Astonished and Amused by Lamoureux’s (Mis)Take on Intelligent Design
It’s always unfortunate when people misconstrue or misrepresent other people. A case in point is Denis Lamoureux’s review of the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique (called the TE book hereafter), already noted here and here. The review, “Intelligent Design Theory: The God-of-the-Gaps Rooted in Concordism,” appeared in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.
What we have here is a mess. Lamoureux misrepresents ID in a number of ways. I am not saying that Denis intends to deliberately misrepresent ID. But at the very least, he seriously misunderstands it.
I am guessing Lamoureux wrote the review because he feels irritated by what he would call the TE book’s mischaracterizations of theistic evolutionists. The view represented by the TE book is, however, what TE boils down to when it is stripped of theological verbiage and left with what its scientific claims are. Of course, this is not to deny that there are many variations of TE; for example, I personally have never before seen any account of theistic evolution like the one in Denis’s review.
To clear the air, first I’ll quote him about his self-understanding of TE:
[The] evangelical Christian view of origins asserts that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process. In particular, evolution is teleological and features a plan, a purpose, and a final goal. Evolutionary creationists firmly reject dysteleological evolution and the belief that the evolutionary process is the result of irrational necessity and blind chance. Instead, these evangelical Christians believe that biological evolution is intelligently designed and creates intelligently designed living creatures that “declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). [Emphasis added.]
Here he says it again, explaining that evolutionary creationists are not deists or heterodox:
The term “evolutionary creation” became popular during the mid-1990s as part of an effort to distinguish evangelical Christians who accept biological evolution from a variety of liberal theisms that are often categorized under the general term “theistic evolution,” such as panentheism and process theism. Evolutionary creationists are also adamantly opposed to secular interpretations of evolution such as deistic evolution, Darwinian evolution, Neo-Darwinism, atheistic evolution, and dysteleological evolution. Regrettably, antievolutionists often misrepresent evolutionary creation by conflating this distinctly evangelical Christian view of origins with these liberal theisms and secular evolutionisms.
Deborah Haarsma, president of Biologos, feels the same sting, and says in response to the TE book:
Let me be clear that all of us at BioLogos fully and ardently affirm that the universe is designed. The wonders we encounter, from massive galaxy clusters to tiny viruses, continually amaze us and move our hearts and minds to ponder the Designer of it all. For us, design is seen just as much in God’s governance of natural processes as in God’s supernatural action. Science expands our amazement of how God works and increases our worship. Whether or not science has an explanation for a phenomenon in the natural world, through the eyes of faith we see God’s creative power and providential care.
…BioLogos has chosen to use the term “evolutionary creation” for multiple reasons. One is to address exactly this problem: to distinguish BioLogos views from some TE views that are heterodox or deistic. EC is a subset of TE that emphasizes that the Creator is the personal God revealed in the Bible and incarnated in Jesus Christ, and that the triune God is actively involved in both natural and human history.
Apparently people who call themselves TEs are a heterogeneous bunch. The term has become associated with some heterodox or deistic points of view. Hence the desire to change the name. However, it’s not clear whether the term “evolutionary creation” helps to eliminate or add to the confusion. After all, BioLogos’s co-founder Francis Collins cautioned in The Language of God that theistic evolutionists “dare not use the wor[d] ‘creation’” to describe their views due to a ‘fear of confusion.’” (p. 203)
The rest is very surprising. That’s pretty heavy use of the term design by both Haarsma and Lamoureux. It’s almost as if there were a change in the wind. Lamoureux goes so far as to say that God worked through intelligently designed evolution. That coopting of intelligent design is no doubt intentional, and at the same time, a sort of admission. They must feel a need to adopt such language, so insistently. Why? I leave the reader speculate.
Lest we become too hopeful, Denis makes an important distinction. Evolutionary creationism (EC) still holds that evolution is the means by which God created living things, and further, that he used random processes to do it. But in what sense does Denis mean random? He says:
[C]onsider a set of loaded (weighted) dice. Tossing these intelligently designed dice in any random way will in the end have the winning number appear most of the time. Evolutionary creation contends that this is also the case with biological evolution. With unfathomable foresight, the Creator set in motion and upheld over time intelligently designed self-assembling natural processes, including random processes, to create the universe and life as well as humans.
This is the nub of our disagreement with TE (or EC). Random, “unbiased” processes are not creative. They do not build new things. And loaded dice are biased. To claim that God uses the equivalent of loaded dice to create the universe is to acknowledge the true (unweighted, unbiased) randomness couldn’t do it. In other words, God had to guide it.
Yes. ID theorists acknowledge that a designer could use guided mutations. The point is, new information has to be infused somehow. Loading the dice means infusing information. Is that a bridge too far for Denis?
Lamoureux’s Mischaracterizations and Confusions
It is necessary to deal with some misconceptions in the review. In the interests of space I have not included all, though I will highlight points made already because they are important.
1. We much prefer the term ID theorist to antievolutionist. Lamoureux’s strategy is rhetorical. Antievolutionist is a negative word that defines us in terms of what we critique, rather than what we affirm, namely intelligent design. Furthermore, evolution is a term with multiple meanings, as Steve Meyer points out in the book. We don’t object to the notion that life on earth has changed over a long period of time (meaning #1). In fact, some of us don’t disagree with common descent either (meaning #2).
2. ID is not about God-of-the-gaps. ID is not based on holes in our knowledge. It is based on our positive knowledge about what is required for certain kinds of things to happen: an infusion of information at the dawn of life to make the first cells; more information at the great burst of animal phyla that appeared at the Cambrian explosion; the specified complexity of molecular machines; and the causal circularity of replication, transcription, and translation. What is the source of the information for these things to take place? We know of one thing, in our repeated and uniform experience that can create information: intelligence.
This shouldn’t be hard. Denis acknowledges the intelligent design of life. He says God used evolution, but by means of “weighted dice.” OK, that’s a form of intelligent design.
3. ID is not concordist. ID has nothing to do with how to read Genesis, or whether the Bible reveals scientific facts. In fact, ID theorists differ on how to interpret Genesis, and we don’t use it to guide our experiments or interpret results. Nor do we all read it the same way. Believe me. Intelligent design is not a monolith.
But let me go further. If Lamoureux wants to accuse us of concordism he should at least play fair. He says, “[Meyer] fully reveals his theological beliefs and concordist hermeneutic. He contends that the ‘Jewish and Christian scriptures clearly affirm that God has caused change over time, not only in human history but also in the process of creating the world and different forms of life.’” To claim this is concordist is far from reasonable. Would Denis say that God didn’t cause change over time in creating the world or in his dealings with the Israelites?
He then quotes Meyer again, from page 41 in the TE book. “[S]ome biblical theists question universal common descent based on their interpretation of the biblical teaching in Genesis about God creating distinct ‘kinds’ of plants and animals, each of which ‘reproduce after their own kind.’” Denis uses this as evidence that Meyer, and therefore all ID theorists, are concordist. But Meyer was not writing about himself. He was working his way through a list of possible positions for biblical theists to hold with regard to creation. He said “some,” not “we.” Meyer himself would say that ID can include common descent, contrary to this quote. He would also say any discussion on the topic should be based on scientific evidence, not biblical texts (see the two chapters in the TE book that deal with universal common descent).
Finally, Denis added another quote from Meyer by jumping all the way from page 41 to page 45. It’s misleading, because by doing so he spliced together two passages that are four pages apart. I guess he wanted to strengthen his case. It doesn’t work. Meyer presents an orthodox description of what the Bible says about God’s action in the world.
Indeed, the Bible describes God as not only acting to create the universe in the beginning; it also describes him as presently upholding the universe in its orderly concourse and also describes him as acting discretely as an agent within the natural order.
What Denis leaves out are the scriptural verses that back those statements up: Genesis 1:27, “God created man”; and Exodus 10:13, “and the Lord caused an east wind to blow.” That’s a reading of the text that is entirely justified, and does not impute scientific facts to the Bible or derive scientific facts from it. It’s not a weather report.
I will not speak about the theology section. It’s not relevant because that section does not deal with ID. It is addressing a particular aspect of the theology of theistic evolution. As I have tried to make clear, ID is not based in theology, it is based in science, and we do not all agree on theology.
Any charges Lamoureux makes with regard to ID and concordism are in error.
4. Discovery Institute does not advocate teaching ID in public schools. On this topic I see severe problems with Denis Lamoureux’s analysis. He misrepresents intelligent design and Discovery Institute when he says that Discovery has only recently changed its policy about teaching intelligent design in public schools. He quotes a 2017 statement of policy that argues for teaching evolution more thoroughly but then he says that this policy is new. In fact, Discovery Institute has a long public history of opposing the teaching of intelligent design in public schools that predates the Dover trial — see here for a review. Articles written at the time of the Dover trial in 2005 and before show that Discovery Institute opposed the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, recommending to the Dover school board that they abandon their project. Discovery Institute has advocated teaching the arguments for and against evolution, making it possible for students to evaluate the evidence for themselves.
Here is a statement made in 2005 by Seth Cooper, who was at the time legal and public policy analyst for Discovery’s Center for Science & Culture:
Taking things from the top, between August of 2003 and August of 2005 I served Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture as a legal and public policy analyst. In keeping with Discovery Institute’s long-held public policy position, I frequently reiterated to legislators, school board members, teachers, parents and students across the country that the legally and pedagogically appropriate way to treat the topic of evolution in public schools is to fully teach the scientific arguments for and against the contemporary version of Darwin’s theory as well as chemical evolutionary scenarios for the origin of the first life. Although I served at an institution supporting scientific research into the new theory of intelligent design and consider myself a proponent of the same, in all my time at Discovery Institute I consistently held to our public policy position that public schools should not mandate the teaching of the theory of intelligent design.
5. ID does not require either instantaneous creation, or a kind of stasis in between obvious infusions of information. There’s some sort of confusion on Denis’s part about how intelligent design scientists view the process of change over time, whether in cosmic or biological evolution. Most ID scientists accept an old earth. Lamoureux appears to believe that we think the designer had no role from 14 billion to 4 billion years ago, leaving the development of galaxies, stars, and planets to purely naturalistic forces. This is not true. It should be obvious that it is not true. One of the arguments for a designer is the fine-tuning of the universe. Another is the incredible rarity of a planet such as Earth and of the conditions necessary for life on our planet. These arguments have been advanced in The Privileged Planet, as well as by Michael Denton in his work. Those are reasons to infer that the designer still works in guiding things. Now if I were to draw on my faith understanding I would say he upholds and sustains all things. But that is a belief based in Scripture. ID does not look to Scripture for a hermeneutic.
In fact, there seems to be a general problem with Lamoureux’s understanding of ID — he thinks we say the designer only acts at major transitions in life. In fact, Mike Behe, Doug Axe, and I have shown that natural selection can only assemble a few neutral mutations at a time to make something new, or to change something to a new function. If four or more neutral mutations are required to make a new function, and none of the mutations are of benefit until they are all present in one organism, the new function will not happen without guidance. Behe pointed this out in his book The Edge of Evolution, as did we in a 2011 paper. This limit implies that the designer must be guiding any changes that require more than a few neutral mutations.
Lamoureux also appears to be confused about how intelligent design proponents consider biological change in the fossil record to have happened. He cites Bechly and Meyer in their chapter on paleontology where they outline major discontinuities in the fossil record. Bechly and Meyer do not deny change in fossil species has occurred gradually. But changes have also happened rapidly in geological time (tens of millions of years is rapid for the number of new phyla, classes, orders, and families that have appeared in these radiations). These rapid diversifications have happened repeatedly in the fossil record — Lamoureux lists them. The names given to these rapid diversifications (explosions, radiations, revolutions, or expansions) are expressions of what mainstream paleontologists see — these are their words. Are Meyer and Bechly arguing that a de novo creation is needed for each new fossil lineage? No. What they are arguing is that rapid radiation events can be demonstrated to require an infusion of information by a designer.
6. The fossil record does not say what Denis claims. As stated here already, Denis’s take on Casey Luskin’s chapter on the fossil record of humans and their supposed ancestors is way off.
7. Denis gets Luskin’s argument on universal common ancestry wrong. Lamoureux again misrepresents Luskin’s arguments. This, again, has already been explained.
8. Common descent, common design and pseudogenes. Once more, see here.
9. ID is about science. In the beginning of his review, Lamoureux says that declarations by intelligent design proponents that ID is about science are false. “[T]he root of ID Theory has now been publically [sic] revealed.” He bases that on the fact that the third section of the book deals with theology.
Let’s be clear. We in the first section are scientists who are also believers (most of us). This should not be news. However, we do not impose our beliefs on our science. I was once asked by a particularly obnoxious doctor if I would report results that went against my point of view. Yes! I answered. What an insulting question to ask!
So. Our book is a three part book written by people from three disciplines. Why? It’s not because ID is about theology. It’s because theistic evolution is about theology.
In fact, it is necessary to critique theistic evolution from three points of view. That’s what the title means, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique.
The scientific argument disputes the efficacy of neo-Darwinism, which, oddly enough, Lamoureux says he also disputes. (Then what is the argument about?)
Is it philosophy? Lamoureux does not mention that section of the book in his review, though it is very important. The chief reason most ECs oppose ID is because of methodological naturalism — they do not think the designer ought to be detectable. But that can’t be it for Lamoureux, given the language he uses in this review about God and his intelligently designed universe.
Later on Denis says that the problem with ID is that it undermines faith. What?! I’ve never heard that one before.
[The] creation, through its beauty, complexity, and functionality, powerfully impacts everyone, and it leads us toward a belief in the Creator and some of his attributes. But even more problematic from a theological perspective, in attempting “to place God in a test tube,” so to speak, ID theorists undermine an indispensable component of biblical Christianity — faith.
I know it’s metaphorical, but no one is placing God in a test tube. What we are examining is his creation, not God. So then, evidence for his action in creation weakens faith? Why? Because it doesn’t get enough exercise?
Moving on. Denis explains himself…sort of.
Now there is a subtle and important point that needs to be made. Scientific evidence can certainly contribute to the belief that the world is intelligently designed. The history of science reveals that as scientists have probed deeper into nature, greater and more astonishing examples of beauty, complexity, and functionality have been discovered, thus declaring God’s glory. But the facts of science do not prove that the universe and life are designed. To be more accurate, scientific evidence contributes to a powerful argument for the reality of intelligent design. Everyone is deeply affected by the nonverbal revelation in the creation, including antireligious individuals.
Pause… I’m simultaneously astonished and amused.
That paragraph is an ID statement. The only hesitation appears to be this statement: “But the facts of science do not prove that the universe and life are designed.” Really? Is that what this argument is all about? Are we talking about evidence versus proof? Then there is no argument. Science can’t prove anything. It’s always conditional. We provide evidence and arguments for design. We don’t even take the step toward identifying the designer, which Denis so freely does. Then why does he not recognize that these are the words of an intelligent design advocate?
The history of science reveals that as scientists have probed deeper into nature, greater and more astonishing examples of beauty, complexity, and functionality have been discovered, thus declaring God’s glory.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Image credit: prettysleepy, via Pixabay.