To quote the Gipper, “There he goes again.” Every time John G. West attempts to argue against my views, he misrepresents them. I have already pointed out several examples of this. But now West furnishes several more.
Here is what West writes about me:
Near the end of his recent blog post, Barr tries to diminish the role of design in the Christian theological tradition by offering an unduly constricted reading of the Apostle Paul’s statement that God can be known “by the things that are made.” (Romans 1:20) Barr suggests that Paul is echoing a passage from the book of Wisdom, which explicitly references God’s design in the heavens. However, Paul (unlike the author of Wisdom) does not reference the stars or planets, and it is a questionable interpretive strategy to base one’s reading of a passage on something the author did not say. Taken on its own terms, Paul is clearly offering a general statement of principle that applies to all sorts of created things, not just those in the heavens. Interestingly, even the passage from the book of Wisdom doesn’t really sustain Barr’s point. The author of that book goes on to make a general statement that “from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.” Here the author offers a general point that presumably applies not only to the heavens but to created things as a class. Unless Barr is somehow trying to argue that living things are not “created things” in the same way as planets and stars (an untenable proposition from the standpoint of traditional Christian theology), Barr’s effort to restrict the design argument to areas outside biology fails.
Even if Barr’s constricted readings of Paul and the book of Wisdom were to be accepted, they would not cancel out Jesus’ citation of the lilies of the field as evidence of God’s care and provision for the world, nor would they cancel out the consistent writings of the early church fathers, which repeatedly reference evidence for design in biology. Frankly, Barr’s effort to keep the design argument outside of biology seems to be dictated more by a desire to achieve peace at all costs with Darwinism than a fair rendering of historic Christian teaching.
It is hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the statement referring to “Barr’s effort to keep the design argument outside of biology.” Compare this with the following statement that I made in the very post that West is attacking:
I think good biological design arguments can be made, but it is a challenging task to formulate them in a way that will be persuasive to knowledgeable people today.
Now consider this statement: “Barr tries to diminish the role of design in the Christian theological tradition.” No, what I was “trying” to do was respond to an earlier (and equally unjust and insupportable) accusation by West that I did not believe that “human beings can discern evidence of God’s activity in nature through the things He created,” which, as I noted, was tantamount to an accusation that I reject the teaching of St. Paul in Romans 1:20. I pointed out that the evidence of God’s activity in nature does not have to take the form of the particular kind of design argument that the ID movement makes, which depends on the complexity of biological organisms. Here is what I wrote:
First, there are many kinds of arguments for God’s existence and activity in the world; design arguments are just one kind. Second, there are several kinds of design arguments, only some of which are based on biology. Third, not all design arguments based on biology are of the kind made by the Intelligent Design movement, and not all of them presuppose that Darwinian evolution is false. It is a huge leap of logic to jump over all these crucial distinctions and say that because someone defends the basic validity of Darwinian evolution and thinks the arguments of the ID movement are shaky and inadequate he must therefore be denying that God’s activity in the world is knowable.
I then went on to quote one of my favorite passages from scripture, Wisdom 13:1-9, about which I say, “This wonderful passage from Wisdom is in effect a design argument for the existence of God.”
I ask all intelligent and literate readers: Does it look to you like I am hostile to design arguments, or “try[ing] to diminish the role of design in the Christian theological tradition?”
Actually, design arguments have a big role in Christian theological tradition, all the way back to the early Church fathers and scripture itself. What I did suggest is that the specific kind of design argument based on the complexity of biological organisms (i.e., the ID movement’s favorite kind) does not loom large in early Christian tradition and Scripture compared to other kinds of design arguments. I pointed out that the passage from Wisdom does not use examples taken from biology at all, let alone examples of the complexity of organisms.
West seems to think that I am arguing that Wisdom, in speaking of “created things” and St. Paul in speaking of “the things that are made” meant only the things in the heavens or only non-living things. That is ridiculous
And I really must protest West’s explanation of my writings as “dictated more by a desire to achieve peace at all costs with Darwinism than a fair rendering of historic Christian teaching.” I have deep differences with the ID movement, but I think they deserve far better than this kind of advocacy.
West thinks he can read the evidences of God’s activity and purpose in nature much better than I or Francis Collins can. His claims in this regard would be much more convincing if he were to demonstrate some ability to understand human purpose let alone divine, and in particular the meaning and purpose of very clear passages of human prose.