Cancer and Evolutionary Theory

I am glad that you called him out on this cheap shot:

“But he has been relentless in his assault on all views that allow for a Christian God to be directly active in the creation and evolution of biological life. In specific, he has targeted ID forms of those arguments, while entirely belittling those views considered more biblically conservative.”

So @Jay313 is referring to:

To demonstrate that I have been very clearly not been doing this, can you elaborate my position a bit for the newcomers @Jay313? Perhaps include some links to me defending YEC’s in other threads =).

I wrote…

I think in the meantime it is very important to correct this misstatement of my position: “But he has been relentless in his assault on all views that allow for a Christian God to be directly active in the creation and evolution of biological life. ”

I have NEVER made that case. I absolutely believe that the Christian God has been thoroughly active in the creation and evolution of biological life. I have never argued against this belief. I am not a deist in disguise. I am Christian that believes in God’s sovereign will over all things, including the creation of us all.

Moreover, I have bent-over backward to acknowledge the possibility of the special creation of man.

You write, “while entirely belittling those views considered more biblically conservative.” I would love to know (please send me a private email) where I have done this. I consider my point of view very biblically conservative, very much in the line of Martin Luther and Blaise Pascal.

I should emphasize that I certainly think that YEC can be a respectable position, and regularly refer to Kurt Wise and Todd Woods (and more recently John Sanford) as YEC’s that I respect. I also have a great deal of respect for the folks at RTB (including Hugh Ross, Jeff Zeerwink, Fuz Rana). Of course, I totally disagree with aspects of their science. But how does voicing and explaining these scientific disagreements constitute belittling their biblical views?

It is also interesting that the article(s) from Gauger ignore your response to @Jon_Garvey[quote=“Swamidass, post:19, topic:5673”]
If many ID arguments about neofunctionalization and molecular convergence being impossible are true (as many ID proponents are convinced), how do we explain neofunctionalization and molecular convergence in cancer? Clearly it is the same biological system, and we are seeing neofunctionalization and molecular convergence, and all the same genetic patterns in cancer tumors that we see in, for example, humans the the great apes.

In the case of evolution, we look at this data and some ID proponents conclude that it must have required God’s (thought they would say “designer”) direct intervention somehow (from tinkering to special creation).

In the case of cancer, the data looks very very similar. If the ID proponents are right aboutevolution, why would we conclude anything different here?

To take the theology out of it, i should have said,

or regularly require the direct intervention of [an intelligent designer] to initiate and be sustained. I’m not sure which option is harder to believe.

The point is not about theology (though it certainly raises theological questions) but is a question of how the ID scientific logic is applied in two places (evolution and cancer) where we have nearly identical genetic data.

And this:

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It’s all out there for anyone who cares to look. That’s the problem. Some can’t be bothered to check their facts.

Reminds me of an old joke from my journalism days. The NY Times’ slogan is “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” We used to say, “All the News that Fits.” We meant it literally (not enough space), but some of these quasi-news sites seem to understand it figuratively, as well.


All the news that fits our narrative?


Its probably worth pointing out that Johnathan Wells (an ID kingpin) might dispute this entire line of argument, saying that cancer is not a genetic disease…

TOPS then explicitly rejects several implications of Darwinian evolution.
These include: (1a) The implication that living things are best understood from
the bottom up, in terms of their molecular constituents. (1b) The implications
that DNA mutations are the raw materials of macroevolution, that embryo
development is controlled by a genetic program, that cancer is a genetic disease,
etc. (1c) The implication that many features of living things are useless vestiges
of random processes, so it is a waste of time to inquire into their functions.
Finally, TOPS assumes as a working hypothesis that various implications
of ID are true. These include: (2a) The implication that living things are best
understood from the top down, as irreducibly complex organic wholes. (2b) The
implications that DNA mutations do not lead to macroevolution, that the
developmental program of an embryo is not reducible to its DNA, that cancer
originates in higher structural features of the cell rather than in its DNA, etc. (2c)
The implication that all features of living things should be presumed to have a
function until proven otherwise, and that reverse engineering is the best way to
understand them.

[Note: apparently,Wells complains that this quote is taken out of context. Rather than getting into a protracted debate about what he has and has not said about this (see for example I’ll take him at his word that some how what he wrote here is not what he meant. I thought I was representing him accurately, but apparently I was not. Sorry.]

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How could he?

Well, praise God that they chose such an insulting way to refer to you in their title, so that you had the opportunity to show grace and let the spirit of Jesus shine through in your response to it.

If there’s anything I get out of the exchange, it’s that our Forum comments are very public and our tone here truly can and does shape people’s views about the attitude of evolutionary creationists. The last thing we want to do is give people reason to portray us as “snarky” and “crowing.” Of course, EC’s more hardened opponents may well cast us in that light anyway, but if we play our cards right, then the watching blogosphere will read our comments and say, “You know, I don’t think they’re crowing snarkily. I think those guys are gracious people. And they have better arguments, too.”


Clearly I have hit a nerve with them. This was a surprising response.

There is an opportunity here for us. I encourage those who are brave and want peace to engage in the comments of these articles. We have an opportunity in moments like this to show grace and engage with people on their “home turf”. I hope some of you take them up on this:

Observing this situation, it does not seem like they really understand our position. For example, I’ve just be assumed to be an Open Theist. This is a good opportunity to explain better. I, for one, will be pointing to @Jon_Garvey at the Camel’s Hump as an example of non-Open Theist evolutionists. They seem to be unaware you exist, and this guy has apparently just written a book about the theology of theistic evolution.

[Edit: They tell me now that they were just asking about Open Theism. This wasn’t an accusation (as I took it) but a question. Though I am not sure why, when I’ve been saying that I affirm God’s sovereign providence and will. Any how, sorry for the misrepresentation.]


I see. I hadn’t even seen the ShadowofOz post, and I hope people here take you up on that invitation. I was referring to the belittling reference to you as a “computer scientist,” as if you aren’t an accomplished MD/PhD evolutionary theorist with a strong record of teaching and publishing but instead, you know, maybe just a couple of notches above their friendly neighborhood tech support computer geek. Outrageous to me, but you took it in stride. Kudos to you, sir.

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I do acknowledge that I am not an accomplished evolutionary theorist. I’m just a lowly computational biologist =).

Though, I am pleased to report that my first paper on evolutionary theory actually is under review right now. Hopefully it pans out. If it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.


Thanks for the plug, Joshua.

There are many reasons for hackles to rise in conversations like this, of which the commonsest is human irrationality, of course. But some hackels, if not justified, are understandable.

For example, much mileage has been made here and elsewhere from ID’s refusal to outlaw Young Earth Creationism (including calling ID “IDcreationism”), and one sees a tendency to see such failure to distance itself from YEC as meaning ID is “really” closet fundamentalism. You’ll not be unaware (I hope) of how Eddie, for example, has had throwaway comments about his “biblical literalism” made when he’s defending ID… despite not even self-identifying as Evangelical.

But by the same token, it’s not in the least surprising if Evolutionary Creation proponents like yourself get tarred by the Open Theism brush (or at least questioned about it, as seems to have been wayne Rossiter’s actual intention).

After all, BioLogos was co-founded by Karl Giberson, an Open Theist, and Francis Collins, now diplomatically silent on all things EC, is known to have been a keynote speaker at an OT conference. John Polkinghorne, much cited at BioLogos as a senior doyen of theistic evolution, is an Open Theist, and Thomas Jay Oord was given a platform here only a month or so ago.

And where Open Theism itself is not embraced, both in the early theoretical foundations (think Van Till, Haught, Peacocke etc etc etc) and popular outworkings of Evolutionary Creation (ie here), some form of “Open Process Theism” is so prevalent that amongst the Evangelical community it has often come to be seen as the hallmark of theistic evolution.

Conversely, the more othodox views of providential evolution I’ve highlighted on The Hump (such as those of Asa Gray, B B Warfield, Charles Kingley, Alfred Russel Wallace and more contemporarily David Wilcox or yourself) have received near-zero attention by writers at Biologos.

And when some of us have raised a quizzical eyebrow (or actually, several score of quizzical eyebrows over the last several years) at the lack of any attempt to distance the Evangelical basis of Evolutionary Creation from Open Theism, the commonest response has been complete disengagement, which might be interpreted as “evasion”, and the strongest response, “Open Theism is a legitimate approach.”

So ID has scientifically suspect YEC bedfellows, and EC has theologically suspect Open Theism bedfellows - only in my experience the former are both more open about it, and more ready to justify theirs on the basis of their principles. It’s just a fact of life that we all get flak on the basis of whom we count as our co-belligerents: that’s primarily why The Hump of the Camel is not just a mirror-site of BioLogos.

One more point, on your own surprise at Rossiter’s response: I personally think that for you to list “ID is pseudoscience” amongst one of the settled scientific truths of evolution was - not to put too fine a point on it - asking for it. Pronouncements on pseudoscience are sociological, not scientific, statements. One may say that most studies of astrology have not confirmed specific claims (which leaves open the questions of researcher’s worldview commitments, study design and many other things). But “Astrology is pseudoscience” is no more a scientific finding than that a majority of biologists to say “Evolution shows there is no need for God.”

We all need to be careful about pouring petrol on troubled waters - that is, those of us involved in building bridges rather than sending tanks across them.


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@Eddie Remind me once again that Evolution News and Views does not intentionally stoke the anti-science attitudes of its readership. Every time I visit their site, I forget. The response to a published scientific paper is to compare its hypothesis to material that belongs in Marvel Comics and superhero movies?



I would agree that cancer cells evolve. “Cancer” uses a cellular mutation to against the ultimate health of the organism. This causes the organism to use its natural defenses against the bad cells. The bad cells in turn use their natural defenses including evolutionary change against the organism’s defenses. The one that better adapts to the changed situation wins, as with evolution.

A cancerous cell is not evil per se. It is bas because in the end it leads to a negative result. False religion is not bad per se. In many ways it may resemble good religion, but if it ends up with false values and a negative result, it is false and evil.

Jonathan Wells has replied to your suggestion here:

I quote his concluding remarks:

"My view (then as now) is that cancer cells contain hundreds or thousands of genetic mutations, which contribute substantially to the progression of the disease, but that cancer does not begin (as DNA reductionists claim) with an accumulation of single mutations. Instead (as many cancer biologists think) it starts with malfunctioning centrosomes that affect whole chromosomes. Had Swamidass carefully read what I wrote on this topic he would have known this.

So my (rhetorical) question is: Given Swamidass’s (and BioLogos’s) professed commitment to “gracious dialogue,” why did he engage in this gratuitous drive-by shooting?"

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I guess I was quoting a paper he wrote. I’d love to know how it was taken out of context. He writes, verbatim (without even my emphasis)…

This seems to say that Wells thinks ID precits that cancer originates in something other than DNA mutations.

That being said, he does offer an alternate framing of that here…

My view (then as now) is that cancer cells contain hundreds or thousands of genetic mutations, which contribute substantially to the progression of the disease, but that cancer does not begin (as DNA reductionists claim) with an accumulation of single mutations. Instead (as many cancer biologists think) it starts with malfunctioning centrosomes that affect whole chromosomes. Had Swamidass carefully read what I wrote on this topic he would have known this.

This maybe true in some cases (though very doubtfully all). With that I will take him at his word, that I misrepresented his meaning. Sorry about that. I was just trying to honestly represent what he wrote. I provided the link to his work for those that doubt me. Sorry for the confusion.

Perhaps he could clarify (1) how all these cancer biologists discovered the role of centrosomes without resorting to ID, (2) why they do not (as far as I know) endorse his turbine hypothesis, and (3) why cancer that clearly originate by mutational means first do not falsify ID. According to wells, it still seems like he thinks ID predicts that cancer does not originate in mutations.

Yeah, this is not what I did. If you read the original post, and the quote, I was describing what is considered settled science. Moreover, that was a quote from a long time ago, not really relevant to the conversation now. I understand ID disagrees with this designation, but is entirely dispassionate and accurate to say that the NAS, AAAS, and federal courts have settled on the determination that ID is psuedoscience. We do not have to agree or disagree with this determination to recognize the reality. Of course, ID wants this to change, as I would too if I was an ID advocate. It really should not be controversial to recognize the obvious fact they are, as yet, unsuccessful in this goal.


Here is my final set of comments to Walter…

Hello All. Thanks for the interesting conversation. Walter, in particular, thanks for drawing attention to my thoughts about evolution. That is kind of you, and does a lot of good in getting the word out about my take on evolution. Even from this conversation, a lot of people are responding positively, and they would never have met me if not for you. Thanks.

I can’t help but notice the lovely coincidence of Dr. James Tour (one of the signatories of The Dissent from Darwinism) updating his statement about evolution/creation yesterday, to be more accurate about the science of theistic evolution Efforts like yours really help in clarifying the stakes here, and encourages the Church to embrace all who follow Jesus. Once again, thanks.

This will be my last couple content posts on this blog for a couple reasons. Most importantly, the comment system here is not really working terribly well with multiple threads. It is really hard to follow the conversation. Less important, but still significant, it seems like the goal is debate rather than understanding, and the accusations of dishonesty are tiresome. I understand that we disagree, but avoiding those ad hominems would be nice.

For clarity, I’ll break my final responses into a few separate posts. I would love to continue the conversation with you at BioLogos (, which uses a much better comment system. If I do post anything of direct relevance there (like a response to a specific comment), I might post a link here BioLogos to respond.

I should have written:

Efforts like yours really help in clarifying the stakes here, and encourages the Church to embrace all who follow Jesus, even if they believe in evolution.

And a response to his question: what did God do?

Well, I would say I believe what Scripture says. He 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?

Proverbs 25:2. “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 one? I do not know because the Bible does not tell me. I’m sure this will be a frustrating answer to you, but 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.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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