Intelligent Design

Robert Frost on Design

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Robert Frost is sometimes cited as being critical of design and theism generally. For instance, one finds the following quote at http://www.pharyngula.org/infidelquotes.php:

I turned to speak to God/About the world’s despair;/But to make bad matters worse/I found God wasn’t there.
— Robert Frost (1874-1963)

And then there is the well known poem about the spider:

Design
by Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

But then what is one to make from the following poem by Robert Frost?

They mean to tell us all was rolling blind
Till accidentally it hit on mind
In an albino monkey in a jungle
And even then it had to grope and bungle,

Till Darwin came to earth upon a year
To show the evolution how to steer.
They mean to tell us, though, the Omnibus
Had no real purpose till it got to us.

Never believe it. At the very worst
It must have had the purpose from the first
To produce purpose as the fitter bred:
We were just purpose coming to a head.

from Accidentally on Purpose
by Robert Frost

6 Replies to “Robert Frost on Design

  1. 1
    arowell says:

    Off topic…sorry….but I lost your email address..I wonder if you might point people to Steve Fuller’s comments on Dover Judgement at ID in the UK

  2. 2
    ftrp11 says:

    It seems to me that in the last poem Frost is saying that we were the natural outcome of natural selection. This would appear to be closer to the ID line than ND. Perhaps he believed in evolution as a process engineered to ultimately create “intelligent” life.

  3. 3
    DaveScot says:

    “Perhaps he believed in evolution as a process engineered to ultimately create “intelligent” life.”

    Theistic evolution in a nutshell.

    There’s a lot of adherents to theistic evolution. Theistic evolution doesn’t conflict with either Dembski’s description of ID or the neoDarwinian synthesis IMO. One needs to keep in mind ID is design detection. Standard evolution doesn’t speak to causes that may have guided evolution (the Weisel 38’s hijacking of the definition of evolution as an “unguided process” notwithstanding). Influencing the outcome of otherwise random events to purposely select highly improbable (nigh on impossible) to reach an end that was planned in the abstract is the very description of intelligent agency. Dembski has developed what he says is a mathematically robust method of discriminating between the action of random forces and intelligent agency. Standard evolution makes no such discrimination and indeed is discovering a lot of “intelligent direction” in mutation is done by active response to the environment instead of serendipitous alignment of random mutations with environmental needs. Lamarck was right when it comes to bacteria and if we work from the premise that bacteria and eukaryotes share a common ancestor (or a common designer!) then I wouldn’t be so quick to deny Lamarckian capabilities to all life – one might even reasonably assume much more advanced Lamarckian capability in more complex organisms.

  4. 4
    keiths says:

    It appears to me that Frost is saying something very like what Robert Wright says in the final chapter of “Nonzero”, when he speaks of evolution leading to the creation and refinement of love:

    “…isn’t goodness a slightly naive thing to ask of an architect whose plans included natural selection? At its core, natural selection is cutthroat. It is a zero-sum struggle for finite resources, and there are no rules. How much good could come of that? More than you might think. As we’ve seen, this dynamic had the paradoxical effect of weaving ever-larger non-zero-sum webs…Eventually, this dynamic brought some semblance of actual good. For, when the impetus of non-zero-sumness finally reached the level of animal societies, it entailed…the invention and proliferation of love.”

    That Frost is aiming at something like this becomes clearer in light of the stanzas missing from the original post (see below). The picture that emerges is of an undirected process (“balls all going round in rings”, “as the fitter bred”) leading to an instinctual striving “further to the light.”

    The Universe is but the Thing of things,
    The thing but balls all going round in rings.
    Some of them mighty huge, some mighty tiny,
    All of them radiant and mighty shiny.

    Whose purpose was it? His or Hers or Its?
    Let’s leave that to the scientific wits.
    Grant me intention, purpose, and design —
    That’s near enough for me to the Divine.

    And yet for all this help of head and brain
    How happily instinctive we remain.
    Our best guide upward further to the light,
    Passionate preference such as love at sight.

  5. 5
    Red Reader says:

    DaveScot said “Theistic evolution doesn’t conflict with either Dembski’s description of ID or the neoDarwinian synthesis IMO.”

    I disagree. Behe’s “irreducible complexity” nukes the idea of theistic or any other kind of evolution.

  6. 6
    Red Reader says:

    Pardon me: Behe’s “irreducible complexity” nukes the idea of theistic or any other kind of *MACRO* evolution.

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