"Kremlinology"? Discovery Institute's Glass House

So how exactly does this work. Do the kremlinologists write up a report of the individual user approaches and submit it to the ENV hierarchy? And what do they do with the information?

Does your EC say that God’s action in using evolution to create, was at least sometimes detectable? Like the appearance of the first cells, or the Cambrian explosion, or other rapid radiations in the history of life? Or what about the genetic code, or molecular machines? Because if it isn’t detectable it becomes a matter of faith alone that He was involved.
If your EC says you can discern His hand, then welcome aboard.

Common descent is a position held by many ID people in the beginning, and still is held by some. I don’t know why the shift away from common descent happens, but it does usually.

It’s funny because apart from ID, common descent is held more closely than the Darwinian mechanism itself.

We don’t publish that Universal Common Descent is a fact, because we don’t believe it is, as far as we can tell. Even those who accept UCD have a hard time declaring it a fact. There is just too much contradiction.

Now can we move on? We’ve had this discussion before and it is still hasn’t changed anything.

Can I ask why it is a problem if it is undetectable?

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Like Bill, I am also curious why detectability is an issue. I don’t think lack of detectability is an issue for most Christians (including ID folks) when it comes to things like the weather or embryological development - things that scripture explicitly says are God’s doing. Why do we need detectability for some things but not others?


The reason it’s an issue is because the design is obvious. Some things we can’t see happening but because of their effects you recognize the hand of God. Like human embryology. Some things we can see, whether with our eyes or with our technology, that are also marvels. I am thinking of the water strider, or molecular motors like kinesin and dynein. Or metabolic pathways, with glorious and amazing enzyme complexes like pyruvate dehydrogenase. I recognize design there also. Something beyond the power of mutation, drift and selection to achieve. Other elements of the EES notwithstanding. Do you not see design also?

I have the feeling we are likely talking past each other, that when I say design you think of an autobody shop. I don’t mean gears and wheels and screwdrivers. God says He made everything. It’s all through the Old Testament. He even says we should be able to see his hand in the things he has made. But he doesn’t say how he did it, merely that we should not presume to be like him, "Were you there when…? " he said to Job.

Let me ask you this. What is the most convincing evidence of unguided evolution for you? Is it the signs in the genome that point to common descent? Or is it something else? For you it is clear that God used evolution to create life, leaving no trace that you can see? But you still glory in His Creation, right? Surely we have that in common.

What if we are both right and both wrong? What if God used evolution for some things and his direct action for others? How would we know?

I am willing to hold things in tension that I do not know. I am willing to try to understand your point of view. If you will grant me the same.

I know you’re not fond of ch4 in Adam and the Genome (although I disagree that my critiques of ID there are ad hominem arguments - direct arguments, yes, but they are arguments against the content of ID, not the persons behind the arguments…) but there’s a little section in that chapter where I talk about evolution as design, rather that evolution vs. design. I see evolution as God’s design for creating life, plate tectonics as his design for making continents, gravity as his design for making solar systems, and so on. I just don’t think the place to look for design is where “natural” explanations have not yet been worked out. I think it’s all designed.

I used to hold the ID view. But I no longer find ID arguments convincing. Every example held up by ID as something that natural processes cannot explain falls apart for me upon closer inspection. In principle I’m open to the idea that God could have used miraculous means for parts of natural history. I just haven’t yet seen evidence that suggests to me that this is the case. I recognize that you disagree here.

I’ll provide two quotes that get to the heart of how I see this issue. One is the Bonhoeffer quote that I include in Adam and the Genome (at the beginning of chapter 4). The other is much older (from John Donne). I can’t really say it better than either of these luminaries.

And yes, I do glory in God’s creation, and I’m glad that this is something we can share as fellow believers. Thanks for being willing to dialogue graciously with those of us who take a different view.


If I can inject a layperson’s opinion here, I believe evolution will appear unguided to science. I know it is guided because the Bible tells me so without requiring that there is a trace of His action left for us to find.

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Whether a process is obvious is dependent however on when what age you are living. To those in ancient times, the hand of God was obvious in the power of the weather systems, the quaking of the earth and the spewing of lava and ash from the mountains. We have taken some of the mystery out of those by learning how the processes work, though the hand of God is still present. To argue that the process of the development of life is unique, simply because our understanding of it is less, is another version of the God of the gaps fallacy. We need to recognise that in biology also, our understanding does not take away from the glory of God, but brings us more to our knees in awe.


This morning as I was out in the wilds of coastal BC I saw the rising sun light the freshly-snow-capped mountains through the fog as I walked though tall timber. It was stunning.

Yes, as a modern person I understand how snow and fog work, something of how the local geology has produced our mountains, and that the sun wasn’t really “rising” per se.

It was also a worshipful experience. Understanding how only deepened my appreciation of who.


Like others here, I believe God’s hand in creation is detectable at the macro level, not necessarily at the micro level. So I don’t look at the appearance of the first cells, or the Cambrian explosion, or other rapid radiations in the history of life, the genetic code, or molecular machines. To me, what you’re doing is asking me if I agree that a particularly fine summer day is detectable evidence for God’s responsibility for the weather.

Ok well I’ll put it directly. I see talk by DI that common descent is supposedly compatible with ID, but I only see articles claiming it isn’t a fact. Just like the DI argues that evolution is not a fact.

I’m glad that’s cleared up, thank you.

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Dennis and Bill asked about detectability of design. Why does this matter? they wondered.

The answer can be found in what Dennis wrote in this same thread:

“In principle I’m open to the idea that God could have used miraculous means for parts of natural history. I just haven’t yet seen evidence that suggests to me that this is the case.”

If we allow that a type of cause could have acted, then – whether it did or not – we must also be able to detect that cause. Dennis allows that God could have acted by using what he calls “miraculous* means,” although Dennis has yet to see sufficient evidence of that mode of acting. In other words, Dennis says that detectability of design is possible, given the right evidence. [*See the end of this comment for an important clarification about the term “miraculous,” when applied to designed events.]

Interestingly, these philosophical allowances place Dennis within the ID community. The bare possibility of the detectability of design marks the outer boundary of the ID research community. Now, Dennis is standing right next to the boundary – his toes, maybe, touching the chalk line – nonetheless, while he is a strong skeptic and critic of ID reasoning, he awaits the sufficient evidence of design, because (a) he admits such evidence may exist, and (b) if it exists, he must also be able to detect it reliably.

From discussions at the ETS/EPS annual meeting this past week, I think many BioLogos supporters are also standing where Dennis is, just inside the chalk line. In other words, they remain unpersuaded by the current empirical case for ID, but allow that, if a better and more well-supported case could be made, they’d move closer to the center. Despite what you may believe, Ann and I highly value critics such as Dennis, because without them making us work harder to improve our thinking, we’d become complacent.

Note to Jonathan Burke: many evolutionary biologists doubt universal common descent, so Discovery Institute isn’t much of an outlier in that regard. See my chapter, “Five Questions Everyone Should Ask About Common Descent,” in the new Crossway Anthology, Theistic Evolution (2017), or check out recent publications like this (nota bene the last sentence of the abstract, and the first sentences of the paper itself, which is open access):


*About the adjective “miraculous.” Think about what you’re doing right now – maybe, composing an email, or drafting a comment to post in this thread. Or just doodling on a piece of paper near your computer. What you are doing (i.e., the observable effects you are causing in the world) is in no sense “miraculous” or “supernatural” – but neither can it be explained by strictly physical processes, without referring to your intelligent agency. In other words, to divide up the universe of possible causes into the “natural” versus “miraculous” or “supernatural” is an unsound analytical cut. Agency is perfectly real, but it does not collapse into the strictly physical.


Hi Paul,

I’m just a peon here, but fwiw, welcome!

Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to call Dennis a part of the “ID research community”? I mean, I get what you’re saying about the chalk line, and if that chalk line is a real thing, then I suppose I too toe it, and maybe that puts me in some definition of an “ID camp.” But a camp is a place to be, whereas research is something you have to actually actively do. And neither Dennis nor I is actually doing ID research. So how can you say we’re part of any “ID research community”?

Isn’t it a little … disingenuous to present it in this way, using the article you linked? Forgive me for suggesting that. It’s not very gracious, and I don’t mean to offend, and I haven’t read (nor, honestly, will I probably read) your chapter. But for most of us, “universal common descent” refers primarily to, oh, say, the universal common descent of multicellular organisms. If you say that it’s not a “tree” in the earliest unicellular forms of life, that doesn’t really detract from the strength of the hypothesis of literally everything else being traceable to the same base of the trunk of the tree of life. So… do you have stronger arguments than that linked article? I, for one, would be interested in a TL;DR version.

Thank you again for your engagement here. We appreciate diverse voices here, even if we’re not always delicate in our engagement.


Well, that’s news to me. :slight_smile:

Scientists should always remain open to new evidence. By your definition, every practicing scientist is within the ID community.

What I’ve been waiting for is the evidence. What I see are, to use the technical terms, arguments from analogy and incredulity. Those don’t convince me any more.


There’s a world of difference (philosophically and scientifically) between saying (a) “design is possible, and detectable, should the evidence turn up,” versus (b) “whatever appears to be designed must be explained via undirected or strictly physical causes, come what may.”

In my career, many (most?) evolutionary biologists hold to (b), or to an a priori and unbending adherence to methodological naturalism. There cannot be evidence for design, as that would be intrinsically unscientific. In that sense, any scientist who holds to methodological naturalism rigorously could not endorse (a).

By your own statements, Dennis, you don’t hold to (b). So, like it or not, since you allow for the possibility of design, you also allow that it is detectable, and that places you within the chalk line. You’re right at the very edge, but you’re there. Moreover, given the enormous amount of time you spend criticizing ID reasoning, you should really think of yourself as an in-house critic of ID.

Which is what you are. “Opposition is true friendship.” William Blake (1757-1827)

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To me, the second position is philosophical naturalism, not methodological naturalism. In my experience, scientists are almost uniformly in (a), not (b). Your experience may differ.

Should I look for a post at ENV welcoming me into the fold, then? :slight_smile:

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Once one allows that (for instance) ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) may have arisen multiple times independently, the tree of life begins to come apart from the bottom, and there is no stopping the fracturing process. The molecular evidence used to unify the animal phyla include rRNAs – yet if those molecules do not share common ancestry, the tree of the animals also begins to come apart.

Multicellularity, btw, is not considered a monophyletic (single-origin) character. Any good evolutionary biology textbook will show multiple independent origins for the trait.

That is too many words for a simple concept. Either there are (real) scientific experiments that can detect design’s signature or there are not. There may be boundaries to the ID metaphysical community, but as for the ID scientific question, it’s binary. What experiment can detect design? What result will it get if it detects design, and what result will it get if it can’t? Everything else is, in my opinion, word salad. And, by the way, it stands or falls on its own. Any real or imagined shortcomings in the ToE do not constitute direct or indirect proof of ID.

EDIT: typo


Yes! Seriously – I’ll write the ENV “welcome to Dennis” post myself. :wink:

If you see (b) as philosophical naturalism, then you don’t hold methodological naturalism either. A rule that can be overridden by evidence is not really a rule. It’s just a hunch that can be overturned, and probably will be, in time.

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Of course, if and when the really really really convincing evidence convinces people willing to be convinced if only the evidence were convincing…

… they’ll be guilty of the God of the Gaps fallacy anyway.

Now what was that book by Joseph Heller called?

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Am I understanding correctly that this observation permits you then — as with one swipe of the hand — to dismiss the mountains of positive genetic evidence in favor of common ancestry, which every year further corroborate the tree of life that was already discernible from the fossil record?

Or have I misunderstood, and you accept the common ancestry of, say, everything but rRNA?

Just trying to understand your position. I apologize if I come across as being inflammatory.