Friday, June 22, 2007

Intelligent Design: A few thoughts

Several of us have been having a little discussion about evolution, creationism, Intelligent Design, etc. on the comments section of an earlier post, but I thought I would bring it back out on the main page for anyone else who is interested.

I wanted to respond to David Charlton’s challenge to state my reasons for believing what I did about evolution and intelligent design. First, in regard to evolution, as I have said, I am a skeptic, and have more questions than I do answers. My problem with evolutionists (if I may distinguish them from the theory they espouse) is that they have become so smug that they turn off much of their audience. It’s as if they believe that their skeptical audience does not deserve answers to their questions.

In regard to Intelligent Design, I think the first thing to say (in contrast to the way it is portrayed by evolutionists) is that it is not the same as creationism. In fact, many creationists are at odds with Dembski and others about this. In fact, Michael Behe, one of the most prominent IDers, accepts common descent. It is not common descent that is at issue between ID and Darwinism: it is the legitimacy of methodological naturalism, which Darwinism assumes (but doesn’t want to prove), and IDers challenge.

Dembski’s thesis, which gets distorted by Darwinists, is simply that there is a way to determine whether the world is the product of design. His argument is that we make such determinations about the lesser things all the time--whether they are designed--and never question the legitimacy of the process. The SETI project is a perfect example of how scientists themselves sometimes operate under that assumption. Dembski has set forth his criteria for how we would determine whether something is the product of design. But, instead of directly addressing these, and saying why they are or are not legitimate, the Darwinists continue to largely ignore Dembski’s actual arguments.

Dembski’s thesis seems to me eminently sensible, and I have yet to hear a convincing argument refuting it.

The chief argument leveled against Intelligent Design is that it “is not science.” This was one of the findings of the Dover vs. Katzmiller decision by Judge Jones. In making this argument, the Darwinists uncritically apply Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion: that a theory is scientific if it is subject to falsifiability. But you don’t have to know much about the philosophy of science to know that Popperian falsifiability is extremely problematic, and, in fact, is not accepted by most philosophers of science as the sole way to demarcate what is science and what isn’t.

The chief problem with the falsifiability criterion is that applying it results in counting things as non-scientific that clearly are. The most salient example is superstring theory, which is not falsifiable, and yet is clearly a scientific theory. The same is true of numerous problems in physics. Many of the positions Einstein set forth (and I keep mentioning him simply because I am currently reading his biography) either were not falsifiable at the time he propounded them or will never be falsifiable.

A good example of this is his thought experiment about inertia. He was trying to determine whether, if a bucket was hanging from a rope in a universe which contained no other mass, and the bucket was set to spinning, whether the water would rise at the sides. At first he accepted the thesis that it wouldn’t because inertia depends on the rest of the mass in the universe: the water would rise whether the universe was constant and the bucket was spinning or the bucket was stationary and the universe was spinning around it. But if there was no other mass in the universe, thought Einstein, there would be nothing relative to which the bucket was spinning; in fact, you could not say whether the bucket was spinning or not. This was part of his idea that space was relative. Einstein later changed his mind about this, and came to believe that space was not relative.

But how could you ever prove this one way or another conclusively, since you would never be able to test anyone’s theory on this in an empty universe? Were Einstein’s theories about it therefore not scientific? Einstein’s theories were largely developed through thought experiments. Only later did he find ways in which they could be verified. But when he got to certain things, like inertia, there was simply no way to verify them conclusively.

So why are we so comfortable in allowing scientists like Einstein a pass on the falsifiability criterion, but so stringent in our application of it to people like Dembski? I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to this question. In fact, this tendency on the part of Darwinists to employ a double standard here has all the hallmarks of simple prejudice.

The problem is there is no one criterion by which you can judge whether a theory is scientific or not. And you certainly can’t say (as Darwinists often argue) that a theory is not scientific because those behind the theory have religious motivations. Newton had religious motivations, but that doesn’t means Newton’s theories were not scientific.

Anyway, those are my preliminary thoughts on the issue.


Rafael said...

Does Intelligent Design point to the God of the Bible? It would appear that this is what all the fuss is about. Is the purpose of this theory an attempt to save God’s place as the creator? If so how do we reconcile the science we know with the creation account in the book of Genesis?

If ID is taught in schools will teachers be allowed to propose “theories” about who this designer(s) is? Could it be a he or she? Could it be Vishnu, Ra, Zeus, Baal, or any number of shamanistic deities?

Finally does there have to be a first cause? Could the Big Bang be the beginning of some phenomena that ended? And could the spawning of a new universe be the result of this one ending thus creating a scenario where there is no conceivable beginning or end?

Thank you,


Martin Cothran said...


You asked, "Does Intelligent Design point to the God of the Bible?" If you mean by that, "Does Intelligent Design point SPECIFICALLY and UNIQUELY to the God of the Bible," I would say no, no more than the traditional proofs for the existence of God (the ones that you could consider sound) specifically and uniquely prove a Christian God. As far as I understand them, Dembski and other proponents of ID do not claim that it does, and consider their theory open ended in this respect.

You said, "It would appear that this is what all the fuss is about." I think that is an overstatement. I think that's what some of the fuss is about. I think I explained in my previous post what I thought most of the fuss was about.

"Is the purpose of this theory an attempt to save God’s place as the creator?" I'm not entirely clear what you are asking here, but I suspect you are asking a rhetorical question the point of which is that religious belief is somehow on the ropes and is trying to make a disparate attempt to stay credible and relevant. If so, I don't find that terribly compelling given the widespread adherence to religious belief in this country. You seem to be interested in asking about the motivations of the theory's proponents, which I'm not sure anyone has sufficient evidence to determine. But if the main arguments of ID are sound, I'm not sure it matters a whole heck of a lot what their motivations are.

"If so how do we reconcile the science we know with the creation account in the book of Genesis?" I suppose one way to do it would be to say that God did it slowly rather than quickly.

"If ID is taught in schools will teachers be allowed to propose “theories” about who this designer(s) is?" If they were doing something other than simply explaining what alternative beliefs are actually held by people, I suppose they could.

"Finally does there have to be a first cause?" Yes.

"Could the Big Bang be the beginning of some phenomena that ended?" I don't know what you mean. I would suggest rephrasing your question.

"And could the spawning of a new universe be the result of this one ending thus creating a scenario where there is no conceivable beginning or end?" Again, I don't know what you mean. Are you asking whether the universe is eternal?

Brian said...

Scientists use Popper's Falsifiability Criterion because it's a damned good one for separating science and non-science. Your critique is lacking in its inability to see that the major premise of ID and/or creationism, that there is some sort of intelligent higher power (unnamed for ID'ers (chuckle)but certainly God for creationists)is not falsifiable, and therefore outside the realm of science. But certain aspects can be and have shown to be false, such as humanity stemming from one pair of individuals about 10,000 years ago, and the placing of all animal species on board one ark as the whole earth was flooded with water about 6,000 years ago. Science can show anthropologically the falsity of the first, and geologists can amply show there's not enough water for the second. If people want to believe otherwise, tht's their business; unlike religion, science will leave them to their own thoughts.
Which brings up your use of "belief." Scientists do not believe in any theoretical works, they accept it at the time as the best explanation according to the data. Religion relies on does not. Many non-scientific Americans accept evolution because they have studied or read about it, more than can be said for some of its vocal critics (D. James Kennedy comes to mind). And your statement that "evolutionists have the Origin of Species" as their authority is an insult to those who have read and absorbed much more recent material. Like many creationists, you apparently think that all research ended with Darwin!
If you are a skeptic regarding evolution, why not buy and read Futuyma's text, "Evolution," and see how complex and intricate the study of evolution is, how it is complexed with genetics, molecular biology, ecology, and other fields.
If science doesn't use "methodological naturalism" as its philosophical basis, just what exactly should it use...confused supernaturalism? The very strength of science, whaat has advanced it far beyond (for good or bad) other human endeavors, is that it uses naturalism as a philosophical basis. Science realized long ago that explanations based on supernaturalism aren't worth a damn. And as for science not wanting to prove naturalism, surely you jest, and understand that philosophical positions aren't open to scientific research.
Your use of SETI to show that scientists look for design "all the time" is preposterous. What SETI researchers look for are obvious signs of intelligence, designed patterns from other civilizations. Scientists know there is no valid way to determine whether the world is the product of design, that that position is a matter of faith, not science, and so ignore Dembski. We have very valid, tested ideas of how species come about, how they change, what leads to change, etc. Supernatural explanations are not only not needed, but explain nothing anyway. Dembski's criteria fall flat on their face!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but superstring theory is not a theory; there's no data. It doesn't even qualify as a working hypothesis, but is simply the musings of the minds of some physicists. Most of them now realize that it's untestable and have given up on it.
Equally, Einstein's ideas were not theory, but sheer musings as he thought them up. The same goes for Darwin; his ideas were not theory at the time, as no research had been conducted. These men simply had great ideas.
You apparently misunderstand the scientific use of the word "theory," (as do some scientists, sadly) by stating that Einstein's theories were largely developed through thought experiments (huh???). No such thing! You say "only later did he find ways in which they could be verified." Well, only later then did his thoughts and musings become theories! Theories have data to back them up, and have been proven (relatively, of course, and open to more research) to the satisfaction of the scientific community. And by the way, that openness is what makes science such a great field!
So Einstein has no "pass" on the falsifiability criterion, and science uses no double standard on people like Dembski. It's the incorrect use of scientific terminology that causes problems, and so now you've heard a satisfactory answer to this question. Yes, Newton had religious motivations, and he was a religious man, but his ideas became theories when verified, and contained no religious explanations as he knew this was irrelevant to his conclusions.
Finally, you complain about evolutionists who "have become so smug that they turn off their audience." You might be correct, but I detect a certain smugness in your writing (the Darwinist Thought Police; currently popular DOGMAS; people who 'believe' in evolution have no idea why; noses high in the air; etc.) You are guilty of what you charge the "evolutionists" (also perjorative) with!
Brian Myres
Carlisle, KY
KASES member
prof. emeritus, biology, Cypress College, Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

The purpose of science is to understand natural phenomena. The ultimate purpose of understanding is to predict and/or control those phenomena for our own purposes. Science deals only in theories that can be described by natural laws, because supernatural phenomena are by definition arbitrary and not understandable or predictable.

Is the "intelligence" of ID supernatural? If not, it must be either created by some natural means, or describable by some natural mechanism or model. If it was created by some even greater intelligence, then we have an infinite regress to a supernatural first cause. If it is some sort of a natural phenomenon, then we must investigate it to find out how it designs biological systems. We are scientists, so we want to understand it and to control it.

What does the DIscovery Institute think about this question? William Dembski---and, AFAIK all other ID proponents---say that any inquiry into the nature of the designer(s) or his/her/its/their designs is "theological," and thus beyond the writ of ID. Dembski has argued that natural selection, which meets the criteria for Dembski's own definition of "intelligence," is still not good enough, but does not define what would be good enough. The Templeton Foundation gave the DI several million dollars to establish a research program a while back. When the DI couldn’t even propose such a program, the Foundation yanked back the money. Although the DI started a “Biologic Institute” several years ago, nothing has issued form it, except that its program is “secret,” to avoid persecution.

So, supernatural or not, no one has actually proposed any research by which we can investigate this intelligence, or how it came to be by natural means, or any model which we might use to understand or to control it.

The founding document of the DI states that its purpose to to arrest the moral decay of America by replacing naturalistic—read “atheistic”—science by theistic—read Christian—science. Its cofounder, Phillip Johnson, has said that (the quotation is from memory, and perhaps not verbatim et literatim, “I’s not about science. It’s about philosophy and religion.” Every member must sign a religious creed. This is, of course, a logical genetic fallacy for arguing against ID qua ID. But if anyone else is willing to step forward and propose a real, true research program to investigate the scientific aspects of how a conscious intelligence has designed biological systems, I for one am more than willing to hear about it. And so would a lot of other fusty old Darwinian research scientists.

The following is more of a “post notam” to may main subject, but the original subject brought up another question that should be addressed.

It’s true that string theory is not falsifiable at the present time, and is still within the ambit of science. But it does present a scientific model that is at least potentially falsifiable. One might counter that the multiverse theory is not even potentially falsifiable. That may be true, but it does again at least offer a natural model that might develop a Popperian theory, and which already been the subject of research. Randomness in quantum mechanics seems not directly falsifiable, but resolutions to the EPR paradox uphold it indirectly, by saying that _no_ set of nonrandom variables could _ever_ produce the observed statistics. Is SETI a scientific theory? Only if one assumes that "they" are very much like human beings. Personally I doubt that assumption, and would call it hope rther than science. (Re)read Michael Chrichton's novel "Andromeda Strain," if you disagree. Forensics and archaeology are scientific disciplines only because they study _human_ artifacts, and we understand the characteristics of human beings and the attributes and purposes of their designs in a Wittgensteinian sense. The “intelligence” of ID is entirely unknown in these regards—except, as J.B.S. Haldane has said, it “has an extreme fondness for beetles.”

Rafael said...

Thank you Martin,

Thank you for taking the time to address my questions. I would like to respond to your response. Does there need to be a first cause to explain the Universe? No!

One of the questions I posed regarding if the end of one universe could condition the beginning of another, you stated you didn’t understand. Perhaps it was the way I asked the question. You seem to be quite the logician so thanks for trying to keep me cogent. However, I think there is another reason why you didn’t understand my question. And frankly it confirms my suspicion that most people in this hemisphere think this debate is a new thing. This argument of naturalism verses Intelligent Design is one that Western culture is just starting to deal with. Materialism, ID, and the concept of no first cause are subjects that have been debated in Eastern culture for thousands of years. People in the United States tend to think no one has ever tackled these questions. If they did some looking outside the bubble they might be surprised who else in the world can do some thinking.

You kind of blew off my question about reconciling the literal six day creation account in the Biblical book of Genesis with the fact that life really developed over eons of time by saying “God did it slowly rather than quickly.” Thank you for clearing that up for me. I don’t get the impression that you are a literalist when it comes to the Bible. Particularly since the word used for day in the Creation account in Genesis is the Hebrew word yom. Yom is used to signify a literal twenty four hour period of time. You can’t take the square peg of science in this case and try to make it fit in the circle of Judeo Christian belief.

So if, as you say God did it over a long period of time instead of in six literal days how can one determine what is allegory and what is literal in scripture? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Did David really kill a nine foot giant with a sling shot? Did Noah really survive a universal flood? Did the Hebrew boys really survive Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace? Humor me here for a moment here. I get the sense this is not your argument and you could probably care less about trying to defend the creation account in Genesis. However this point brings me back to my first post about the motive of many proponents of the Intelligent Design theory. You say it is not Dembski’s goal to identify the Designer. And just because you say that is not his goal most of those getting the press are right wing conservative Christians who want to advance so called Christian Values and impose them on everyone else. Why else would they refer to people that are not Christians as “lost” and “unsaved”? (all rhetorical questions of course) they want everyone to be Christian.

I am currently reading the book Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel and he is obsessed with making sure the “Designer” is identified as the Christian God. So if, as you say, many ID proponents are not too concerned about who the Designer is then what is the next step? Will they allow people like Stobel and his camp to highjack their theory? If there is some unknown Designer out there how do we make contact? How is trying to prove life was “designed” any better than accepting the naturalistic or fatalistic view? If you can’t pin down who the Designer is what is the point?

Strobel and all those who are trying to pass this off as science know good and well they must be clear on who the “Designer” is. They are clear that it is the Christian God and if it is then “God” help us all! I’m sure you will say you don’t understand what I mean by that statement so I will clarify it. The God of the Bible…and before I say what I am going to say I should tell you that I have read the Bible through from Genesis to Revelation three times in my life. I have listened to the entire Bible on tape twice and have read several individual books and epistles many times.

That being said the God of the Bible is certainly the most immoral and criminal entity in all of human history. The Old Testament doesn’t even make an attempt to hide his delusional and murderous actions. God commits and commissions countless acts of terror on humanity. All Satan ever did was rebel and tempt Eve to eat forbidden fruit and he is doomed to eternal hell. But because God is God he can kill and order people killed whenever he wants and because He is God people accept this madness as justice. God is nothing more than a smoke screen and excuse for all the horrible things human beings do to in the world.

So called religious people in this country have no clue. They don’t read or study much of what they believe. Someone tells them to believe in Jesus so they can go to heaven and that is the extent of their belief. Then when someone comes along banging on the pots saying teachers are telling our kids we came from monkeys they get all riled up. Christianity is so popular in this country because it appeals to the ignorant masses. If we use your argument that religion, Christianity in this instance, is valid because so many people follow it we could conclude that most of science is wrong. Surely there are more people that believe Jesus rose from the dead than they do in the Theory of Relativity. The Catholic Church and most of the citizens of Spain thought the inquisition was ok. Most people in Germany thought the Holocaust was justifiable at one point. Most Americans at one time thought killing all the savage Indians and enslaving black people was ok. It just proves that most of society can be insane and still function to some degree despite holding on to ridiculous beliefs.

Thank you for your time


Martin Cothran said...


I’m afraid you didn’t get the point of my argument about Popper’s falsifiability criterion. I agree that in most cases it’s applicable, but it isn’t always. I gave the example of superstring theory, and you just dismiss it by saying that “most of them (physicists) now realize that it's untestable and have given up on it.” Well, I’ll just accept your word on it. Maybe someone has actually taken a poll of physicist and discovered this (although I doubt it). But that doesn’t address my argument. Because some (or most) physicists now reject superstring theory is not the same thing as saying that some (or most) physicists think superstring theory is not within the realm of scientific inquiry. Those are two entirely different questions.

But your admission does seem to admit that superstring theory and Intelligent Design theory have the same scientific status, an admission for which I am grateful.

And I’m not sure where you get the idea that the “major premise” of Intelligent Design theory is “that there is some sort of intelligent higher power… is not falsifiable [sic].” In fact, that isn’t even a coherent statement. I’m not sure it’s even the minor premise in Dembski’s argument. Dembski is simply applying the criteria we commonly and intuitively apply to everyday things (contingency, complexity, and specification) to non-manmade things.

The Intelligent Design argument (or at least one them), as I understand it, is roughly as follows:

Anything that displays contingency, complexity, and specification is the product of design (major premise)

There are things in the world (that are not manmade) that display contingency, complexity, and specification (minor premise)

Therefore, there are things in the world that are a product of design (conclusion)

Note the major premise.

You also conflate Intelligent Design and creationism, and argue against the beliefs of young earth creationism, which most ID people I know of do not hold (nor do I). So I’m not sure what your comments in that regard accomplish.

Then you say, “Scientists do not believe in any theoretical works, they accept it at the time as the best explanation according to the data.” I assume that by the expression, “theoretical works” you mean something like philosophical presuppositions. Yet later in your post you say, “science “uses naturalism as a philosophical basis.” That looks like a philosophical presupposition to me.

Scientists, you say, “accept it [a theory?] at the time as the best explanation according to the data.” How is that any different from religion? People look, they see a historical event that appears to them to indicate a person who was dead three days rose again who claimed to be God. That’s their data. The best explanation of that data most people think to be that he must have been God. Now a non-religious person can disagree with that, but most of them do it on the basis of their philosophical presuppositions, which say that such things can’t happen, not on the basis of the data. What you are willing to count as data depends on your philosophical presuppositions.

You ask, “If science doesn't use "methodological naturalism" as its philosophical basis, just what exactly should it use...confused supernaturalism?” No. But if science, which studies nature, goes beyond its own expertise and starts making proclamations about what is beyond nature, then it is going beyond its expertise. In other words, when a scientist talks about what happens in nature, he is making scientific claims, which he has every right to offer scientific reasons for. But when he starts making claims about what can and can’t happen in nature, he is making philosophical claims, and he’s going to have to philosophically justify them. Methodological naturalism is a philosophical position, not a scientific one, and if scientists want to take that position, they have every right to. But when critics challenges it, scientists have a responsibility to justify it philosophically. Too often what they do is simply ask people to take their word for it.

In fact, you admit the first part of this in your post: “And as for science not wanting to prove naturalism, surely you jest, and understand that philosophical positions aren't open to scientific research.” Okay, so where’s the philosophical justification for the philosophical presupposition of your scientism? Or are you accepting it as a matter of faith (and expecting everyone else to as well)?

You then mention SETI, but you don’t address my point. What criteria are the SETI researchers using to distinguish between natural patterns in the signals they pick up and signals that are a product of intelligence? How do they tell the difference? They are obviously assuming that there is distinguishable evidence that indicates intelligence, otherwise, why are they bothering?

“Equally, Einstein's ideas were not theory, but sheer musings as he thought them up. The same goes for Darwin; his ideas were not theory at the time, as no research had been conducted. These men simply had great ideas.” So a scientific theory is only a scientific theory once it has been proven? If they are not theories before they are actually confirmed, then it is complete nonsense to talk about testing scientific theories, right? In fact, the very expression "scientific theory" is oxymoronic according to your position, is that correct? Do you think most scientists would agree with you on that? If that is so, then the whole process of scientific hypothesizing isn’t science until the last step has been accomplished?

Gee. All that work in my lab books in school, and it wasn’t even science (except the last part). Darn.

“You apparently misunderstand the scientific use of the word "theory," (as do some scientists, sadly) by stating that Einstein's theories were largely developed through thought experiments (huh???). No such thing!” So Einstein’s biographers are simply mistaken? And Einstein himself, who said that’s what he did, he’s mistaken too? And all that time, he thought he was doing physics.

Brian said...

As far as superstring theory is concerned, I can only say "read the recent literature." Several books have been written concerning its inapplicability for research, and a recent Scientific American article reached the same conclusion. But, if they can get past the problems of investigating it, it may reappear in the physics community. At least it's not a supernatural explanation!
If the major premise of ID is what you state, their major premise stinks! The apparent design of living things can easily be accomplished via mutation of the genetic code (random) and the natural selective process (non-random; selection is the opposite of random). So why go to supernatural fantasies instead of paying attention to what we've found out through investigation? The major problem with ID is that it just shuts down when difficult problems arise, not looking for legitimate answers, but caving in to religious and/or supernatural explanations. In Michael Behe's newest book, he admits to evolution occurring, but then states that genetic mutation (the source of variation) is caused by a supernatural being. Is this crazy or what; he should read the literature on the sources of genetic variation and see that this has been thoroughly investigated! No wonder the Lehigh University biology faculty put a disclaimer about Behe and his ideas in their catalog!
ID people gave up on young earth creationism, but what it shows is that pushing religious viewpoints has "evolved" as court case after court case has shown the folly - more than anything this shows a bit of desperation on their part as they back away from previous positions. In earlier times, the earth was thought to be the center of the universe; as we discovered otherwise, religionists backed away from each position that supposedly answered their probes, until finally they admitted what science knew all along....we're not the center of the universe. That's what's happening today with ID and creationism, and it's a psychological problem for these people who can't stand to see science find answers to religious positions that can be researched. I believe they think that society will fail and religion will disappear if evolution is taught (Philip Johnson especially), but they should take solace in the fact that society didn't fail, and religion didn't disappear, as many thought, when we discovered we're not the center of the universe.
No, scientists don't (or shouldn't) us the word "belief," and that was my point. Science is not a belief system...there are rules to follow! The philosophy of science demands a little faith (now don't go quoting this out of context, like the creationist literature!), that the world is real and our perception of it is the way it really is. Real simple, but boy, does it work well in finding out about the natural world.
You can't see that accepting data within a theoretical framework isn't extremely different from accepting a historical event that occurred (or didn't occur) centuries ago as data? You can if you wish, but don't call it science! It's hearsay, written with a purpose in mind. No writing in a book, no matter which book, takes the place of experimental work or repeated observations!
You say, "but when critics challenges (sic) it (naturalism), scientists have a responsibility to justify it philosophically." Well, like any philosophical system, how well it works for its design (no pun intended) seems to be a good criterion, and boy, does this one work! This should answer your next comment on "where's the philosophical justification for the philosophical presupposition of your scientism?" As I stated, we operate on the premise that the world is real and that our perceptions of it are accurate. If we can't do that, then science is worthless, but that gets into the silly philosophical argument as to whether all this is real or not. Yes, scientists make the assumption that it is real. If it's not, what the hell difference does it make?
The SETI researchers pretty much know the difference between natural patterns (which they've seen for years, i.e., quasars, etc.) and those that might be a product of intelligence. They might miss something, but that shouldn't negate the search; it would simply mean that they missed something.
Yes, check the textbooks or your dictionary....a scientific theory is only a theory when it has supporting evidence derived through experimentation or repeated observations (repeated is a key word here). Why you think the term "scientific theory" is oxymoronic is puzzling; it is not nonsense to speak of testing theories. New hypotheses are formulated regularly and put to the test; if they are supported, they may add to or even alter the theory. This is not a negative, it's the way science progresses! Your statement that it's not science until the last step is accomplished is preposterous; the whole investigative process is science (although I admit that what passes for science in many lab manuals is pathetic).
As I stated before, the word "theory" is thrown around too loosely. Look it up in the dictionary, and you'll see about eight definitions, from pure guess to the scientific definition - "a more or less VERIFIED or established explanation accounting for known facts or phenomena." An hypothesis (a vastly underused word) is a "conjecture put forth as a possible explanation and serves as a basis for experimentation...." As with many people, scientists are guilty of using the word as commonly used, as a guess or at best for hypotheses. If we're going to speak of the major fields of science (relativity, genetics, evolution, molecular biology, astronomy) as theories, then we can't at the same time call every idea that someone comes up with a "theory." It is at best an hypothesis, and maybe not even that yet. Einstein, like many of his time and many today, used the word loosely, leading to Falwell's statement that "evolution's just a theory, it hasn't been proved." That statement is ignorant on several levels, but he never admitted it because he could use the deliberate obfuscation to make his point (a favorite tactic of ID'ers and creationists, i.e., they are liars).
Brian Myres
Carlisle, KY

Martin Cothran said...


Thanks for your very thoughtful and well-stated post.

I agree that the purpose and nature of science has to do with natural phenomena, but the question is whether there is evidence of design IN NATURE. If there is, that would not mean that the ORIGIN of the design was in nature. But if there were a designer, then wouldn’t the natural product of his design (and the natural evidence that pointed to design) have to fall within the scope of science (given your definition)? If so, it doesn’t seem to be unreasonable to believe that there are certain things that could be determined about him (or it) on the basis of the things that were designed, just as you can presumably tell something about an author on the basis of his writings, or a painter on the basis of his paintings, etc. That knowledge would be limited, but I don’t see any particularly logical problem here.

I’m not sure I entirely agree, however, that supernatural phenomena “are by definition arbitrary and not understandable or predictable.” That assumes rather a lot about the supernatural, and I’m not sure where you derive this from. Maybe you are just saying that the supernatural does not abide by any natural laws, in which case I’m with you. From the perspective of a Christian theist, for example, you would say that the personal supernatural being (God) is unpredictable and inscrutable in some things and not others. If he makes a promise, for example, you could predict that he would keep it, etc., but, since he is a will, he is not predictable in the sense that he makes choices: he would be arbitrary only in the sense that he can decide as he pleases.

I also do not agree with your characterization of first cause. The whole idea of a first cause is based on the assumption that a first cause is needed in order to explain anything as it exists now. You basically argue that there is no first cause, that whatever cause we called a first cause would, in turn, have a cause. But I think you miss the point of the whole first cause business, which, it seems to me, has the character of a dilemma:

If there is a first cause, then things in their present state can be ultimately explained. But if there is no first cause, then things in their present state cannot be ultimately explained and are arbitrary or absurd. There is either a first cause or there is not. Therefore, things in their present state either have an ultimate explanation or they are arbitrary or absurd.

The idea of a first cause is way to avoid being forced into accepting the universe as absurd. It is, in a way, a psychological argument: if you are willing to accept the absurdity of the universe, then you would be willing to say there is no first cause. The existentialists actually do this, which is why I think existentialism is the only rational alternative to Christianity. Materialists, on the other hand, seem to want to play pretend.

In regard to your statement that the Templeton Foundation “gave the DI several million dollars to establish a research program a while back…” I think that is demonstrably untrue, since Templeton itself categorically denies this on its website, stating it has never made any calls for proposals related to Intelligent Design. But I do agree that until there is a research program, ID will face legitimate charges of scientific weakness. I just don’t think that the design inference is any less legitimate in that regard than some other inferences made in physics, some of which took quite a while to verify.

Thanks again.

Martin Cothran said...


Well, I don’t know much about what Eastern culture has done with the concept of first cause. Are we talking about the earth sitting on the back of a turtle which is in turn sitting on the back of another turtle ad infinitum? That sort of thing? If so, I remain unimpressed. But I would love to hear more.

Again, as I said in my response to Olorin, if there is no first cause, then there is no ultimate explanation for anything and the world is arbitrary and absurd. If you are willing to accept the absurdity of the universe, then I don’t know that there is any rational way to prove otherwise, but I do think that belief is counter-intuitive and unlivable. That may be the Eastern view, I don’t know. But we live and think as if the world and everything in it made sense. Any other philosophy is unlivable, and I agree with Chesterton that your philosophy has to be livable.

I didn’t mean to blow off your question on the six-day creation, it’s just that I was at a conference and had limited time online. Sorry. But I did mean what I said in my response: that God could do things just as well over a long period of time as in an instant. I don’t have a particular problem with a six-day creation, but I don’t think the text demands it. You say that the Hebrew word for ‘day’ is ‘yom’, and that ‘yom’ signifies a literal 24 hour period of time. You seem to assume that some words have some built in protection against being used figuratively, which I find unconvincing. Just about any word can be used figuratively. In fact the figurative use of words depends on and plays off of their literal use.

You ask, how one can “determine what is allegory and what is literal in scripture”, to which I think the only reasonable answer is: the same way we do with any piece of writing. And with any piece of writing it can sometimes be hard to tell. It is particularly hard to tell with ancient writing, in which there is not a working distinction between history and myth on the part of the writers—not, at least, until the Greeks come along. We tend to impose our own 20th century views on ancient writing, and I’m not impressed when modern 20th century materialists do that any more than when 20th century theists do it.

One of the ways you tell the difference between allegorical or literal writings is how they are obviously intended. You seem to put the raising of Jesus from the dead in the same category as the creation story. Again, I don’t think that is particularly compelling. A story that starts out, “in the beginning…” has a very different feel to it than one that begins, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed...” In the former case, there is much more room for interpretation. In the latter, however, you have to either accept it as literally true or reject it as false, plain and simple.

And I did not say that it was not Dembski’s motivation to identify a designer: I just said it wasn’t his rationale. There’s a big difference. Chemistry came about as a result of alchemy; astronomy largely as a result of astrology. I don’t know that the motivation behind something automatically disqualifies it from rational consideration. I think the position needs to be judged on the basis of the rational and scientific arguments for it, not the advocates’ motivations. Some peoples’ belief in evolution is motivated by atheism. So what? Evolution should be judged on its merits, not on the basis of the other odious things its adherents might believe. The same goes for ID.

You then take God to task for not being moral, as if you have access to some standard by which you could judge God. I’d like to know what that is and how you can rationally justify it without a belief in God.

You then respond to an argument you think I made that Christianity is true because so many people believe it. Maybe you could refer me to where I said that, since I certainly don’t remember ever doing so. I have never argued Christianity is true on any other basis than that it fit the facts of existence. You go on to offer an object lesson on bad logic by dredging up numerous instances of Christians behaving badly and arguing that that is evidence that Christianity is not true. So do we simply take a tally of how badly adherents of a position act to see if their position is true? That is like saying that if Einstein had been caught shoplifting, E would no longer equal MC squared.

And in fact, unless you assume some sort of moral system like that of Christianity, you can’t criticize Christianity at all. You are just one in a long line of people whose only weapon against Christianity is Christianity itself. That seems to me to be entirely self-defeating.

Thanks for your posts.

JPrichard said...

In a review of Dembski's "Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology" (1999), Ken Hendrickson of Sam Houston State University gushed, "This is no watered down theistic science. This is full bore Christian thelogy re-staking the claim to the 'Book of Nature' a la Romans 1:20.

I couldn't agree with him more. Indeed when you cross Dembski's "bridge" don't be surprised by who is waiting to greet you on the other side: Jesus Christ, the son of God Almighty himself!

In short, Dembski is more theologian than mathematician or philosopher of science. Dembski clearly states that that Science without Christ is "fundamentally deficient." (p.206)

Poor Einstein! Fated to be a Jew who later renounced all forms of religious orthodoxy. Just think what he could have accomplished with Jesus as his guide. For as Dembski claims "Christ is indispensable to any scienific theory." (p. 210)

I attended the debate between Dr. Dembski and the noted atheist Dr. Michael Shermer at UK in the spring of 2006. I was struck by Dembski's disingenuous answers to questions regarding the impact of his faith on his scientific beliefs.

He merely responded that no one questioned the late Stephen Gould about his lack of faith and added that he was merely a Christian. Yet there was no admission that he was part of Phillip Johnson's circle nor did he make any reference to the "Wedge Strategy." The decision at Dover you see drove him underground.

While the scientific profession does include non-believers and "infidels" there is a vast difference between a devout Christian who respects the scientific process and a deluded Christian who seeks to shackle Science with religious dogma.

While I fully realize that Dembski merely refers to the spirit of Christ, there is not a single line in the Bible that sparked a major medical or scientific breakthrough. Furthermore, Jesus dwelled only in the realm of the supernatural. Indeed his few miracles in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire did little to ease human suffering - especially the suffering of children.

And at this point I find it telling that no child ever set foot in Eden. That the paradise described in Genesis never heard the laughter of a child.

Be that as it may, whether you speak of Paley or Dembski, they are champions of the "Old World Order." There is someting of the charlatan about Dembski. He is the slight of hand artist who cuts the cards talking "Science" but deals "Jesus" from the bottom of the deck.

James M. Prichard

Martin Cothran said...


Please tell me which of the criteria by which we judge something to be science Intelligent Design does not meet.