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Do intelligent desgn theorists need the supernatural – just to leave room for a little mystery in life?

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A self-important prof explained that to me the other day.  We would be really troubled if scientists found out the origin of life because then God wouldn’t be needed.

Then – on the principle of two insults for the price of one – he proceeded to tell me that it is all quite understandable, even if a bit immature.

As usual with people who tell us what’s wrong with us on a volunteer basis, he wasn’t interested in feedback. Had he been, I would have pointed out that origin of life studies has been an uninterrupted failure for so long that any such worry is groundless.

In any event, Barry Arrington offered $1000 the other day to anyone could show conclusively that the creation of life requires a supernatural act:

Now, as has been explained on this site many times, while many ID proponents are theists, ID itself stands apart from theistic belief. For the umpteenth time, ID does not posit a supernatural designer. Nor does ID posit any suspension of the laws of nature.

He meekly suggested that they put up or shut up. He must be sure they’ll fail because we don’t have a grand to spare.

One reason the prof can blow hard with little risk is that the word “mystery” has at least three meanings, which allows for easy confusion.

Let’s separate them for a minute:

1. Facts are available but difficult to find. Take Schmeazle, for instance. It’s a mystery how that man afford a Maserati on his salary as a night watchman. We could solve the mystery by hiring a private dick to tail him. But it’s not our business, so we just have our suspicions. One day he’ll get busted, and we’ll read the story in the papers. Most mysteries in science are like this.

2. Facts may not be available. Origin of life is probably one such area, along with many aspects of human evolution. It all happened too long ago, and there are no witnesses. Even successful creation of life in the lab would not demonstrate the actual events. As a result, “research” typically means speculation based on scant evidence. It is as if our suspicions about Schmeazle in 1. were regarded by the police as evidence in themselves.

3. The human mind cannot, in principle, comprehend this matter. A number of doctrines of the Christian religion are like this. The relationship between grace and free will is, finally, a mystery, in this sense. When Christians are asked to have faith, it never means “prefer faith to facts.” The facts are too large for us, and we must have faith that what we know does not conflict with what we cannot know. This is not an area to which science can contribute much.

Analyzed in this light, the prof’s comments are nonsense, because they amounts to saying that origin of life or human evolution are a mystery in the third sense, when they are actually a mystery in the second.

Could design theory shed light on origin of life or human evolution? Probably, because we might well learn much more if we reframe key questions.

As things stand, people who doubt that the mind exists are researching the question of how it evolved. The only mystery there is why anyone should expect progress in such a venture.

Perhaps that’s a fourth type of mystery … why people hold mutually contradictory beliefs. 😉

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Critics will immediately reply that while ID may not specifically invoke supernatural causation, it leaves open the possibility there was a supernatural creator. For this reason, they will argue that by permitting supernatural causation, ID may be subject to the "whim of a deity" and loses the predictability and reliability required by methodological naturalism. This argument is logically flawed. While it is true that ID permits supernatural causation, the same is true of neo-Darwinism. For example, theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller believes that neo-Darwinian evolution allows for the supernatural creation of life on earth, but neither Miller nor ID proponents are arguing that we can scientifically conclude that there was supernatural action in the creation of biological life. As discussed, the scientific theory of ID cannot determine if the designing intelligence was natural or supernatural. Thus neither ID nor neo-Darwinism violates methodological naturalism. ID Does Not Address Religious Claims About the Supernatural
I hate to keep riding the same issue, but I think it's important. Humans will not be able to design living things unless the functional landscape is smooth enough to support directed evolution. The landscape envisioned by Douglas Axe will forever prevent humans from designing novel living things. Petrushka
I tried to make a similar point on the contest thread. That the quantity of information required to produce a genome -- at least the quantity often calculated by ID advocates -- is beyond the resources of any material system in this universe. If humans ever design living things that are not copies of already existing things, it will have to be done through directed evolution. There simply isn't any other way to accumulate and store the necessary knowledge of functional coding sequences. Not to mention regulatory networks. Petrushka
In any event, Barry Arrington offered $1000 the other day to anyone could show conclusively that origin of life requires a supernatural act: That was not the challenge. The prize was offered to anyone who could show the creation of ANY life by an intelligent agent required something supernatural. HawksTwo
I don't know how other people define "supernatural", but the mindful capacity to generate virtually infinite functionally complex specified information almost instantaneously on command, without really understanding or knowing how any of the involved processes work or how to physically manipulate them, whereas they function simply from basic intention .. is so well beyond what any number of law & chance universes could match in billions of years of brute effort that it certainly merits the term "supernatural". I mean, if that isn't supernatural, what the heck is? William J Murray
That post makes no sense. If God is the cause, the cause is not "natural", even if it is statistically undetectable by science. I'm thinking here of quantum or stochastic events which could be "tweaked" by a supernatural agent without being detected. But asserting that an event is caused in a way that is undetectable is not parsimonious. Not to mention, it is a worldview that allows anyone to assert anything as fact. Petrushka
Semi OT: Casey Luskin's response to Dennis Venema - Part 4 of 8
The False Dichotomy Between Intelligent Design and Natural Causes http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/09/the_false_dichotomy_between_in050701.html

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