Intelligent design, creationism, and fundamentalism: a reply to Randal Rauser

Randal Rauser has posted my contribution to his “Why they don’t believe” series, along with his response. Here’s my response to his response:

I need to start with his last comment, about Intelligent Design:

Once again we find Chris issuing a sweeping dismissal, this time in the statement that there “wasn’t anything to Intelligent Design”. From Francis Crick proposing a panspermia thesis to explain the origin of DNA to atheist Thomas Nagel pointing out the strength of Meyer’s argument from biological information to atheist philosopher of science Bradley Monton defending the ID program, it is clear that Chris’ assessment of ID is simply not correct. Whether or not consensus is achieved on the propriety of explaining any specific natural structure or process in accord with intelligence is a separate matter from whether it is in principle possible to do so. And on the latter issue the ID folk have raised an important debate in the philosophy of science regarding the place of intelligent cause in scientific explanation.

First of all, I need to explain that when I say “Intelligent Design,” I mean the ideas of the people who actually call themselves Intelligent Design proponents, not what those people would like the term to mean. Viewed that way, I can go even further that what I said in the short piece posted at Randall’s site, and say that “Intelligent Design” is largely just rebranded creationism. Certainly this is true of people like William Dembski and Phillip Johnson–Michael Behe is much further from traditional creationism, though his arguments have still rightly been rejected by virtually every scientist who’s looked at them.

This means that Francis Crick simply isn’t relevant to what I was talking about (I’d also note that Crick later said he’d been overly pessimistic about the possibility of abiogenesis on Earth). Similarly, as I understand it Monton relies on an idiosyncratic definition of “Intelligent Design,” lumping in any version whatsoever of the philosophical argument from design and even Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument. I haven’t asked him, but if I’d bet good money that if I did, Bostrom would reject the notion that he is an “Intelligent Design” proponent as ridiculous.

That leaves Thomas Nagel, and in this case I have to say that there are plenty of philosophers who think Nagel’s endorsement of Meyer is a case of a good philosopher embarrassing himself by going outside his fiend of expertise. Now, just because some philosophers think that doesn’t mean they’re right–but if Randal is going to claim that citing one philosopher is enough to prove there’s “something to” ID, he must likewise concede that there is “something to” Brian Leiter’s view of Nagel.

I am sorry if that quickie “proves too much” argument leaves Randal dissatisfied, but here is not the place to go into depth on what’s wrong with Intelligent Design. That’s already been done at great length by people who are experts in the relevant science. Here, my point is simply that Randal cannot simply rule out the possibility of a particular position being intellectually bankrupt at the get-go.

Now back to the beginning of Randals’ comments:

The term “fundamentalist” is used in different ways. It is true that anybody raised in a family which would self-identify as “liberal Christian” (or progressive Christian) is likely not fundamentalist in the socio-historical sense that traces back to a conservative reform movement of Protestant Christianity which began a century ago. But that is really of secondary interest. You see, the term “fundamentalist” is also used to flag an orientation that includes intellectual insularity, defensiveness and the brusque dismissal of opposing views. This is the most worrisome expression of the term. Common hallmarks of fundamentalism in this sense include (but are not limited to) the tendency to impute to those with whom one disagrees intellectual and/or moral failings.

Stop right there. There’s nothing wrong with imputing “intellectual and/or moral failings” to people who are actually guilty of them. Surely Randal would have no problem imputing such failings to Holocaust deniers. Or would he have a problem saying that young earth creationists are generally either ignorant or dishonest?

For example, John Loftus prides himself on saying the arguments I offer in favor of theism are completely “worthless”. For an argument to be completely worthless presumably means that it is logically invalid or its premises are demonstrably false. But the arguments I invoke for theism are surely not worthless in that sense. Consequently, when John Loftus left the Christian fundamentalism of his earlier years, he rejected the Christian trappings of belief but retained his fundamentalist disposition.

Actually, there are other ways for an argument to be worthless–if, for example, there is simply no reason to think a key premise is true. (Constructing such an argument for atheism using a material conditional is left as an exercise to the reader.)

When I read Chris’s statement that the arguments for God’s existence which Tom Morris (a top-flight philosopher) summarized are “obviously very bad”, or when Chris writes without qualification of the “ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics”, I worry that I am seeing the fundamentalist marginalization of the other through the sweeping imputation of ignorance and moral corruption to his intellectual foes. (To compare, it would be indefensible for me to write of “the ignorance and dishonesty of atheological apologetics”. Certainly some atheological apologetics, like some Christian apologetics, may arise out of ignorance and/or dishonesty. But broad-brushing all the products of atheology would be completely indefensible. Mutatis mutandis for Christian theology and apologetics.) In conclusion, Chris certainly leaves this reader with the impression that Christian apologists, philosophers and Christians generally are either completely ignorant or morally corrupt, or both.

First of all, inflating my statement to apply to all Christians is absurd… and comes across as pretty damn desperate. And makes me wonder whether Randal would’ve given a damn if I’d qualified it further.

But let me qualify it further anyway. I do not claim that all Christian apologists are either ignorant or dishonest without exception… but I do think it’s generally true of the stuff that currently dominates Christian apologetics.

Josh McDowell, for example, is known to be an ignoramus by anyone who isn’t, yet his books were still being pushed by Campus Crusade back when I was in college a few years ago. And I’ve documented William Lane Craig’s dishonesty at length. But more telling than either of those examples is the fact that anti-evolutionism, of some form or other, is absolutely standard for Christian apologists today, up to and including Alvin Plantinga.

I think I can predict Randal’s response to this post: reiterate the appeal to authority, throw in an appeal to the authority of Alvin Plantinga for good measure. To which I could respond by reiterating the appeal to the evidence, and the demonstrable flaws in the arguments of Plantinga et al… though if Randal really wants to go that way, I think I have a much stronger appeal to authority than he does, in the form of the near-unanimous consensus of the scientific community on evolution and ID.

  • Rain

    Where’s the part where he talks to invisible people that he presumes are the same invisible people that zapped mind rays into the Bible authors (half of whom claimed to be people they weren’t, e.g. the phony eyewitness authors), ergo Jesus? Otherwise why would anyone believe all that crap. Apologists seem to have a hard time admitting that they get the inside scoop from the invisible people for some reason. (I’m leaving out the monetary incentives of course. Obviously he wants to make a fortune out of this stuff.)

  • Machintelligence

    The reason Christian apologists are so anti-(evolution by natural selection) is that the argument from design was the best that they had to offer. Darwin blew that one out of the water 150 years ago, and they have never forgiven him.
    This left them with no good reasons for believing in God(s).

  • lou barreto

    Is there any logic to Intelligent Design? Yes, fossils do exist….. …Every fossil is a Product of DNA……Every living cell existing, whether human or otherwise, is a Product of DNA…….What is DNA? It is a set of Blueprints with instructions to build every living cell….Blueprints and instructions do not come out of thin air…..it takes an individual, a Supreme Being to develop a set of plans and instructions….ask any Engineer or Scientist Francis Crick who discover the purpose of the DNA Molecule

    Scientists at the Genome project and other scientists have concluded that there is an element of design built into creation that cannot be explained by evolution.” Genome scientist, Professor Francis Crick, and other scientists have come to a
    conclusion that the DNA molecule originated from some alien source in the
    heavens, some extra-terrestrial source, not from evolution, according to
    History channel documentary, “The Universe.” And they are right, the DNA
    Molecule is a product of an alien source in the third heaven, another universe,
    that is known as Paradise, the Kingdom of God. It’s in the bible, 2nd Cor, chapter 12 vs 2-7, NKJ,Bible. The bible speaks briefly about the third heaven, perhaps another universe.

    It seems like many individuals in the world want nothing to do with the Creator of the Universe as if He is some sort of kill-joy, some sort of Tyrant, some sort of myth, or some sort of Alien, “This Higher Power in the Universe.” There is a book listed on Amazon.com about this Higher Power titled,

    Who Is This Alien? This Higher Power in the Universe

    You are a Product of DNA, A Unique Product, a Product of a Supreme Being……and you are His Product. And He has given you the ability to breathe and think and walk around this earth for a short period of time…Your days are number here on earth…..It could be today or tomorrow. No one knows that day, but the Lord of Paradise, Jesus Christ. Call on Him on that day or perhaps He will speak to you and change your attitude about creation…..Someday He will speak to you. When that day is, I do not know, but when He does, you will become alive to Him..Yes, ALIVE like a New Born Child that comes out of a womb…..And you will tell the whole world about it…….

    GodBless
    Lou

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Scientists at the Genome project and other scientists have concluded
      that there is an element of design built into creation that cannot be
      explained by evolution.” Genome scientist, Professor Francis Crick, and
      other scientists have come to a
      conclusion that the DNA molecule originated from some alien source in the
      heavens, some extra-terrestrial source, not from evolution, according to
      History channel documentary, “The Universe.”

      You need to find more accurate sources of information.

    • randomfactor

      DNA is not “a set of blueprints.” You might want to study biology before you embarrass yourself further. Kthxbai.

      • lou barreto

        DNA is basically a blueprint with a set of instructions to build you…..ask any biologist in the world, ask Genome scientist, Professor Francis Crick……Lou

        • Dorfl

          Simply googling “Dna is not a blueprint” will get you this quotation as the second topmost result:

          “Textbooks of biology repeat time and again that DNA is a ‘blueprint’ for building a body. It isn’t. A true blueprint of, say, a car or a house embodies a one-to-one mapping from paper to finished product. It follows from this that a blueprint is reversible. It is as easy to go from house to blueprint as the other way around, precisely because it is a one-to-one mapping. Actually, it’s easier, because you have to build the house, but you only have to take some measurements and then draw the blueprint. If you take an animal’s body, no matter how many detailed measurements you take, you can’t reconstruct its DNA. That’s what makes it false to say that DNA is a blueprint.”

          From ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ by one Richard Dawkins.

          • lou barreto

            Dorfl…….

            Forget the word blueprint…I see DNA as being loaded with INSTRUCTIONS To Build You. It does not matter whether its a blueprint or not….DNA has INSTRUCTIONS and where there is INSTRUCTIONS, there is Intelligence…Instructions do not come out of the thin air, It comes from an Intelligence source, a Supreme Entity………

          • Dorfl

            “Forget the word blueprint [...]”

            Sure, but that doesn’t really fix the problem.

            If we’re not molecular biologists, we need some kind of helpful metaphor to get any kind of intuitive grasp on what DNA actually does. We can talk about it as being a ‘blueprint’ or ‘instructions’ or whatever term we find helpful. Different metaphors will have different utility – all will be misleading to some extent, but they can differ in how misleading they are and in what ways. For example, the quote I gave you is actually part of a longer text explaining why ‘recipe’ is probably a more useful metaphor than ‘blueprint’.

            Now, all metaphors I can think of are misleading in that they imply some kind of underlying intelligence. ‘Blueprint’ implies an architect. ‘Instruction’ implies an instructor. ‘Recipe’ implies… some kind of divine chef or something. We know that this is misleading because we already have a theory of how this DNA came about – which has passed all tests thrown at it so far – and which does not at any point require intelligence.

            In short, whether you want to describe DNA using the metaphor of a ‘blueprint’ or ‘instructions’ or something else, the idea that DNA requires an intelligent designer only comes from accidentally overextending that metaphor.

          • lou barreto

            Mr.Dorfl….attaching an article written Rachel Rettner..will copy the beginning segments of the article.

            Title of Article:
            DNA: Definition, Structure & Discovery
            by Rachael Rettner, LiveScience Staff Writer
            Date: 06 June 2013 Time: 03:57 PM ET

            The structure of DNA and RNA. DNA is a double helix, while RNA is a single helix. Both have sets of nucleotides that contain genetic information.
            CREDIT: udaix | Shutterstock

            View full size image

            Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.

            Organism means You Mr.Dorfl and it means Me…Rachael is a scientist and if she uses the word Instruction and even Information..so can I and she is a scientist who holds a B.S. in Molecular Biology and an M.S. in Biology

            I rest my case…Amen Forever

          • randomfactor

            Your honor, I move for a directed verdict of “not proven” due to lack of evidence provided by my opponent.

            Really, your colorful metaphors won’t cut any weight with people who know what biology is, and have even a clue what DNA does. Sure, you WANT it to be evidence–because your faith is so shaky. But you’ve got nothing. There is no evidence of intelligence behind DNA beyond your desperately wishful thinking.

          • lou barreto

            Request Denied…..
            As of This Day and Forever…
            Case is Closed…..

            Amen……….means “let it be so, Lord”

          • Dorfl

            Didn’t we just go through this?

            Rettner uses the metaphor of ‘instructions’, because she is a good writer and wants the article to be intelligible to people who aren’t biologists. Dawkins did the same with ‘recipe’ in the text I quoted. You are taking Rettner’s metaphor and running with it, assuming it implies things that it simply doesn’t.

            Since it seems very unlikely that I’ll convince you of anything: why don’t you try mailing Rettner and asking if your reading of her words is correct or not?

          • lou barreto

            Someday God is going to speak to you personally and change the direction of your life. And then you will tell the whole world that The DNA Molecule was created by the Lord of Paradise, God and His Son Jesus Christ. And
            you will tell the whole world that there is a Third Heaven that is call “Paradise.”
            It’s going to be a Blessing for you when God speaks to you. Your friends will tell you that you have become religious, some sort of radical, and they might
            call you a Jesus freak….But it won’t matter what they say, you will become a Believer of Christ, a Believer Forever. Dorfl, Someday God will speak to you. It will
            be the Miracle of your Life…………Amen

            Check out my new book…”Who is this Alien? (This Higher Power in The Universe)

            It’s on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and a bunch of other
            websites

          • Dorfl

            If that happens, it happens.

            In the meanwhile, I recommend you find a biologist and talk your ideas over with them. In an actual conversation, where you take the time to ask things like ‘have I understood this correctly?’ and ‘am I right that this implies that…?’

          • lou barreto

            Thanks for your replys….you have your views and I have mine…
            Rachael Rettner is known as a Biologist with a degree in Biology and a Masters in Micro Biology…..and an understanding of the DNA molecule….and there are other articles that i read by other Biologist who have the same views as Rettner…

            Title of Article:
            DNA: Definition, Structure & Discovery
            by Rachael Rettner, LiveScience Staff Writer
            Date: 06 June 2013 Time: 03:57 PM ET

            As I said…..thanks for your replys

            GodBless

          • Reginald Selkirk

            Rachae Rettner is known as a Biologist with a degree in Biology and a
            Masters in Micro Biology…..and an understanding of the DNA molecule

            She’s not known to me. I suspect anyone’s understanding of hte DNA molecule would be greater than yours. I have to admit I don’t have a Masters, I went straight to PhD and have been working a research job since.

          • lou barreto

            Reginald……Thanks for your replys…..

            Rachael Rettner did wirte an article for Life Science and it’s very informative, specific, detailed, and a source of knowledge about the DNA Molecule.

            Yes, the DNA Molecule is a Precious Molecule
            Without it, You, Dorfl, Myself and Others would not be Breathing The Breath of Life or communicating with each other.

            GodBless…….Lou

            Title of Article:
            DNA: Definition, Structure & Discovery
            by Rachael Rettner, LiveScience Staff Writer
            Date: 06 June 2013 Time: 03:57 PM ET

          • eric

            LOL the same thing could be said about O2.

            O2 forms and reacts via the known rules of physics and chemistry, no intelligent assist needed. The same is true for the very long and complex polymer DNA. The main difference seems to be our own limited ability to intuit how these rules play out – with a system of two atoms, we have no problem ‘feeling’ on a gut level that the end result is just due to plain old chemistry. But when the system is thousands of atoms, the results are so surprising that our intuitive reaction is incredulity.

            I caution you not to mistake a failure of human intuition for God. Not every process that we find impossible to directly grasp must have a hidden variable.

          • Dorfl

            I probably share Rettner’s views too. The problem is that her views almost certainly aren’t what you think they are. That’s what I and Selkirk both are trying to explain – you are interpreting Rettner’s words as meaning something very different from what she actually intended.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            The structure of DNA and RNA. DNA is a double helix, while RNA is a single helix.

            Oversimplistic to the point of being wring. DNA is most often found in a double helix, but it can assume a single helical form. RNA can be single or double helical. But there is triple helical form involving two strands of DNA and one strand of RNA that occurs when genes are transcribed. And other weird things can occur as well.

            Triple-stranded DNA

            RNA can also form a triple helix.

            You need to find better sources of information.
            You need to understand when an analogy is being overstretched.
            And you need to be able to admit when you are wrong.
            And when you say that you “rest your case,” you need to STFU.

          • Reginald Selkirk
        • Reginald Selkirk

          DNA is basically a blueprint with a set of instructions to build you……ask any biologist in the world

          “Blueprints” is not an apt metaphor. “Recipe” or “algorithm” would be better. I am a biologist.

          ask Genome scientist, Professor Francis Crick

          He’s dead.

    • Qp83

      And since we know only an intelligence can read a blueprint and understand its instructions, we have evidence of small invisible fairies which read DNA and then create us!

    • Ophis

      “…perhaps another universe.”

      Does it not bother you that your hypothesis requires you to casually invent universes for disembodied minds to impossibly float in and out of?

  • eric

    Mr. Rauser, can you explain how the term “cdesign proponentists” made it into a later version of Of Pandas and People?

    You have to ignore some pretty blatant emipirical evidence that ID is merely creationism rebranded in order to reach an other conclusion. After all, the proponentists of ID certainly seem to thnk it is (heh).

    • Reginald Selkirk

      I doubt that he will show up here to respond. He obviously requires an environment where he controls all the definitions and parsing. I.e., if he cannot maintain control, the silliness of his assertions would be evident.

  • randomfactor

    going outside his fiend of expertise

    Entertaining typo.

  • lou barreto

    I am not inventing a universe….Where there is a third heaven, there is another universe….Of course, my information about a third heaven comes from the New Testament Bible….That is why the scientists of this universe will not find any Alien life form or extra-terrestrial being in our universe- It is in the third heaven….Yes, there is a Supreme Being and it’s in Paradise, the third heaven.This Supreme Being is not a religion, but a Person,Supreme Entity.

    Lou

    • randomfactor

      Third heaven? You haven’t shown any evidence for a first one yet.

  • Amaranth

    There’s a petition out there to ban the teachings of the so-called “controversy” in science classrooms as federal law. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/ban-creationism-and-intelligent-design-science-classroom-federal-law/pNY6mCBg

    • Reginald Selkirk

      There are already court precedents that make the teaching of creationism illegal, and one federal decision (Kitzmiller v. Dover) that ID = creationism and is also illegal to teach as science. So in effect, that is the law.

      • Amaranth

        So why are there loopholes that allow children to still be taught creationism? This is a major problem. The thing that this is still even a controversy is amazing.

        For example: in Louisiana an unconstitutional bill on creationism was not repealed. This is probably why the petition exists – to override this nonsense.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Legal details. You need “standing” to file a lawsuit. That is currently interpreted as you need to show that you have suffered some sort of harm. The state legislature passing a bill does not trigger that. The governor signing it into law does not trigger that. If your school district actually used the law to teach Creationism as science in your school district, and you or your child was in the relevant grade, then you might have grounds for a lawsuit. Then it would probably take a couple years for the suit to work its way through the courts.

        • eric

          What Reginald said. I doubt that a court would determine that the LSEA makes teaching creationism legal. For one thing, SCOTUS precedent trumps state laws.
          The real damage it probably does is intimidate or misinform LA citizens who would otherwise file a suit against a creationism class. I’m sure there are some that decide not to file because they (incorrectly) think the LSEA makes it legal, or because they (possibly correctly) think the LSEA will make getting rid of the creationism a harder legal slog.

  • canoncritic

    Most Christians remain convinced in their faith for reasons other than science or even in a rationalism as sophisticated as Aquinas’ whose intellect was as powerful and fluent as the world has ever known. The reasons are more mysterious, more existential, less explainable by some scientific map (here I’m thinking of any number of neuroscientific reductionisms). As long as atheistic belief systems trade on the assumption that people choose to believe (or not) for reasons that can be examined or evaluated by scientific-type evidence (rather than other kinds of evidence such as revelation), then they will have no dog in this hunt. Apologists like Craig convert no one; the best they do is add a layer of proof to those who already are convinced for different reasons. Of course, the same should be true of those who believe in God because God created everything as roughly narrated by Genesis (even though in the words of an ancient scientist-theist). The problem with the entire argument presented here is the assumption that theism is predicated by creationism, and that if creationism is defeated, then theism must soon follow. This has been proven over and over again as nonsense. What sustains theistic faith is a kind of evidence that is not defeated by science. On the other hand, if theistic faith is sustained by creationism, then arguments for natural selection serve a useful role in showing why creation science–argued on its own terms–cannot be the basis of theism. On this point, scientific atheism has been very useful to the church, especially since Darwin (but a century earlier by Hume’s revision of Locke’s empiricism), to move arguments in favor of God toward revelation and experience where they belong.

  • Noah Smith

    Stephen Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt” gets a good kicking here: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2013/06/meyers-hopeless-2.html. The review is pretty dense but you can pick up the points in the comment section. I love the fact that the book’s blurb is supplied by a paleontologist who’d “discovered” the fossilised nest of a Kraken…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Reposting here to ensure that this does not get lost of Randal Rauser is embarrassed to have his wrongness spelled out on his own blog:

    If you want to understand out how these terms have been used you look
    to historians of religion and science. I recommend Ronald Numbers’ book
    “The Creationists”.

    Okey dokey, you asked for this.

    The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism by Ronald L. Numbers (1992)
    Introduction, pp x-x1:
    Besides
    the unexpected revival in recent years, the most striking development
    in the history of twentieth-century creationism is the ascendancy since
    the early 1960s of a distinctive brand of creationism
    known as “scientific creationism” or “creation science.”

    Advocates
    of this view – essentially biblical creationism stripped of explicit
    references to God, Adam, and Noah – read the first chapters of Genesis
    in a way that allows for no life on earth before Eden and no death
    before the Fall.
    Until the last few decades most
    creationists would have regarded such notions as unnecessarily
    extreme
    . By the late nineteenth century even the most
    conservative Christian apologists readily conceded that the Bible
    allowed for an ancient earth and pre-Edenic life. With few exceptions,
    they accommodated the findings of historical geology either by
    interpreting the days of Genesis 1 to represent vast ages in the history
    of the earth (the so-called day-age theory) or by separating a creation
    “in the beginning” from a much later Edenic creation in six literal
    days (the gap theory). Either way, they could defend the accuracy of the
    Bible while simultaneously embracing the latest geological and
    paleontological discoveries.

    The creation scientists,
    by contrast, compress the history of life in earth into less than ten
    thousand years. To accomplish this, they attribute most of the fossil
    record to the brief period of the flood and its aftermath. They believe
    that the majority of plants and animals buried sequentially in the
    stratified rocks once lived together in the antediluvian world; thus
    these relics do no represent successive populations of flora and fauna
    spanning millions of years, as evolutionists ans most other
    creationists
    would assert.

    By the 1980s the
    flood geologists had virtually co-opted the name creationism to describe
    the once marginal views of Price. This remarkable shift in the
    prevailing meaning of creationism – from the theologically orthodox
    day-age and gap theories that allowed the history of life on earth to
    span millions of years to a doctrine of suspect provenance (because of
    its Adventist origins) that compressed earth history into no more than
    ten thousand years – serves as the focus of my study.

    pp
    xii-xiii: Chart of “Creationist interpretations of Genesis,” including
    Day-Age, Gap or Restoration & Ruin, and Flood Geology or Creation
    Science.

    It is clear to me from the above
    passages that Numbers considers Young Earth Creationism to be just one
    variety of Creationism, although at the time of publication it was the
    most prominent variety. If Mr. Rauser wishes to appeal to the Book of
    Numbers again, he will have to cite chapter and verse. The publication
    date of that book, 1992, precludes inclusion of Intelligent Design,
    which did not become prominent until later in the 1990s. To see what
    Ronald Numbers says about Intelligent Design, I recommend to Mr. Rauser
    and others the updated version, The Creationists: From
    Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition

    (2006).


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