Cancer and Evolutionary Theory

[quote=“Rational_Theist_Matt, post:74, topic:5673”]
I do not regard it as an accurate representation of the position of ID to describe them as ‘devoted to anti-evolutionism’.[/quote]
Hello Matt,

If Joshua’s representation is not accurate, what has any ID proponent done to empirically test an ID hypothesis? The only one in the movement doing anything empirical is Axe, who is testing a straw man evolutionary hypothesis that no one advances.

You seem to be admitting here that Swamidass is correct. Note that you are not stating an ID hypothesis!!!

Given they have engaged with other scientists[/quote]
I don’t think they are at all. Everything they do is aimed at laypeople, even when they appear to be engaged.

I have no idea what “engage science” means. What hypothesis? What empirical predictions does it make? Why is no one in the movement testing an ID hypothesis?

I’ve sent very polite emails to Meyer and Axe and Gauger. None have engaged.


No one in the ID camp is approaching cancer in any way but rhetorically. Joshua is approaching it empirically.

How, exactly, would any cancer patients benefit from the ID, entirely rhetorical, approach?

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Hi Matt,

I haven’t had the chance to interact with you until today. Not that I’m an old-timer around here, but welcome!

The first sentence seems ambiguous to me. Who is claiming the paper doesn’t discuss specific point mutation–Swamidass or the EnV article? The sentence could be read either way. If I am reading your point 4 correctly, you mean the EnV article.

Some establishment scientists (e.g., Richard Dawkins) go beyond the boundaries of science to make the philosophical claim that evolution supports atheism. That doesn’t mean that the philosophical claim is actually part of establishment science.

Well before Darwin, it was Newton and the European natural philosophers who excluded metaphysics from physics. Should we reject Newton’s mathematical formulations of gravity because they do not attribute causality to God? I find no theological grounds to reject Newton’s physics, even though they do not include any role or account for divine action. If a raptor drops a squirming catfish, gravity will act in accordance with Newton’s physics to draw the catfish toward the ground, where it may strike someone in the face…regardless of whether that person is an atheist, an agnostic, or a devout believer. #NotTheOnion

As a Christian, I do not reject the science of embryology because it presents the development of a human being as the result of a complex set of chemical reactions choreographed by genetic mechanisms interacting with their physical environment. Do you, Matt? As a Christian, though, I affirm by faith that we are able to study embryology because God created the universe to be an orderly place, and He sustains it by His providence, and we are created in His image.

Astronomers have been able to explain the origin of an enormous number of observations–the expansion of the universe, the formation of galaxies, the formation of stars and planets, the death of stars, black holes, etc.–solely by the use of physics equations such as the Friedmann equations. Do you reject modern astronomy, Matt, because the equations prescribe no role for God? I do not. Instead, I affirm by faith that the equations “work” because God created the universe to be an orderly place that He sustains by His providence, and we are able to make observations about that order because we are created in His image.

Embryology describes the origin and development of a human being in natural terms, yet the vast majority of Christians do not condemn it as a religion-contradicting, mindless, purely natural enterprise. We have worked out a theological way to redeem it, as it were, and accept its validity.

Astronomy describes the origin and development of the universe in natural terms, yet the vast majority of Christians do not condemn it as a religion-contradicting, mindless, purely natural enterprise. We have worked out a theological way to accept its validity.

Evolution describes the origin and development of life on Earth in natural terms. Can we Christians work out a theological way to accept its validity? Or must we feel compelled to accept the philosophical assumptions of Richard Dawkins, and therefore condemn it as a religion-contradicting, mindless, purely natural enterprise?

EDIT: Grammar and formatting.


I agree with you about this. ID is not intrinscially anti-evolution, especially if you define evolution as common descent, as do I. And I did not mean to imply that all ID people are anti-evolutionists. For example, Behe, You, @vjtorley, and Denton all accept common descent, and therefore are theistic evolutionists by my definitions.

Rather, I was saying that instead of making the original about how Cancer demonstrates several of the biochemical arguments in ID are false, I should have left out reference to ID, and just focused on anti-evolutionism instead. If I could modify my original statement, to avoid the outside reaction from ENV and Dr Rossiter, I would. Its too late for that.

[edit: reading over the old posts I did leave ID ou of it. So why did the perceive it as a drive by?]

At the same time I doubt that would have changed much. Comments about evolution by me seem to attract a lot of attention from ID, no matter how I phrase things. Maybe because a Christian that disagrees with them is more dangerous than an atheist? Who knows.

There is some history here between the ID movement and me. This is probably the first time I personally have posted something that strongly counters an ID scientific claim. Normally, I am just talking about common descent, neutral theory, and Jesus. Still, there are about 15 articles from ENV, Uncommon Descent, and Darwin’s God specifically arguing against my attempts to explain the strong evidence for common descent and neutral theory. I agree that these are silly things to argue about, but this appears to be the pattern their interactions with me since 2012, and I am not sure why at all. It just does not seem strategically smart for the ID movement to argue against common descent, but this seems to be a high priority for them.

So, I agree, ID is not (in principle) anti evolution, but in public with me they certainly seem to be. Hopefully that will change sometime soon.

I emailed her. No response. The right way to do this is behind closed doors, without the silly blog wars. That does not seem to be what is going to happen this time. Nonetheless, no hard feelings, I do appreciate the publicity.


I want to take a second and thankfully acknowledge my appreciation for @Rational_Theist_Matt and @Jay313 for taking the risk of commenting on the opposing sides “turf”.

@Jay313 has been commenting on Walter Rossiter’s Blog.

@Rational_Theist_Matt has joined us here.

I want to remind everyone here at BioLogos (@Jonathan_Burke, @Chris_Falter and @benkirk) that is is really overwhelming to be outnumbered in a forum by a crowd of people that disagrees with you. While everyone has been respectful of @Rational_Theist_Matt, let’s try and go a little slower in engaging him on his points. If we get a friend out of this, his time here will be well spent. We do not have to “win” an argument with him, and he does not have to answer for the odd policies of the Discovery Institute and ENV. Let’s be good hosts for our guest. Maybe then he will stay around longer.


Speaking as one of the people here who is outnumbered by a crowd of people that disagrees with me, I know how he feels.

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Agreed. When I welcomed Matt, I was sincere.

@Rational_Theist_Matt , if you are reading this, I want to affirm that I anticipate a friendly discussion as brothers in Christ, based on our views on science and philosophy, not those of DI or ENV or Biologos.

I also want to affirm that I believe in an Intelligent Designer–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The triune God. I just don’t happen to believe that we can give convincing evidence of His existence through the scientific process. That doesn’t make the standard practice of science illegitimate, in my opinion. We can’t provide evidence of the existence of God through modern portfolio theory or ordinary least squares regression, either, but we use them anyway. I certainly rely upon MPT to be a faithful steward of my 401(k) pittance.

In any case, welcome! And do be careful if you are standing under a tree in a Philadelphia park

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You are quite welcome, sir! I don’t really see it as much of a risk, though. My reputation is hardly worth protecting! Haha

Yeah, that’s the kind of thinking which leads to Intelligent Falling. It’s like they have an aversion to the idea that God created laws to run the universe, and instead they think He has to keep intervening to prop it up and keep everything going or it will fall apart.

Well said. I agree. Just keep saying it, people who are prepared to listen will hear you.

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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.

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  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.

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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?


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