Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Willard’

Dallas Willard on David Hume’s acknowledgement of the design argument in Knowing Christ Today:

The almost irresistible impression of a “maker” of the physical universe is no doubt what Paul was referring to when he claimed that the existence and nature of God was “plain” or “shown” to humans. This impression remains very strong up to today. David Hume, often thought to be the prince of modern skeptics, conceded: “The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion.”5  This same outlook survives in the later, carefully guarded concession of Hume’s “Philo,” in the posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, “That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence.”6

Misunderstandings of Darwin’s theory of “natural selection” have in more recent times blunted the impact of the reasoning behind this conclusion in the minds of people generally. But in recent years an increased understanding of the astonishing complexity of life has led some who were longtime atheists to reconsider their position.7

The notes are interesting too, and I may add a bit more with comment later.


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From The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard:

Two Harmful Myths

Unfortunately, a number of myths associated with this part of disciple training on behalf of Jesus are now dominant. One is the idea that questions about God as creator have recently been conclusively settled in the negative by the progress of “scientific knowledge,” and that nothing of significance can be known of God from examining the order of nature — or anything else there may be.

One hundred years ago, by contrast, the general assumption was that those questions had been settled in the positive: God was regarded as manifestly present in nature. These positive answers were routinely taught as knowledge in schools at all levels, and the few dissenters were heard. No doubt the dissenters often were not treated with dignity.

Now the pattern is almost exactly reversed. But just as the positive answers in earlier times were sometimes based more on readiness to believe then on accurate thinking — though there was really no need for that — so the negative “answers” that now dominate our culture are mainly based on a socially enforced readiness to disbelieve. And those negative answers, which find no God in nature, really do need help from social conditioning.

As I said earlier in a similar connection (chapter 3), absolutely nothing of substance has changed in the last century or more with regard to the basic issues about God, the world, and the human self. [Footnote 11*] In this type of book we can only state that the reasons for believing God is the creator, which were good reasons in other years still are good reasons, and in training the apprentices of Jesus we should present them thoroughly and carefully, updating them in any way appropriate.

To understand why the negative prejudice is so strong now, just reflect on how the entire system of human expertise, as represented by our many-tiered structure of certification and accreditation, has a tremendous vested interest in ruling God out of consideration. For, if it cannot do that, it is simply wrong about what it presents as knowledge and reality — of which God is no part. As we noted earlier, God currently forms no part of recognized human competence in any field of knowledge or practice.


*Chapter 9, Footnote 11: The technical discussion of “Intelligent Design” in nature is currently at a very exciting and intellectually profitable boil. See Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, pp. 330-1.

In footnote 8 in Chapter 9, Willard directs readers to his essay “Language, Being, God, and the Three Stages of Theistic Evidence,” in Does God Exist, edd. J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990, pp. 196-217. This is now online, and I have provided the link.

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RJS continues her serial review of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell here.

Some of my comments there follow.



You are not addressing Meyer’s argument in its strongest form, and you don’t really address his strongest point- there is no feedback mechanism to produce information until there is function. There is no function until you reach a certain level of complexity. I recommend that people read Meyer for themselves. This summary does not do him justice.

This is not about what we don’t know. It is about what we know about the assembly of highly specified information. It is about what we know about the probability of self-assembly by pure chance and serious plausibility analysis. It is about reasoned tentative inferences based on that.

I don’t think you understand the scientific method of the “inference to the best explanation.” What is your best explanation and why do you draw that inference? How do you think Meyer gets the scientific method here wrong?

You seem to saying, “Hey, anything is possible.” or “Hey, you never know!” That is not a serious inference to the best explanation.

He is not saying it is “impossible,” or that’s not necessary to his argument. He is saying design is the best inference.

I would add that the design inference in the origin of life is consistent with the evidence of design in the fine-tuning of the universe. Why shouldn’t we make that tentative inference?



You said (at comment #2),

But you never really explain why you think Meyer’s proposal is not a “gap” argument. It seems rather clear to me that it is all an argument from ignorance and makes the same mistakes as Paley’s watchmaker argument.

I already did in other comments. Also here.

Prong 1 of the design argument is a positive argument based on positive evidence from analogy. We all know this evidence by observing the world around us. We often forget that this is scientific data. As Nobel laureate Francis Crick put it, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” Why do they need to remind themselves of this? Because the positive evidence for design is overwhelming. If naturalistic explanations fail, there is no reason to keep reminding ourselves that it was not designed.



You said,

It seems rather clear to me that it is all an argument from ignorance and makes the same mistakes as Paley’s watchmaker argument.

You seem to be saying that all design arguments are “gap” arguments and “arguments from ignorance.” If so, then you are concluding that the design arguments made by Dallas Willard, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Aquinas, Tim Keller and Francis Collins are all bad arguments.

If not, then you need to explain why Meyer’s argument is bad, while the others you might distinguish are good.

Here is a quote from Tim Keller that summarizes his design argument in The Reason for God.

Do you think Keller’s argument is an “argument from ignorance” and therefore invalid?


RJS’s reply:

With respect to the people you list … Dallas Willard, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Aquinas, Tim Keller and Francis Collins.

I don’t think that I am saying anything that Collins would not say. David (#13) did a good job of addressing the comments by Keller. I enjoy reading Willard, he has great insight, but you would need to give a specific example I could interact with. I’ve never read Kreeft. I would love to sit down and talk with any or all of these people (well – except Aquinas, that will have to wait). But none of them are “authorities” on all subjects.


Keller says this (In his chapter on “The Clues of God”) I copied from your post, but actually happen to have the book at my desk:

“It is technically possible that we just happened to be in the one universe in which organic life occurred. Though you could not prove that the fine-tuning of the universe was due to some sort of design, it would be unreasonable to draw the conclusion that it wasn’t. Although organic life could have just happened without a Creator, does it make sense to live as if that infinitely remote chance is true? Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, pp. 131-132.”

I have no quarrel with Keller here, and I don’t think that it is an argument from ignorance – but I don’t see how it makes your point. What Keller seems to be saying is that even with natural explanations for everything, why rule out a creator. Why live as if there is no creator? The majesty of creation is a clue for the creator.

Meyer is saying something at its core very very different. He is saying that there is no “natural” mechanism God could have used in his creation to produce the information content of a simple cell. It could not have grown from precursors. How does one go about testing this hypothesis? I assume that one does this by continuing the search for natural mechanisms (God’s mechanisms) not by assuming God God could not have used natural mechanism.


My reply to RJS:

Your summaries of Keller and Meyer are full of spin. I think both of them are making an “inference to the best explanation.”

Keller’s inference is based on his conclusion that a non-design explanation is “infinitely remote.” His conclusion is based on the lack of current plausible non-design explanations, and the weakness of the ones put forth like the multi-verse hypothesis. Exactly the reasoning Meyer uses.

Meyer does not talk about God in his main argument. His main argument is similar to Keller’s. Meyer does not talk about “natural” so much as whether the processes are designed or not.

Meyer’s argument is much fuller and has more positive evidence. But of course, he had 600 pages to work with.

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