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ID and the Science of God: Part II

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 I will be opening the 2009 series of lectures on ‘Darwin Reconsidered’ at the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture on Tuesday, 20th January, at 5 pm. My topic is ‘Darwin’s Original Sin: The Rejection of Theology’s Claims to Knowledge’. You can find out more about the series here. The talk will deal with the issues of theodicy that I have been raising in this blog.  

In this instalment, I try to make the connection between theodicy and ID tighter, not only to provide some deeper intellectual grounding but also to make quite plain why even religious people have not been rushing to support ID.


Here is a dialogue between a theodicist and a sceptic, 18th century style. We might today replace T with ‘ID theorist’ and S with ‘Darwinist’, at least if they’re speaking frankly.


T: I see design in nature

S: Oh yeah? How do you know that it’s not an illusion?

T: Well, because I’ve been designed to detect design and, more importantly, to design things myself. And nature looks like the sort of thing I could have designed if I were super-smart. Indeed, if I thought nature had no design, or was designed by an intelligence radically different in kind from my own, I wouldn’t bother to do science at all.

S: But unfortunately, things aren’t so well-designed, if you look closely. (And presumably that’s one of the things you’re doing, when you do science.) They could have been better designed, so maybe you’re just imagining the design after all – making the best of a bad situation through some psychological tricks you’re playing on yourself. This in turn would suggest that you’re not so well-designed either.

T: Hey, but who says that a well-designed world has to be well-designed in all its parts? It may be that the best possible world would be full of suboptimal parts that nevertheless, when put together, function better than any other possible combination would.

S: Oh, and I suppose you believe that this is such a world?

T: I do – though this is not to say that we have quite figured out how all of nature fits together to constitute an intelligible whole. But then who says science has completed its inquiries?  And even if you’re right that the world’s design could be better realized, could we not be the beings exactly created to get the job done?


In this dialogue, I am drawing attention to two crucial features of theodicy that are relevant to ID:

(1) Evidence for the intelligence behind nature’s intelligent design can be inferred from the nature of our own creative intelligence, which means examining how our own minds work.

(2) There is no reason to think that if nature is intelligently designed, the design has been already fully realized – it may still be for us to discover and/or complete nature’s intelligent design.


Now, these two ideas take on increasingly radical – and secular – implications as the 18th century progresses, basically morphing into the doctrines we associate with the Enlightenment, which assert a strong sense of humanity’s entitlement to bring reason to nature. And while there is no doubt that the Enlightenment was no friend of the clergy, its attitude towards God and the Bible was much more nuanced.


A good way to see this point is to look at how Newton ‘inspired’ the Industrial Revolution. Newton was preoccupied with theology throughout his career but minimized its presence in his scientific writings, largely for the same reasons ID advocates do today (i.e. fear of religious persecution). However, people managed to read between the lines and acted accordingly.


And what did they do? They did not simply bask in Newton’s afterglow, worshipping the intelligent design of nature. (Isn’t this what anti-ID people worry about, if ID were taught in science classes: People would put down their test tubes and spend all their time in church?) No, they realized that Newton had shown that indeed the Bible was right — that we are created in the image and likeness of God and thus we are entitled to proceed with the completion of the divine plan through a radical transformation of nature.


How did Newton do this? By proposing specific laws of nature that actually explained and predicted most of the physical world that interested people at that time. The very power of that formulation demonstrated – at least to the people behind the Industrial Revolution – that the divine mind exceeds the human mind only by degree, not kind.  In other words, we may not be able to create an entire universe, but we may be able to create a ‘Heaven on Earth’, if we try hard enough. Both are done in largely the same way, which is why it’s possible to ‘apply’ science to ameliorate the human condition. It is easy to overlook the significance of this last idea, since we take it so much for granted today.


Let me end this instalment with a brief list of sources, in case some of you find what I’m saying completely bizarre.


* I recommend Dissent over Descent, about 40% of which is focused on these matters (though you would never guess from the reviews!).


* Michael Behe and Ken Miller have been repeating many of the original 17th century moves of the theodicy debate here. (scroll down to October 2007).


* Nicole Malebranche, Descartes’ ablest 17th century follower, anticipates Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity in a discussion of the constitution of the heart. It is part of one of the original statements of what biologists call ‘preformationism’, i.e. the idea that at least certain units of life are created ready-made. Here is the passage, taken from a recent (and excellent) book on Malebranche’s subtle but relevant arguments.


* Malebranche is also of relevance for his concept of ‘vision in God’, which imply that divine and human minds do indeed overlap. And by the way ‘overlap’ is not a clever word for ‘analogy’ but intended in its usual meaning: i.e. ‘partial identity’. (A nod to the (closet?) theistic evolutionist shadowing me.) 




To Steve Fuller, What about us IDists who do NOT want "to make the connection between theodicy and ID tighter"? I am an IDists because it keeps "God" and religion out of the discussion. It is an a-religious approach to the issue. If you want religion then become a creationist. Joseph
is there something in ID theory that necessarily requires that there be only one “intelligent designer”?
No. There may be more than one. We do not know. It does NOT matter to ID how many designers there are/ were. Ya see the ONLY possible way to answer that question without designer input or direct observation is by studying the design.
does ID theory necessarily entail a “designing entity“, as opposed to an “intrinsic design process in nature”?
From whence nature and that design process? Nature cannot be responsible for its own origin. Joseph
Allen MacNeil, you have to know more than you indicate. The Big Tent gets smaller the more details you attach to it. At its biggest it includes all those critical of Darwinism, it narrows when you include those who would permit ID to ask its question: Can we detect design? It narrows again if we officially answer that question in the affirmative. Many traditional Judeo-Christians happily add ID to their repertoire of evidence. But like the First Ammendment which was meant to keep America’s Big Tent big, limiting ID to asking and, if you like, answering the “Can we detect design?” question keeps our tent big. All the other questions are perfectly valid, but the genius of ID was to pinpoint the biggest question of them all: Are we designed? Answer that one way or the other and everything else will fall into place—but of course not without a lot of argument. So rather than let ID devolve into endless squabbles of lesser import—the age of the earth, divine versus human design, theodicy—we are wise to keep the ID tent Big. But of course this does not mean that groups within ID cannot involve themselves with those questions. The key to knowledge is liberty. Rude
“In this instalment, I try to make the connection between theodicy and ID tighter, not only to provide some deeper intellectual grounding but also to make quite plain why even religious people have not been rushing to support ID.” Maybe it’s that religious people tend to divide between Biblicists and Gnostics. For the former God is squarely in the mix, grounded in history and responsible for more deaths than man or nature. No one need apologize for the Biblical God who commands fear and says, “I am who I am” (or maybe better, “I will be that which I will be”). Thus for the Gnostic the God of the Torah is an evil and lesser deity. The high God, which for Ken Miller would be Darwin’s God, is above all that. But by making their God aloof from creation, the Gnostics make him into an impotent by-stander, and they remove themselves from his image. I say Gimmie that Old time Religion—the Bible’s profound wisdom and earthiness fits reality better than the theodisic wrestlings of the theologians. However we need both the Greeks and the Hebrews. It’s just that when it’s Greeks only you end up with Darwin’s god. Rude
Thanks guys for the compliment. It seems an important point that is lost on many people. A device with "planned obsolescence" is going to look amazingly sub-optimally designed if you think it is supposed to last forever. And how stupid would DRM look if you evaluated it from a perspective of "customer usability" ? That is just two obvious examples that come to mind. It doens't prove that a design isn't suboptimal if someone claims it is, but it does at least put the claim in context and at the very least it means they should shoulder a burden of evidence to argue why their criteria of purpose is reasonable and not just assert that it is. Jason Rennie
A design with appear optimal or sub-optimal given the criteria that are used. This simple reality seems to be lost on those that delight in pointing out bad design. Do they realize how ignorant they look ?
Jason, in a similar vein Francis Collins, in The Language of God, refers to the label "junk DNA" as "an act of hubris." Great point. Lutepisc
Dr. Fuller: A numbering change in the posts, which occurred after I wrote #14 above, may conceal the fact that I was addressing post #14 partly to you. "Regarding 11 and 12 above" should now be "Regarding 11 and 13 above". I'd be interested in your response. Thanks. T. Timaeus
Jason, you have articulated an extremely important point. Stephen Morris
Nice post Steve. I would note that I always find the arguments from dysteleology to be some what strange and they are clear evidence that the people putting them forward don't really understand the nature of design and engineering in the real world. I mean, how can anybody claim that a design is sub-optimal ? To do so requires that a person knows what the original design criteria are. Without that information you can't actually assess the optimality of a design you can at best only guess at it. A design with appear optimal or sub-optimal given the criteria that are used. This simple reality seems to be lost on those that delight in pointing out bad design. Do they realize how ignorant they look ? Jason Rennie
----Allen MacNeil:... "does ID theory necessarily entail a “designing entity“, as opposed to an “intrinsic design process in nature”? ID science must remain silent on the matter and therefore must allow for either possibility. Only traditional philosophy can approach that problem (modern philosophy doesnt' care). The story goes something like this: A “principle,” cannot create or cause, only a being can create or cause. A creator may use a principle to create, but the principle itself has no causative power nor does it have any ontological standing. That is why it is dependent on being. A principle can be a formula, psychological construct, or even a kind of theorem, but it doesn’t do anything. To say that a “principle” can create is like saying that that Euclidian Geometry created the pyramids. Nor can we attribute creative power to a “law.” Since all of empirical reality is changing, and since physical laws are unchanging, the origin of those laws must transcend that changing reality. If the laws and the creator of those laws were part of that changing reality, (immanence, pantheism, materialist Darwinism), then they too would always be changing. StephenB
"does ID theory necessarily entail a “designing entity“, as opposed to an “intrinsic design process in nature”?" I think many of us believe a process is possible and would be willing to accept this if there was evidence for it. However, this process has not been identified nor has it left any forensic evidence of its existence. Given that, then the option that an intelligence acted directly becomes very probable. The whole debate is over the fact that there is no naturalistic process that can account for much of life's origin. If there was a process, for example Darwinian processes, then there would be evidence for it. No evidence so an entity acting directly becomes more likely. Just a disclaimer. I think Darwinian processes account for much of life but not all. Some things are beyond Darwinian processes or whatever else is in the latest synthesis. jerry
Allen, Having been around here for three years or more, I have my thoughts about your question. There is nothing in ID that says there is a unique designer only that such a thing was probably designed. Now many of us have beliefs unrelated to ID that point to another answer to this question but it does not flow from ID itself. Maybe in the future there will be additional information to make an assessment. Which is why trying to get at the essence of the designer or the designer's purpose may be problematic from ID's standpoint but not a personal one. Now if there is a designing force then what is the origin of this force. Do they postulate that it is eternal like the various gods that many adhere to? I believe that many theistic evolutionists, if that is a valid term, believe that the conditions God set up at the Big Bang led to the design we see in life but not the design of the universe. That is sort of a designing force. Do the Telic Thoughts people believe this designing force led to the universe? And if so, could this designing force be intelligent or is it mindless? And if intelligent, then what have they gotten that has not been presented before. It sounds like we are playing a semantics game. jerry
I have a question: is there something in ID theory that necessarily requires that there be only one “intelligent designer”? No. However, several commentators in this thread have suggested otherwise, and some of the comments made by Dr. Dembski (e.g. that the designer(s) could have been “aliens”) imply that this is an open question. It's a question that most of us hold is not addressed by the theory. And if we are allowed to posit "aliens" I guess that answers you question as to whether we are allowed to posit multiple designers. But, anyway, it is more reasonable to posit the FSM than natural forces as to the creation of the universe. tribune7
Before addressing Dr. Fuller's main remarks, I have a question: is there something in ID theory that necessarily requires that there be only one "intelligent designer"? I have read virtually all of Dr. Behe's and Dr. Dembski's theoretical publications, and have not found that they have directly addressed this question. Nor is there an unambiguous direct answer to this question in the "mission statement" for this website. Certainly, if one identifies the "intelligent designer" with the deity of the Abrahamic traditions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc.), then the "intelligent designer" is necessarily a single supernatural entity. However, several commentators in this thread have suggested otherwise, and some of the comments made by Dr. Dembski (e.g. that the designer(s) could have been "aliens") imply that this is an open question. To state my question succinctly, does ID theory necessarily entail a single "intelligent designer"? Furthermore, it is not clear to me that the "intelligent designer" must be an "entity" at all. For example, several of the commentators at Telic Thoughts have strongly stated that they believe that design is the result of some designing force or principle that is woven into the ontological structure of physical reality. And so, another question, perhaps more directly appropos to Dr. Fuller's topic in his series: does ID theory necessarily entail a "designing entity", as opposed to an "intrinsic design process in nature"? Allen_MacNeill
I keep on bringing this up when theodicy or evil is discussed. But just what is evil? I have not seen anyone answer it yet in any definitive way. Without a definition the discussion becomes pointless. And suppose what we call evil may not be evil in God's view. Would they necessarily be the same. I have made another statement before related to this and again no one has answered it. As a Christian is the only evil, the lack of salvation. If one is saved then what does the rest matter. So are all the things we would normally classify as evil not really evil if we are saved. Or is even not being saved evil? Especially in the eyes of God. Evil seems to be anything that is unpleasant to a particular individual so is it a subjective definition depending upon each person's point of view. Some has said that evil is the lack of perfection or the lack of the "Good". Well I could show you that the elimination of each imperfection you can think of would reveal new imperfections so the process would be endless. I could also go on and on about specific examples but with out an understanding of just what evil is, we are running in circles. Before we try to understand the mind of God, and that is probably an arrogant endeavor, we should agree on some basic things. Maybe looking at the design in the world will help but we should recognize it is at best conjecture. Or is the attempt based on our belief that God is just a little bit smarter version of us and it is really attainable. Does the pursuit of the issue itself say something about what we believe about God. jerry
You are doing fine, Platonist tribune7
While I really do sympathize with alot of what your write Dr. Fuller, I think I prefer Drs. Dembski, Behe, Wells and Meyer's views on "Bad Design" and Theodicy. Perhaps: A. It is the personal artistic choices of the designer. B. Perhaps there has been a loss of original design -- like blind cave fish. C. If human beings really do effect the outside universe (isn't that what those scientists are saying about how we are causing the end of the universe by merely existing?) then perhaps there really was a Biblical Fall. I'm probably not doing the best job of fleshing out this last idea. Platonist
Regarding 11 and 12 above: I think it's important to point out that theodicy, as literally a vindication of the justice of God, is only a problem for religions that insist on an omnipotent, omniscient God. If God is not all-powerful or if God is lacking knowledge, then the existence of evil does not imply any defect of justice on his part. But if he is not lacking any power or knowledge, then the existence of evil gives at least the superficial impression that he is not just; hence a rationale for evil is required. In other words, it is the vast extent of the claims of traditional Christianity that invite theodicy. There will always be theodicy as long as there is orthodox Christianity. Note that no theodicy is necessary if you believe in the Demiurge of Plato's Timaeus. For Timaeus, the world is not perfect because God is not omnipotent, i.e., God has to compromise with recalcitrant matter. Those Christians who deplore theodicy as an impertinent rationalistic investigation into the nature or motives of God are being quite unreasonable. Basically, by insisting that God possesses simultaneously all the attributes they give to him -- power, knowledge, justice -- they have virtually invited the investigation. The rational mind is suspicious of apparent contradictions, and rightfully so. What is interesting about ID in this regard is that it does not claim to be able to detect flawless design, but simply a high degree of design. That is, ID does not require the claim that the designer is omnipotent and omniscient. It is as compatible with the lesser claim of the Demiurge as it is with the greater claim of the Biblical God. Thus, it leaves wide open the question what kind of God is responsible for the world. I'm wondering if Dr. Fuller (whose ideas I find stimulating) has any comment on this. He seems to be suggesting that ID supporters should be less shy about their religious motivations, and should argue more boldly that design points to God. But which God? The Demiurge is different from the Christian God, and in their own ways, Allah and the gods of the Hindus are different again. Is he suggesting that there could be a unitary "ID theology"? T. Timaeus
To VoiceTeach: See my first posting on ‘ID and the Science of God’. The difference between 'theism' and 'theodicy' is that theism simply means belief in God. It does not necessarily imply that we might fathom how God’s mind works. However, theodicy implies just that. Hence, when you wonder how God could permit evil, you’re inquiring into divine motivation and rationale. But originally this was understood much more broadly to cover all the apparent design flaws in nature. Steve Fuller
Don't know where else to put this. A number of Creation/ID/Darwinist scientists and interested laypersons will be discussing/debating a two part paper by Alex Williams entitled "Life's Irreducible Structure" this Monday morning on the conservative website FreeRepublic.com. We would love to have some IDers come over and participate. You can come on as yourself, or you can just adopt a screenname and participate anonymously. If you would like to participate, please sign up to FreeRepublic and send me your screennames via email (to GodGunsGuts1@aol.com) so I can "ping" you to the debate thread on FreeRepublic.com. All the best--GGG Here are the links to part I and part II of "Life's Irreducible Structure" (the paper that will be under discussion): Part I http://creationontheweb.com/images/pdfs/tj/j21_2/j21_2_109-115.pdf Part II http://creationontheweb.com/images/pdfs/tj/j21_3/j21_3_77-83.pdf All the best--GGG GodGunsGuts
I am confused about some terminology here. I thought that Theodicy was the defense of the goodness of God in the face of evil. As it's used in this article, it seems that Theism/Theist is the proper term. Please clarify for me! thx. VoiceTeach
Once again, we are at the point where we must decide about the respective roles that theology, philosophy, and science are to play in this drama. For the schoolmen, (scholasticism) theology illuminated philosophy, and philosophy, in turn illuminated science. So, if we can agree that each discipline is unique, but does, nevertheless, overlap with the other two, then we should be able to come up with some plausible answers. I contend that science is about facts, philosophy is about meaning, and theology is about significance. But, if we allow all three disciplines in the mix, then we may be able to paint a possible picture of ultimate reality. Let’s try this: God created a “moral universe”, a stage upon which man could build his character and save his soul. This universe of “soul making” constitutes the theological significance behind the scientific “anthropic principle.” By participating in God’s intelligence and cultivating some of God’s virtues, man could enjoy the perfect love relationship, but only on condition that he used his free will to choose love over radical selfishness. Although God designed the universe perfectly, man compromised the design by disobeying the creator. Somehow, the moral breach affected the relationship between creator and creature, the design was rendered imperfect, and suffering entered into the world. Further, man’s intellect was darkened, but it could still function well enough to detect design. On the other hand, his will was weakened to the point where he would come to consider evidence of that design as a threat to his ambition for making himself into a God. Operating outside time, God anticipated this “fall,” and had seen to it that even a compromised design could serve his purposes, meaning that, from the beginning, he fashioned things so that a greater good could come out of the suffering. Thus, the design we observe reflects either [A] an imperfect yet functional design as the residual of “the fall” or [B] a design perfectly suited for a recovery from the fall, [C] an optimum design unrelated to the fall in which imperfect parts combine to contribute to a perfectly balanced ecology, or [D] a bad design from an incompetent designer, [E] a bad design from a sadistic designer, or [F] no design at all. [Pause: can science discern from among these or other possible motives behind the design. If so, do we even have any need of philosophy or theology?] If, as I humbly submit, the design serves to undergird a moral universe, we can conclude that the designer exhibits (exhibited) high intelligence and a noble character, that he intended for us to share his attributes in some small measure, that he chose to initiate a relationship, and that our destiny is tied up in our response to that initiative. Further, we can speculate that this same creator meant for his revelation in Scripture to be consistent with his revelation in nature, meaning that it was designed to be discovered and we were designed to discover it. That means that anything we uncover through scientific methods will confirm any Biblical truth and vice versa. Faith illuminates reason, and reason confirms faith. Can science extract this kind meaning by simply looking at data? Do facts, or any theory that may explain them, tell us anything about the meaning or significance of those facts. Clearly, we can discern some semblance of order, design, and purpose in the universe, and, we can certainly draw conclusions about the creator’s existence, and, dare I say it, his wisdom. But if we are going to go beyond that, we must collaborate with other disciplines. Since political correctness forbids such a consultation, it seems that our first order of business is to eliminate political correctness. That way there will be no need to ask science to provide theological answers that it is unequipped to cope with. StephenB
You might find this interesting... The Gods Must Be Tidy! http://www.discovery.org/a/2136 dgosse
What Dr. Fuller is saying also coincides with this passage in the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Platonist
What strikes me as interesting in Prof. Fuller's imagined exchange between theodicist and sceptic is that it is the sceptic, ultimately, who falls back on a theological rather than a scientifc argument. I've noticed this tendency in plenty of 'real' exchanges of this sort: the sceptical argument boils down to "the universe is not the way I would have designed it if I had been the designer; ergo, there is no designer". I agree with tribune7 that the science debate is won - or at least, which amounts to the same thing, the Darwinists concede that they cannot win it which is why they are afraid to take part. The political part promises to be just as treacherous, however, since ID forces one to come to terms with the nature of the Designer (even if not his identity), and this is something that many people find uncongenial. Stephen Morris
If Newton managed his to publish his research by minimizing the presence of theology in his writings the same should be possible for ID proponents today. Provided they had results to publish. sparc
I hope you don't share my grammar. I just re-read my post. tribune7
I share your Postmilennialism. Platonist
I just posted a list of quotes by great scientists ridiculing atheism. We have won this debate -- their is a designer -- on he grounds of reason, rationalism and logic. Where we hit barriers is when we accept their unsupported premises (methodological naturalism is the arbiter of truth) and their double-standards i.e. "You have to prove this to the nth degree but we don't have to even try to prove this" or "this is acceptable to teach while this is unconstitutional". We have to recognize that we have won the science debate and start preparing for political battles. tribune7
This is the most interesting article I;ve read in recent memory. Platonist
The reason why Darwinism is unacceptable to so many people is because it denies final causes. This made it attractive to a new sort of 19th century mentality. See here for some material on this point by Gerard, Dewey, Mayr, Hodges, etc. Vladimir Krondan

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