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InterVarsity Press Stumbles with Sloppy Anti-ID Book by BioLogos Advisor Greg Cootsona

InterVarsity Press publishes some great books and used to be a place to which you could reliably turn for thoughtful, well-researched commentary on evolution and intelligent design. They still have excellent titles on the backlist, including Intelligent Design Uncensored and Darwin on Trial. But in 2016, IVP announced a “partnership with the BioLogos Foundation” that seemed to bring with it a whole new attitude. One result was a series, BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity, whose stated purpose is to “support the view of evolutionary creation which sees evolution as our current best scientific description of how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.”

BioLogos, funded and praised by the John Templeton Foundation for making “high-quality resources…available to non-academic audiences,” specializes in promoting Darwinian evolution to Evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, the BioLogos imprimatur is not exactly a guarantee of strong scholarship. See, for example, our extensive review of Adam and the Genome (Brazos Press), by BioLogos “Fellow of Biology” Dennis Venema. 

Now from InterVarsity there comes along a new book, Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, by BioLogos Advisory Council member Greg Cootsona. While not altogether a surprise, it’s disappointing to report that the book’s case for theistic evolution and its critique of intelligent design, aimed at younger people, are marred by multiple errors, ranging from minor to quite serious, relating to fundamental tenets of the theory of ID. What the author means by “mere science” isn’t clear, and the phase appears only once, at the end of the book. But it’s evidently an attempt by this shallow book to borrow some prestige from C.S. Lewis and “mere Christianity.”

Cootsona, according to his BioLogos bio, teaches religious studies at Cal State Chico and “directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (or STEAM), a $2 million grant funded by the John Templeton Foundation.” The book, for some reason, is not part of the official BioLogos series at IVP. However, it comes trailing glowing endorsements from BioLogos folks including Cootsona’s fellow Advisory Council members Elaine Howard Ecklund and John Ortberg, BioLogos Senior Editor Jim Stump, and Makoto Fujimura and Justin L. Barrett, both BioLogos Blog Authors among other distinctions. If a team effort from BioLogos is what the editors at IVP wanted, that’s what they have got.

Scientific and Theological Misunderstandings

The book’s chapter attacking ID starts off with a bang by misspelling the name of a prominent ID proponent and misstating his academic background. The “Oxford-trained philosopher of science Stephen Myer” is in fact Stephen Meyer, and Meyer’s PhD is from Cambridge University, not Oxford. We all make mistakes, but as Cootsona unveils his substantive critiques of ID and its “principle assertions,” the situation deteriorates.

What are ID’s “principle assertions”? Cootsona informs his audience that ID holds God can never work through “secondary, intermediate, and natural causes.” He writes:

[R]ecall dual causation from chapter one — God as first cause works through secondary, intermediate, and natural causes. When God works, he can certainly use natural means. When he “knit [us] together in [our] mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13 ), God acts through the processes of gestation, not supernaturally. And this hits the Achilles heel of ID. There’s a part of me that thinks that if only ID grasped dual causation, the whole paradigm would delightfully unravel. (p. 102)

This builds on a misconception by Cootsona that ID says “God’s creation has to be entirely supernatural.” (p. 102) These claims entail both scientific and theological misunderstandings — misunderstandings that are common among theistic evolutionists. Let’s deal with the theological problems first.

Entirely Supernatural?

Years ago, in a response to Dennis Venema, Casey Luskin explained “The False Dichotomy Between Intelligent Design and Natural Causes.” ID is not an argument for or proof of the existence of God. But for those ID proponents who are theists, the theory never implies that natural or material explanations are somehow at odds with God’s existence or His action in the world. Not only does ID not say that God can’t use secondary, natural causes; but, on the contrary, ID finds evidence for design in nature in those very natural laws that have been fine-tuned to yield a universe compatible with the existence of advanced forms of life!

Consider again Cootsona’s idea that ID says “God’s creation has to be entirely supernatural.” He thinks that under an intelligent design view, God’s creative acts must always involve supernatural intervention and can never make use of natural mechanisms. Of course that is incorrect. Here’s a passage from William Dembski’s 1999 book, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology:

God created nature as well as any laws by which nature operates. Not only has God created the world, but God upholds the world moment by moment. Daniel’s words to Belshazzar hold equally for the dyed-in-the-wool naturalist: “Thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (Daniel 5:23 KJV). The world is in God’s hand and never leaves his hand. Theists are not deists. God is not an absentee landlord.

That said, the question remains, what evidence has God given of interacting with the world? Because God is intimately involved with the world moment by moment, there is no question that God interacts with the world. Controversy arises, however, once we ask whether God’s interaction with the world is empirically detectable.

(Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, p. 104)

In this passage, we see that ID does not say that God must only use “supernatural” mechanisms. Rather, Dembski clearly explains that as a Christian ID proponent, he believes that God made natural laws and uses these natural laws to interact with the natural world.

In reality, ID hits back at the claim that God must only use “secondary, intermediate, and natural causes” when creating nature, and that God’s direct intervention in the world is never empirically detectable — the very view that Cootsona seems to be adopting. Rather than ID ignoring dual causation, theistic evolutionists like Cootsona ignore the possibility that in addition to using secondary, natural, and intermediate causes, God might sometimes intervene in the natural world and direct its processes in empirically detectable ways. Why, from the theist’s perspective, should that be ruled out a priori?

“God of the Gaps”? Got It Right Here

Moving along, you are probably waiting for the hoary “God of the gaps” criticism. Yes, Cootsona repeats this long-refuted charge that ID is a “gaps”-based argument — another accusation that is exceedingly popular among theistic evolutionists. (As our old friend Casey once asked, “Why Do Theistic Evolutionist Theologians All Seem to Have Exactly the Same Misconceptions About Intelligent Design?”) Here’s what Cootsona writes:

What kind of creator has to insert himself only at moments of irreducible complexity? It reduces our Lord to a “God of the gaps” who can be detected only when his finger (as it were) touches the places where our human knowledge is faulty. (p. 102)

ID of course doesn’t claim to detect design only “at moments of irreducible complexity,” as there are multiple ways of inferring design. More to the point, as we recently explained in response to Dr. Venema:

[I]ntelligent design…does not find evidence of design by any intelligent being in “what we don’t know” but rather “in what we know.” The design inference is fundamentally grounded in our experience-based observations that high levels of complex and specified information (CSI) come only from intelligence. We find evidence for design in what we know about the causes of new information. Intelligent design is a solution to the question of the origin of information

Well, what if ID were a “gaps”-based argument? What might it look like? Something like this:

To put it another way, a gaps-based argument for design would say, “Natural selection and random mutation [NS] cannot produce new information, therefore intelligent design [ID] is correct.”

But there’s a crucial difference between that and the actual case for intelligent design made by ID proponents. A genuine argument for intelligent design goes as follows:

In other words, “Natural selection and random mutation cannot produce new information. Intelligent agency, uniquely in our experience, can produce new information. Therefore intelligent design is the better explanation for the information we see in life.” This is not a gaps-based argument. It’s a positive argument for design, based upon finding in nature the type of information that in our experience only comes from intelligence. Stephen Meyer frames the basic logic here in Darwin’s Doubt (p. 351):

Major premise: If intelligent design played a role in the Cambrian explosion, then feature (X) known to be produced by intelligent activity would be expected as a matter of course.

Minor premise: Feature (X) is observed in the Cambrian explosion of animal life.

Conclusion: Hence, there is reason to suspect that an intelligent cause played a role in the Cambrian explosion.”

That’s not a “gaps-based” argument.

As noted above, intelligent design is detected through the presence of complex and specified information, or CSI. As Dembski puts it in his book No Free Lunch, “the defining feature of intelligent causes is their ability to create novel information and, in particular, specified complexity.” (p. xiv) This a further serious error by Cootsona who misrepresents how ID theorists propose that we can detect design. He writes:

My friend and colleague, the philosopher Ric Machuga, offered me a few reasons for ID’s philosophical failures, which I paraphrase here. The Intelligent Design argument, at its root, is an attempt to deduce “design” (and hence, a “designer”) by calculating something’s mathematical complexity. But design and complexity are not the same thing. A mathematical equation specifying the precise location of each and every atom in Mt. Everest would be extremely complex, but that is hardly a reason to believe that Mt. Everest was “designed.” On the other hand, there are only two moving parts in a pair of pliers, yet pliers are certainly designed. So too in nature — we are designed in a sense for empathy, morality, and relationships. A statement about design cannot be tied with mathematical complexity or statistical improbability. (pp. 102-103)

With all due respect to Ric Machuga, anyone familiar with ID will immediately spot the elementary errors here. We don’t “deduce” design, we infer design. And we don’t infer design based solely upon “something’s mathematical complexity.” Complexity, or unlikelihood, alone is not enough to infer design. Something else is necessary — and that something else is called specification.

Virtually every basic ID work explains this fundamental point about complexity and specification. Here’s a nice example from Bill Dembski and Jonathan Witt’s book Intelligent Design Uncensored:

[I]ntelligent agents … often leave behind a trademark or signature of design. The signature consists of two features found together: (1) the designed thing is complex, and (2) it fits an independently given pattern — to use the technical term, it’s specified. The full term then for this two-part signature of design is specified complexity. Find either feature by itself and there’s no clear indication that the thing was designed. Find them together and we have clear evidence that a mind purposefully designed the thing. Since information can possess these twin features of being complex and specified, this signature of design is also referred to as complex specified information (CSI).

An illustration will show that this somewhat imposing label points to a pretty commonsense way of spotting design. If we flip a coin five hundred times and write down the sequence of heads and tails, the resulting sequence will be quite complicated. We, and future generations, could spend many lifetimes trying to repeat that exact sequence at random. But despite its complexity, no sensible person would decide that this sequence of heads and tails was the result of design. Why? The sequence isn’t specified. It doesn’t match an independently given pattern.

Now a sequence of four coin tosses that are all heads does conform to an independently given pattern — all heads. So it’s specified. However, no sane person would bet the farm that this series of four heads was designed (through the use of a trick coin, for instance). The reason is that the series isn’t especially complex. Somebody could get four heads in a row through dumb luck probably after no more than a few minutes.

But imagine this scenario. A captured soldier appears on a live Internet video feed. His captors insist that he will be returned unharmed if his commanders meet all of their demands. The soldier is gagged and his captors train a rifle on him in case he tries to communicate with anyone watching the video. He passes the time by napping, eating gruel and flipping a quarter. He does this five hundred times and then takes a nap. Nobody pays much attention to this, until a friend of the captive, following a niggling suspicion, studies the video feed a second time. He writes down the sequence of heads and tails and discovers that the sequence spells out and repeats a message in Morse code. The heads represent the dots, and the tails the dashes. Translated, it reads, “They are holding me in the basement of the British Museum. They plan to kill me after you meet their demands.”

Apparently the soldier has an all heads coin and an all tails coin (or some other way of determining the outcome). And apparently he has used this method to create a message for his rescuers. Having been presented with the Morse code message, no commander in his right mind would say, “Well, the heads and the tails were bound to occur in some sequence or other. I refuse to consider the possibility that the sequence was laid down by design.” No, he would immediately infer design because the complex sequence conforms to an independently given pattern. In other words, the complex pattern is also specified. (pp. 64-65)

On the application of these ideas to mountains, consider a past article here at Evolution News, “A Tale of Two Mountains,” which explains why complexity alone is not enough to infer design. So Cootsona is exactly right that design cannot be inferred merely by “calculating something’s mathematical complexity,” and if he were familiar with ID literature he’d know that ID has been saying this very thing from its earliest days. Specification is also needed.

No Place for Calculations

Now go back to the passage from Cootsona quoted above and look at the last two sentences: “[W]e are designed in a sense for empathy, morality, and relationships. A statement about design cannot be tied with mathematical complexity or statistical improbability.” The first sentence seems perfectly reasonable. The second sentence in no way follows from the first and is contradicted by a significant body of technical literature produced by the ID community — literature that Cootsona makes no attempt to engage with.

Cootsona isn’t saying that mathematical calculations about probability or complexity alone are insufficient to detect design. If he were saying that, he would be correct. Instead, he is saying that calculations about “mathematical complexity or statistical improbability” are in no way related to a design inference — in his words, “A statement about design cannot be tied with mathematical complexity or statistical improbability.”

Does Cootsona really believe that mathematical improbabilities have nothing to do with making a design inference, and that we can never use statistical improbabilities as part (though not the whole) of making such an inference? Does he believe that we can never mathematically rule out natural causes (chance + law) and infer that design is the better explanation? Let’s assume he means what he says. In considering such an extraordinary claim, try reading Chapter 1 of William Dembski’s foundational ID book, The Design Inference:

Eliminating chance through small probabilities has a long history. In his dialogue on the nature of the gods, Cicero (46 BC, p. 213) remarked, “If a countless number of copies of the one-and-twenty letters of the alphabet, made of gold or what you will, were thrown together into some receptacle and then shaken out on to the ground, [would it] be possible that they should produce the Annals of Ennius? … I doubt whether chance could possibly succeed in producing even a single verse!”

Eighteen centuries later the Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace (1814, p. 1307) would question whether Cicero’s method of randomly shaking out letters could produce even a single word: “On a table we see letters arranged in this order, Constantinople, and we judge that this arrangement is not the result of chance, not because it is less possible than the others, for if this word were not employed in any language we should not suspect it came from any particular cause, but this word being in use among us, it is incomparably more probable that some person has thus arranged the aforesaid letters than that this arrangement is due to chance.” A whole book, a single verse, nay, even a long word are so unlikely that we attribute their occurrence to something other than chance.

To show the absurdity of maintaining chance in the face of small probabilities Thomas Reid (1780, p. 52) asked: “If a man throws dies and both turn up aces, if he should throw 400 times, would chance throw up 400 aces? Colors thrown carelessly upon a canvas may come up to appear as a human face, but would they form a picture beautiful as the pagan Venus? A hog grubbing in the earth with his snout may turn up something like the letter A, but would he tum up the words of a complete sentence?” The answer to each question obviously is “no.” 

(Dembski, The Design Inference, p. 1)

People have been making design inferences, in part, by enlisting calculations of mathematical improbabilities, for thousands of years. Indeed, our legal system rules out natural causation and infers design by implicit improbability each and every time a jury infers that some state of affairs is too unlikely to be explained by chance + law, and that the defendant sitting in the courtroom is a much better explanation. 

In the same book (pp. 9-10), Dembski offers examples of how mathematical improbabilities help us make design inferences. He quotes a New York Times article from 1985:

TRENTON, July 22 — The New Jersey Supreme Court today caught up with the “man with the golden arm,” Nicholas Caputo, the Essex County Clerk and a Democrat who has conducted drawings for decades that have given Democrats the top ballot line in the county 40 out of 41 times.

Mary V. Mochary, the Republican Senate candidate, and county Republican officials filed a suit after Mr. Caputo pulled the Democrat’s name again last year.

The election is over — Mrs. Mochary lost — and the point is moot. But the court noted that the chances of picking the same name 40 out of 41 times were less than 1 in 50 billion. It said that “confronted with these odds, few persons of reason will accept the explanation of blind chance.”

And, while the court said it was not accusing Mr. Caputo of anything, it said it believed that election officials have a duty to strengthen public confidence in the election process after such a string of “coincidences.”

The court suggested — but did not order — changes in the way Mr. Caputo conducts the drawings to stem “further loss of public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.”

Dembski goes on to analyze this case in detail. In short, we see that a statement about design was tied with mathematical complexity or statistical improbability. The odds of a Democrat receiving the top ballot 40 out of 41 times by chance is less than 1 in 50 billion. There’s also a specification in that the overwhelming winner just happens to match the political party to which Caputo belonged. Rather than chance, a much better explanation is design — that Caputo cheated.

We use this kind of reasoning in science, math, law, and everyday life. The ID movement has developed a large body of literature explaining the validity of probabilistic arguments for measuring whether design or chance + law is the better explanation. 

Deduction and Proof

As a final substantive problem, Cootsona states that ID “asserts a specific mechanism that is detectable and through which certain handiwork can be proven.” (p. 102) This goes with his other claim, previously noted, that the theory of ID claims to “deduce” design. No, ID is not a deduction, and ID does not claim that design can be “proven.” Rather, the theory of intelligent design recognizes evidence in nature that is best explained by an intelligent cause rather than undirected causes (like natural selection). It’s an historical scientific inference to the best explanation based upon finding in nature the kind of information and complexity that in our experience comes from intelligence. 

How is that different from providing deductive proof? Usually, when people speak about “proof,” they are suggesting that something can be known with absolute certainty to be true. ID is a field in science, and, as most educated people know, science does not provide absolute proof. Rather, science provides evidence that supports (or contradicts) a given hypothesis to one degree or another. You never achieve absolute certainty in science because our knowledge of the natural world is not complete and you never know if tomorrow some new discovery will overturn your current scientific explanation. Consider what Dembski writes in his book The Design Revolution:

Now critics of intelligent design demand this same high level of justification (i.e., mathematical proof) before they accept specified complexity as a legitimate tool for science. Yet a requirement for strict proof, though legitimate in mathematics, is entirely wrong-headed in the natural sciences. The natural sciences make empirically based claims, and such claims are always falsifiable. (Even Newtonian mechanics, which for a time defined physics, ended up being falsified.) Errors in measurement, incomplete knowledge, limited theoretical insight and the problem of induction cast a shadow over all scientific claims. To be sure, the shadow of falsifiability doesn’t incapacitate science. But it does make the claims of science (unlike those of mathematics) tentative, and it also means that we need to pay special attention to how scientific claims are justified.

A little reflection makes clear that this attempt by skeptics to undo specified complexity cannot be justified on the basis of scientific practice. Indeed, the skeptic imposes requirements so stringent that they are absent from every other aspect of science. If standards of scientific justification are set too high, no interesting scientific work will ever get done. Science therefore balances its standards of justification with the requirement for self-correction in light of further evidence. The possibility of self-correction in light of further evidence is absent in mathematics and accounts for mathematics’ need for the highest level of justification, namely, strict logico- deductive proof. But science does not work that way. 

(Dembski, The Design Revolution, pp. 108-109)

The theory of ID doesn’t claim to provide absolute “logico-deductive proof” of design. Rather, as Dembski writes elsewhere in the book, “the conclusion of design constitutes an inference from data.” (p. 42) Ironically, he points out that some folks criticize ID for not providing absolute proof, apparently misunderstanding that scientific theories (such as ID) don’t work like that. But other critics wrongly claim that ID does try to show that design can be “proven” or “deduced,” apparently not understanding that ID is a scientific theory that never claims the ability to provide absolute deductive proof.

A Dead Theory, Killed by a Judge

If ID were a theory in the mold that Cootsona casts it, it would be long dead. Indeed, for years we’ve been listening to ID critics declare that intelligent design is dead. So perhaps it’s not surprising that after Cootsona’s misguided critique, in which he proclaims that seeing ID “unravel” would be “delightfu[l],” he says that in fact we’re long past seeing the “setting of ID’s sun.” This follows from other comments in his book that paint ID as a failing movement that met its demise at the hands of a federal judge in 2005. He writes:

All this (and more) became bound together in a well-financed conservative nonprofit Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle.

A period of growth and optimism for ID lasted at least a decade. Though its proponents didn’t have much success with professional scientific journals, they achieved some popular support. As part of their strategy — and partly due to rejection by professional scientists — they promoted their own textbook, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. But these initial forays ran into a wall with the “Dover case” in 2005, or, more accurately, Tammy Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. (pp. 100-101)

This is absurdly sloppy and misinformed. From reading this passage, you would take away that the ID movement’s leading organization, Discovery Institute, developed and promoted a textbook, Of Pandas and People, in order to push ID in public schools. Actually, the Pandas textbook was published before Discovery Institute was even founded. The book was released in 1989. Discovery Institute was not launched until 1990, and did not formally get involved with the ID issue before 1995. Indeed, Pandas had little to do with the early formation of the ID movement, and was also published before fundamental ID works like Darwin’s Black Box or The Design Inference came out. The book doesn’t even have the words “irreducible complexity” or “specified complexity” in it. More importantly, Discovery Institute has long been on the record as opposing attempts to push ID into public schools, and Discovery did not support public schools using the Pandas textbook. In the Dover case, Discovery Institute strongly opposed the school board’s policy and actions.

Scopes Two? Not Quite

Cootsona uncritically repeats Judge Jones’s findings in the Kitzmiller ruling, saying:

When this decision was challenged in court, presiding judge John E. Jones III adjudicated that ID was essentially religious and not scientific in nature; thus the paradigm could not be promoted in public school curriculum. This case is sometimes referred to “Scopes Two” in reference to the 1925 court case over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee (often called the “Scopes Monkey Trial”). (p. 101)

But Cootsona fails to notice glaring differences between the Scopes trial and the Dover trial. The real Scopes trial involved fundamentalists who sought to censor evolution in the classroom. This was terrible education policy and, thankfully, policies censoring evolution were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1968 case Epperson v. Arkansas. In the Dover trial, it was evolutionists who sought to censor non-evolutionary views (namely, intelligent design) in the classroom. This decision, thoroughly botched by Judge Jones, remains in force, and intelligent design is currently banned in the Middle District of Pennsylvania by the Dover ruling.

Cootsona misses that federal judges aren’t inerrant, and that the Dover ruling is full of errors of fact and law, not the least of which is that Judge Jones fundamentally misrepresented ID and ignored the scientific support for ID in the scientific community. Evolution News documented many of these problems in a December 2015 series, “Ten Myths about the Dover Ruling,” posted during the ten-year anniversary of the Dover ruling. Another article, “Does the Kitzmiller v. Dover Ruling Show that Intelligent Design Is Academically Substandard?,” gives a long list of flaws in Judge Jones’s Dover ruling, and links to many rebuttals to key assertions made in the decision. It would benefit critics like Cootsona to read rebuttals like this. Instead, he writes:

I have repeatedly asked Christians who are scientists (and thus have no commitment to atheism, nor to denying that God is an intelligent designer in the more general sense) what they think of Intelligent Design. They roundly tell me, “Greg, it just doesn’t add up, and evolutionary science has been repeatedly validated.” One academic colleague in the sciences told me that ID (and seeing atheist scientists as enemies) is a “poison pill” because the paradigm has been so discredited scientifically. (p. 101)

He never says who these Christian scientists are maybe. Maybe they are the other members of the BioLogos Advisory Council. Whatever the case, Cootsona never identifies any actual scientific flaws with ID. And he never mentions that the ID community has written numerous technical rebuttals to scientific critics over the years, showing that ID continues to hold merit in the face of scientific criticism.

Still Dead After All These Years

Perhaps above all, Cootsona wants his youngish readers to think that ID is scientifically and culturally extinct. Critics have been saying this since the Dover ruling and, needless to say, it’s nonsense. See Sarah Chaffee in the final post of our Dover Myth series, and Casey Luskin who asked in 2011, “How Bright is the Future of Intelligent Design?” People who don’t want to take the trouble to learn anything about the subject may indeed be content with the slogan “ID is dead.”

But how “dead” does this sound to you? Two Nobel laureates, Charles Townes and Brian Josephson, are on record as endorsing intelligent design. Josephson, of the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University, says he is “80 percent” confident about ID. Oh, not 100 percent confident? That’s a dead idea for sure. Steve Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt was a New York Times bestseller that attracted praise from Harvard geneticist George Church who endorsed it as “an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization — bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog — and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.” But don’t a certain number of people each year fall off bridges to their death? Mary Jo Kopechne did. Dead, dead, dead.

Oh, you know it’s a dead idea when scientists argue about it in America’s top science journal, Science, as UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall did in reviewing Meyer’s book. Other scientists joust with Meyer over the Cambrian explosion or Mike Behe over irreducible complexity in a range of journals, while feeling the need not to name the ID proponents whose “dead” ideas they are desperately trying to counter. Why do you think scientists on an almost monthly basis offer increasingly absurd theories to account for the enigma of the Cambrian event – from the oxygen theory to the slime theory, the tipping-point theory, and most ludicrous of all, the cancer theory – if they have not been stung by arguments from Meyer and others that find in the Cambrian explosion a powerful demonstration that Darwin was wrong?

The View from the Peanut Gallery

Yes, the view from the Darwinist peanut gallery is well known. As we’re writing this, a random tweet comes over the wire. “If you want to assert that ID is science then you have to provide evidence,” says a Mr. Craig Good, from El Cerrito, California. “ALL of the evidence supports evolution. It is the only theory of speciation. There are no competing theories.” 

Yeah? Check out this list of peer-reviewed pro-ID scientific papers. ID is both a positive argument for design, and a negative one, a critique of the competing neo-Darwinian theory. Yet scientists when they think they’re behind closed doors, as at the 2016 Royal Society conference, or writing in peer-reviewed technical journals, are increasingly frank about the shakiness of the evidence that classic Darwinian processes account for the splendor and diversity of life.

ID is a force in the culture at large, high and low, attracting sympathetic comments from the great atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel of NYU, who caught hell for it, and outright endorsement from Stephen King. Meanwhile provocative critiques of Darwinism are advanced by distinguished figures including Tom Wolfe (in The Kingdom of Speech) and A.N. Wilson, who praised Michael Denton’s Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis in the London Spectator as one of the best books of 2016. Well, who cares what they think? They’re not scientists. Fair enough, but that doesn’t sound like a “dead” theory.

Ideas of teleology in nature, of which ID is one, are enjoying a revival. Just ask Discovery Institute biologist Dr. Denton, whose book was praised by — hmmm, interesting — past BioLogos president Darrel Falk on the Amazon reviews page, until — very interesting — someone persuaded Dr. Falk to delete his review. Or ask State University of New York biologist Scott Turner. His recent book, Purpose & Desire, while not a case for ID per se, argues that Darwinism has “failed” to explain life. In an example of what scientists say when in private, the book got a warm review last month from the Quarterly Review of Biology where Israeli chemist Addy Pross addressed himself to “those who still believe that the fundamentals of modern biology were firmly established by Darwin’s monumental theory of evolution….” “Those who still believe…”? Now that sounds like a dying theory.

But Darwinism of course remains a competitor to ID. What about “theistic evolution,” now restyled “evolutionary creationism”? As a range of scientists and scholars establish in the recent massive tome Theistic Evolution, that “theory” is nothing more than Darwinism relabeled and decorated with fulsome religious language. Does it differ from atheistic evolution in any way other than the assertion that God somehow approves of evolution? Theistic evolution is a hot topic on the convoluted message boards of the BioLogos website. But elsewhere?

Millions of dollars from the Templeton Foundation purchase a certain amount of publicity, but nothing can dispel the failure of theistic evolution to demonstrate a strong scientific argument of its own for anything. It has instead made a habit of repeating failed, already refuted criticisms of ID (Dr. Venema’s specialty), and glomming on to stale Darwinian talking points, only to realize too late that those have been overtaken by science. 

Remember “Junk DNA,” the notion that your genome is awash with useless evolutionary detritus? It was a signature proof advanced by BioLogos founder Francis Collins in his book The Language of God. ID theorist William Dembski had predicted that the “junk” would, increasingly, turn out to be functional. Guess who was right? In 2016, as World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky noted, Dr. Collins to his credit walked that one back. He admitted, under pressure from the ENCODE Project and other fertile research, that “In terms of junk DNA, we don’t use that term anymore because I think it was pretty much a case of hubris to imagine that we could dispense with any part of the genome.” So much for Junk DNA. 

And so much for Greg Cootsona. He writes that although he thinks ID is not scientifically “legitimate,” it’s “always worthwhile to engage those thinkers who are convinced by ID and find out their reasons why.” But did Cootsona engage with any ID leading proponents before publishing his critique of ID? It sure doesn’t seem like it. 

Can we be frank? Cootsona’s treatment of ID is pathetic. As “scholarship,” it’s embarrassing. Perhaps InterVarsity Press should impose more stringent peer review next time a BioLogos-affiliated writer comes to them with a manuscript.

Update: In case you’re curious, the sum total of Cootsona’s citations with regard to ID are: Darwin on Trial, Of Pandas and People, and Ric Machuga’s book on philosophy. That’s it. Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt both discuss divine primary and secondary causation, and connect it to ID, in God and Evolution. But that doesn’t seem to have found a place on Cootsona’s reading list. That’s obviously a huge gap in a book that’s supposed to be about theology and science, and that critiques ID.

The crowning irony may be that some fine past InterVarsity Press books, including A Meaningful World, by Witt and Wiker, Dembski’s Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, and Intelligent Design Uncensored, by Dembski and Witt, would all have benefited Cootsona tremendously if he had consulted them, on the question of ID and causation, fine-tuning, and much more. Did his editor at IVP not suggest any of these to Dr. Cootsona? Bizarre.

Photo credit: succo, via Pixabay.