There's a lot to like about the article, particularly its reminder to me that a) scientists do poor philosophy, b) the average village atheist is immune to logic, and c) theologians and philosophy is sometimes (often?) as poor a mix as the one with scientists!
But, scuttlebut out of the way, let's look at the article.
The sequence of questions is probably a sensible way to treat the topic; but with some reservations: it is, in the article, excessively philosophical; it inevitably imports a philophical view into the mix, and thereby avoids constructing a line of questions that directly deals with the textual substrate of the doctrine of creation; the Bible, of course, being the only source of this doctrine. Abstracting the theological doctrine from the base text is not the way to go. Rather the doctrine must emerge from the text engaged fully. This I think is the mistake of many commentators who pretend that you can have your text and eat it: deny the content while affirming the consequence of the content.
Williams is right, in my view, to raise the fundamental modern question on this topic: how a belief in creation relates to the theory of evolution; but misses the next step, and that is to ask if any relation is possible. I say this, because the question cannot proceed until we are sure that both sides are set in commensurate terms. That might go something like; how belief in creation (which implies intelligent agency) relates to belief that there is and cannot be any agency at all. Because it is this, and not a vaguely cast ‘religion verses science’ dilemma that is at the heart of the question.
Missing this inquisitorial opportunity paves the way for the next point conceded to materialism (masquerading as science). He quotes Phillip Johnson that ‘the essential point of creation has nothing to do with the timing or the mechanism the Creator chose to employ, but with the element of design or purpose.’ This claim verges on incoherency, in my view. The only way we have of knowing anything about creation is in the details provided in the Bible. There is no other source. Then to set the details to one side; to dismiss their significance as detail. but insist on them nevertheless giving some ‘general’ information is nonsensical. It seems to me that a type of mysticism or idealism is at work, which itself is set against the ‘concrete realism’ of the Bible. It is from the details that we gain knowledge of the creation. There is no other source. If the details are denied, then that knowledge evaporates as well, and we are thrown entirely on materialist dogma (which itself doesn’t hold up, but that’s another story). The doctrine of creation is our theological response to the information given only in details, as to God’s creating, and creating as setting up a system of dependency relationships to provide a place, the setting, for his relationship with us, as physical beings.
I liked very much Williams’ quote of Lewontin about the scientific communities’ tolerance of ‘just so’ stories, because of a prior commitment to materialism. This should be at the start of the enquiry and identified as a religious commitment against the theist commitment of the Bible.
The reference to the Blind Watchmaker (see Willard’s article, linked above) set me to thinking about Paley’s illustration. Dawkins is able to rush past the problem of ‘design’ without dealing with the implications of Paley’s statement. One doesn’t only infer a watchmaker from a watch because it ‘looks designed’ but because there are no natural processes that can produce a watch. The random drift toward equilibrium of pieces of material cannot produce a watch. It is composed of interacting sub-systems that apart from their co-location have no influence over each other’s origination. Such an organisation of material (from mine to smelter to design to manufacture) requires an energy conversion engine, intellectual specificity and the application of intelligence with a teleological objective, that is, intentionality. The only way I could see Dawkins demolishing Paley’s illustration would be by showing us watches that are produced by the random action of inanimate matter; because that is the very point Paley is making. Dawkins takes the easy way out and merely insists in the most egregiously question-begging manner that organisms have no need of such. But enough of him.
Williams is also right, in my view, in his criticisms of atheism’s requirement for materialism to ‘work’ to sustain its dogma. If materialism doesn’t ‘work’ then atheism collapses; if only to deism.
But, my biggest concern with the essay is that it somehow holds that the ‘doctrine of creation’ can be right, but the facts of origination of the world can be different in timing and pathway from that set out in the Bible (in Genesis, that is) and also be ‘right’. This reflects a position with respect to truth, I suspect, that requires a multiple set of truth domains, that ‘truth’ can be different, radically different, even contradictory, in different domains. So we can have, it seems, ‘religious truth’ and a different in every detail ‘natural truth’. I don’t believe that the Bible would countenance this; because the different truths seed different epistemological frameworks and lead to completely different frames of reference for reality! (They also have historically shown that they lead to different responses to God.) They would imply that ‘reality’ is as malleable as a wax nose. Which it is not.
I think Williams attempts to escape this potential criticism by actualising the doctrine of creation into ‘pictures of creation’. But the Bible’s ontological stream doesn’t have a place for ‘pictures’. It only gives us what it gives us. Modernism denies that the information in Genesis 1 is important aside from its ‘picture making’ potential, but fails to integrate this view into a coherent theology of God’s creating the setting for our relationship in a material world that sprang, not from some engine that he made, but immediately and proximately, from his will mediated by his word.