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Foreword to an edited collection on “unintelligent evolution”

Now and again I’m asked to write the foreword to an ID book. Here’s a foreword I recently completed (I leave off the contributors and title so that Darwinists don’t sabotage the book before it sees the light of day):

Imagine you just won the state lottery. Suppose the pot for this lottery was up to several hundreds of millions of dollars. Suppose the pot got that big because no one had won the lottery for such a long time—until you got lucky! Out come the reporters to interview you about how it feels to win this vast amount of money. You say the usual things: “I really don’t know what to say … I’m overwhelmed … This is the happiest day of my life … The first thing I’m going to do is buy my parents a new home ….”

But then comes a reporter from the Eccentric Broadcasting Network (EBN) and asks you the following question: “You know, it was an incredible long-shot that you should win this lottery. What’s your secret? How did you pull it off? Where did you get the skill-set to win that lottery?” You stare at this reporter in disbelief. This is a lottery after all. Eventually someone was bound to win it. You don’t need any special skill-set (read “intelligent design”) to win the lottery. You just have to buy a ticket and get lucky. Case closed.

Many scientists, when confronted with the possibility that life and the universe were designed, react in the same way as you did when confronted with the possibility that you somehow engineered winning the lottery. According to them, there is no evidence of design in the universe. Rather, the best evidence is that everything proceeds by unbroken natural laws. Accordingly, nature at bottom is nothing more than matter, energy, and the forces by which these interact. In short, nature works out its destiny purely by chance and necessity and not by design.

But even though you would be right to dismiss a reporter who suggested that you had somehow “designed” winning the lottery, you would be wrong to side with materialistic scientists who regard the universe as exhibiting no evidence of design. In the last forty years, advances in our understanding of cosmology and biology, especially molecular biology, have pointed up just how inadequate materialistic theories are in accounting for the appearance of design throughout the universe.

In reply, scientists committed to materialism would say that the appearance of design in the universe is only an appearance, and that when we really understand the underlying science, we’ll see that there is no actual design. Such a dismissal of design, however, rings untrue. When Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, in River Out of Eden, writes “The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool,” one is right to start wondering if the appearance of design in nature is really only an appearance.

In fact, the best scientific evidence now strongly confirms that design in the universe is real. This volume will help you sort through that evidence. But it does more. It situates the scientific debate over theories of intelligent design and unintelligent evolution within a broader philosophical and cultural conversation. The list of contributors is superb, the scope of the contributions is comprehensive, and the topic is absolutely central to understanding the struggle for people’s hearts and minds. If you want to know what’s driving the culture war, read this book.

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23 Responses to Foreword to an edited collection on “unintelligent evolution”

  1. Can’t wait to read the book, whatever it is. Heck, if I wait long enough, I won’t even have to buy it – PT will probably post a chapter by chapter breakdown of it.

  2. In fact, the best scientific evidence now strongly confirms that design in the universe is real.

    Would “Duh!” be appropriate at this point?

    In reply, scientists committed to materialism would say that the appearance of design in the universe is only an appearance, and that when we really understand the underlying science, we’ll see that there is no actual design. Such a dismissal of design, however, rings untrue. When Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, in River Out of Eden, writes “The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool,” one is right to start wondering if the appearance of design in nature is really only an appearance.

    When design smacks one in the face with a baseball bat, repeatedly, and when attempts to explain it away become increasingly desperate to the point of absurdity, wouldn’t it be logical to conclude that design is real?

    Sigh.

  3. So according, to Dawkins, it looks like design, it acts like design, biologists work assuming good design, BUT it is not real design. It takes great faith to be a materialist.

  4. With respect, is Dawkins’ point not that there most certainly is design, real design, but it wasn’t designed “top-down” by a designer? Not saying I agree, but surely it’s better to try & counter the precise argument.

  5. littlejon:
    With respect, is Dawkins’ point not that there most certainly is design, real design, but it wasn’t designed “top-down” by a designer?

    He says the design is illusory. IOW what appears designed actually wasn’t.

    Which leads us to:

    In fact, no amount of evidence for apparent design could ever count as evidence of actual design. But if science is a search for the best explanation, based on the actual evidence from the physical world, rather than merely a search for the best materialistic or impersonal explanations of the physical world, how responsible is it to adopt a principle that makes one incapable of seeing an entire class of evidence?- page 270 of “The Privileged Planet”

  6. I find this confusing. The argument from the lottery is a powerful one. It basically states that one cannot deduce design simply from small probabilities, because as you say “…someone was bound to win it”. This essentially undercuts the argument advanced by many theorists that small probabilities are indicative of design. In an environment where all outcomes are of equal probability and one outcome must always take place, as in certain types of lottery, the small probability of any given outcome tells us nothing about design, as you correctly point out. Unfortunately this “small probability argument” continues to be used to defend ID. At best, it isn’t clear how this example supports the argument you go on to present. Why would you use it?

    Later in this article you state “In fact, the best scientific evidence now strongly confirms that design in the universe is real”. This is a very unscientific statement, and I think one that is not at all generally accepted. Indeed, the word “best” in this context is entirely subjective.

  7. littlejon:
    With respect, is Dawkins’ point not that there most certainly is design, real design, but it wasn’t designed “top-down” by a designer?

    Joseph:
    He says the design is illusory. IOW what appears designed actually wasn’t.

    I believe you both have a point. It turns on which meaning of “design” one is using or intending.

    littlejon’s point refers to the meaning along the lines of “Does it work; does it involve many mutually supporting parts that are well suited to each other; is it complex (improbable by brute chance)?” and so on.

    In this sense, it is also called “apparent design”, as Joseph points out.

    To be fair to Dawkin’s position, he does not deny the functional, well made, complex result that exists, i.e. the empirically observable design (noun). Rather he denies the natural inference that it was designed (verb), i.e. the result of intelligence, intention, etc.

  8. P.S. The ID movement chooses the term Intelligent Design to explicitly signify that the designs/complex functional arrangements we see are in fact designed (verb) by intelligence, in contrast to apparent design that supposedly comes from accidental / unguided / unthinking processes.

    Implicitly both acknowledge there exist designs (noun) to be explained, but differ on whether the best explanatory cause is design (verb).

  9. Intelligent design is a redundancy. Design implies intelligence. (Can you have unintelligent design?)
    But in any case, we only think a designer is needed because we have experience with things being designed (Mt Rushmore!). Variation/selection is a perfectly adequate way to also produce what appears to be design (in biology anyway), its just that we dont have day-to-day experience with this process and so it doesnt leap out as an alternative explanation.

  10. Hi OB:

    “Redundancy” is an important part of communication in a noisy environment.

    In this case, it underscores:

    1] That ID is addressing the full known set of causal forces: chance, necessity and agency. (It does not beg he metaphysical question explicitly or implicitly by imposing materialistic bounds on science.)

    2] That by examining conceptual and mathematical filtering techniques [CSI, IC etc], we can credibly empirically [but thus inevitably provisionally] distinguish cases of chance and/or necessity only from those where agency plays a role. (This is in fact so routine that there is a whole province of statistics that sets up a null “chance [+necessity]” null hyp then seeks to test it by probabilistic reasoning. When similar Fisherian reasoning is extended to IR relevant cases, things are so far out inthe rejection fringes that the issue becomes the philosophical one of whether or not science may infer to agency or is confined to chance plus necessity. In short, if agency is not a priori rules out, it is the most credible explanation. Where does that lead . . .?]

    3] That empirically anchored inference to INTELLIGENT AGENCY is not the same as inference to SUPERNATURAL agency. (Though, of course, credibly establishing that there are signs of intelligence at work in the origin of life and/or the origin of the cosmos will probably shift the perceived credibility of the onward, worldviews level inference that God is ultimately responsible for nature. Thus, the fierce and sometimes uncivil resistance to the otherwise unexceptional point coming from evolutionary materialists.]

    So, redundancy in the context is not at all a bad thing.

    GEM of TKI

  11. Jebus. What was all that word-salad ?

    Are we communicating in a ‘noisy’ environment ? I thought printed text was pretty clear.

  12. OB:

    “Noise” has many meanings, and here the noise is conceptual. [Observe how routinely NDT advocates grossly misrepresent what ID is, as they are filtering it through their own worldviews, prejudices and agendas. Judge Jones' copy-from-the ACLU fiasco was only the most public case in point.]

    As a classic example apposite to Easter Sunday, a certain great man once said to his people, not without a touch of sadness:

    BECAUSE I tell you the truth, you are unable to hear what I say.

    In short, “Intelligent Design” functions to address several likely confusions. But if one is sufficiently confused or closed minded, nothing will get through save maybe painful experience.

    Contrast the behaviour of the German people post WWI and WWII: in the former case, they believed myths that they had “really” won but were “stabbed in the back.” In the latter, there was no doubt that militarism was disastrous, and so a more peaceful form of nationalism was indicated. The same obtained for the Marxists, who held on to their long-since refuted-on-the-merits ideology as long as it was institutionally powerful.

    The same is happening with evolutionary materialism, I am afraid. Materialism is self-refuting, period. Evolutionary materialism from hydrogen to humans lacks credible mechanisms and/or probabilistic resources to climb the many Mount Improbables. [Cf the linked through my handle.] But until there is a critical mass that sees that the Emperor has no clothes,the embarrassing parade will continue.

    BTW, that easily explains the hostility to those who beg to dissent . . .

    GEM of TKI

  13. Williamgtn wrote: “Unfortunately this ‘small probability argument” continues to be used to defend ID. At best, it isn’t clear how this example supports the argument you go on to present. Why would you use it?”

    I sympathize with your criticism. I thought Dr. D. was going to directly refute the lottery metaphor. I assume the book does, and the forward is meant to pique the reader’s curiosity.

    I think ID would say that someone winning the lottery was not evidence of design, but winning ALL the U.S. state lotteries plus all Central and South American lotteries in the same month, would be evidence of design. It’s the observable pattern that’s important here (winning all lotteries simultaneously), not merely the number of non-winning tickets sold.

  14. Williamgtn,

    Yes there is always some combination of natural forces that produce a specific event such a rock outcropping and it is such a low probability that the actual result happening is almost infinitely low. Some type of outcropping had to occur or some combination of minerals had to occur and some resulted in outcroppings.

    Some one had to win the lottery.

    The thing that is different from these events is that the specific event of life is not alone. It is a combination of hundreds probably thousands of low probability events to produce a system. So it is not just one improbable event but thousands that are complementary and the two or more events produce something much more that either by itself. Each one is of a similar low probability but the chance of them producing something even more when they happen together is staggering low. I make the joke that it is so low that it makes the epsilon in calculus look huge.

    Until we see something like that happening even once in nature by chance and law we have to wonder about the combination of events that led to life.

    As Russ said it is not winning one lottery but winning lottery after lottery almost ad infinitum.

  15. Some one had to win the lottery.

    It is nearly certain that someone will win a lottery regardless of how many particpate.

    If it were anywhere close to that certainty that genetic barriers are overcome (much less abiogenesis) we would see it once in a while.

  16. OilBoy:
    Intelligent design is a redundancy. Design implies intelligence.

    Please read the following:

    Intelligent Design is Not Optimal Design:

    The confusion centered on what the adjective “intelligent” is doing in the phrase “intelligent design.” “Intelligent,” after all, can mean nothing more than being the result of an intelligent agent, even one who acts stupidly. On the other hand, it can mean that an intelligent agent acted with skill, mastery, and eclat. Shermer and Prothero understood the “intelligent” in “intelligent design” to mean the latter, and thus presumed that intelligent design must entail optimal design. The intelligent design community, on the other hand, means the former and thus separates intelligent design from questions of optimality.

    But why then place the adjective “intelligent” in front of the noun “design”? Doesn’t design already include the idea of intelligent agency, so that juxtaposing the two becomes an exercise in redundancy? Not at all. Intelligent design needs to be distinguished from apparent design on the one hand and optimal design on the other. Apparent design looks designed but really isn’t. Optimal design is perfect design and hence cannot exist except in an idealized realm (sometimes called a “Platonic heaven”). Apparent and optimal design empty design of all practical significance.

    And the best “variation and selection” can do is to slightly alter an already existing design. Also it could be that teh variation and selection are part of the design.

  17. re: the redundancy of “Intelligent Design”

    The literature, scholarly (I believe) as well as popular, is chock full of references to “design”, when what’s really meant is unguided, purposeless random mutation and natural selection.

  18. To jerry: The comparison to lotteries betrays a basic misunderstanding of the probabilities. This was the point of Dawkins ‘Mt Improbable’. Leaping up the tall vertical face on one side is like winning the lottery, ie: improbable. But slowly ascending the gently-sloping face on the other side, step-by-step is a different matter. The probability of winning a 2nd lottery is independant of the probability of winning previous lotteries, hence the probabilities multiply, hence the steep side of Mt Improbable.
    However, successive events in the process of Evolution are NOT independant, they build on previous results, hence the lottery metaphor is not valid.

    And I dont really care if ‘intelligent design’ is a redundancy or not. Playing with words is fun but not productive.

  19. …Richard Dawkins, in River Out of Eden, writes “The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool,”…

    So, accordng to Dawkins, biologists use an illusion as a “working tool”?

    Gee, I feel much better, now…

  20. Oilboy,

    I agree that the lottery metaphor is not valid in a lot of cases. But it is valid in the origin of life scenario when no single event exists independently of another for very long. Thus, they have to happen simultaneously or in the same time frame that all can persist together. Or in other words like winning several lotteries in a row.

    OOL according to your scenario would have to be a series of events and according to your assumption each event in the sequence would have to persist on its own so it could build to a viable self-replicating self contained energy using object. Take a guess at the number of steps that would be required to do this and the fact that there is no evidence that even the first step ever existed let alone the amazing number of complicated follow up steps all of which have to persist on their own so that random forces can lead to the next level on the mountain.

    Now for gradualism to work once life is available, we are starting with a viable self replicating object. The lottery metaphor is definitely not appropriate but other problems arise which are also low probability. Namely, you would expect certain things in nature to be consistent with a gradualist approach and none of them are there. So the gradualist approach you are recommending is not supported by the physical evidence in nature. Sounds good but is not verified by any scientific evidence.

    These are separate problems with separate analysis. Don’t confuse the two.

  21. Oilboy,

    I agree that the lottery metaphor is not valid in a lot of cases. But it is valid in the origin of life scenario when no single event exists independently of another for very long. Thus, they have to happen simultaneously or in the same time frame that all can persist together. Or in other words like winning several lotteries in a row.

    OOL according to your scenario would have to be a series of events and according to your assumption each event in the sequence would have to persist on its own so it could build to a viable self-replicating self contained energy using object. Take a guess at the number of steps that would be required to do this and the fact that there is no evidence that even the first step ever existed let alone the amazing number of complicated follow up steps all of which have to persist on their own so that random forces can lead to the next level on the mountain.

    Now for gradualism to work once life is available, we are starting with a viable self replicating object. The lottery metaphor is definitely not appropriate but other problems arise which are also low probability. Namely, you would expect certain things in nature to be consistent with a gradualist approach and none of them are there. So the gradualist approach you are recommending is not supported by the physical evidence in nature. Sounds good but is not verified by any scientific evidence.

    These are separate problems with separate analysis. Don’t confuse the two.

  22. Can one of the moderators delete one of my duplicated comments. Thank you.

  23. 23
    The Scubaredneck

    Re: “apparent design”

    Some of the main presuppositions under which most scientists work are that the universe is real, mind-independant (i.e. we’re not in The Matrix), is accessable to our senses, understandable by our rational faculties and is substantially as it appears to be.

    Consider this for a moment. If the universe is not as it substantially appears to be, then how can we have any certain knowledge of it? We can have lots of knowledge of how it appears to be and possibly some quasi-reliable knowledge about how it works (afterall, Kepler’s cosmology was useful to a certain point) but that would be far different than knowing about the universe qua universe.

    Indeed, if the universe is different from how it appears to be, this does not rule out science completely. Ptolemy and Kepler made extremely useful predictions of stellar movements based on the contemporary thinking that the heavenly bodies revolved around the earth. Non-realist scientific models such as theirs can be quite useful. But Dawkins seems to be saying something different from this: he seems to be suggesting that he actually knows that the universe is different from how it appears to be. He says that it appears to be designed for a purpose but he (indeed, any intelligent person) knows that it is actually not.

    If the universe appears to be designed for a purpose but, as Dawkins suggests, is actually not, then the onus is on Dawkins et al to offer some proof for the difference between reality and appearance. Of course, the best they have done is to assert the truth of materialism. But they also need to offer proof that they can actually and reliably look beyond the veneer and access the real universe. Merely asserting materialism to be true doesn’t do this; it simply begs the question.

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