Intelligent Design

Dr. Moran, Misplaced Confidence, and Capricious Arguments

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On a recent thread, ID critic Larry Moran seemed to take great joy in mischaracterizing the science of design detection as ID/Creationism. That’s no surprise, of course, but I was amused by his rather strange proclivity to swagger in with a sneer and stumble out with a gaffe.

If you are going to write this: “I have no respect for hypocrites, liars, and people who don’t take the time to learn about the subject they are attacking.”

You don’t want to follow with this: “Intelligent Design Creationism grew out of Scientific Creationism when its leaders decided they needed a new word to try and disguise the religious basis of their agenda.”

It just isn’t good form to complain about ignorant people while making manifestly ignorant statements. Naturally, I warned him about following in the footsteps of the intellectually challenged Barbara Forrest, who prides herself as the mother of this fairy tale. In keeping with that point, I felt a moral obligation to apprise him of the facts.

Creationism moves forward: that is, it assumes, asserts or accepts something about what God or the Bible has to say about origins; then interprets nature in that context.

Intelligent design moves backward: that is, it observes something interesting in nature (design patterns) and then theorizes and tests possible ways how they might have come to be. Creationism is faith-based; Intelligent Design is empirically-based.

Each approach has a pedigree that goes back over two thousand years. We find the “forward” approach in Tertullian, Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Anselm. Augustine described it best with the phrase, “faith seeking understanding.” With these thinkers, the investigation was faith-based.

By contrast, we discover the “backward” orientation in Justin Martyr, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley. Aristotle’s argument, which begins with “motion in nature” and reasons BACK to a “prime mover” — i.e. from effect to its “best” causal explanation — is obviously empirically based.

Contrary to Dr. Moran’s whimsical scenarios, neither formulation “came out of the other.” This is simply a fact. It is not something that it may be true, or something that is it probably true—it is obviously true, at least for anyone who knows anything about the subject.

Normally, I would leave it at that, but Moran, who says he likes to “pull our chains,” displays an uncanny talent for placing those same chains around his own neck with his intemperate remarks. Undeterred by my refutations or others’ superior knowledge of history, Moran takes another leap into fantasyland and informs us that Philip Johnson himself, father of the ID movement, admitted that ID is just another form of Biblical creationism. To support this incredible claim, Moran offers this out-of-context quote:

“The essential point of creation has nothing to do with the timing or the mechanisms the Creator chose to employ, but with the element of design or purpose. In the broadest sense, a “creationist” is simply a person who believes that the world (and especially mankind) was designed, and exists for a purpose.”

Now it should be clear to everyone except unthinking, anti-ID partisans that Johnson is speaking here of a belief system, not a scientific methodology. Indeed, Johnson has already addressed the question about the differences between creationism and ID, directly and in context:

“When people ask me whether this [ID] is creationism relabeled, one thing that always occurs to me is that the real creationist organizations are highly critical of intelligent design, because they say it doesn’t do the job that is the very essence of creationism. It doesn’t defend the Bible from the very first verse. It doesn’t defend the Bible at all, and it doesn’t even defend Christianity.”

“It’s saying that there’s an intelligence, but the intelligence could be natural as well as supernatural. And that if you assume it’s supernatural, what the God is—well, we have nothing to say about what kind of God it is. It isn’t limited to one particular kind of religion, to Christianity or to a particular kind of Christianity. If you want, it can be the Muslim god.”

Did you get that Dr. Moran? “The intelligence could be natural.” This is your main witness Philip Johnson speaking. Unlike Creationism, ID “doesn’t defend the Bible or Christianity.” In other words, Creationism is faith based; ID is empirically based. Sound familiar? I wonder why Moran would think he can get away with this kind of nonsense on an ID website.

So, what is it exactly that prompts Darwinists and Neo-Darwinists (Moran insists that he is not a mainstream Darwinist) to embrace this strange combination of cockiness and cluelessness? Why do they so consistently mangle context, ignore intellectual distinctions, and resort to motive mongering? One reason may be that they cannot conceive of any other paradigm other than their own monistic world view.

A few years ago, a well read Cosmologist suggested that the Big Bang Theory may be science’s account of the same historical event described in the Book of Genesis when God said, “Let there be light.” The scientist’s point was this: Truth is unified, but it often manifests itself in many ways and in multiple disciplines. It can, therefore, be discovered in more than one context, in different forms, and with different degrees of certainty.

In a similar fashion, William Dembski once spoke publicly about the “religious implications” of intelligent design. In effect, he considered the possible connection between the designer, who is the object of science’s design inference, and “Logos theory, which is the rational principle expressed in the St. John’s Gospel. Perhaps, he reasoned, the latter could be the Theological equivalent of the former.

Barbara Forrest, noticing that the words “intelligent design” and “Logos Theory” were present in the same speech, disregarded the significance of the term “religious implications,” and drew the mindless conclusion that Dembski was, in effect, admitting that ID science is faith based. Not one to be inhibited by undue scrupulosity, Forrest institutionalized her error under oath at the Dover trial.

Judge John Jones, a fellow Darwinist, covered for Forrest’s egregious conceptual error as only a judge can. During his testimony, Michael Behe had made the eminently reasonable point that ID is “consistent with religion.” That is a far cry from saying, as Forrest’s friends at the ACLU claimed, that ID “depends on religion.” Jones, determined to craft a Darwinist friendly interpretation, simply put the ACLU’s words in Behe’s mouth in his final written decision. Mission accomplished. On the one hand, his outrageous misrepresentation was subtle enough to escape the notice of most observers; on the other hand, it was devastating enough to harm ID’s reputation as a scientific enterprise.

In effect, Darwinists who characterize ID as Creationism are either too intellectually dishonest or too intellectually challenged to differentiate between methods and motives. Was Philip Johnson “motivated” to help liberate a culture that has been suffocated by the tenets of materialist Darwinism? Of course. Was Ben Stein motivated to expose Darwinist tyrants in the academy? Most definitely. Are Christians motivated to teach pagans that God’s universe is rational? Without a doubt. Is Barbara Forrest motivated to promote her Atheist agenda as a board member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association? Absolutely. What does any of this have to do with ID’s methods for detecting design? Nothing. Can the God of the Bible be extracted from or found in “specified complexity” or “irreducible complexity” Obviously not. Do any of these facts matter to Darwinists? Not a chance.

Moran is playing the same game as his Darwinist friends. It requires no creative sensibility or intellectual exertion to repeat their talking points and pepper them with a few insults.

21 Replies to “Dr. Moran, Misplaced Confidence, and Capricious Arguments

  1. 1
    Steno says:

    StephenB writes “In other words, Creationism is faith based; ID is empirically based.” McGrath’s approach, in A Fine Tuned Universe is to to show that it is a fallacy to divide the question into ‘faith’ and ‘evidence.’ If we say we can establish the truth of God from ‘evidence in nature’ are we not elevating ‘evidence in nature’ to the place of God? Barth considered such natural theology to be a tower of Babel. This approach doesn’t address one of the main fallacies of the Enlightenment, a belief that knowledge of God can be gained through reason alone. It ignores the presence of a sensus divinitatis, the eyes of the heart, that allows people to see design when they are healed in Christ. ID is as much faith based as creationism, and as faith based as those who hold to naturalism and Darwinism, but the question is what faith? and where does it lead? To God or to nature?

  2. 2
    O'Leary says:

    For my book, By Design or by Chance?, I studied the origin of modern creationism and of ID, and found them to be quite different.

    Modern creationism is mostly a post-WWII phenomenon, a reaction to modernism and liberal theology (run mad).

    ID originated in the failure of Darwinism against the standards of information science, and started to take shape in the late 1980s. That Darwin’s mechanism fails does not, of course, mean that some other succeeds. All that must be decided by evidence.

    The people involved were not especially interested in politics; they found themselves in a politically charged situation because, after all, any lecture room mediocrity can be a Darwinist, in fact your Sunday paper features editor can be a proud Darwinist while knowing almost nothing about practically everything.

    Which reminds me, Steno at 1: “If we say we can establish the truth of God from ‘evidence in nature’ are we not elevating ‘evidence in nature’ to the place of God?”:

    See Romans 1:20 (I assume you are a Christian).

    As it happens, if one is disposed to think, rather than feel, evidence from nature rules out certain propositions, without necessarily establishing others. It makes some conclusions wrong, even if the “eyes of the heart” are utterly convinced they are true. Evidence always does that, which is why so many prefer to think with their gut.

  3. 3
    tjguy says:

    Steno, I agree that all ideas of creation and the emergence of life are faith based.

    “Creationism moves forward: that is, it assumes, asserts or accepts something about what God or the Bible has to say about origins; then interprets nature in that context.
    Intelligent design moves backward: that is, it observes something interesting in nature (design patterns) and then theorizes and tests possible ways how they might have come to be. Creationism is faith-based; Intelligent Design is empirically-based.”

    I am what you would call a true creationist. I agree that the universe was intelligently designed, but I don’t agree with the common descent thing because, God, the only witness to the whole thing, reveals something very different than that in His Word. Yes, creationism is faith-based, butlike Steno said, I believe that both ID and Darwinism are also faith-based.

    Darwinists have their materialistic worldview and they simply assume that there was no intelligence involved and they only look for answers that agree with their worldview.

    And even IDers, who like to try and portray themselves as in the middle and totally unbiased, have their own set of a priori statements. For instance, an IDer would probably agree with the dates given by evolutionists for rocks and the age of the universe, but to do so, he would have to agree with the scientist’s assumptions upon which the dating methods are based.

    For instance, take radiometric dating. To read any radiometric clock accurately, we would have to know where the clock was set at the beginning. This requires assumptions since no one was there when the earth and it’s many rock layers were formed so it is really impossible to know where the radiometric clocks were set at the beginning.
    When scientists date rocks, they simply measure the products of the change, which they assume took place in the past. To expand on the previous statement, scientists cannot know the original number of unstable atoms in rocks. Their measurements only tell them how many stable and unstable atoms remain in the rocks at that point.

    And, furthermore, scientists can not know if the decay rate in the past was always stable or uniform. So they just assume the decay rates were always the same as what they see happening today. A reasonable inference perhaps, but one which could certainly be wrong. In fact, it is very likely that radioactive decay rates were greatly sped up at some point in the past, like maybe during the worldwide flood.

    Another assumption is that the rocks have not been contaminated at all during their history, but again, this is not known. It seems highly possible that rocks inherited parent and daughter isotopes from their sources, or they may have been contaminated when they moved through other rocks to their current locations. Or inflowing water may have mixed isotopes into the rocks. These assumptions make radiometric dating hopelessy untrustworthy. Other dating methods are plagued with similar problems.

    Whether these assumptions are true or not is beside the point. I do not believe they are because of the Bible’s historical record, but regardless, right or wrong, the evolutionist must make improvable assumptions based on his materialistic worldview when using radiometric dating. Most ID scientists would agree to those assumptions and thus they have their own set of a priori assumptions upon which their acceptance of certain scientific interpretations are based.

    “In effect, Darwinists who characterize ID as Creationism are either too intellectually dishonest or too intellectually challenged to differentiate between methods and motives.”

    Agreed. I think they find it a useful lie to try and diss ID scientists and make them look bad. But most people can see through this and in the end, I think they lose credibility when people find out the difference. So, I think we keep on fighting to make the difference clear. In time, I think they will experience why it really is wrong to lie. I don’t want to accuse them all of lying. Some probably honestly believe what they have heard said about ID, although it is probably something they want to believe and have not checked it out for themselves.

  4. 4
    Steno says:

    Denyse – in Phillip Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial there are only a few index references to intelligent design, in books by Henry Morris from the 1980s there are many pages on design arguments that mirror ID. But what happened in the 1970s-90s-00s is that non Christians or deists became interested in design, hence a separate ID movement, but creationists use the same arguments. The question is, how can creationists and Christian ID proponents work together?

    But back to Romans 1:20. In Romans 1:19-20 we see that Paul asserts that God has made the design evidence known to people, but then from vs 21-25 we see people willfully reject that knowledge and exchange the truth for a lie. Augustine’s beliefs was that there was evidence of the vestigial Trinitatis – ‘Footprints of the Trinity’ plus the sensus divinitatis, a divine sense in us. In other words our ability to see design evidence begins in human insight. Polanyi also beleived in the presence of such sense that goes beyond the five senses. He also talked about Gestalt Pschology that allows people to see patterns and shapes without recourse to calculation. i.e. we can recognise an egg without measuring it. The same Gestalt Psychology allows us to see design, and there is a strong correlation between believing in laws of nature and seeing design.

    The questions that McGrath raises in his book is concerned with developing a theological framework for natural theology that takes account of such psychology. This he calls Trinitarian Natural Theology. McGrath though beleives that the shape of the intelligent design argument doesn’t address one of the errors of the Enlightenment; the belief that knowledge of God can be gathered from reason and the five senses alone.

  5. 5
    Matteo says:

    Excellent post.

    What amazes me is that people who are constitutionally incapable of tracing the origins of a heavily-documented movement that’s been around for only twenty years expect to be trusted in tracing out and explaining the unfolding of life over 4 billion years. If Mr. Moran is too ignorant and/or biased to get the first item right, why should we trust him on the second?

  6. 6
    William J. Murray says:

    This is the new reality of debate on virtually any topic, not just ID. What matters is manipulating the emotions via rhetoric; facts and logic are only used where convenient and supportive, and disposed of when not.

    Unfortunately, when one has dominance in the media, rhetoric and ad hominem are what wins the day because it becomes the de facto, accepted truth just through repetitive quantity.

  7. 7
    Bantay says:

    I offered Mr. Moran the last word in a previous discussion, but only an eerie silence in reply. Why the silence all of a sudden Mr. Moran?

    You said

    “I very much enjoy the rough-and-tumble of real debates on the internet. I have no intention of hiding my disgust at most Intelligent Design Creationists and I do not demand that they cease and desist in their attacks on me and my fellow scientists. ”

    Mr. Moran, obviously you enjoy giving it out, but it seems that you don’t have skin thick enough to take it. I hope you prove me wrong.

    In any case, if questioning and testing a scientific theory (it’s what scientists do, after all) is an attack and such attacks are wrong, then what of science?

    Since you did not reply before, I hope you will entertain us with an intelligent response to the following.

    “There are plenty of scientists who, using good scientific principles and methods, end up making a personal decision of God being the best explanation. There is no battle between science and religion there.

    Mr. Moran, evidence is what it is regardless of how man interprets it. What some atheist scientists would prefer, is that it would be totally acceptable for atheists to begin their research under the predication that ‘there is no God whatsoever,’ but its wrong for a scientist who believes in God to say,
    “After viewing the evidence for design along with the evidence for purely natural, unguided processes I have found that there is reason to believe this is a theistic universe or that the evidence for an intelligent designer is equally valid.”

    This kind of double standard is unacceptable.

    And besides, there is no battle between science and religion, since naturalists themselves appeal to a philosophical view that must be accepted on faith.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ime26rNGWDI

    Thank you for your comments, and best regards. The last word is yours, Mr. Moran.”

  8. 8
    O'Leary says:

    I wonder if, after listening to all this, Dr. Moran will heed my invitation to explain his theory of evolution here. I was kind of hoping.

  9. 9
    O'Leary says:

    Also just a thought, StephenB: You write “Naturally, I warned him about following in the footsteps of the intellectually challenged Barbara Forrest, who prides herself as the mother of this fairy tale. In keeping with that point, I felt a moral obligation to apprise him of the facts.”

    Are we quite sure it’s fair to compare Larry Moran with Barbara Forrest? Forrest perpetrated a disgraceful truther/birther attack on a Baylor philosophy prof in a respected journal, and the journal hastily disowned the article.

    Yes, really, here.

    Has our Larry ever done anything like that? I’d be surprised; it doesn’t sound like his thing. Perhaps you could convince me, but …

  10. 10
    utidjian says:

    O’Leary your link in #9 goes to a closed page.

  11. 11
    StephenB says:

    Denyse, thanks for the opportunity to clarify. Looking back to my comments, I wrote this:

    “Naturally, I warned him [LM] about following in the footsteps of the intellectually challenged Barbara Forrest, who prides herself as the mother of this fairy tale [ID came out of creationism].”

    [A] With those words I was exorthing him not to follow Forrest’s lead by believing her account on this one pivotal matter, or “[this] fairy tale.” By warning him not to do it, I was not asserting that he was doing it, but rather, if he is doing it, he should not do it because her account is not credible.

    [B] By focusing on “this fairy tail,” I was narrowing in only on one aspect of Forrest’s disengenous behavior. I was not suggesting that LM follows Forrest’s actions or motives in all things or anything close to that.

    Bottom line: I hold Forrest accountable for either willfully distorting facts or for being to dim-witted to comprehend the thematic context of Behe and Dembski’s statements. I hold LM accountable only for taking her seriously if, indeed, that is where is getting his information.

  12. 12
    O'Leary says:

    Sorry, utidjian at 10, I think it’s fixed now.

    Hi, StephenB at 11, Okay, yes, I see, we are warning him away from trutherism. The consequences can certainly be dreadful, so I do understand.

    I see Moran as struggling with the fact that Darwinism doesn’t really work, but unsure what to do next. He is mad at us because we exist – a common enough reaction in these situations.

    And way off the wall. We are not his problem. Neo- and ultra-Darwinism is. It’s all a crock, but every Sunday Supplement editor with more hair than brains believes it and passes it on.

    And we did not create, or even contribute to that situation, ironically.

    Perhaps Dr. Moran has a viable theory of evolution, but he would have difficulty advancing it in the current environment.

    Still, the offer here is open. We, after all, don’t care what the Neo’s and the Ultra’s think. Their opinion just couldn’t matter less.

  13. 13
    StephenB says:

    Steno writes: “If we say we can establish the truth of God from ‘evidence in nature’ are we not elevating ‘evidence in nature’ to the place of God? Barth considered such natural theology to be a tower of Babel.”

    I do hold that God’s existence can be established through natural theology or philosophy [not with ID’s scientific paradigms in their current form, which can only point to a designer]. As Denyse suggests, the evidence for God’s existence is consistent with Roman’s 1:20. The point of that passage, I would argue, is to reassure us that the Christian faith is based on reason—that we are not taking a mindless leap in the dark when we accept God’s revelation in Scripture.

    Here, we must distinguish between “rationality” [the capacity of the intellect to know natural truths and reconcile them with the revealed Truths of Scripture (which must be accepted on faith)] vs. “rationalism” [the false doctrine that the intellect alone can discover ALL truth– that no faith is necessary– that there is no such thing as revealed truth].

    Reason, though essential and necessary, cannot suffice for faith. Natural theology, through reason, can tell us only about God’s revelation in nature. God reveals his person in Scripture. Only the latter can save us, and some faith is required—though that faith commitment, unlike some other faith commitments, is reasonable. Any leap of faith should be subjected to the test of reason. If it isn’t reasonable, we should not take it. Many people claim to speak for God and the only way we can separate authentic messages from inauthentic messages is test them against the standards of reason.

    I can’t agree with your other statement, however, that ID, as a scientific enterprise, is faith based. If it was faith based, that is, if it presupposed God’s existence, then the scientist would not be making a design inference at all, he would simply be smuggling his assumptions into his conclusions. An inference begins with an observation, not an assumption. I do agree that there is a tradition that begins with faith and not observation, which is a point I tried to make in the post. That approach, however, is not the ID approach.

  14. 14
    StephenB says:

    @11 should read. “I was exhorting him…. not “exorting” him. So many typos to make, so little time.

  15. 15
    GilDodgen says:

    Denyse: I see Moran as struggling with the fact that Darwinism doesn’t really work, but unsure what to do next. He is mad at us because we exist – a common enough reaction in these situations.

    People like Moran have their worldview (and careers) so completely invested in materialism and Darwinism that it has become their raison d’être. Should this faith become empirically, mathematically, logically, and evidentally unsupportable, their reason for being would be destroyed. Thus we see reactions such as his.

    I was once in Moran’s camp, but fortunately I am also a mathematician and engineer, which he is obviously not. These rigorous sciences leave no room for speculation accepted as fact. If your computer code crashes you were wrong. If the airplane you designed crashes you were wrong.

    There is no such rigorous standard concerning biological evolutionary theory. In fact, the exact opposite is true: Make up stuff out of whole cloth with no evidence, and if any dissent is expressed by people with qualifications in the truly rigorous scientific disciplines, label them as “creationists” and go on your merry way making up more illogical and bizarre stories that make no sense.

    Moran’s evolutionary speculations are in the same category as phlogiston theory, geocentricism, and an infinitely old universe, all of which were proclaimed as irrefutable scientific truth in their era.

    Anyone with any awareness of where rigorous science and technology have gone in the last half century should be able to identify Darwinism as the biggest pseudo-scientific hoax ever perpetuated in the history of pseudo-scientific hoaxes.

  16. 16
    O'Leary says:

    Hey, Gil, neo/ultra-Darwinism all sounds like a crock-a-saurus to me too. But the offer stands, if Dr. Moran wishes to tell us how he thinks it happened. I actually think genetic drift could make more sense. I don’t know how much it could do, but it could do something.

    But we’ll see.

  17. 17
    bornagain77 says:

    I’ve really wondered for a long time at the motivation of people like Dr. Moran, Meyers, Dawkins, etc.. etc.. For surely they are not ignorant, and are very capable of grasping the fact that the complexity found in the simplest bacterium far, far, outclasses our most advanced super-computers! And are also well aware of the sheer poverty of evolutionary processes to generate any complexity at all, much less the mind-numbing complexity we find in molecular biology. Surely they can’t actually believe the shallow lies they spout day after day, especially when faced with these facts! Is it money? power? prestige? I just don’t get what the payoff is for them!

    Matthew 16:26
    What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

    G.O.S.P.E.L. Poetry Slam; To The Point
    http://vimeo.com/20960385

  18. 18
    Steno says:

    Stephen B – you wrote “I can’t agree with your other statement, however, that ID, as a scientific enterprise, is faith based. If it was faith based, that is, if it presupposed God’s existence, then the scientist would not be making a design inference at all, he would simply be smuggling his assumptions into his conclusions.”

    All knowledge claims must begin in belief, as even David Hume recognised, from this we are faced with the problem of induction. Logical deductive reasoning must begin with a belief that is not held on the basis of deduction. So we are forced to use inferences that are either inductive or abductive – i.e. probabalistic.

    ID begins with a core belief that design in nature is real (or else no one would be looking for it), and from this belief it follows deductively that there is a real designer. Real design = real designer. There is nothing wrong with this, dogmatic core beliefs form the basis for Lakatos’ approach to scientific research programmes. If we don’t hold to core beliefs then we risk relativism, which is not a good basis on which to do science.

  19. 19
    StephenB says:

    —Steno: “ID begins with a core belief that design in nature is real (or else no one would be looking for it), and from this belief it follows deductively that there is a real designer. Real design = real designer.”

    I don’t think that you are distinguishing between motives and methods. Can you provide any evidence to support your assertion that ID METHODOLOGY begins with the “core belief” that design is real?

  20. 20
    GilDodgen says:

    bornagain77: Surely they can’t actually believe the shallow lies they spout day after day, especially when faced with these facts! Is it money? power? prestige? I just don’t get what the payoff is for them!

    I can answer your questions with much authority, having been there myself. Money, power and prestige certainly play a role with people like Dawkins, but universally, Darwinists and materialists are motivated by an unwillingness to examine their personal lives objectively, and admit their (dare I say) inherently sinful and fallen nature. They somehow want to find an escape hatch.

    By all worldly standards I’ve been a model of ethics, hard work, responsibility, etc. But once my first daughter was born I was haunted by my nihilistic atheism. In my soul I somehow knew that I would be condemning her to a life of ultimate meaninglessness which I had logically concluded at the age of seven, based on my atheism.

    But I discovered that the basis of my atheism and materialism made no logical sense, and, with the help of a Christian mentor, my life was totally transformed in so many ways I could not possibly describe them — and they have all been good.

    So, bornagain77, I understand where these people are. Unfortunately, they have dug themselves into such a deep hole that they cannot get out. No amount of evidence or logic will ever convince them. They have condemned themselves by refusing to listen. This is how I interpret the Biblical admonition that there is only one unforgivable sin: the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. When evidence, logic, and the cries of one’s soul are no longer heeded, and purposefully rejected, one is hopelessly lost and irredeemable.

  21. 21
    bornagain77 says:

    Gil, that is deep!

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