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Apr 30, 2008


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Sam L. Carr

Michael, this is a fascinating topic. I kinda like Ayala's position. I do hope that you are planning on digging in a bit more...

Michael W. Kruse

Not anytime soon. I've written somethings in the past. I thought RJS over at Jesus Creed did a bang up job with her "Language of God" series. If you missed it I'd encourage you to check it out.


I have little patience for the more dogmatic strains of creationism, especially the young-earth variety. But Dr. Ayala's comments (at least in so far as they're filtered by the Times' Cornelia Dean) illustrate quite nicely why I am not, and cannot be, a full-fledged neo-Darwinian.

Ayala posits a garden-variety evolutionism like that of the late Stephen Jay Gould, and explains in the tone of a grandfather correcting a foolish child that such a system, driven purely by random mutation and sexual selection, doesn't preclude the existence of God. But it becomes evident that the god Ayala leaves "room for" (in the words of the headline) is nothing whatsoever like the God of Christianity.

His is a "god" who can't be blamed for nature's red tooth and claw not because of the Fall, but because he/it had no hand in its design. This proposed "god" is less sovereign creator than vague influence, and even then, has never actually influenced the development of his creatures. His theology is weaker even than Alfred North Whitehead's. Is it any surprise that Ayala refuses to say whether he actually believes in this "god"? Why would he bother?

The line Ayala draws between "creationism" and its "ideological cousins" on the one hand, and Darwinian evolution on the other, is a line that relegates everyone - I mean everyone - who sees any purpose at all in life or the cosmos to the camp of the willfully ignorant. In this (unfortunately, common) view, the "guided evolution" embraced by the Roman Catholic Church, or the "evidence of design" proposed by ID types, are not substantially different from my cousin who thinks the world will celebrate its 6012th birthday on October 23. Any mechanism but purely random mutations working through sexual selection is reactionary dogma.

But there's no conflict between that view and "belief in god." So long as your god doesn't actually do anything. Ever.

Honestly, it makes me want to bake a cake this October.

P.S.: This "profile" is fawning garbage. Was there really need to insert a parenthetical comment about how "in fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to it as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth"?

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks for the comment, Andy.

I’d respond by observing that science is a self-limited way of knowing. That self-imposed limitation is to study only the natural world. Science requires a methodological (not philosophical) atheism. Otherwise, every time we encounter a seemingly insoluble problem we just claim “God did it” or “ID.” The most science can say about a seemingly insoluble problem is “We don’t know the answer.” It can’t resort to supernatural events. The can’t be observed or tested. Science studies “how” not “who.”

The problem Gould et al is they have crossed the line from methodological atheism to philosophical atheism and elevated science as the final arbiter of all truth. I reject the idea that the response to Gould et al is to insert God or ID into science. Rather it is to return science to its proper limited role as one way of learning about reality.

I don't know enough about Ayala to speak to him personally. However, I do agree that there is no “…there is no credible scientific challenge.”


My gripe with the parenthetical remark was not that it was untrue, but that it was snidely editorial. Let the "authority" make an assertion of fact, not the reporter.

One of the problems with the ID debate is that each side is operating with different definitions of "science" and different ideas of where the boundary lies between science and philosophy or religion.

I can agree, for example, that "there is no credible scientific challenge" to Darwinian evolution, in the sense that there is no experimental data to the contrary. That doesn't mean that I agree with the rather arbitrary and truncated definition of science that it relies on. Scientific observation and hypothesis and revealed religion may indeed be distinct ways of knowing, but they are not, contra Ayala, "non-overlapping." To his credit, Gould understood that, though he paid lip service to the contrary.

The trouble with Ayala's remarks is that in an attempt to resolve the conflict by erecting this firm barrier between religion and science, he proposes a shriveled variety of both: science without philosophical reflection, and theology with an entirely passive "god."

In fact, I think, there is considerable "overlap" between these various ways of knowing, whatever we might like to think. Any scientific theory has philosophical, moral and theological implications. To pretend otherwise, as Dawkins does, is ridiculous. And likewise, theological convictions carry with them implications about the mechanisms of creation. The trick is to recognize the overlap and address it, rather than deny that it exists.

Michael W. Kruse

"...was snidely editorial"

Well, we are reading the New York Times here. :)

I'm not clear what might be meant by overlap. Again, science has limited itself to questions of "how" within a natural environment. I don't see how saying "For the sake of this particular study, I'm going to assume there are only natural causes and I'm going to look for them." I don't see how that has moral or theological implications.

I think the reason there is perceived overlap is that scientists have stepped out beyond methodological athiesm to make their case for their philosophical atheism.

People were doing theology long before the scientific method emerege. Science is not necessary to theology. Similarly, I would say theology is not necessary to do science. But if we want to ask broad questions about our existence we are going to draw on these multiple ways of knowing. At that point, there clearly is a need to find a way to synthesize our multiple avenues of learning if we want to find answers. But then we have moved beyond purely doing science or theology. That's how I see it.

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