Different Kinds of Darwinism: William Dembski on Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Kenneth Miller

 from Uncommon Descent, William Dembski's Intelligent Design blog


May 16, 2005

The Essence of the Vise Strategy

Over a decade ago, Phillip Johnson, in his public lectures, used to describe his critique of evolutionary naturalism as encapsulated in an analysis of three words: science, evolution, and creation. According to Johnson, by suitably equivocating about the meaning of these words, Darwinists were able to confuse the public and themselves into consenting to a theory that ordinary standards of evidence rendered completely insupportable.

The debate has moved along considerably since the early 90s when Johnson was mainly focused on critiquing evolution. Indeed, ID now offers a positive alternative to conventional evolutionary theory. I therefore propose that we add two words to Johnson’s list: design and nature.

When interrogating Darwinists with the goal of opening up discussion in the high school biology curriculum about evolution (i.e., strengths, weaknesses, and alternatives), I therefore propose subjecting them to a sustained line of questioning about what they mean by each of these five terms: science, nature, creation, design, and evolution. In addition, it will help to keep in mind that for the purposes of interrogation, there are three types of Darwinists:

(1) The Richard Dawkins Darwinist (abbreviated RD Darwinist), who is virulently against religion of any stripe and uses evolution as a club to beat religious believers. Richard Dawkins Darwinists despise religious belief and regard religious believers as having to check their brains at the door if they are want to maintain both their faith and evolutionary theory.

(2) The Eugenie Scott Darwinist (abbreviated ES Darwinist), who is not religious in any traditional sense (in particular, this type of Darwinist does not think God does or can act in any way that makes a difference in the natural world) but at the same time thinks it is ill-advised to antagonize religious believers by using evolutionary theory as a club. The Eugenie Scott Darwinist wants to placate religious believers by assuring them that they can be good followers of their faith as well as good Darwinists.

(3) The Kenneth Miller Darwinist (abbreviated KM Darwinist), who is a traditional Judeo-Christian believer, holds that God has acted miraculously in salvation history (with such miracles as the parting of the Red Sea, the resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Birth, etc.) but denies that God’s activity in natural history is scientifically detectable. The Kenneth Miller Darwinist is an orthodox religious believer and an orthodox Darwinist. He is the poster child for the Eugenie Scott Darwinist.

The vise strategy consists in subjecting each of these types of Darwinists to a sustained line of questioning about these five key terms, questions that they have no choice but to answer (hence the “vise” metaphor). The aim of this line of questioning is to make clear to those reading or listening to the Darwinists’ testimonies that their defense of evolution and opposition to ID are prejudicial, self-contradictory, ideologically driven, and above all insupportable on the basis of the underlying science.

There’s a sixth term that could have been added to the five key terms, but is best kept in the background, namely, religion. Although the three types of Darwinists will need to be asked the same questions about our five key terms, with regard to religion, the interrogation will need to be tailored to the type Darwinist being interrogated. Thus, in regard to religion, for the RD Darwinists, the aim of the interrogation is to goad them into following the example of Rumpelstiltskin by publicly tearing themselves apart in their rage against religion. The prefect ending to such an interrogation would be for them to admit that they are Darwinists first and foremost because Darwinism is the most effective tool for destroying religion (this is the ideal — don’t expect to achieve it).

The ES and KM Darwinists, by contrast, need not so much to be antagonized or goaded as gently guided into an intellectually indefensible position regarding religious belief. Even so, the strategy for approaching these two types of Darwinists must be a bit different. The ES Darwinist wants to appear open minded and generous, assuring religious believers that Darwinism is compatible with their religious beliefs. For the ES Darwinists, the aim of the interrogation is to show that they are patronizing elitists who don’t have a religious bone in their bodies but who nonetheless presume to tell religious believers how they should make their peace with evolution.

Finally, the KM Darwinist actually does have a sincere religious faith, believing that God is the creator of the world and has acted miraculously in salvation history. For the KM Darwinists, the aim of the interrogation is to exploit the tension between their belief in divine creation and their vehement denials that they are not creationists (note that under creationism they invariably include ID). The KM Darwinist wants to be an orthodox Darwinian and an orthodox religious believer. But being an orthodox religious believer means having a view of divine action that is at odds with Darwinian naturalism/scientific materialism and at the same time is compatible with creationism. KM Darwinists need to be pressed into admitting that their theology requires that ID be kept as a live possibility.

To see that this approach to the KM Darwinists is not far-fetched, consider that the real Kenneth Miller, in his book Finding Darwin’s God (226-232), is critical of intelligent design in biology but nonetheless argues for an intelligence or purposiveness that underlies the laws of physics (laws that are necessary for the universe to be life-permitting). Miller’s reward for proposing this very mild form of intelligent design at the level of physics and cosmology is to be called a creationist by University of California professor Frederick Crews. In reviewing Miller’s book, Crews writes:

“When Miller then tries to drag God and Darwin to the bargaining table [by finding design or purpose underlying the laws of physics], his sense of proportion and probability abandons him, and he himself proves to be just another “God of the gaps” creationist. That is, he joins Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and company in seizing upon the not-yet-explained as if it must be a locus of intentional action by the Christian deity.” (New York Review of Books, October 18, 2001)

In summary, the essence of the vise strategy is to interrogate Darwinists on what they mean by the terms science, nature, creation, design, and evolution. Moreover, this strategy requires adjusting the interrogations so that on the question of religion RD Darwinists come across as the bigoted extremists that they really are, so that the ES Darwinist come across as the patronizing elitists that they really are, and so that the KM Darwinists come across as the closet ID theorists that they really are.

Filed under: Evolution, Intelligent Design, Darwinism — William Dembski @ 12:05 am


Comments by PhilVaz

I am a KM Darwinist. My definitions:

evolution = descent with modification, common descent acting through natural selection, the unifying theory of biological science and the best explanation of the changes we see in natural history and in the present

science = the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena, where such activities are restricted to a class of natural (not supernatural) phenomena

nature = the entire physical universe, that which is studied, observed, detected by science, and accepted on evidence

creation = the entire physical universe, that which is made by God the Creator — a supernatural being — and believed by faith

design = the various dictionary definitions: (1) To conceive or fashion in the mind; (2) to formulate a plan for; (3) to plan out in systematic, usually graphic form; (4) To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect; (5) To have as a goal or purpose.

The world is designed by a supernatural Creator, but science can’t detect that since it must remain methodologically natural to work. That’s my position after reading “both sides” (ID vs. theistic evolution). That appears to be also the “official” position of the Catholic Church in this document I like to quote, from former Cardinal Ratzinger’s International Theological Commission:

“A growing body of scientific critics of neo-Darwinism point to evidence of design (e.g., biological structures that exhibit specified complexity) that, in their view, cannot be explained in terms of a purely contingent process and that neo-Darwinians have ignored or misinterpreted. The nub of this currently lively disagreement involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology. But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation.” (“Human Persons Created in the Image of God”, document published July 2004, paragraph 69)

A truly natural process can fall within God’s plan for creation. Love your books, I’ll keep reading.

Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God

Phil P


Comment by PhilVaz — May 16, 2005 @ 2:31 am

Paragraph 68 (same document) is also important:

“In freely willing to create and conserve the universe, God wills to activate and to sustain in act all those secondary causes whose activity contributes to the unfolding of the natural order which he intends to produce. Through the activity of natural causes, God causes to arise those conditions required for the emergence and support of living organisms, and, furthermore, for their reproduction and differentiation. Although there is scientific debate about the degree of purposiveness or design operative and empirically observable in these developments, they have de facto favored the emergence and flourishing of life. Catholic theologians can see in such reasoning support for the affirmation entailed by faith in divine creation and divine providence. In the providential design of creation, the triune God intended not only to make a place for human beings in the universe but also, and ultimately, to make room for them in his own trinitarian life. Furthermore, operating as real, though secondary causes, human beings contribute to the reshaping and transformation of the universe.” (paragraph 68, “Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God”)

I.E. God as Creator works through natural, secondary causes. See also Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 159, and 283-284 on the relationship between faith and science.

Again this is the document approved for publication by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) last year. So we can safely assume this is the (latest) “official Catholic position” on the subject. Although technically, the Church is infallible only on faith and morals, we leave science to the scientists. “KM Darwinism” it seems is fully in line with the Roman Catholic Church.

Phil P


Comment by PhilVaz — May 16, 2005 @ 3:11 am

Comment by the_klutz


“evolution = descent with modification, common descent acting through natural selection, the unifying theory of biological science and the best explanation of the changes we see in natural history and in the present”

I find it interesting that you left the term “random” out of your definition of evolution. Do you believe that it is random and unguided?

If you do believe it is random: then I believe you are left with only a few choices for worldview, and theism isn’t one of them. Obviously, there are naturalism/nihilism and the like. The only worldview available including God would be Deism. You clearly state that you believe that God created, and I am assuming that you are a Catholic. When God initially created, did He know that humans would inhabit this created planet in a few billion years? If He did, then he created with a goal in mind (humans) and there is nothing random about that process and you are a theist, and not an evolutionist.

I suppose that if God didn’t know that humans would appear in a few billion years after His creation (an interesting view of Divine foreknowledge), He created, then left (is that possible of an omnipotent God?), and then came back to find these interesting beings that were “in His image,” and then began interacting in their lives. So I guess thats more like starting with Deism and then moving to Theism. I guess what I am trying to say is that I can’t see how you can be a “theistic evolutionist.” It seems more like an evolutionist with theistic tendencies, whenever science doesn’t already have a better explanation. I know there’s a lot of people like you who would call themselves “theistic evolutionists”, but most of them don’t know as much as you about the subject…however, I think that a frim belief in macro-, random, unguided evolution rules out the existence of an interacting, loving, purposeful Creator.


Comment by the_klutz — May 16, 2005 @ 9:46 am

Comment by taciturnus

Phil, Kudos to you for accepting Bill Dembski’s challenge.

Looking at your definitions, your definitions of science and nature appear to be circular. You write that science is the study of natural (not supernatural) phenomena. And what is nature? Your definition of nature says that it is that which is detected by science. What kind of science? The kind done by evolutionists, I am sure, and not the kind done by ID theorists. In other words, we’ve simply defined ID out of consideration and pretended that doing so is “science.”

In any case, I don’t think your definitions exclude ID. ID doesn’t fail any of the qualifications you have listed for science. ID attempts to explain natural phenomena just like evolution does. What it does do is permit the hypothesis of a cause (”intelligent design”) that Darwinists would like to rule out of science by definition. This is the point that Darwinists like to obscure and the “vise strategy” is intended to clarify.


Comment by taciturnus — May 16, 2005 @ 10:45 am

Comment by Ryan

One quick observation about Phil’s post.

Phil, you write, “The world is designed by a supernatural creator, but science cannot detect that because it must remain methodologically natural to work.”

If the methods of science are supposed to lead us to accurate and true explanations of the world we observe, and if this world was in fact designed by a supernatural creator (as you believe it was), then a science based on naturalism will be profoundly deficient, will it not? A science so based might lead people to accept empirically unsupported explanations because these explanations are consistent with naturalism, and leave the true explanation (i.e. intelligent causation) unexplored.

The arguments of design theorists, in my opinion, are entirely grounded in the scientific evidence, much more so then are the darwinists’. Compare, for example, the detailed biochemical evidence Behe cites in Darwin’s Black Box to the just-so stories darwinists tell. Mainstream scientists rule Behe’s design inference “out of bounds,” so to speak, but his inference certainly falls within the bounds of logic and reason. I see no advantage to subjecting scientific arguments to arbitrary philosophical restrictions.


Comment by Ryan — May 16, 2005 @ 7:00 pm

Comment by PhilVaz

klutz << I find it interesting that you left the term “random” out of your definition of evolution. Do you believe that it is random and unguided? >>

I don’t, I am a theistic evolutionist so evolution is guided by God, and I accept that on faith, but I don’t call the “theistic” part science. Even atheistic evolutionists believe evolution is “guided” to some extent:

“There is a great deal of randomness (chance) in evolution, particularly in the production of genetic variation, but the second step of natural selection, whether selection or elimination, is an anti-chance process. The eye, for instance, is not a chance product, as so often claimed by anti-Darwinians, but the result of the favored survival of those individuals, generation after generation, who had the most efficient structures for vision.” (Mayr, What Evolution Is, page 120)

Evolution involves randomness, but God can use that along with being the ultimate cause. God is behind all created things, He is Creator. I don’t see the problem. I don’t believe God created from scratch (from nothing, in a “puff of smoke”), the whale, the horse, the human body, or the bacterial flagellum. God is not a Charlatan, nor a Magician, nor a Mechanic, to quote Ken Miller. We don’t have everything explained by science, but evolution (guided by God) certainly takes care of most of this. The evidence is strong.

klutz << You clearly state that you believe that God created, and I am assuming that you are a Catholic. When God initially created, did He know that humans would inhabit this created planet in a few billion years? If He did, then he created with a goal in mind (humans) and there is nothing random about that process and you are a theist, and not an evolutionist. >>

I am a theist who accepts evolution (the evidence of science) and creation (by faith) both. My position is basically the same as the Catholic Church I quoted above from the Ratzinger Theological Commission (see especially paragraphs 62 to 70).

Did God have a plan for humanity? Yep, he set it up that way. God used evolution to give us our bodies, the evidence from fossil hominids and genetics demonstrates that is the way it was done. I don’t believe God created us “from scratch” or out of nothing since the scientific evidence is against that. And Mike Behe agrees with me (listen to his cross-exam from the Kansas hearings). Macroevolution (common descent), including human evolution, is a fact in my view.

As I said, I am a theistic evolutionist. Therefore I believe in God (I’m Catholic), and I accept the evidence for macroevolution. That is not a contradiction since I can separate my theism from the science. So where do I say God intervened? In my opinion, specifically at least at the beginning of the universe, at the origin of first life, and at the creation of the soul in the first human being. But again, I don’t call those God-interventions “science” since science deals with the natural, not supernatural.

God also intervened in all the miracles described in the Old and New Testaments, and can intervene any time in the life of the Christian, and perform miracles, as the Catholic Church also affirms. But I don’t call those miracles “science” either, they can’t be detected, but they also can’t be ruled out by science. Science is neutral with respect to the existence of God and miracles. Things like purpose, goal, meaning, and ultimate cause “goes beyond the natural sciences” as it states in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 283-284.

BTW, my definitions of the five words (science, evolution, creation, nature, design) mostly come out of the dictionary. I don’t think I’m inconsistent in those definitions since I can separate my religion from the scientific evidence. The equations evolution = atheism and theism = creationism are therefore both wrong.

Phil P


Comment by PhilVaz — May 16, 2005 @ 8:57 pm

Comment by taciturnus

Phil, you wrote:

“I don’t believe God created from scratch (from nothing, in a “puff of smoke”), the whale, the horse, the human body, or the bacterial flagellum. God is not a Charlatan, nor a Magician, nor a Mechanic, to quote Ken Miller.”

This is a respectable position and one I would take were Darwinian evolution able to fulfill its promise. It is the task of science to remove the mystery from things, and were Darwinism able to do it, I would be a Darwinist. The problem is that Darwinism resorts to “puffs of smoke” just as much as any creationist or ID theory.

Take, for example, the bacterial flagellum. The Darwinists says that natural selection made it. How might it have done so, even in theory, asks Michael Behe? The Darwinist has no answer. “Evolution” somehow created the bacterial flagellum through a material process that no one can describe or even has an inkling what it might be. In other words, the material creation of the bacterial flagellum is just as mysterious for the evolutionist as it is for a creationist or ID theorist. The difference is that the Darwinists conceals the mystery with high-sounding but empty words like “natural selection” and “macro-evolution” and calls it “science”, while rhetorically dismissing alternatives as “puffs of smoke”.


Comment by taciturnus — May 17, 2005 @ 7:40 am

from Uncommon Descent, William Dembski's Intelligent Design blog

see also

Talk Origins articles on "Irreducible Complexity" and Michael Behe

The Flagellum Unspun by Kenneth R. Miller (see also his chapter in Debating Design by Dembski/Ruse)

Evolution of the Bacterial Flagella by Ian Musgrave

Evolution in Brownian Space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum by N. Matzke