Is intelligent design dualist in character, rather than theist?

Spread the love

Jack Scanlan, over at Panda’s Thumb, asks, “Does intelligent design have a dualistic assumption, not a theistic one?”

Interesting question, his point being that dualism is not the same thing as theism.

A dualist may hold that nature is governed by a meta-nature, without that latter realm being “God.” Without being God, a meta-nature could exhibit in nature what looks like intelligence (and is). Comments?

There are many types of dualism:

The Mind-Brain ProblemNo satisfactory account of the mind is currently widely accepted. Here are a few of the many theories scientists and philosophers offer.


Mind does not move matter.—Neurologist C. J. Herrick

The mind exists, like a rainbow shimmering over the falls. Yes, it’s there, but it doesn’t affect anything. You know it’s there because some experiences are unique to yourself, for example, whatever you personally associate with peanut butter. Merely a product of brain-body processes, the mind sometimes facilitates for itself the illusion that it affects those processes, much as if the rainbow thought it affected the falls in some way.

Eliminative Materialism

We now understand that the mind is not, as Descartes confusedly supposed, in communication with the brain in some miraculous way; it is the brain, or more specifi cally, a system or organization within the brain that has evolved in much the same way our immune system . . . evolved. — Materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett

The mind-matter problem is resolved by denying that mental processes exist in their own right. “Consciousness” and “mind” (intentions, desires, beliefs, etc.) are prescientific concepts that belong to unsophisticated ideas of how the brain works, sometimes called “folk psychology.” They can be reduced to whatever the neurons happen to be doing (neural events).

“Consciousness” and “mind” as concepts will be eliminated by the progress of science, along with such ideas as “free will” and the “self.” Current key exponents of this view include philosophers Paul and Patricia Churchland and Daniel Dennett.

Psychophysical Identity Theory

States and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain. — Stanford Plato Encyclopedia of Philosophy

We apprehend our own consciousness and mental processes in the first person, that is, in a subjective and experiential manner. Brain events, however, are measured in the third person, that is, from the outside in an objective manner. Brain events and mental processes are completely parallel, like the two sides of the same medal. This view is defended by neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux. The underlying assumption is that the brain states create the mind states, not the other way around.


The whole world of inner experience (the world of the humanities)long rejected by 20th century scientific materialism . . . becomes recognized and included within the domain of science. – Neuroscientist Roger Sperry

Mental processes and consciousness arise from brain activity (emergent),but they actually exist and make a difference (dynamic). Mental events (thoughts and feelings) can make things happen in the brain. Therefore, they are neither identical with nor reducible to neural events.But conscious experience cannot exist apart from the physical brain. Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry is the main proponent of this view.

Substance Dualism

I think, therefore I am. — Philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650)

Sometimes called Cartesian dualism after the French philosopher and mathematician Descartes, this position argues that there are two fundamental kinds of entirely separate substances: mind and matter.

Dualistic Interactionism

Since materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, we are constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the psyche or soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. – Neuroscientist John Eccles

Consciousness and other aspects of the mind, which can infl uence neural events, can occur independently of the brain, generally through aspects of quantum mechanics. This view is associated with neuroscientists John Eccles and Wilder Penfield as well as philosopher Karl Popper.

The Spiritual Brain, pp. 107-8

6 Replies to “Is intelligent design dualist in character, rather than theist?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:


    But, ID is not making metaphysical ASSUMPTIONS, it is inferring inductively, that some features of our world are empirically reliable signs of design as a key causal factor.

    In that context, it then infers that cell based life shows such signs and is therefore credibly in material part designed.

    And, it infers that the physics of the cosmos also points, on complex finetuning, to design.

    That may help shift the balance of credibility of belief systems on the roots of existence, but that is not the focus of ID scientific work.

    GEM of TKI

  2. 2
    O'Leary says:

    Good point, Kairosfocus, but would all the interpretations listed above consort equally well with the idea of meaningful information?

    Also, science is always done from the basis of an underlying metaphysic. As Nancy Pearcey would certainly say, the idea that the universe is orderly is a metaphysical assumption, one which restricts us to certain types of interpretation.

    Within that assumption, there are a number of directions in which evidence might lead us, but because we do not know about most of the universe, it is an assumption.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    Mrs O’Leary:

    Interesting response. I think my view is a little different.

    The orderliness of nature is an experience. Dropped heavy objects reliably fall. We can predict the path of a thrown ball or rock, with some reliability. Etc.

    Where metaphysics comes in, is in the question, do we regard that orderliness as general, perhaps with some exceptions for good reason due to interventions by a kind and loving Creator-Redeemer God, or as subject to utter caprice at the hands of fickle, feuding gods or the like.

    Ethical monotheism’s answer was that for miracles to stand out, they have to be absolutely rare, and under the control of the good God who underwrites an orderly cosmos so that we in turn can understand and act in it with confidence and thus moral accountability over predictable consequences.

    So, there is no need to resort to a closed system of nature to do science, and since the pagan chaos gods are by and large a figment, we need not fear their mischievous meddling with our test tubes or pendulums or cranes or ships floating on Archimedes’ principle etc.

    A priori naturalism is — contrary to Lewontin et al — not a necessity for science.

    GEM of TKI

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: In short, the issue is where the inference to best current explanation lies, on all the material evidence. Falling into the Humean question-begging trap of a priori ruling out the possibility of knowing the miraculous, is no help. Projecting the strawman that to believe in the possibility of miracles is to believe in chaos is worse. And yes, obviously our inference form our experience to a general rule is risky, and provisional, but that is the nature of inductive reasoning so we need to be open minded. A priori materialism, even in the guise of being implicit in methodological naturalism, is precisely such a closing of our minds to correction in light of evidence.

  5. 5
    Eugene S says:

    I think that given that science is incomplete, in any scientific theory there is always room for axioms and consequently for belief (in the broad philosophical, not necessarily mathematical sense). What kind of belief, is another matter. To Stuart Kauffman, for example, self-evolving nature is “god enough” as he once put it himself. But this view is obviously not the only one possible. The only thing I really don’t like in science today is the evolutionists’ unwillingness to accept that other views are possible. Order and self-organisation are part of what matter is, no doubt. To me, matter was created to be able to self-organise. However, information is not the same as order. So theories a la Prigogin and Kauffman that explain self-organisation must be extended to adequately explain the origins of information.

    On another point, evolution taken to its extreme does away with the meaning. And to state that there should be no notion of meaning in science is in my opinion to contradict with the original purposes of European science as viewed by its Christian founders. I think evolution is an attempt to make believe that inherently incomplete science is self-sufficient, which it is not.

  6. 6
    Mung says:

    Does intelligent design have a dualistic assumption, not a theistic one?”

    Interesting question, his point being that dualism is not the same thing as theism.

    I guess my question is, what difference does it make?

    In real life, in the marketplace, we see multiple competing designers. If ID starts with the assumption that there is but one designer we have problems.

    That said, the best book ever as far as I am concerned for exposing evolutionary theory as incoherent and making the case for a single designer remains Walter ReMine’s The Biotic Message.

    If you haven’t got it, get it.

Leave a Reply