The biggest news of this week for the “conversation” this blog is in some small way a part of will likely be the discussion between Drs. Michael Behe and S. Joshua Swamidass in Texas. The answer for both men to the polemical question above is not “God w/out evolution”, but rather “God with evolution,” iow both God and evolution. So what else important is there left for them to disagree about? http://www.veritas.org/location/texas-a-m-university/
For Behe, “evolution” has a narrower meaning than it does for Swamidass. One key question, that likely won’t be asked, is: how wide is Swamidass’ meaning of “evolution” and where does it stop (i.e. what doesn’t ‘evolve’)? Is Swamidass, who somewhat incredulously claims to be neither a creationist nor an evolutionist, actually both? One of the biggest challenges unaddressed still by Swamidass regarding his evolutionism will be met when he starts describing or explaining the “limits of evolutionary theories”, rather than only “the great possibilities of evolutionary theories”, now as we live in a post-Darwinian, extended synthesis scenario.
We may nevertheless hope for some reconciliation, or even a moment or two of peace amidst an artificial storm in the USA involving “Intelligent Design”, evolution, and creationism. Those moments will likely constitute a rare pause in their otherwise contrary apologetics approaches, both taking a “public understanding of science” attitude of pedagogical communication to the stage. We may thus, purely on the communications front, simply get either a parody of abstract intellectualism driven by “religious” or “quasi-religious” agendas, or more positively, a few simple concessions of common ground that shouldn’t be too difficult for either of them to find, or to make towards each other.
Over the years, Behe has been on tours of evangelical churches and apologetics events, which suits Swamidass’ background and religious leanings. The current venue with Veritas Forum should present a familiar opportunity for Behe and Swamidass to establish common ground as Abrahamic monotheists, with at least some shared ideas that they both oppose, such as identifying limits to scientific methods and practises in understanding human life and meaning. A key issue will be how much “confident public confessing” Swamidass does in contrast with how much he will stick to a “strictly natural scientific” approach to the topic. Just opposing “Intelligent Design” theory alone on natural scientific and computational biology grounds should be enough to win audience points. Yet if Behe can show where Swamidass’ excesses often veer, seemingly unknown to himself, into scientism, that would surely lead to a different ball game. Behe is much clearer, or at least simpler in his “philosophy/philosophistry of science” than Swamidass, through training at the Discovery Institute, which he got from Stephen C. Meyer, William Dembski, Paul Nelson, and a few others.
We know already that Swamidass is weak to a pushover regarding the ideology of “methodological naturalism” (MNism). He admits that MNism is a misnomer, but not yet that it is also an exclusionary ideology usually simply boiling down to anti-supernaturalism. Behe can and will exploit this, though he’s not really pro-supernaturalism, even as a religious theist. Instead Behe’s against those who would put restrictions on natural science, such as excluding “intelligence” (or poof, “Intelligence”) from strictly scientific theories. At this point, if Swamidass pushes Behe to distinguishes types of “design/Design”, it will go a long way, since Behe told the author of this OP a few months ago, that he doesn’t know about and doesn’t read non-IDist, i.e. real “design theories”. The “design universalism” coming from the DI has gone too far, and Swamidass will likely push this button in the debate, already busy flashing on the table.
Behe will surely let Swamidass take the lead proselytising in his more evangelicalistic way because the hosts are evangelicals, in the framework of apologetics. At the same time, the recent review of Swamidass’ book from the highly evangelical organisation, Creation Ministries International, does not bode well for his posturing. Swamidass, as usual, acted as if a highly critical review were actually a supportive one, but such an amoral charade likely cannot carry on for too much longer. It seems that journalist Jay Johnson is well placed to show how that has been playing out, also through his posting at BioLogos. Nevertheless, if Behe doesn’t let Swamidass skip away lightly from his relativizing of the Catholic Church’s teachings on Adam and Eve’s genealogy, doesn’t get stuck with his “anything goes” attitude, then it could get much more interesting quickly.
My concern is that the comparatively low philosophical acumen of both participants (on the scale of leading figures in science, philosophy, theology dialogue) will likely lead to terminological confusion, and thus accusations or displays of needless semantic subtlety and avoidance. Swamidass’ case, where it strays from traditional Catholic and Orthodox teachings, strays quickly into groundlessness through ideological relativism. Nevertheless, they will agree on the most important teachings regarding Adam and Eve on a personal level, as Swamidass is really only trying to be as orthodox as possible, while dragging his backwards evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters along with him starting to catch up.
What are the main things people at TSZ think could be accomplished at the “God and/or Evolution” debate? My suspicion is that with two theists involved, most of the skeptics here don’t really care.
The hosts label Behe as “one of the leading Intelligent Design advocates”, not just “in the USA,” but rather, “in the world”, which might just mean Texas. = P In any case, doesn’t that sound flashy? And they call Swamidass, “one of the rising stars at the intersection of [evangelicalistic] faith and [naturalistic] science.” Yes, Swamidass certainly is at the intersection of something unusual after the BioLogos fiasco; must credit their vision about that.
Let’s see what results from this curious match-up after such noise following Swamidass’ co-authored review of Behe’s Darwin Devolves & Behe now being featured in a new DiscoTute video series about bio-chemical “secrets”. Can the two men make up after harsh words in the past, both coming from Swamidass towards IDT/IDism and from IDists towards Swamidass’ sometimes cringeworthy YECist compromise?
Surely this encounter will mark a welcome opportunity, as the organizers hope, “to come together and examine the big-picture questions of life.” May the conversation elevate beyond where it has so far reached, and is currently stuck, in a way that gets the best out of participants, hosts & audience.