Intelligent Design Philosophy Science

What Giberson Wants from ID

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In a recent debate between Stephen Meyer and Karl Giberson, Giberson (a well-known theistic evolutionist) related what he thought was how ID could proceed in order for him to take it more seriously as a scientific endeavor. I thought it was a very thoughtful response, and posted it here for you.

The quote below was transcribed by myself in a limited amount of time, so I’m sure a lot of the details are wrong, but I think I was able to capture the essence of Giberson’s critique. The exchange occurs in the video from about 1:41:00 to about 1:48:00 if anyone finds corrections worth noting.

Here’s my rough transcribed version:

First I would like to see the emergence of something that would look like a theory. I’ve tried to think what a good theory of Intelligent Design might look like. The closest thing I can think of to what Intelligent Design might look, in order to fit in with current scientific theories, is something like is the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics is kind of an anti-designer. It says that information is constantly destroyed. And the second law of thermodynamics is very precise—it gives a mathematical equation, it has a number that says “this is the amount of information,” it has a term called entropy for the amount of disorder, it has a rate at which disorder is increased, and you can solve problems with it. Many many things that we would like to understand in nature are illuminated in a very satisfactory way. If there were to be a law something like that, that showed how information creation works, so that you could say, which you can’t right now, “here is a biological entity, and here is the amount of information that it has. And here are mechanisms by which that information can kind of flow in,” so that we could begin to see how this works and understand the process, rather than having to infer some missing designer that does things off the radar, and then we might have to imagine what might have happened after-the-fact. So if a theory emerged like that I would find that very appealing.

The other thing I would want to see is something that would change the way Intelligent Design purports to “explain” things. Usually in nature, when we want to explain things, at the end of it we have our curiosity kind of satisfied. The problem with design explanations is that they just move the question you are asking from one place to the next. It’s sort of like finding a pattern on the floor, and asking “where did that come from,” and you see a stamp that matches the pattern, and you say, “well it came from that samp over there.” Well, now your question is “where did this stamp come from?” If you look at an intricate, highly improbable sequence in the DNA, and you say “where did it come from,” and someone answers, “well, an external highly improbable source of information came in put that pattern on the DNA, and that’s where it came from.” Now my question is simply about that external source. I would want to see something that didn’t just move my question from one location to another. Something that would either answer my question, or leave me with a different question. But I think ID right now just takes my question and moves it to a different place.

Anyway, I thought I would open this up for discussion, as I think it is a very well reasoned and articulated description of how some of our more friendly critics feel about our work. I appreciate Giberson’s efforts at articulating what, specifically he views as the defects in ID theory.

36 Replies to “What Giberson Wants from ID

  1. 1
    andyjones says:

    Karl Giberson needs to do, or learn about, some human design and/or engineering. That way, he will have many of his questions answered, and he will get a sense that design is a real thing and thus feel satisfied by understanding what design involves as a process, and what it results in and thus what it explains well.

  2. 2
    Splatter says:

    I think that’s a superb engagement with ID and pretty much summarises my reservations about it. He is eager for more concrete proposals, and so am I. Refreshing to see.

    However, I’m not sure that ID just moves the problem from one place to another. It actually moves the problem from a “can’t in principle be correct” place to a “could be correct but I want more details” place. That is, is does at least some explanatory work.

    Suppose we found a circle and somebody said, “That was drawn with a straight-edge.” Another said, “No, it was drawn using some implement beyond our ken, something akin to our vague intuition about ‘curves’.”

    Would it do to simply say, “Well, I understand your scepticism about lines. But your folksy curve ideas just move the problem from one place to another”?

    No. Because we know the straight-edge hypothesis is inadequate. Positing a drawing tool that resonates with “intuitive ideas about curves” is preferable, even if the full-blown understanding of the compass (so to speak) lies years in the future, or permanently beyond our ability to grasp. A child’s nonmathematical intuition that a circle is a continuous curve that sweeps round is better than a mathematical theory that insists it must account for circles in terms of a finite number of line segments because that’s what we know the most about, that’s what we prefer to believe, that’s what we have educated ourselves in, and that’s what we’ve continually promised to deliver.

    Evolution is in a similar position. A failed theory with an advanced specialist language, numerous interpretations, glossy metaphors and a long pedigree is supposed to be preferred over a viewpoint that only might be right, because the latter a) lacks a detailed articulation, and b) happens to be associated with personae non gratae.

    The details of ID need to be better articulated and argued for? Great. Then Giberson and the ID community should try.

    At any rate, I would dispute that ID has made no headway in this regard.

  3. 3
    Eric Anderson says:


    Interesting post and worth more discussion than I have time for right now.

    Just one very quick observation:

    Despite Giberson’s (welcome) civility, what he is really asking for — what he really wants ID to become — is another mechanistic theory. One that gives a mechanism and a precise measurement and that can tie back to definitive laws about how this or that feature of biological systems came about.

    So he really isn’t interested in design as an argument. He might like and respect some design proponents, so he is willing to be civil. But at the end of the day he wants ID to become just another naturalistic explanation. Then, of course, he would be willing to accept ID.

    But the key, the thing that ID critics can’t seem to get their minds around, is that design is not primarily a mechanistic theory. It cannot be. Intelligence design flows from the intelligent agent who, by definition, has the ability to choose between contingent possibilities.

    Anyway, I’ll try to swing back again in the next day or so to discuss any small tidbits in his message that could be taken to heart. But as a larger recommendation for where ID should go, he is wide of the mark and is missing the whole point of ID.

  4. 4
    ppolish says:

    The “Laws” of Design are unknown. And most modern Scientists are not stumbling over eachother to be the first to discover them:)

    1000 years from now when Design is a Cosmic Given, Science Historians will be amused when reviewing the “Oops Era”
    thinking of today.

    The “Laws of Evolution” of today will be particularly amusing. Better than Flat Earth.

  5. 5
    Upright BiPed says:

    Giberson wants evidence for design in biology to be tied to the concreteness of the laws of thermodynamics. He has the entire issue turned around backwards. Every material object in the cosmos is tied to the laws of thermodynamics. But the relationships that exists between objects in a translation system (like those that caused life to exist) cannot be tied to thermodynamics. If they were established by law, the system could not function. That’s the whole point. The specification required to establish those relationships had to appear in a material system prior to the onset of information, prior to Darwinian evolution, and prior to the organization of the first living cell on earth. This is the intractable fact he can take from thermodynamic law.

    I posted these observations on Giberson’s recent guest article at The Daily Beast:

    These material conditions had to arise prior to the organization of the first self-replicating cell on earth. They are brought about by the presence of two sets of physical objects operating in a system. In order to organize the cell, a set of *representations* and a set of *protocols* must arise to bridge the (necessary) discontinuity* between the medium of genetic information and its resulting effects. One set must encode the information and the other set must establish what the result of that encoding will be. These are physical necessities. But because the organization of the system must also preserve the discontinuity, a group of relationships are established that otherwise wouldn’t exist, producing effects which are not derivable from the material make-up of the system. These unique conditions are the inexorable mandate of translation (which were proposed in theory and confirmed by experiment). This system is something that the living cell shares with every other instance of translated information ever known to exist. It’s the first irreducibly complex organic system on earth, and from it, all other organic systems follow. Moreover, it is specifically not the product of Darwinian evolution – it’s the origin of life’s capacity to change and adapt over time. And as the first instance of specification on earth, it marks the rise of the genome, and the starting point of heredity.

    Not only must these objects (representations and protocols) arise within a non-information (inanimate) environment, but the details of their construction must be simultaneously encoded in the very information that they make possible. Without these things, life on earth would simply not exist.

    Apparently, my comments were unwelcome – they were deleted.

    In any case, in order to be generous to Giberson we can accept that he merely wants ID proponents to assume the truth of materialism in order to produce material evidence against it. That is perfectly fine; ID proponents have accomplished the task.

    Now what Karl?

  6. 6
    phoodoo says:

    Giving Giberson credit that he actually wants a fair discussion, and is open minded about the origins of life is being way too kind to him. I don’t see anywhere in this long diatribe of his that is anything more than a wordy two part rejection of ID-

    1. ID has no theory.
    2.If God made life, what ,made a God.

    That’s his scholarly input? pssst.

    Giberson once wrote on Huffpost, criticizing the signers of the Dissent from Darwinism list for being scientists who didn’t have the proper biological background to appreciate the science behind it. When I posted that his own college training also had nothing to do with biology, my post was also quickly deleted, and anything I posted in the future which pointed out his hypocrisy was never allowed to be posted, even after I wrote to the Huffpost site moderators, to ask why they provide a forum for Giberson to claim to be an authority on the subject, whilst not allowing anyone to question his credentials.

    Nothing in this recent bit of text from him gives me any reason to believe he wants to, nor has the ability to fully understand the topic.

  7. 7
    johnnyb says:

    One of the reasons I posted this is that I have the same concerns for the ID community. It isn’t quite that ID doesn’t have these theoretic features – Dembski and others have been elucidating them for a while – it’s that we tend to treat them, and more specifically, treat solving actual problems with them, as entirely secondary matters. We tend to use ideas such as specified complexity to justify our intuitions rather than solve real problems. It’s not problematic to provide justification to our intuitions – in fact it is very important to do so. The problem comes in that this is where we tend to stop. Rather than take the next step and solve problems with ID, we tend to be content just with a broad, general understanding.

    This is the thing that stood out most to me when I started getting involved in the ID movement. It isn’t that ID couldn’tprovide such things as Giberson is asking for, it’s rather that most ID’ers just wouldn’t. I have been working in this department for a while now, and I want to call others who are interested to work here as well. We have a basic theoretical understanding. We need to improve it, expand upon it, and, most of all, use it to solve practical problems in science and engineering.

    I also liked his question about where the information comes from. This also was one of my questions. If we believe that human beings are agents that can actually do this information-creating, what does that look like? Can such a process be modeled? For those interested, my endeavor to answer that question is here, and my attempt to make it practical is here. Several other people have contributed similarly in other papers in the same volume.

    If you want to pursue this further, you can see my attempts to apply theoretical ID concepts to real-world biological situations here and here.

    Anyway, my hope is to both show the theistic evolutionists that, yes, we are making progress in this direction, and also to call other ID’ers to come and help us make more progress in this direction. Whether you are a Giberson fan or not, I think his critiques reflect a lot of what people think when they engage ID beyond the namecalling level.

  8. 8
    awstar says:

    I would want to see something that didn’t just move my question from one location to another. Something that would either answer my question, or leave me with a different question. But I think ID right now just takes my question and moves it to a different place.

    Isn’t that what the information search is all about? His desire for either an answer or a different question seems rather incoherent. It reminds me of the tale of the drunk who lost his car keys and was looking for them under the street lamp even though he knows he lost them somewhere else, because the there’s more light to see under the street lamp.

    For a theistic evolution believer, there’s more acceptance and funding under the street lamp, even though all the evidence thus far suggests the answer is to be found some where else.

  9. 9
    phoodoo says:


    I don’t quite get where you are coming from.

    Do you think people right now are using the concept of Darwinian evolution to solve practical problems in science and engineering? Of course they aren’t.

    Because the question of the origins of how all living things came to be the way they are, has little if anything to do with solving modern engineering problems. Its has to do with perhaps understanding the importance and meaning of our world, but practical science operates just fine regardless of whether life is Darwinian or determined.

    So in this sense, I don’t see how one can give any credence to these two objections to ID. Giberson was simply rolling out the same old tired line, that if there is an eternal God, what made the God. Science has no intention of answering that question, and it shouldn’t be expected to.

    That’s not a valid critique of ID.

    Where does information come from in Darwinian evolution? Well, it’s just an accident? That is sufficient?

    If Darwinian evolution doesn’t even come close to answering these two objections (after being the ONLY theory even considered in academia for 100 years) , how can one take seriously saying this is a problem for ID?

  10. 10
    johnnyb says:

    phoodoo –

    You raise an excellent point. Giberson certainly does not put the same degree of scrutiny on Darwinian theory that he puts on ID. Personally, however, I don’t spend a lot of time comparing ID to Darwinism. I’m concerned with ID as an enterprise, not as a comparison to something.

    But even in comparison, there is an important factor. Darwinism has a fairly worked out historical theory. ID, essentially, says that the historical is not the most interesting part. Since we don’t have a historical theory, and are not likely to generate one in the near future, it behooves us to make more explicit the type of theory that we are – a theory about information, its causes, and its effects.

    awstar –

    It is possible that Giberson wanted to have his cake and eat it too. Later in the discussion, Meyer criticized Giberson for wanting to have what is essentially a materialistic theory of the origin of information, which would be non-sensical. Nonetheless, for the purposes of this discussion, I am taking Giberson for the most generous reading of his words. In fact, what Giberson at actually said later on, was that he didn’t want such a theory to be materialistic (in fact, he claimed that materialism wasn’t even a workable idea in Physics), but he did want it to be mathematical. As long as the mathematics isn’t required to be calculable, I think that this has been accomplished, or at least we are headed in that direction.

  11. 11
    Joe says:

    Is archaeology a theory? Is forensic science a theory? Is unguided evolution a theory?

  12. 12
    phoodoo says:


    You said: “But even in comparison, there is an important factor. Darwinism has a fairly worked out historical theory”

    I don’t know what that means, how does Darwinian evolution have a better historical theory than ID?

    How do any of these objections by Giberson have any credibility whatsoever? You are giving him way too much credence by claiming that he has a valid criticism. His arguments are completely weak, and have been gone over for years. “If information comes from an immaterial source that we don’t know of, where did that source get it?”

    That is not a question ID needs to answer at all.

  13. 13
    johnnyb says:

    phoodoo –

    What I mean is that Darwinism will tell you who what descended from what. Whether they are right or wrong is a different story. But you can take organism A and fit it in the theory in a well-defined and well-understood way. You can use fossils to figure out when the organism lived, and so forth. Any of these may or may not be wrong, but they certainly have a well-defined theory of it.

    Now, this is not what ID purports to do at all. You can detect design, but that does not, at least on its own, tell you *when* that design occurred. It does not tell you how or who put it there. That’s not a problem per se, in fact I think it is a feature (it keeps the subject limited and well-defined), but you do have to recognize that there are things inherently interesting in Darwinism and evolution that aren’t found in ID.

    Frankly, I don’t care whether Giberson deserves credence or not. The fact is that the problems that he has with ID are shared by a large number of people whose questions certainly are, if nothing else, very genuine. Some of them are questions that I have had myself, which has been the source of a lot of my work. Whether the asker is genuine or not, finding good questions which need answers is a great way to direct your research.

    I agree that the question, “If information comes from an immaterial source that we don’t know of, where did that source get it?” is not valid as an objection. However, it is valid as a question on its own, which is worth looking into. In addition, other questions that do fall more on the shoulders of ID are, “if information comes from an immaterial source, how can we describe that transfer? What are the conditions that cause it to be transferred? Can the transfer be observed or is there something inherently unobservable about it?” Additionally, one can ask whether or not organisms themselves have immaterial aspects that might allow themselves to contribute to their own information repository.

    Another question that I have, that is not regularly asked by either side, is whether or not there is a better representation of the information than a number. For example, in computer science, there is a semantic aspect of information. However, I don’t know of a way to quantify semantics, nor am I sure why anyone would want to. This doesn’t mean there can’t be a formal way of describing them, though. I think biology, even evolutionary biology, would be better served by finding ways of semantically understanding the genome. I think semiotics has done some of this work, but it is not mainstream yet.

    At the end of the day, I guess I like to look for good questions wherever I may find them. Now, if you want to find a spot where Giberson gives away the store (which I might post on later), you should check out 2:01:00 and following of the video (you also might back it up a minute or two to see Stephen Meyer’s discussion of Malaria).

  14. 14
    Acartia_bogart says:

    The biggest flaw with the ID concept is that it does not address how the designer originated. He/she/it must have either originated through natural processes (fully formed? Sounds extremely “complicated” to me) or by being designed by something even more complex than it must be. The only alternative is Creationism, in which case ID is just confusing the issue.

  15. 15
    Mung says:

    So what does everyone else here want from ID?

    I would like tenure and a guaranteed pension.

  16. 16
    Mung says:


    I have that book and hope to read it soon.

  17. 17
    Mung says:

    The biggest flaw with the ID concept is that it does not address how the designer originated.

    Which designer?

  18. 18
    phoodoo says:


    Sorry, by this is the fallacious argument that leads to the silly point of Acartia_bogart-how did the designer originate.

    It is the same point as Giberson’s and its a ridiculous one on the face of it. Forcing ID to have an answer to how or why Gods exist is completely out of the realm of ID science, and you seem intent on injecting it back in, as if its a valid point.

    Does Darwinian evolution attempt to answer the question of why light photons have a speed limit? Or what time is?

    ID is about the attempt to explain the life on Earth we see, nothing more nothing less; it is not an attempt to uncover all the mysteries of the universe.

    If you, or Giberson or Acartia_bogartare are claiming ID should find a way to address this issue, then you are simply chasing an irrelevant issue, which shouldn’t be confused at all with ID science.

  19. 19
    phoodoo says:


    Secondly, a great majority of ID supporters accept common descent, so the whole point of Darwinian evolution being able to use fossils as part of their narrative, whereas ID can’t is mute.

  20. 20
    Box says:

    Acartia_bogart #14, by comparison, does materialism inform us how the laws of nature originated?
    Berlinski (Devil’s Delusion):“The laws of nature are what they are. They are fundamental. But why are they true? Why do material objects attract one another throughout the universe with a kind of brute and aching inevitability? Why is space-and-time curved by the presence of matter? Why is the electron charged? Why? Yes, why?”
    “Joel Primack, a cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, once posed an interesting question to the physicist Neil Turok: “What is it that makes the electrons continue to follow the laws.” Turok was surprised by the question; he recognized its force. Something seems to compel physical objects to obey the laws of nature, and what makes this observation odd is just that neither compulsion nor obedience are physical ideas.”

  21. 21
    phoodoo says:

    Yes Box, but the materialists have already designed an easy out for themselves.

    They can just say, well EVERY kind of universes exist, so its just in THIS one where the laws remain constant. In others they change all the time, so we just happen to be in the stable one.

    Its all access pass to denialism.

  22. 22
    ScuzzaMan says:


    While sympathetic to the general thrust of your argument, I would caution against re-capitulating too much of the narrowing certainties of materialist dogma.

    One of the beauties of ID is that it is a big tent. There is room in it for common-descent-evolution-dissenters, for uncommon-dissent-yet-long-eons folk, for old earth and young earth creationists.

    That is a lot of intellectual horsepower focused on a single issue.

    It would be a mistake to alienate a large proportion of it by insisting that “ID science” must consist of a particular answer to a particular question that is not a part of that issue, or that “true” IDers must assent to a particular model of OoL.

    That is, after all, precisely the sort of dogmatism that ID is supposed to refute, and that is precisely the trap that the materialists have fallen into, since they claim a historic rejection of churchist’s violent dogmatism but have only injected a new dogma into the exact same behavioural straitjacket.

    I know that this is not what you intend, I am not doubting your intentions. Simply warning against unintended consequences. Human nature has not changed.

  23. 23
    johnnyb says:

    Acartia –

    Your reasoning incorporates two large faults. The first one is the idea that the ultimate source must be found. The second is that it must be complex. Both of these are faulty, but for different reasons.

    If the ultimate source must be found for ID to be worthwhile, how does that relate to other scientific theories? For instance, would you have criticized the laws of thermodynamics because the person who originally came up with them did not know where the original energy and order came from? That seems quite unreasonable to me.

    The second is that you think that the designer must be complex. This is only true if the designer was material. A non-material designer could be simple yet have complex effects. The reason that the effects would be complex is because our model of what the designer is doing is material, but what the designer is actually doing is non-material. This impedance mismatch is what gives the perception of higher complexity. It may or may not have a higher complexity, but that is not determinable as a direct line of the complexity of material effects.

    As for creationism, I’m not even sure what you are saying. You neither define what you mean by it, nor do you actually give content to your issue.

  24. 24
    johnnyb says:

    Mung –

    When you get around to reading it, let me know what you think about the book!

  25. 25
    Splatter says:

    I think that Karl Giberson’s musing is helpful and resonates with me. He should be commended for thinking and actually conceding criteria for accepting ID. It’s actually encouraging. I think Johnny drawing attention to it is also helpful, for what it’s worth. So thanks.

    Arguments about God’s improbability based on his complexity (Dawkins’ “747 gambit”) made above by Acartia are moot, as God is not mechanical. I think Johnny covered that, so I won’t reiterate.

  26. 26
    phoodoo says:


    I think you are highly naive if you really think that is what Giberson was doing.

    I don’t believe that at all, what Giberson was doing was taking the same cheap shot that all evolutionists do, simply repeating the same gibberish that ID does not have a theory, and then throwing out the same line that says, well, if God made life, who made God. How is that conceding criteria for allowing the possibility that ID might be true? Its not being open minded at all, its the opposite, a conversation ender. You can’t claim that a spiritual entity had anything to do with life, because then you have to account for the spiritual entity. So ID could never be a viable theory, based on this ridiculous criteria.

    He is saying only a materialistic explanation is acceptable.

    ID is already a viable theory, Giberson is being totally disingenuous and patronizing, by saying, well, if you only had a REAL theory, then someone could take you seriously. Its no different than Dawkins, or Coyne or Myers etc…Same old BS.

  27. 27
    Eric Anderson says:

    UB @5:

    Apparently, my comments were unwelcome – they were deleted.

    I hope your comments were just caught in the queue and will eventually appear. If they were actually deleted, then it speaks volumes about the thought police and how “objective” they are willing to be.


  28. 28
    Upright BiPed says:

    Hi Eric,

    They appeared for 2 days. Then they disappeared.

  29. 29
    Mung says:

    UBP, next time you need to misspell irreducibly complex. 🙂

  30. 30
    Paul Giem says:


    I read your paper referenced in #10. I agree with you, and the implications are stunning.

    I am particularly receptive to that mode of argumentation, as I have previously separated puzzles into those which require careful calculations, and those who require “thinking outside the box”. For example, set 12 toothpicks in a pattern of 4 squares compacted roughtly like this (the font used does not allow for an exact representation):
    _ _

    and by removing only 2 toothpicks, make 2 squares and nothing left over. The problem is not soluble until one realizes that the squares need not be the same size. Then the solution becomes obvious. Your argument explains why computers lack “common sense”. And it is a powerful argument against AI, at least from linear programming. Whether networks can produce imagination is questionable. The only real question is whether they can be adequately described as Turing machines. If so, the answer would appear to be “no”.

  31. 31
    johnnyb says:

    Paul –

    Thanks for taking the time to read it. These types of issues are truly interesting. Another possibility as well, is that there are parts of physics which transcend Turing in interesting ways. In fact, it may be that physics itself is teleological and hypercomputing. I can’t find the references for it at the moment, though.

  32. 32

    I address Giberson’s first concern in my forthcoming book BEING AS COMMUNION: This book recaps my work on Conservation of Information at (see the publications page). Conservation of Information functions as a design-theoretic complement to the Second Law.

  33. 33
    johnnyb says:

    Bill –

    I’ve been looking forward to your book since it was first announced!

  34. 34
    Upright BiPed says:

    Hello Dr Dembski,

    Best wishes on the book.

  35. 35
    Eric Anderson says:

    Bill, thanks, as always, for your great work.

    I look forward to reading your book.

  36. 36
    Mung says:

    I once touched the hem of Bill’s garment.

    I’ve never been the same since.

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