What About Intelligent Design? (RJS)

I began a series last week looking at issues in theology and the impact that the evidence for evolution has on our theology. This series is based on a book of essays, Theology After Darwin (available from amazon UK or, as pointed out by a commenter on the last post, a search of Abebooks.com on author = Berry and title = Theology After Darwin will yield a USA-based source for a new copy of the book at a reasonable price. (HT PB)) The second chapter, written by Denis Alexander, carries the provocative title After Darwin: Is Intelligent Design Intelligent? For those wrestling with the ideas, or who want to understand why scientists and scholars are often skeptical of the intelligent design movement, this is a good even-handed source. It is short, clear, and to the point.

Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist with a Ph.D. in Neurochemistry. He is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. Since 1992 he has been Editor of the journal Science & Christian Belief  and currently serves on the National Committee of Christians in Science and as a member of the International Society for Science and Religion. He has published many scientific articles in the primary literature, something over 50, and has a good overall citation rate (i.e. other professionals read and interact with his professional scientific work). He has also published a book,  Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?,  that presents his belief in the coherence of evolutionary theory with a biblical doctrine of creation.  I have not read his book yet – but intend to get a copy and put it on my (ever growing) list.

Key to Alexander’s view is a robust understanding of the work of God in creation. Calvin, he notes, had such a view.

God’s activity in nature, Calvin taught, was continuous and complete. There were no ‘gaps’ which could be attributed to forces or agents outside of God’s immediate control. Nature was not autonomous. The Word or command of God was the only edict required to bring direction or purpose into inanimate matter. (p. 23)

The discussions of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century departed from such a robust view, looking for evidence of God in design, in areas where natural mechanisms were demonstrably insufficient. In the face of naturalism and secular materialism concrete evidence for God appeared essential.  As you read what follows consider the following questions.

What do you understand or mean by the term Intelligent Design?

Do you think Intelligent Design is a useful pursuit or field of inquiry?

Dr. Alexander covers a fair bit of ground in his survey of Intelligent Design. He looks at the roots of the modern movement in the writings of Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and others. There is in this movement an express goal of overturning scientific materialism with its ‘damning cultural legacies’ and making a place for the supernatural, for God, at the table. According to Alexander:

Dembski has stated that ‘Intelligent Design is three things: a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinianism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action. Intelligent design therefore intersects science and theology’ (Dembski 1999a: 13 [Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology]). Understanding ID involves an appreciation of what these statements mean, and it is important that any critique is based upon the explicit claims made by ID proponents, and not on popular accounts, which are frequently unreliable. (p. 27)

I am in complete agreement with Dr. Alexander here. This is where we need to begin, with the explicit claims and strongest arguments of ID proponents. Along these lines Dr. Alexander interacts most completely with the ideas of Dr. Dembski and Dr. Behe who provide the intellectual and scientific base for ID. After describing the core ideas of ID, Dr. Alexander considers whether ID is science, but concludes that it is not a useful scientific endeavor.  He suggests that is it has no useful explanatory power, it is not testable, and it is not falsifiable.  As a Christian and a scientist he finds the lack of explanatory power particularly troubling:

As a Christian who believes in God as creator, I believe that everything that exists is the outworking of his creative purposes, and the scientific enterprise is only possible by a prior understanding of the creative order as intelligible. So picking out just particular bits of that created order as inferring intelligent design does not sound like an explanation for anything (p. 32).

As a molecular biologist he wonders how the proposal of irreducible complexity is even testable. One can posit irreducible complexity – but only demonstrate that a system is not irreducibly complex. Dr. Behe’s example of the bacterial flagellum is a good case in point. This is purported to be “irreducibly complex” yet after some 15 years of additional study we now know (the following paraphrased from p. 33) that a 10-protein sub-module acts independently to inject poison into other bacteria, another sub-module is a chemical pump to convert energy into work, homologues of most of the proteins (proteins encoded by very similar genes) carry out a range of different functions in other systems, and that evolution proceeds not merely by site mutation and selection, but by gene co-option and lateral gene transfer.   This latter is an important point. The mathematical models used to demonstrate the “absurdity” of evolution as unimaginably improbable rely on inadequate description of the mechanism of evolution.

Over the last 15 years or so a large complex system, the bacterial flagellum, has been broken down into smaller systems, separable, although still moderately complex. Work is ongoing to understand the development of these smaller units. Understanding of some systems has progressed quite far, much work remains on others. How, Dr. Alexander asks, would ID have helped the scientific investigation?  What progress could have been made?

Dr. Alexander also points out that scientific theories are useful for what they explain – as overarching syntheses of facts – not for what they do not explain.

If a theory leads to a fruitful research programme, as evolutionary theory obviously has, then anomalies will be kept on the back-burner, waiting to be sorted out and incorporated into the theory when their time comes. (p. 34)

and later:

Pointing out supposed difficulties in Darwinian explanations does not in itself count as an explanation for anything. (p. 34)

Much of the discussion of evolution within ID rests on an inadequate understanding of the progress of science and the progressive development and refinement of explanatory theories. Most theories, those with true explanatory power, are modified to incorporate new information and improve the quality of the explanation, but they are not regulated to the trash heap. Speculative ideas are, at times, so regulated – ideas like phlogiston and the aether. But Newtonian mechanics was not – relativity and quantum theory contain the insights from classical mechanics when objects of “ordinary” size move at “ordinary” speeds.  The explanatory power of evolutionary theory is so great, that we can say with confidence that it will be refined, but it will not go away.

Is Intelligent Design a useful concept in other realms of thought? Even if Intelligent Design is not science (a conclusion on which we can still disagree and debate) it may yet be useful in theology or philosophy – to combat scientific materialism.  Dr. Alexander finds ID lacking in the realm of natural theology because it tends to view the world and God’s creative power as a two-tier entity.  This he thinks, and I agree, is unfortunate. After quoting from p. 63 and p. 141 of Dembski’s 2004 book The Design Revolution Alexander continues:

Dembski envisages a biological world largely explained by ‘naturalistic mechanisms’ and ‘natural forces’, and against this backcloth ‘designed systems’ may be detected. Indeed, without such a backcloth, the rest of his argument would make little sense, since if the identification of designed entites is to be possible, then a non-designed ‘naturalistic’ backcloth is essential to facilitate the detection of the ‘designed’ components.

So the ID literature gives the impression that there is something inherently ‘naturalistic’ about certain aspects of the created order and not about other aspects, and such thinking appears to stem from a very inadequate doctrine of creation. In biblical creation theology, the natural order is seen as a seamless web of God’s creative activity. All scientists can do is describe the consequences of God’s creative activity to the best of their ability. … Science is definitely not a naturalistic enterprise for the Christian who is a scientist, but rather a cause for worshipping the God who has brought all things into being, including all the biological complexity of the world. (p. 39)

In this essay, and ending on this final note, Dr. Alexander has put in concise clear form many of my misgivings about the intelligent design movement. As science it is inadequate, as a critique of “Darwinism” it focuses on the wrong fronts, and as a natural theology it diminishes rather than glorifies the creative work of God.

Now I am not ruling out the possibility that God could have acted in some more direct fashion, not explicable in the ordinary course of events, especially at key points – origin of the universe, origin of life, and in some way to create humanity in his image. I certainly think that God has acted explicitly in history at times and places in accord with his plan, most notably, but not solely, in the incarnation and resurrection. But I don’t think it is, at least at present in the absence of some new idea, insight, or direction, useful to make this a hypothesis in scientific investigation. We should relax and go where the evidence takes us. And wherever it takes us, God is still creator.

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Is Intelligent Design a useful concept and scholarly pursuit?

By the way – I also have Intelligent Design Uncensored by William Dembski and Jonathan Witt courtesy of IVP Books, and will read and post on this in the coming months.

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

You can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts  at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS,

    I had completely forgotten about Alexander’s book until a biologist was in my office the other day, mentioned that IVP book on creation or evolution, and I recalled how influential that book was on my own thinking. During a time when I thought evolution had to be true but locked into no way to think about such things — I was not and am not a scientist — he gave me a way of thinking through such issues that helped tons.

  • Scott Eaton

    “Science is definitely not a naturalistic enterprise for the Christian who is a scientist, but rather a cause for worshipping the God who has brought all things into being, including all the biological complexity of the world” (p. 39).”

    As a non-scientist who is increasingly interested in science I find this statement to be absolutely true. The more I learn the more amazed I become. As a formerly stauch YEC I have been blown away by the observations of science.

    If scholarly pursuit is defined as following the evidence where it leads, then ID is not very scholarly. Dismissing and twisting scientific evidence, as ID seems to do, doesn’t strike me as scholarly but as desperation.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    The roots of intelligent design go back much further than Phillip Johnson and William Dembski. They are rooted in the science and writings of Polanyi, Gould, Eldredge, Pierre-Paul Grassé, Brandon Carter, Paul Davies, Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, Rober Olsen, Michael Denton, John Barrow and Frank Tipler.

    I have posted a time line of important publications here.

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/history-of-intelligent-design-timeline/

    The most important question is whether ID is true, and whether it is the best explanation of the evidence. Whether it leads to a fruitful research program is secondary, although perhaps not for professional scientists who desperately need to get research funding.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    RJS,

    “How, Dr. Alexander asks, would ID have helped the scientific investigation? What progress could have been made?”

    No one was trying to explain the evolutionary history of the bacterial flagellum before Behe. It was assumed. Taken for granted. So ID actually spurred this inquiry. ID is asking questions that many would prefer not to worry about.

    No one has yet given anything close to a plausible possible pathway for the evolution of the flagellum, and you haven’t here. I have repeatedly asked you for one, and you have never given one.

    The evidence of design keeps growing.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    pds,

    Perhaps you can fill me in a bit since I am woefully uneducated in the ID approach. The quote above:

    “So picking out just particular bits of that created order as inferring intelligent design does not sound like an explanation for anything”

    Does ID only pick part of creation and say that is evidence? Would you please elaborate for me?

    Thanks

  • Lionel Mandrake

    “We should relax and go where the evidence takes us. And wherever it takes us, God is still creator.”

    What about the evidence of genetic information? Alexander does not mention this in the excerpts posted. Information is directly attributable to the activity of an intelligent agent, so why couldn’t the evidence of genetic information be evidence of the activity of an intelligent agent? Yes, God is still Creator, but couldn’t He also be a designer?

  • rjs

    Lionel,

    The origin of life – getting from inanimate chemicals to the first working cell – is murky. I am not sure ID is useful here, but I won’t rule it out a priori. To do so would be arguing from philosophical presupposition – not evidence.

    On the other hand evolution from early single cells to the present rests on a pretty sound footing. I don’t think we see any empirical evidence for design outside of the design intrinsic in all of God’s creation. There is no need to separate out regimes – natural vs. divine intervention.

    The argument by analogy in much of the presentation of information in ID is troublesome – I don’t think those arguments are valid on any meaningful level.

    Dr. Dembski’s direction of information theory could have potential as science, but it must be developed on a rigorous mathematical, theoretical basis. At present it is hypothesis and speculation. If it cannot be developed in a rigorous fashion then it is not a useful proposal.

  • rjs

    pds (#4),

    In one sense Dr. Behe’s proposal was useful in that it spurred research. And as is often the case in science, it spurred research to disprove his hypothesis. Dr. Dembski takes things in a somewhat more positive direction with his hypotheses about information, but this has gone nowhere yet.

    For ID to be useful as science it needs a positive explanatory aspect.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    DRT,

    His full quote:

    “As a Christian who believes in God as creator, I believe that everything that exists is the outworking of his creative purposes, and the scientific enterprise is only possible by a prior understanding of the creative order as intelligible. So picking out just particular bits of that created order as inferring intelligent design does not sound like an explanation for anything.”

    He is confusing Christian theology from revelation with a design inference from nature. ID proponents that are Christians would agree that “everything that exists is the outworking of his creative purposes.” At the same time, some parts of creation present a stronger design inference than others. Biological nano-machines create a stronger design inference than a simple rock does. Christian revelation tells us that both are God’s creation.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    RJS #8,

    “For ID to be useful as science it needs a positive explanatory aspect.”

    It does have a positive explanatory aspect. You apparently just don’t like it. Perhaps because it is too simple and doesn’t (so obviously) lead to more work for scientists?

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    #4 pds

    “No one has yet given anything close to a plausible possible pathway for the evolution of the flagellum, and you haven’t here. I have repeatedly asked you for one, and you have never given one.

    The evidence of design keeps growing.”

    God of the Gaps. Can’t yet explain it? God must have done it.

  • http://transintegration.net/ Darren King

    What I would say is that it is clear to me that the universe is created intelligently, but also “natually” – meaning it is internally consistent according to God’s original scheme. So we don’t need to look for some specific moments of “intervention” to prove that “God did it”.

    As I’ve mentioned in previous posts – while I think that the universe does contain the signature of its Creator, I also think that any human attempts to *prove* it are foolhardy. It is just too far above us to identify and separate out all the relevant factors in order to make that call on some kind of factual 2+2=4 kind of basis. I think we are centuries away from being able to do that – if ever. Even when I say its “clear” to me that there is intelligent design behind everything, I’m speaking on a perceptual, sensory, intuitive level.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    Until scientists can fill in the gaps, ID should have merit in the eyes of anyone who believes God is sovereign. By my lights, is coalesces various fields of study that must work together if we are to factually demonstrate how life was born out of non-life.

    Otherwise, the field of science is, by definition, self-limiting. At some point, a designer got involved.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    Kevin S,

    I don’t think it is an issue of sovereignty. ID does not make God any more sovereign than what RJS has suggested is His role. It may specify that sovereignty in a way that you are more comfortable with but God is every bit as powerful, in control, and grandiose in theories other than ID as He may seem considering ID. The mechanism doesn’t take away from God’s overarching purpose nor his ability to accomplish it.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Michael #11,

    Simplistic caricature. You are looking at half the argument. The full thing:

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/the-form-of-design-arguments-from-nature/

    You should know this already.

    “God must have done it.”

    No. “Design is currently the best explanation.”

    Big difference.

    Simplistic caricatures do not further civil discourse.

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    Pds it has been said over and over again here in countless ways. If we look at the sum total of human knowledge, one subset of that knowledge is science … study of the natural world using methodological materialism. Without methodological materialism we go right to where you went … if we can’t yet explain it, God must have done it.

    As a subset of human knowledge, science can’t provide the answers to all questions we pose as humans. To insist that it can is scientism. When we are trying to address complex human questions, science and theology certainly should be in the discussion.

    Many scientists practice scientism. They are in error. But the ideological agenda of ID to insert God (the supernatural) into science, undermines all of science. Both scientism and ID are attempts to expand science in ways that the field can’t accommodate. The first by declaring the supernatural nonexistent and the second by trying to insert supernaturalism into science. Neither recognizes the boundaries of science.

    I haven’t read everything you’ve said here Jesus Creed but I have the sense that you are utterly committed to resisting the exclusion of supernatural forces from a discipline devoted to studying natural causes. You want to collapse science into theology. Is that about right?

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    Pds #15

    Nothing uncivil intended at all. It was an obvious conclusion to me.

    Yes, I’m aware that ID sees things like irreducible complexity and develops from this a theory … from absence of other explanations and probabilities … of intelligent design. That may be good theology but it isn’t science. The most science can say is “We have no scientific explanation yet.” To conclude that God or supernatural forces intervened in natural causes is the insertion of theology into science.

    Thus, from the perspective of science … not necessarily theology … it is God of the gaps.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Michael #16,

    “You want to collapse science into theology. Is that about right?”

    Of course that is not right. I get the impression that you really don’t understand ID.

    When we look at the evidence and try to figure out the best explanation for origins (using the historical method or proper historical science method), it is foolish to limit ourselves to non-design and/or materialistic answers. I want to follow the evidence wherever it leads, to the best explanation. Not the “best non-design explanation.”

    You are welcome to remain in your little box if you want to. I embrace the freedom that Alvin Plantinga discusses.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Why is design the best explanation? It seems to me that unknown causes are the best explanation for anything we don’t understand.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    @JoeyS

    What I am saying is that we all agree that God is sovereign. We know, therefore, that he created the world somehow. At some point, he willed matter into existence, not to mention (at minimum) creating every single law of science that was put into place thereafter.

    As such, if we are interested in a robust exploration of the origins in the world, ID is a valid field of study. While it might not be, per se, a method of scientific inquiry, it is certainly forced to contend with science.

    Perhaps it would be best to describe ID as a method of framing science. Even in that event, though, the lines of history, science and theology are going to be blurred in ways that make scientists bristle.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Michael #17,

    You still don’t seem to get it. Did you go to the link?

  • Kenny Johnson

    I’ve said before and I still feel this way. I’m very sympathetic to ID. I’m not a scientist — I got a “B” in college biology, but purely naturalistic causes for all the complexity we see in biology doesn’t seem plausible to me.

    I get the “evolutionary creationist” point of view though — that says, God planned this from the beginning and set up the rules of the universe to allow for nature to “creative.” But I just, personally, find that answer to be unsatisfying.

    But I also don’t deny evolution outright. I accept evidence of the fossil record. I believe evolution has occurred. I’m just skeptical of the purely naturalistic mechanism.

  • Percival

    I think rjs’s comments in 7 & 8 reflect where I am with ID. I am intrigued by the mathematical possibilities that have not been developed yet. Also, I am at a loss to even begin to imagine how DNA could have arisen by natural processes. In addition, as a linguist, I can’t imagine, nor have I seen any explanation accounting for, how human language could have evolved naturally. Chomsky infamously pronounced, “It is not easy to even imagine a course of selection that might have given rise to [systems of language].”

    However, just be cause we cannot see how natural processes could have produced phenomena without a supernatural nudge, doesn’t mean we need to conclude there necessarily was a supernatural nudge. Maybe we just need more imagination and investigation. If we say that it was supernatural, we are basically giving up on any explanation of how it could have happened.

    So I will continue to believe that God has done it all in astounding ways. But I don’t call it science – yet.

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    “… it is foolish to limit ourselves to non-design and/or materialistic answers.”

    Which is my point. If you aren’t limiting your answers to non-design and materialism, then you are no longer doing science. That isn’t a put down. That is an acknowledgment of categories. Science is a limited form of knowledge.

    You are wanting to take the question of origins … and its implications … beyond what science can say. I’m with you. We should. But I’m conscious that while I may be incorporating scientific knowledge in my discernment … even using things like statistical probabilities … but I’m no longer doing just science. That is how I see your form design argument. Science can neither rule God/supernatural out (scientism) nor in (ID).

  • Kenny Johnson

    “If you aren’t limiting your answers to non-design and materialism, then you are no longer doing science. That isn’t a put down. That is an acknowledgment of categories. Science is a limited form of knowledge.”

    For the sake of argument, if I concede this point, that doesn’t make ID untrue — correct? And by ID, I mean the ability to recognize design in nature.

    I don’t care if it’s called science or not. To me, that doesn’t invalidate it.

    I guess I come at it from this point: If God is creator, could he have created in such a way that we could recognize it as designed? For me, the answer is yes.

    And, I understand that ID wants to be recognized as science, but I don’t really care about that debate.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Michael #24,

    What if life was designed and seeded here by an advanced alien culture from another planet? If the evidence pointed that way, would it be science?

    You are equating “design” with “super-naturalism.” They are not the same.

    You are interested in protecting categories. I am just concerned with figuring out the truth. Historical sciences by necessity go outside of rigid categories. It seems your beef with ID is all about definitions.

    At what point in the past do you stop doing “history” and start doing “science”? Is there a bright line when the methodology changes?

    I encourage you to read Gould on the historical sciences.

  • Lionel Mandrake

    RJS (#7): “The argument by analogy in much of the presentation of information in ID is troublesome – I don’t think those arguments are valid on any meaningful level.”

    I agree that the argument by analogy in the tradition of Paley is unsuccessful, but most proponents of ID say that the ID argument from information is not an argument from analogy. An argument from analogy says that the genetic information we find in DNA is *like* the information we find in books and the cause of the former must resemble the cause of the latter. According to the ID argument from information, the information in DNA exhibits *the very same feature* (specified complexity), and because intelligent agency produces *the very same feature* in instances where we do know its causal history, the best explanation for *the very same feature* observed in the DNA molecule is intelligent agency. As such, ID argues that science seeks to explain the natural world not just in terms reducible to matter and energy formed by chance, necessity, or their combination; but in terms of matter, energy, and information formed by chance, necessity, and agency, or their combination (this is germane to pds and Michael Kruse’s debate over methodological naturalism in science and the “God of the Gaps” objection to ID). All of this is to say that the ID argument from information has a whole lot of other issues involved in it, not the least of which are philosophical issues about the very nature of information and the nature of science itself.

  • rjs

    Lionel,

    In the last part of my comment I referred to the work by Dr. Dembski. I don’t think that the information in DNA exhibits “the very same feature” in any meaningful way, in part because the language encoding the information was (or could have been) built up in the process of the development of the need for that information to be encoded. But … it is up to Dr. Dembski and others to prove their hypothesis, to demonstrate why I am wrong, and to do so in a rigorous mathematical fashion. In a fashion that stands up to peer review. So far it is all words, no proof.

    But even here – even if they are right – there is no problem in moving from single cell to the diversity of organisms we see. It doesn’t call evolution itself into question.

  • John I.

    Even if one is greatly opposed to ID, statements such as “Dismissing and twisting scientific evidence, as ID seems to do, doesn’t strike me as scholarly” is both unhelpful and inaccurate. I am rather agnostic on the subject, but read lots, and have yet to be shown any example where the leading proponents of ID have dismissed and twisted scientific evidence. Such comments only perpetuate scandalous rumours against ID credibility and do not advance the arguments at all.

    One useful aspect of the ID programme has been to cause evolutionists (in a loose non-pejorative sense) to investigate many issues in more depth, or to reexamine assumptions. While evolution does (to me) appear to be consistent with a great deal of the evidence, much of the theory is speculative or rests on matters not proved.

    For example, there does not exist any stepwise set of DNA mutations for the emergence of any new structure. Evolutionary theory does provide a research programme to investigate such, but so far all that I have read depends a great deal on certain (not yet proved) assumptions or on the validity of certain analogies.

    The point about ID not providing a particular kind of (hard science) research programme does seem to me valid, however, ID does have a research programme of sorts in mathematics that has driven Dembski’s work.

    regards,
    John I.

  • John I.

    The comment, which I have read before, “ID to insert God (the supernatural)” is neither fully accurate nor is it worse than current speculations about alternative universes (or Hawkings recent pop into thin air theory). Biological life on earth could come from another universe, or from stuff originating elsewhere in the galaxy where initial conditions were quite different.

    Reading about multi-universes strikes me as being at least as weird as believing in a non-material being.

    regards,
    John I.

  • Lionel Mandrake

    RJS, I agree that more work needs to be done with respect to ID, but the demand for proof indicates that both sides are still talking past one another. Since a proof of the design hypothesis amounts to a proof that no naturalistic process can generate the genetic information in DNA, the demand is that Dembski prove a negative, which as we all know cannot be done. In the book God’s Undertaker, John Lennox compares the ID argument to the argument against a perpetual motion machine. Although we cannot prove that such a machine is impossible, physicists reject the idea because in every purported instance of perpetual motion, energy was introduced into the system. Conservation of energy is a physical law. According to the ID argument, information is conserved in the same way, so that in any purported instance of naturalistic processes generating information, agency was introduced into the system. I expect that you won’t find this sketch of the argument persuasive, but this is the form it takes, so to demand proof is to miss the argument being made. I should add that Lennox’s book is about the religion/science debate and would be a great book to discuss, as it is strong on philosophy of science and lacks the American culture war aspect of so many books written against the New Atheists.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0745953719

  • rjs

    Lionel,
    The frame of the argument in your comment sounds like this …

    Postulate 1. Information can not be created from nothing by purely natural processes.

    Conclusion: Thus there must be a designer.

    Now there are postulates in physics – not very many, but there are some. These postulates though, when developed forward have amazing explanatory power.

    In a loose sketch – In my field I would start with the postulates of quantum mechanics, the postulate of energy/mass conservation, and the postulate that equi-energetic states have equal probability for population (probably a few more postulates, but not many). From this we can develop pretty much all of chemistry and biochemistry (including thermodynamics, reactivity, the structure of the periodic table, kinetics, and on and on,). The postulates are accepted as true because of their explanatory power.

    Why should I accept the postulate on information? It is the responsibility of the ID theorist to defend the value of his/her postulate.

    Now – I am not trying to defend the kind of speculation about the origin of the universe or the origin of life that arises from the assumption of secular materialism. But I am asking what of any specific use ID brings to the table.

  • Lionel Mandrake

    I think those are fair questions, and that Dembski and the other ID leaders need to work on answering those questions. As I said before, philosophical issues about the nature of information are important to the viability of the argument.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am way over my head here. But I will take the chance.

    rjs, isn’t the postulate that you are conjecturing onto Lionel similar to the Hawking debate on black holes? The information, in the end, is not destroyed but maintained through Hawking radiation? So information conservation is preserved and not created….

    Perhaps information is coalescing from other sources and manifest in the increase in complexity of the genome? Or, perhaps it is just a reflection of the complexity and information already present in the system therefore not a increase, but simply a mirroring.

    Is preservation and equivalence of information a physics postulate?

    Diving in over my head…

  • brp

    To me the biggest problem with ID is that it appears to divide the observed world into “natural processes” and “designed” processes. In essence, this concedes most of creation to the “natural” while searching for snippets of design. The beauty of Alexander’s view is that it sees God’s marvelous handiwork in ALL of nature.

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    pds #26

    “What if life was designed and seeded here by an advanced alien culture from another planet? If the evidence pointed that way, would it be science?”

    We still have the same problem. Once we push our science back to the point that aliens introduced life our science stops. We will not be able to discern where life came from by science. To do science we have to keep postulating natural mechanisms and all they will tell us in this case is we have not explanation yet.

    Now, should the aliens come to visit us and tell us what they did, or should we find some sort of device that explains what happened, we can then turn back to science to test whether what they say about life comports with scientific observations and maybe catch a ride back to their planet to study the origins of life even more.

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    #26

    “You are interested in protecting categories. I am just concerned with figuring out the truth.”

    I’m every bit as much interested in truth as you are. But protecting science’s use of methodological materialism is absolutely critical.

    Throughout human history, investigation of the natural world was severely hampered by anthropomorphizing inanimate objects and presuming the involvement of “the fates” or “the gods.” The Greeks held that rocks fall to the ground because they have an “affinity” for the ground. In Islam still, there are curbs on science in that it must not conflict with the Quran.

    Two great achievements of Western science are the empirical investigation of theories and the employment of methodological materialism. These eliminate the entanglement with speculation about matters that are not observable by us. Neither of these had been rigorously developed as a discipline.

    I, too, am interested in the truth and the way I see that we get to the truth is not by conflating all means of knowing together. We let scientists do science (and call scientism into account), we let historians do history, and we let theologians do theology. Then we come and reason together about the larger truth you and I are so interested in.

    But inserting God/supernatural/alien manipulation into science is regression. It hamstrings science from relentlessly pursuing where its tools can go. It short-circuits the quest for the truth in this one discipline, and in so doing hampers our search for the truth overall.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    Michael,

    It doesn’t matter how Muslims approach science. That is completely irrelevant to this conversation.

    If science cannot describe the so-called supernatural, which by your definition it cannot, then that applies limits to where its tools can go anyway. Science is limited one way or the other.

    If you want to adhere to a very strict definition of science, that is certainly a valid position. When you ask science to frame theology, you cannot credibly maintain such an austere view.

    Regression swings both ways.

  • John I.

    The ID project is also useful because of its investigation into the nature of knowledge. Such work has a significant philosophical component, but there are mathematical issues as well, and in so far as information is expressed or contained physically, there are material aspects to investigate.

    To denigrate ID because it does not meet a particular definition of science ignores the fact that science itself has not proved capable of having a definitive definition, as exhibited by the large number of papers on that topic over the last few decades. If ID is neither science nor a scientific concept then it can’t be disproved by science, can it?

    regards.
    John I.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Michael #36,

    You said:

    “We still have the same problem. Once we push our science back to the point that aliens introduced life our science stops. We will not be able to discern where life came from by science.”

    Science can’t study aliens living on another planet? Your views really are “science stoppers.” I want no part of that.

  • Lionel Mandrake

    PDS…if “science” = “methodological materialism,” then “science stopper” = “methodological materialism stopper.”

  • R Hampton

    Dembski believes that the intelligent designer of DNA is one and the same as the intelligent designer of the Cambrian Explosion. That means that this singular designer is several BILLION years old.

    Behe believes the intelligent designer of irreducibly complex structures is one and the same as the intelligent designer of the physical laws of the universe.

    Without explicitly stating it, both Dembki and Behe believe the Intelligent Designer is God and the ID is the act of divine intervention.


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