Behe vs. Swamidass I, as “God and/or Evolution?” Time to yawn, politely applaud or cheer?

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.

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239 thoughts on “Behe vs. Swamidass I, as “God and/or Evolution?” Time to yawn, politely applaud or cheer?

  1. J-Mac,

    Of course it’s not!!!
    Swamidass wants to build a bridge between two separate, independent and contradictory world views…and he wants to sit on the fence as a modern day Moses…
    That’s why he gets shot from both sides of the world views and will continue to be ignored no matter whom he debates, even the devil himself…

    There is some truth to this as he brought up something on his blog that he did not mention in the debate which was constructive neutral theory as a solution to complex structures in biology. While Behe’s position is very consistent Josh’s is not at this point.

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  2. colewd: constructive neutral theory as a solution to complex structures in biology.

    What?!!
    To explain what? Not the evolution of the flagellum???
    It would be a suicide…

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  3. J-Mac,

    What?!!
    To explain what? Not the evolution of the flagellum???
    It would be a suicide…

    Here is what he wrote. Maybe you can sort out the rhetoric.

    No, I did not misspeak. It is well known that positive selection alone cannot account for molecular machines. You also need constructive neutral evolution: Constructive Neutral Evolution. If I recall correctly, I said “Neutral Theory as described by Kimura” does not explain new functions, which is entirely accurate, but Constructive Neutral Evolution does, as do many other mechanism.

    Don’t forget: X-Men Constructive Neutral Evolution.

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  4. Patrick Trischitta:
    The soul didn’t evolve, it was designed.

    Hmm, well look who became an IDist so quickly! ; )

    Yet this claim is disputed, even if Patrick doesn’t want that to be allowed.

    “The Evolution of the Soul” (by the inventor of the helicopter) – https://www.sikorskyarchives.com/Evolution.php

    “The Evolution of the Soul” – Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne
    https://www.giffordlectures.org/books/evolution-soul-rev-ed

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  5. keiths: According to Pew, the Nones will be declining as a global percentage over the next 50 years:

    But will they ever *actually* become Nones?

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  6. colewd: If I recall correctly, I said “Neutral Theory as described by Kimura” does not explain new functions, which is entirely accurate, but Constructive Neutral Evolution does, as do many other mechanism.

    It looks like other mechanisms, like God’s intervention, are going to have to be considered rather than some non-adaptive mechanisms…😉

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  7. Gregory: Hmm, well look who became an IDist so quickly! ; )

    Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him…
    Or somethin…

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  8. Gregory: Yet he does indeed sometimes appear to tout himself as an “evolutionary scientist” (rather than merely a computational biologist & MD), who is promoting in particular “evolutionary science”…

    Perhaps even an evolutionary design scientist promoting evolutionary design science.

    Gregory: …yet without recognizing or openly voicing *any* proper limits for his own “evolutionary” thinking.

    There are no proper limits on evolutionary design thinking.

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  9. Gregory: Yet this claim is disputed, even if Patrick doesn’t want that to be allowed.

    Why would he? He has to support his friend, right or wrong…especially when wrong, a lot…lol

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  10. Mung: There are no proper limits on evolutionary design thinking.

    Why should there be? Nonsensical ideas are limitless…😉

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  11. Mung: Perhaps even an evolutionary design scientist promoting evolutionary design science.

    There are no proper limits on evolutionary design thinking.

    Yeah, those triplets seem to suit the mash nowadays. But I thought you’d outgrown the DI’s semantic shenanigans with “designism” of many varieties? The above should be interpreted as playful, I’m guessing.

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  12. Gregory,

    Yes, the soul was intelligently designed by unscrupulous religious leaders to fit nicely into their design of Hell in order to instill fear of eternal torture and damnation once the body and brain dies. People realized eons ago that when a person dies, the body and brain begin to rot and decay. Religion had to have a way to torment, punish, and torture beyond the grave so souls only for humans were designed perfectly to fit into an fiery hell down below.

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  13. Patrick Trischitta: Yes, the soul was intelligently designed by unscrupulous religious leaders to fit nicely into their design of Hell in order to instill fear of eternal torture and damnation once the body and brain dies. People realized eons ago that when a person dies, the body and brain begin to rot and decay. Religion had to have a way to torment, punish, and torture beyond the grave so souls only for humans were designed perfectly to fit into an fiery hell down below.

    Does Swamidass know? 😉

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  14. colewd:
    J-Mac,

    There is some truth to this as he brought up something on his blog that he did not mention in the debate which was constructive neutral theory as a solution to complex structures in biology.While Behe’s position is very consistent Josh’s is not at this point.

    Even if Swamidass or others came up with a solution for the evolution of complex structures, his philosophy would still have to change one way or the other. Either it was designed to become that way, in which case having a believe in a special relationship with God makes sense, or it was accidental, in which case having a special relationship with God makes no sense at all.

    Imagine having the same view of the cosmos. I believe that the entire universe came into existence through random, unguided physical forces, which themselves are just random laws of matter without order or meaning. And I believe in a God with the power of creation. Who wouldn’t find that view to be silly coming from anyone over 5?

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  15. phoodoo: And I believe in a God with the power of creation. Who wouldn’t find that view to be silly coming from anyone over 5?

    So close…

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  16. J-Mac: It looks like other mechanisms, like God’s intervention, are going to have to be considered rather than some non-adaptive mechanisms…

    Can you describe the process whereby you consider if a given event was god or not?

    J-Mac: Why should there be? Nonsensical ideas are limitless…

    How will you decide if ‘god’ is the answer to a particular problem? Note that your answers will now determine if your ‘consider god’ scheme is nonsensical or not….

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  17. phoodoo: Even if Swamidass or others came up with a solution for the evolution of complex structures

    The clue to the puzzle is a word you use in the quoted sentence starting with ‘e’.

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  18. J-Mac: Behe vs Swami synopsis is available at EN.

    You mean the heavily spun revisionist history is at EN.

    Behe delivered the same old ID-Creationist points he’s been using for years. He flat out lied about the bacterial flagellum claiming no one in 20 years had even attempted to explain how it could have evolved. Pity Dr. Swamidass didn’t plop the large pile of flagella evolution research papers in front of Behe and make Behe look like a fool as was done to him at the Dover trial.

    Behe also repeated his mantra “purposeful arrangement of parts” but never showed the arrangements were purposeful. He still mistake function for purpose and hopes the scientifically illiterate in the audience will follow his mistake too.

    All in all it was pretty boring. The DI’s IDiot propagandists (including Tour) mindlessly repeating their same science-free PRATTs while Dr.S was more interested in bringing the Christians there together.

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  19. “Dr.S was more interested in bringing the Christians there together”

    Michael Behe was of course just as interested in bringing Christians together … around IDism.

    It’s a question of “together for what”? Swamidass’ MNism ruins his welcome with most thinking Christians quite quickly. Evangelical young people and under-educated YECists are his main audience. Swamidass’ historical relativism & questionable exegesis makes him a prime target for YECists, as seen in the link in the OP.

    Swamidass is attempting to war his way to peace (typical USAmerican move), with him as a Scientism-ist-in-Chief; a rather unusual evangelical non-mainline Protestant strategy of agitation! The Christians he has brought together so far are almost all evangelical Protestants. Very few Catholics pay attention to Swamidass’ genealogistics, and the Orthodox who were visiting PS are now gone. It’s just too superficial the way Swamidass is approaching the topic, as we saw at Veritas’ evangelical Forum. Going deeper just isn’t something Swamidass has shown himself capable of doing so far, given his preferred ideological blockade & polemics.

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  20. Adapa: the large pile of flagella evolution research papers in front

    You’ve read the pile, or you can’t remember?

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  21. J-Mac: You’ve read the pile, or you can’t remember?

    I remember I provided a link to dozens of the papers and you were too afraid to even look at them. 😀

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  22. Gregory: Michael Behe was of course just as interested in bringing Christians together … around IDism.

    It’s a question of “together for what”? Swamidass’ MNism ruins his welcome with most thinking Christians quite quickly. Evangelical young people and under-educated YECists are his main audience. Swamidass’ historical relativism & questionable exegesis makes him a prime target for YECists, as seen in the link in the OP.

    Swamidass is attempting to war his way to peace (typical USAmerican move), with him as a Scientism-ist-in-Chief; a rather unusual evangelical non-mainline Protestant strategy of agitation! The Christians he has brought together so far are almost all evangelical Protestants. Very few Catholics pay attention to Swamidass’ genealogistics, and the Orthodox who were visiting PS are now gone. It’s just too superficial the way Swamidass is approaching the topic, as we saw at Veritas’ evangelical Forum. Going deeper just isn’t something Swamidass has shown himself capable of doing so far, given his preferred ideological blockade & polemics.

    Swamidass’ MNism enhances his credibility with most younger science educated Christians. He connects really well at the university level. He is very popular with the millennial’s who haven’t left religion yet. Latest survey show that Millienials are 49% Nones and 46% Christians. This is the group that Swamidass has the greatest appeal to. Those Christians (including Catholics) who are science educated and literate and looking for a way to stay Christian without giving up anything in science, morality, and values. Swamidass has now surpassed Francis Collins in leading the way in keeping science strictly under MNism while maintaining a personal faith in Jesus the rised God.

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  23. Patrick: Swamidass’ MNism enhances his credibility…”

    Swamidass’ MNism reveals his secularist thinking & his bungled ideology. If you think this enhances his credibility, then we see things quite differently. Indeed, more likely, you are cheering Swamidass’ promotion of MNism, because you likely promote it widely yourself. Your goals, if I recall, are not “theistic” goals, like Swamidass’, right?

    “He connects really well at the university level. He is very popular with the millennial’s who haven’t left religion yet.”

    I’ll agree that Swamidasss speaks at the level of university students. How do you get from there to “very popular with”? Just an ‘educated guess’ or is there evidence to back up that claim? It was an evangelical Protestant VF event, where Swamidass has spoken previously & likely feels quite at home.

    “Those Christians (including Catholics) who are science educated and literate and looking for a way to stay Christian without giving up anything in science, morality, and values.”

    There are not a small number of significantly better scholars, clearer writers and more coherent theological thinkers, than Swamidass, who educated, scientific &/or literate religious folks can turn to, w/out paying any attention to Swamidass & his embrace of a “creation war”.

    “Swamidass has now surpassed Francis Collins in leading the way in keeping science strictly under MNism …”

    Hardly. Leading the way? He hasn’t given credit yet for what he’s taken from others, and BioLogos is still in existence, active & growing. Collins is still the head of NIH. Please give your head a shake.

    “Science” obviously cannot remain “kept strictly under MNism”, except for those who admit that what they are doing is ideological. Unless you mean simply “anti-supernaturalism.” In which case, we haven’t seen much of Swamidass’ actual “anti-supernaturalism”, except in natural sciences, where it is far too safe and easy.

    Jump into philosophy & theology, where Swamidass does sometimes tread, and MNism comes quickly back to haunt him.

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  24. Gregory,

    Like I said before, Swamidass is doing great. He is drawing large crowds at events that he speaks at. His book is in 2nd printing. PS is the best place on the internet to discuss science and faith, far better than BioLogos, AiG, RTB, Uncommon Descent, and DI’s Evolution News. All this while still being a tenured research professor at a major secular university, and a husband and father of two.

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  25. Patrick: Like I said before, Swamidass is doing great.

    You got a PR job and a new name with it? 😉

    Patrick: He is drawing large crowds at events that he speaks at.

    How many events has he done recently?
    Would as many people showed up, had Behe not been there?
    Can you tell us how many people showed up for Swamidass vs Lents debate? 🤔

    Patrick: His book is in 2nd printing

    What was the first printing?
    1.000? Paid for by the Templeton foundation?

    Patrick: PS is the best place on the internet to discuss science and faith, far better than BioLogos, AiG, RTB, Uncommon Descent, and DI’s Evolution News.

    Sure it is… as long as one doesn’t expose the hypocrisy of the new voice…🤗
    More than few comments per day by 5 participants? Impressive 😉

    Patrick: All this while still being a tenured research professor at a major secular university, and a husband and father of two.

    How’s that related? So is Behe, the father of 9, last time I checked…😊

    ETA: is it true that bad book reviews boost sales? 🤔

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  26. Patrick,

    We’ve gone over much of this already, so there’s no need to rehash it.
    “far better than BioLogos, AiG, RTB, Uncommon Descent, and DI’s Evolution News.”
    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/peaceful-science-has-eclipsed-uncommon-descent-how-will-that-impact-tszs-reason-to-be/

    EvoNews doesn’t have discussion. ARN was the earlier forum, no longer active. http://arn.org/ UD is a sewer of armchair IDists. BioLogos is still a wonderful resource, with excellent discussions on the topic of its focus. It seems that AiG & RTB do much more that is “invisible” to people like Patrick, who are not actually interested personally in the theological features of this conversation. If I were a YECist seeking to learn about “science & faith”, BioLogos would be my go-to site, instead of PS, simply due to the fact that Swamidass is ideologically compromised.

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/why-be-skeptical-about-swamidass-peaceful-science-pitch/

    Personally, I’m quite thankful for what Swamidass is doing, while I nevertheless do not appreciate the highly ambitious, “capitalising & betraying” way he is doing it. His departure from BioLogos continues to leave a dark stain on his record, especially since he seems to have been the first to accuse BioLogos of “racism,” rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, his commitment to overturn IDism, which he and most others call IDT, is simply a great addition to the broader conversation involving science, philosophy, theology/worldview, in which Swamidass certainly has at least some minimal important space as computational biologist in the conversation.

    Yes has yet to admit that what he believes about real, historical Adam and Eve is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic & Orthodox churches. Likewise, he has yet to express broad understanding that the source of the problem actually comes from people he sits next to in the pews. Not openly acknowledging this reveals the biased evangelicalistic approach he takes to this topic.

    Again, please read with fairness & an eye on historical priority, rather than only on pretense. Swamidass is simply catching up with where Catholics & Orthodox have already been for quite some time. May Swamidass’ message help lift up evangelicals who are anti-science, or anti-evolutionary biology (i.e. not just anti-evolutionism), to re-consider the basis for their doubts. More power to Swamidass helping his fellow non-mainstream evangelicalists awaken from their sleep!

    Btw, officially, WUSTL is a private research university, isn’t it? It was established as “non-sectarian”, though not “anti-religious” (it’s founders & leaders included many religious folks). Iow, it’s not a “public” university. I do not accept this notion of “secular university”, as it has no legal or official basis, and is rather only used by secularists … and Swamidass himself. LOL.
    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/what-does-s-joshua-swamidass-mean-by-secular-scientist/ (unfinished post, that Alan posted without permission or submission, before going on vacation)

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  27. Swamidass leaving BioLogos is nothing more than a realization by Swamidass that he didn’t need BioLogos to get his message across. By creating PS, publishing book on GAE, and by being an independent speaker at various forums, Swamidass is achieving his goals. He is realizing his purpose and meaning in his life. I congratulate him and wish him much success in all his endeavors.

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  28. Patrick:
    Swamidass leaving BioLogos is nothing more than a realization by Swamidass that he didn’t need BioLogos to get his message across.By creating PS, publishing book on GAE, and by being an independent speaker at various forums, Swamidass is achieving his goals.He is realizing his purpose and meaning in his life.I congratulate him and wish him much success in all his endeavors.

    Hu?
    Whom are you talking to?

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  29. There’s a cleaned up version of the video of the Behe/Swamidass debate here. The sound is now intelligible.

    H/T Denyse at UD

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