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Answering Joshua Swamidass on Theistic Evolution: A Religious Agenda?

Joshua Swamidass

Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass of Washington University has written a review of the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique, published by Crossway. I am obliged to say at the outset that I am one of the editors of the book, specifically of the science section along with Chris Shaw. I also co-authored three chapters in the science section, in particular the one chapter Swamidass specifically critiques in his review, and two that he praises. 

Swamidass brings his own particular point of view to his review. He defines himself as a Christian who affirms evolution, while also rejecting the name theistic evolutionist. Yet in many respects, though not all, his review parallels the concerns of theistic evolutionists. 

My review of his review will be broken into three parts, based on his topics, with parts two and three to follow in coming days.

ID Is No Monolith

Swamidass and other reviewers have used our involvement in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique (TE book) as proof that ID is religiously motivated.  I will say a few things in response. First, the ID camp is no monolith. We differ in our motivations and political and religious views: we are agnostic, Jewish, Orthodox, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, other, conservative, liberal, uncommitted, libertarian, etc. What we have in common is that we think neo-Darwinism, in its many incarnations, cannot account for what we see in living things. 

Second, we are scientists. We analyze and write scientific papers, write about science, make hypotheses, design and carry out experiments, make models and test them, and report our results for review. We make scientific arguments.  

Third, and most importantly, we argue, based on scientific evidence, not religious evidence or arguments, that the neo-Darwinian story is wrong. Our work is scientific, and the conclusions we draw are scientific. What about religious implications? We are interested in what modern science is revealing about how cells work, what it takes to build a metabolic pathway or a nematode, what neurobiology says about perception, cognition, awareness, or how homeostasis is maintained. These are all legitimate scientific questions, but depending on what we learn, they may have religious implications. In fact, it seems to me that a great deal of science, if it seeks to imply that we had to come from solely naturalistic processes, is religious in its motivation.

What Motivates ID?

Just to make it absolutely clear that our participation in this book says nothing about the motivations of ID, let me say this. A number of our fellows were persuaded that neo-Darwinism was insufficient to explain life and that intelligent design was a better direction to go before they were Christian. Günter Bechly is a prominent case. So is Michel Egnor. And many more would say that it was the evidence and arguments that convinced them independent of their faith.

Lastly, a little history will show why we were invited to participate. It wasn’t for religious reasons. The book was designed by the original editors, J.P. Moreland, Wayne Grudem, and Chris Shaw, to be a response to the three main aspects of theistic evolution: scientific claims, philosophical claims, and theological claims. It was not a Discovery Institute initiative, nor an ID initiative. The editors of the TE book asked Stephen Meyer (and me) to be editors: Meyer to frame the book’s scientific response, and me to assemble the needed chapters for the scientific response.  We did not make a case for ID, or a theological argument for ID. (The one exception is Douglas Axe, who contributed a summary of arguments from his book, Undeniable.) The other sections, led by J.P. Moreland and Wayne Grudem, respectively, would make the philosophical and theological case. The results can be seen in the table of contents and in the chapters themselves. 

I know that Swamidass is a Christian who affirms evolutionary science. I will not use his religious belief to challenge the sincerity of his science, his motivations, or his beliefs, in any respect. Let him give us the same respect and acknowledge that what we do is science, even if he disagrees with our conclusions.

Photo credit: Tama66, via Pixabay.