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Saturday, December 27, 2008

A handy, and pretty skeptical, guide to modern Brit theistic evolution

David Anderson's review of the Faraday Institute's Denis Alexander's book, Creation or Evolution: Do We have to Choose? (Monarch Books, Oxford, 2008):
If evangelicals take the contents of this book to heart, they will not only be endorsing a certain set of conclusions regarding origins; they will also be embracing a seriously erroneous approach to interpreting the word of God as a whole, and its relationship to other areas of knowledge. Such an approach, if carried out consistently, will ultimately damage the whole structure of Biblical revelation and the gospel itself - a road which I believe Dr. Alexander in this book has already travelled a long way down. I agree with Professor Andrew McIntosh, whose review in "Evangelical Times" published in September 2008 asserted as follows: "By writing this book, Alexander has placed himself on the side of liberal theologians and, in this reviewer’s opinion, has departed seriously from the evangelical faith."
Well, if so, that would be nothing new.

The main thing to see, regarding "theistic evolution" (Alexander's position) is that, by itself, it means nothing.

Intelligent design theorist Michael Behe is a theistic evolutionist insofar as he thinks that design can be coded into the world from the Big Bang, and that subsequent individual creation events are not necessary. That is a possible interpretation of the universe's history from a Christian perspective

But Behe is despised by many "theistic evolutionists" because they in fact support propositions that cannot be defended by orthodox Christians - for example, that God does not know what will happen, is imperfect and therefore evolving along with creation, is not responsible for the way things are, and so forth. Also,
The purpose of this 19-page chapter is to have some discussion of the "Intelligent Design" movement, associated with such names as Philip Johnson, Michael Behe and William Dembski. I got the feeling in reading it that DA felt obliged to include something about it, but was a bit tired (or just contemptuous) by this stage, and the chapter is a bit of a damp squib because it neither goes here nor there, but remains content with some rather general arguments and statements - except for some more detailed discussion of the bacterial flagellum. It's all a bit of a damp squib, because packed into these 19 pages DA wants to survey the history of the movement, its personalities, its claims, and then comprehensively refute them such that he can conclude that the whole thing's a waste of time. That's a book-length project in itself. There's no problem with brief discussions of these things that skim the surface, but in these days of avalanches of free articles available from the Internet, you need to do a bit more than the kind of surface-level chatty repeating of talking points that this chapter is mostly made up of. It's rather disappointing that so many of those talking points seem to have been cribbed from village atheist websites - we expect better, particularly from someone who spends a few pages opining on how proper scientific research is done. We even get a celebrity appearance of the Pennsylvania school board court case and "Judge Jones, a practising Lutheran and Republican appointed by President Bush", the claim that ID does not fall within the definition of science (though DA concedes that it is in principle falsifiable) and such gems of self-delusion as the claim (made earlier in the book in the context of creationists) that editors of science journals would be falling over themselves if anyone had any legitimate criticisms of Darwinism and would gladly make any scientist who had them an overnight star! Puh-lease.
The fact that I have yet to hear that Alexander said anything about the firing of Michael Reiss pretty much tells us what we need to know. Liberal churches are collapsing, so the real action is in getting evangelical churches to front the village atheists.

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