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Design Disquisitions: Jeffrey Koperski on Two Bad and Two Good Ways to Attack ID (Part 2): Two ‘Good’ Ways

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Part two of my series looking at Jeffrey Koperski’s paper ‘Two Bad Ways to Attack Intelligent Design and Two Good Ones’ is now up on my blog. This one is quite in depth, but a couple of interesting issues come up along the way. I examine the concept of soft and hard anomalies in scientific theories and how they might affect theory change. I then look at the claim that ID’s scientific core is too meagre to be considered serious science. The final objection I analyse is the claim that ID violates a metatheoretic shaping principle known as scientific conservatism.

In part one of this series looking at Jeffrey Koperski’s paper, Two Bad Ways to Attack Intelligent Design and Two Good Ones, I focussed on the two arguments he thinks fail as good critiques of design. The first argument, if one could call it that, is the claim that ID is merely repackaged creationism. The second was the claim that ID fails to meet the criteria of science because it doesn’t adhere to methodological naturalism. I considered Koperski’s criticisms of those arguments and found them to be persuasive. In the second part of the paper, he takes a look at two more arguments. He sees these as being good reasons to reject ID. In this article I’ll be considering the two arguments put forward, suggesting that they fail as affective counter arguments, concluding that ultimately, the four arguments looked at in his paper all fall in to the category of bad arguments against design.

Read more here.

18 Replies to “Design Disquisitions: Jeffrey Koperski on Two Bad and Two Good Ways to Attack ID (Part 2): Two ‘Good’ Ways

  1. 1

    From my reading of the literature at least, it’s far from clear that Behe has been adequately answered(10).

    As I have pointed out here for the past 2-3 years, without IC, nothing in the cell can be specified by a medium of information. There would be no physical means for the cell to become (or remain) organized. No specification by a transcribable medium = no translation apparatus, no cell cycle, no life. Behe’s observations stand firm.

  2. 2 the way, congratulations on a fine article.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:


    Okay, I see you are now back up. Let me clip from your OP elsewhere:

    ARGUMENT 3: “soft, not hard anomaly”

    After affirming the scientific status of design, Koperski explores the possibility of whether it is good science. He sees ID as having two main strands. The first strand includes ‘examples that are problematic for neo-Darwinism'(1) like concepts such as specified, and irreducible complexity, pioneered by William Dembski and Michael Behe. This description is partially accurate, however it neglects to include a crucial distinction, and that is that the arguments mentioned aren’t merely negative, problematic examples for neo-Darwinism, but they’re also advanced as positive confirmations of design. Formulating ID as a negative critique doesn’t do it justice . . . .

    Koperski makes an interesting distinction between soft and hard anomalies. Soft anomalies are mysterious and improbable observations that are still consistent with the theory in question, despite them being puzzling. Hard anomalies are cases where theories are strictly contradicted by evidence and they ‘cannot be explained in terms of the reigning theory.'(3) His contention is that a theory should only be overturned if one encounters hard anomalies (data that defies possibility). This is essentially what Darwin himself argued when he wrote ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.'(4) Koperski claims that cases of specified and irreducible complexity fall within the category of soft anomalies, and therefore don’t require us to adopt a new theory . . .

    ARGUMENT 4: “overly radical departure”

    Though it has been established that ID’s alleged violation of methodological naturalism is of little consequence to its validity and scientific status, Koperski claims that there is another, more fundamental, shaping principle that ID violates, namely, scientific conservatism. This is the view that ‘when faced with anomalous data scientists prefer incremental change over more revolutionary change.'(21) The argument here is that ID is an unnecessarily radical proposal, and to accommodate anomalies in biology we needn’t make such a drastic change. The first aspect of this principle is epistemic conservatism, the view that unless a better explanation is available, one should remain within one’s current belief system. The other part of conservatism is Quinn’s principle of minimal mutilation which states that when accommodating new data one should make the smallest change possible . . .

    These look like pretty thin gruel to me, given the ferocity of the rejection of design thought that we have been seeing, and perhaps the thinness of the “good” arguments is why the bad ones seem to make up the lion’s share of objections we deal with.

    For the first, my comment begins: has anyone actually observed functionally specific complex organisation [including irreducible complexity] and/or associated information arising by blind chance and/or mechanical necessity beyond 500 – 1,000 bits?

    The answer is, no, where by contrast there are trillions of cases where we know that design is the routine source of FSCO/I. Indeed, the very objecting articles are cases in point.

    Multiply this by a blind search space needle in haystack challenge and we see that the mechanisms that have become established and entrenched in the core paradigms of origins science lack a sufficiently strong means to get to the critical phenomenon of life: highly informational specific and functional organisation starting at molecular level and going on to body plans etc.

    This is a context of persistent paradigm failure, not oh ho hum we can easily reconcile what we see with what we already have.

    In that context, “conservativism” becomes a euphemistic code word for preserving the imposed ideological status quo, a priori evolutionary materialism.

    The prevailing paradigm is broken, and needs to be faced as such.

    then, we can move on to the real purpose of science, as an empirical observation driven search for the truth about our world.


  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Lewontin on the imposition:

    . . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads [==> as in, “we” have cornered the market on truth, warrant and knowledge] we must first get an incorrect view out [–> as in, if you disagree with “us” of the secularist elite you are wrong, irrational and so dangerous you must be stopped, even at the price of manipulative indoctrination of hoi polloi] . . . the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations,

    [ –> as in, to think in terms of ethical theism is to be delusional, justifying “our” elitist and establishment-controlling interventions of power to “fix” the widespread mental disease]

    and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth

    [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]

    . . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists [–> “we” are the dominant elites], it is self-evident

    [–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . and in fact it is evolutionary materialism that is readily shown to be self-refuting]

    that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality [–> = all of reality to the evolutionary materialist], and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [–> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us [= the evo-mat establishment] to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . [–> irreconcilable hostility to ethical theism, already caricatured as believing delusionally in imaginary demons]. [Lewontin, Billions and billions of Demons, NYRB Jan 1997,cf. here. And, if you imagine this is “quote-mined” I invite you to read the fuller annotated citation here.]

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    Joshua Gidney points out the hyper-skeptical attitude of evolutionists towards counter-arguments: a counter-argument must be totally undeniably convincing or it doesn’t matter at all. If someone can come up with some head trip scenario where the counter-argument does not hold, then all is well.
    Darwin himself set the tone:

    If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

    Only that would be a problem! Only if it “could not possibly” … Showing that the theory renders things astronomically unlikely is not a problem for the evolutionist.
    I wonder where this attitude comes from and if it even makes sense.
    I agree fully with Gidney’s assessment:

    There comes a point when examples become sufficiently improbable to call into question the current theory, especially when multiple examples mount a cumulative case. This isn’t to say that there isn’t the possibility of a more direct disconfirmation within certain theories, but such knockdown observations are rare. Scientific theories need a greater sensitivity to evidence than such extreme categories as possibility and impossibility.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Origines, that’s right too. The relevant logic of inference to the best explanation is an inductive logic in this context and does not deliver certainty beyond doubt or dispute as a result. Darwin here smuggled in an improper criterion. KF

  7. 7
    Eric Anderson says:

    Joshua G, good work on your detailed response.

    In summary, it sounds like Koperski didn’t have any substantive criticism of intelligent design.

    Rather, he prefers to stick with the status quo and rely on the plea evolutionists have been making for more than 150 years: “Just give us more time and we’ll find the evidence.”

    I’m glad that he is willing to at least discuss ID in a mature and thoughtful manner.

    But ultimately, it comes down to the evidence.

    The evolutionary paradigm hasn’t provided any convincing evidence for its grander claims. This despite more than a century and a half of concerted effort, thousands of scientists devoted to the effort, and billions of dollars spent on the search.

    Thus, anyone familiar with the actual state of the science would feel very little obligation to bow at the crumbling and aged altar of Darwinism and would instead be eagerly looking for another explanation that is more consonant with the evidence.

    Darwin provided very little of actual substantive scientific content in The Origin. But he was a skilled writer and rhetorician. It is unfortunate that so many have fallen for his self-serving rhetorical ploy of arguing that his theory should be accepted as true unless proven impossible.


    I was hoping Koperski would have something substantive to offer that we could sink our teeth into. I guess I’ll have to keep waiting for some good arguments against intelligent design . . .

  8. 8
    Eric Anderson says:

    kf @3:

    I went back and read your comment #3 just now.

    Excellent and well said.

  9. 9
    Eric Anderson says:

    UB @1:

    Not only do Behe’s observations stand firm, but — quite ironically — some of the attempts to specifically refute Behe, like the much-cited Avida paper, actually confirmed his observations.

    It was remarkable to see how that particular study was twisted and distorted by true believers into some kind of “refutation,” when the results actually confirmed Behe’s argument.

    Then we have attempts like Matzke’s paper that was supposed to refute Behe, when it actually was nothing more than a series of thought experiments and imagine-this scenarios that had no basis in the real world.


    Behe has been one of the few scientists willing to actually ask what evolution is capable of doing. What can we actually demonstrate about its capabilities?

    Why, we must ask, are other scientists not interested in this most critical and foundational question? Very few outside of the intelligent design community seem willing to even entertain the question, just naively assuming that mindless matter in motion must have all this wondrous creative power . . .

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    EA, 7:

    In summary, it sounds like Koperski didn’t have any substantive criticism of intelligent design.

    Rather, he prefers to stick with the status quo and rely on the plea evolutionists have been making for more than 150 years: “Just give us more time and we’ll find the evidence.”

    I’m glad that he is willing to at least discuss ID in a mature and thoughtful manner.

    But ultimately, it comes down to the evidence.

    Very well summed up.


  11. 11
    Eric Anderson says:

    Koperski is convinced that critics of design have shown that ‘although complex systems like the bacterial flagellum are improbable, they are still consistent with neo-Darwinism.’

    Consistent in what sense?

    Is it theoretically possible that something like the bacterial flagellum could have come about through purely materialistic processes?


    Just as it is theoretically possible that the sun will cease shining today at noon or that gravity will fail tonight at midnight.

    But if someone comes along proclaiming that we should take such theoretical possibilities seriously, they should expect to get laughed out of court.


    Koperski would do well to read, and take to heart, Bill Dembski’s long-ago, and still relevant, response to Allen Orr, whose defense of Neo-Darwinian evolution in the Boston Review similarly relied on theoretical possibility to prop up the theory:

    In science we don’t rely on sheer theoretical possibility. There has to be a practical likelihood. Neo-Darwinism utterly fails in that regard.

  12. 12
    Eric Anderson says:

    At the risk of too long a quote, here is one key section from Bill’s essay, regarding Behe’s arguments on the direct and indirect Darwinian pathways.

    If you don’t read Bill’s whole essay, at least read this:

    Critics of Behe are at this point quick to throw the argument-from-ignorance objection his way, but this criticism can’t be justified. A common way to formulate this criticism is to say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” But as with so many overused expressions, this one requires some nuancing. Certainly this dictum appropriately characterizes many everyday circumstances. Imagine, for instance, someone feverishly hunting about the house for a missing set of car keys, searching under every object, casing the house, bringing in reinforcements, and then the next morning, when all hope is gone, finding them on top of the car outside. In this case the absence of evidence prior to finding the car keys was not evidence of absence. Yet with the car keys there was independent evidence of their existence in the first place.

    But what if we weren’t sure that there even were any car keys? The situation in evolutionary biology is even more extreme than that. One might not be sure our hypothetical set of car keys exist, but at least one has the reassurance that car keys exist generally. Indirect Darwinian pathways are more like the supposed leprechauns a child is certain are hiding in his room. Imagine the child were so ardent and convincing that he set all of Scotland Yard, indeed some of the best minds of the age, onto the task of searching meticulously, tirelessly, decade after decade, for these supposed leprechauns, for any solid evidence at all of their prior habitation of the bedroom. And then imagine that in all those decades, the detectives, driven by gold fever for the leprechaun’s treasure let’s say, never flagged in searching out and postulating new ways of catching a glimpse of a leprechaun, a leprechaun hair, a leprechaun fingerprint, any solid clue at all. After these many decades, with not a single solid clue to show for all that work, what should one say to the aging parents of the now aging boy if these parents decided there were no leprechauns in the boy’s room? Would it be logical to shake your finger at the parents and tell them, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Step aside and let the experts get back to work.” That would be absurd. And yet that, essentially, is what Orr and his fellow evolutionary biologists are telling us concerning that utterly fruitless search for credible indirect Darwinian pathways to account for irreducible complexity.

    If after repeated attempts looking in all the right places you don’t find what you expect to find and if you never had any evidence that the thing you were looking for existed in the first place, then you have reason to think that the thing you are looking for doesn’t exist at all. That’s precisely Behe’s point about indirect Darwinian pathways (see his chapter in Darwin’s Black Box titled “Publish or Perish”). It’s not just that we don’t know of such a pathway for, say, the bacterial flagellum (the irreducibly complex biochemical machine that has become the mascot of the intelligent design movement). It’s that we don’t know of such pathways for any such systems. The absence here is pervasive and systemic. That’s why critics of Darwinism like Franklin Harold and James Shapiro (neither of which are ID supporters) argue that positing as-yet undiscovered indirect Darwinian pathways for such systems constitute “wishful speculations.”

    Behe’s logical point is that irreducible complexity renders biological structures provably inaccessible to direct Darwinian pathways. Behe’s empirical point is that the failure of evolutionary biology to discover indirect Darwinian pathways leading to irreducibly complex biological structures is pervasive and systemic, and that such a failure is reason to doubt that indirect Darwinian pathways are the answer to irreducible complexity. The logical and empirical points together constitute a devastating indictment of the Darwinian mechanism, which has routinely been touted as capable of solving all problems of biological complexity once an initial life form is on the scene.

  13. 13
    asauber says:

    Is it theoretically possible that something like the bacterial flagellum could have come about through purely materialistic processes?

    Eric Anderson

    I hate(?) to get nit-picky, but I think the problem is the use of the phrase ‘theoretically possible.’ Using that phrase implies something more substantial than ‘it can be imagined’. I think there is a difference between the two phrases, with the latter being the more accurate of the two, in this case.


  14. 14
    Origenes says:

    I have done my utmost to find something to disagree with in Joshua Gidney’s article and I think I have managed to find something minor.

    However many would argue that broadly speaking, neo-Darwinism is the only game in town, and no theory can be successful without natural selection being the primary mechanism.

    Since selection does not explain anything ….

    Hugo de Vries: Natural selection is a sieve. It creates nothing, as is so often assumed; it only sifts. It retains only what variability puts into the sieve. Whence the material comes that is put into it, should be kept separate from the theory of its selection. How the struggle for existence sifts is one question; how that which is sifted arose is another. …

    It [natural selection] is the sifting out of all organisms of minor worth through the struggle of life. It is only a sieve, and not a force of nature, no direct cause of improvement, as many of Darwin’s adversaries, and unfortunately many of his followers also, have so often asserted. It is only a sieve, which decides which is to live, and what is to die … Of course, with the single steps of evolution it has nothing to do. Only after a step has been taken, the sieve acts, eliminating the unfit. The problem, as to how the individual steps are brought about, is quite another side of the question.

    … I would say that mutation is the primary mechanism. But I’m aware of the fact that evolutionists often use the term ‘natural selection’ as to include mutation. If Gidney uses the term ‘natural selection’ in that sense, then I have no point. However this is not so clear:

    His [Dembski] contention is that any naturalistic biological theory must contain hereditary transmission, incidental change, and natural selection.

    Okay, what does “natural selection” mean here? Is it something distinct from “incidental change” (mutation)?

    These categories are broad enough to include novel ideas such as symbiogenesis, self-organisation, and genetic drift and various other mechanisms that have been proposed more recently. At the end of the day, it is natural selection that must be included in any theory for it to truly explain biological systems.

    Also here it is unclear if by natural selection is meant mutation.

  15. 15
    Eric Anderson says:

    Just noticed this gem from Koperski:

    Critics rightly demand more than promissory notes for ID to move beyond the fringe.

    What rich irony!

    After 150+ years, thousands of researchers, and billions of dollars spent, all we have is a growing pile of evidently worthless promissory notes from evolutionists, who in recent decades have been frantically handing out more promissory notes at an accelerated pace at every turn, all the while pleading for more time (and more grant money) to come with some evidence for the Neo-Darwinian story.

  16. 16
    Eric Anderson says:

    asauber, would “hypothetically possible” suit your tastes better? I could go with that.

    In either case, the point is that we must at the very least move beyond sheer logical possibility to practical possibility.

    Indeed, something approaching reasonable likelihood or reasonable probability should be required before we accept something as a workable scientific explanation, rather than just speculative imaginations.

  17. 17
    asauber says:


    I totally agree with you @16.


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