Intelligent Design

Fishing trip: A short essay on Intelligent Design, theology and metaphysics

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My previous post, An exchange with an ID skeptic seems to have kicked off a firestorm of criticism. So many readers of this post have rebuked me with the question, “Why didn’t you argue [XYZ], when you were debating Dr. McGrath?” that I feel obliged to respond.

My goals, in engaging with Dr. McGrath

First of all, my dialogue with Dr. McGrath was an exchange of views, as I clearly stated in my opening paragraph. It was not a debate, and it was never intended to be such. Consequently, questions about who won are entirely beside the point. I wasn’t aiming for a “knock-out blow.” Dr. McGrath did a very good job of defending his viewpoint; and for that, I salute him. However, my real intention, in our little exchange, was to sound him out, and elicit from him what kind of Christianity he espoused.

And that brings me to my second point. I was engaging Dr. McGrath as a fellow Christian. He is, after all, an Associate Professor of Religion, and he repeatedly declares on his blog that Christians don’t have to believe in Intelligent Design or Creationism – indeed, he even considers these views theologically harmful. I wanted to know what beliefs he considered essential to Christianity.

In other words, I was quite deliberately encouraging Dr. McGrath to talk theology. To use an angling metaphor, you could say that I was on a fishing trip. I was hoping he would “bite” – and he did. (By the way, the image above is courtesy of Adrian Pingstone and Wikipedia.)

So, what is essential to Dr. McGrath’s version of Christianity, as someone who believes God made a self-organizing universe? The short answer is: not much. Dr. McGrath believes in God; however, he seems to identify with panentheism (“Panentheism is a term that I find helpful”) – the view that Nature is in God. Dr. McGrath doesn’t necessarily believe that God is a spirit: he writes that the radical panentheistic view that God always has a body, and that the universe is His body, “is not inherently antithetical to Christianity since the rise of creation ex nihilo in Christianity seems to have emerged in response to Gnosticism.” He doesn’t necessarily see God as a Creator of the cosmos, either: indeed, he speaks highly of “radically emergent theism, or process thought which has God relating to the world akin to a soul and body.” As far as I can tell, Dr. McGrath doesn’t necessarily think God created the laws of Nature; nor does he believe in miracles. As might be expected, he doesn’t believe in the Divinity of Christ. Additionally, Dr. McGrath doesn’t appear to believe in an immaterial human soul; rather, he says that our minds are an inevitable outcome of our DNA (“it is DNA which gives rise to minds which create language with syntax”) – indeed, he even argues that DNA moulds our thinking, leading us to think of everything in terms of information (“Humans think in terms of information, but we are products of DNA,” as he puts it). I was very struck by the fact that Dr. McGrath appeared wedded to emergentist materialism in his account of mind: the philosophical arguments I put forward against materialism relating to the intrinsic intentionality (or meaningfulness) of our thoughts, appeared not to make the slightest impression on him. To be fair, however, Dr. McGrath rejects determinism.

I thought that this information, in and of itself, would have made very interesting news for readers. Dr. McGrath was opposing Intelligent Design as un-Christian, but his own theological viewpoint could hardly be called Christian: it would be better described as post-Christian. Indeed, I was quite surprised at how far “left of center” Dr. McGrath had drifted, under the influence of his theological presuppositions.

What Intelligent Design has to say about metaphysics and theology

Speaking of theological presuppositions brings me to my third point. Intelligent Design, as a scientific research program, has no theological presuppositions whatsoever, but it certainly has theological and metaphysical implications galore. Here are some metaphysical implications:

(i) information is a basic category, irreducible to matter and energy;

(ii) teleology cannot be eliminated from science: it is a fundamental feature of the universe;

(iii) biological life is a highly specific target, with a very low probability of eventuating as a result of a blind search;

(iv) therefore the only reasonable conclusion is that the source of the information that produced life is intelligent;

(v) the source of the information that produced life cannot be reduced to purely material or natural causes, as these, too, would have had to have been loaded with information;

(vi) hence mind cannot be reduced to the machinations of matter – for even if we were somehow able to show that the human mind arose from living matter (self-replicating DNA), the mind that generated the information contained in the matter that originally gave rise to life must itself be beyond matter.

And now for some theological implications. If the ultimate source of the information contained in life and the cosmos is indeed God, then we can make the following statements about God:

(i) He is immaterial and transcendent;

(ii) He designed the universe to be informationally porous. That means miracles are possible, in principle, although front-loading is also a theological possibility;

(iii) He couldn’t have made a universe capable of rapidly locating small, highly specific targets (such as organic life) without the need for the input of any information, either at the beginning of time or subsequently (I’ll say more about this below); and

(iv) As well as being a “top-down” God Who makes things function and designs them with a certain built-in teleology, He’s also a “bottom-up” God, Who focuses on form, since the biological ends He wishes living things to attain do not, in and of themselves, dictate the structure and arrangement of the molecules He uses to accomplish His ends.

Hence – and this brings me to my fourth point – I was inclined to let Dr. McGrath’s remark slide when he wrote, “I do appreciate that you are not pretending that ID is not about God and metaphysics – such honesty is refreshing compared to many ID proponents I have talked with in the past.” Some readers have asked why I did that, as the remark insinuated that many ID proponents were being deceitful. It was a rather snarky thing to say, but my over-riding objective, in our exchange, was to give Dr. McGrath a chance to talk about his theological worldview. I also sensed that he had a lot to get off his chest, as he had been banned from Uncommon Descent seven years ago, and was still fuming about it. (See here [as far as I can tell, Dr. McGrath was perfectly civil in his comments, before he was banned], here and here.)

I had a hunch that if Dr. McGrath were given the opportunity to talk for as long as he liked, he would finally reveal his true colors, theologically speaking. And that is precisely what he did. Letting a barbed remark slide was a small price to pay, for what I got in return. We can now see where Dr. McGrath’s theology leads: towards a view of the world as God’s body.

Fifth, I thought, nevertheless, that Dr. McGrath’s remark (quoted above) contained a valid point, however ungraciously expressed it may have been. Intelligent Design is indeed a scientific research program, but as we saw above, it does have quite a lot to say about theology and metaphysics. Hence to claim that “ID is not about God and metaphysics” is arrant nonsense. Indeed, practically every field of human inquiry is about God and metaphysics, to some extent, and it is difficult to think of a single field of knowledge that doesn’t touch on one of the “Big Three” questions raised by the artist Paul Gauguin – “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”

Even if science cannot positively tell us what God is like, it can still tell us what He is not like. Darwin’s Origin of Species, for instance, claimed to rule out the existence of a certain conception of God that was very widespread in the 19th century: an interventionist Deity Who created each and every species. It also claimed that even the most advanced forms of life could be explained as the product of simple laws like gravity, working inexorably over the course of time. Whatever we may think of Darwin’s arguments, they were obviously about God and metaphysics, to a very large extent. The religious and metaphysical bias in evolutionary thinking continues to this day. As Intelligent Design proponent Cornelius Hunter roundly declares, “Evolution is a religious theory… Religion drives science, and it matters.”

And insofar as the Intelligent Design worldview clashes with Darwin’s, then obviously, it’s going to have to say a lot about about God and metaphysics, also. (If X is a metaphysical statement, then so is the negation of X; and of course, the same goes for theological statements, too.)

What God can and cannot do

Sixth, in response to those readers of my previous post who claim that God could have made a universe capable of making itself, but that He simply chose not to, my answer is: “No, He couldn’t.” I would suggest that these readers go and re-read Dembski’s and Marks’ paper on Life’s Conservation Law. On page 23, Dembski and Marks describe the Law of Conservation of Information (LCI) as “a family of theorems sharing certain common features.” Note that word: theorems. LCI is a mathematical result that makes no assumptions whatsoever about the laws of Nature. Don’t believe me? Go and have a look at the paper, and show me where Dembski and Marks assume the truth of any physical laws in the three Three Conservation of Information Theorems they derive in Part 6. That means it’s logically necessary – i.e. true in all possible worlds, and not just in this one. God could no more make a universe that was infallibly capable of hitting very small, highly specific targets (such as biological life) in a very short time, than He could make a square circle.

Nevertheless, the idea that God could have made the world by an accidental process dies hard. No less a figure than Fr. John Henry Newman (who looked kindly on Darwin’s theory) wrote to his friend Canon Walker in 1868, arguing that we show no disrespect to God if we suppose that “He gave matter such laws as by their blind instrumentality moulded and constructed through innumerable ages the world as we see it… and I do not [see] that ‘the accidental evolution of organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design. – It is accidental to us, not to God.” What this talk of accident vs. design obscures is the point (emphasized by Dembski and Marks in their paper) that you cannot explain a system’s ability to hit a target (say, conscious life) better than chance would, simply by going back in time. No matter how far back you go, you confront the dilemma: either the system itself is built with an internal bias that enables it to reach that goal, or something has to be added to it to bias it in that direction – and what’s more, the level of bias required never decreases as you go back in time. That’s why you can’t start with a simple unbiased universe, and arrive at us.

A false dichotomy?

Seventh, with regard to the related assertion (made by several readers of my previous post) that “Dr. McGrath’s central argument is a false dichotomy,” I wouldn’t be inclined to brush it off so easily. As readers will recall, In his original post, Dr. McGrath had posed the following dilemma to Intelligent Design proponents:

Either God can create a universe that can organize itself, in which case the claim of ID fails; or God cannot create such a universe, in which case the proponent of ID ought to be asked to explain why they view God as limited in this way.

The kind of reasoning Dr. McGrath employed goes back to the Middle Ages: it is encapsulated in the formula, potuit, decuit, ergo fecit, which roughly translated means, “He was able to do it, and it was fitting that He do it, therefore, He did it.” The middle premise is of course the critical one, for Intelligent Design critics. What I have realized, especially in the course of debating religious critics of Intelligent Design, is that it clashes with their aesthetic preconceptions of what God would do. Even the notion of front-loading offends them: what they want is for Nature to produce complexity, by its own steam. Typically they argue as follows: if it were possible for God to produce a cosmos like ours in every respect, from a few simple laws, without the need for any information to be input by Him – even at the Big Bang – then a principle of economy of effort would dictate that God do it that way. But, they say, it surely seems conceivable that the universe could have been made in this simple fashion. Therefore it was.

Know what? If one were to grant their premise that God could have made a self-organizing universe, then I think these critics would have an excellent rhetorical argument – not a knock-down one, as we’ll see, but a very strong one. I know that some readers will object at this point, appealing to God’s perfect freedom to do as He pleases, while others will say that we cannot understand the Mind of God. But if God is a Designer, then efficiency is surely one attribute that we would want to ascribe to Him.

Intelligent Design critics also buttress their theological argument by appealing to a “plenitude” argument: by denying Nature the opportunity to generate life all by itself, God is essentially robbing things of their “thinghood” and thereby stunting them as things, since they aren’t as active (i.e. as “thingy”) as they could have been, if God had allowed them to organize themselves. Once again, I find that this argument has a certain force, too.

The real logical flaw in these arguments, in my opinion, does not lie in the potuit, decuit, ergo fecit style of reasoning they employ, but in the confusion of different senses of the word “possible.” ID critics argue that a universe that organizes itself from a state of zero information at the start is conceivable, but that does not make it really possible (i.e. possible in reality), or even logically possible (i.e. free from logical contradictions); it merely makes it epistemicallypossible (i.e. possible for all we know). Many states of affairs fall into this category, even though they later turn out to be logically impossible: after all, it seemed quite conceivable to the Greeks that there were only a finite number of prime numbers, until Euclid came along and showed that this was mathematically absurd, and that there had to be an infinite number of them.

But this kind of response is apt to leave Intelligent Design critics unmoved. That’s because their arguments appeal to the heart as well as the head: they spring from deep-seated intuitions about the nature of God. To counter these arguments effectively, then, it is therefore necessary to do more than to merely show that they are not logically watertight; for even if they are not compelling, they are still highly persuasive, on a gut level. Rather, what we need to do is provide a convincing explanation as to why God could not, and would not, act in the way that ID critics suppose He would.

As to why He could not act in that way: I argued in my previous post that since life is characterized by large amounts of semantic information (contained in our genetic programs), and since it is impossible in principle to generate large amounts of semantic information from a few simple formulas (such as the laws of Nature), Dr. McGrath’s notion of a universe that makes itself was a pipe-dream. And in my subsequent exchange with Dr. McGrath, I argued that since the Law of Conservation of Information (expounded by Dembski and Marks) dictates that we can never dispense with the need for information in order to locate small, specific targets, no matter how far back in time we go, we must at least suppose that the universe was loaded with information at the beginning.

As for why God wouldn’t have made a universe capable of organizing itself: I have argued previously, in a recent post on fine-tuning, that one of God’s aims in making the universe was to reveal Himself to creatures. Given that aim, it is much more probable that He would make a fine-tuned universe or multiverse (which would reveal His existence more easily) than that He would make a cosmos which wasn’t finely balanced. For that reason alone, then, we would expect to find a cosmos that needed to be loaded with information at the start.

Should Intelligent Design avoid even trying to say something about the Designer?

Eighth, I have to respectfully disagree with nullsalus’s statement:

“What the designer(s) may be in principle is left wide open, precisely because ID itself is not capable of answering this. It doesn’t even try, and it shouldn’t try. Leave that to theology, philosophy and other kinds of reasoning.”

Nullasalus is essentially saying here that since ID is a science, we should keep God out of ID, and leave him to the philosophers and theologians. No, thank you! To be quite frank, I think the philosophers and theologians need some assistance from science: rightly or wrongly, people living in the 21st century certainly won’t be convinced of God’s existence on the basis of philosophical arguments alone.

And I certainly don’t believe that “God-talk” lies outside the scope of legitimate scientific discourse. That’s methodological naturalism, and it’s tantamount to putting science in a straitjacket. On the contrary, I think that science has had quite a lot to say about God in the past 400 years. What it tells us, among other things, is that if there is a God, then He’s a Master Mathematician, and a very elegant one at that. He’s also a Master Programmer, and once again, a very good one, especially if you focus on the original biochemical designs common to all living things. Third, it appears that He’s not a determinist. (This isn’t absolutely certain, however, as there are both deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics.) Finally, it seems that He’s left some room for top-down causation in living things – especially in conscious life-forms with complex brains. If free will is real, then this is where it must lie.

I might add that Intelligent Design can surely rule out some hypotheses about the Designer, at least in principle. If, for instance, we have good scientific grounds for thinking that the origin of life anywhere in our observable universe was a fantastically improbable event, then clearly we can rule out the hypothesis that life on Earth was produced by aliens from another planet: at the very least, we’re going to have to look somewhere outside our universe. And if the multiverse itself turns out to exhibit identifiable signs of fine-tuning, as Dr. Robin Collins argues it does, then we can rule out the notion of a designer who is bound by space and time. At the very least, we’ll have to posit an immaterial designer instead.

Even if Intelligent Design as a scientific research program avoids theological speculation, there can (and in my opinion, should) still be rival Intelligent Design hypotheses about how, when, where and why the Designer acts in Nature, which are motivated by different theological conceptions of the Designer’s goals and modus operandi, so long as these hypotheses are scientifically testable in some way.

Conclusion

My own belief is that most of the opposition to Intelligent Design is, at root, theological. I suspect that even atheists who scoff at Intelligent Design reject it primarily because it clashes with their preconceptions regarding how they think God would act, supposing He actually existed. The scientific objections take second place.

If my hunch is correct, then Intelligent Design will only harm itself in the long term by avoiding the theological objections to ID. Rather, we should embrace them. At the very least, we should attempt to provide solid arguments showing that they rest on doubtful assumptions; but more importantly, we need to provide scientific reasons as to why a Designer would not have acted in the way that ID critics expect. That will take time, of course.

The scientists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were nothing if not ambitious: many of them were actively engaged in an attempt to “think God’s thoughts after Him” and reverse-engineer creation itself. It will take similar boldness on the part of present-day Intelligent Design researchers, if they are to successfully address the religious objections to ID, in the twenty-first century.

31 Replies to “Fishing trip: A short essay on Intelligent Design, theology and metaphysics

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT,

    Food for thought as usual.

    I particularly note:

    you cannot explain a system’s ability to hit a [–> narrow] target [–> in a very large field of possibilities] (say, conscious life) better than [–> blind] chance would, simply by going back in time. No matter how far back you go, you confront the dilemma: either the system itself is built with an internal bias that enables it to reach that goal, or something has to be added to it to bias it in that direction – and what’s more, the level of bias required never decreases as you go back in time. That’s why you can’t start with a simple unbiased universe, and arrive at us.

    My thought is, that we need to appreciate the significance of complexity joined to functional specificity that sets up tight targets with a lot of room to miss. Under such circumstances any reasonable chance-dominated strategy on the gamut of the observed cosmos will simply be maximally unlikely to find a target . . . doesn’t matter if there are a lot of them, at just 1,000 bits of complexity [1.07 * 10^301 possibilities] the quantum we can sample in any cosmos scope physical process is just too small to credibly expect catching anything but the bulk.

    The Planck time per observation/toss, 1,000 fair coins each for 10^80 atoms as observers would sample about 1 in 10^151 of the possibilities, the extra power coming from the use of bits.

    the search task is of that order easily, from a toy example. For a more realistic thing such as a genome or even a Ribosome based protein making sysem, the complexity and specificty conjoined shoot throughthe roof.

    So, if a biased search is somehow so well matched to reach cell based life, something is suspect. And search for search shows why, as the space of possible searches is like a power set on the number of 1st order possibilities. A search is just a sample from the set. Search for well matched search leads to a much worse problem, if blind. And this cascades, as the second order search is a search again.

    But we have an alternative to blind search, intelligent search, which is proven to create FSCO/I al the time, with billions of cases and no observed counter examples. Witht he outline calcs showing why that is so.

    Even without detailing probablility models, once we are speaking of a reasonable chance hyp, we are well beyond the capacity to reasonably expect to find what we are seeing blindly through samples in successive search spaces.

    But, I think the objectors are at this point pretty much blind to this, locked up in a paradigm and armour-belted behind a wall of objections that they find persuasive, though they are simply not addressing the core issue.

    Such as the sampling/search challenge on the resources we credibly have.

    And, multiverses that depend on postulating quasi infinite arrays of unobserved worlds, are open phil speculation, not science.

    KF

  2. 2
    flipandflop says:

    It’s just a huge mistake to let ID get caught up in the debate over God…unless you want to be labeled a Creationist end run. You may not have noticed…but the marketing may be more important than the science.

    As for Dr. McGrath, he seems to be more of a contrarian than anything else. A Christian who worships the Creation, but refuses to look for the teleology that must be there if there is a Creator. I found his theology confounding.

  3. 3

    Irreducible complexity is also a monkey wrench into self-organizing, unless self-organizing is just intelligence-like. I.e. front-loading and similar concepts.

  4. 4
    vjtorley says:

    Hi kairosfocus,

    Thanks very much for your comments. I found your remarks about blind searches being matched to cell-based life very helpful. Thanks again.

  5. 5
    nullasalus says:

    Nullasalus is essentially saying here that since ID is a science, we should keep God out of ID, and leave him to the philosophers and theologians.

    No. What Nullasalus is saying is that ID, as perceived and presented by Behe, Meyer and Dembski has nothing to do with God directly. At most, it is involved with God indirectly – just as physics, biology, chemistry all involve God indirectly.

    To be quite frank, I think the philosophers and theologians need some assistance from science: rightly or wrongly, people living in the 21st century certainly won’t be convinced of God’s existence on the basis of philosophical arguments alone.

    Then what you need, VJ, is something other than ID. Because you are no longer talking about merely attempting to infer design – what you want is an apologetics project for convincing people of the existence of God. That is not what ID is, or ever has been. In fact, the main proponents of ID have stressed the intellectual gulf between their project and the project you are talking about, repeatedly. ID can only do what you are asking it to do by supplementing it with theology and apologetics – at which point, you’re no longer dealing with ID.

    And you know what? Apologetics is fine. I endorse apologetic movements, I endorse that kind of thinking. But it’s simply not ID, and it shouldn’t be.

    And I certainly don’t believe that “God-talk” lies outside the scope of legitimate scientific discourse. That’s methodological naturalism, and it’s tantamount to putting science in a straitjacket.

    No, it’s not methodological naturalism – those words hardly have meaning anymore. It simply recognizes the limitations of science – and those limitations go far beyond ‘naturalism’, methodological or otherwise. The discourse you are talking about can be legitimate, but it is not ID discourse.

    Why must we combine these things? Why? Why can’t you be satisfied with ID as an inference to intelligence, and accept that theological arguments and extrapolations are immediately placed in the field of theology and metaphysics?

    I will say this bluntly: if you don’t care about ID unless it is being used in an apologetics argument, then you do not care about ID whatsoever. Just as a person who only cares about evolutionary theory insofar as it can be used in atheist apologetics ultimately doesn’t care about evolutionary theory – they care about atheist apologetics.

    Fifth, I thought, nevertheless, that Dr. McGrath’s remark (quoted above) contained a valid point, however ungraciously expressed it may have been. Intelligent Design is indeed a scientific research program, but as we saw above, it does have quite a lot to say about theology and metaphysics. Hence to claim that “ID is not about God and metaphysics” is arrant nonsense.

    No, it doesn’t, and no it isn’t. It is to provide clarity precisely where it is needed most. We do not need to tell people ‘Of COURSE ID is about God and metaphysics!’ and then go on with some long stipulation about how every field of science indirectly touches on God. We need clarity – and that kind of tortured, extensive explanation is the exact opposite of clarity. Which is precisely why McGrath said ‘Thanks! You sure are honest, admitting that ID is all about God!’ Great, now everyone gets to walk away thinking that yes, ID is just creationism redux.

    And if you go ‘Ah, but no. See, after, I will embark on a three minute explanation wherein I illustrate how all sciences, to some degree, have some bearing on the question of God’s existence.’, I have news for you – most people stopped listening after you conceded the point and walked away with an inappropriate summary of ID.

  6. 6
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    “…people living in the 21st century certainly won’t be convinced of God’s existence..”

    That’s God’s problem. Not yours.

    Quit trying to fight God’s battles. You’re not up to the task.

    In the meantime, ID is about design detection. Not theology. God (whatever that means) will take care of his own theology.

  7. 7
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Null: Why can’t you be satisfied with ID as an inference to intelligence

    Because for them it’s about theology first, and science second. Not the other way around. Well, for some of us it’s about the science first and the theology second (or third or fourth or fifth.)

    I wish the religious nuts would just shut the hell up and stay out of ID.

  8. 8
    Upright BiPed says:

    Null @ 4

    “It is to provide clarity precisely where it is needed most.”

    This is precisely correct. Moreover, what’s the problem in being precise at the point where materialist have failed? Why make their mistakes, in place of pushing through for an actual advancement in the conversation?

  9. 9
    Upright BiPed says:

    CS, Dr Torley is not a religious nut.

    He is, however, being unusually careless here. Sad.

  10. 10
    nullasalus says:

    CS,

    Because for them it’s about theology first, and science second. Not the other way around. Well, for some of us it’s about the science first and the theology second (or third or fourth or fifth.)

    I wish the religious nuts would just shut the hell up and stay out of ID.

    I don’t think it’s a religious problem per se. I’m religious. Traditionally so. I’m not blind about the potential link between ID and theism and religion. But it’s an indirect link at best, and this has been explicitly acknowledged by Behe, Dembski, etc. The funny thing is, if they did NOT acknowledge it, their critics would likely be the ones immediately pointing it all out. But because ID proponents (at least, the main ones) point this out to begin with, it denies ID critics a talking point they desperately need. So, they act as if ID proponents don’t really mean it.

    In fact, that’s precisely what McGrath does. Instead of dealing with ID as ID, he objects to ID on theological grounds. But theological objections are irrelevant to ID. They are relevant to theology, and a theology that makes reference to ID is not ID itself. I’m not objecting to someone using that theology, but whatever it is, it’s not ID.

    I think what the ultimate problem here is an inability of many people to focus. They allow themselves to get sandbagged by irrelevancies, and they cannot resist arguing theology with people who make theological objections to ID. And that is something ID proponents are going to have to get past if they want to gain ground.

    They do want to gain ground, right?

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    Null, UB and VJT:

    I think you all have points, and we need to strike a balance.

    Design can credibly be properly inductively inferred on empirical evidence, without pushing in all sorts of debatable or contentious presuppositions. Indeed, the pivotal consideration here is that we must insist on vera causa. Design produces FSCO/I, with billions of cases in point. Blind chance and necessity, NIL. Needle in haystack grounds shows why.

    So, apart from injection of a priori materialism or its fellow travellers, the inference to design on the sign of FSCO/I would be a no brainer.

    But there is a significant gap between design as process and a good case that suspect Z dunit. Stonehenge is full of FSCO/I, and is blatantly designed (as opposed to Giant’s Causeway columnar jointing), but that does not get us to exactly whodunit or why. Murder, but by assailants unknown, is a possible verdict.

    On the world of cell based life, the FSCO/I screams design, but we do not know on that alone whodunit. A sufficient candidate could be a geostationary molecular nanotech lab with means to pop down/up as needed. We don’t have enough on studying cells, to judge to rule that out. As opposed to, this is prime suspect on that evidence.

    But, once we shift to the observations that have put the concept of a finitely old, contingent observed cosmos fine tuned in ways that facilitate C-chemistry, aqueous medium, cell based life on the table, a whole different ball game is on the field. We are in a cosmos whose physics sits at a deeply isolated operating point that enables cell based life, on a privileged planet where the same things that privilege the planet invite observational science, especially astronomy.

    So much so, that seriously proposed alternatives include popping a cosmos out of “nothing,” and quasi-infinite equally unobserved multiverses.

    In short, physics is plainly putting a very powerful, smart cosmos-building designer who wants cell based life to the point that physics gives us as first 5 or so elements stuff that gets us to stars, periodic table, water, organic chem, proteins: H, He, O, C, then N nearby — at the table.

    That’s a big hint.

    Now, as for phil, with cosmos out of “nothing” or unobserved multiverses, THE OTHER GUYS have brought phil to the table.

    Thanks, guys.

    Phil has somewhat to say.

    Such as contingent beings in contingent cosmi point to necessary being as causal root. Where necessary beings are eternal.

    Fit that with evidence of design and a serious candidate is a designer of awesome power, knowledge and skill who is immaterial [matter is contingent] and eternal [a corollary of necessity].

    Sounds quite familiar, thanks.

    Then also, other worldview issues such as our inescapably finding ourselves morally governed are likewise sitting at the table.

    It’s a different world and silly arguments such as — as is being pushed just now — see the wonderful toys Science {and technology!] has given us, therefore we have to indoctrinate people in atheistic materialism to keep ’em coming fall apart.

    A priori materialism dressed up in a lab coat falls apart.

    Theism, the supernatural and miracles are anti science and chaotic fails the test of the founding thinkers and ideas in the scientific revolution.

    And so on.

    Design is back in the game at the table and the world is utterly different.

    KF

  12. 12
    Optimus says:

    @VJT

    Sixth, in response to those readers of my previous post who claim that God could have made a universe capable of making itself, but that He simply chose not to, my answer is: “No, He couldn’t.”

    Mmm… that seems incredibly presumptuous. If humans can create machines that output tremendous amounts of information (hitting incredibly small functional targets), why couldn’t God? Surely God is not less able than man! I don’t happen to think that God produced life in this way, as the Biblical account indicates a much more ‘hands on’ approach, but IMO we start down a very tricky path once we start to make assertions about God’s capabilities.

    Seventh, with regard to the related assertion (made by several readers of my previous post) that “Dr. McGrath’s central argument is a false dichotomy,” I wouldn’t be inclined to brush it off so easily. As readers will recall, In his original post, Dr. McGrath had posed the following dilemma to Intelligent Design proponents:

    Either God can create a universe that can organize itself, in which case the claim of ID fails; or God cannot create such a universe, in which case the proponent of ID ought to be asked to explain why they view God as limited in this way.

    It is a false dichotomy, plain and simple. Whatever one may think about the likelihood of the first option, McGrath creates an either-or scenario that discounts other real possibilities, specifically God’s prerogative to freely choose to create the universe (and life) in whatever manner He sees fit. Why should God be constrained by the aesthetic sensibilities of beings who don’t even exist? Dr. McGrath is certainly entitled to whatever theological/metaphysical presuppositions he likes, but his insistence on them is just as unjustifiable as the metaphysical materialism of many atheists.

  13. 13
    vjtorley says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’d just like to make a few quick remarks.

    Optimus writes:

    If humans can create machines that output tremendous amounts of information (hitting incredibly small functional targets), why couldn’t God? Surely God is not less able than man!

    I’m afraid I don’t think this example works, Optimus. The machines that hit these targets do so because of the way in which their parts have been arranged (if they’re analog) or the way in which they’ve been programmed (if they’re digital). Either way, the machines don’t generate new information in order to hit their targets: rather, they’ve been designed with lots of information from the beginning.

    Why should God be constrained by the aesthetic sensibilities of beings who don’t even exist?

    I’ve already argued that God doesn’t have any choice to build a self-organizing universe, any more than He does to build a square circle.

    CentralScrutinizer

    You write:

    …ID is about design detection. Not theology.

    Think of it this way. If you asked a biologist what evolution was about, she’d probably say: “Changes in the frequency of alleles.” (That’s the standard definition of evolution, as I’m sure you’re well aware.) But if she went on to say that evolution was not about God or metaphysics, I think we’d regard her statement as slightly disingenuous. For instance, Darwin’s theory of evolution claims to provide a complete account of human nature – and for that matter, the nature of every other organism. In so doing, it is encroaching into metaphysical territory. And Darwin himself mentioned the Creator in his Origin of Species, and his whole book is filled with “God-wouldn’t-have-done-it-this-way” arguments against creationism, so his theory was undeniably theological from the outset.

    Intelligent Design is the study of patterns that reveal intelligence. That’s a science. But it says quite a lot about the nature of intelligence which clashes with Darwinism’s theological and metaphysical conclusions. So instead of saying ID is not about theology and metaphysics, I’d prefer to say it’s not primarily about those fields, but it does have metaphysical and theological implications nonetheless.

    Well, for some of us it’s about the science first and the theology second (or third or fourth or fifth.)

    I wish the religious nuts would just shut the hell up and stay out of ID.

    And I wish you would moderate your tone. “Tart Words make no Friends: spoonful of honey will catch more flies than Gallon of Vinegar.” [Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1744, (March).]

    Upright BiPed

    CS, Dr Torley is not a religious nut.

    He is, however, being unusually careless here. Sad.

    Thanks for defending me. Looking back, I think my throw-away remark that “practically every field of human inquiry is about God and metaphysics, to some extent,” was rather unhelpful, and as you said, careless. But what about this?

    From the vantage of contemporary evolutionary theory, intelligence is not a fundamental feature of reality but a product of evolution acquired by us and other animals because of its value for survival and reproduction. But is that all intelligence is? Might not intelligence, instead, be a fundamental feature of the world, a principle that animates the whole of reality, responsible for the marvelous patterns we see throughout the biophysical universe and reflected in the cognitive capacities of animals – and predominantly so in humans? The very fact that the world is intelligible and that our intelligence is capable of understanding the world points to an underlying intelligence that has adapted our intelligence to the world…

    …[U]nless a designing intelligence specifically fitted our conceptual apparatus to the world around us, the convictions of our minds are inherently untrustworthy and can provide us with no reliable understanding of human origins.

    (The Design of Life, by William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, Foundation for Thought and Ethics, Dallas, 2008, pp. 15-16.)

    That’s from an Intelligent Design textbook. Are you seriously saying there’s no theology or metaphysics here?

    nullasalus

    You asked lots of pointed questions. I’ll do my best to address them.

    Why can’t you be satisfied with ID as an inference to intelligence, and accept that theological arguments and extrapolations are immediately placed in the field of theology and metaphysics?

    Hmmm… it seems that you’re placing “God-talk” outside the domain of science proper when you ask this question, despite your earlier protestations to the contrary.

    I’d be the first to agree that Intelligent Design doesn’t establish the existence of God, and you are perfectly correct when you say it has never claimed to. But it would be foolish to assert that science never will prove God’s existence, and it would be defeatist to refrain from trying to “narrow the possibilities,” at least. (I think Fr. Robert J. Spitzer S.J. would disagree with you on the possibility of science proving God, by the way.)

    I’ve studied the philosophical arguments for God’s existence for decades. My own personal opinion is that they could use an infusion of new blood, from science. And as I’ve said: people no longer accept philosophical argumentation as an independent source of truth about the world. They’ll listen to philosophy only when science points in the same direction. That’s just the way the world is now.

    I will say this bluntly: if you don’t care about ID unless it is being used in an apologetics argument, then you do not care about ID whatsoever. Just as a person who only cares about evolutionary theory insofar as it can be used in atheist apologetics ultimately doesn’t care about evolutionary theory – they care about atheist apologetics.

    People have all sorts of reasons why they’re interested in a subject. Einstein was in many ways a passionately religious man – he believed in Spinoza’s God – and he once remarked to one of his assistants, Ernst Straus: “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.” That theological motivation didn’t stop him from doing good physics, did it?

    Let me ask you this: suppose (purely for argument’s sake) that it were established beyond all doubt that life and the cosmos had not been designed by God, but the possibility that some other intelligence had designed them still remained open. Would you still be remotely interested in Intelligent Design, and if so, why?

    I can remember being keenly interested in extraterrestrial life back in the early 1970s. Eventually I realized it really didn’t matter very much. Now, if it turned out that aliens had designed my DNA, I would find that a mildly intriguing fact. But that would be all.

    Personally, I think being deeply interested in any subject that has no bearing on Gauguin’s “Big Three” Questions is a waste of my (limited) intellectual energy. (Perhaps that’s because I realize I’ve probably only got 30 years left on the clock: 10,000 days and counting.) Some people feel differently on this issue, and dedicate their whole lives to research, and I might have done the same, once, had I been better at doing science experiments when I was young. (I originally wanted to be a scientist.) Scientific research is all well and good: after all, some inspired soul has to go out there and study beetles, or semiconductors, or spiral galaxies, or we wouldn’t know anything about these things. Perhaps you have a genuine passion for acquiring knowledge for its own sake, nullasalus, which I now lack. Good for you.

    Which is precisely why McGrath said ‘Thanks! You sure are honest, admitting that ID is all about God!’ Great, now everyone gets to walk away thinking that yes, ID is just creationism redux.

    Actually, he didn’t say that. He said, “I do appreciate that you are not pretending that ID is not about God and metaphysics.” I think he was just grateful for an admission that ID is partly about those topics, even if it is primarily about the science of identifying patterns that reveal intelligence.

    Dr. McGrath also made his remarks near the end of a very long thread containing over 100 comments. I imagine only a handful of people read our little exchange of views, and I hardly think he’s going to treat me as an official spokesperson for Intelligent Design, when I haven’t even published a scholarly article on the subject.

    To be honest, it doesn’t faze me any more when scientists like Professors Larry Moran and Jerry Coyne refer to us as creationists. Nothing will ever change them, and in any case, for me, the most important thing is getting our ideas heard in a public forum. And if other scientists want to sulk and refuse to call ID a science, well, that’s their childish little game. It won’t change the facts about proteins that scientists like Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger are discovering.

    I’m not blind about the potential link between ID and theism and religion.

    I’m glad that’s something we agree on, nullasalus.

    kairosfocus

    On the world of cell based life, the FSCO/I screams design, but we do not know on that alone whodunit. A sufficient candidate could be a geostationary molecular nanotech lab with means to pop down/up as needed. We don’t have enough on studying cells, to judge to rule that out.

    I agree.

    In short, physics is plainly putting a very powerful, smart cosmos-building designer who wants cell based life to the point that physics gives us as first 5 or so elements stuff that gets us to stars, periodic table, water, organic chem, proteins: H, He, O, C, then N nearby — at the table.

    That’s a big hint.

    Now, as for phil, with cosmos out of “nothing” or unobserved multiverses, THE OTHER GUYS have brought phil to the table.

    That’s a very good way of putting it, kairosfocus, and I always appreciate your insights.

    Phil has somewhat to say.

    Such as contingent beings in contingent cosmi point to necessary being as causal root. Where necessary beings are eternal.

    Fit that with evidence of design and a serious candidate is a designer of awesome power, knowledge and skill who is immaterial [matter is contingent] and eternal [a corollary of necessity].

    Philosophy does indeed point to the contingency of the entire cosmos. It’s reassuring that the fine-tuning argument from science points in the same direction. When science and philosophy buttress each other, we have a very strong combined argument, that people will listen to and respect.

    Well, I think I’ll sign off here. A pleasant morning/afternoon/evening to you all.

  14. 14

    vjtorley:

    Even if Intelligent Design as a scientific research program avoids theological speculation, there can (and in my opinion, should) still be rival Intelligent Design hypotheses about how . . .

    This kind of approach seems unhelpful . . .

    Are there now multiple “intelligent design hypotheses”? And now when we talk about “intelligent design” we have to clarify whether we are talking about ‘intelligent design proper’, as proposed by the primary proponents, or whether we are talking about ‘intelligent design modified’, meaning we get into metaphysical speculations. It quickly gets as bad as trying to pin down the slippery word “evolution.”

    One of the strengths of ID is that is it an extremely limited question, a well-defined issue, a very focused inquiry, one based on observations and math, not speculations, philosophy, worldview, etc. As soon as we start saying “Well, I have a different ‘intelligent design hypotheses’ that says the God of the Old Testament dunnit,” we have muddied the waters to the point of being harmful.

    Much better to say: “It it true that ID does not seek to identify the designer or to inject morality or religious/philosophical implications. However, I personally want to go beyond ID theory and examine some of the second-order implications that could result.”

    The latter is much clearer, keeps the focus where it should be, lays out the parameters up front, and — importantly — avoids getting terminology hopelessly messed up for all the rest of us.

    Please, people, do not go around saying that you have some “alternate intelligent design hypothesis” that speaks of God or otherwise. Absolutely, completely, utterly unhelpful.

  15. 15
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Null: I don’t think it’s a religious problem per se. I’m religious.

    Yeah, but you’re “shutting the hell up” about your religion.

    That’s a good thing when discussing ID.

    ID is not about religious.

    You get it.

    Others should follow your example.

  16. 16
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Intelligent Design is the study of patterns that reveal intelligence. That’s a science. But it says quite a lot about the nature of intelligence which clashes with Darwinism’s theological and metaphysical conclusions. So instead of saying ID is not about theology and metaphysics, I’d prefer to say it’s not primarily about those fields, but it does have metaphysical and theological implications nonetheless.

    The “implications” are determined by the assumptions going in. I’ll grant you everyone has them. I do too. But that’s not the point. The point is: I’m not interesting in anyone’s religion or lack thereof.

    ID should be about science. Period.

    Keep “God” out of it. Whatever the hell “God” may mean to you.

  17. 17
    Upright BiPed says:

    VJ: ”Are you seriously saying there’s no theology or metaphysics here?”

    That is exactly what I am saying. About ID.

    If someone should happen to say:

    “If any one of the components of the mousetrap (the base, hammer, spring, catch, or holding bar) is removed, then the trap does not function. In other words, the simple mousetrap has no ability to trap a mouse until several separate parts are all assembled.”

    There is no extraneous metaphysic there.

    A proposition is being argued for on physical grounds. That is what ID is.

    If someone should even say:

    “The translation of information requires a) an arrangement of matter to evoke an effect within a system, b) a necessary chemo-physical discontinuity between that arrangement and the effect it evokes, c) a second arrangement of matter to establish a relationship between the first arrangement and its effect while preserving the discontinuity, and d) the production of unambiguous function”

    Again, there is no extraneous metaphysic. The ID critic is invited to challenge the proposition on material evidence alone, just as the leading figures of ID intended it to be.

    It would be a great benefit to the success of the ID argument — an argument with a massively well-defended position against it — if this level of discipline was maintained. Again, not maintaining it is the exact mistake that materialists make. We should shoot for a better outcome; a more disciplined outcome. Being a trained scholar and friend of ID, I would hope you’d agree. Enthusiastically.

  18. 18

    vjtorley:

    Presumably you agree that the key design questions can be asked separately from, and are logically separate from, the implications certain answers might give?

    For example, “Was X designed?” can be asked and answered independently of “What are the implications of a ‘Yes’ answer?” or “Who was the designer?” or “What does that design tell us about the designer?” and on and on . . .

    Everyone knows that the ID question has implications if answered in a certain way. But let’s then be clear that when we pursue those implications we are going beyond the ID question. Let’s please not confuse the issue by conflating the question with its implications, or by dragging the implications into the initial inquiry or, heaven forbid, by saying that we have multiple “design theories” or multiple “design hypotheses” floating around.

  19. 19
    Optimus says:

    @ VJT
    Thank you for your response. I found it very helpful, because it signaled to me that we are in all likelihood simply talking past each other.

    You wrote:

    I’m afraid I don’t think this example works, Optimus. The machines that hit these targets do so because of the way in which their parts have been arranged (if they’re analog) or the way in which they’ve been programmed (if they’re digital). Either way, the machines don’t generate new information in order to hit their targets: rather, they’ve been designed with lots of information from the beginning.

    I don’t disagree actually. But the quote from Dr. McGrath that appears in your first article on the topic doesn’t appear to stipulate that God is prohibited from carefully arranging the initial conditions in order to produce life. It reads:

    Either God can create a universe that can organize itself, in which case the claim of ID fails; or God cannot create such a universe, in which case the proponent of ID ought to be asked to explain why they view God as limited in this way.

    I read that in a way that seemed consistent with a front-loading type scenario. If, indeed, McGrath is proposing that God could create a self-organizing universe with no initial informational/organizational input of any kind, I’m probably just about as skeptical as you are (albeit with due modesty). In fact, what would it even mean to “create” a self-organizing universe without setting up the initial conditions? But putting that aside, McGrath apart from his false either-or set up, is making a category error by concluding that ID somehow seeks to limit God. ID is not a philosophical inquiry about the nature of God. It just isn’t. If the findings of ID would cause some to revise their conception of how God acts, then so be it. But that isn’t its objective.

    You wrote:

    I’ve already argued that God doesn’t have any choice to build a self-organizing universe, any more than He does to build a square circle.

    If you go back to my post in the first thread, then you’ll see that I included logically impossible things in my very short list of things that I would not expect God to do. So, again, I do not think we disagree so strongly on this point.

    Where we differ, and where I would agree with a number of the other commenters, is on the question of to what degree (if at all) ID should seek to involve itself in theological or metaphysical inquiry. As I said previously, I’ll readily grant that questions of origins are very difficult to restrict to individual fields inquiry (e.g. ‘this is strictly science’ or ‘this is strictly theology’). Additionally, I have no personal objection to discussing theological issues as if they are somehow ‘dirty’ or inappropriate for conversation. But having said that, I think it’s incredibly counter-productive to try to blend ID theory with whatever implications it may have. Surely we would agree that ID is an empirically based, rigorous way to qualify/quantify the appearance of design. But most people (at least in academia and the media) don’t think that. To them it’s just ‘creationism’s Trojan horse’ or ‘cheap tuxedo’. To make ID into a cross-disciplinary science/metaphysics/theology project feeds right into the bogus narrative that Coyne, Myers, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, NCSE, etc. make their living perpetuating. ID has a major uphill battle in seeking to control its image, and I can’t help but feel that the approach you recommend is unwise.

  20. 20
    nullasalus says:

    CS,

    Yeah, but you’re “shutting the hell up” about your religion.

    I think there’s a more diplomatic and effective way to put that, that’s all. I don’t even want people to shut up about their religion. I just want them to properly convey ID when they talk about it. It’s the warping of ID that bothers me, and which I think is the number one problem with getting traction on even getting people to consider the ID case.

  21. 21
    nullasalus says:

    vjtorley,

    Let me ask you this: suppose (purely for argument’s sake) that it were established beyond all doubt that life and the cosmos had not been designed by God, but the possibility that some other intelligence had designed them still remained open. Would you still be remotely interested in Intelligent Design, and if so, why?

    Yes, and I am absolutely baffled by anyone who would ever say ‘no’. You may as well tell me that computer science would be objectively uninteresting in the same sake-of-argument situation.

    But more than that – your problem is you’re trying to get everyone to believe in God, and you have no interest in ID disconnected from God. But I want people to start taking design seriously. Yes, I would like them to consider God as well, and I can even regard design as a first step. But it is its own step.

    William Lane Craig will give the Kalam argument. He doesn’t anchor Kalam to Christianity from what I see – he allows it to stand or fall on its own, and if it stands (and he certainly believes it does), he moves on from there. He does not present the Kalam argument as ‘showing that Jesus Christ was God.’ He would be shooting himself in the foot to present it that way. And he’d likely correct anyone who tried to present Kalam that way.

    Actually, he didn’t say that. He said, “I do appreciate that you are not pretending that ID is not about God and metaphysics.”

    Potaytoh, potahtoh.

    I’ve studied the philosophical arguments for God’s existence for decades. My own personal opinion is that they could use an infusion of new blood, from science.

    Great. Go forth and infuse. Sincerely, I endorse that. Just don’t say it’s Intelligent Design. Because ID has enough trouble getting a clear hearing without defenders confusing people further.

    To be honest, it doesn’t faze me any more when scientists like Professors Larry Moran and Jerry Coyne refer to us as creationists. Nothing will ever change them, and in any case, for me, the most important thing is getting our ideas heard in a public forum.

    Who cares what they say? Larry Moran is a lone biologist running a minor blog. Jerry Coyne is fast becoming a self-parody. Anyone in thrall to either of them isn’t who I’m concerned with, and they should only be of so much concern to you either. I’m more interested in the majority of people whose response to hearing Larry Moran’s name is to say “Larry Who?”

    We don’t need people who are trying to defend ID critics responding to “ID posits miracles to explain the bacterial flagellum!” claims with “Well let me tell you why it’s reasonable to believe in miracles.” That didn’t come up with McGrath as far as I can tell, but the way you’re talking makes it sound as if you’d walk down that road because hey, ID’s only interesting and worth talking about if it has immediate apologetic application and if it doesn’t, then to heck with it.

  22. 22

    nullasalus @21:

    Yes, and I am absolutely baffled by anyone who would ever say ‘no’. You may as well tell me that computer science would be objectively uninteresting in the same sake-of-argument situation.

    Thank you. Well said.

    vjtorley, some of us — several of us indeed — are interested in the design inference for what it is, in and of itself.

  23. 23
    nullasalus says:

    By the way.

    I think VJ Torley writes some amazing stuff on this site, does thought provoking analysis, and contributes quite a lot of great stuff. But on this one, I simply think he’s wrong, and I think this topic is near the heart of one major ID problem that persists.

  24. 24
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Null: I think there’s a more diplomatic and effective way to put that, that’s all.

    You’re right. My apologies to VJT.

  25. 25
    StephenB says:

    It seems to me that many of us have missed the point of VJ’s exercise. Every form of communication serves some purpose and it is usually the one who initiates the discussion that decides what that purpose will be. In this case, the e-mail correspondence, both in substance and in tone, was designed to create a non-competitive environment so that one person (Dr. Torley) could encourage another person (Dr. McGrath) to provide an unprecedented level of self-disclosure. One can hardly maintain an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual respect if the solicitor immediately jumps down the throat of the discloser for committing logical errors.

    Also, keep in mind that McGrath was banned from UD for frivolous charges that our current generation of administrators would never have trumped up. I mean, good grief, if we can put up with RDFish, we should be able to put up with anybody–including James McGrath and including Elizabeth Liddle. So, again, context is everything. VJ, seeking to take coordinates on McGrath’s religious philosophy, realizes that McGrath wanted to comment here and was not allowed to do so. What is the point of entering into a rousing debate with someone who has already been silenced?

    On the differing views between Null, UB, Eric, and VJ, which are not, I believe, as broad as they may first appear, I will, again, emphasize the importance of context:

    First, I think it is important to precede our comments about what ID can or cannot do with the phrase, “at this time.” For now, our paradigms are, indeed, limited: We cannot, working through the paradigms of “irreducible complexity,” or “specified complexity” draw any inferences about the nature of the designer. We just can’t get there from here. So, I agree with Null, UB, and Eric in that context. At the same time, I think the methods of “historical science,” do, as VJ seems to indicate, allow us to go a bit further, extrapolating from human “minds” to the “mind” of the designer. Notice how the context has changed and the impersonal designer, at least in this one instance, has been transcended.

    I think VJ is also correct when he says, if I understand him correctly, that God, as Creator and Designer, is not, in principle, out of the range of science—even biological science. Indeed, more than one contemporary author has written a work that deals with the “scientific proofs for God’s existence.”

    As ID proponents, our main intellectual task is not, in my judgment, to convince critics that ID wants nothing to do with God. The design inference is, after all, perfectly compatible with the traditional proofs for God’s existence. Our job is to inform them that we are not making any scientific claims to that effect and that our methods are limited in that respect precisely because they are scientific. It is enough to point out that ID, as a research project, makes no theological presuppositions. Otherwise, it wouldn’t even be drawing an inference to design at all; it would be assuming the conclusion of design even before the evidence could speak.

    Indeed, the science of ID must, insofar as its limited methodologies are concerned, be open to the prospect of an impersonal designer or design principle in nature (except for Meyer’s extrapolation of mind); but that doesn’t mean that the scientists who employ those methodologies must ignore the fact that their arguments are compatible with the philosophical arguments for God’s existence. Indeed, once science reveals a designer, philosophy can take it the rest of the way to show that any designer would have to be transcendent, immaterial, and personal. Those attributes sound a lot like God to me.

    I find no reason to withhold this information out of fear that our critics will distort what we say, ignore our empirical approach, and call us “Creationists.” If they didn’t make that stupid charge, they would invent another one that was equally stupid. In that sense, whoever sets the terms of the debate wins the debate. That means that we cannot allow our opponents to turn it into a theological discussion without calling attention to the distraction. If a philosophical or theological objection appears, we can answer it on that basis. Then we can point out that the objection really is an evasion since it ignores ID’s scientific argument.

    Of course, we could just point out that it is an evasion and let the theological/philosophical error hang in mid-air. In truth, though, we would be losing an opportunity to educate others about the bigger picture. I have read much of what Eric Anderson, Nullasalus, and Upright Biped have written, and I find them all to be both philosophically and scientifically literate. Let’s face it: Sound theology is on our side; sound philosophy is on our side; sound science is on our side. Accordingly, I say let’s use all the tools in our toolbox.

  26. 26
    vjtorley says:

    Hi StephenB,

    Thank you very much for your wonderful post. I was going to respond, but you said it all much better than I could have done. Thank you again.

  27. 27
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Optimus,

    Thank you for your post. We were indeed talking past each other, as you rightly suspected. The question I posed to Dr. McGrath was:

    “Do you believe God is capable of making a machine that is capable of writing a novel (such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies) via a simple process, without massive amounts of information being input either at the start or subsequently?”

    and again:

    “Do you agree that it would be impossible even for God to make a machine that could write a novel like Ulysses without massive inputs of information either at the start (front-loading) or subsequently (tinkering)?”

    So I was very careful to include front-loading as a possibility. Kingsley himself might have been happy with that formulation, but Dr. McGrath wanted to go further: in his first post in our exchange (see http://www.uncommondescent.com.....d-skeptic/ ), he explicitly rejected “the front-loaded version, with Ulysses in view from the beginning” in favor of a world “in which … a simpler and almost infinitely flexible system could come to exist through natural means.”

    I’m very glad to read that you concur with my view on this particular point:

    If, indeed, McGrath is proposing that God could create a self-organizing universe with no initial informational/organizational input of any kind, I’m probably just about as skeptical as you are (albeit with due modesty). In fact, what would it even mean to “create” a self-organizing universe without setting up the initial conditions?

    Cheers.

  28. 28
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Eric Anderson,

    Thank you for your posts. You write:

    Presumably you agree that the key design questions can be asked separately from, and are logically separate from, the implications certain answers might give?

    For example, “Was X designed?” can be asked and answered independently of “What are the implications of a ‘Yes’ answer?” or “Who was the designer?” or “What does that design tell us about the designer?” and on and on . . .

    Yes, absolutely.

    You then add:

    Let’s please not confuse the issue by conflating the [ID] question with its implications, or by dragging the implications into the initial inquiry or, heaven forbid, by saying that we have multiple “design theories” or multiple “design hypotheses” floating around.

    I think you may have misunderstood my original proposal (perhaps I could have expressed myself more clearly). I was thinking about subsidiary questions such as these:

    1. At what taxonomic level does the Designer inject information into the biosphere? Phylum? Class? Order? Family? Genus? Species? (I used to think the answer was “family,” but after reading Branko Kozulic’s article on singleton proteins at http://vixra.org/pdf/1105.0025v1.pdf , I’m now convinced it’s usually at the level of the species – which of course raises all sorts of interesting questions about ring species and cichlids (are they really one species after all, on Kozulic’s definition of a species – i.e. do they share the same singleton proteins)?

    2. At what anatomical levels does the Designer work? Does He only design biochemical systems, or does He design organelles, cells, organs, organ systems and even organisms? And if so, what about apparent cases of maldesign in organs? Are they all only apparent?

    3. When did the Designer do his work? At the dawn of life (front-loading) or subsequently? I used to be a front-loader myself, but physicist Rob Sheldon wrote an article entitled “The Front-Loading Fiction” at http://web.archive.org/web/200.....tion.thtml which caused me to change my mind and turned me into a fan of ongoing intelligent manipulation.

    4. What message, if any, was the Designer intending to send us? Walter ReMine’s “The Biotic Message” has some interesting proposals to make on this point – see http://www.uncommondescent.com.....93-part-2/ .

    5. Do any parts of the genomes of living organisms indicate intelligent interference with an original design, or is the design seamless throughout the genome of each and every organism? Personally I suspect some level of interference, on purely behavioral grounds: infant cannibalism doesn’t strike me as an original design feature, and if it isn’t, then the DNA of organisms in which the trait is found should show visible signs of tampering, if it was added intentionally. Of course, an alternative possibility is that this aberrant behavior is merely the product of genetic deterioration over the course of millions of years.

    These are of course secondary questions to the original question, “What are the criteria for deciding whether a pattern found in Nature is best explained as the product of intelligence?” which defines the primary subject matter of Intelligent Design theory. But they are still questions that can be scientifically investigated, and regarding which hypotheses can be usefully formulated. On questions like these, I’d prefer to “let a hundred flowers bloom,” as Mao Zedong memorably put it. The more ID hypotheses of this sort we allow to proliferate, the better – as long as they’re testable.

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    vjtorley says:

    Hi nullasalus and CentralScrutinizer,

    Thank you both for your kind words. I do respect your point of view, and I can certainly appreciate your concerns. No hard feelings – after all, it would be pretty odd if we always agreed about everything, wouldn’t it? Cheers.

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    vjtorley says:

    Hi Upright BiPed,

    Thank you for your post. I agree that there’s “no extraneous metaphysic” in the passages you cite. However, regarding the criteria for identifying a pattern as the product of intelligence, I think there is some philosophy involved (but not metaphysics): the pattern is supposed to exhibit low descriptive complexity indicates that the ability to describe a pattern concisely in human language is required, before we can unambiguously identify it as the work of a mind of some sort. Not everyone would agree with that: some would argue that purposefulness (or goal-directedness) is enough; others would add that the goal must be a distant one, requiring foresight to attain it; and still others would say that the adaptation of means to ends (think Betty the crow) is a sufficient condition for intelligence.

    I might add that in chapter 1 of The Design of Life (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, Dallas, 2008, pp. 13-14), Dembski and Wells write that intelligent design “treats intelligence as irreducible to material entities and the mechanisms that control their interaction,” before going on to add that this intelligence need not however be supernatural. Now that’s a metaphysical position, in my opinion.

    However, I would add that in my view, ID doesn’t need to make this assumption about (low-level) designers like ourselves, so long as there is some ultimate level of design in the cosmos which is not reducible to material processes. And even that is something we don’t need to stipulate right up-front, as long as we leave the metaphysical door ajar to that possibility, as it were.

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    tragic mishap says:

    VJ, have you considered the possibility that you misinterpreted McGrath’s argument?

    After reading the conversation, I think McGrath meant that ID says that a self-organizing type of universe is impossible, and therefore it’s impossible for God to make one. Therefore ID theorists are assaulting the omnipotence of God.

    I think perhaps you gave his argument too much subtlety and frankly too much credit.

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