At Biologos, Francis Beckwith has written what appears to be a biography of his interactions and considerations with Intelligent Design in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Thomas Cudworth has already done a wonderful job of explaining and engaging the content of the two-part blog. Since I had already started my response to Beckwith (before seeing Cudworth’s entry), I thought I would go ahead and publish my entry.
Beckwith’s definition of ID is that, at its core, ID is comprised of the arguments of irreducible and specified complexity:
At the time I was never fully at ease with the Behe/Dembski arguments that relied on notions of specified and irreducible complexity (which I now see as the essence of the ID movement).
There is, of course, the “fine-tuning of the universe, and our privileged place in it” argument that comprises ID, as propounded by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards in their book The Privileged Planet. This cosmological form of ID, along with the biological position, was what convinced Antony Flew to convert to deism from atheism. The point it that ID is not confined to biology, to begin with, nor is it confined to arguments of negations of natural causes, as Beckwith seems to assume in his assessment of irreducible and specified complexity. ID is comprised of positive arguments, not only that chance alone (non-intelligence) cannot account for the particulars in nature that appear designed, but that the formation and information of nature requires an intelligence. This is a positive argument in and of itself, regardless of how the design gets implemented (whether it’s through nature or through some other medium, doesn’t really matter to ID). It’s really an argument about intelligence v. non-intelligence.
Admittedly, I found (and continue to find) arguments offered by other thinkers (some of whom are associated with ID movement) convincing and worth defending. Here I am thinking of arguments for a first cause of the universe (William Lane Craig), the existence of the soul (J. P. Moreland), an evolutionary case against naturalism (Alvin Plantinga), and the existence of a moral law that Darwinism cannot explain (Moreland, J. Budziszewski). But none of these arguments, as I have come to better understand, are technically ID arguments. They are straightforward philosophical arguments that, to be sure, help support a non-naturalist view of the world. And in that sense they share the central aim of ID. But sharing that aim, as well as being offered by ID advocates (e.g., Craig, Moreland), does not make them ID arguments.
The “first cause” argument of Craig requires that the first cause be intelligent and that the resulting universe was designed. Which brings me to my second point, and that is that Beckwith seems to make arbitrary selections about which arguments make up ID and which ones don’t; that it is an endeavor only concerned with arguments that amount to negations of chance on the biological level. In his defining ID as such, I see no warrant. His definition of ID is arbitrary, and arbitrarily leaves out other particulars of the discipline.
His argument against Dembski’s specified complexity is a religious one, derived from a philosophy he sees in Thomas Aquinas (and hence considers to be classical theism):
According to Dembski, we discover design in nature after we have eliminated chance and law. And we do so by a conceptual device he calls the explanatory filter. If something in nature exhibits a high level of specified complexity for which chance and law cannot account, Dembski concludes that it is highly probable that the gap is the result of an intelligent agent. Design, therefore, is not immanent in nature. It is something that is imposed on nature by someone or something outside it.
It seems that Beckwith’s assumption of ID’s conceptual program runs like this: ID proponents posit that nature at large is undesigned, a blank slate of sorts, and that the designer intervened only at particular places and stamped his stamp on the otherwise blank slate, and that it’s ID’s job to discover the stamp only, whereas Thomism sees the whole thing as designed (slate, stamps and all). Thus Beckwith concludes that arguments deriving from the stamps alone are confusing what was actually designed (the whole show). But, what Beckwith fails to consider, is that it need not be this way. This is a false picture of ID. To say that design is detectable in some instances, is not to say that the rest of the instances are not designed. It only means that a particular methodology of design detection (specified complexity) can determine design in certain specific cases, not that it, therefore, negates all other cases. It has nothing to say about other cases. It can detect some instances where design is, but does not, by extension, say where design isn’t. Specified complexity never pretended to be exhaustive. This methodology does not have to be all encompassing or nothing. Certain literary devices detect certain hallmarks of authorship, but that doesn’t mean the critic believes that there is only one literary device to discover everything about literature, or that the literature that the narrow literary device can discover was all that was written.