the framework of naturalism. My gripe, my reason for being here today, has very much less to do with the theory of evolution as a scientific idea, much of which is perfectly sound and will be incorporated into any theory of biological design. My gripe is with that. That's a philosophy. That's what the apostle Paul used the pejorative philosophy about. It's a problem if you are a theist because no one can serve two masters. Thank you very much.
JEFF SCHLOSS: It's great to be with you. Again, as others have said, thank you very much for convening us. I am actually here as an embodiment of the important and well-known biological phenomenon of hybrid inviability. I had an early association and collaboration with Steve and Paul Nelson and my colleagues and friends in the ID movement. My reasons for being involved actually haven't changed. I haven't changed my mind on these issues. But I also consider myself a theistic evolutionist, and perhaps by the end of my talk my colleagues who also consider themselves theistic evolutionists will agree with me that you can't be a hybrid, and I'm not one. The reason for my initial sympathies with intelligent design would run along the lines of what Paul Nelson just shared with us. Actually, these comments are going to be responding to the paper. I'm not going to have much to say scientifically. I agree and don't agree with some of what my friends in ID have said. But Paul pointed out the issue of naturalism. I actually think a comparable and even graver concern is the particular brand of naturalism which I might describe as Darwinian nihilism. Richard Dawkins is famous for saying the universe we observe “has precisely those properties we would expect if there's at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” He doesn't even mention God. He says there's nothing about the cosmos that would suggest it has any purpose or any goodness to it. That can't be true if you're a Christian, and either evolution itself must be utterly false or the brand of evolution put on the table has to be ideologically distorted. So I want to do two things in this talk. I want to talk about what it would mean to be a theistic evolutionist, and then just share with you some, I think, underappreciated contributions of that perspective.
I agree with Steve that the most important determiner of what theistic evolution is is: What is evolution? He quotes Keith Thompson's famous paper, “The Meanings of Evolution.” It can be change over time, shared ancestry, or causal genealogy. Just very quick comments here. First of all, change over time isn't quite it. Human lifespan has increased over the last hundred years. That's not evolution. For it to be evolution it has to be heritable change over time. So you might say, okay, it's change in gene frequencies. This is the standard definition of evolution. The evolution definition used in the seminal Scientific American article “What is Evolution?” You can change the assortment of genes or alleles and change genotype frequencies without changing gene frequencies. So then you modify it and say it's change in gene or genotype frequencies over time. Well, that's actually not it either because you can change the chromosomal arrangement of genes and that doesn't influence gene or genotype frequencies at all. So now we have a new definition – change in the genetic constitution of a population over time. Well, that's not it either because you can evolve by epigenetic changes inheritable information. You haven't changed the genes at all. Well, maybe we're back to just heritable change over time? But if that's the case then cultural information is heritable in ways analogous to genetic information. So now we're back to maybe saying increase in lifespan is evolution. In fact there's a big debate in evolutionary theory right now about what constitutes evolutionary change. Some of my colleagues like David Sloan Wilson think the culturally mediated change in phenotype over time is evolution. So I’m just saying we're starting with a really complicated issue here, and I want to acknowledge that people don't even agree on what constitutes evolutionary change.
Secondly, how about this issue of shared ancestry? I just want to make a couple of distinctions. First of all, there's a distinction between universal common ancestry and the phrase that Darwin used which was descent with modification. Darwin actually comes down different places on this. Steve Meyer, in his opening chapter, quotes Darwin as affirming universal common ancestry. On the other hand, in the last paragraph of his Origin he says, “There is grandeur in this view of life . . . having been . . . breathed by the Creator into (one form or several)”. In fact he retains that through all seven editions of his essay. But the main distinction I want to make here is the distinction between common ancestry and ontological continuity. Those things aren't necessary entailments of one another. And that’s a big deal for Christians. A recent article on Nature says, “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.” How on earth a theological comment like that could be made in a scientific journal, it was beyond me, but there's a [legacy here] that goes back at least to Karl Vogt. Darwin's contemporary says, “Darwin's theory turns the Creator . . . without any hesitation out of doors. . . . Thus man is not a special creation, produced in a different way, and distinct from other animals, endowed with an individual soul and animated by the breath of God.” By the way, that's simply not true. Darwinism doesn't do that at all. The co-discoverer of natural selection Alfred Russel Wallace rejected all those things. The last three popes have affirmed evolution but rejected that – they are dualists. They believe that God supernaturally ensouled . . . and actually probably the most prominent theistic evolutionist in the English-speaking world, Ken Miller, in his book Finding Darwin's God (who is a Catholic, by the way) affirms the supernatural ensoulment of some being that evolved that was biologically sufficiently receptive. So that's simply untrue.
A couple of other issues. If you subscribe to some sort of natural causal genealogy, does that mean that design is an illusion? Steve, in the opening chapter to the theistic evolution book, says if apparent design is an illusion as both Darwinists and neo-Darwinists have argued, then it follows that whatever mechanism produced the appearance must be wholly unguided and undirected. I'm actually sympathetic to his concerns here, but I actually think the logic is in reverse. It's not that if design is an illusion it follows that the mechanisms that produced it are undirected. In fact, the argument is completely the opposite. It starts from a metaphysical pre-commitment that there is no guidance and therefore God’s design becomes an illusion.
Secondly, well, okay, is it God? And here all of us, I think, can recognize there are different forms of guidance. There could be initial conditions and boundary constraints on a process. There could be various mechanisms of divine action, detectable or undetectable. But what if you hold to this first notion of divinely endowed initial conditions? Well, again, Steve says such a front-loaded view is, of course, logically possible but it's indistinguishable from deism. I actually disagree with this. I think deism, and most of us think deism, is a commitment to a God creating a universe and then running on its own. You can be a completely orthodox Christian and hold that God accomplished all the miracles that are testified to in Scripture, you could even believe that the origin of life was miraculously emergent. That wouldn’t make you a deist any more than Charles Lyell would be a deist for thinking that there are natural causes of the Earth’s major geological features. So I'm not sure the deism concern is legitimate.
But this one might be. What if you have a causal explanation that makes design undetectable? Again Steve says denying the detectability in design runs into problems with scriptural affirmation that the invisible attributes of God are clearly evident and in the things that he has made. Denying the detectability of God’s design in nature. I want to say a couple of things about this. First of all, theistic evolution, as Bill has just reminded us earlier, does not deny the detectability of design in nature. There are all sorts of cosmological fine-tuning arguments, there is rare-Earth fine-tuning arguments. It doesn't deny it. Secondly, there are emerging biological fine-tuning arguments. One of the issues that I've been most interested in is what biologists call the quarter-power scaling law. It may be the only actual law that exists in biology, and it is responsible for the allometric scaling of organisms that emerge over time. We actually can't explain that law, by the way.
But in addition to arguments, there are other evidential pointers to God like the evidential warrant of beauty. Newton says, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of a . . . Being . . . (whom I call) Lord God.” He wasn't making an argument there. And actually I have to say if you look at the flagellum – it's a self-assembling machine that can turn at up to seventeen thousand rpms, can reverse direction in a quarter of a turn, has almost a hundred percent efficiency of converting free energy to mechanical work. A recent review in Advances in Physics described it as the most powerful and efficient machine in the world. I think the heavens declare the glory of God, and so does the flagellum whether or not it's irreducibly complex.
I want to make a couple of comments then on what the theistic part of theistic evolution means. That can mean different things. It could mean just brute theological accommodation. Darwin said it. I believe it. That settles it. And either saying there are no theological problems or trimming theology to fit whatever mainstream science says. That's not my commitment, and it's not the view of many of my co-TE’ers. It could be something like theological problem-solving. I think that's what Murray and Churchill are getting at. That's what Bill Craig gets at. Here's a criticism that Steve Meyer makes that I actually am very sympathetic to. I think Bill's right that it's a criticism assuming that TE is supposed to do science, an entangled (indeed, convoluted) view of the origin of the living system adds nothing to our scientific understanding and thus the modifier “theistic” is superfluous. Advocates would say we're not trying to advance science. Okay. Fine enough. But I actually think TE can advance science, and here is how I would describe theistic evolution. Here I'm disagreeing with my colleagues here. I see it as a subset of Al Plantinga’s theistic science. It entails allowing our background beliefs (including theological beliefs) to expand the reservoir of plausible hypotheses to include those that are heretical or not acceptable by the prevailing scientific views. Al says we might see here a charter for Christian scholarship in attempting to understand nature. We should employ the Scriptures as spectacles understanding natural phenomenon and the book of nature from the perspective of the Christian faith. Here's the contrast to ID. This view of theistic evolution starts with the Scriptures, explicitly owns it, and then allows theological pre-commitments to expand our reservoirs of hypotheses to investigate. I think Bill’s right that ID doesn't do that. Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments. This one gets complicated because later on Bill Dembski says indeed intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory. Phil Johnson says our strategy has been to change the subject of it so that we can get the issue of intelligent design (which really means the reality of God) before the academic world and into the schools. By the way, there are a lot of bogus quotes from Phil Johnson floating around on the Internet. This one is not bogus. It's not clear to me that ID is as simply a scientific theory as some would proposed.
Lastly, I want to just finish up by just rushing through a few of the proposals that those invested in TE in my sense of allowing theology to inform hypotheses. What's been accomplished? We're doing alternative hypotheses to scientific naturalism. The first one is altruism. Michael Ghiselin says, “If . . . natural selection is both sufficient and true, it is impossible for a genuinely . . . ‘altruistic’ behavior pattern to evolve. . . . Scratch an ‘altruist’ and watch a ‘hypocrite’ bleed. No hint of genuine charity ameliorates our vision of society, once sentimentalism has been laid aside.” Well, it's true that natural selection does propose a problem for the emergence of altruism or costly cooperation, but a Christian – the director of the Center for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard named Martin Novak – has actually . . . I'm going to argue first with respect to the Ghiselin quote “if natural selection is both sufficient and true.” First of all, it's not true. That is to say his version of natural selection operating only at the most individualistic levels of replicating information is not true. Martin devised a series of mathematical proposals for how natural selection might operate, and a number of other ones. In fact, he also argues that not only is it not true, but natural selection is not sufficient. Cooperation is needed for evolution to attain ever greater levels of organization. In fact, it's somewhat ironic – maybe not – but the Discovery Institute actually funded me with a fellowship to do a book on this in which I argued stringently that natural selection is not sufficient. There are a number of other evolutionary mechanisms that both allow for and in some cases induce or cultivated the origin of altruistic cooperation. Since then a number of Christians have gotten together and said if that's true then how about the biblical narrative that it's more blessed to give than to receive? The number of evolutionary proposals and epidemiological followups for how cooperation could be sufficiently internalized that our own measurable indices of well-being (physical and psychological) are effected. Here's just one example done by Stephanie Brown (a Christian) working in the Center for Evolutionary Medicine where she went back and looked at the data that suggests if you're diagnosed with a terminal disease and are involved in a support group you live longer. It's true, but you live longer if you're the person controlling [for initial status] of the disease. If you're the person who is mostly giving support rather than just selfishly taking support.
Okay. Two more. How about the issue of purpose? Alex Rosenberg in an article “Darwin's Nihilistic Idea,” and this is his interpretation of Darwin: “Darwinism puts the capstone on denying there's any meaning or purpose to the universe, its contents, and its cosmic history.” I think Bill nailed it here. This involves a naive understanding of what “random” means. George Simpson says man is the result of a purposeless and natural process. He was not planned. Here's another case of what I would take to be theistic evolution. The life's work of Simon Conway Morris has argue stringently against this. That the outcome and trajectory of evolution isn't random, that it's structured by internalized possibility constraints, but also biotic dispositions of organisms.
Lastly, you could have non-random or convergent outcomes without having progress. Progress is perhaps something different. We might call it directional change in a value direction. Steve Gould is famous for having said progress is a noxious, culturally embedded, untestable, non-operational, intractable idea that must be replaced if we want to understand evolutionary theory. What do you really think, Steve? Progress can mean two things. It can be a mechanistic proposal for an autocatalytic process where one stage gives rise to the amplification of another stage. There's no value involved there. Or it can be directional change in a value direction. In that case science can't make a judgment. Values come from outside science, but then we can ask: Is there empirical evidence that suggests that there is progress? This goes back all the way to Christian Michel [Launey’s] comment over a generation ago on evolution – Living beings form a hierarchy in which each level of organization represents a distinctive principle that harnesses the level before it. So that's progress in the first sense. The evolutionary sequence gains new and deeper significance. We can recognize a strictly defined progression from the inanimate to other higher additional principles of life. This has been heresy for the last generation. There's a reflowering of affirmations of evolutionary progress. Cellular diversity over time, metabolic intensity, homeostatic capacity, lifespan, all these things can be coalesced together in a wonderful explosion of work on the origin and amplification of autonomy in biology which simply means the state of being alive. Jesus says, I’ve come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. What it looks like the evolutionary trajectory involves is an actual amplification of the biotic potentials of living systems. Here I want to say that this includes the changing in increase of information. ID may be right that you need more information or different information, but the important thing is life is more than just information, than energy. Life involves internalized homeostatic processes and that has increased over time.
What I want to conclude with is this. Design in theistic evolution. First of all, I want to say depending on how you construe design in theistic evolution, I don't think they are intrinsically incompatible. I actually think they're compatible. So the design question asks: What is the origin of information? Could you get the words in a book by monkeys typing at typewriters? But I want to close with this monkeys typing at typewriters analogy. It's true that you probably couldn't get Romeo and Juliet by monkeys at typewriters. And design theory might detect that. But it's also true of the phone book. And it's also true of Mein Kampf. What design doesn't do is actually beyond asking what's the source of the words; what's the plot of the novel? I think theistic evolution asks that question and informs hypotheses that we think are plausible in light of a good creator in terms of what plot we would expect to see in the history of life on Earth.
JOHN CHURCHILL: We want to start off by thanking all of our commentators again for the care and attention that they gave to our paper. We're going to take 20 minutes here. I will have some comments that I read and then Michael will come up to read the second half. Then we're going to have some time for Q&A.
Let’s start with Tom. Tom takes up a number of the items that Michael and I discuss in our paper and he provides thicker and more perspicuous treatments of these as well as added biblical and theological sophistication. He does this in a number of cases, and in each case Michael and I are happy, grateful even, to take his expanded treatment on board as an aide and in further illumination of what we wrote. Here we'll just highlight one of these, namely his discussion of the historical Adam and Eve.
We think Tom has done all of us a service by parsing one of Wayne Grudem's challenges to theistic evolution in an argument form and then attempting to respond to that challenge. In Tom's characterization there are two main premises. First, evolution is ultimately inconsistent with commitment to an initially human pair, or Adam and Eve, from which all other humans descend. And second, a commitment to just such a pair is necessary in any biblically faithful view of humanity. The conclusion follows straight away. Evolution is therefore inconsistent with a biblically faithful view of humanity.
In responding to this argument, Tom takes what for many might seem a surprising approach. He chooses not to dispute that second premise. He concedes for present purposes that if we are to be faithful to the Bible we must commit to the doctrine that all of us descended from an initial human pair. Rather, Tom challenges the first premise. He argues that evolution is after all consistent with commitment to Adam and Eve, with our descent from them, and with associated doctrines like original sin. He demonstrates this (he didn't have time to actually read this part of his paper, but in the longer comments that Michael and I saw he demonstrates this) consistency by way of illustration presenting two recent proposals, one by philosopher Peter van Inwagen and one by geneticist Joshua Swamidass, where each of those two recent proposals affirms both evolution and an initial human pair as the ancestors of us all. They do that in very different ways. We have nothing to add to what Tom's has given us here except to say that we hope in the future to see more proposals like those of people as van Inwagen and Swamidass; that is more rigorous attempts and creative attempts to explore the potential harmony between biology on the one hand and Christian theology on the other. And we hope to see more presentations like Tom’s which explain these proposals in sophisticated but accessible fashion. Thank You, Tom.
Let's turn now to Bill. Bill raises important questions about many components of the paper that Michael and I wrote. While we're happy to respond to any of these questions during the Q&A period to follow, due to time limitations these comments will touch directly on just one of his points but in a way that we hope will indirectly address some of his other questions. Bill wants to know what, in our opinion, is the degree of miraculous activity that mere theistic evolution permits, especially miraculous activity in the evolutionary development of life? In our paper we try to make very clear that mere theistic evolution does not preclude God's providentially directing the development of biological complexity and diversity including directing this development via miracles. This is one of the reasons why Michael and I think that intelligent design and theistic evolution are friendlier to each other than is often supposed. So Bill's question is a very good one. On our account, how much miraculous activity can you posit within evolutionary history before you cross a line and no longer count as theistic evolution. Here's our answer. Some miraculous activity, but not too much. [laughter]
At first glance this is apt to look like a dodge, but it’s not. The reason why it's not is because we don't believe that theistic evolution should be thought of as having sharp boundaries on this issue. That's why we intentionally proposed criteria that would allow many clear cases of views that would count as theistic evolution, many clear cases of views that would not count as theistic evolution, and some vague cases in between where the difference between these can depend in part on differences in the kind and amount of miracles proposed in each case. The fact that views can follow along a spectrum in this way stems from what we proposed in the third definitional feature of mere theistic evolution, namely commitment to evolutionary processes as providing the best explanation to the complexity and diversity of life. Importantly one can commit to something as the best explanation for some phenomena without thereby committing to it as an exclusive or exhaustive explanation of those phenomena. By way of analogy, Michael mentioned this a little bit earlier, one might hold that meteorological science provides the best explanation for the patterns of weather even though those explanations aren't comprehensive because, for example, when God miraculously guides the weather (as in Jesus’ calming of the wind and waves) that specific change in the weather is produced by miracle rather than by ordinary meteorological processes. This would mean that there are weather events that meteorological science does not and will explain. But that wouldn't lead us to question the explanatory power of meteorological science. Likewise in the case of evolution, there's room for people to commit to evolution as the best explanation of the complexity and diversity of life and nevertheless appeal to some extent to God's miraculous activity in explaining this complexity and diversity.
We give some examples in our paper of views like this. We think that versions of the two historical Adam proposals that Tom mentioned in his paper but didn't have time to discuss would count as well. So I’m going to take one of those. I don't think you need any background information on it. Let's suppose someone adopted a version of geneticist Joshua Swamidass’ recent proposal that went like this. God guided evolutionary processes through ordinary providence until the creation of the original human pair which he brought about de novo through a miraculous act. We think that someone who holds to such a view is very naturally described as a theistic evolutionist who believes in the special creation or miraculous creation or direct creation of human beings. The reason we think this is that such a person accepts that there's an evolutionary story for virtually all of the biological complexity and diversity we find in the world. They just object to evolutionary explanations for a tiny set of that phenomenon.
This is not to say that it's all a numbers game; that it's simply the amount of miracles that matters when classifying something as theistic evolution or not. For we think it's clear that the kind of miracles that are posited makes a difference as well. To see this, consider two views. The first view holds that God miraculously created ten thousand (roughly) of the world's plants and animal species de novo in their current form at some time in the past where this set of species boasts an impressive array of complexity and diversity. Such of view, we believe, would be one on which evolution fails to explain such a significant amount of the world's biological complexity and diversity that we can no longer say that it constitutes the best explanation of this phenomeon as whole, and so it would not count as a version of theistic evolution.
Now consider a second view on which God performs roughly a million miracles – a hundred times more than the first view – in order to bring about hundreds of thousands of species, but where in each case the miracle is one that is integrated into evolutionary processes. For example, God might miraculously erect a land barrier or a water barrier to foster speciation, or miraculously provide a food source to a dwindling population, or bring about a mutation that would have been physically impossible in the circumstances. In each case, God's activity does not supersede evolutionary processes. Rather, God operates fully within those processes by miraculously changing the conditions under which evolution will take place. This allows for evolution to be affirmed as the best explanation for biological complexity and diversity keeping in mind that best need not mean exhaustive or exclusive which in turn would put such a view fully within the fold of theistic evolution despite the fact that it posits a hundred times more miracles than the first view.
In sum, if you're looking for sharp criteria to tell you the exact amount and kind of miracles that a view can admit within an evolutionary account and still count as theistic evolution as we understand it then you're not going to find it here. But we count this as a virtue rather than a vice and for two reasons. First, we think this is exactly the right way to think about the matter. Unlike whether or not a number is even or whether or not an argument is valid, whether or not something counts as a version of a theistic evolution will sometimes be a vague matter. But second, our view does have sufficient resources to allow us to classify clear views correctly. So despite the big thresholds we can confidently identify many positions as within the fold of theistic evolution and many others as outside that fold.
I'm going to pass the baton off to Michael.
MICHAEL MURRAY: We did not have in advance the comments from Paul, Steve, and Jeff. So I'm not going in ten minutes to resolve all of the scientific problems or challenges that were raised or be able to comment on the many interesting ways in which Jeff suggested theistic commitments can come to inform our thinking about science more broadly and evolutionary theory in particular. But let me say just a couple of brief things that I think is good for all of us to keep in mind as we think about this topic.
First of all, it's certainly true that evolutionary theory itself has evolved over time. That isn’t surprising. Evolutionary theory is a theory that purports to explain a lot – the complexity and diversity of life. There's a lot of life and a lot of complexity. So we shouldn't expect that a simple algorithm is going to explain it all. There might be such an algorithm, and people once thought they knew what it was – namely variation and selection. But as we learn more we realize the algorithm doesn't provide a complete explanation. So evolutionary theorists began to ask: What are the other sorts of explanations that we should look for? Frankly, this sort of evolution of the theory is on par with what one finds when it comes to other large-scale scientific theories with wide scope. The standard model of particle physics or the twin pillars of quantum theory of relativity. They're big theories that aim to explain a lot, and they admit anomalies, and that leads to puzzlement and disagreement and revision. But the theories aren't in crisis except in the sense that all such big theories are. That is, they seek to explain a lot, we find anomalies, we try to figure out what's wrong with them, we see whether or not we can fix it. Sometimes those anomalies lead to revisions; sometimes they lead to scientific revolutions. What's going to happen in this case? You don't actually know. There's anomalies, and we're going to keep looking into them. Both Steve and Paul have mentioned this really important conference that happened at the Royal Society in 2016 where a number of folks who were challenging the modern synthesis came together and in many respects (not entirely) but it was kind of the launch of the, at least, publicity around what's now known as the extended synthesis. A lot of work has gone on since then. That conference was sponsored by the Templeton Foundation where John and I used to work. We sponsored it because we were sitting around in the offices looking at some of the various challenges that have been raised in evolution, talking with some of those who had concerns about the inadequacies of evolutionary theory, at least the modern synthesis, to explain all the complexity and diversity of life. We recognized that there were some interesting alternatives that hadn't really been given full voice. We thought let's bring these folks together and see where it leads and see if there's a way we can marshal these novel scientific explanatory resources as a way of explaining what the modern synthesis can't explain. Will that happen? We don't know. Right now a lot of that work is actually playing out. What we're learning is that there are other forms of inheritance that weren't taken into account as much as they should have been in the past. These are things that we just need to let the scientific community work out. Will it work out in the end? Honestly, we don't know. We don't know whether fully naturalistic explanations are going to work out, but the only way to find out is to let the experts carry out the discussion.
For those of us who aren't scientists, who are maybe just ordinary lay Christians or those of us who are academics but aren't scientists, why should we care about this? I think one reason we cared about it a lot in the past was because we were under the impression that evolutionary theory created significant theological problems. In fact, that's the premise of much of the book – that there are significant theological problems that you're faced with if you have to embrace evolutionary theory. What we showed in the paper, or at least we claim to show in the paper, and we didn't get as much time to talk about this as perhaps we could have but you can always go back and read it, is that those are illusions. Those theological problems don't exist. We know they don't exist now because over the last thirty years or so a lot of really great Christians who understand the science and understand the theology have asked themselves: How do these things fit together? We don’t know. Let's try to work it out. And they've come with some really interesting alternatives. I think those alternatives show that many of these supposed theological problems that come along with theistic evolution just don't exist. So we don't have that as the motive anymore for thinking we need to find a way to defeat evolution because if we don't all these theological claims are now in peril. No, that's not it. I think maybe there's something else, and that is there's this presumption of noxious naturalism – that naturalism pervades the academy in some way or science in some way or evolutionary theory in some way. No doubt there's a significant extent to which that's true. But it's not universally true. There are, as Jeff pointed out and he exemplifies this himself, scientists who are theists who think that there's something right about the evolutionary account broadly construed and that we can look at the evolution of life through a theistic lens in a way that turns out to be more explanatorily fertile and fruitful than we could have if we were just looking at it as a naturalist. So bringing those background commitments to bear actually leads us to look for things we wouldn't have otherwise expected, and sometimes we find them and we actually learn something the naturalist probably wouldn't have found on their own.
Here's an example of this. If you buy into the broad evolutionary picture, you think that over time (life going from the very simple to the complex over time) is leading somewhere. As a Christian I think we think one place it's leading is to the origins of organisms that manifest the divine image. How is that supposed to happen? You might think – you might be wrong but you might think – the way this is going to happen is there's going to have to be certain kinds of guardrails in place, guardrails that kind of push evolution in the direction of realizing the existence of organisms that manifest the divine image in some way. You might go out and look for those guardrails. Maybe you go out and you find them. Some people think actually that we have. Some of those who are motivated to do research on evolutionary convergence were motivated by these kinds of theological considerations. By going out and looking for these guardrails they found them, or so they claim. There's good reason to believe them. So by bringing these theological commitments to the table when we're doing our science, we can actually do science better than the naturalist. That's a good thing. We should celebrate that. But we can only do it if more of us are doing it – if we invite the Christian community to bring those theological convictions to the table and to do that work in a way that leads to those ends.
One last thing. I think that one thing you hear from Paul and Steve and many of those who are part of the intelligent design movement is that they feel that their arguments are unfairly excluded because they're not willing to drink the naturalist’s koolaid. To some extent I think that's true. There are certainly people who don't . . . You can read reviews of their work in scientific venues that clearly are not giving them a fair hearing, and probably not giving them a fair hearing because they haven’t drunk the naturalist’s koolaid. But I think what many of us need to recognize is that within the academy it's not the case that only naturalistic perspectives get taken seriously. You can see that in a variety of different places. You can see it in the philosophy of physics and cosmology where scientists who are part of the academy are taking fine-tuning explanations seriously, and it's a competitor in the intellectual space. You can see it in philosophy of religion. You can see it in philosophy of mind where even though dualism is a minority position it's still one that people can advocate for and can get tenure for writing articles about it. So we can't just say that there's this naturalistic bias and it rules out Christian scholars doing their work from a non-naturalistic perspective. We know that that's not true. Maybe it's more pronounced in this particular case than in others but the first step that has to happen in order to get these non-naturalistic perspectives on the table is those who are advocating for them have to get them published in peer-reviewed journals. They have to get others who are part of the community to sign on. Even many, many Christians in biology have not yet signed on to the intelligent design program. We just need to see how this plays out, but I think the theological significance of it is much less grave than we once thought that it was. It's important for us to keep that in mind as we think about what to do with theistic evolution more broadly. Thank you.
I'll call on folks. If you could make your comment or question short. It may be the case that there are a lot of panelists who will want to speak to your question or comment. We may limit the number of people that we allow to do that just because there are seven of us and we don't want to take up all the time on any one.
QUESTION: Is the thesis of common descent incompatible with the claim in fundamental ontology that individual substances are instances of natural kind essence, and it doesn't matter to think if you take that as [?] or E. J. Longwood. Or whether or not you have a body-soul composite like the early Swinburne. Because if you hold that view and you take the body as a substance, the natural kind is characterized by essential properties and those can't be in flux. So there's a genuine qualitative difference between one fundamental kind and another, and you can't get unity. I'm not sure how a fundamental kind differs from a very complex dispositional unity that we might say is information-rich.
PAUL NELSON: I'll take a stab at that. Throughout the twentieth century most evolutionary biologists denied vehemently that species had essences because that was an Aristotelian conception as far as they could see it. Darwin himself said species are conveniences for the sake of classification but they are ultimately artificial. That view has changed pretty remarkably within the last 30 years. Stephen Gould wrote a piece where the title was “Species are not specious” – a little play on words. In other words, within evolutionary theory there's been a recognition of the ontological reality of the species. In fact, Michael Ghiselin, whom Jeff cited earlier, came up with a theory of species as individuals where they did have some essence if you will. I think it's unresolved within evolutionary theory largely because the species question itself is unresolved. For me the challenge with, I think, that your question raises for me ultimately comes down to human nature and the imago dei. It's one of the reasons (it wasn't prominent in my talk) I hesitate to say there are no theological problems with theistic evolution. But I'm not sure I addressed what you were getting at.
QUESTION: When Phillip Johnson asked Richard Dawkins what's the best evidence for macroevolution, Dawkins said the universality of the genetic code which obviously could also be interpreted as evidence for a common creator rather than a common ancestor. My question for the theistic evolutionist is: What is the best evidence for macroevolution that couldn't be interpreted also as a common designer?
JEFF SCHLOSS: I think your question can be answered in different ways depending on what you take evolution to be. I already mentioned that my core commitment (and actually my training is in evolutionary biology) is common descent. A number of the evidences claimed to bolster belief in common descent could be taken as evidence of a common creator or evidence of some sort of Platonic constraints on possibilities. I think of a couple of evidences. One evidence is shared . . . if something looks the same, you might expect it to have similar genetic information. If a student comes in to me and I say, “You guys cheated; you used one another’s sources on your exam,” and they say, “Well, yeah, we both got the right answers.” That's common descent. But if they have that exact same wrong answers to the fifteenth decimal place, that's evidence of common descent. So, bottom line, pseudogenes. A lot of pseudogenes have been found to have function. Not all have. But then we need to ask the question: Does that disable pseudogenes and other, not non-functional but, apparently broken genetic information as evidence. Steve and I may disagree on this but I think not, any more than if you see a homeless person living in a car with all four wheels gone and no gas tank. That's a pseudo-car but it has been co-opted with a new function. So bottom line, I think the best evidence for common descent is genetic sequences that appear to be broken or if co-opted were nevertheless broken forms of a gene that has clear function in other species.
STEPHEN MEYER: What would be the best argument is the one that Collins makes in Language of God. We have a research project that we're supporting now in an Israeli institution examining the vitamin C pseudogene which was allegedly one of those broken but common genes in chimps and humans. The evidence is looking very much like it's not broken. This has been a pattern.
I just want to make one comment not disputing common descent but I think it's striking that in all of the two and a half hours that we’ve endured, not one person on the panel has made an affirmative argument for the creative power of the mutation-selection mechanism or for any other of the new mechanisms that have been proposed under the heading of the extended synthesis. I critique its creative power with respect to proteins and protein folds, a little bit with body plans and Paul extended that. Jeff as an evolutionary biologist affirmed common descent but demured from offering a positive case for the sufficiency of those Darwinian and post-Darwinian processes. And yet that is one of the core tenants of mere (theistic evolution) that we've been discussing. I think there is a scientific problem here that we can't just sweep under the rug. I think we are very much over-assuming the authority of the consensus view. I think it is beholden to people who have both a scientific commitment to scientific truth and theological truth, they need to examine the proposition that we are attempting to reconcile with theological orthodoxy and find out first if it is true before we undergo these elaborate philosophical reconciliations.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Steve, the reason nobody's addressed that is because that wasn't the topic of Michael and John’s paper. Their paper was about the theological acceptability of theistic evolution with doctrines of divine providence, miracles, evidence for God, and non-physical souls. But it wasn’t about the scientific adequacy.
STEPHEN MEYER: It was a critique of a book that had over 500 pages of critique of the scientific adequacy, one of their three tenants was precisely the adequacy of those evolutionary processes.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: But this paper didn't address those scientific critiques in the book. It was directed at the theological critiques.
STEPHEN MEYER: They affirm that as part of their position. That those mechanisms provide the best explanatory . . . for complexity.
MICHAEL MURRAY: As one of the authors, let me jump in and say one of the things we didn’t read in our comments was a paragraph that indicates that we aren't actually arguing for the truth of the view. The view may be true. What we're arguing for is the compatibility of evolution and [personal faith]. So there is certainly an important scientific question – a set of scientific questions – to be addressed. There's no way we could possibly address that in the context of this session, but it's worth doing.
STEPHEN MEYER: We very much understand the distinction between the compatibility thesis that you're offering and the sufficiency thesis, but your sufficiency thesis was embedded in your compatibility thesis. That was one of your three propositions.
MICHAEL MURRAY: That's right.
STEPHEN MEYER: So I do think it's worth noting before we go about reconciling, I think we should be asking: Do we need to reconcile it? Is there an epistemic obligation to do so? I don't think there is. Not one person on this panel offered a positive argument for this efficiency of those evolutionary processes.
MICHAEL MURRAY: Fair enough. The point here was that one of the things that's required in order for one to be a theistic evolutionist is that one accepts those claims, that one accept that evolutionary theory is a good explanation for the complexity and diversity of life. Then you'd have to offer . . .
STEPHEN MEYER: I’m a TE in the way that Jeff is, in accepting some of the other definitions of evolution, but I don't accept a sufficiency of those processes. I think actually the bologna probably needs to be sliced a little finer.
QUESTION: My question is to the theistic evolutionists. [?] The genealogies that trace Jesus back to Adam. My question is for the three of you. Do you believe that each of the people in that genealogy are literal, historical people all the way back to Adam. If not, where in the genealogy do you stop with literal, historical people? Is Abraham a literal, historical person? Where in the list do you stop and they become symbolic people? If you do believe that it goes all the way back to some kind of a historical Adam, when in geologic time does that historical Adam exist?
MICHAEL MURRAY: I'll go first. I honestly don't know. My inclination is to think that those genealogies are genealogies that we can take literally, although I don't think that they're complete. We know that they're not complete. I guess until someone gives me a good reason to think otherwise I think the individuals that are listed there are real historical individuals. When did those individuals live and when specifically did the first one live? I don't know. I think there's some really interesting proposals out there that have been made that give us reason to believe that we can reconcile dates that are as early as 6,000 years ago to those that would claim it requires that we go back as long as 500,000 years ago. I think the interesting thing here is to note that there are different proposals on the table from a variety of different Christian thinkers who understand the biology and who have affirmed for us that there are a range of options available.
QUESTION: My question is to Dr. Craig. He suggested here that the two sides might be talking at cross-purposes. It seems like no one has addressed that. I was wondering why because it seems like theistic evolution presupposes evolution. Then you think about God's work within the framework of evolution, whereas Dr. Meyer says that the proposed mechanism (whether it is Darwinian evolution or the modern synthesis) just don't even stand up to scrutiny really well to basically be upheld as the best explanation as you say. Is it not just talking at cross-purposes as Dr. Craig suggests? Number two, you said that if there are people who are believing in intelligent design were in the academy then they could publish their papers. But is that not saying that if anybody was in the academy already and then sudden subscribes to intelligent design they lose their tenure. Therefore they cannot be in there. So it's sort of a catch-22. So two questions.
STEPHEN MEYER: I’ll talk about the tenure issue. In 2004 I published the first peer-reviewed paper advancing the theory of intelligent design at the proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, the peer-reviewed journal that's attached to the Smithsonian Institution. It created an unbelievable furor resulting in not the firing but the demoting and harassing of the editor who published the paper. The argument that was offered was that before I had published the paper intelligent design is not a scientific hypothesis because there are no peer-reviewed papers in support of it. After the paper was published, the argument was made that we can't publish papers on the theory of intelligent design because it's not a scientific theory. So we had a tight little circle. Eventually Richard Sternberg was actually informed by the president of the Society that oversaw the publication of the journal that he couldn't guarantee his personal safety that tempers were running so high. He now is affiliated with the Biologic Institute, an ID lab that we have partially supported in Redmond. A lot of our best talent is coming to us as refugees from institutions like that. Gunter Bechly, a very prominent insect paleontologist in Germany who announced his intellectual conversion from a Darwinist to a Darwin-skeptic and finally to an ID proponent, was effectively told he wasn't welcome at the museum anymore though he had curated many of their most outstanding exhibitions including the 2009 Darwin exhibition. I would say that it is true that in many of those fields, the philosophers in particular especially in the Midwest schools, have done a great job of bringing theistic perspectives into the mainstream of philosophy. But within the discussion about evolutionary biology we have living and breathing proof that the atmosphere is still quite hostile and that it is suppressing inquiry. It is also suppressing a lot of dissent much more than you would recognize. We know where a lot of those dissenters are, and we can't always talk about them.
MICHAEL MURRAY: I’ll just say, having been at a secular institution – a tenured faculty member in a secular institution for twenty years – I can certainly tell you there's plenty of prejudice in the academy against Christian scholars and against those who do work that is anti-naturalistic in its presumption. But I also know, having been a student of Al Plantinga and many of those who led the revolution in Christian philosophy, that there's a path that you can follow to make the case for these non-naturalistic positions. It just requires a lot of long, slow work starting with addressing smaller topics and then increasing the scope of the explanation as you bring others on board with the explanatory power of these alternative frameworks. There's been discussion about this.
STEPHEN MEYER: That's happening in our area. [We're not just doing that. It's a good thing.]
MICHAEL MURRAY: That’s the issue. Let's go ahead and put that on the table and make the argument. I think those of us who are part of the broader theistic evolution camp (and I'm including these guys even though they don't want to be included). As I said, stand shoulder to shoulder and say, great, let's take a look at these arguments, let's see to what extent they're adequate, and if they are let's get those who are dissenters to tell us how to resolve the problem if they don't agree.
QUESTION: I have a question for Stephen and for those who are in the ID community. My understanding is that Michael Behe, who is in the ID camp, does not accept the Darwinian [extended] synthesis as an explanation but he does accept speciation and common descent. Do you understand theistic evolutionists in the sense that he does – accept speciation and the phenomena of speciation occurs all the way back to a common descent view?
STEPHEN MEYER: A great question. In the spirit of standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers here, it all depends on how the term evolution is defined. Jeff did a great job of doing something I didn't have enough time to do which was to enumerate those different meanings. In some definition – and by the way I laid out those different definitions of evolution in the introduction to the book and I photocopied the whole introduction for people if you would like to take one to get a sense of the complexity and the nuance that's required to answer a question like the one you did. As to Behe, he would be a theistic evolutionist in the sense that he affirms change over time in probably most of the senses that Jeff outlined. He used to affirm universal common descent but I think his recent work is moving him towards a position of limited common ancestry among groups up to the level of maybe orders or families but not the higher taxonomic categories. But he does not accept the sufficiency of the Darwinian mechanisms to explain the diversity and complexity of life. He wouldn't qualify by John and Michael's definition, but he would by some of the other definitions of TE that I lay out in the book.
PAUL NELSON: When I first got to know Mike in 1993, he was strongly affirming universal common descent. He would define himself as a design theorist foremost (he would disavow theistic evolution as a designation), but what he would say is design is empirical. If it's real, it belongs in science. It is detectable. It is part of the bailiwick of science. Gunter Bechly – same story. Gunter went through a lot of struggles in Stuttgart. What finally was the definitive point for him was realizing that he believed that design was an empirical phenomenon belonging to the province of science. If you have to build yourself a logic tree, at the top node is that proposition “design is empirical.”
JEFF SCHLOSS: Just a comment. I agree with what both my colleagues said in context of prior conversations with Mike. He did seem at the beginning to believe that information was front-loaded into living organisms and provided the adequate template for subsequent diversification. But the origins of that information itself was not explainable by a Darwinian or any naturalistic process. By the way, that would enable him to be a full-on theistic evolutionist. The next question of how that information gets elaborated, there has been a lot of talk about whether Darwinian or the extended synthesis mechanisms are sufficient. I mentioned before many of my secular colleagues in evolutionary biology would readily admit they're not sufficient. I actually don't think that's the debate. I don't think that's what you guys meant in your paper. The question is are they sufficiently promising not to discard? What I hear the ID movement saying is, no, they are sufficiently unpromising, and there's another alternative explanation that actually has more merit and should be embraced in preference. I think you can be a theistic evolutionist and say that the posited naturalistic mechanisms are sufficiently promising, that they don't merit discarding, and that we have what philosophers of science call a research program, and that's the research program you embrace.
MICHAEL MURRAY: [To accept in] very popular contexts, most people who are just plain old evolutionists (not theistic evolutionists) would say the same thing. They don't think that the mechanisms that have been identified are themselves sufficient. There are all sorts of anomalies that they don't know how to explain, and that's their day job – going out and asking how can we explain these things. It may turn out at the end of the day that they can't, but right now that is what they're trying to do and a lot of interesting science has been done as a result.
QUESTION: [off mic, off video]
STEPHEN MEYER: Conway Morris actually cited in his book the work of Axe on this. One of the key analytical cuts here is the distinction between modifying an existing fold and searching combinatorial space for a new one. We've had a lot of examples that have been asserted as counter-examples to our claim that the mutation-selection mechanism lacks the creative power to generate new folds, but invariably (things like the nylonase case) what's being offered is evidence of a few point mutations modifying an existing fold. The kind of thing you're talking about is the laboratory work of exploring what are the interactions that give rise to tertiary structure. This is where the work of Tawfik is so incredibly interesting because he's talking about the protein fold not only as an informational repository but also as a thermodynamically stable structure. What we're learning is that the accumulation of mutations (and it's between roughly 3-in-15 depending on the globular protein examined) will be enough to degrade that stability to the point that the folded structure that's a necessary condition of all function unwinds. Then at that point you're on your own. It may as well be neutral evolution trying to get to the next fold, and yet the space of possibilities is so vast and the representation of the folded structure is so infrequent or so rare that a random search in that space is not a plausible means of solving the search problem.
JEFF SCHLOSS: I actually agree with Steve's comments on the nylonase case, and that's something that many tried to get too much mileage out of. In fact, empirical work doesn't right now lend much confidence. But the theoretical work on searching possibility space – there's actually a wide divergence of views here. You've got Doug Axe’s work on the combinatorial possibilities with my colleague and fellow member of BioLogos Ard Louie at Oxford who is a biophysicist. He has spent the last several years actually running models on exactly this. He has concluded (and has several of these papers published and a number more are in review right now) that the combinatorial spacing itself is not random. There are stringent probability biases, and certain configurations of RNA and both protein structure are much more likely than other possibilities. And he thinks this is so much the case that in many situations it may overwhelm selection itself – that the more probable will actually be preferentially replicated over the more adaptive.
QUESTION: [off mic, off video]
JEFF SCHLOSS: I think that varies from person to person. For example, the evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin is very candid about saying he's committed to Darwinism as the best naturalistic explanation, and he's committed to naturalistic explanations based on the prior commitment that there are no alternatives. He's an atheist and he takes that as a serious informer of his methodology. As a Christian, I actually go the other direction. I happen to be open to natural or non-natural explanations. I agree with Bill. I don't know why we need to call it science, but it's certainly inference to the best explanation. I also think that Christians and people of all faiths can and ought to unapologetically bring their convicted background beliefs to their theorizing. I see no reason why Christians shouldn't. Michael has mentioned Al Plantinga as an exemplar as someone who has done that. I think we can do that. I've actually contrasted what I call theistic evolution which is bringing biblical pre-commitments to theorizing with intelligent design which seems to be making inferences about the creator from the science. But I actually think – and Steve and I have had this conversation – if my enterprise works often enough, that provides evidential warrant for there being a creator. And these folks are in some sense bringing their own pre-commitments of not restricting themselves to naturalistic causes to the theorizing. Even on this point I don't think we're that far apart.
STEPHEN MEYER: The flow can go both ways – from presuppositions to the interpretation of data or from the data to an inference to a framework that might provide presuppositions.
MICHAEL MURRAY: All right. You've been here a long time. We appreciate the time that you've given us. Please join with me in thanking all of the panel.
 In November of 2019 at the annual conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Dr. Craig joined a panel to discuss the topic of theistic evolution. Each panel member delivered his response to an article by Michael J. Murray (Franklin and Marshall College) and John Churchill (Independent Scholar) titled "Mere Theistic Evolution: A Review of 'Theistic Evolution', Edited by Moreland, Meyer, Shaw, Gaguer, and Grudem." The panel respsondents were Tom McCall (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), William Lane Craig (Talbot & Houston Baptist), Steve Meyer (Discovery Institute), Paul Nelson (Biola University & Discovery Institute), and Jeff Schloss (Westmont College). The original paper by Murray and Churchill can be found at: bit.ly/ThesisticEvolutionPaper