Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Author Glenn Schromm has questions for ID theorists


Glenn sent me this post, and I thought some of the commenters might want to tackle his questions. I can’t just now. On deadline:


I am writing you because I could not find a place for feedback or “Contact us” on the Uncommon Descent website.


Under “ID Defined” I have two concerns.

One is that the definition says “best explained by an intelligent cause”. Shouldn’t this read “an intelligent cause or intelligent causes”? By presenting the word “cause” in the singular, we are taking the focus off the intelligent design we can observe, and we are speculating that all observable intelligent design has a single cause, such as a creator God. ID as a scientific theory should not assume that a single cause is responsible for every “certain feature” addressed in the definition. Also, even if you are saying that each given feature has an intelligent cause, that also seems to be too limiting of the possibility that a single feature could have more than one single intelligent cause.

Second, it says that ID is in disagreement with the idea that apparent design is an illusion. Well, the definition holds that “certain features” are best explained by intelligent causes, not that “all features” are best explained by intelligent causes. I think that someone can hold to ID theory and still tend towards the idea that much apparent design is an illusion, while still falling under the umbrella of ID for believing that some apparent design is best explained as actual design. In other words, instead of disagreeing with the core claim that apparent design is an illusion in all cases, it would be better to say that ID disagrees that “all” apparent design is an illusion.

I also wonder sometimes about the phrase “features of the universe and of living things”, but my thoughts are not as clear and definitive about that. 1 – Does “features” include behaviors? 2 – Are we clear that we are not simply looking at those “certain features” which are manmade? It is plain to everyone that certain features such as watermelons not having seeds is best explained by an intelligent cause. 3 – Would it be sufficient to distinguish between manmade and natural, or would there need to be a category of neural intelligence versus non-neural intelligence, so as to include all animal intelligence along with human intelligence?

I have tried to address things like this in my book, and with Casey Luskin and Michael Behe, but I don’t seem to get anywhere with it. I did hear Paul Nelson mention “intelligent causes” (in the plural, I’m pretty sure) at a debate with Michael Shermer at Penn State Berks, but on your website it has “an intelligent cause” in the singular.

– Glenn Shrom

[From Denyse: Glenn, what book do you mean? I’d link to it if in print. By the way, re Contact Us, well you found me … ]

Glenn. I am a YEC and not ID guy. No creationism is not going to see a creator making seedless or seedfull watermelons. Or watermelons as such. Seeing a creator from any creationist angle means seeing a great creation. A creation that drives itself to exist and survive. Our own conception has a motar behind it without Gods hand directly involved. So adaption or any change in creation has its own mechanism. Just not the extreme idea of millions of mutations being selected with the great results we have. This is unreasonable and unlikely that a creator would do it that way. Instead a tidy and neat operation must be seen as going on instead. This is the definition that is meant by all of creationism. Robert Byers
GlenStrom, I find both of your “questions”- or objections regarding ID to be false dichotomies. First of all regarding the multiple designers- ID never says that there can not be multiple intelligent causes or multiple intelligences. The reason why ID postulates only that “an intelligent cause” (that is singular) was involved is because as far as we know there could be a single intelligence great enough to get all the work done and because for the sake of Occam’s razor we need not postulate more than one for the sake of the theory. So of course there “could” be multiple intelligences involved but unless you have evidence for specifically gearing the theory towards multiple intelligences then I think it is off target and a distraction to what the theory is really all about which is design detection but not designer identification which would be a secondary question. Secondly your point about “some design” is not really on target either- as Dembski has made it clear in his writing like his book “The Design Revolution”, inferred design can indeed only be a part of the puzzle. That is we may be able to explain say 90% of an object via natural non-teleological processes but if we know that by far most likely that 10% must be designed than we infer a designing intelligence played a role. Now logically what you need to understand is that if a designing intelligence did play a role in only 10% than one can infer the logical possibility that the designer may have done the whole job that is 100%. Natural process can mimic design to a point and no further but design can mimic natural processes in total. This highlight’s the philosophical problem of induction which is we can never know for sure that God didn’t create Darwinian evolution to hide his presence- it is a logical possibility. What ID postulates is that nature can’t probabilistically - that is in all likelihood, produce specified complexity- and that when we see SC and it looks like obvious design like in DNA and the molecular machines in the cell, we are scientifically correct to infer the elephant in the room- ID. SO certainly you can have both ID and natural processes. Look at Mt Rushmore, you have the obvious intelligent design and you have wind and erosion playing a role in the aesthetic formation of the structure. So to simplify the answer to your first question is "Yes" there could be more than one but postulating more than one dies us no good aside from evidence. And the answer to your second question is that ID never claims that natural processes or non-teleological processes might not be involved along side a certain degree of design- I would add though that ID does not rule out that natural processes themselves might be designed as well. Frost122585
Snowflakes look like elegantly designed objects, but they are the product of natural forces at work.
Except snowflakes don't meet the design criteria. Joseph
Design is not just a product of intelligence; intelligence alone cannot produce anything. A production stage, implementation of the design must follow. Snowflakes look like elegantly designed objects, but they are the product of natural forces at work. Nature can produce designs. Intelligent? One thing we know for certain about all sorts of design, like watches or Swiss Army knives is that they are not just designed - they are manufactured too. Designs typically are subject to evolution as well. Timekeeping devices started as sundials or clepsydra’s - evolving into atomic clocks with most sophisticated design. This means that we know for certain that any and all designs we know are not just one-off designs, but the result of repeated cycles of experiment - design – production. It therefore seems most reasonable to believe that the designer responsible for design in biology also would have to apply similar methods. Without functional designs to study, copy and improve upon, without blueprints, our designer most likely would have to start from scratch, without any knowledge of how to make life. Would he even know that this thing we call life was a latent potential of matter; that workable, self-replicating machines might be made using chemistry instead of mechanics? But of course, if the designer – as many Christians believe – is God, such considerations need not apply since God is of course equipped with unlimited magical powers. Cabal
Perhaps what we need is an experienced bureaucrat who can divine not only “a category of neural intelligence versus non-neural intelligence” but also expand our inclusiveness to include natural versus unnatural intelligences, intelligent versus unintelligent intelligences, gendered versus nongendered … intelligences … perish the thought of leaving anyone out. I’m reminded of Christian paraphernalia stores where there are Bibles for every conceivable species of person … maybe even one-legged twenty-six-year-olds who yo-yo on Thursday. But I'm being rediculous ... please forgive me. Rude
Glenn, Would it help by defining ID as against the notion that all we observe can be reduced to matter and energy (chance and necessity)? Joseph
Glenn Schromm, I fear that your search for a more neutral definition of ID is in vain. If you ask ten biologists for a definition of evolution, you will get ten different definitions. If you ask ten physicists for a definition of quantum mechanics or relativity, you will also get ten different definitions. The definition on this web site is authoritative because Dr. Dembski is a prominent ID researcher. However, if you were to ask Stephen Meyer or Michael Behe for a definition, they would likely not use exactly the same words. In particular, an ID framework can apply to the characteristics of the entire cosmos, or to the origin of life, or to the evolution of life. Each of these would include the idea that an intelligent cause is the best explanation. However, the details of what is being explained would be different in each case. Certainly the “seedlessness” of certain watermelons comes under the ID umbrella. So does the design of a car or a software program. In fact, I've see the term used various product advertisements. I don't thing adding the term "neural" adds any clarity to the definition, because, frankly, we don't know if designer(s) we are talking about had neurology in the way we think about it. Even Richard Dawkins' aliens may not have had a neurology that we are familiar with. But they must have had intelligence. There was a long thread here (possibly this: Miracles and the Principle of Causality) which discussed the idea of "natural intelligence" vs "supernatural intelligence". You might find it interesting. Either way, even spiders produce specified complexity that is outside of the range of "unguided natural processes" if you limit "unguided natural processes" to purely physical and chemical processes. I like the term "nano-intentionality". And there is no doubt value in differentiating these forms of intelligence. But I think the point of ID is not how these are different, but how they are the same. So I'm not sure that these differences serve clarify what ID is trying to demonstrate. If we find "human" archeological artifacts from a place or a time where we "know" there were no humans, what are we to conclude? That a supernatural mind created them? Not necessarily. Likewise, if we find other artifacts of intelligence in unexpected places, we don't need to immediately jump to a supernatural explanation. We do, however, need to jump to an intelligent explanation. EndoplasmicMessenger
Interstellar Bill's post seems to be exactly the kind of naturalistic ID that I focus on in my book Getting Past the Culture Wars: Regarding Intelligent Design. I agree that many scientists are willing to consider these types of ID pursuits while distancing themselves from the ID label. That is one of the reasons I would like the definition of ID to be something more neutral which includes the core ideas, but only the core ideas. It would be nice if they felt comfortable using the ID label, but even if the don't, the same science by any other name is likely to accomplish the same ends. Regarding some of the other posts, I am not trying to clarify what ID is, so much as trying to clarify the wording of the definition. As the definition stands now, to simply agree that the "seedlessness" of certain watermelons (certain features of living things) is better explained by an intelligent cause instead of by undirected processes such as natural selection, would put that person under the ID umbrella. I think we should have a more formulaic and precise definition. For instance, if we said that certain features were better explained by non-neural or extra-neural intelligent causes, that might fit better. ID should be something more than just saying that spiders have low intelligence and they use it to create webs and catch flies. Is there a better term to include/encompass things like nano-intentionality, smart cells, and supernatural minds, while excluding intelligence in the form of brains and/or neural systems? Glenn Shrom
Just agreeing with those that have chided PaulBurnett regarding his question about whether acceptance of intelligent causes (versus a singular cause) will cause grief for the monotheists. Once and for all: while ID may (or may not) have metaphysical implications, ID is simply attempting to develop the math and science necessary to reliably detect design within biology (my personal definition, of course). Period. End of story. These red herring statements are a waste of time and indicate either flippancy or ignorance on PaulBurnett's part. I think he can do better. mtreat
So are you saying that intelligent design is officially polytheistic (or officially not monotheistic)? Won’t that lose some of the rigidly monotheistic big-tenters? It is not officially any such thing. I believe you are teasing us. I could agree that it might be better to say "intelligence or intelligences," if it truly causes confusion, except that it is unwieldy. I never took the phrase of 'best explained by an intelligent cause' to define that intelligence as being singular. avocationist
Glenn Schromm, When PaulBurnett says "So are you saying that intelligent design is officially polytheistic (or officially not monotheistic)?", he is of course conflating what a person may believe personally with what ID, as a science, is able to discern. ID asserts only that the information in a cell and its complex molecular machines is best explained by intelligent design. It does not make any statements about the nature of the designer(s) other than they have the technology to manipulate molecules (which is only slightly beyond where human science and technology currently finds itself). ID makes no other statements about the designer. As Richard Dawkins has famously said, aliens could very well be responsible for the design of life. And ID has no problem with that. EndoplasmicMessenger
"So are you saying that intelligent design is officially polytheistic (or officially not monotheistic)?" Someone does not understand ID who should know better. ID has nothing to do with religion so it cannot be either polytheistic or monotheistic. Is this yet another attempt to associate religion with ID by someone who is anti ID. jerry
CDavidParsons (#8) wrote: "The Quest for Right: A Creationist Attack on Quantum Mechanics." Clarence, how many volumes have you paid your vanity publisher for so far? How are the books selling? Do any of them mention intelligent design, or are you still staying strictly YEC? I see you're still touting yourself as a "Biblical Scholar and Scientist Extraordinaire." (If anybody's curious, Clarence's project is at http://www.questforright.com - and here's a discussion about his project: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/01/creationist_physics_101.php. ) PaulBurnett
Joseph (#3) wrote: "True ID does not care about the number of designers. And “best explained by an intelligent cause”- does not limit ID to one designer." So are you saying that intelligent design is officially polytheistic (or officially not monotheistic)? Won't that lose some of the rigidly monotheistic big-tenters? Or are you making a distinction between a possible multiplicity of designers and keeping a single Creator? PaulBurnett
Oramus, "ID further predicts that children born with defects are the product of humanity’s collective choices. We all bear the burden of caring for those people since it is they who bear the burden of our ignorance." Wow, I like that. We often look at our responsibility as solely individualistic - but it's also collective. I think ID will also help us to see what our collective priorities are, instead of feeling around in the dark for solutions to false predicaments, such as global warming. If we look at it from a design perspective, what is really flawed is not the environment (although there are some areas we can improve), but ourselves. Suffering and pain are examples of a decay in our optimal functioning. If we invest our energies in real human issues, such as alleviating suffering and truly caring for the needs of those who suffer, we might be able to reverse the effects. If Darwinism shows that we are evolving, yet the evidence shows that things are the other way around, this leaves profound possibilities. Also if we fail to reverse our thinking on these issues, there will be profound consequences. CannuckianYankee
Kyrilluk, What discoveries should ID make? IMO, ID predicts choice as having true physical power, meaning the choices we make create the effects of disease if they are wrong, maintain our original optimum physical configuration if they are correct. As well, ID further predicts that children born with defects are the product of humanity's collective choices. We all bear the burden of caring for those people since it is they who bear the burden of our ignorance. These are the types of discoveries that ID will make; that will speed up discovery of who/what we really are; what our full potential is. Oramus
Personally, rather than speaking about "Intelligent design", I would prefer speaking about "technology detection". The Human, the Universe, etc.. are nothing else than technology. Of course, you can ask yourself how the natural laws comes into existence, but the main focus should be on analysing the technology. If some secret service come accross a new piece of technology, the last thing they are going to waste their time on is to try to guess how many people actually worked on this piece of technology. They would rather ask themself "what's the purpose of this?" "How can we replicate this?". If Nature is a piece of hightech technology, then studying it with this in mind can allow much more discovery than simply assuming that "things happen". In other words, the real test for ID scientist would be for them, rather than spending all their time trying to show how improbable some stuff are, would be to show how knowing the purpose of things can speed up discoveries. For example, if a Christian believe that the God of luck is the Devil, it shouldnt accept the idea that pure chance is driving the Quantum world. Many people assume that being a good scientist is to be like Budha,without prejudice, without feeling, without a soul. But how comes people like Newton, Maxwell, Farraday, Einstein, etc.. were very passionate people, with deep prejudice about the way the world should be ("God don't play dice" or Maxwell being driven by its faith ,etc..), achieve much more than our very serious (and boring) materialist scientists of todays? Can intuition, for a scientist, can cohabit with a materialist view of the world or does those too anihilate each others ("the world looks like designed..but that's only an illusion. Don't trust your senses")? Kyrilluk
The Linux operating system is the product of countless volunteer individuals from all over the world, so it is the result of a collaborative intelligent cause. It should be noted that Darwinism is a zero-concession, universal truth claim about every aspect of biology, life, and mind -- from the low-level information and information-processing machinery of the cell to human consciousness, ethics, and creativity. Unlike ID proponents, who are perfectly willing to accept that certain aspects of living systems can be accounted for by Darwinian mechanisms (e.g., bacterial antibiotic resistance), Darwinists have staked their entire explanatory claim on the clearly unjustified extrapolation of a trivial observation about self-replicating systems and the introduction of random errors in highly complex informational systems. The zero-concession game is a guaranteed loser in the long run, because extrapolations of simplistic phenomena to explain complex phenomena concerning living systems always end in explanatory disaster. Complex informational stuff can't be explained by lots and lots of simple non-informational stuff and lots and lots of random errors over lots and lots of time. GilDodgen
As a non-fundamentalist Christian(i.e., I am not a young earth creationist), I would like to point out that the book of Genesis does not say that a single entity created the universe and life on earth. The word used is Elohim which means Lords (plural) in Hebrew. There is even cause to suppose that the Elohim were both male and female, at least in the beginning but that's a different subject. In view of the above (speaking as a Christian), I would welcome an ID hypothesis that does not ascribe the design and formation of living organisms to a single intelligent agent. Mapou
"Is the universe “fine tuned” to be suitable for life, or is it “fine tuned” so as to make the production of life unlikely?" Both. jerry
The Quest for Right: A Creationist Attack on Quantum Mechanics. Here's a different take on creationism/ID: The Quest for Right, a multi-volume series on science, attacks Darwinism indirectly, by attacking quantum mechanics. A more sophisticated way to argue against Darwin is certainly to argue against modern physics. Without modern physics, you lose astrophysics too, which enables the author to make the case for YEC [young earth creationism]. The author goes on to prove that things like red supergiant stars and X-ray pulsars don't really exist, except in the imagination of scientists. CDavidParsons
jerry: "2. The universe which in incredibly fine tuned for both life and the ability of intelligent life to observe the universe and that which is in it. 4. The origin of life. The complexity and organization of life is so unlikely due to naturalistic events that this and the universe are the two main instances that ID is seen as a most likely explanation." Is the universe "fine tuned" to be suitable for life, or is it "fine tuned" so as to make the production of life unlikely? iconofid
This is another way of looking at ID versus natualistic evolutionary biology. It is an attempt to demarcate the main issues. Here is a link to this demarcation of what ID is primarily interested in. file:///Users/jerrycosgrove/Documents/Personal/Evolution/UncommonDescent/UD_081207_basic_arg.html#comment-299358 jerry
Many who support ID believe there are six issues for which there is no naturalistic explanation. These are 1. Existence - why does anything exist. This is the biggest mystery of all. 2. The universe which in incredibly fine tuned for both life and the ability of intelligent life to observe the universe and that which is in it. 3. The rareness of the planet Earth. While there have been many attempts to portray Earth as just another planet and just like maybe millions or billions of others in the universe, there is evidence that Earth may be extremely rare. 4. The origin of life. The complexity and organization of life is so unlikely due to naturalistic events that this and the universe are the two main instances that ID is seen as a most likely explanation. 5. The evolution of life from microbes to man requires so many incredibly unlikely steps that this too is seen as a likely area for ID. Though not every step. Many could be due to naturalistic processes but some of the transitions defy imagination. Like the origin of life, most of the argument for this is based on the analysis of the information that has to be created to make an organism function. Some think that an intelligence could have designed the universe so that the initial conditions and the boundary conditions would lead inexorably to complex life forms such as humans. In other words humans were inevitable given the design of the universe. 6. The origin of consciousness and free will. It is thought that these traits only reside in humans. This is an area that many believe requires an ID input to achieve. There are some who believe that an intelligence has been instrumental in all these areas and there are some who think that the input has been minimal at the various stages and may only reside in the creation of the universe and all else flowed from this act of design. Some others believe that the origin of life is the second area that requires an intelligent input. In reality there is no uniform theory of ID and there shouldn't be one except to say that a certain entity was probably designed or not. Design as an event is a singularity and not an ongoing process such as "Molecular Theory of Gases" or the theory of "Electromagnetism." Thus, there is no normal detection procedure since the events may have been one time events and long ago. Thus, ID looks at various entities and determines if these entities could result from any known naturalistic process. If not, then the entity is said to have a high likelihood of being designed. But there is always the possibility that there could be a natural explanation. jerry
I suppose we're making progress if the complaint is that "cause" should be plural! Keep in mind that a design team can be the cause of a design. So even though we can talk of a single cause of a design, that cause could be the result the work of multiple individual entities. It would be incorrect to say that this design team was the "causes" of a design. This is a distinction without a difference. The term we should be focusing on here is "intelligent". Second, the definition says that ID is "a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory." This is the main point. Evolutionary Theory claims there is no design at all, not a single iota's worth, in the "apparent" design of living things. If you have trouble with this, then you have a problem with evolutionary theory, not ID. 1 - Does “features” include behaviors? Complex features produce complex behaviors. So the two are closely related. ID embraces both. 2 - Are we clear that we are not simply looking at those “certain features” which are manmade? I don't think the Cambrian Explosion or the Mammalian Radiation are man-made features. Neither is the bacterial flagellum. You must first understand that Evolutionary Theory allows for not a single iota of design. You must also realize the immense sophistication of biological design. Your ignorance about this and the basic tenants of ID indicate that you may benefit from a basic primer on ID. I would recommend Demski's The Design of Life to get a comprehensive introduction. 3 - Would it be sufficient to distinguish between manmade and natural, or would there need to be a category of neural intelligence versus non-neural intelligence, so as to include all animal intelligence along with human intelligence? You first need to ask how Evolutionary Theory views intelligence. The short answer is that Evolutionary Theory does not recognize the existence of intelligence at all. Intelligence is an illusion. There are only randomly interacting atoms and molecules in the brain producing the illusion of intelligence. The ID position is that intelligence is real. Your questions about intelligence would be meaningful to an ID proponent. They would be meaningless to an orthodox proponent of Evolutionary Theory such as Richard Dawkins. But to try to answer your question, ID proposes that the biological design evident in the first cell and every cell since then is real, actual, design, not just "apparent" design. If you think "man" was around at the creation of the first cell, well, then, maybe this is man-made design. If you don't, it still real design. That is, there must have been some designer. It's not just "apparent" design. There are folks on this blog who have a far better and deeper grasp of ID than I. But they often don't have the time to answer basic questions. Since you seem have sincere questions on the topic, I, and perhaps some others, would be willing to try to answer them as time permits. EndoplasmicMessenger
True ID does not care about the number of designers. And “best explained by an intelligent cause”- does not limit ID to one designer. And Dr Behe is on record as saying that ID does not attempt to explain everything. Joseph
Denyse, I see no problem with making intelligence plural to be more inconclusive. It doesn't change anything as far as I am concerned. However, maybe others have a different opinion. For the second point, I suggest that Glenn Schromm read something I posted last September about what ID is about. https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/november-apologetics-conference-we-need-more-than-good-arguments/#comment-296129 It certainly covers the idea that if something can be shown to be due to naturalistic processes that ID would have no problem with admitting it. This again is my point of view. Also there is the issue that certain designed things in this world are the result of relatively low intelligence organism such as spiders, termites, ants etc. And there is the finding in the fossil record of trace fossils or traces left by living things such as worms which in a way is a variant of design or proof of a life form. There may be other things that Glenn would like to ask about and others could chip in with their opinions. jerry
I agree that positing intelligent causes as individual and finite indeed puts ID on a more scientific tack. When we observe and experiment with living things we can't possibly think of ourselves as experimenting with God, but it's not at all far-fetched to think of ourselves as dealing with beings rather than things. Once the Siamese-twin superstitions of Darwinism and artificial intelligence are abandoned and their ideological blinders are gone, then finite biological designers can be theorized, conceived of, and experimentally confirmed. Such a designer necessarily uses the language of biochemicals, and operates at the nano-level (Google the phrase "nano-intentionality"). What is crucial is to go beyond the entelechy of vitalism and have an operational definition of the cell's individual intelligence, so one could 'quiz' its ability to innovate. A successful ID, for example, would enable us to augment plant cells with the ability to grow meat-fruit or house-trees, to augment the cells of our bodies with new metabolic pathways and capabilities, such as for countering infectious and parasitic diseases, malnutrition, and ageing. Look for ID-opponents to attempt a hijack and co-optation of this field, so that it never gets called 'ID'. Interstelar Bill

Leave a Reply