Cancer and Evolutionary Theory

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of my personal views of God’s divine action in this conversation (for those of you following along in the comment section of other blogs). For example Walter Rossiter (one of the Blog authors disputing the original post) writes to @Jay313

You’re well aware of the distinction [between primary and secondary causation]. Yet all of you waffle on it. Why, because you’ve made clear that you can’t have God sticking His fingers in here or there, because, now you have a God who 1) didn’t get it right the first time and 2) acts as a cause alongside other causes. I’ve written extensively about this problem for theistic evolutionists.

He also asks of me…

What. Did. God. Do?

Here, he means to draw some sharp lines in the sand about the primary cause (direct) action of God, leaving aside the secondary cause (natural law / indirect) action of God.

I want to clarify my position on this.

I believe what Scripture tells me of this. God did it all. Colosians 1:19. “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

How much was was by primary cause? How much was by secondary cause? (this is where the debate seems to be for some). Here, I think that Proverbs 25:2 applies. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

I know He did it all. How much did creation do on its own? I do not know because the Bible does not tell me. I do not know how to speak with confidence about God’s action independent of what He reveals to us in Jesus and in Scripture.

Some still seem to be very fixated on the nature of God’s action by primary cause.

As should be clear, I entirely agree (as do many theistic evolutionists) that God acts by primary cause in nature. I know this first through Jesus, and then also through Genesis and the creation account. An nothing in science disputes this because nothing in science (at least mainstream science) speaks to when God does or does not act.

In this I am sharply different than some TE that claim God does not ever act by first cause. I know from Scripture that He does.

However, differing from many in the ID movement in particular, I do not think that it is possible to confidently determine when God does and does not act (by first cause) independent of His self-revelation.

Theologically, this should be obvious because the Bible does not clearly lay out the detailed mechanisms of creation (e.g. which specific mutations did he inspire?). For some idiosyncratic reason, God seems more intent on ensuring we understand the mechanism of salvation (through Jesus) than the mechanism of creation. I understand some have different values than what I believe scripture teaches here, but that does not make me incoherent. I just emphasize Jesus and special revelation more than the ID movement, concordant with what I see that Scripture teaches.

Scientifically, while I am certain God acts by first cause, I have found every scientific argument to define the exact nature of His action to be genuinely bad science. This is not to deny He acts, but it is to reject stupid arguments for His action. Many seem to make the absurd jump to assume that because I reject a specific argument for God’s action on scientific grounds, that I reject even the possibility that God acts by first cause at all.

To repeat. I disagree forcefully with TE’s that deny God ever acts by primary cause. I also disagree forcefully with bad scientific arguments for God’s primary action; I do not think false arguments help anything, even when they are for correct conclusions. So I believe that God acts by first cause, but for theological and scientific reasons, I do not know how to define the exact nature of his action by first cause independent of His self-revelation. In this, I am echoing Reformed, Lutheran, Barthian, and Evangelical thought. Dare I say it: I am echoing Biblical teaching here too (at least I understand it) Maybe I am wrong, but I am certainly Christian.

Of course, this should all be obvious from several things I have written on my blog, comments on other’s blogs, BioLogos and elsewhere.


Fixated on the wrong things. Good post. I’m bowing out of Rossiter’s blog. It’s hard to speak to someone who doesn’t listen.

1 Like
  1. I flipped a coin today. It landed ‘heads’.
    What. Did. God. Do?

  2. The sun rose in the east yesterday, as predicted by physics.
    What. Did. God. Do?

  3. Human genes differ from chimps at about ~2% of sites (very approximately). There is significant evidence that humans and chimps share common ancestry.
    What. Did. God. Do?

Does how one ascribe the proximate causes to these phenomena determine whether one is a theist, deist or atheist?


There’s never been a response in my experience. That speaks volumes.

They have kindly responded to me at times in the past. Not this time.

1 Like

How much time have you spent on Evolution News and Views? I don’t think it is clear at all to the average layperson who visits those pages that the ID community “accepts the fact of evolution” unless by evolution you mean “change within a species.” (I realize that many of them do, but that isn’t the idea they market on their site.) Most of my friends are decidedly anti-evolution and they love Evolution News and Views because it often ridicules evolutionary theory. The rhetoric they use with the public seems designed to cast doubt on and undermine the claims of the scientific establishment with regard to its evolutionary biology basis. Calling Dr. Swamidass a computer scientist in their headline is a classic example.


Until recently I haven’t spent much time on EvN and that escalation of time spent there has to be fact-check as much as is within my abilities the content they are putting out on the Internet.
Average laypersons have a responsibility to make sure they know the position of persons they are pontificating about or criticising. Being a layperson isn’t an excuse for being shoddy.
By ‘fact of evolution’ I mean change in an allele frequency in a population over time.
That is different from the proposed mechanism in the theory to explain that fact and it is my belief that it is on this theory that ID protests.
It is right and proper given their views that EvN often ridicules that theory and seeks to undermine the claims of the scientific establishment with regard to that theory.
If it’s wrong it needs spoken of as wrong and the general public have access to the reasons why it is claimed wrong.
The current scientific establishment has no rights or privileges barring them being ridiculed or challenged on their claims.

  1. I’m not familiar enough with the work of the ID proponents to know if or what they have done to empirically test an ID hypothesis.
  2. I doubt Swamidass would concur that the current theory of evolution as proposed in established science is insufficient to give the best account for everything found in biological organisms. If he did concur then he would be taking the same position as ID proponents.
  3. I have seen panel discussions and debates between ID proponents and other scientists hence consider your claim demonstrably false.
  4. Engage science means engage with the established scientific community on the matters of disagreement on the current theory.
  5. I can’t speak for them with respect to every individual.

Where do you derive your information about what ID is doing o not doing as scientific research programs on cancer or other such matters?

The first sentence is referring to the claim from Swamidass about the EnV article where that EnV article speaks about Swamidass’ paper not discussing specific point mutation when it clearly does.

I don’t recall have made any claim that evolution is an argument for atheism?

The point about evolution being mindless, purely natural is that, if that were the case then humans are not necessary as a species on this earth which contradicts Christian theology where they are necessary. I don’t think the same holds true for your examples, i.e. what is postulated directly contradicts Christian theology.

I was wondering about this, Matt. If you go back and look at the dates,Swamidass’ comments to Jon Garvey were made on 9/14, while Gauger’s article was posted 9/20. Since all of the related EnV articles drew from this thread, it stretches all credulity to think that Gauger was unaware of Swamidass’ reply to Garvey, yet she went ahead and published a critique that ignored that reply in order to bolster her case. Do you not think that is a problem?


I rather doubt EnV are paying close attention to this discussion or my thread on G+… given that I don’t see any problem or feel that there is anything raised by Jon_Garvey they wouldn’t be able ot offer response.

Probably not anymore, since we are fundamentally boring. But EvN based all of the following articles on this thread, so wiping the slate clean by assuming that they aren’t paying attention doesn’t follow:

From Joshua Swamidass, a Gratuitous Drive-by Hit
Jonathan Wells September 22, 2016 1:58 PM

An Omission in Our Coverage of Dr. Joshua Swamidass and His New Argument Against ID
David Klinghoffer September 20, 2016 3:34 PM

Does Cancer Build Anything New? A Response to Josh Swamidass
Ann Gauger September 20, 2016 3:29 AM

Computer Scientist Joshua Swamidass Argues: Cancer “Casts Serious Doubt” on Intelligent Design
Evolution News & Views September 19, 2016 4:11 AM

They obviously are (or were) paying attention, or no articles at all would have appeared. As well, Gauger’s point-by-point response is drawn directly from a post made here by Swamidass on 9/13, and his reply to Garvey appeared less than 24 hours afterward. Gauger’s reply six days later takes into account the first but not the second, which happened to rebut her points prior to her even making them.

So, since Gauger conceivably could have rebutted the answers Swamidass gave to Garvey, she is off the hook? Isn’t this a pretty egregious case of cherry-picking facts to buttress her case?

As a former journalist, it’s pretty clear to me what EvN has done here. But … if you don’t see it by now, I’m not sure I can help you.

Edit: “buttress your case” changed to “buttress her case”

The article by Wells is not relevant at all since he clearly states in it he is not going to get involved.

The ‘Omisson’ article is further an irrelevance as it’s a correction to a previous article.

The other two are probably from different authors and are direct responses to Swamidass.

I find no case in any of this that they were deliberately avoiding a post by another member of this group but have already noted it warrants response.

Of course I concur with this. I think most scientists (including atheists) agree too. That is why there are journals seeking to extend what we know of evolution to explain more and more of what we find in biological organisms (PNAS and Molecular Biology and Evolution, for example) . If what was proposed in established science was “sufficient” no more scientific work in evolution would be happening.

Absolutely not. Agreeing with a truism does not place us in the ID camp.

Moreover, as a Christian, I believe that humans have immortal souls: something that cannot be produced by evolution. So even if we derinve a complete and correct scientific understanding of evolution, it still is not “sufficient” to explain the totality of life.

There are differences between ID and the rest of this, but the “sufficiency” of modern evolutionary theory is not where the divide lies. Sorry.


In that case, as I said, I can’t help you. There are such things as standards in journalism. If a website wants to put “News” in its title, it should be aware of them. Good luck with your project.

1 Like

So you concur that the current theory of evolution isn’t giving the best account for everything found in biological organisms?

If so, then you are just as much at odds with current scientific consensus as are ID proponents.
If not, then you are in line with that scientific consensus and at odds with what is proposed by ID.

By saying you would be in the same position as ID proponents I’m saying you’d be in the position that the current theory of evolution as proposed in established science is insufficient to give the best account for everything found in biological organisms.

The soul is not generally proposed as a ‘biological organism’.

I’m not seeking your ‘help’ and am aware there are standards in journalism from abysmally low standards to higher standards.

Nuff said .

I agree, it does not seem like they intentionally ignored the article. It appears the real situation is much worse. They just did not read it, even though it was published for several days before their response. Which is why I pointed out that this does not appear to be about science at all, but “something else.” If it was about the science, they would have taken the time to understand the position first. That was not a priority, as should be obvious.

And the Wells article is relevant, because Wells is on the record disputing mainstream science’s understanding of cancer. His protest of a “drive-by-hit” is about just a direct quote from a published article of his. I like Well’s article because it makes my point. If many ID arguments are true, most everything we know about cancer is false. Wells actually seems to agree with this point. I would also add that Gauger’s article seems to make point even more clearly, because her characterization of cancer is widely different than how cancer biologists understand cancer. As I explained to @Jon_Garvey

Ann does not seem to know this, and presents a different view. She writes:

Imagine that the oil in your car’s engine turned to sludge. The finely tuned machine will not respond well, even if the sludge is “novel,” an “innovation” in the system.
Does Cancer Build Anything New? A Response to Josh Swamidass | Evolution News

Interesting hypothesis. Turns out to be entirely false. Obviously so.

If this is the ID conclusion about cancer (as Wells and Rossiter independently seems to assert) I’m happy to report that my original point is even more clear. To accept many ID arguments is to reject large parts of what we have learned about cancer.