Don McLeroy and his Big Creationist Tent

Don McLeroy and his Big Creationist Tent

I’ve written a great deal recently (here, here, and here) about the use of the term “worldview” to attempt to create a level playing field, particularly for young earth creationism. I don’t have a problem with the term “worldview” in a strictly limited sense. If we exclude particular possibilities a priori, and refuse to reexamine those assumptions, we can be locked into a worldview.

One of my major problems with common use of the term “worldview” is that it tends to be used in a binary fashion. I don’t mean that there are only two worldviews, seen as mutually exclusive, but rather that each worldview is seen as totally exclusive of all others.

Don McLeroy, newly named head of the Texas Board of Education (Hat Tip: NCSE, the Texas Freedom Network, and The Panda’s Thumb) gave a speech in 2005 that illulstrates some of my points very well, even better than I stated them. In a somewhat incoherent and disjointed speech, he managed to lay the boundaries of intelligent design creationism (IDC), to justify the inclusion of “creationism” in that label, to employ the scriptures extensively in support of his position, and to claim that it was all scientific.

As a theistic evolutionist, I found his discussion interesting, and it affirms the most negative comments I have made about the intelligent design movement. There have been intelligent design advocates who have tried to include me in their camp, saying that theistic evolution is really a form of intelligent design. I disagree; so does McLeroy, thought it seems for different reasons.

I want to focus just on McLeroy’s definition of the “big tent” of IDC, and just what it is he says they are in opposition to. Look at the following quotes from the speech:

. . . And one other thing about these lessons, big tent, and this is, uh, in the big tent of evolution we all have disagreements, but we’re united in one thing, and we’re united in what we oppose. And you’ll see this later. This is the power of the deductive argument, but nature is all there is. We’re united against the fact that that’s a true statement.

. . . and . . .

. . . Actually, in intelligent design we are focused on a on a bigger target, and in the words of Phillip Johnson “the target is metaphysical naturalism, materialism or just plain old naturalism. The idea that nature is all there is.” Modern science today is totally based on naturalism, and all of intelligent design’s arguments against evolution and chemical origin of life it is the naturalistic base that is the target. . . .

. . . and . . .

Now I would like to talk a little bit about the big tent. Why is intelligent design the big tent? It’s because we’re all lined up against the fact that naturalism, that nature is all there is. Whether you’re a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it’s all in the tent of intelligent design. And intelligent design here at Grace Bible Church actually is a smaller, uh, tent than you would have in the intelligent design movement as a whole. Because we are all Biblical literalists, we all believe the Bible to be inerrant, and it’s good to remember, though, that the entire intelligent design movement as a whole is a bigger tent. So because it’s a bigger tent, just don’t waste our time arguing with each other about some of the, all of the side issues. And that’s one thing that I really enjoyed about our group is that we’ve put that all in the big tent, we’re all working together.

So what we have here is a big tend of IDC that includes just about everyone out there. Young earth creationists, old earth creationists, more general ID proponents, and one guesses even those who hold the gap theory. Thus on one side of the debate we are supposed to see people who believe the earth is 6,000 years old and those who believe it is 4.5 billion years old. We are to combine people who believe there was a global flood and those who believe it was just a very large localized event. Within that range we have giant differences between the evidence required for each option.

This is not the picture of a scientific movement. It is the picture of a political movement, involving a temporary religious alliance. I would warn the old earth creationists to beware. Should this “big tent” ever succeed in its goals, the young earth creationists who now accept IDC (and many of them do not) will be after you guys in a minute.

But what is the goal of this diverse group? The defeat of naturalism, what else? Now notice that if naturalism is defeated, there will be some form of supernaturalism to take its place. In a philosophical sense, I’m fine with that. I’m a supernaturalist myself, on which more later. But let’s continue:

So what is naturalism? It’s the idea that nature is all there is. . . .

So now McLeroy makes it explicit. In his big tent belongs everyone who is opposed to naturalism, and he defines naturalism as the belief that nature is all there is. Now forgive me for being dense, but as a theist, I would think that I qualify as someone who does not believe that nature is all there is. In fact, every so often one of my atheist friends reminds me of that “weakness” in my thinking.

So perhaps the main thing that keeps me out of McLeroy’s big tent is the fact that I have a hard time seeing how young earth creationists and old earth creationists belong in the same tent. From the scientific point of view, they don’t. At a minimum, one must recognize that different arguments are required against each one.

But I would be wrong to think that’s the problem. Now let’s look at what is not included in the “big tent.”

I’d like to make a quick comment about the option of theistic evolution, and it’s a very poor option. There’s not anybody in our group that’s advocating this. Because Darwinism doesn’t allow God to do anything. Consider natural selection of random mutations. If they’re random mutations, they can’t be God-directed, and if they’re naturally selected, you can’t hav, quote, “God-selecteds.” And so no one in our group represents theistic evolution, and the big tent of intelligent design does not include theistic evolutionists. Because intelligent design is opposed to evolution. Theistic evolutionists embrace it. So, you know, there are some in the Christian camp that just say, “Well, I am a theistic evolutionist.” And there are some bright minds that are that way, but they aren’t part really of the intelligent design group. It just doesn’t fit.

I hope you read that paragraph carefully. The problem is not whether God exists or not, or whether there is something other than nature–no matter how much someone tries to tell you other wise. The issue is about detecting and measuring God’s presence scientifically. If I say that the world exists because God brought the universe into existence, and that life appeared in accordance with God’s natural laws and then further diversified in accordance with those laws, I am not welcome in this big tent.

The reason cannot be that I’m a naturalist. I just said God (something other than nature) is the cause of all of this. The reason is that I don’t believe that God’s fingerprints can be found where he tinkered with the processes. Unfortunately for my welcome into McLeroy’s big tent, I believe that the process God created to produce life and diversify it actually works, and doesn’t require periodic adjustments.

This issue is not naturalism or not. The issue is whether the scientific method is to be called upon to measure the supernatural. I don’t think that will ever work. In fact, I would be unsurprised if in the scientific sense we ever found the point at which we say “God did it” because I believe that “God did it” in such a comprehensive and consistent way that we’re never going to find the seams or the fingerprints.

One can wonder why I’m a theist, in that case, a point which I’ve discussed elsewhere, but in terms of science, “God did it” is never an answer, and should never be used as a stop sign for scientific effort.

That’s why I totally agree with McLeroy that I belong outside his big tent, but I do so by disagreeing with the common element. It is not that they are supernaturalists. It is that they believe God must have left fingerprints on nature. They can’t agree on just what he left and where, but they’re willing to get together to push the rest of us out of the way.

To me engaging naturalism does bring religion into the equation, though I think by bringing in scientific method some of the points – I hadn’t thought about that, so I really gotten a lot out of this discussion. That you can do it without bringing religion into it, so I think you can go both ways. . . .

And this is simply ridiculous. Of course the intention is religious. The intent is to make sure that we get God into the equation. All this stuff about unidentified intelligent designers is a smokescreen, though the smoke is so transparent that everyone other than those generating the smoke are seeing through it. It is only the IDC folks who think that they have covered something up when they refer to an undetermined intelligent designer. The rest of us know who they’re talking about.

McLeroy invokes the matrix in accusing evolutionary scientists of being hopelessly deceived by their worldview. But there is nothing about a methodological naturalism that prevents one from seeing any sort of evidence. I would suggest that the filter is much in evidence inside the big tent. It’s a filter that removes the abundant evidence of common descent. It also prevents people from seeing new evidence found regularly that advances our knowledge of evolutionary processes.

I am perfectly willing to be proven wrong, for someone to find God’s fingerprints showing his tinkering. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I’m open to such evidence. Thus far, none has been forthcoming.

2 thoughts on “Don McLeroy and his Big Creationist Tent

  1. Here’s the part that mystifies me:

    Consider natural selection of random mutations. If they’re random mutations, they can’t be God-directed, and if they’re naturally selected, you can’t hav, quote, “God-selecteds.”

    Is the claim being made that there is no such thing as a mathematically random process, such as the choosing of the winning number in a lottery? Or, is McLeroy saying that a process can indeed be mathematically random, but in some magical fashion then God is incapable of being any part of it? So God is completely excluded from lotteries? And if we want to cut God out of any issue, we need only introduce randomness (like “Russian roulette” with a gun before pulling the trigger), and God is forced to stand by helpless? I’ve seen people pick a Bible verse to read by closing their eyes, letting the Bible fall open, and then putting their finger to the page to pick a random verse to mediatate on. Does this process mean that God is now excluded from the event and must stand around looking incompetent?

    As for natural selection, is the claim here that anything selected for/against by nature thereby excludes God from any role? Nature pretty much destroys certain kinds of plants I attempt to put in my yard; the heat, humidity, and alternate drought and flood kills them off. Does installing such plants mean that I have managed to ban God from my yard?

    This seems a strange view of God, not as the ground of all being or as the wholeness of which everything else is a part, but as a separate, discrete individual who can be pushed aside through math and nature processes that we all normally acknowledge exist.

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