Signature in the Cell 9 – ID, Mark Noll, and Worldviews (RJS)

I was traveling last week and unable to do justice to a wrap up on Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design – but having considered some of the discussion, digested and pondered the content, I would like to put up one final summary post. I welcome comment and clarification both pro and con.

Intelligent Design is the hypothesis that intelligence was involved in designing creation, particularly the creation of life, and that the effects of this design are accessible to empirical investigation and reason. Now one has to ask how this design is observed empirically.  The recent argument for intelligent design appears to have four prongs. Three of these are intertwined somewhat and feed back into each other in Meyer’s book -  but it is useful to look at them separately. The fourth is found in Behe’s work. Perhaps there are more?

A. First is Meyer’s core argument, inference to best explanation.

1. Life is complex and despite a thorough search there is no clear mechanism for the origin of life, specifically for the origin of evolvable self-replicating molecules and organisms.

2. Intelligence is able to create complex systems.

3. Therefore inference to best explanation leads to the conclusion that life is intelligently designed.

B. Second is Dembski’s argument based on the information content of the DNA. The DNA contains complex information that targets external functionality – specified information. This is an attempt to demonstrate that undirected physical and chemical processes are not capable of producing the specified information systems of the cell. The intent is to argue for a law similar to the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is grounded in statistical and probabilistic arguments – so to information propagation and growth.

C. Third is analogy to human designed experiments and systems. This plays a corollary role in both Meyer’s argument based on inference to best explanation and Dembski’s argument based on specified information. It is the piece that seems to resonate most in popular understanding.

1. DNA is analogous to texts and combinations. As we see design in a cuniform text – so to we should see design in the DNA in the cell.

2. Logical structures for information storage and processing point to design. The functional structure of a cell is analogous to human designed computer programs and algorithms.

3. Intelligent design of experiments to explore natural processes both in the lab and in the computer suggests that intelligence is an indispensable part of the process.

D. Fourth is Michael Behe’s hypothesis of irreducible complexity – there are biological structures and systems that cannot be built up from intermediate pieces having value in and of themselves. This is not discussed explicitly in Meyer’s book, but is part of the overall picture.

Are these arguments convincing? How firm a foundation do they build? Is this foundation important?

First it is useful to consider how these arguments fare.

A. Meyer’s inference to best explanation is founded on an absence of evidence for a mechanism for the origin of life, explicitly an absence of evidence for the origin of self-replicating evolvable molecules or cells. One can reach a tentative conclusion that design is the best explanation. But this conclusion must be held with an open hand. It is a classic gap argument. There is no guarantee that there will not be a reasonable mechanism proposed in 10 years, 50 years, or a century or two. There are promising directions for research into the origin of life and no sense yet of a dead end or insurmountable obstacles.

B. Dembski’s proposal is an attempt to build a scientific defense of the proposition that undirected chemical and physical processes cannot result in the complexity of life we observe, particularly the complex information system of the cell – storage, replication, transcription, translation, and function. These ideas have not been demonstrated in any conclusive fashion – and I don’t think that they will succeed for a variety of reasons, but it is a scientific approach to the idea of demonstrating design.

C. The arguments by analogy are poor across the board. While Meyer asserts that the arguments are strong because they rely on an identity rather than a similarity this is not demonstrated in any conclusive or convincing fashion. The analogies and illustrations presented in Meyer’s book give the impression of much stronger arguments than actually exist. I tried to give a feeling for this in earlier posts – but we can discuss more here if there is disagreement.

D. The hypothesis of irreducible complexity is interesting – but is inherently a gap argument. The apparent examples of irreducible complexity may reflect a lack of understanding of mechanisms of evolution, ignorance of the functions served by building blocks along the path, and/or the removal of an underlying functional structure leaving the equivalent of a biological “natural arch”. Any conclusions here must be held with an open hand.

Empirical evidence for design is as yet provisional and open to refutation in the future. The only direction capable of positive demonstration (B) has shown no real progress.

Does this mean that there is no design, or that design is a poor hypothesis?

Here it is interesting to consider Mark Noll’s white paper from the BioLogos workshop (direct link). In his white paper Noll outlines 15 of the attitudes, assumptions and convictions considered the most influential the science faith discussion and their historical context.  A few of these are particularly relevant to the discussion here. On p. 2 Noll sketches the thinking of Duns Scotus (1266-1308) and William of Ockham (1288-1348) which led to an idea at the root of much western thinking today:

Applied to science, this principle came to mean that if a natural event is explained adequately by a natural cause, there is no need to think about supernatural causes or even about the transcendent being of God. The combination of these philosophical positions is responsible for the very widely shared assumption that (1) once something is explained clearly and completely as a natural occurrence, there is no other realm of being that can allow it to be described in any other way.

For a very long time, this assumption was not regarded as anti-Christian, since God was considered the creator of nature and the laws of nature as well as also the active providential force that kept nature running as he had created it to run. (p. 2)

With the development of a scientific framework this root idea became troubling, led to Christian thought in the realm of natural theology – and to William Paley (1743-1805) among others. According to Noll:

The very important assumption behind the natural theology promoted by Paley was that (3) not only did God create and providentially order the natural world, but humans could figure out exactly how and why God ordered creation as he did. This assumption became critically important when later investigators of nature concluded that there was no obvious intention of God that explained what they discovered, and so belief in God was wrong-headed. Such views naturally antagonized those who did continue to believe in God and therefore insisted either that new discoveries did in fact reveal a providential design or that the new discoveries had to be false. (p. 3)

Both the intelligent design movement and the secularist movement incorporate these ideas and bring them into the 21st century:

Likewise, the Intelligent Design movement, with more sophistication, demonstrates an especially strong commitment to metaphysical univocity, harmonization, and natural theology (1, 2, 3), … Moreover, this modern situation is complicated by the fact that many of the critics of Creation Science and Intelligent Design, both believers and unbelievers, also share some of these attitudes, especially those derived from metaphysical univocity, harmonization, and natural theology. (p. 11)

This is, I think, the root of the observation by NT Wright that we need to remove the spectacles of worldview and examine them as we consider the issues under discussion at the interface of science and faith (see our earlier discussion here). Perhaps the problem isn’t with science or design, but with a commitment to a theological and philosophical misapprehension.

There is design, it is apparent in observation and experience, but it may or may not be empirically discernible distinct from “natural” processes – capable of unequivocal verification or disproof by experiment or logical argument. We have been misled by the development in western thought that forces a wedge between natural mechanism and work of God. Science from a Christian view merely seeks to understand creation and elucidate the history, mechanisms, and laws of God’s creation. This includes the laws of chemistry and physics, evolutionary biology, and research into the origin of life. The first 13 centuries of the Christian era have much to teach us – as we understand and interpret scripture and as we approach and seek to understand God.

The idea that science elucidates the history, mechanisms, and laws of God’s creation does not negate either the possibility or the reality of supernatural interaction of God with his creation – today, in the first century, or potentially in the origin of life – it simply means we come with an open mind and take what is set before us. We do not require a natural mechanism for Jesus to walk on water and the search for one is unnecessary. On the other hand a “natural” means (as in the all night wind of Exodus 14:21) may exist, but presence or absence is secondary to the act of God and the story.

As I see it the evidence suggests that evolution is God’s means of creation of the diversity of life, the evidence suggests no natural means for resurrection, and the origin of life is an open question. But we have no horse in the race, “natural” or not – God did it, intentionally, intelligently, and with design.

What do you think? Is the search for empirical evidence of design a necessary endeavor as we confront the secular naturalism of the 21st century? Or does it miss the point?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

  • John W Frye

    You wrote, “As I see it the evidence suggests that evolution is God’s means of creation of the diversity of life, the evidence suggests no natural means for resurrection, and the origin of life is an open question. But we have no horse in the race, ‘natural’ or not – God did it, intentionally, intelligently, and with design.” From my very limited understanding of the science side of this huge discussion, I think many can live with your conclusion. Evolution need not be assumed as fundamentally atheistic, which I think a lot of Christians assume. ID then ends up trying to be an argument from ‘nature’ that there is, in fact, an (intelligent) God. What I am most interested in, as a pastor, is the intersection of science and the biblical text. I appreciate all you do to make that intersection clear, being both faithful to the Bible and faithful to your discipline (science). So, I would conclude ID is beside the point.

  • Ray Ingles

    Hmm. I’d have to disagree with the claim that it’s a “widely shared assumption” that “once something is explained clearly and completely as a natural occurrence, there is no other realm of being that can allow it to be described in any other way”.
    I’d say, rather, that it then presents no need for any other realm of being. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be (or can’t be ‘allowed’ to be) described any other way.
    No, that comes after a separate step, when you add in Ockham’s razor. Which you must, explanations can be made limitlessly complex. We can’t pick between arbitrarily complicated conspiracy theories and prosaic natural explanations on explanatory grounds – but of any number of explanations that cover all the ground, we have good practical reasons to pick the simplest.
    Of course, there’s a lot that we don’t understand yet. Some assume a supernatural explanation for those things.
    Others note that a lot of things have moved from the “appears to require a supernatural explanation” column to the “explained without recourse to the supernatural” column – and nothing’s moved the other way. Ever. They often assume that process will continue as it has for the last couple millennia.
    I recognize that you’re arguing that something can be both “natural” and come from divine providence. To a lot of people, though, that’s true… but irrelevant. To accept divine providence as more than a possibility, evidence is needed.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    At the time of your last final post on this book, I was unable to comment at length. So I am glad you added one more post. I posted my general critique on your series “What RJS at Jesus Creed Gets Wrong about Stephen Meyer’s ‘Signature in the Cell’” here:
    The bullet point summary is:
    1. She is wrong in her attacks on Meyer’s science.
    2. She repeatedly accuses Meyer of using ridicule (in his discussion of Henry Quastler on pages 277-279), but an honest and fair reading of Meyer shows that this is clearly false.
    3. She focuses on certain illustrations that Meyer uses, but misrepresents how these fit into Meyer’s overall argument.
    4. She misunderstands what constitutes an “argument from ignorance,” and unfairly accuses Meyer of this, despite his clear (and correct) explanation of why his argument is not an argument from ignorance.
    5. She dismisses Meyer’s argument by claiming that the timing of the design may have been at an earlier time, but she doesn’t seem to realize that she is actually confirming one of Meyer’s key points.
    6. She claims that Meyer’s “best explanation” argument fails. However, Meyer’s argument is that intelligent design is the “inference to the best explanation,” and RJS does not even bother to suggest any other explanation, let alone provide a reason why such explanation is better.
    7. By spending 9 posts on Meyer’s book she gives the false impression of doing a thorough review, but her “review” consists of highly selective discussions of limited topics.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    I think you need to re-state argument A and B: there is specified information in the cell; no non-intelligent mechanism has been able to produce specified information; intelligent mechanisms are able to produce specified information; therefore, according to standard scientific methodology, an intelligent mechanism is the best explanation currently available. No scientific argument or theory is final; all are provisional and subject to further modification as additional data becomes available. If then this is a gap argument, the alternative rejection of design as a possibility is, what? An argument based on faith in future discoveries? It is no more faulty than the purely naturalistic alternative and in the current state of our knowledge–which is all we can base scientific theory on–it is the best explanation available given the rules of the game. Unless, of course, you decide ahead of time that it is impossible, in which case no amount of evidence or lack of counter-argument can win.
    None of this necessarily precludes evolution, because it could in fact be the mechanism through which life developed. But what it does preclude is an undirected Darwinian evolution without purpose, direction, or design. And I would think that is a conclusion a biblical theist would embrace.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    In re-reading my comment, I thought that I should add one more thing. I think RJS is more fair to Meyer than many of his other critics. She gets a lot right and uses direct quotes from Meyer so readers can see his own words. She is respectful and for the most part encourages civil discussion. However, I overall feel that she did not give a good overview of the major points in Meyer’s book.
    My major frustration is that she failed to raise topics that were extremely important to Meyer’s overall position. Because of this, many of the comments in this series have continued to bash ID based on ignorance of ID in its strongest form, and that is a real shame. We need to understand one another, and the only way to do that is to present each other’s arguments in their strongest form.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Glenn #4,
    Excellent point. I had the same reaction. RJS said:
    “Therefore inference to best explanation leads to the conclusion that life is intelligently designed.”
    That is not how Meyer puts it. An inference is an inference. It is not a final conclusion.
    Also, RJS is mixing and matching arguments in a rather strange way. I think design arguments can be understood in a stronger form by seeing them as resting on 2 prongs which must go together, which I discuss here:
    In this structure, RJS’s point C is part of the first prong (positive evidence), and points A, B, and D are part of the second prong (critique of alternatives).

  • sdp

    thanks for the good summary.

  • RJS

    First – on your 4th point in #3 – you are correct, and after a long discussion on Signature in the Cell 8 I went back and edited the post. I am certainly willing to admit I am wrong – but the argument needs to convince, not merely assert … and sometimes this takes patience.
    The most annoying part of Meyer’s book – from my perspective as a Christian and a scientist – is the way he uses ridicule. The “pink stuff” illustration is particularly irritating because it is a “cute” way of calling people charlatans and frauds, but there are others as well. It is also clear that he is not a scientist and does not understand the process and is unfair in his evaluation thereof(see ridicule above).
    And I’ve said all along that I am not trying to argue against design – but I will argue against bad or misleading arguments for design – and this gets to your fifth point in #3.

  • Hrafn

    PDS (3):
    1) Meyer’s ‘science’ has been repeatedly dismantled by experts in the relevant fields as deficient.
    4) An argument from ignorance is ‘a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise … is false only because it has not been proven true.” That pretty much sums up all of ID’s anti-evolution arguments. That Meyer has been able to reformulate this to a ‘ignoratio elenchi’ (fallacy of the irrelevant conclusion) is hardly a towering philosophical achievement.
    6) The ID explanation is ‘best’ ONLY if you define ‘good’ to mean ‘explains why it looks to certain people to be designed and explains why it is supposed to contain specified information (which only IDers believe has any meaningful existence)’ — because it explains pretty much nothing else. It certainly is pretty much the EXACT ANTITHESIS of Lipton’s ‘inference to the best explanation’.
    Glenn Sunshine (4):
    Pretty much everything you say is rejected by the scientific community:
    1) There is no evidence that ‘specified information’ has any meaningful existence (therefore whether it is “in the cell” is highly questionable).
    2) There is likewise no evidence that “no non-intelligent mechanism has been able to produce specified information” or that “intelligent mechanisms are able to produce specified information”.
    3) Further, there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that intelligence existed hundreds of millions of years. So unless ID comes up with an adequate explanation for this implausible assumption, it has ZERO plausibility. Plausible mechanisms under continued investigation versus implausible, unsubstantiated and unexplained intelligence = no contest.
    4) “None of this” HAS ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to do with “evolution”. The topic under discussion is ABIOGENESIS. Evolution remains ROCK SOLID whether life came into existence through abiogenesis, panspermia, goddidit, or any other means.
    5) There are mountains of facts that Darwinian evolution explains that creationists (ID, OEC or YEC) have never heard of, let alone even attempted to explain. Until creationists come up with a hypothesis that explains the vast majority of these facts (e.g. biogeography, the fossil record, the genetic record), they will not get (nor will deserve) a hearing.

  • pds

    RJS #8,
    In my full post, I note your correction:
    You said:

    The “pink stuff” illustration is particularly irritating because it is a “cute” way of calling people charlatans and frauds, but there are others as well.

    That is not at all his point in using the “pink stuff” metaphor. On pages 290, 295 and elsewhere he explains that the “pink stuff” is a metaphor for the “displacement problem” and for how theorists beg the question. He presents good arguments, not ridicule, and you have not shown how he is wrong.

    It is also clear that he is not a scientist and does not understand the process and is unfair in his evaluation thereof.

    This is nothing but ad hominem. Please be specific. Why can’t you give a single specific example of an error in the relevant science?
    Are you trained in the methodology of the historical sciences? He is. He got his PhD from Cambridge in this very field of study.

  • Hrafn

    I would further conclude that SitC contains nothing to rebut Stephen Barr’s assertion that “there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists.”
    As a purportedly ‘scientific’ endeavour, ID has been utterly fruitless.

  • RJS

    I didn’t say he didn’t know his field – I said he didn’t provide any evidence in the book that he understands science or the process of science. Historians and philosophers have much to offer – but they have to be willing to listen as well. I’ve learned a good deal about how I have learned to think by reading those who study the history and/or philosophy of science.
    Meyer has an undergraduate degree in physics and earth science and a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science. He could have much worthwhile to say if he listened and learned from the “raw material” in his field. But Meyer doesn’t actually seem to have learned from scientists about how scientists think about problems. This is painfully obvious in his book.
    As to my qualifications – I do not have a degree in history or philosophy – but I do have undergraduate degrees in chemistry and math, a Ph.D. in chemistry and have been working and publishing in areas related to biophysics, chemistry, and physics for more than 25 years.

  • dopderbeck

    Noll’s tracing of the intellectual history from Scotus forward is spot-on. ID is part of the New Scholasticism in some corners of evangelical theology.
    Ray (#2) — it’s a misapplication of Ockham’s Razor to elide metaphysics based on empiricism alone. Empirics and metaphysical arguments attempt to describe different levels of reality, so you can’t use one to elide the other. It would be like saying “I can describe the pattern before me in terms of electrical activity and a liquid crystal display; therefore, I can use Ockham’s Razor to elide the more complex notion that the pattern before me is a ‘language’”. Both explanations are equally true at their own levels of description.

  • pds

    Hrafn #9,
    You attack Meyer’s science with not a single specific example. Just vague arguments from vague authority. That is quite telling.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #12,
    You said,
    “I said he didn’t provide any evidence in the book that he understands science or the process of science.”
    Really? No evidence at all? A huge section of the book is on the methodology of the historical sciences, which is the subject of his PhD from Cambridge. I thought this was absolutely excellent, and you provided no serious critique of any of his discussion of this.
    I asked, “Are you trained in the methodology of the historical sciences?” You avoided the question. It’s fine to criticize outside your field, but don’t you think you need to give some specifics?
    You have given no specific examples of how he fails in his methodology for the historical sciences or any other scientific point he makes.

  • pds
    RJS and dopderbeck,
    I like Mark Noll, but those quotes strike me as a good example of “Bulversim” without good substantive critiques of Meyer’s arguments, which you have not provided.
    Moreover, you have given no citation that ID proponents believe that “once something is explained clearly and completely as a natural occurrence, there is no other realm of being that can allow it to be described in any other way.” Many have explicitly and repeatedly stated that they do not believe this.

  • AHH

    Noll hits a lot of nails on the head in his white paper. I would especially point to Noll’s noting the common assumption of modernity that natural explanations for phenomena entail the absence of God. That is the “God of the Gaps” error and is a major part of the reasoning of both scientific atheists like Dawkins and much of the ID and “creationist” movements.
    We would be so much better off if the church could reject this denial of God’s sovereignty that thinks we have to “make room” for God, that “natural” processes and God are competing explanations, that scientific explanations that don’t explicitly have God as a part are inherently atheistic, that thinks the credibility of faith depends on being able to detect God’s design scientifically.
    Some of the better ID proponents (Mike Gene, for example) do recognize and avoid this fallacy. Not having read Meyer’s book I can’t say if he does or not, but much of the audience he plays to has the mindset that finding scientific room for God is a theological necessity in order for faith to be credible, and sadly most popular ID advocacy (Phil Johnson, Uncommon Descent, Lee Strobel, FotF’s “Truth Project”) fails to reject (and often promotes) this bad theology.

  • pds

    I meant “Bulverism,” coined by C.S. Lewis.
    I posted an excerpt and link here:

  • RJS

    Meyer builds an inference to best explanation case for intelligent design in the origin of life. Although he probably doesn’t need to do so to build his case, in the book he runs rough-shod over the science behind origin of life research in all its facets, but nowhere more blatantly than in his chapter on the RNA world. He simply is not fair to the research, the thinking, or the process. This doesn’t speak directly to the validity of his ultimate conclusion – but is guaranteed to stoke up the culture war.
    You know – when I finally figured out the root of Meyer’s argument (not other corollary arguments, not Dembski’s argument), it became apparent that it is an argument that has some merit. I don’t think that it is an argument we should use as a foundation, but I tried to be fair to the argument above. It is an argument that rests on a gap in knowledge – but that gap may or may not be filled. As my friend said – in the quote several weeks ago – we should keep an open mind, but if God created through “natural” means that is OK too. I think that it is likely that the gap will be filled – and when it is the response will be something like “of course, it had to be” and it will become clear that life was inevitable. Meyer’s argument has no impact on the practice of science though – we will continue to study the natural processes of chemistry and physics and try to understand the processes that could have led to self-replicating molecules and simple organisms.
    Dembski’s proposal *could* have impact on the practice of science – but it has gone nowhere so far. I don’t think it will go anywhere because I think there are fatal flaws in the reasoning – it is up to them to prove me wrong.
    But the real key here as I see it is that from the standpoint of our faith or the gospel we should present ID is irrelevant. It simply doesn’t matter if God created “naturally” or supernaturally.

  • RJS

    Why do you think so much time and energy has gone into making a case for intelligent design?
    Why do you think that Meyer and Dembski have also tried to make a case against modification and natural selection as a mechanism accounting for the diversity of life?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #19,
    It is relevant because Paul endorses arguments from nature in Romans 1, and design arguments are powerful arguments for many thoughtful Christians including Dallas Willard, Tim Keller and me. We should not dismiss any design arguments unless there is a good reason to do so.
    It is also relevant because many Christians do not pursue science because they view the culture as being hostile to theism and requiring a materialistic worldview. Design inferences are considered “taboo” for no good logical reason.
    A young Christian considering science and intrigued by design arguments and fine-tuning may turn to another field because she sees how horribly Behe and Gonzalez and Meyer are treated. How they are ridiculed and marginalized. When I see fellow Christians helping to throw them under the bus, it breaks my heart.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #20,
    “Why do you think so much time and energy has gone into making a case for intelligent design?
    Why do you think that Meyer and Dembski have also tried to make a case against modification and natural selection as a mechanism accounting for the diversity of life?”
    Because there is much that modification and natural selection and other proposed mechanisms do not explain. Because there is a prevailing false myth in our culture that Darwinian mechanisms explain all things biological really, really well.

  • RJS

    pds (#21)
    Paul’s argument and the current ID argument as put forth by Meyer and Dembski are not the same thing. I think that Keller and Willard follow Paul (as do I) but not necessarily Meyer and Dembski – I am open to correction from them, both participated in the BioLogos workshop last November.
    The hostile environment (which I know well) is why Meyer’s failure to interact fairly with the science or scientists and his use of ridicule infuriates me. You claim it isn’t ridicule – but from my seat it sure reads like it, and I know how my non-christian colleagues would see it. These tactics stoke the fire.

  • dopderbeck

    PDS (#21) — Paul does not “endorse design arguments from nature in Romans 1.” Paul says in Romans 1 that everyone can see God’s power and divine nature in creation as a whole — not that some mathematicians and biologists in the 21st Century could “detect design” through statistical anomalies. Moreover, Paul says in Romans 1 that natural human thinking became “futile” and the human heart became “darkened” in response to the general revelation — not that some mathematicians and biologists in the 21st century could demonstrate “design” through natural reason. And in Romans 2, Paul continues on to show that even God’s covenant people who had received His special revelation in the Law had rejected that revelation. And then he sums up this line of argument in Romans 3: “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”
    The point of all of Paul’s theology in Romans is to show that we know God only by grace through faith. If anything, Romans 1 is a major hurdle any attempt at natural theology has to overcome, not a support for it.

  • R Hampton

    We should remember that (Conservative American) Protestant rejection of Natural Revelation (what science discovers about Creation) & Natural Law is a modern phenomena, mostly because of Karl Barth‘s reaction to Hitler: For Barth, the deity of God and the reality of human sin mean that theology must start, proceed, and end with the self-revelation of God. Using natural theology, philosophy, or any of the sciences can lead only to anthropocentricism and idolatry.
    From Protestants and Natural Law, J. Daryl Charles,
    FirstThings (December 2006):
    …Few have argued more vehemently for a rejection of natural-law thinking than Karl Barth, whose examination of intellectual trends in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in his book Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, led him to conclude that modern society had embraced an “idealized” and “humanized” understanding of “nature.” This romantic construal of nature, coupled with an increasing secularization of culture, as Barth saw it, blended easily into the core assumptions of Enlightenment thinking and a new humanism. What the spirit of the age demanded of Christianity was a “reasonable” religion, over against the dogma of a revealed, miraculous Christianity.
    This emptying of the theistic core created, in Barth’s view, an entirely different religion that had departed from the Christianity revealed through Christ and Scripture. The preoccupation with “nature” and “reason” prepared the way for a secularized humanism that empties Christian faith of its substance, undermines the absolute lordship of Christ, and facilitates the emergence of a “natural theology” that supplants Christocentric faith…
    …Because much of the bias against natural-law thinking is rooted in theological conviction, religiously grounded objections to natural law must be taken seriously. But the belief, however widespread, that natural-law thinking is insufficiently Christocentric and therefore detracts from divine grace is misguided. Nothing of the sort was believed by the early Church Fathers, the medieval fathers, or the Protestant Reformers. Indeed, Scripture presumes natural law as a realm of “common grace” that is accessible to all people by virtue of creation-hence, in St. Paul’s terms, all are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

  • R Hampton

    Unlike (Conservative American) Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church has a very different – and accomodating – worldview:
    Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI to the Members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
    Friday, 31 October 2008
    …In choosing the topic Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life, you seek to focus on an area of enquiry which elicits much interest. In fact, many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe.
    In this context, questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.
    …To ‘evolve’ literally means ‘to unroll a scroll’, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Not withstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is ‘legible’. It has an inbuilt ‘mathematics’. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a ‘cosmography’ studying measurable phenomena but also in a ‘cosmology’ discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos.
    …Distinguished Academicians, I wish to conclude by recalling the words addressed to you by my predecessor Pope John Paul II in November 2003: ‘scientific truth, which is itself a participation in divine Truth, can help philosophy and theology to understand ever more fully the human person and God’s Revelation about man, a Revelation that is completed and perfected in Jesus Christ. For this important mutual enrichment in the search for the truth and the benefit of mankind, I am, with the whole Church, profoundly grateful’.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #23 and dop #24,
    Dop you misquote me. I said, “Paul endorses arguments from nature in Romans 1″:
    “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
    RJS, Dallas Willard ties Romans 1:19-20 to design arguments through history, including Anthony Flew’s change of heart. (Knowing Christ Today, pp. 99-100 and elsewhere).
    No evidence from nature that points to the glory of God should be rejected. I accept ALL good design arguments. You seem to want to erect rigid boundaries and say some are good; some are bad- for no good reason. What’s your basis? Why do you think Paul would tell Behe and Meyer to stop what they are doing? To stop exploring their ideas?
    Dop, Romans 1-3 is more mixed than you suggest. Especially 2:14-15.

  • RJS

    I don’t think Paul would tell Meyer to stop exploring his ideas. Nor do I think Meyer should.
    But I do think that Meyer should exhibit a pastor’s and missionary’s heart in how he expresses his ideas and I think that Paul would tell him so. When he interacts with the ideas of others he should do so fairly and honestly. He should be sure that everyone he leads has the same message.
    And I don’t erect rigid boundaries for no good reason, I evaluate on the basis of the evidence and move forward. I think that any argument based on, or potentially based on, a gap in understanding should be held loosely. Most importantly, I don’t think that design and “natural” cause are separable – and any attempt to drive a wedge in here is damaging. There is design in “natural” mechanism and there is design in supernatural mechanism.

  • pds

    RJS #28,
    I think your reading of Meyer is far less charitable than the language he uses. And the language other scientists have used for Meyer and Thomas Nagel? Oh my goodness.
    I wish you would give a specific example of “ridicule” and a specific example of bad science.

  • pds

    Steve Matheson’s review of Meyer is downright nasty. I already showed how he misquoted Owen Gingerich to make him appear to contradict Meyer, when they really were completely consistent. That is disgusting.
    I give specific examples and page numbers. You just attack with no backup.
    What a gross double standard.

  • RJS

    I am not Matheson, I have no control over what he says or does, I’ve never even met the guy.
    I read every word of Meyer’s book through Ch. 17 and Ch. 20 in order to interact with it fairly. I didn’t read Ch’s 18 or 19. I’ve given my impressions, thoughts, and reasons for them. You don’t have to agree – but my response is not irrational, ignorant, unconsidered, or uncharitable.
    Did you ever consider the idea that the lack of support from Christians in the sciences for Meyer’s book might reflect on the merit of the presentation of science in the book rather than blind prejudice?

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    Of course I have. But it would sure help if you would show some merit based specific examples. Absent that, I have to think about other reasons.
    I can also think of many other reasons besides merit why some would not support it: a “mini-materialist” biological worldview like yours, politics, fear, popularity, Templeton money, intellectual insecurity, tribalism, career momentum, etc. I could go on.
    I thought Chs 18 and 19 were 2 of the best.

  • pds

    As I said above:
    “It is also relevant because many Christians do not pursue science because they view the culture as being hostile to theism and requiring a materialistic worldview. Design inferences are considered “taboo” for no good logical reason.
    A young Christian considering science and intrigued by design arguments and fine-tuning may turn to another field because she sees how horribly Behe and Gonzalez and Meyer are treated. How they are ridiculed and marginalized. When I see fellow Christians helping to throw them under the bus, it breaks my heart.”
    What’s your advice for an aspiring scientist who is a junior in college who thinks Meyer and Behe have the better arguments? Pursue science and keep your mouth shut and go with the mainstream?

  • R Hampton

    Any aspiring Christian interested in Science must first identify within themselves if the believe Natural Revelation to be the equal and complimentary, authoritative Word of God.
    If they answer yes, then I would suggest reading/following the Pontifical Academy of Science, for they do not bend Science to fit Theology – like Intelligent Design advocates – neither do they bend Theology to fit Science – like some Liberal Protestants. I would also suggest that they learn about the long and accomplished history of Jesuit scientists and consider enrolling in a Jesuit College or University Georgetown, Boston College, Xavier, et al.
    If they answer no, however, then I would suggest they find some other field of interest, because they will always be at war with Science & Nature, be it Vacuum Energy or Abiogenesis or Evolution.

  • RJS

    It might surprise you – but we’ve accepted graduate students coming in with all kinds of views from all kinds of places, including places that require faculty to affirm a young earth position.
    I’ve also known many “juniors in college” who find the arguments advanced by Meyers and Behe convincing.
    My advice quite simply would be to follow the evidence and realize that Christians hold many views on these issues. I would also recommend that he or she seek out opportunities to interact with Christian faculty, in the sciences if possible.
    While there is a level of hostility over these issues it is not the root of most hostility in the academy. There is actually a greater level of hostility in the social sciences and humanities and over issues of sexuality and gender for example.

  • Hrafn

    (In response to PDS@14′s “not a single specific example”)
    [Original, full-quotation, version landed in moderation-purgatory, so this version only gives the links -- will see if it survives.]
    Steve Matheson, Associate Professor of Biology, Calvin College:
    Stephen Fletcher, Department of Chemistry, Loughborough University:
    Francisco Ayala, University of California, Irvine:
    Wesley R. Elsberry, visiting researcher, Michigan State University:

  • pds

    Hrafn #36,
    I noted your lack of a specific example of something wrong with Meyer’s science. Still you provide no specific example. Still telling.
    Ayala discusses theology and constantly gets the name of the book wrong. He clearly hasn’t even read it. My comments on Ayala’s review are here:

  • pds

    RJS #35,
    It doesn’t surprise you that you have admitted kids from young earth colleges. The law requires that you not discriminate on the basis of religion.
    You did not answer my question: Do you advise them to keep their mouths shut (at least till they get tenure) so they are not treated like Behe and Gonzalez were? Why would they go into science, if they know that they will have to self-censor their speech, research, publications until they are well into their careers?

  • pds

    First sentence should read:
    It doesn’t surprise me that you have admitted kids from young earth colleges.

  • RJS

    Apparently you think I have simply “sold-out” to external pressure, so be it – nothing I say will change your mind.
    But I am speaking out from my conscience for just the sort of person you mention – the junior in college, or the young graduate student – who is hitting these controversies full tilt. I would consider myself culpable if I didn’t stand up for truth on all sides as I see it.
    This means being critical when criticism is warranted. The church gets no benefit from shoddy thinking. This just sets up the crisis – an avoidable crisis.

  • pds

    RJS #40,
    I did not say or suggest that you have “sold-out.”
    I am talking about young Christians choosing careers who don’t share your perspective on non-design explanations.
    I am sure you stand up for truth as you see it. It is freedom of thought and speech and academic freedom for those with whom you disagree that I am concerned about.

  • RJS

    Well – I give my reasons for my opinions, you declare them without merit and then (in #32) say you have to consider other reasons. I don’t actually care if you think I’ve sold-out; I’ll keep on keeping on.
    With respect to the “young Christian” – I gave the advice above to realize the faith doesn’t hinge on science and to go with the evidence for a reason. College students are only beginning to have enough background knowledge to evaluate the evidence. Holding a position too tightly at that stage only sets up a later crisis.

  • R Hampton

    As a follow-up to my advice, I want to present to you John Haught, Ph.D. – former Chair and Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University (1970-2005) – who the was the only theologian to testify at the Dover Trial (Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Board of Education)
    I testified first and foremost that intelligent design is not science. And I understand that, from a legal point of view, what the plaintiffs were showing was that substantively—in spite of what scholarly distinctions I prefer to make between intelligent design and creationism — the more you can connect the two, the easier the case would be.  As far as the legalities are concerned, there is no substantive difference. From the point of view of a scholar, a historian, there is a difference between intelligent design advocacy and creationism.  Particularly regarding the interpretation of scripture, the ID people are not, as a rule, biblical literalists, although some of them are and some of them come close.  What they share is a kind of theological confusion of science with religious ideas, and they tend together to propose that this should be wedged into the science classroom. So, I argued that historically, motivationally, rhetorically, and finally theologically, there is no way that you could logically identify intelligent design with the kind of discourse that goes on in any good science classroom.
    …Yes, and as I said earlier, this was a legal context. And what you do there, when you’re trying to make a good case, is not necessarily enter into all the ramifications and all the cultural conversations that feed into the juridical context. For example, when I’m on the stand, I can’t go into all the ideas I have about how evolution actually helps us understand the biblical God in a richer way than an intelligent design approach does. You can’t do all that while you’re on the stand. There you’re trying to make a case that intelligent design is so much like creationism, which has already been legally excluded from public school classrooms. If you can make the case that intelligent design, like creationism, illegally introduces theology into public school science classrooms, then that helps the judge make his decision; and of course I thought he made the right one.
    …I was exposed at a very tender age, I think I was 23, to the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin. Even though I am not uncritical of some of his writings, I still admire what he tried to do. He was a Jesuit paleontologist, a Catholic priest, a great scientist, one of the top two or three geologists of the Asian continent. Once he began studying geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology, he started writing essays on the implications of evolution for Christianity. Perhaps you’ve seen the quote from Theodosius Dobzhansky, that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Teilhard didn’t use those exact words, but he felt that nothing in theology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Having been exposed many years ago to Teilhard’s attempt to think about the religious and theological implications of evolution, I found it quite natural to become interested in science and religion questions in a more general way.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS #42,
    #32 was a response to your question in #31 about “Christians in the sciences.” It was not about you personally. You have already said plenty about your philosophy, theology, and views of the scientific evidence for me to assume you are not selling out. I don’t think most are consciously selling out.
    As I have said, I think the evidence is mixed, which permits people to honestly fall on different sides- or rather draw the line between design and non-design in different places on the spectrum. But there are other motivations pushing people. Christian scientists are human.
    BTW, have you ever explained why you use initials? I am sympathetic, of course.

  • d bunker monquis

    The team that keeps calling for censorship in the courts has the weaker argument. ID’ers want more Darwinism taught without changing the subject to religion. DNA is carrying coded instructions how to build one of us, for example, from a single cell. Who wrote the instructions?
    All language use requires a conscious mind to pick and place the symbols to convey their message according to the language conventions.
    Then you need both sender and receiver to interpret and use the information.
    Experience and common sense tell us all such high level complexity systems of information sharing systems never fall to gether by any happy sequence of accidents, not matter how long you wait. Man is not the product of fortuitous monkey matings. We were made in our prototypes and their initial genetic load.
    Darwin is really dumb,mere say-so science appealing to those of weaker intellect or hatred for the Creator, Jesus Christ. We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men are created, equal and endowed with irrevokeable rights from God, especially the right to go on living.

  • Wesley R. Elsberry

    pds @37,
    You complain that nothing wrong with Meyer’s science was noted by Hrafn, but Hrafn did link to a post of mine ( which noted Meyer’s continuing failure ( to come to grips with empirical disproof of a major component of his argument. Doesn’t it count to have cited someone pointing out just that thing?

  • Hannodb

    “But this conclusion must be held with an open hand. It is a classic gap argument. There is no guarantee that there will not be a reasonable mechanism proposed in 10 years, 50 years, or a century or two.”
    Yes, this is a little something called “falsifiable”, one of the properties a theory must have in order for it to be scientific.
    It’s like gravity. We have no guarantee that in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years or a century or two, things will suddenly start to fall upwards. However, based on our experience, we consider this to be unlikely. Same goes for Information. The creation of Information by natural processes has never been observed. This is not a gap argument, this is a argument based on what we DO know about information.
    ” There are promising directions for research into the origin of life and no sense yet of a dead end or insurmountable obstacles.”
    I know of no abiogenesis experiment where intelligence did not play a crucial role in the creation of the molecules. Without knowing it, Abiogenesis researchers are actually BUILDING the case for ID.
    “Dembski’s proposal is an attempt to build a scientific defense of the proposition that undirected chemical and physical processes cannot result in the complexity of life we observe, particularly the complex information system of the cell – storage, replication, transcription, translation, and function. These ideas have not been demonstrated in any conclusive fashion”
    If you feel this way, then you carry the burden of proof. Please demonstrate how chemicals – outside the field of biology – are performing these tasks without any intelligent interference that caused them to do so. Until then, ID is a valid argument.

  • RJS

    No – ID becomes a valid argument if and only if Dembski can demonstrate that his ideas have merit. It is not the case that anyone one on any topic can propose a new concept and approach and then shift the burden of “disproof” to others. There must first be a real demonstration of plausibility and so forth – this has not yet appeared for any kind of “information conservation” or “information creation” theorem or postulate.