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William Dembski on BioLogos and Theistic Evolution at Patheos

Anika Smith

Patheos is known for hosting thoughtfully provocative discussions (the future of Evangelicalism, anyone?) and the current review and response between Discovery Institute Senior Fellow William Dembski and (now former) BioLogos Vice President Karl Giberson is no exception.
The four-part conversation begins with Dembski’s review of Giberson’s new book co-authored with Francis Collins, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Quesions, which is so good that it’s hard not to repost it. (Seriously. Go here to read it.)
Dembski’s point is that books like these sell ideas — and that’s actually a good thing, as long as the authors practice truth in advertising:

In intellectual enterprises, much of the work consists not just in coming up with ideas but then also in selling them. Giberson and Collins’ newest book is largely an exercise in marketing the BioLogos brand of theistic evolution. Now there’s nothing wrong with marketing ideas–in fact, the intelligent design community, of which I’m a part, has done quite a bit of this and quite successfully. But, as with all marketing, consumers have a right to expect truth in advertising. And here, in my view, this book signally fails.

He goes on to point out the way Giberson and Collins appeal to authority, particularly when it comes to intelligent design and challenging evolution:

Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, “There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin–not one–which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species” (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence. Repeatedly readers are informed that mountains of overwhelming evidence support Darwin’s theory and that the authors are “unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution.” And just so there’s no doubt, in that same paragraph, they reiterate, “There are certainly a few scientists who reject evolution . . . But these are never premier scientists.”

Oh, you reject Darwinian evolution; you can’t be a premier scientist. What counterexample would convince Giberson and Collins to retract such a claim? How about Henry Schaefer’s signature on a “Dissent from Darwin” list? Schaefer heads the computational quantum chemistry lab at the University of Georgia, has published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal articles, and is one of the most widely cited chemists in the world. Then again, Giberson and Collins look askance at this list (according to them, it has too many emeriti professors and not enough biologists). But why engage in such posturing about scientific pecking order in the first place? The issue is not who’s doubting Darwinism, but what are the arguments for and against it and whether they have merit. Giberson and Collins’ constant drumming of mainstream and consensus science is beside the point–science progresses by diverging from the mainstream and by breaking with consensus.

Because Giberson and Collins assert that natural selection is such a powerful mechanism for driving evolution–and one that admits no reasoned dissent–it’s worth recounting here briefly why the intelligent design community is so skeptical of it. It’s not, as theistic evolutionists often suggest, that we have a desperate need to shore up faith and morality and are using ID as our instrument of choice to accomplish that end. Rather, it’s that natural selection is, in essence, a trial and error tinkering mechanism for which all evidence suggests that its power is quite limited. Trial and error works fine when you have something that’s functional and are trying to enhance it or adapt it to a new situation.

But for natural selection, as a trial and error mechanism, to traverse vast swatches of biological function space, we need to see an extended series of small gradual structural changes (under neo-Darwinism, these are genetic mutations leaving effects at the phenotypic level) that continually improve, or at least maintain, function, with evolving functions and evolving structures covarying and reinforcing each other. But we know of no detailed testable (macro-)evolutionary pathways like this in any field, whether in the evolution of living forms or in the evolution of language or in the evolution of technologies. In fact, when we can trace such evolutionary pathways, we find that significant change happens in creative leaps, not via trial and error tinkering.

Dembski’s arguments are cogent, thoughtful, and clearly articulated in this first piece. I’m looking forward to seeing how Dr. Giberson responds and if he’ll address the points Dr. Dembski made.