Intelligent Design

Natural — Supernatural FAQ

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The Natural — Supernatural trope appears so frequently, I have decided to add it to the FAQ. The following new FAQ (many thanks to StephenB and DaveScot, from whom I have cribbed freely) is now open for comment:

(38) When an ID theorist says “natural forces” cannot account for certain features of the universe, he must mean that only supernatural forces can account for these features.

“If phenomena are not naturally caused, they are supernaturally caused. There is no other alternative.” Barbara Forrest

“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ms. Forrest has tied herself into linguistic knots, causing her to succumb to the logical fallacy of “false dilemma.” There are three categories of causation: (a) agency, (b) law, and (c) chance. Of these three, law and chance are both “natural” causes. Agency, on the other hand, is a non-natural – but not necessarily “supernatural” cause. Any particular agent may be a human agent; a superhuman but non-divine agent; or a divine agent, and only this last category would be “supernatural.” Effects caused by an agent (whether divine, superhuman or human) leave similar traces (e.g., complex specified information, irreducible complexity) that simply cannot be replicated by effects caused by law and chance.

Ms. Forrest errs when she fails to take into account that the word “natural” has multiple shades of meaning. Her argument has a first-blush plausibility, because depending upon the context in which it is used, the word “natural” can be an antonym of “supernatural,” and in that context every phenomenon may indeed be categorized as either natural or supernatural. Ms. Forest fails to take into account, however, that in other contexts – as any thesaurus will confirm – the word “natural” can be an antonym to “technological” or “artificial.”

Now suppose an archeologist finds a spear point. Will he conclude that the spear point is a natural phenomenon? Obviously not. The whole point of calling it a spear point (instead of just “rock”) is that an agent (some ancient Indian perhaps) worked on it, and his work left traces that can be distinguished from the traces left by non-intelligent (i.e., “natural”) causes such as erosion. But wait a minute, under Ms. Forrest’s formulation, the spear point must be a natural phenomenon, because it was caused by a (presumably) non-supernatural human agent. The confusion vanishes when we realize that the archeologist is using “natural” as an antonym to “technological” or “artificial,” and not as an antonym to “supernatural.”

ID uses the term “natural” the way the archeologist uses it, not the way Ms. Forest uses it. In summary, therefore, Ms. Forest’s objection to ID is based not on the substance of ID’s theories, but on her failure to use language in a precise manner. Whether she has equivocated intentionally to muddy the waters and bring an unfair charge against ID, we will leave for others to decide.

71 Replies to “Natural — Supernatural FAQ

  1. 1
    Joseph says:

    What Forrest and her ilk refer to is, of course, the “origin’s” question.

    Namely the designer of the universe “had” to be supernatural.

    However that is false because in order to be “super”natural one has to be above, over or beyond the natural.

    And one cannot be any of those if nature does not yet exist.

    What that means the designer of the universe is PRE-natural.

  2. 2
    JayM says:

    Why is human agency “non-natural”? This seems to require more than a simple assertion. In fact, it is one of the core differentiators between ID theorists and methodological naturalists. Mainstream science claims that humans are a product of nature.

    My understanding of Barbara Forrest’s statements is that she is distinguishing between known natural (and sometimes intelligent) causes and the unknown intelligence suggested by ID theory. Obviously there is nothing in ID theory that requires that the unknown intelligence be supernatural, but unlike methodological naturalism, ID theory does not rule it out.

    JJ

  3. 3
    JT says:

    There are three categories of causation: (a) agency, (b) law, and (c) chance. Of these three, law and chance are both “natural” causes. Agency, on the other hand, is a non-natural – but not necessarily “supernatural” cause.

    Just one final point, then I’ll have to leave for a while.

    Don’t you understand that “agency” is an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept? This denial does not arise from perversity, but from merely a somewhat systematic reflection on the topic. You’re affirming agency as if its a self evident third category from law and nature, but people have good reason for rejecting this idea. It may have been part of an informal mode of thinking that someone proposed at some point, but does it really need to be elevated to self-evident truth? I’m not going to rehash everything I’ve said on the topic now.

  4. 4
    Joseph says:

    Why is human agency “non-natural”?

    For the same reason my car is non-natural.

    Mainstream science claims that humans are a product of nature.

    And if that were ever demonstrated ID would fall by the wayside.

    My understanding of Barbara Forrest’s statements is that she is distinguishing between known natural (and sometimes intelligent) causes and the unknown intelligence suggested by ID theory.

    She never makes the distinction.

    Just like she never tells anyone that “evolution” is not being debated.

    And she would NEVER tell anyone that her position regresses to the SAME point as ID.

    The agenda is clear- rule ID out by definition. All the while denying her position needs the same- something before nature.

  5. 5
    Joseph says:

    Don’t you understand that “agency” is an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept?

    Agencies are real. We observe what agencies can do with nature. We observe that agencies can do things with nature that nature, operating freely, couldn’t do.

    We have investigative venues set up tp distinguish nature, operating freely from agency involvement.

    There are sciences dedicated to this very thing.

    But then again “science” may just be an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept…

  6. 6
    JT says:

    Joseph, I though of a way to clarify my point –
    There are not agents and nonagents. There are only causes that are more or less complex in terms of the number of laws it takes to describe their behavior. Is an earthworm an agent? Probably not because its behavior is very primitive, predicatable and describable in terms of a handful of drives and impulses. Its decision to do one thing or the other is based on a very limited set of criteria or laws. Before you get to human, there are innumerable gradations in this department and whether or not you want to label any particular organism an agent is purely a matter of arbitrary convention.

  7. 7
    Mark Frank says:

    A minor point, but none of the FAQs seem to be questions. A better title might be Frequently Met Objections?

  8. 8
    bFast says:

    It is clear that Ms. Forrest is trying to put ID into a rhetorical box. Such rhetoric is so childish.

    I recognize DaveScot’s argument that there is nothing that we know about biology that is beyond the scope of an engineering force like unto our, but vastly more advanced.

    Therefore, I am quite happy to use Ms. Forrest’s term if she wants to come up with a term better than “natural” that means “unguided” where the antonym is “guided”, without necessarily implying “supernaturally guided”.

    That said, whence comest this “supernatural” taboo? And what constitutes a clear definition of “supernatural” anyway?

    I have repeatedly contended that if the universe is the product of intelligent design, as evidence strongly suggests, then its designer must be outside of the universe. This gets close to being, of necessity, a “supernatural” agent — it certainly would imply a “superuniversal” agent.

    That, of course, can be tempered with that little video that was floating around a year or two ago with “god” represented by a something akin to college student in another universe “just goofin’ around”. IOW, even in this context we don’t, of necessity, see a necessity to accredit the credentials of the Biblical “God” to the designer of the universe.

    Natural v. Supernatural, therefore is a bogus argument on two fronts:
    1 – “unguided” v. “guided” does not obligate a supernatural guide.
    2 – The “supernatural” taboo is painfully artificial, a regilous construct that doesn’t belong in science.

  9. 9
    critiacrof says:

    @Joseph (#1):
    “What that means the designer of the universe is PRE-natural.”
    I don’t agree.
    First of all; without nature there is no space and time. So no PRE-natural designer can exist; the designer has to be outside space and time. So you can’t use a 4-dimensional term to describe (the state of) a ?-dimensional designer. No time no “PRE” period.

    Second. After the designer created nature(there is no PRE but there is an after) it could still exist. If the designer still exist than if it wasn’t super-natural it is now. And if it isn’t super-natural, but still exists, then it is not “PRE” anymore.

    So why not call it EXTRA-natural (as in extraterrestrial)?

  10. 10
    Joseph says:

    JT,

    I would say an earthworm is an agent.

    Nature, operating freely could not and would not produce the traces they leave behind.

    IMHO ALL living organisms are agents.

    And if “Ghost Hunters” is real there appear to be non-living, but detectable, agents too.

  11. 11
    Ted Davis says:

    Complaints about terminology here are not hard to understand, but I would say that goes both ways: both critics of and supporters of ID want to control the language. The term “Supernatural” wasn’t invented to dismiss ID–it has a long history, as anyone knows–and it isn’t always being invoked for that purpose (I grant that sometimes it can be).

    When one is speaking about design in nature, that hasn’t been produced by human agents and probably not also by space aliens (I mean here the very properties of matter and the nature of nature, upon which all living things depend, and I don’t think anyone *seriously* thinks that little green critters were responsible), then I think it’s entirely appropriate to use the term “Supernatural” in connection with the “designer.”

    The terms “unembodied mind” and “unevolved intelligence” have been used by some ID advocates, explicitly in connection with the origin of the universe and/or life itself. This is fully consistent, IMO, with the first definition of “supernatural” given in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary: “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.”

    Ms Forrest certainly has her own agenda, but it’s not unfair to say that ID is *partly* (certainly not entirely) about making inferences to the “supernatural.”

    Whether it’s “scientific” to do that, or not, is of course a contested matter that I will leave to one side here.

  12. 12
    bFast says:

    Ted Davis, for sake of argument let us accept Webster’s definition:

    of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.

    If we do, we must also accept that the multiverse theory is a “supernatural” theory. Ms. Forrest now must either permit the discussion of supernatural into the halls of science, or reject the multiverse theory outright.

    It remains, she declares, as does the primary scientific rejection of the ID theory, that “supernatural” is somehow taboo.

    “Supernatural” can no longer be taboo to science. When considering the reality of cosmoligical fine tuning, It just doesn’t work.

  13. 13
    R0b says:

    Barry:

    Now suppose an archeologist finds a spear point. Will he conclude that the spear point is a natural phenomenon? Obviously not. The whole point of calling it a spear point (instead of just “rock”) is that an agent (some ancient Indian perhaps) worked on it, and his work left traces that can be distinguished from the traces left by non-intelligent (i.e., “natural”) causes such as erosion.

    The archeologist would conclude that it’s man-made, but I don’t know that she would infer agency as defined in ID. To do so would be to attribute the spear point to something that is not reducible to law and chance, which is to say that it is neither deterministic nor non-deterministic nor any combination of the two. I doubt that most scientists are interested in, or could even make sense of, this metaphysical concept.

  14. 14
    Joseph says:

    First of all; without nature there is no space and time.

    True, but a sequence still exists.

    Pre= before= indicates sequence: used to indicate a sequence of actions, one preceding the other and closely connected with it.

    No time no “PRE” period.

    Only if one focuses on one definition of the word.

    So if we don’t pay attention to that man behind the curtain does that mean there isn’t a man behind the curtain?

    After the designer created nature(there is no PRE but there is an after) it could still exist.

    What if the designer designed nature and other entities carried out the process of creating it?

    But I digress- yes the designer could still exist. But where?

    If the designer still exist than if it wasn’t super-natural it is now.

    Not if it exists in nature and doesn’t violate any of its laws.

    And if it isn’t super-natural, but still exists, then it is not “PRE” anymore.

    Unless that is its name (PRE).

    So why not call it EXTRA-natural (as in extraterrestrial)?

    Because the name is PRE.

  15. 15
    B L Harville says:

    The reason Barbara Forrest refers to the “intelligent designer” as supernatural is because it is invisible and undetectable. If we could see or detect with scientific instrument this agent then it wouldn’t be referred to as supernatural.

  16. 16
    Joseph says:

    Ted Davis,

    When language ALONE is used to “defeat” ID then IDists have to take a stand.

    Otherwise the only “language” ID would care about is the “language” of scientific investigation.

    However that “laguage” leads to a design inference.

    So people like Forrest have to resort to the use of other language tactics.

  17. 17
    Joseph says:

    The reason Barbara Forrest refers to the “intelligent designer” as supernatural is because it is invisible and undetectable.

    Yet ID is all about the detection part.

    Design inferences are made because people say they can detect traces of the designer.

    Therefor the designer is detectable.

    If we could see or detect with scientific instrument this agent then it wouldn’t be referred to as supernatural.

    I covered the detection part.

    And if the only evidence of ID one will accept is meeting the designer then it isn’t science that they are interested in.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    bFast says:

    B L Harville:

    The reason Barbara Forrest refers to the “intelligent designer” as supernatural is because it is invisible and undetectable.

    Oh yea of simple mind. A#1 IDists contend that the intelligence is detectable. Secondly, we may discover that the intelligent agent lives on the dark side of pluto. If so, the agent will no longer be invisible.

    Please remember that a few years ago individual atoms were invisible also. Quarks remain invisible. We need not invoke “supernatural” just because something is invisible, or just because the only way we can detect something is to see its effects.

    Further, there remains the question, “Why the ‘supernatural’ taboo!?” Why is “supernatural” anathema to science? By miriam webster’s definition (see post #11) the multiverse theory is a “supernatural” theory. Yet science (at least pop-science) embraces it.

    Killing ID by simple rhetoric will fail. Let the Darwinists kill ID by presenting an evidenciary case against it.

  20. 20
    Joseph says:

    The archeologist would conclude that it’s man-made, but I don’t know that she would infer agency as defined in ID.

    How do you think ID defines agency?

    To do so would be to attribute the spear point to something that is not reducible to law and chance, which is to say that it is neither deterministic nor non-deterministic nor any combination of the two. I doubt that most scientists are interested in, or could even make sense of, this metaphysical concept.

    I know for sure that trackers use that methodology- that is not reducible to law & chance.

    There was a perfect example on the History Channel. Two scientists were investigating “big-foot” claims.

    They were walking into the woods and came upon a formation- trees placed in a certain way.

    A little investigation and one said that this didn’t just happen this way- indicating intent.

    And when archaeologists investigate a site they look for signs of work- indicating that something more than nature was at work.

    They find positive signs of work and they can get more funding to continue looking.

  21. 21
    Barry Arrington says:

    JT writes: “Don’t you understand that “agency” is an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept?”

    Dont’ you understand that the rest of us are unwilling to deny the self-evident – that intelligent agents cause effects. The fact that you are reading this sentence proves the point. If, after reading it, you continue to deny it, your denial is self-referentially incoherent, and, consequently, irrational. The rest of us cannot base they way we use language on trying to satifsy irrational people. We have no common frame of reference, and further discussion with you is pointless.

    Ted Davis writes: “both critics of and supporters of ID want to control the language.” Not true. I do not wish to control the meaning of the word “natural” and could not do so if I wished. Wittgenstein again: “Meaning is usage.” In other words, the meaning of a word depends on its usage in the language. ID proponents merely point out that the meaning of the word – according to common English usage – varies based on context. And pretending it has a fixed meaning and that meaning is always “the opposite of supernatural” does nothing but confuse people (which is probably Forest’s purpose).

    ROb writes: “The archeologist would conclude that it’s man-made, but I don’t know that she would infer agency as defined in ID.” Using the ID definition of agency would be the only way she could determine it is man-made. Your statement is self-referentially incoherent.

  22. 22
    StephenB says:

    —–Ted Davis: “Ms Forrest certainly has her own agenda, but it’s not unfair to say that ID is *partly* (certainly not entirely) about making inferences to the “supernatural.”

    Everything turns on context. When one chooses to illuminate science with references to philosophy or theology, alluding to the “supernatural” is perfectly normal and acceptable. We do it all the time. When, for example, the Catholic Church tries to discern whether or not a medical miracle can be attributed to a saint, it is appealing to the supernatural. It asks, did God do this, or did nature do it?

    On the other hand, when one is discussing the possibility of Divine intelligence, superhuman intelligence, human intelligence, laws, or chance, the context changes and the word “supernatural” suddenly muddies the debate waters. It implies that there can be no other kind of non-natural intelligence other than God. Once the scientist defines “natural” to mean law and chance, then natural cannot mean human agency. So, if human intelligence is neither a natural cause nor a supernatural cause, what is it? Obviously, it is BOTH a non-natural and non-supernatural cause. That means that anyone who introduces a natural/supernatural dichotomy at that point is either uninformed or is being disingenuous.

    To say, then, that an intelligent agent MAY be supernatural, or MAY be superhuman or MAY be human is NOT to appeal the the supernatural. It is to appeal to the UNIDENTIFIED agency source.

  23. 23
    JayM says:

    Joseph @4

    Why is human agency “non-natural”?

    For the same reason my car is non-natural.

    And that is why, exactly?

    The methodological naturalist position is that humans are the result of billions of years of evolution from a universal common ancestor. The mind is an emergent phenomena made possible by the immensely complex, but still naturally occurring, human brain.

    In the sense that Forrest is using the term, all results of human intelligence are therefore “natural.” The intelligence postulated by ID theory is therefore also either a product of natural processes or is supernatural.

    Mainstream science claims that humans are a product of nature.

    And if that were ever demonstrated ID would fall by the wayside.

    When dealing with methodological naturalism, which defines mainstream science, we must demonstrate that human intelligence cannot be explained within that paradigm. That may seem unfair, but the basic assumption of science as currently practiced is that there is a materialistic explanation for all phenomena. If ID theory claims that is not the case, it is incumbent on ID theorists to demonstrate that human intelligence is not reducible to material causes.

    Personally, I’m not convinced we can make this case. I think it is much more likely that evidence for ID will come from investigating the “edge of evolution.” Be that as it may, until we demonstrate that human intelligence is “non-natural,” simply asserting that is unconvincing.

    JJ

  24. 24
    QuadFather says:

    It is extraordinarily difficult to define “supernatural” in a way that justifies it’s status as a *unique* category. Think about some of the things that we typically regard as “supernatural”:

    -Invisibility.
    -Omnipresence.
    -Teleportation.
    -Eternity.

    All of these phenomena are observed today (eternity is inferred) and are considered to be perfectly “natural”, scientifically:

    -Invisibility: We’ve got meta-materials.
    -Omnipresence: We’ve got a single particle appearing in two places at once.
    -Teleportation: We’ve got particles teleporting more that 3 feet.
    -Eternity: The premise of materialistic theories every bit as much as non-materialistic theories.

    The REAL question here is: What is it about “supernatural” that disqualifies it as “natural” or “intelligent”?

    I can describe “supernatural” things as “natural,” and I can describe “intelligence” as “supernatural”:
    – Invisibility is a “natural” phenomenon that sometimes occurs when light is bent by air, water, gravity, or other light-bending factors.
    – This is a man-made element that does not occur “naturally”; It is produced in laboratories where the “intelligence” of scientists *super*-cedes natural forces.
    – The issue is further compounded by those who argue that intelligence is merely an *instance* of natural forces at work. In this case, any notion that “God” is a supernatural entity is rendered meaningless, and “God” becomes a completely natural, if not exotic, being. Think about it: Is there any well-defined property assigned to “God” that can be said to be supernatural and NOT natural? I have wrestled over this question many many times, and I remain extremely dubious that “God” can be described in such a way.

    So, I think we’ve got a really serious definitional problem when it comes to using the term “supernatural”.

    It seems to me that the main function of this term is more to describe *our knowledge* about something rather than to describe the something itself. When we didn’t know what fire was, it was supernatural. We figured out what it was, and now we think it’s “natural”. Invisibility was once reserved for witches and demons – now, it’s merely the fine-tuning of a perfectly “natural” phenomenon.

    Thus, since it describes our knowledge rather than *things*, it is a FALSE category of *things*.

    The term is *less than* useless. It only distracts from tackling the real issues, like whether we can detect intentionality in the design of life. If we really press the issue, we will discover that we are all talking about the same things – it’s just that we’re using 7 different terms with 12 different connotations to describe these identical things.

    You wanna talk about false controversies, it’s THIS.

  25. 25
    critiacrof says:

    @Joseph#14: you’re right. PRE can be used to point out a cause. Still I don’t like that name.

  26. 26
    QuadFather says:

    JayM,

    If you read my post, I think you’ll see that until we can hammer down how “supernatural” qualifies as a unique category of *things* rather than a mere description of our knowledge, there is no way to exclude intelligent design from a naturalistic approach to science.

  27. 27
    Ted Davis says:

    Stephen:

    Yes, context matters greatly; you and Barry are right. Thus I ask that you please reread what I wrote, in its context. I made reference to the intelligence (by whatever name or term) that is responsible for cosmic design–for the whole shebbang. Do you think, yourself, that such an intelligence is not appropriately called “supernatural”? Is such an intelligence really “UNIDENTIFIED” in any real and honest sense? Even if I accept for the sake of argument that such an intelligence is unidentified, surely it is consistent with how the word is commonly used (I nod here toward Barry) to employ the word “supernatural” in this instance.

    The real issue here, it seems to me, is whether or not the bar against invoking “supernatural” agencies in science is legitimate. That’s not a scientific question, pure and simple, but a meta-question on which many scientists have weighed in, for a very long time.

    As far as we know, it originates with the presocratics, esp with the Hippocratic physicians–one of whom argued that calling epilepsy “the sacred disease” was only a cloak for our ignorance. Even Robert Boyle, arguably the greatest ID advocate of the scientific revolution, said that we ought not appeal to God’s absolute power in natural philosophy. He didn’t doubt God’s absolute power one bit, mind you; he simply thought that we have to confine our search for “scientific” causes to means, not agency.

    The problem with Dawkins, Forrest, and others of their worldview is related to this. They believe that, by giving explanations in terms of means–or (some would say), by inventing putative explanations in terms of means–that no explanations in terms of agency have any validity. For them, the whole story is means, not agency. For Boyle and many other great scientists, however, science needs to deal with means but inferences about agency and more (purpose, meaning, etc) can also be made–perhaps from science, but going beyond it rather than within it.

    In the American educational context, of course, ID advocates feel compelled to make a “scientific” case (rather than a philosophical or religious case) for explanations involving intelligent agents, esp (it seems to me) in those instances where it is evident to most people that the agent is a certain Agent who pre-existed the known universe. Hence, the argument about “science” and the “supernatural.”

    Incidentally, I have always gotten the point that ID stresses the natural/artificial distinction rather than the natural/supernatural distinction. I’ve underscored that often, when writing or speaking to audiences hostile to ID, and I don’t doubt its sincerity or legitimacy. At the same time, it’s legitimate to point out that there is a scent of the supernatural somewhere in the room. If there weren’t–forgive my scepticism–then the interest in ID, for or against, wouldn’t be nearly as great; and this blog would probably not exist at all. People have simply invested a whole lot of emotional energy into this, so much that it’s hard for me to think otherwise.

  28. 28
    JT says:

    Quadfather [24]: I thought that was a pretty interesting argument. Also bFast’s remarks that multiverse would qualify as supernatural.

  29. 29
    QuadFather says:

    Ted Davis,

    I think if you read my earlier comments, you’ll probably agree that the real problem is that we don’t even have a coherent idea of what makes “supernatural” different from “natural” or “intelligent” … or what makes ANY of these terms different from each other, for that matter.

    And we can’t very well be exclusive in science when the exclusion lacks a premise to begin with.

  30. 30
    QuadFather says:

    JT,

    Yes, the multiverse is another great point. Mike Behe often describes “supernatural” as that which exists outside of our universe. This is the best shot at defining “supernatural”, in my opinion, but it remains problematic:

    Either you have to say that science DOES have access to the supernatural, since scientists *are* studying theories about things that transcend our universe, OR you have to say that existence outside of our universe does NOT qualify something as supernatural.

    It’s all the same bloody thing, [expletive]!

    Or am I just taking CRAZY pills?

  31. 31
    QuadFather says:

    Barry Arrington,

    I think you’re spot-on that the problem w/ Forrest is her imprecise use of language.

    At the same time, I think you trail off into a bit of imprecision yourself when you concede that a “divine” agent can indeed be correctly described as “supernatural”.

    There is certainly no shortage of folks from the ID camp who will communicate that very same message, yet I find it extraordinarily difficult to find any who would actually QUALIFY it.

    The term “divine” itself is so bloated with visions of Zeus and sugar plum fairies, one can scarcely work out its actual meaning – if one even exists at all. Like the term “supernatural”, the word “divine” is unique only in the way that it describes our knowledge. But watch out, God, because the moment we understand what “divine” actually is, God becomes perfectly natural to us. You see, neither “supernatural” nor “divine” describe *things* themselves; these are FALSE categories.

    In any case …

    You cannot assign something to a poorly defined category (supernatural) on the basis of ANOTHER poorly defined category (divine).

    I really am just dying for SOMEBODY in the ID camp to acknowledge that the term “supernatural” has nothing unique to offer that “natural” and “intelligent” does not offer already, except *perhaps* in the way that it is used to describe the status of our knowledge. The term is absolutely and hopelessly redundant.

    Is this too much to hope for?

  32. 32
    bFast says:

    Ted Davis, thanks for your recent post. It was well spoken.

    At the same time, it’s legitimate to point out that there is a scent of the supernatural somewhere in the room. If there weren’t–forgive my scepticism–then the interest in ID, for or against, wouldn’t be nearly as great; and this blog would probably not exist at all.

    (However, the inverse is also painfully true, that there is there is a scent of denial of the supernatural somewhere in the science lab.)

    Your point is certainly true. While the clean argument ID = Supernatural = Biblical Christianity is fundimentally invalid, there is no question that many of the posters here, myself included, are positively metaphysically predisposed in favor of ID.

    I look at my own motivations quite honestly. I have frequently done so on this blog. My bias in favor of ID stems from three factors:

    1-A Christian worldview, with all of the emotional and relational experience that goes along with it.

    2-A software developer’s perspective. As a multi-patented software developer, my incredulity rises high when I am faced with the suggestion that DNA somehow self-coded — that DNA is the result of a very simple algorithm (natural selection) and sufficient time.
    3-Repeated experiences with the supernatural, with miracles. Primarily my experience is with events involving compound coincidences, but events that just don’t come close to fitting into my understanding of “natural” or “to be expected”.

    All of that said, I, like most here, am more predisposed to consider ID for the above reasons. But my willingness to look at the data, my willingness to shift in time from a young earth to a UCD perspective, demonstrates that I am not religiously committed to ID. I have considered the theistic evolution or the “by law” perspective, and I find it theologically palitable. It is the evidence alone that has me convinced that only agency can explain biology as we know it.

  33. 33
    R0b says:

    Barry:

    Using the ID definition of agency would be the only way she could determine it is man-made. Your statement is self-referentially incoherent.

    I disagree. The ID characterization of agency is metaphysical. If you think that it isn’t, can you please explain scientifically or mathematically what it means for something to operate outside of law and chance? If this aspect of agency is so obvious, then surely such explanations must exist in the scientific literature.

    We can determine that objects are man-made without making metaphysical assumptions. We simply have to observe that they have characteristics in common with other man-made objects.

  34. 34
    StephenB says:

    Ted:
    ID draws an inference to the best explanation based on observable evidence. The alluded to inference can only identify natural causes from non-natural causes; it cannot transcend the nature of the cause, describe the designer, or establish the designer’s identity. If, for example, you notice that your room seems to have been ransacked, you can examine the evidence and judge whether or not the weather did it or whether a vandal did it. Design detection cannot uncover the identity of the offender.

    Granted, forensic science has other techniques to gather that information, but design detection is not one of them. Now one could protest all day that the analyst really had someone’s grandmother in mind when he/she conducted the investigation. The fact remains, however, that the technique in question simply doesn’t have the inherent capacity to uncover the identity of the grandmother even if she was the vandal. So, if someone suggests that the analyst is using a “grandmother of the gaps” argument, or if the analyst’s enemies accuse him of arguing that “grandma did it,” the scientific inference is distinct from all of these events.

    So, no one is erecting a “bar” ruling out supernatural agents. As far as I am concerned the God of Abraham created the known universe, and I am happy to acknowledge that fact. While that is my theological conclusion, it cannot be my scientific inference. At the same time, I submit that theological truths can illuminate scientific truths, and that my faith in the Christian God fits in nicely with my ID orientation. Even so, it is not my faith that provides the evidence for the designer’s existence; it is the empirically anchored patterns found in nature.

    My speculative reason tells me that it would take an omnipotent God to conceive and implement such an innovation as the cosmos, but those conclusions are, as you suggest, philosophical and theological in nature. The “bar” of limitation that you refer to is not meant to rule out those theological conclusions but rather to prevent us from confusing them with the methods employed in the design inference. These patters do speak on their own, after all, and what they say does not need religious faith to confirm them. They are simply there to be observed and acknowledged, and, dare I say it, they appear to have put there for that very purpose.

    I do thank your for recognizing the point that ID stresses the natural/artificial distinction rather than the natural/supernatural distinction. As a point of contention, you do suggest, at the same time, that there is a “scent of the supernatural somewhere in the room.” By that I think you mean that ID uses a Christian “brand identity” to market its scientific methodology. That is an interesting sociological point that I cannot address because I honestly don’t know the numbers involved. It may be less about marketing and more faith confirmation. For my part, I am happy that the God left evidence of his handiwork in nature and that science confirms many of the tenets of mu Christian faith. But that is no more than to say that God’s revelation in Scripture is consistent with God’s revelation in nature, a central tenet of Christianity as revealed in Romans 1:19-20 and in Psalm 19. So, I don’t see anything remarkable about that, nor do I see anything wrong with it.

    What I do find remarkable is that many of our Christian critics seem to think that God’s revelation in Scripture is at variance with his revelation in nature. At times, it appears that they are afraid someone will question their sophistication if they are caught questioning the relationship between Christianity and Darwinism. Try as I might, I have never been able to understand the appeal or the logic of that formulation. As everyone who cares knows, Darwin’s entire program provided an alternative explanation to the traditional explanation for the cosmos. It was not meant to be a “supplement”; it was offered as a “replacement.”

    True, Augustine and others acknowledged that God may have used the evolutionary process to fashion life on this planet, but his was a conception of “directed” evolution. For those who find macro-evolution appealing, that would be one way for a Christian to go. Further, it is a kind of “theistic evolution” that harmonizes with the ID paradigm. For my part, the evidence doesn’t warrant it, but a God-directed macro evolution certainly poses no obstacle to my faith.

    On the other hand, I don’t understand Darwin’s appeal, or, more precisely, the lure of his undirected, chance driven scheme. How is it that so many want to change the alternative view of creation into a supplemental view of creation? So, from whence comes this notion of design by chance? Oh, I know, Robert Russell and others tell us that God directs evolution in some incomprehensible fashion that somehow seems undirected to us. Do you realize how incredible that world view sounds to anyone except those who have been immersed in it?

    If what we observe is incomprehensible, what is the point of the investigation? As the ancients use to say, we are really “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” If what God had in mind is so radically different from what we perceive, then we may as well throw in the towel and descend into anti-intellectualism, which is exactly what many are doing. Yes, I know, quantum mechanics and chaos theory have changed the way the game is played, but they have not made a rational universe irrational.

    Granted, Darwin was right about random variation, natural selection and micro-evolution, but he was almost definitely wrong to argue that these forces alone can explain all of life. What I am saying is that if one wants to believe in theistic evolution, why not lose Darwin and go with Augustine? Christian Darwinism loses on two counts: It posits that a purposeful, mindful God used a purposeless, mindless process, and it clings to that position in the teeth of all evidence against it. So, the formulation is just as unattractive as it is unlikely. ID is much more attractive and much more likely to be true.

  35. 35
    Winston Macchi says:

    Effects caused by an agent (whether divine, superhuman or human) leave similar traces (e.g., complex specified information, irreducible complexity) that simply cannot be replicated by effects caused by law and chance.

    I know that we have ample evidence of the effects of humans leading to CSI. May I ask, what are the effects of superhumans and divine agents leading to CSI that you used in your comparison?

  36. 36
    Barry Arrington says:

    Please wrap up any additional comments on this FAQ. Comments will be closed at noon (mountain time) on Wednesday.

  37. 37
    Upright BiPed says:

    Please keep in mind the strategic position ID is in.

  38. 38
    Sotto Voce says:

    I think it’s worth clarifying the two senses of the predicate “natural” a bit more:

    (1) An object is natural if it was not intentionally created by a sentient agent. This is a pretty imprecise characterization, but I hope the general idea is clear. On this account, the arrowhead discovered by the archeologist is not natural. The sun is natural. A footprint I leave on the beach is also natural (although I created it, it was not intentionally created). Using this sense, non-natural does not mean supernatural.

    (2) An explanation of some process or some object’s existence is natural if it is in principle completely explicable by the currently accepted laws of science (or non-radical developments of these laws). On this account the naturalness or otherwise of the causal explanation of the arrowhead depends on whether or not you believe that the human intelligence responsible for it can itself be natualistically explained. Most dualists will say no, most materialists will say yes. The antonym of “natural” in this sense is quite plausibly supernatural.

    So the question is now, is ID committed to non-naturalism only in the first sense (fairly innocuous), or in the second sense? Based on my (admittedly insufficient) knowledge of the explanatory filter, I suspect the latter. After all, we begin by ruling out explanation of the system by law or chance. Any other sort of explanation, it seems to me, must be non-natural on the second sense of “natural”. The archeologist doesn’t label the arrowhead “natural” because he is using the word in the the first sense. To say the arrowhead is non-natural in the second sense is to make a very contentious claim, one that no archeologist would make likely. Your easy dismissal of Forrest’s rhetoric is apparently based on an equivocation between these two uses of the term.

  39. 39
    Sotto Voce says:

    Erratum: The second-to-last sentence of my post should end “… one that no archeologist would make lightly.”

  40. 40
    Michael Haanel says:

    There are some things we can say about an “intelligent” designer. We can’t say that he/she has hands and a head, but we can say the a designer must have words. A design is a plan, a concept that can be explained in words.

    Languages are a cultural artifact. Wherever human beings live together communally, words spring up, and everything gets named. No being can have language a priori.

    The mystery of existence isn’t how we got here, it is that we are discussing how we got here. This wonderful conversation is a struggle to loop words like “supernatural” around concepts. We are hammering out the meaning of words, using logic, and past experience, and excellent vocabularies. How did an intelligent designer get his or her vocabulary?

  41. 41
    Upright BiPed says:

    So the question is now, is ID committed to non-naturalism only in the first sense (fairly innocuous), or in the second sense?

    The strongest position for ID is to remain committed only to the evidence. ID has, and can continue, to defend what it leads as long as it leads with the evidence.

  42. 42
    jpg564 says:

    Quadfather,

    My understanding of your view of natural vs supernatural is that everything is natural, IOW, anything that is true is natural. Supernatural means it isn’t true or it doesn’t exist. It’s a valid definition, but it doesn’t help clarify anything.

    ROb,

    Your argument that agency isn’t a separate category of causation is hard to defend. You argued that the earthworms would be categorized as law. I presume you would put yourself in that category as well. So then, your choice to post to this blog and the words you typed were the result of some law that acts specifically on you and compels your actions? But a “law” that acts uniquely for every individual and situation isn’t much of a law. Our choices are not chance and they’re not predetermined. To prove it would require supernatural or metaphysical ability to foretell the future.

  43. 43
    Sotto Voce says:

    But a “law” that acts uniquely for every individual and situation isn’t much of a law.

    Consider the trajectory of every single air molecule in your room right now. Do you think there are other rooms in which the molecules follow the exact same trajectories? The odds against this are astronomical. The air-in-a-room system is capable of an incredible diversity of behavior. Does this mean this system is not law-governed?

    Similarly, the fact that humans are capable of an incredible diversity of behavior is no argument against this behavior being law-governed.

  44. 44
    bFast says:

    Sotto Voce:

    So the question is now, is ID committed to non-naturalism only in the first sense (fairly innocuous), or in the second sense?

    In general, I would say that ID is radically committed only to the first sense.

    I would edit, however, that “sentience” is not ID’s criteria. Sentience is never discussed. If there is one necessary charactoristic of the agent it is foresight. Is sentience required for foresight? Startreck II would suggest so. However, it is not a discussed term.

    I think that foresight requires intentionality. I think that if intentionality were to somehow be eliminated from the equation; if, for instance, the unintentional jossling of intelligent agents in a nearby universe were causing what we were seeing, we would recognize this as non-foresighted activity — not ID.

  45. 45
    bFast says:

    Let me extend, however, that we may be a “grand experiment”. An intelligence may have interjected “agency” into the system at just a few strategic points, the rest may be totally driven by the laws of nature. It may well be that the agent is observing us to discover where the laws of nature will take us to. I see no reason to believe, from the scientific evidence, that the agent(s) is a micromanager.

  46. 46
    Joseph says:

    Why is human agency “non-natural”?

    For the same reason my car is non-natural.

    And that is why, exactly?

    Because nature, operating freely, did NOT design nor build it.

    The methodological naturalist position is that humans are the result of billions of years of evolution from a universal common ancestor. The mind is an emergent phenomena made possible by the immensely complex, but still naturally occurring, human brain.

    I know their position.

    It nis up to THEM to demonstrate it.

    Without that demonstration they have nothing.

    In the sense that Forrest is using the term, all results of human intelligence are therefore “natural.”

    The way SCIENTISTS use the word “natural” everything man-made is an “artifact”.

    Just look at the ingredients of bubble-gum. They include “natural and artificial” flavors.

    The intelligence postulated by ID theory is therefore also either a product of natural processes or is supernatural.

    Or PRE-natural, as I have already posted and defended.

    When dealing with methodological naturalism, which defines mainstream science, we must demonstrate that human intelligence cannot be explained within that paradigm.

    That is false. The current paradigm has to have some data which supports it.

    Or else it gets canned.

    Ya see when dealing with mainsteam science all alternatives just have to meet the currently accpted level of evidence.

    Otherwise there is a double-standard.

  47. 47
    Joseph says:

    I know that we have ample evidence of the effects of humans leading to CSI. May I ask, what are the effects of superhumans and divine agents leading to CSI that you used in your comparison?

    First get rid of “superhuman” and “divine”.

    Next if EVERY time we observe CSI it has always come from an intelligent agency- even a human- then when we observe CSI and do NOT know the cause it is a safe inference that an intelligent agency caused it.

    Now as with ALL scientific inferences future research acn either confirm or refute it.

    However to deny the design inference just because we do not know the agency is just nonsense.

  48. 48
    Winston Macchi says:

    First get rid of “superhuman” and “divine”.

    First, superhuman and divine were taken directly from the FAQ. Perhaps they should be gotten rid of.

    Second, I’m not denying the design inference because we don’t no the agency, I’m denying that there is reason to bestow ability to agency with no evidence that said agency has that ability.

  49. 49
    Winston Macchi says:

    And, of course, you cannot use life as the evidence that an agency (superhuman, divine, whatever you want) can produce CSI. That would be no different that a Darwinist claiming nature can produce CSI and using a salamander and the example.

  50. 50
    JayM says:

    Joseph @45

    Why is human agency “non-natural”?

    For the same reason my car is non-natural.

    And that is why, exactly?

    Because nature, operating freely, did NOT design nor build it.

    That is exactly the question in dispute. We need to prove it, not simply assert it.

    The methodological naturalist position is that humans are the result of billions of years of evolution from a universal common ancestor. The mind is an emergent phenomena made possible by the immensely complex, but still naturally occurring, human brain.

    I know their position.

    It nis up to THEM to demonstrate it.

    Just as it is up to us to demonstrate ours. Simple assertions don’t achieve that goal.

    I’ve had similar discussions with methodological naturalists before. It always comes down to “We’ve seen natural processes at work. While we don’t know everything, methodological naturalism has resulted in a great increase in knowledge. Unless you can provide an equally powerful predictive process, there is no reason to assume that anything other than natural mechanisms are required.”

    One could argue that this is a double standard, but it’s a double standard at the philosophy of science level rather than at the practice of science level. Progress is being made in understanding the brain. There may be limits to how much progress can be made, just as there may be limits to how far evolutionary mechanisms can go, but it is up to ID researchers to demonstrate those limits, not simply assert that they exist.

    JJ

  51. 51
    Joseph says:

    First, superhuman and divine were taken directly from the FAQ. Perhaps they should be gotten rid of.

    I would have to see the context. All I know is that ID does NOT posit a superhuman nor a divine agency.

    Second, I’m not denying the design inference because we don’t no the agency, I’m denying that there is reason to bestow ability to agency with no evidence that said agency has that ability.

    How is that any different than denying the design inference because we do not know the designer?

    Ya see designers- successful designers anyway- have the ability to design what it is they are designing.

    And, of course, you cannot use life as the evidence that an agency (superhuman, divine, whatever you want) can produce CSI.

    As I said every time we have observed CSI and knew the cause it has always been via an intelligent agency.

    To refute that premise all one has to do is to demonstrate that nature, operating freely, can do so.

    That would be no different that a Darwinist claiming nature can produce CSI and using a salamander and the example.

    Yet no one has ever observed nature, operating freely, produce a salamander.

    Salamanders come from other salamanders. That is what science has shown us.

  52. 52
    R0b says:

    Barry[21]:

    JT writes: “Don’t you understand that “agency” is an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept?”

    Dont’ you understand that the rest of us are unwilling to deny the self-evident – that intelligent agents cause effects. The fact that you are reading this sentence proves the point. If, after reading it, you continue to deny it, your denial is self-referentially incoherent, and, consequently, irrational. The rest of us cannot base they way we use language on trying to satifsy irrational people. We have no common frame of reference, and further discussion with you is pointless.

    May I suggest that Barry’s response exemplifies the rift between ID and the scientific community. If ID theory involves terms like agency, but ID theorists won’t flesh those terms out scientifically, then perhaps we should view ID’s “expulsion” from science as self-expulsion.

  53. 53
    Joseph says:

    JayM,

    Science is not about proving anything.

    And yes anyone can say that methodological naturalism has led to a great increase of knowledge but just saying that is meaningless.

    What knowledge has increased?

    What insights has methodological naturalism given us?

    Heck MN can’t even provide a testable hypothsesis.

    MN does not provide any predictiove power- that is beacuse it can’t even muster a testable hypothesis.

    As for the limits- one peer-reviewed paper tat tried to refute Behe’s “Edge..” tells us that with humans it would take more than 100 million years just to “evolve” a new binding site!

    Yet the alleged split was about 7.5 million years ago.

    Methodological naturalism is dead. There isn’t any data to support it. Those who support it have just forgotten to roll over.

    PS “evolutonary mechanisms” is a misnomer. Undirected vs directed as “evolution” is not being debated.

  54. 54
    Joseph says:

    If ID theory involves terms like agency, but ID theorists won’t flesh those terms out scientifically, then perhaps we should view ID’s “expulsion” from science as self-expulsion.

    Read “Nature, Design and Science” by Del Ratzsch.

    That would be a good start.

    IOW “agency” has been “fleshed out”.

    It is only those who choose not to read the relevant literature who remain confused.

  55. 55
    QuadFather says:

    jpg564 @ [41],

    I think you misunderstand the points that I’m trying to make.

    I am NOT proposing specific definitions for these terms, I am trying to point out that these terms are *used* in so MANY *overlapping* ways as to make any distinction between them largely irrelevant.

    The term “supernatural” is particularly problematic because it does not describe anything that “natural” or “intelligent” does not describe already.

    Some people do take the view that anything that is real or understood is “natural”. Here, intelligent design can be understood as a category of natural phenomena.

    Other people are more conservative in defining “natural”, saying that intelligently created things are not naturally occurring. Intelligent design exists quite comfortably within this view as well.

    My point is that, no matter how we define these terms, there is NO WAY TO CATEGORICALLY EXCLUDE INTELLIGENT DESIGN from science. Since these terms are defined so poorly and *promiscuously*, there can be no premise for such an exclusion.

    My point is ALSO that “supernatural” is a FALSE category of things. It is a hopelessly redundant term. At best, it describes our knowledge – and that’s stretching it – and it certainly does NOT describe things themselves.

    Ultimately, my point is that all of this blather about natural, supernatural, and intelligent is the REAL false controversy.

    Also, I think it is important to point out that IDers themselves are guilty of relying on poorly defined terms (How I wish that they would acknowledge the uselessness of “supernatural” rather than arguing that it is mis-used!). Barry Arrington’s post here is one of many examples that I could dig up.

    I REALLY wish that Barry would respond to my comments to him in post [31]:

    [You cannot assign something to a poorly defined category (supernatural) on the basis of ANOTHER poorly defined category (divine).]

    Until we can provide a *unique* definition for “supernatural”, we should throw the term out altogether rather than trying to work with it.

    Oi, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

  56. 56
    QuadFather says:

    Ok, the only point I would like to make is this:

    No matter how these terms are defined, intelligent design fits.

    It fits within a naturalistic approach to science just as easily as a non-naturalistic approach.

    So what’s the big deal? If Forrest tries to exclude ID, just tell her how ID fits ANYWAY – grant her premises, rather than getting caught up in some frustrating merry-go-round of shape-shifting terminology, and tell her how she’s STILL wrong.

    It seems like it should be so easy …

  57. 57
    QuadFather says:

    R0b,

    I think it is self-evident that mind is a distinct category of things, would you not agree? We obviously would have to work out exactly what makes it distinct – cars, for example, don’t just assemble themselves – but we really are just trying to articulate something that is already self-evident.

    If you are getting caught up on the point that even minds are naturally-occurring, then I think you are missing the point.

    Even granting that mind is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, it is still a distinct category of phenomenon, and we ought to be able to study it as such.

  58. 58
    QuadFather says:

    Scotto @ [38],

    The answer is: Intelligent design fits with BOTH 1 and 2.

    The *important* thing is that intelligent activity is a *distinct* category of activity, and it is in both scenarios.

    The question that people continue to get caught up in is on what level does this distinction take place. But it matters not.

    Either way, there is a distinction, and that is what allows us to study intelligent activity as a distinct phenomenon.

    So what’s the problem?

    :sigh:

  59. 59
    JT says:

    R0b wrote [51]:

    Barry[21]:

    JT writes: “Don’t you understand that “agency” is an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept?”
    Dont’ you understand that the rest of us are unwilling to deny the self-evident – that intelligent agents cause effects. The fact that you are reading this sentence proves the point. If, after reading it, you continue to deny it, your denial is self-referentially incoherent, and, consequently, irrational. The rest of us cannot base they way we use language on trying to satifsy irrational people. We have no common frame of reference, and further discussion with you is pointless.

    May I suggest that Barry’s response exemplifies the rift between ID and the scientific community. If ID theory involves terms like agency, but ID theorists won’t flesh those terms out scientifically, then perhaps we should view ID’s “expulsion” from science as self-expulsion.

    I think I can clarify what Barry’s argument is above by referencing a comment by Paul Giem directed to me in the G.K. Chesteron thread:

    Whether or not we are determined, if our thoughts are determined but not by logical inferences from the evidence, they are worthless.

    An extremely prevelant idea in I.D. is that if thinking is the result of law then it is worthless and incapable of ascertaining truth. You will find this idea repeated over and over again in I.D. circles, even by very intelligent people. A few week ago, Denyse discussed this guy with a doctoral degree, and in his article she linked to, he repeats the same argument.

    It is not a valid argument. It hardly seems worthy of comment. Its confusing that apparently really intelligent people are swayed by it, and that this argument is apparently never ever going to go away.

    The argument being made does not hinge on the complexity or number of laws involved . It does not say that to be able to determine truth in nontrivial domains, a LOT of rules are required. Rather, the issue is that the determinism of the enterprise supposedly rules out any ability to determine truth.

    But we employ automatic algorithms in all sorts of different contexts to endeavor the truth or falsity of things.

    In a bueracratic context employess might be instructed to follow some complex tested procedure to make a diagnosis of some sort.

    Is it possible as well for an automated process, a complex program, to make accurate determinations of truth or falsity in some domain? Quite obviously yes, right?

    How does one counter I.D.’s argument here? Its like it was being argued that water isn’t wet. How do you counter that?

    ID adovates presumably will reply with a smile, “Ahhh yes but you forget one small detail: A program was written by a… human being!”

    This is supposed to make you withdraw in confusion and despair, knowing you’ve obviously been bested. You may withdraw in confusion, but only over how anyone could find this a compelling argument.

    Of course we know that rules – lots and lots and lots of rules, millions of them, govern many aspects of a human: the function of organs, motor reflexes and so on. So why shouldn’t we assume rules govern human thought as well? I don’t know. Do rules not govern an animal’s thoughts either? Can they not determine the truth of things?

    Furthermore, as a side note, it would seem that from a traditional Darwinian perspective that Truth would have to be something favored by survival. Truth would be how accurate an organism’s comprehension of the external world is. Wouldn’t more accurate sense organs, a more reliable reasoning process be favored? You would think so.

  60. 60
    JT says:

    [58] The formatting that resulted for the following may cause confusion:

    JT writes: “Don’t you understand that “agency” is an abstraction that by no means everyone accepts as being a meaningful concept?”
    Dont’ you understand that the rest of us are unwilling to deny the self-evident – that intelligent agents cause effects. The fact that you are reading this sentence proves the point.

    The comment starting “Don’t you undertand…” is BarryA’s comment.

  61. 61
    QuadFather says:

    JT,

    I think you simply have difficulty in separating a property from the thing that possesses the property.

    Intelligence is a property. A human is a thing that possesses this property.

    Let’s start by considering the self-evident fact that intelligent activity creates things that do not occur naturally. Was it humans or was it intelligence?

    Now, consider the fact that a brain-dead human can not create things that do not occur naturally.

    Furthermore, we may consider a bird’s nest or a beaver dam, and realize that it does not even require *human* intelligence to create things that are not naturally occurring.

    Obviously, it is the property of intelligence, not the humans who possess this property, that makes possible the things that are not naturally occurring.

    When observing something for which we did not observe the origin, we ask what this thing most resembles: Things that occur naturally or things that do not occur naturally?

    And when we observe something that resembles things that are not naturally occurring, it is obvious that we can infer intelligent activity without also inferring human or animal activity.

  62. 62
    QuadFather says:

    Let me amend what I said:

    Obviously, it is the property of intelligence, not the humans who possess this property, that is necessary to make possible the things that are not naturally occurring.

  63. 63
    jerry says:

    I find the whole discussion of supernatural and natural to be an absurd one. Not because it may not exist but because the distinction is not yet provable by any definitive means we have. There is no proof one way or the other about this yet one side wants to eliminate the consideration whether the distinction has merit or not.

    Some people hypothesize the existence of an intelligence, force, power, whatever you want to call it that explains some phenomena of the material world but which may not exist in this world. There is nothing wrong with that because it explains the potential problem under consideration. It doesn’t mean that a materialistic explanation may not be found but that this intelligence etc. is a possibility. As we find more evidence in the materialistic world, this possibility goes up or down for each phenomenon under scrutiny. The other philosophy says 100% that such an intelligence, force, power etc. does not exist.

    Let’s say this intelligence is the Judeo-Christian God that is hypothesized. That intelligence would explain the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life and potentially many other phenomena. It would not stop any investigation into a particular phenomenon. But those who oppose such an explanation would actually limit some types of investigation.

    But those opposed to any such intelligence, power, force do not have to believe it. They can believe it somehow happened without any intelligence, force, power etc. and may at some day in the future be explained even if the current evidence says it may be impossible. And they can continue to work as if it was not there.

    Both are faith based. We can explore why the alternative is abhorrent to each group and it would be interesting to see what each group would volunteeringly say. Interesting is that those who oppose such a possibility are willing to believe in an impersonal force that might create multiple universes or that somehow these other universes might affect ours. But what is non negotiable is that some willful intelligence is operating to affect this universe.

    But this intelligence etc does not have to be anything like the Judeo-Chrisitan God and those who believe it is are just as guilty of faith as those who oppose it are.

  64. 64
    JT says:

    Quadfather, I will consider your points, but may or may not respond as I may be diverging too much from the topic of this thread. BarryA was implicitly making an argument in responding to me that may not have been apparent, but an argument that seems to be prevalent in ID, so I did want to clarify that.

  65. 65
    QuadFather says:

    jerry,

    A voice of reason at last! The distinction between these problematic terms is patently non-existent, and any arguments premised upon these distinctions is therefore absurd.

    Categories must be worked out definitively before something can be excluded from science categorically.

    So riddle me this: Why do IDers like Barry Arrington still concede that “supernatural” is a real category for “divine”? Holy moly, my head could just explode every time I read a well-reasoned post from an obviously intelligent individual who nevertheless assigns one poorly-defined category on the basis of ANOTHER poorly-defined category!

    It’s like … Really!

    I’m reminded of a dad explaining to his bright four-year-old son how the family car works. The kid is, afterall, at the head of his pre-school class, so the dad figures he should be able to handle it. Dad explains how the engine converts gasoline into forward motion. He explains all the buttons, nobs, and levers. The child is so bright, he absorbs it all. He even scribbles Crayola depictions of the ideal interior set up for a four-year-old.

    Then at the end of the day, the boy looks up at his dad and says, “But what does it DO?”

  66. 66
    Upright BiPed says:

    Quad, Jerry…

    ..and then there is of course the minor point that the distinction, the argument, the founding of this whole concept is NOT PART OF THE EVIDENCE for ID!

  67. 67
    QuadFather says:

    Upright BiPed,

    Exactly.

  68. 68
    JT says:

    QF [60]:

    I think you simply have difficulty in separating a property from the thing that possesses the property.

    You would have to provide a quote here.

    Intelligence is a property. A human is a thing that possesses this property.

    These sorts of distinctions would be arbitary and a matter of convenience. For example, you can quite legitimately consider code to be data and data as code depending on the context, and even at the same time.

    Let’s start by considering the self-evident fact that intelligent activity creates things that do not occur naturally.

    I wouldn’t say that is self-evident.

    Furthermore, we may consider a bird’s nest or a beaver dam, and realize that it does not even require *human* intelligence to create things that are not naturally occurring.

    In responding to Joseph previously, I mentioned the earthworm as something that probably wouldn’t be considered an agent, because its behavior is not complex enough, and that that’s what people are implicitly considering when designating certain things agents – i.e. some arbitrary standard of behavorial complexity. But he said that an earthworm would be an agent as well, which is surprising to me.

    When observing something for which we did not observe the origin, we ask what this thing most resembles: Things that occur naturally or things that do not occur naturally?

    When ID talks about nature, there’s typically a lot of references to wind and erosion, so yes you could look at something and say, “This is too complex to have been caused by wind and erosion. Or more typically, “This isn’t the sort of thing that we intuitively understand that wind and erosion could create.”

    When the FBI is combing the graphics files in someone’s mail looking for messages from domestic terrorists – they are trying to detect design: the messages designed (written) by someone. So the environment in which they’re searching is presumably not natural either from an I.D. perspective, as the graphics file could be a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci or Mozart. But they’re trying to look for something that is different from the surrounding context in which they’re searching.

    OK I thought of an example:

    What if terrorists had access to raw detailed seismic data for an area under the Capitol Building and were going to exploit that data in planting a bomb so they sent that raw data from nature embedded in a graphics file that was a three year old’s drawing of a mountain, where that drawing was just one very crooked line ascending and another crooked line descending.

    I’m just going to end this abruptly here.

  69. 69
    QuadFather says:

    JT,

    If you disagree that the necessity of intelligent activity to create a car is not self-evident, this implies that you have some reason to believe that unintelligent activity can create a car. If you do not have reason to believe this, then your rejection of the self-evident necessity of intelligent activity to produce certain things is un-reasonable.

    You may argue that intelligent activity is simply one mode of “natural” activity. But so what? Must we study all things on the level of laws and fundamental particles?? Obviously, we don’t lose our ability to study something once we have determined that it is “natural”.

    I think a lot of the difficulty you are having is in how you perceive intelligent design. It is more about relating what we observe with our prior knowledge of what effects are uniquely caused by intelligent activity, than about complexity. When the FBI is trying to determine whether or not a person died “naturally,” they are comparing what they observe with their prior knowledge about what effects are uniquely caused by intelligent activity.

    Who cares if it’s complex or not? Do scientists not create *simple* elements in the laboratory that are NOT naturally occurring?

    The real question is whether the effects in question are known to occur “naturally” – which, if you pay attention to how the term is actually used, means “occurs without intelligent activity.”

  70. 70
    B L Harville says:

    “Oh yea of simple mind. A#1 IDists contend that the intelligence is detectable. Secondly, we may discover that the intelligent agent lives on the dark side of pluto. If so, the agent will no longer be invisible.

    Please remember that a few years ago individual atoms were invisible also. Quarks remain invisible. We need not invoke “supernatural” just because something is invisible, or just because the only way we can detect something is to see its effects.”

    When beings, such as gods or leprechauns or fairy wood-nymphs, are invisible and undetectable they are referred to as supernatural. That is simply the common usage of the word.

    The being(s) in question would also be displaying unearthly power in being able to manipulate the genomes of all living things all over the Earth all through the history of the Earth.

  71. 71
    JayM says:

    Joseph @52

    What knowledge has increased?

    What insights has methodological naturalism given us?

    What have the Romans ever done for us?

    Methodological naturalism has given us all of modern science.

    That’s a bit of a side note, though. The issue is whether or not intelligence is or is not a natural phenomena. Simply claiming that it isn’t, with no logical argument or empirical observations, isn’t particularly compelling to even a sympathetic listener such as myself, let alone the aforementioned methodological naturalists.

    JJ

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