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Conference Provides Chance for Back and Forth with Biologos President Darrel Falk

After yesterday’s plenary session with Dr. Falk at the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science, I was looking forward to attending his breakout session and hearing more about his view of evolutionary creation.
And I was not disappointed.
There were fewer than twenty of us sitting in a U-shape at tables in a classroom, which felt a little bit like we were all having a small class session on theistic evolution evolutionary creation, up close and personal. In addition to the volunteers working with Dr. Falk on a film project (more on that later), Dr. Walter Bradley, conference organizer Larry Linenschmidt, Dr. Dennis Venema, and Dr. Richard Sternberg were in attendance, as well as a few younger thinkers.
Falk explained what he means by the term “evolutionary creation” and why he prefers it to “theistic evolution,” then outlined his particular view with three major points:

  1. God speaks natural laws into existence.
  2. Natural laws are a reflection of God’s ongoing activity.
  3. Through God’s ongoing natural activity, and through supernatural intervention, God is there at work and we have all the glory of creation.

We were then treated to a clip from a new film BioLogos is doing with Highway Media, which looked very good – beautiful, compelling, and full of talking heads with British accents sitting in nice churches. And a shot of C. S. Lewis’s grave, just in case you didn’t get the point that “evolutionary creation” is the smart Christian choice. (They also have Americans like Brian McLaren, but that’s less impressive to their evangelical targets, IMO.)
Finally, Dr. Falk took questions from the small group of us assembled there.

Now several of us at the table were intrigued by Dr. Falk’s statement that he believes God does step in and work miracles in His creation. He even admitted that intelligent design is, to him, a scientific question. So we were disappointed when, as an earnest young man next to me asked Dr. Falk if he saw other examples for God working supernaturally in creation, since he said his model allows for it… perhaps at the origin of life?

Question from audience: “What are some areas in which you think God did do supernatural miracles? You mention the Resurrection and Bible stories … any other things, things not mentioned in the Bible, perhaps the origin of life?”

Dr. Falk hemmed and hawed and didn’t really answer the question… at least, not to the satisfaction of his audience:

Falk: “As I stand back as a biologist and look back on my 30 years of teaching biology, the whole thing is just one big celebration of God’s creation. So what I sense you asking is, can I, as a biologist, come in and say, okay, there is no other explanation, that is, the scientists are totally wrong on this… I’m not able to do that. I’m not able to pinpoint and say, okay, here’s where God was working supernaturally, I can’t do that. I look at the whole situation and the whole beauty of creation as a whole, and it is God’s creation, and it’s absolutely beautiful, but I can’t go in and say scientifically, I’m just not able to do that, and say, this is where God was working in a supernatural way, but nothing is removed from God’s presence… Any attempts that I see, I say, I don’t know…

Fortunately, it did pick up a bit from there. One of the best things about a conference like this is when actual dialogue between and among scientists occurs on the issues, as happened when Dr. Richard Sternberg posed a question to Dr. Falk, which Dr. Dennis Venema jumped in to answer.

Sternberg: “I have a question for you, Darrel. Kind of a converse of something that you mentioned. You stated your reticence about someone examining, say, some biological phenomenon, DNA sequence, and deriving from that evidence for God’s creative action. What about the converse? Say, the argument of a Francisco Ayala or a John Avise, who, taking the latter, stated that, looking at the human genome sequence, one can divine that (and I’m using divine of course in the mundane sense of the word) that there was no creator, certainly no sentient being had any role in the evolutionary process. Do you have as much reticence with that kind of argumentation as you do with the opposite?”
Falk: “So the answer from my perspective is that I would not, in any way, look in the human genome project and say that that raises doubts about my belief in the creator. Quite the opposite. That’s my area, I taught genetics for most of my career. And I am the luckiest person alive, I almost feel, because I was taught with a lab background all my life… and the new data, which is what you’re asking about especially, Richard, and of course, Francisco Ayala made some comments about it, I don’t see anything in there that says there’s an absence of a creator or to even hint that there’s the absence of a creator. I don’t think Francisco was saying that, but as you know, Francisco Ayala has not declared where he stands on that.”
Sternberg: “But John Avise certainly has said that, though.”
Falk: “Has he?”
Sternberg: “John Avise has an article in the PNAS where he makes that argument. He makes the claim that, based on the DNA sequence, the linear nucleotide sequences of the genome, we can make a number of conclusions about whether or not there was divine activity somewhere in the past or in the present. I’ll provide you with a PDF of the article… so my question is, if you have a problem, and I don’t want to belabor the point, but if you have a problem with someone arguing that, say, a ludicrous argument that they could read in the DNA sequence evidence for divine action, do you have a problem with the converse, that is, someone says, ‘I can read from the DNA sequence that there was no sentient agent acting in the history of life.’ That was my question.”
Falk: “And the answer is that I cannot imagine being in that situation, being able to buy into that notion, that someone reading the DNA would imply in any way, an absence of a sentient being…”
Venema: “Darrel, maybe I’ll just make a comment, because I’m familiar with that paper, too. Maybe I’ll just make the comment that obviously, John Avise has an idea of what he would find, should there be evidence, and the only thing that it really shows is that it didn’t match his expectations, if you understand what I’m saying. He has a pretty precise model in mind of, ‘what I am thinking, what I would expect to see in the genome if I think a designer was involved with it. I don’t see what I expect, ergo I see evidence of no design.’ That’s very contingent on what he would expect to see in the genome.”
Sternberg: “Well, my question is about the equality of the arguments. If you’re going to accept the one side, do you accept the other side? If you’re going to say that, I can look at data and therefore I can rule out design, do you necessarily apply the same standard to the obverse? That was my question.”
Venema: “Well I actually, I view the intelligent design community in a similar light. They have a specific expectation of what they will find, they have a model that they’re comparing it to. I don’t think you can make a design evaluation one way or another without having some sort of model that you’re comparing it to. So I see them as similar. I see John Avise’s and I see intelligent design as flip sides of the same argument.”

Drs. Falk and Meyer were on a panel this morning which had some very fruitful and interesting comments; stay tuned to ENV for my forthcoming report.

Anika Smith