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Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature?

The Nature of NatureThomas and Aristotle have loomed large on this blog recently. I would like to have weighed in on these discussions, but I have too many other things on my plate right now. I therefore offer this brief post.

One critic, going after me directly, asserts that I’m committed to a mechanical view of nature and that I develop ID in ways inimical to an Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of nature, according to which nature operates by formal and final causes. Life, according to this view, would be natural rather than artifactual. ID, by contrast, is supposed to demand an artifactual understanding of life.

I don’t think this criticism hits the mark. I have to confess that I’ve always been much more a fan of Plato than of Aristotle, and so I don’t quite see the necessity of forms being realized in nature along strict Aristotelian lines. Even so, nothing about ID need be construed as inconsistent with Aristotle and Thomas.

ID’s critique of naturalism and Darwinism should not be viewed as offering a metaphysics of nature but rather as a subversive strategy for unseating naturalism/Darwinism on their own terms. The Darwinian naturalists have misunderstood nature, along mechanistic lines, but then use this misunderstanding to push for an atheistic worldview.

ID is willing, arguendo, to consider nature as mechanical and then show that the mechanical principles by which nature is said to operate are incomplete and point to external sources of information (cf. the work of the Evolutionary Informatics Lab — www.evoinfo.org). This is not to presuppose mechanism in the strong sense of regarding it as true. It is simply to grant it for the sake of argument — an argument that is culturally significant and that needs to be prosecuted.

This is not to minimize the design community’s work on the design inference/explanatory filter/irreducible-specified-functional complexity. ID has uncovered scientific markers that show where design is. But pointing up where design is, is not to point up where design isn’t.

For the Thomist/Aristotelian, final causation and thus design is everywhere. Fair enough. ID has no beef with this. As I’ve said (till the cows come home, though Thomist critics never seem to get it), the explanatory filter has no way or ruling out false negatives (attributions of non-design that in fact are designed). I’ll say it again, ID provides scientific evidence for where design is, not for where it isn’t.

What exactly then is the nature of nature? That’s the topic of a conference I helped organize at Baylor a decade ago and whose proceedings (suitably updated) are coming out this year (see here). ID is happy to let a thousand flowers bloom with regard to the nature of nature provided it is not a mechanistic, self-sufficing view of nature.

This may sound self-contradictory (isn’t ID always talking about mechanisms displayed by living forms?), but it is not. As I explain in THE DESIGN REVOLUTION:

In discussing the inadequacy of physical mechanisms to bring about design, we need to be clear that intelligent design is not wedded to the same positivism and mechanistic metaphysics that drives Darwinian naturalism. It’s not that design theorists and Darwinian naturalists share the same conception of nature but then simply disagree whether a supernatural agent sporadically intervenes in nature. In fact, intelligent design does not prejudge the nature of nature—that’s for the evidence to decide [[I would change this parenthetical now; metaphysics needs to be consulted as well, 4.18.10]]. Intelligent design’s tools for design detection, for instance, might fail to detect design. Even so, if intelligent design is so free of metaphysical prejudice, why does it continually emphasize mechanism? Why is it constantly looking to molecular machines and focusing on the mechanical aspects of life? If intelligent design treats living things as machines, then isn’t it effectively committed to a mechanistic metaphysics however much it might want to distance itself from that metaphysics otherwise?

Such questions confuse two senses of the term “mechanism.” Michael Polanyi noted the confusion back in the 1960s (see his article “Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry” in the August 1967 issue of Chemical and Engineering News): “Up to this day one speaks of the mechanistic conception of life both to designate an explanation of life in terms of physics and chemistry [what I was calling “physical mechanisms”], and an explanation of living functions as machineries—though the latter excludes the former. The term ‘mechanistic’ is in fact so well established for referring to these two mutually exclusive conceptions, that I am at a loss to find two different words that will distinguish between them.” For Polanyi mechanisms, conceived as causal processes operating in nature, could not account for the origin of mechanisms, conceived as “machines or machinelike features of organisms.”

Hence in focusing on the machinelike features of organisms, intelligent design is not advocating a mechanistic conception of life. To attribute such a conception of life to intelligent design is to commit a fallacy of composition. Just because a house is made of bricks doesn’t mean that the house itself is a brick. Likewise just because certain biological structures can properly be described as machines doesn’t mean that an organism that includes those structures is a machine. Intelligent design focuses on the machinelike aspects of life because those aspects are scientifically tractable and precisely the ones that opponents of design purport to explain by physical mechanisms. Intelligent design proponents, building on the work of Polanyi, argue that physical mechanisms (like the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation) have no inherent capacity to bring about the machinelike aspects of life.

Darwinism deserves at least as much philosophical scrutiny from Thomists/Aristotelians as ID. It’s therefore ironic that ID gets so much more of their (negative) attention.

P.S. ID’s metaphysical openness about the nature of nature entails a parallel openness about the nature of the designer. Is the designer an intelligent alien, a computional simulator (a la THE MATRIX), a Platonic demiurge, a Stoic seminal reason, an impersonal telic process, …, or the infinite personal transcendent creator God of Christianity? The empirical data of nature simply can’t decide. But that’s not to say the designer is anonymous. I’m a Christian, so the designer’s identity is clear, at least to me. But even to identify the designer with the Christian God is not to say that any particular instance of design in nature is directly the work of his hands. We humans use surrogate intelligences to do work for us (e.g., computer algorithms). God could likewise use surrogate intelligences (Aristotelian final causes?) to produce the sorts of designs that ID theorists focus on (such as the bacterial flagellum).

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120 Responses to Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature?

  1. Just some thoughts:

    1. Medical doctors adopt a mechanistic view of life, for practical purposes, at certain points.

    And then later, they abandon it.

    For example, a doctor operating on knee or hip joints must presuppose a mechanical view of life. Knees and hips are mechanisms that cope with gravity on land.

    But no one can go from the operation itself (a mechanical procedure) to the question of how the patient will cope afterward, because so many non-mechanical factors come into play: (Does he really want to live? Does anyone else care whether he lives? Is he willing to obey the trusted regimen?

    Even if the regimen is not as good as the doctors think, at least they KNOW what he did. By contrast, if he was not obeying it, they don’t usually have any medically sound information at all about what happened after the operation … )

    2. So, nature IS mechanical in some part, and that includes the many mechanisms inside each cell. Millions of those cells die every day, I suppose, in large multicellular bodies. The principle question is, does natural selection acting on random mutation (Darwinism) suffice to explain all these machines within the life of our universe?

    I do not see how any rational person can believe that. The numbers no more work out than they have done in many Wall Street scandals.

    And, as I have said elsewhere, the problem has nothing to do with the existence of God, creationism in the public schools, or why you should vote for Fizzlegrease in the next election.

    3. It is not the ID folk who adopt a mechanistic view of nature. If you want that, go to the ultra-Darwinists, some of whom deny that there is really a human mind or insist on dumb theories like the reptilian brain or the selfish gene – which anyone can discredit by doing nothing more than paying attention to the news feed.

    4. Lastly, what would Thomas Aquinas have thought if he had access to the information we have access to today? That’s my problem with these “neo-Thomists.” I do not believe that a man of his intellect would have wasted a second trying to defend stuff that originated in lower levels of information about how nature works, had he access to higher.

    But we must all live where we are, as he honourably did. Still, where we are now, we must accept EVIDENCE for design.

  2. Dr. Dembski,

    This caught my eye:

    “For the Thomist/Aristotelian, final causation and thus design is everywhere. Fair enough. ID has no beef with this.”

    And yet it seems strange the philosophical critics of ID can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. Though ID does indeed tend to meet Darwinism head on, on its own naturalistic grounds in molecular biology, none-the-less, in a grander view of the Intelligent Design found in the cosmic scale of “nature”, The anthropic principle has clearly elucidated that EACH and EVERY transcendent universal constant, in the universe, is exceedingly finely-tuned for life to exist, thus pointing powerfully to a transcendent Creator of the universe who originally ordered it as such. Moreover it seems crystal clear, at least to me, that the dramatic cut off between this stunning level of apparent design found for the cosmos, and for the extraordinary “Mandelbrot set” levels of design found in biological life, is the second law of thermodynamics. And yet this second law, which marks this dramatic, grand canyon-like, cutoff, between the stunning design found in the universe and the stunning design found in life, is also, in and of itself, found to be of extraordinary design:

    The Physics of the Small and Large: What is the Bridge Between Them? Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: “The time-asymmetry is fundamentally connected to with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: indeed, the extraordinarily special nature (to a greater precision than about 1 in 10^10^123, in terms of phase-space volume) can be identified as the “source” of the Second Law (Entropy).” http://www.pul.it/irafs/CD%20I.....enrose.pdf

    How special was the big bang? – Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: This now tells us how precise the Creator’s aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123. (from the Emperor’s New Mind, Penrose, pp 339-345 – 1989)
    http://www.ws5.com/Penrose/

    Roger Penrose discusses initial entropy of the universe. – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhGdVMBk6Zo

    “Gain in entropy always means loss of information, and nothing more.”
    Gilbert Newton Lewis

    The Future of the Universe
    Excerpt: After all the black holes have evaporated, (and after all the ordinary matter made of protons has disintegrated, if protons are unstable), the universe will be nearly empty. Photons, neutrinos, electrons and positrons will fly from place to place, hardly ever encountering each other. It will be cold, and dark, and there is no known process which will ever change things. — Not a happy ending.
    http://spiff.rit.edu/classes/p.....uture.html

    Romans 8:18-21
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

    In fact, is it not possible to deduce how nature (the entire universe) should behave from “transcendent equations” for the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

    Boltzmann equation
    Excerpt: It is also possible to write down relativistic Boltzmann equations for systems in which a number of particle species can collide and produce different species. This is how the formation of the light elements in big bang nucleosynthesis is calculated.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_equation

    Can ANYTHING Happen in an Open System? – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyAjvOJiOes

    Thermodynamic Argument Against Evolution – Thomas Kindell – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4168488

    And to the critic I would ask, From exactly where do these precise equations, for the second law, come from that govern how these “random” particles will behave in this universe? It seems that even though evolutionists constantly appeal to unlimited randomness, when cornered with overwhelming improbability, the fact is that the randomness they have chosen as their god in the first place is in fact governed by the transcendent living God they are loathe to admit is real.

  3. Good post, well written.
    Why is this common sense explanation so hard for some to grasp? Lack of charity?

  4. 4

    4. Lastly, what would Thomas Aquinas have thought if he had access to the information we have access to today? That’s my problem with these “neo-Thomists.” I do not believe that a man of his intellect would have wasted a second trying to defend stuff that originated in lower levels of information about how nature works, had he access to higher.

    Well said Denyse. I just wasted a lot of time reading Dr. Feser’s blog posts on ID and I found myself thinking the exact same thing. I seriously doubt Thomas Aquinas himself would have had such a large yet trivial problem with ID.

  5. –O Leary: “Medical doctors adopt a mechanistic view of life, for practical purposes, at certain points.”

    Yes. To claim that ID scientists deny the reality of final causality because they measure machine-like organisms in nature is like saying that doctors deny the reality of human nature because they examine and measure the machine-like workings in the body.

  6. William Dembski,
    You said:

    For the Thomist/Aristotelian, final causation and thus design is everywhere. Fair enough. ID has no beef with this.

    If ID has no beef with design being everywhere, how can you then say that…”ID provides scientific evidence for where design is, not for where it isn’t.” How is it possible to provide evidence for where design is under the assumption that everything is designed? Doesn’t ID only make sense if we assume that there are some things that are not designed, and thus have a comparison to make between them and the things that show hallmarks of design ?
    Please explain.

    [Explanation: ID's focus is epistemological, not metaphysical. Certain objects display patterns that we can know to be designed. The contrast class here is things that we do not know to be designed, not things that are undesigned. N.B.: This doesn't mean that we can't know these other things to be designed -- ID uses certain methods for design detection and doesn't regard these methods as exhaustive for design detection. Metaphysically speaking, everything might be designed -- a theological determinist (e.g., hyper-Calvinist) would hold that everything is designed down to the finest detail. But what can we know, on the basis of standard scientific techniques (e.g., statistics and information theory) to be designed? ID is an epistemological and scientific enterprise with metaphysical implications, not the other way round. --WmAD]

  7. William Dembski,

    pointing up where design is, is not to point up where design isn’t.

    Isn’t that exactly what it is? Where is Paley’s watch found? In a field. What about the faces on Mt. Rushmore? Carved from rock. Every argument made for ID implies a comparison to things that are not designed.

  8. 8

    #6

    Geeez. Here we go again.

    …the argument from lunacy goes something like this: “If the letters h-e-l-l-o were spelled out on the beach, how could you tell they were designed to be there, since the sand itself was designed”

    People do what profits them. What profit is gained by people who to make such inane arguments?

  9. “Doesn’t ID only make sense if we assume that there are some things that are not designed, and thus have a comparison to make between them and the things that show hallmarks of design ?”
    No. Come on.

    “How is it possible to provide evidence for where design is under the assumption that everything is designed?”
    Sometimes the design is detectable by certain methods. Some design might not be.

  10. Does an airport scanner detect every weapon in a bag? If not, how can we claim it detects any?

  11. Charlie,

    Sometimes the design is detectable by certain methods

    I assume you mean methods other than comparing designed things to undesigned things. Please provide sources, or valid arguments. Specifically I’d like to see how you can make the argument that it is possible to scientifically detect designed objects without implying that other objects were not designed.

    thanks.

  12. I’m glad that Bill posted these points, especially in reference to The Nature of Nature conference.

    For me (and I can only speak for myself) that conference was precisely the sort of public dialogue that I had envisioned when I first met Bill and many others at the Mere Creation conference at Biola in 1996.

    One of the participants at the 2000 Baylor conference, Dallas Willard, holds to a view not unlike the one embraced by Feser and me.

    Having said that, my sense–at least over the past 5 or 6 years–is that the ID movement has become unnecessarily tribal, taking shots at people, e.g., Leon Kass Simon Conway Morris, who are natural allies but who do reject the way by which Bill and Behe go about making their cases. This is not to say, of course, that the ID movement has been treated fairly or respectfully by its critics. People’s lives have been inexorably altered by bullies and morons far less accomplished than their victims (Here, I am thinking of Gonzalez and Marks. The good news is that at Baylor a good Marksman always defeats a wilted Lilley).

    The ID movement is overly defensive when it comes to critics who are really friends but part ways for philosophical reasons. It seems to me that if ID wants to be taken seriously–especially among theist intellectuals–it has to stop thinking of dissent as equivalent to heresy. This, of course, does not excuse the lazy dissenters, the “I go to church but believe in evolution and that proves my position is correct” folks. Those guys confuse autobiography for intellectual rigor. Simply presenting yourself as evidence of an idea’s conceptual coherency is like presenting Bill Clinton as evidence that there’s such a thing as a “married bachelor.” This view does not take Christianity seriously, since it fails to offer an attractive and responsible model for faith-reason integration.

    I think one of the problems is our philosophical and scientific training. Speaking for myself, I had the good fortune to have done my Ph.D. at Fordham University while studying under one of the leading Thomists of the 20th century, W. Norris Clarke, S. J. As I communicated in my Biologos quasi-autobiographical piece that influence was probably the catalyst that prevented me from embracing those aspects of the ID project that rely on notions of irreducible and specified complexity. For me, the discussions of probability and the speculation about the lack of future naturalistic accounts are fraught with far too many philosophical concessions that I could not take the plunge. Take, for example, the implicit claim that “naturalistic” accounts are de facto inconsistent with design. That never seemed persuasive to me, since I had argued elsewhere that the unborn are intrinsically valuable beings whose natures direct them to particular personalist ends even if the entire process is “naturalistic” in the sense that one could offer an account consisting of only efficient and material causes from a “scientific perspective.” (That is, the final and formal causes were there, and rationally defensible, but they were properly part of the scientific account).

    My point is that our training shapes the way we address these issues. For instance, it is no accident that philosophers who come out of largely analytic departments are drawn toward ID more than those who come out of departments that still have a place for “first philosophy.” (There are, of course, exceptions, but generally this seems to be the case). I think we underestimate how much the “naturalistic turn” has influenced the way we look at these issues. So, for example, a typical analytic philosopher who is a Christian will employ in his philosophizing the model of the empirical sciences. I think that’s just a bad move, since the strictures of that approach limit the resources that we can bring to bear on our case against naturalism.

    There will, of course, always be Thomists who embrace ID. But most, like Ed and I, will not. It’s not because we think naturalism is wonderful. It isn’t. In fact, it is ridiculous on so many levels that in professional philosophy it is under attack like never before, and this is why some of the naturalist hard-liners are playing the inevitably card. They are running out of arguments; so, they hope that a Hegelian “movement of history” approach will do the trick. (Think Saul Alinski meets Daniel Dennett meets John Dewey).

    It just seems to me that ID (as I have narrowly defined it) will not do the trick, and in fact may teach people the wrong lessons about the relationship between God, nature, and the human person.

    Sorry for the rambling. But I needed to say these things. (Barry, did I do okay?)

  13. No more analogies. All analogies break down at some point, and are not valid arguments. Especially no more analogies about things that we already know were designed and manufactured by human beings.

  14. Dumb typo alert.

    I wrote above: “(That is, the final and formal causes were there, and rationally defensible, but they were properly part of the scientific account).”

    I should have written: “(That is, the final and formal causes were there, and rationally defensible, but they were NOT properly part of the scientific account).”

  15. “No more analogies.” What’s that like?

    I say, “What if there were no hypothetical questions?”

  16. But pointing up where design is, is not to point up where design isn’t.

  17. Charlie,
    Your airport scanner is only useful if it can detect that certain features are hallmarks of weapons, and that only objects that exhibit those features are (possibly) weapons. So to, ID claims to ‘scan’ for design by looking for features that aren’t in other non-designed objects.

  18. Dr. Beckwith, do you say any merit whatsoever in ID?

  19. Hi Last,
    The argument that analogies break down at some point does not make them invalid at the point before they break down. The analogy showed you that a detection method can easily pick out one instance of a target and have nothing to say about others.
    How can you tell a man stabbed thirty times in the back was murdered if sometimes murderers take better care to hide their tracks?
    How can you tell if an artist meant to create a particular image when he could have created an image that looked unplanned?
    That’s what the ID criteria are for.

  20. @17
    Wrong.
    It doesn’t know if the other objects were designed or not. Just like the scanner doesn’t know if there are weapons that it can’t detect. There are weapons that don’t exhibit those hallmarks.

  21. I wonder if Dr. Beckwith would explain the meaning of the following paragraph excerpted from the INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION: Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God* / The July 2004 Vatican Statement on Creation and Evolution:

    30. In order to maintain the unity of body and soul clearly taught in revelation, the Magisterium adopted the definition of the human soul as forma substantialis (cf. Council of Vienne and the Fifth Lateran Council). Here the Magisterium relied on Thomistic anthropology which, drawing upon the philosophy of Aristotle, understands body and soul as the material and spiritual principles of a single human being. It may be noted that this account is not incompatible with present-day scientific insights. Modern physics has demonstrated that matter in its most elementary particles is purely potential and possesses no tendency toward organization. But the level of organization in the universe, which contains highly organized forms of living and non-living entities, implies the presence of some “information.” This line of reasoning suggests a partial analogy between the Aristotelian concept of substantial form and the modern scientific notion of “information.” Thus, for example, the DNA of the chromosomes contains the information necessary for matter to be organized according to what is typical of a certain species or individual. Analogically, the substantial form provides to prime matter the information it needs to be organized in a particular way. This analogy should be taken with due caution because metaphysical and spiritual concepts cannot be simply compared with material, biological data.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_cu.....ip_en.html

    Apparently, it is Dr, Beckwith’s [and Dr. Feser's] argument that the ID partial analogy is not duly cautious? Or … ?

  22. 22

    lastyear, “Specifically I’d like to see how you can make the argument that it is possible to scientifically detect designed objects without implying that other objects were not designed.”

    Why do you insist that someone follow your inanity? You have been repeatedly given the means to understand the issue, but you simply refuse to engage it. Instead you want to deliberately misrepresent ID and then go down the path of a momentous gotcha question – one which makes no sense to the issue at hand whatsoever. Wake up. If it weren’t to provide you with some personal sense that you’ve created an enlightened observation, your observation would have no value at all. Zero.

    Why do you refuse to engage the answers you have been given?

    If you found the word “hello” spelled out on a beach, how could you tell it was designed, since the sand is presumably designed as well? What is it that makes the activity of an agent stand out? Does the activity of an agent stand out whether or not the background was designed? If so, then on what is that conclusion based? Is it perhaps that the properties of sand do not include the spontaneous formation of semiotic content? And since you’ve already run the backdoor on the assumption of human design, then imagine in your mind a pile of sand on a distance unvisited planet where you find three perfect circles surrounding a perfect triangle.

    Do you now wonder if the three circles must mean something, or do you revise the properties of sand?

    Give yourself a pep talk, and address your own rationale.

  23. 23

    It seems to me that if ID wants to be taken seriously–especially among theist intellectuals–it has to stop thinking of dissent as equivalent to heresy.

    Dr. Beckwith I would like references to where ID proponents have accused “dissenters” of heresay. I have seen that charge leveled against ID from BioLogos and elsewhere, accusing us of diminishing God to a tinkerer, but I’ve never read it anywhere in Dembski, Behe or Meyer. So would you kindly post the references where ID theorists have made these accusations?

  24. Tragic:

    I said “equivalent to heresy,” and I mean in relation to ID, not a theological tradition. Sorry the confusion. Here’s an example of what I meant.

    Consider this Weekly Standard article ( http://www.weeklystandard.com/.....2zfezu.asp ) and Keith Pennock’s response: “Wolfson’s Argument from Ignorance.” (Lovely, eh?) http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....noran.html

    Our friends like Robby George, Steve Barr, and Leon Kass are quoted in this story, all raising questions about the Behe-Dembski project, but all speaking respectfully of ID advocates. (Wolfson himself commends the credentials of Dembski and Behe). And what do they get, vitriol. Have you ever read Kass’ critique of biological reductionism? (see http://www.catholiceducation.o.....e0052.html ) Wonderful piece. Not ID, to be sure. But it’s a nice philosophical analysis of materialist philosophy. So, why does DI go nuclear on the Wolfson piece, suggesting that detractors like Kass, George, and Barr are ignorasmuses who just need to read one or several moral articles so they can be “up to speed.” Gimme a break.

    That’s what I’m talking about. It’s almost as if there can be no legitimate disagreement with ID. One is either not well-read enough, not understanding the arguments, committed to materialism, or secretly craving approving from secular elites. Sometimes intelligent, thoughtful people–adequately apprised of the facts and the argument–remain unconvinced of your case. It happens.

  25. I don’t think Wolfson deserved anyone going nuclear on him, or being called an ignoramus, or even receiving vitriol.
    Luckily Pennock’s piece does none of that, even if it misses the mark a little.
    Wolfson certainly got enough wrong that he ought to be admonished to get up to speed.

  26. Dr. Beckwith:

    Many of your points I will not take issue with, but I have a few comments:

    First, I am not the slightest bit offended by philosophical, theological, or for that matter scientific criticisms of ID. I am not one of the brittle, defensive ID proponents you seem to be alluding to. I can take tough criticism. But it has to be *fair* criticism, based on what ID says, not on what some people imagine that it says. And some of the things you and Dr. Feser have been saying lately are not things that ID claims or implies. Your attack is therefore incomprehensible to us, and our “defensiveness” is quite reasonable.

    2. For example, you wrote:

    “Take, for example, the implicit claim that “naturalistic” accounts are de facto inconsistent with design.”

    This is neither an explicit nor an implicit claim of ID. I do not deny that such statements have occasionally been made by ID proponents, in the heat of the moment, or in books aimed a popular religious audiences where the writing is sometimes looser. I have not seen this claim in the main theoretical writings of ID, and I have read almost all of them with extreme care.

    Michael Behe, Michael Denton and Bill Dembski are all on record as saying that design is not in principle incompatible with a wholly naturalistic evolutionary process. Design theory does not require miracles. One can imagine, for example, a “front-loaded” evolutionary program which over time “outputs” the various species via wholly naturalistic means. But such a program would be intelligently designed, not driven by chance. Darwin, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. would still therefore be wrong. It is not “naturalistic means” per se that ID is against; it is naturalistic means conceived of in terms of blind natural laws combined with sheer chance. On this point, I would suggest that you read carefully Michael Denton’s work, *Nature’s Destiny*, which shows how one can logically combine naturalistic evolution, anti-Darwinism, and intelligent design. Not all ID people would agree with Denton’s conclusions, but his approach does not violate any of ID’s core axioms.

    3. Since you see fit to bring up qualifications, for the record, I did my doctorate in a department where both analytical and classical-medieval approaches to philosophy and theology were respected. I do not claim expertise in Thomism, but I have studied Aquinas, Gilson, Copleston, etc. And I have studied both Plato and Aristotle in Greek, and taught the Greek language for many years. I can claim some understanding of the metaphysical underpinnings which Thomism adopts or adapts from the Greek philosophers. I’ve also published two well-received scholarly books on the relation between Christian theology and the rise of modern science. So I don’t consider myself a bush-league scholar in relation to you or Dr. Feser. (I’m also older than either of you, and have been reading academic books for that many years longer.) I think I’m your peer, and I do not see the clash that you see between ID approaches and Thomist approaches. At least, nothing you have written on the web demonstrates such a clash.

    4. If ID excluded a Thomistic analysis, I could see your objection, but it doesn’t. It is you and Feser who are picking this fight, not the ID people. In fact, in my alter ego I have stuck up for you and Feser and Thomism when I thought some Protestant ID people were dumping on you too hard. But your recent choice to attack ID from the Biologos platform, and your determination, and Feser’s, to attack a misrepresentation of ID, has soured my initially positive attitude.

    5. If, as you say, your objection is not to the science of ID but only its “bad theology”, is it then your mission to attack all statements about nature, evolution, etc. which imply a bad theology, bad metaphysics, etc.? Then when are you going to publish your criticism of the very bad theology connected with the pro-evolutionary arguments of Ken Miller and Francisco Ayala? And what about the substantial portion of TE theology which is heavily Calvinist, sometimes even Barthian? Surely as a Thomist you aren’t going to let the Barthian theology of nature go untouched? Why are ID proponents, and ID proponents alone, the *only* Christians whose theology of nature you have deemed worthy of public attack, if your sole motive is to uphold the Thomistic understanding of nature and God against all others? Your motives are inscrutable to me, so I won’t pass judgment. I will say only that I don’t find your behaviour consistent with your alleged concerns.

    6. The biggest problem with your remarks, however, is that they are written as if you never read the post that Bill Dembski wrote above. He addresses the criticisms you make, and shows that he does not affirm the mechanistic view that you are criticizing him for, and you don’t respond. If this is the way that you were trained to engage in philosophical debate at Fordham, maybe the program there wasn’t as great as you make it out to be.

    T.

  27. Timeaus claims that the following comment of mine is false:

    Take, for example, the implicit claim that “naturalistic” accounts are de facto inconsistent with design.

    First, I said “implicit.” Second, what I meant by “design” is the ID project. I thought the context of my remarks made that clear. In any event, here are some passages that seem to support my comments:

    Dembski: “Naturalism is the disease. Intelligent design is the cure.” (William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 120.)

    Meyer: “For almost 150 years many scientists have insisted that “chance and necessity”—happenstance and law—jointly suffice to explain the origin of life on earth. We now find, however, that orthodox evolutionary thinking—with its reliance upon these twin pillars of materialistic thought—has failed to explain the specificity and complexity of the cell. Even so, many scientists insist that to consider another possibility would constitute a departure from science, from reason itself.”

    “Yet ordinary reason, and much scientific reasoning that passes under the scrutiny of materialist sanction, not only recognizes but requires us to recognize the causal activity of intelligent agents. The sculptures of Michaelangelo, the software of the Microsoft corporation, the inscribed steles of Assyrian kings—each bespeaks the prior action of an intelligent agent. Indeed, everywhere in our high–tech environment we observe complex events, artifacts, and systems that impel our minds to recognize the activity of other minds—minds that communicate, plan, and design. But to detect the presence of mind, to detect the activity of intelligence in the echo of its effects, requires a mode of reasoning—indeed, a form of knowledge—the existence of which science, or at least of-ficial biology, has long excluded. Yet recent developments in the information sciences and within biology itself now imply the need to rehabilitate this lost way of knowing. As we do so, we may find that we have also restored some of the intellectual underpinning of traditional Western meta-physics and theistic belief.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and Other Designs,” First Things 102 [April 2000]: 38)

    Dembski writes:
    “Science works with available evidence, not with vague promises of future evidence. Our best evi-dence points to the specified complexity (and therefore design) of the bacterial flagellum. It is therefore incumbent on the scientific community to admit, at least provisionally, that the bacterial flagellum is designed. Nor should opponents of intelligent design comfort themselves with any misplaced notion that the intelligent design movement is and will be powered solely by the bacte-rial flagellum. Assertibility comes in degrees, corresponding to the strength of the evidence that justifies a claim. That the bacterial flagellum exhibits specified complexity is highly assertible—this despite the logical impossibility of ruling out the infinity of possible indirect Darwianian pathways that might give rise to it. Yet for other systems, like enzymes that exhibit extreme functional sensitivity, there could be compelling grounds for ruling out such indirect Darwinian path-ways as well. The assertibility for the specified complexity of such systems could therefore prove stronger still.”

    “The evidence for intelligent design in biology is thus destined to grow even stronger. There’s only one way evolutionary biology can defeat intelligent design, and that is by in fact solving the problem that it claimed all along to have solved but in fact never did—to account for the emerge of multipart, tightly integrated complex biological systems (many of which displace irreducible and minimal complexity) apart from teleology or design.” (William A. Dembski, The Design Revolu-tion: Answering the Toughest Questions About intelligent Design [Downers Grove, IL: Intervar-sity Press, 2004], 114-115)

    Timeaus, you are needlessly defensive. I tried in my post–though it seems that I did not succeed–to communicate some of the things swirling about in my mind. Yes, I understand that not everyone fits my general description of the discipline (hence, my disclaimer that I know there are exceptions).

    It seems to me that your conduct is not unlike what I encountered on PandasThumb. This is why I write in my recent article in the Univ. of St. Thomas J. of Law and PP:

    [Brad] Gregory points out the fallacy in this understanding of God’s relationship to nature: “[P]erhaps in the past Darwinism wasn’t explanatorily powerful enough to drive God out, but recent, further scientific findings no longer leave room for God.” The result is a strange parallel of ferocious posturing between ID advocates and the New Atheists: “The intelligent design proponents scramble to find remaining places for supernatural intervention; the New Atheists claim there are none left. Both assume that God, conceived in spatial and quasi-spatial terms, needs ‘room’ to be God—which is precisely what traditional Christian theology says God does not need.”

  28. “The intelligent design proponents scramble to find remaining places for supernatural intervention; the New Atheists claim there are none left. Both assume that God, conceived in spatial and quasi-spatial terms, needs ‘room’ to be God—which is precisely what traditional Christian theology says God does not need.”

    And again, to whomever this applies, it does not apply to ID itself.

  29. Dr. Beckwith:

    Thank you for your reply.
    Regarding the quotations, I am not sure that we are using “naturalism” in the same way, so let me say what I mean by it.

    “Naturalism” asserts that the origins of things (galaxies, stars, planets, life, species, man) are completely accountable for in terms of the same natural laws (gravity, electrostatic attraction, etc.) that govern the everyday behavior of those things. So whereas popular religion (and in fact a good deal of learned religion) had always conceived of creation as a series of special actions of God, Kant explained the origin of the solar system without any reference to special divine action, in terms of the completely natural behavior of a cloud of cosmic gas, and Darwin conceived of the origin of species without reference to special divine action, in terms of a completely natural process involving variation and natural selection, and so on.

    Now if the natural processes which generate stars, life, etc., involve only blind mechanisms interacting with random contingent events, then “intelligent design” and “naturalistic evolution” are intrinsically opposed. But if natural processes express some sort of inbuilt tendency toward higher and higher levels of organization, then intelligent design and naturalistic evolution need not be opposed. It may be that the evolutionary process is itself the expression of intelligence. If so, the intelligent design of the process might well be detectable via mathematical and scientific analysis and inference, if not all through nature, at least at certain points. Thus, ID is entirely compatible with “naturalistic evolution” of the latter sort.

    Now, to your quotations:

    1. Only the first one directly opposes naturalism to ID. And is it the second kind of naturalism that Dembski attacks here, or only the first? I can’t tell. But let’s say we give it to you. At least we must note that the statement is from 1999. Eleven years is a long time, during which one’s philosophical and theological ideas might well change, as you well know. Later, he certainly acknowledges the legitimacy of the second kind of naturalism, as I will show.

    2. In the Meyer passage here, I see “chance and necessity” under attack, and I see “intelligent agency” affirmed; but I nowhere see the word “naturalism”, or the insistence that intelligence must be inserted “against nature”, or through “miracles” into “gaps” in the causal nexus. As long as intelligence is input somewhere, even if only once, say, at the creation of life, then what follows will not be mere “chance and necessity”; events will proceed in a planned direction. Meyer’s discussion implies nothing more. Whether Meyer personally believed, when he wrote this, in naturalistic evolution, miracle-supplemented evolution, or special creation, I do not know; the point is irrelevant to the presentation of ID in the passage. No miracles are *logically* required.

    3. In the third passage, Dembski says that the flagellum is “designed”. He does not say that it came into being through miracles or a rupture in the causal nexus. As stated above, design is compatible with naturalistic evolution. Again, I think Denton is superb for the full treatment of that possibility.

    Pertinent to this, see also Dembski, *No Free Lunch*, 2002, section 6.2, p. 314:

    “… intelligent design is not a form of anti-evolutionism. Intelligent design does not claim that living things came together suddenly in their present form through the efforts of a supernatural creator. Intelligent design is not and never will be a doctrine of creation…. intelligent design has no stake in living things coming together suddenly in their present form. To be sure, intelligent design leaves that as a possibility. But intelligent design is also fully compatible with large-scale evolution over the course of natural history, all the way up to what biologists refer to as ‘common descent’ (i.e., the full genealogical interconnectedness of all organisms). If our best science tells us that living things came together gradually over a long evolutionary history and that all living things are related by common descent, then so be it. Intelligent design can live with that result and indeed live with it cheerfully.”

    See also Mike Behe’s important November 2009 statement that front-loaded, wholly natural evolution is compatible with ID:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....cy_in.html

    I think we have now established, from most of your references and all of mine, that miracles, God of the gaps, breaks in the causal nexus, etc., are not logically required by ID theory. ID is compatible with a non-interventionist God. (See Cudworth’s reply to Giberson, UD, Apr. 15, 2010, for more on this point.) ID is compatible with “naturalism”. So if Thomism’s “beef” against ID is that it is inherently opposed to “natural” causation, Thomism need protest no longer.

    In light of this, we can evaluate your final quotation, from a critic of ID:

    “The intelligent design proponents scramble to find remaining places for supernatural intervention; the New Atheists claim there are none left. Both assume that God, conceived in spatial and quasi-spatial terms, needs ‘room’ to be God—which is precisely what traditional Christian theology says God does not need.”

    As should now be clear, ID proponents do not need to “scramble to find remaining places for supernatural intervention”. And speaking for myself, I have never argued that God needs room to be God. This sounds more like the position of some creationists, who have slowly retreated from literal reading of Genesis, yielding more and more to naturalistic explanations, yet making a “last-ditch stand” on a few points, such as the creation of life, or the creation of man. But ID is not creationism. Individual ID proponents may be creationists of this sort, but ID as a theory is not. I do not understand how you cannot know this.

    Regarding your other comments in some of the posts above, I have never attacked Barr, Kass, etc. In fact, I quite admire Kass. And I don’t find offensive Polkinghorne’s reticence to regard ID arguments as scientific proofs for the existence of God. I have never criticized anyone merely for disagreeing with ID arguments. I have attacked only those who criticize straw men rather than the real thing. And what dismays me is that you and Feser seem to have fallen into the criticism of a straw man.

    I close by repeating two previous (and still unanswered) questions:

    1. Why do you not respond to Bill Dembski’s argument above, in which he denies the truth of the charge of “mechanism” that you are making?

    2. Why, of all the genuinely bad theologies offered by Christians who write about nature, creation, and evolution, have you and Dr. Feser singled out the “bad theology” of ID? What exempts all the others from Thomist intellectual indignation? Especially the theologies coming from Catholics who should know better? For example, when are we going to read “The Heretical Theodicy of Miller and Ayala” with your byline under it?

    T.

  30. Fascinating conversation.

    I can’t follow the “neo-Thomism” stuff, and think it a waste of time, unless someone is getting something out of it that I do not know.

    Aquinas had to rely on reason for many subjects because he did not have evidence.

    He would certainly have been the first to recognize that.

    No one relies on theory over evidence unless he must.

    Isn’t science about actually getting evidence?

    Example: Today, while walking in a dicey neighbourhood, I saw a cop having a polite chat with a person who probably knew something about a given recent crime (but might not be willing to say all he knew).

    Now, compare that with a clear and detailed video of the crime in progress, plus several captures on cell phones.

    That is the difference between neo-Thomism and ID, it seems to me.

    ID stands or falls on EVIDENCE that Darwinism is not true, and therefore evolution is once again open for business.

    ID threatens Darwinism because it means that Darwinism is NOT the Final Revelation that ends discussion and demands the tax dollar for its public promotion.

    That is the only thing Darwinists really fear. No one cares about neo-Thomism.

    What bothers me most, in general, is the neo-Thomists’ blindness to the real significance of Darwinism in society today, in favour of endless, incomprehensible theorizing.

    Check out the Evolutionary agony aunt, the Big Bazooms theory of human evolution, or the Ooga! Ooga! Big Spender” theory of evolution.

    How can people be so blind to what is happening?

    It is nice to hear that Dr. Beckwith agrees that ID guys have been horsed around. That accords with the history.

    Of course, they were horsed around. Because they have EVIDENCE, not just fancy theories that the people who read the “evolution” trash in the newspapers cannot understand.

    That is what the Darwin establishment has historically feared most and reacted most strongly to.

    (I am in the process of writing up historical Catholic objections to Darwinism, and I note that they make virtually no use of Thomism. It is all based on lack of EVIDENCE.)

    150 years ago, people knew that Darwinism did not account for the history of life – Cambrian period, for example.

    Did that matter?

    No. Darwinists just got court decisions to force their views on the education system. From there it was an easy step from tax funding to museums and the media.

    Anyone who is not dealing with that directly and forcefully is missing in action, as far as I am concerned, and some may be AWOL.

    I make no accusations. It is simply an observation about the times in which we live.

    Key question: Who truly does anything against the Darwin industry and all that it stands for, and takes the inevitable heat?

    Anyone who is not hated by tax-funded Darwinists with their “iron rice bowl” – as the Chinese say – probably is either doing nothing of importance or unintentionally supporting them.

  31. —fbeckwith: “I tried in my post–though it seems that I did not succeed–to communicate some of the things swirling about in my mind.”

    Does the time ever come when you answer objections from those who disagree with those thoughts. VJTorley, niwrad, Thomas Cudworth, Clive Hayden, and yours truly have provided numerous quotes from the Angelic Doctor indicating that he would be closer to our side of the argument than yours. They have argued forcefully that Aquinas would have no problem with the ID paradigm, and each time they cited the relevant passages.

    Making grand claims about Aquinas’ general philosophy of nature, recounting your educational history, alluding to your other writings, and appealing to other misguided neo-Thomists will not serve as an ample substitue for presenting the requisite chapter and verse to support your position.

  32. I apologize to PaV, who also deserves to be placed on the above list of writers who presented evidence that Aquinas would not be anti ID.

    Here then is the latest summary:

    Supporting their arguments with quotes from the ID side, we have VJTorley, Thomas Cudworth, PaV, Clive Hayden, niwrad, and myself.
    Supporting their arguments with quotes from the anti-ID side, we have…………..

  33. 33

    Dr Beckwith,

    Given your learned accomplishments, I presume that you are aware of at least the general properties of competition (e.g. only the leader should defend, the weakness inherent in strength, the uncontested position, etc). In this case, the competition is that of opposing ideas.

    With that presumption in place, I would like to ask a question. Does it represent a failure of one’s position, if when one consistently evades the counterarguments to that position?

    Certainly it could be said that if one takes a position and then evades counterarguments, that this (in and of itself) is not a failure of the position, but merely reflects a failure of the one taking the position to adequately defend it. This observation is certainly true.

    However, you are a scholar with presumably expanded knowledge of the topic in question. You in fact lead your attack on ID under that guise. With that in mind, it seems to me that your evasion is not just a matter of your inability to defend your position, but is an indication that your position cannot be defended.

    So I ask the question: Does it represent a failure of one’s (scholarly) position, if counterarguments are never engaged?

  34. Although the erudite Platonists [Timeaus, analyzing the subject from the inside out and William Dembski, weighing in briefly] have not provided specific citations from the works of St. Thomas, their arguments showing the compatibility of ID and Thomism are perhaps the most illuminating of all, given that both commenters are only partially oriented to St. Thomas and can, nevertheless, detect the injustice that is being done in his name.

  35. The OP is accompanied by a jpeg of a book cover, the title of which is The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. This book has been advertised at Amazon.com for almost two years, but as far as I can tell it does not exist. To me, this is extremely unfortunate. As far as I am aware no one has published anything on the metaphysical foundations of modern science since my old friend Ned Burtt did so in 1924. A book-length work on this subject would surely spark debate. Indeed, as someone who generally disagrees with Dr. Dembski, I would welcome a systematic presentation of his views on this subject.

    So, when is it coming out (if, as the jpeg of the cover indicates, it has already been designed and typeset)?

    [[Hi Allen: ISI Books, the publisher, misadvertised the book two years ago, indicating that it would come out February 2009 -- this early publication date was a mistake as the book could never have been available by then. We had hoped to have it ready by the fall of 2009 and out this winter, but the production process has been long and tedious (ISI has, for instance, never published a book laden with as much technical notation, so it's taken some time to get the typesetting process up to speed). The book is now typeset but having to be proofread. It is truly a monster -- ca. 500,000 words. I expect it to be out in July or August. --Bill]]

  36. 36

    “That’s the topic of a conference I helped organize at Baylor a decade ago and whose proceedings (suitably updated) are coming out this year.”

    I believe that means it’s coming out this year.

  37. For those who are interested Jay Richards has just written a response to Ed Feser, Frank Beckwith, Michael Tkacz, and Stephen Barr, at ENV:

    Responding to “Thomist” Critics of Intelligent Design
    Jay Richards
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....itics.html

  38. Upright BiPed…

    What is it that makes the activity of an agent stand out? Does the activity of an agent stand out whether or not the background was designed?

    The activity of an agent can only stand out if we know something about the agent, and what types of activities it performs.

    As for the ‘Hello World’ analogy, I’ll reiterate…

    We know that ‘hello world’ is something that a human being would create in the sand, therefore it is highly likely that that particular instance of the phrase was created by a human being. We wouldn’t refer to some abstract design detection algorithm that ignores the characteristics of the designer. And we wouldn’t explore the nature of sand, and wether it had the innate properties that would allow it to clump in such ways.

    Yet ID doesn’t make any claims about the identity, or even any of the caracteristics of the agent. It simply says we can ‘detect design’. How? Absent an understanding of the designer, the only other way to do it is by comparing design to non-design.

  39. I have been reading this blog for a while and I find your discussions here very interesting. I personally am open to both evolutionary theory and ID and am interested in seeing where the evidence will eventually take us.

    @Timaeus, who said:

    It may be that the evolutionary process is itself the expression of intelligence.

    I have been pondering about that for as well to be honest. I think that might just well be a very likely scenario.

    I would like to see more dialogue between evolutionary biologists and ID theorists because I think the two have a lot to learn from each other. What is unfortunate is the dogma that has been prevalent in many evolutionary circles, personified by neo-darwinian militants. I would much like to see less of that and more constructive efforts supported by both sides.

  40. 40

    lastyear,

    You cherry-picked one comment out of my post that you could use to ignore the remainder of the post, and you went with it.

    You simply refuse to examine the gaping hole in the middle of your rationale.

    Allow me to give you another opportunity:

    “…imagine in your mind a pile of sand on a distance unvisited planet where you find three perfect circles surrounding a perfect triangle.

    Do you now wonder if the three circles must mean something, or do you revise the properties of sand?”

    Now, show us that your rationale is valid by actually answering the question above.

  41. 41

    lastyear,

    On second thought, forget it.

    Why pollute what has been an intersting conversation with StephenB, Timaeus, Beckwith, and others, by playing silly games with you?

    Please simply ignore my previous post.

  42. Re tragic mishap in comment #39:

    Yes, but the publication date at Amazon.com [ http://www.amazon.com/Nature-E....._rhf_p_t_1 ]is listed as February 15, 2009. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was last year, right?

    Please don’t get me wrong; I really want to read this book, and am genuinely concerned that it hasn’t yet been made available to the public, despite published information to the contrary.

  43. I think I now have a better understanding of why Thomists take issue with ID. ID presents itself as the only or the strongest counter argument to Naturalism. Thomists consider this claim to be preposterous and therefore feel a need to attack ID.

    I agree with them that Naturalism can be defeated quite easily without ID. It rests upon an unsupportable metaphysics that falls apart at the least touch.

    But my reply to Thomists is that scientists don’t give a fig for metaphysics. All they care about is the scientific enterprise, no matter how high in the air they build their castle. In that case, ID may be the only way to knock any sense into them.

    So I suggest that Thomists and IDists come to an understanding, and do so quickly. ID is not the strongest way to attack Naturalism. And ID needs to examine its own metaphysics. But ID does have something legitimate to say. And Thomists need to listen.

  44. Jay Richards responds to Thomist critics of ID:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....itics.html

  45. Attention, Francis! Did you actually read the post? Instead of flattering Dembski with all that empty “well written” stuff, how about paying him the supreme compliment of comprehending what he’s trying to say?

    The leading guy in the ID movement comes right out and says that concepts like low probability and irreducible complexity are subversive tactics. You’re familiar with the “wedge” strategy, I presume? Don’t be afraid. The goal of ID is not neo-Platonism. The goal is overthrowing naturalism of the Darwinian kind, which excludes God from the act of creation.

    Now I admit, it is kind of interesting to hear Bill describe himself as being more attracted to Plato than Aristotle. Sounds like the perennial divide has raised its ugly head again–which is to be expected, since it cannot be overcome; since it is encoded into one’s very being.

    But what about those of you who call yourselves “neo-Thomists”? Are you claiming, with Aristotle and Thomas, that the essence of God is intellect? That again? Hell-bent on reconstructing Valhalla? Haven’t we learned our lesson yet?

    Here’s the thing: A/T makes no sense unless God is intellect in his essence. The whole point of Aristotle’s syllogisms and golden mean was that he thought he could overcome the negation caused by Idealism and “pure intellect” by describing the good as a purely active synthesis of intellectual and material causes.

    So is that where you are? Back with the old philosophers and their somewhat musty metaphysics? If so, then no wonder Denyse hasn’t heard of you. If not–if you have discovered some new way of describing the synthetic method that overcomes the limitations of Thomas as well as Kant–hold the presses!

  46. And another thing! We have a pretty good idea of what Thomas would have had to say about ID because we see it in the church that has modelled itself on his magnanimity and reasonableness. Like Benedict, he would speak kindly of ID to the extent that it glorifies God–and maintained a prudent silence with regard to some of its aberrations.

    The Catholic church is, after all, catholic. It includes followers of both Thomas and Augustine.

  47. If Thomism is welcome under the ID big tent, then what was the basis for Mark Ryland stepping down from the Discovery Institute? Clearly he, Frank Beckwith, Alex Pruss, and other Thomists have gotten the message that Dembski-style ID is at odds with their vision of what ID might be. From Bill’s recent posts, he makes it sound as if this is all a big misunderstanding. But from the conversations I’ve had, it seems to me that these folks did not merely leave the big tent, they were pushed.

  48. @ Bilboe

    You said:

    I agree with them that Naturalism can be defeated quite easily without ID. It rests upon an unsupportable metaphysics that falls apart at the least touch.

    Do you mind elaborating a little on that? What is it about naturalism that makes it so fragile an unsupportable?

    I am not a naturalist by the way.

  49. Upright, I’ll try to answer your question, and I take no offense at your previous posts:

    “…imagine in your mind a pile of sand on a distance unvisited planet where you find three perfect circles surrounding a perfect triangle.

    Do you now wonder if the three circles must mean something, or do you revise the properties of sand?”

    The circles certainly mean something. But why do I have to revise the properties of sand? How about simply revising the properties of nature, which is totally consistent with the notion of a fine-tuned universe, and is exactly what Darwin did.

    On the other hand, ID says no. The properties of nature cannot account for these circles, and therefore they must have been separately designed.

  50. To be more explicit, your example illustrates exactly why ID is totally contradictory to the notion of a fine-tuned universe, which would maintain that those circles were both designed and natural. Designed by intelligent agents which are themselves products of nature.

    You, as an IDer, insist that those circles are not the products of nature, and your implied assumption is that the circles were designed BECAUSE nature could not have produced them.

  51. The crucial question for science is whether design helps us understand the world, and especially the biological world, better than we do now when we systematically eschew teleological notions from our scientific theorizing. Thus, a scientist may view design and its appeal to a designer as simply a fruitful device for understanding the world, not attaching any significance to questions such as whether a theory of design is in some ultimate sense true or whether the designer actually exists. Philosophers of science would call this a constructive empiricist approach to design. Scientists in the business of manufacturing theoretical entities like quarks, strings, and cold dark matter could therefore view the designer as just one more theoretical entity to be added to the list.

    Bill Dembski
    No Free Lunch

    The Design paradigm is used in two at least two contexts:

    1. describing the operation of living things

    2. criticizing Darwinian evolution

    Systems biologists already use instances of the explantory filter whether they realize or not.

    Whenever they say a biological system acts like a known engineering design ( like a decoding system), Design detection principles are already being invoked! One will never run away from this, and it is a superior way to characterize system behavior versus using Natural Selection. This is already acknowledged by mainstream scientists like Andreas Wagner.

    To that extent, the sense of Design in biology can’t ever be extinguished despite efforts to remove teleological language from biology.

    The “constructive empiricist” view of design is already part of practice of biology despite all the formal and public denials. It will resist any attempts to be subjected to theological criticism in much the same way the art of reverse engineering (as practiced by engineers) will resist attempts to be criticized by metaphysics.

    The “constructive empiricist” view can also be used to effectively criticize the adequacy of Darwinian theory and mindless OOL. Formally speaking, ID does not have to be true for Darwinian evolution to be false.

    Bill Dembski:

    Thomas and Aristotle have loomed large on this blog recently. I would like to have weighed in on these discussions, but I have too many other things on my plate right now. I therefore offer this brief post.

    One critic, going after me directly, asserts that I’m committed to a mechanical view of nature and that I develop ID in ways inimical to an Aristotelian-Thomistic understanding of nature, according to which nature operates by formal and final causes. Life, according to this view, would be natural rather than artifactual. ID, by contrast, is supposed to demand an artifactual understanding of life.

    If the Thomistic-Aristotelian approach agrees with the practice of “reverse engineering” then there is no problem. The ID proponents should make that case.

    If the Thomistic-Aristotelian approach disagrees with the practice of “reverse engineering”, so much the worse for theology, the modern practice of engineering has rarely been subservient to theology. Utility will prevail over metaphysics.

    The problem as I see it is characterizing the practice of design recognition (as already practiced in every day life and engineering) as some sort of theological idea, and thus subject to theological crticism. This line of criticism doesn’t at all seem wholesome!

    Though the Thomist-Aristotle debate is important in persuading the clergy and thus the parishioners, in the end it is an inappropriate criticism in the realm of engineering and design detection!

    When I worked on design detection mechanisms to recognized human-made mine-fields, I don’t recall the need for the methods to be subject to theological inquisition. Same goes for reverse engineering software. Same goes for detecting and recognizing design in biology. I see little point in using theology to criticize the accepted practice of design recognition.

  52. Intelligent Design is the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence

    Bill Dembski’s definition

    and

    The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    Discovery Institute FAQ

    I find it hard to see how there could be such theological issues with such simple assertion!

  53. Sal, I’m with you. I really don’t see where there is any “philosophical” issue with ID save for the materialists who can’t answer the evidence being brought forth. The squabbling of philosophy is all a bit high brow for me. As far as I’m concerned, the most important question is whether something was designed or not,,, period. Everything else is stamp collecting as Rutherford would say.

  54. lastyearon @ 49

    “How about simply revising the properties of nature, which is totally consistent with the notion of a fine-tuned universe, and is exactly what Darwin did.”

    Excuse me for jumping in here but if we went to an example of language rather than symbols perhaps this would be clearer.

    Let’s say that, this morning, when I stepped outside of the Emerald City, I looked up in the sky and saw, in black letters, the words “SURRENDER DOROTHY” written across the sky. I suggest to you that “the properties of nature” cannot be revised in any way that allows for the explanation of the message contained in those two words. I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly so, that “properties of nature” are code words for physics. If I am mistaken, perhaps you could explain what the “properties of nature” mean, exactly. For now, I’ll assume I’m correct.

    The problem is that naturalism, and any story that naturalism has to tell, in this case, neo-darwinian evolution, is false. Here’s why. Two of the fundamental intellectual commitments of naturalism (there may be more) are “nature is all there is” and “nature is causally closed.” The upshots of these commitments are that everything is explainable by reference to physical law(s) and that nothing eerie or spooky (such as God, minds, or souls because those are “outside” of nature) can have any causal effect in nature. Given this, I argue that not only is naturalism false, it is impossible for it to be true.

    How can I say this? It all turns on the question of information. If I need language to encode information into some sort of physical substrate, and I do. And all languages are comprised of symbols and rules, and they are. Then physics must be able to explain both the symbols, the representation of one thing for another, and the rules which govern the arrangement of those symbols (vocabulary, grammar, syntax) so that information can be encoded, sent, and decoded.

    But the fatal problem for naturalism then becomes the fact that the laws of physics, the only explanatory tool in the kit, have nothing to say, and will never, ever have anything to say, about either symbols or rules. Physics is forever silent about why “lion” means one thing and “tiger” means something else. Of course, physics is also forever silent about why it’s wrong to be rude to a waiter and why living things, humans and animals in particular, do things for a purpose.

    So what’s a naturalist to do? I’ve found that the typical response is denial. There is no such thing as a moral law. There is no such thing as real design or purpose. To my mind, these are feeble responses but somehow they satisfy others. But in the case of information, this option is denied the naturalist. For in order to deny information, one must use information. The denial therefore contradicts itself. It’s as if I said I cannot write a word of English. The sentence I wrote disproves my assertion. In the same way, to deny information is to use information, therefore proving the original denial false.

    In my example of SURRENDER DOROTHY, we know immediately that the wicked witch of the west wrote those words in the sky. Certainly chance, physical law, and weather patterns could not account for the arrangement of the smoke particles into letters and the two words. (See pictures of the Iceland volcano for what nature produces.) And in any case, even if chance, physical law, and weather patterns could somehow account for the letters, those things would still have nothing to say about why that particular arrangement of particles means something, anything. Only a mind can create symbols and rules for the use of those symbols (as far as I know) and only a mind can create information (also as far as I know) because the laws of physics most certainly cannot. Thus, information is the universal indicator of design. As far as I can tell, it’s infallible. If one finds information then one finds design. Because one must know a language to detect the information and that means symbols and rules and that means mind, or in biology, Mind. Or so I say.

  55. bornagain77 #53:

    As far as I’m concerned, the most important question is whether something was designed or not,,, period.

    The problem with that, from a thomist perspective, is that Aquinas firmly established that everything is designed long ago. For a thomist to embrace IDs “design detection” would be a huge leap backwards!

  56. tgpeeler #54,

    Excellent post!

  57. Well Chucky, it doesn’t seem the Thomists “everything is designed position”, (A position I happen to agree with by the way) was doing much to quell the tide of neo-Darwinism in public discourse, whereas ID, much to the discontent of many atheistic Darwinists, is. Perhaps Thomists would be wise to admit that their lack of rigid definition to “the real world” has been somewhat of a hindrance and not been of much apologetic force as far as the proper practice of science is done.

  58. tgpeeler:

    Two of the fundamental intellectual commitments of naturalism (there may be more) are “nature is all there is” and “nature is causally closed.” The upshots of these commitments are that everything is explainable by reference to physical law(s) and that nothing eerie or spooky (such as God, minds, or souls because those are “outside” of nature) can have any causal effect in nature. Given this, I argue that not only is naturalism false, it is impossible for it to be true.

    First of all, you seem to imply that naturalism is the same thing as atheism. It isn’t. It is a perfectly legitimate position to hold that God exists within nature. i.e. God and nature are synonymous.

    Second, if you look closely at the commitment you say naturalists make, it really is nothing more than a tautology. If something can have a causal effect in nature, it’s natural by definition. History is full of examples of eerie or spooky things that used to be ‘outside’ of nature, but are now known to be natural, simply because people have done the work to understand their causal effect.

    It is not naturalists that make the a-priori commitment, but IDers. In observing an object that appears to be designed, ID holds that the causal effect must to be outside of nature.

  59. tgpeeler:
    Do you think it is possible to understand and predict God’s causal effect in nature? If so, is that still God?

  60. —Chucky: “The problem with that, from a thomist perspective, is that Aquinas firmly established that everything is designed long ago. For a thomist to embrace IDs “design detection” would be a huge leap backwards!”

    For those who know calculus, long division is huge leap backwards. Does that mean that math teachers who know calculus should refuse to teach long division on the grounds that the latter is not as elegant as the former?

  61. lastyearon @ 58

    “First of all, you seem to imply that naturalism is the same thing as atheism. It isn’t. It is a perfectly legitimate position to hold that God exists within nature. i.e. God and nature are synonymous.”

    You are correct that ontological naturalism implies that there is no God. If one starts with naturalism then atheism is a conclusion, not an assumption. The problem with starting with naturalism, aside from the most serious problem that it is false, is that it is not a first principle. It is merely an assertion about how things are a priori of any thought or experience. Therefore, since it is false, it leads to a whole host of false conclusions. That discussion is for another time.

    However, IF you claim it is a legitimate position to hold that God and nature are synonymous and that’s what naturalism means, THEN you have butchered the term naturalism. Because that’s not what it means. If you say: but that’s what it means “to me,” well then it does, but that does not mean that you are using the term as it is currently used. You have committed the fallacy of equivocation.

    “Second, if you look closely at the commitment you say naturalists make, it really is nothing more than a tautology. If something can have a causal effect in nature, it’s natural by definition. History is full of examples of eerie or spooky things that used to be ‘outside’ of nature, but are now known to be natural, simply because people have done the work to understand their causal effect.”

    My dictionary says that a tautology is a needless repitition. I merely described what (ontological) naturalism is. In other words, the definition of it. But you seem to think I am abusing the term somehow. I am not. I didn’t invent the definition of naturalism to make my own point. This is what naturalism is. This is the definition of naturalism. If you have a quibble with that your issue is with the greater philosophical community (of which I am not a part, by the way, strictly amateur status here) which holds to what I said. I will be happy to provide references if you like. I made the “needless repetition” of what naturalism IS so I could point out the intellectual commitments it requires. As I’ve said before, in my experience, naturalists are not willing to make intellectual commitments. That is, they are not willing to live with the conclusions their premises entail. This of course, means that they throw reason under the bus, too. But that doesn’t seem to bother them. It bugs the heck out of me but that’s probably because I’m a chicken at heart. The idea of not knowing what is actually true scares me to death.

    If I may also be so bold, I believe your reasoning is faulty in another way. For one thing, just because something that used to be unexplained (was “eerie”) and now is explained, is irrelevant to my argument. I agree that “we” know more now than “we” did in the past (and “we” will know more tomorrow, too). So what? It’s the first principles with which I’m concerned and those never, ever change. That’s why they can be used to make such powerful arguments. It’s why naturalism, the real naturalism, the way the word is used in philosophy, is not only not true, it can never, ever be true. If my argument is sound (and I believe it is – even if I didn’t structure it as a formal syllogism in my earlier post – I could have), it is impossible for naturalism to be true. I think I’ve explained why and if you have reasons why you think my argument fails I’d love to hear them.

    “It is not naturalists that make the a-priori commitment, but IDers. In observing an object that appears to be designed, ID holds that the causal effect must to be outside of nature.”

    You must be new here. :-) This is patently false. In observing an object that “appears” to be designed I am NOT holding, a priori, that the causal effect MUST be outside of nature. That is NOT what is going on. What I am doing (I can’t speak for everyone) is making an inference to the best explanation. The naturalist, on the other hand, denies the existence, or ontological status, of “real” design and does so, as I mentioned earlier, a priori. (This brings up the obvious question, if there is no “real” design in nature how is it that anyone can speak of “apparent” design?) I make no a priori commitments. I start with first principles, which cannot be denied, and go from there. My epistemological starting point is that reason is the sovereign of truth. Reason is the ultimate authority when it comes to truth claims. I say that ONLY because it cannot be denied without contradiction. If you deny that this is so then you have to justify your claim and you are then reasoning. In other words, you have to reason to deny reason. This, obviously, is unreasonable. heh.

    Let me illustrate how I’m not making an a priori assumption in regard to design with this simple example. Let’s say that I see a book. I say, hmmm, I wonder who wrote that book? Am I making an assumption that the book MUST HAVE an author? No. I am merely recognizing that every book I’ve ever seen has an author and so I reach the reasonable conclusion that this particular book also has an author. I hope you see the difference.

  62. lastyearon @ 59

    “Do you think it is possible to understand and predict God’s causal effect in nature? If so, is that still God?”

    I’m not sure what you mean but that won’t keep me from taking a shot anyway. In some ways I think so and in other ways not. I have recently come to the conclusion (based largely on another thread out here about the existence of an objective moral law and some other thinking) that the taxonomy of God’s laws is pretty simple. As far as I can tell, there are two kinds. Those that are written in the language of mathematics (the laws of physics, logic, economics, and dietary laws, to name a few) and the moral law which is “written” on our consciences.

    I don’t believe any law of God’s, unlike human laws, can ever be violated without consequence. I think this is part of what “law” means. That there are consequences of obeying them and not obeying them. For example, if I take in more calories than I burn, I will gain weight. There is no way that this won’t happen. If I turn on a flashlight and it produces a beam of light I can say that the photons will be traveling at 3×10^8 meters per second. If I say that b>c and a>b then a>c. That is always true and not even God can make it not true (for another time, perhaps). So in that sense I can say that some things can be predicted in nature. As far as other things, moral things, say, if I tell a lie or murder someone, the consequences are not so clear. I may “get away” with it for now in the sense that maybe no one ever finds out so there are no consequences that way, but in lying or murdering, I have also harmed myself and this is unavoidable. So in that way, even though I know there will be consequences I don’t know precisely what they’ll be. I could get 25 to life or I could get off. If I violate man’s laws, I speed, say, on the other hand, I MAY avoid any consequence and I MAY remain undamaged.

  63. Definitions/descriptions of naturalism/materialism/physicalism

    “The view, sometimes considered scientific (but an assumption (i.e. a priori, my words) rather than an argued theory) that all that there is, is spatiotemporal (a part of “nature”) and is only knowable through the methods of the sciences, is itself a metaphysics, namely metaphysical naturalism (not to be confused with natural philosophy).” Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, page 563.

    “the twofold view that (1) everything is composed of natural entities – those studied in the sciences (on some versions, the natural sciences) – whose properties determine all the properties of things, persons included (abstracta like possibilia and mathematical objects, if they exist, being constructed of such abstract entities as the sciences allow); and (2) acceptable methods of justification and explanation are contiguous, in some sense, with those in science.”

    The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, page 596.

    “Materialism is the naturalistic metaphysics that regards nature as consisting of matter in motion. Whatever is apparently not matter in motion is to be regarded as “mere appearances” of what is matter in motion. All explanation, therefore, in philosophy as well as in science, is to be phrased in terms of the laws now known or yet to be discovered concerning the relationships among the different kinds of matter and the laws of their motion with respect to each other.”

    Philosophic Inquiry, page 338.

    “Materialists deny that the world includes both mental and material substances. Every substance is a material substance. Minds are fashioned somehow from the same elementary components from which rocks, trees, and stars are made.” Philosophy of Mind, page 51.

    “Nowadays, materialism of one stripe or another is more often than not taken for granted: in David Lewis’s words, materialism is nonnegotiable.” Philosophy of Mind, page 51.

    “One way of stating the principle of physical causal closure is this: If you pick any physical event and trace out its causal ancestry or posterity, that will never take you outside the physical domain. That is, no causal chain will ever cross the boundary between the physical and the nonphysical.” Mind in a Physical World, page 40.

    “So all roads branching out of physicalism may in the end seem to converge at the same point, the irreality of the mental. This should come as no surprise: we should remember that physicalism, as an overarching metaphysical doctrine about all of reality, exacts a steep price.” Mind in a Physical World, page 119.

    See also http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/ for a more complete discussion. The author of the post says up front that it does not have a precise meaning. I guess that’s why it takes him so long to describe it. This entry is why I describe naturalism in the broadest and most “generous” way possible. I want to be fair to what the term means. I think I have done this.

  64. tgpeeler:

    In observing an object that “appears” to be designed I am NOT holding, a priori, that the causal effect MUST be outside of nature. That is NOT what is going on. What I am doing (I can’t speak for everyone) is making an inference to the best explanation. The naturalist, on the other hand, denies the existence, or ontological status, of “real” design and does so, as I mentioned earlier, a priori.

    The naturalist does not deny the existence of ‘real’ design. He simply says that it the result of natural processes. The IDer makes the a-priori assumption that ‘real’ design is somehow distinct from nature.

    I think we’re getting hung up on words. Forget about the word ‘natural’. How about we simply substitute it with, say ‘knowable’, or ‘explainable’. I’m simply saying that when one comes across a thing that appears ‘designed’ it is appropriate to postulate that the cause of that design is knowable (i.e. observes known or unknown physical laws). ID, on the other hand, sees the same designed thing and somehow says the best explanation is that the cause of this design is not knowable. That’s based on an a-priori assumption that design is outside of nature.

  65. lastyearon @ 64

    “The naturalist does not deny the existence of ‘real’ design. He simply says that it the result of natural processes.”

    This is simply not true. If you are a “real” naturalist, then you MUST deny the existence of real design. “Simply” saying that design is the result of natural processes (physics?) abuses both words. This is the point, with ONLY natural (physics) processes, it is impossible to account for information. Any kind of information, not just biological information. All information requires a code. Physics has nothing to say about codes. Codes are mental, that is, intelligent constructs, and not physical constructs. And again, I am most definitely not making an a priori assumption that “real design” is distinct from nature. My conclusion that “real design” is not physical lies at the end of a chain of reasoning.

    “ID, on the other hand, sees the same designed thing and somehow says the best explanation is that the cause of this design is not knowable.”

    I’m sure I must be missing something here. Who ever said the cause of the design is unknowable? I know exactly Who is the ultimate Designer. The difference between my position and (apparently) yours is that I start with first principles, toss in some empirical evidence, stir it all up in a sound argument, and arrive at a true conclusion. God is a conclusion for me, not an assumption. For the naturalist, the absence of God is an a priori metaphysical claim that is unsupported by reason or evidence. It seems pretty simple to me but that may also be a clue that something is way over my head. Feel free to enlighten me further. Maybe I don’t even understand completely what we are disagreeing about.

    p.s. As far as design being “real”…

    “The answer was given over a hundred years ago by Charles Darwin and also by A.R. Wallace. Natural selection, Darwin argued, provides our “automatic” mechanism by which a complex organism can survive and increas in both number and complexity. I say “automatic” to mean that we need not involve a special “life force” or “intelligence” to direct this process.” Francis Crick “Of Molecules and Men”

    “The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool.” RD “ROOE”

    “… it is relevant to my point about the power of the “as if designed” assumption.” RD “ROOE”

    “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” RD “ROOE”

    “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” RD “The Blind Watchmaker”

    I could go on an on and not only with Dawkins (and I would but he’s such an easy target it’s hardly any fun to make fun of him). At any rate, whatever kind of naturalism you hold to, it is not the naturalism of modern and contemporary science and philosophy.

  66. tgpeeler
    Question 1:

    with ONLY natural (physics) processes, it is impossible to account for information. Any kind of information, not just biological information. All information requires a code. Physics has nothing to say about codes. Codes are mental, that is, intelligent constructs, and not physical constructs.

    Please explain to me how you come to that conclusion. Please give me a definition of ‘information’ that is not the result of physical processes. Or how about an example. You say that information is mental rather than physical. But our minds are the results of the physical processes in our brains. Do you disagree with that? Based on what evidence?

    Question 2:

    Who ever said the cause of the design is unknowable? I know exactly Who is the ultimate Designer.

    How do you know who the ultimate designer is? Is this just an opinion of yours, or is it based on evidence?

    By the way, if I’m not mistaken the position of ID is that the identity of the designer is not subject to scientific inquiry, and is thus unknowable by the methods of science. Do you disagree with that?

  67. @lastyear. You said:

    “The naturalist does not deny the existence of ‘real’ design. He simply says that it the result of natural processes.”

    But that’s precisely the problem for the naturalist, which if I am not mistaken commits the fallacy of equivocation.

    The naturalist claims that design is only illusory and at bottom lie random, purposeless processes. That in my opinion is a superstition. How can randomness create design? Well that’s easy the naturalist will say… infinite monkeys + inflinite typewriters + infinite time = Shakespeare. But where is the empirical support for such a claim?

    At this point, I am assuming you will be pointing out to evolution and saying there it is… But you have absolutely no shred of evidence to presuppose that evolution itself was not designed either. To persist in arguing that, one would need to indulge in petitio principii (circular logic)… And I think that’s exactly what tgpeeler is pointing to.

  68. above

    But you have absolutely no shred of evidence to presuppose that evolution itself was not designed either.

    Since evolution is a natural process, it may very well have been designed by the designer of nature. That is the crux of the argument for a fine-tuned universe (and theistic evolution). That is incompatible with the argument for ID, which says evolution is truly random and purposeless, and therefore could not have designed anything.

  69. 69

    lastyear,

    We did not peer into the cell and find some other system of heredity, based upon some other mechanism with some other properties.

    We found a mechanism which has a very specific property, and that property has only a single inference to its origin in all of human experience – regardless of one’s metaphysical predisposition.

    Its not compelling to your case to continue simply ignoring what is empirically known in favor of a position that is empty of it.

  70. lastyearon @ 66

    “Please explain to me how you come to that conclusion.” (That physics has nothing to say about codes or language – tgp)

    I thought I already did that but there’s nothing I like better than the “sound” of my own voice so I’ll try again.

    The first thing we (always) have to do is define the terms. I will use the Merriam-Webster online site (www.merriam-webster.com) for all definitions. This is the use of the first principle of Identity. A thing is what it is. I will use the terms as they are defined. Any equivocal use of the terms invalidates an argument – whether you or I do it.

    Physics: a science that deals with matter and energy and their interactions.

    Information (some parts of the definition are not relevant so this is not the entire definition): the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects; a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data; something (as a message, experimental data, or a picture) which justifies change in a construct (as a plan or theory) that represents physical or mental experience or another construct.

    Naturalism: a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically: the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena.

    Language (only the relevant definition): a formal system of signs and symbols (as FORTRAN or a calculus in logic) including rules for the formation and transformation of admissible expressions.

    Symbol: something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance; especially : a visible sign of something invisible ; an arbitrary or conventional sign used in writing or printing relating to a particular field to represent operations, quantities, elements, relations, or qualities.

    I think this should do it as far as terms go. I am making two claims. The first is that physics cannot explain, or account for, or produce, information. The second is, because of this, naturalism cannot possibly be true.

    If the generation of information requires the use of a language, and it does (this premise is not explicitly defined but it is still contained within the definitions – i.e. “expressions”). And if a language is comprised of symbols (or signs) and rules, and it is. Then, for naturalism to be true as a doctrine that accounts for ALL phenomena, it must be able to account for information. Since information is a phenomena (no one can deny that information is a “phenomena” because to deny information is to use information) and it is based on language (symbols and rules) then what naturalism must now explain or account for are the symbols and rules.

    So now the question becomes how do “scientific laws” (I say physics since all scientific laws are based on physics) account for the symbols and rules of (any) language? Remember, based on the definition of naturalism, physics is all we have to explain symbols and rules. So how do we get from physics to symbols? (The same logic applies to the rules part so I will stop saying symbols and rules and just say symbols.) Well, we cannot. By definition we cannot. Since the definition of information includes the idea of representing data or a message or a mental experience, and physics ( by definition, the science that deals with matter and energy and their interactions) has nothing to do or say about data or messages or mental experiences, well then, we’re done. But allow me to elaborate. As far as I have been able to determine, the disciplines of physics can be described by quantum theory, general relativity, the Standard Model, and the laws of thermodynamics. If this taxonomy isn’t exact, or complete (someone educate me if it isn’t) the argument will still work because the key idea is that all the disciplines within physics are about the material (matter and energy) world. But none of these disciplines within physics have anything to say about symbols. The representation of one thing for another. Nothing. Ever. Because symbols, per se, are not what physics is about. The very definition of a symbol involves the representation of one thing for another. In fact, even the laws of physics are written in the language of mathematics using symbols. So how could we expect the subject of the laws to somehow account for the laws themselves? We cannot. How does a photon explain E=mc^2? It does not.

    It is for this reason that I say that physics cannot account for information. To review the causal chain, starting at the end. Information – language (symbols and rules) – and then what? As I have pointed out, not physics. So even without describing what is the first cause in the chain of causes that leads to information (it turns out to be a mind, although to be fair I haven’t made that a deductive argument yet), we can see that it is not physics. This is conceptually falsifiable. All you or anyone has to do is create information of some kind, any kind, without using a language. You quickly see that this is logically incoherent. So you quickly see that physics is inadequate to cause information.

    “Please give me a definition of ‘information’ that is not the result of physical processes. Or how about an example.”

    I think I just did this. Any piece of information is an example. What you may be conflating are the ideas that information is always encoded in a physical substrate with the fact that the information is NOT the physical substrate. The “SURRENDER DOROTHY” example illustrates that, I believe. Indeed, as does this post. The information I am communicating in this post is encoded in 1s and 0s which are not even really 1s and 0s but logic gates on my pc and somehow they end up as English letters organized properly so as to communicate information. But the information is NOT the letters themselves or the logic gates on my pc. And even though the physical letters and logic gates are explained perfectly by the laws of physics, the arrangement of them is not, and why they mean anything is not.

    “You say that information is mental rather than physical. But our minds are the results of the physical processes in our brains. Do you disagree with that? Based on what evidence?”

    I am not a philosopher of mind although I have read a fair amount about it. The problem of mind/body interaction is a thorny issue indeed. Is the mind different from the brain? I would say so. Is the mind dependent upon the brain to function? Again, I would agree but it is not a one-way street, I believe. How does this happen, exactly? Beats me. But it does. This is the miracle of life, if you ask me. How chemical reactions between synapses that can be described by the laws of physics result in a craving for ice cream or pizza or how a memory of something that happened years ago can bring one to tears or joy or how a thought of my daughter can bring a smile to my face and a warm fuzzy feeling to my “heart” is a mystery to me. This seems to be a real sticking point for philosophers of mind. How, exactly, does the mental world (if it exists) have causal power in the material world? Since it’s virtually impossible to describe how it would, so far, they think it easier, I guess, to simply deny mental causation. I do notice, however, that the “laws of physics” have causal power in the physical world even though they are themselves not physical and no one seems inclined to therefore deny the existence of the laws of physics. So I don’t think I am out of the realm of reason to maintain that there is mental causation in the physical world. In fact, as I think about it, the existence of information can probably be used to argue for mental causation in a formal way. I have thought about it mainly from the point of view of disproving naturalism but probably there is a good argument in there for the existence of mind. Physics certainly can’t do it and it seems that the manipulation of abstract things would require the existence of something abstract (a mind) so maybe I’ll be back later with some thoughts on that. Anyway, I hope I have answered your questions to some extent, at least.

  71. lastyearon @ 66 (part two)

    “How do you know who the ultimate designer is? Is this just an opinion of yours, or is it based on evidence?”

    Please see my blog for those arguments. (I think you can click on my name.)

    “By the way, if I’m not mistaken the position of ID is that the identity of the designer is not subject to scientific inquiry, and is thus unknowable by the methods of science. Do you disagree with that?”

    There is a lot of epistemology lurking in that question. Let me give you the condensed version of my epistemology. The ultimate authority in matters of truth is Reason. Try to argue with that and you will see why I say it. Facts are facts but we will never see facts that contradict reason. I believe that, ultimately, there is only one way to know anything and that is by the application of reason to evidence. I believe that there are no privileged truth claims, scientific or religious. I believe that there is one way reality is (ontology) or that “things are” and that whatever world view (a set of assumptions, ideally first principles whenever possible, or at least assumptions that are conclusions of sound deductive arguments) one has needs to be able to explain all the data. That is, it must be internally consistent. Self-contradictions cannot be true. I believe that the place to start with all searches for truth is with first principles, axioms that cannot be denied without self-contradiction. So the question of the designer being a “scientific” one doesn’t really fit the way I view things. Reasoning from first principles plus the methods of science, observation and inference to best explanation, seem to me to be the only game in town. Ultimately. My view leaves room for revelation but it must be revelation that is demonstrated to be true by the methods I just described. For example, I would not say that things are true because the Bible says they are. I would say that the Bible says things that are true. This is, I believe, a very important distinction. The only Authority I ultimately trust in matters of truth is Reason. I AM WHO I AM. (The personalization of the first principles of reason.) Experience can be deceptive, Reason never is. The problem of empiricism is that there is always one more fact. The only problem with reason is that most people, I’ve found, aren’t very good at it.

  72. above @ 67

    “How can randomness create design? Well that’s easy the naturalist will say… infinite monkeys + inflinite typewriters + infinite time = Shakespeare. But where is the empirical support for such a claim?”

    If we frame the argument in terms of information rather than design, per se, it is crystal clear that physics plus time can never create information. This is why it’s impossible for evolution to be true. Monkeys and typewriters and eons of time require language to duplicate Shakespeare, which they do not have in a naturalistic world view. Even if they didn’t have language the odds are impossibly great to overcome but we need not even have that argument in the first place.

    Number of keys on my keyboard: 102 call it 100.
    Number of words Shakespeare allegedly used: call it 30,000
    Average number of letters in a word, be conservative and call it 5.
    Number of letters in words he used (not total number of words in all of his works, a much higher number): 150,000
    Odds of getting those letters in the right order on a computer keyboard is (forget blanks and punctuation marks) is: 100^150,000 or 10^1,500,000

    Number of estimated sub-atomic particles in the observable universe 10^80. If every particle in the universe were monkey with his own typewriter and they could type 10^43 words per second (Planck time) for 10^17 seconds (approximate age of universe) that’s only 10^140 words. So the odds, given that scenario, of the monkeys getting the job done are 10^-1,360,000. Good luck, naturalist, even if I spot you the language.

  73. lastyearon @ 68

    “Since evolution is a natural process, it may very well have been designed by the designer of nature. That is the crux of the argument for a fine-tuned universe (and theistic evolution). That is incompatible with the argument for ID, which says evolution is truly random and purposeless, and therefore could not have designed anything.”

    You use the word evolution equivocally here. Evolution as a “natural process” is a far cry from evolution as a theory that explicitly says that God did not do it. It’s not ID that says that, either, by the way, it’s the theory of evolution that says that. The latter is what evolution is, not the former. The “theistic evolutionists” don’t have a logical leg to stand on. They are saying, in essence, that God did it by not doing it. I think we can all see the logical incoherence in that position.

  74. lastyearon @ 68

    “Since evolution is a natural process, it may very well have been designed by the designer of nature. That is the crux of the argument for a fine-tuned universe (and theistic evolution). That is incompatible with the argument for ID, which says evolution is truly random and purposeless, and therefore could not have designed anything.”

    You use the word evolution equivocally here. Evolution as a “natural process” is a far cry from evolution as a theory that explicitly says that God did not do it. It’s not ID that says that, either, by the way, it’s the theory of evolution that says that. The latter is what evolution is, not the former. The “theistic evolutionists” don’t have a logical leg to stand on. They are saying, in essence, that God did it by not doing it. I think we can all see the logical incoherence in that position.

    back Sunday night – nice weekend to all…

  75. 75

    TGP, as always, you make an argument that is tough to ignore. Have a good weekend.

    “The image of the fundamental laws of physics zestfully wrestling with the void to bring the universe into being is one that suggests very little improvement over the accounts given by the ancient Norse in which the world is revealed to be balanced on the back of a gigantic ox.

    If this is how explanations come to an end, what of materialism? The laws of physics are sets of symbols, after all—those now vested with the monstrous power to bring things and urges into creation, and symbols belong to the intelligence-infused aspects of the universe.”
    – David Berlinski

  76. @tgpeeler

    You have provided a very fascinating argument in my opinion that compelled me to throw your blog on my fav’s list.

    I once read a similar argument that may be found here:
    http://www.cosmicfingerprints......adthis.htm

    I thought you might want to take a look at it.

    Also, I am having a bit of trouble following the argument against Theistic Evolution to be honest. Specifically, I don’t really see how evolution is in conflict with Theism. Assuming of course that abiogenesis is not an issue. In other words, ignoring the OOL issue for the time being. You mind elaborating a little bit on that?

  77. Upright, thanks.

    above, thank you for linking my blog. Let me be a little clearer on my anti-theistic evolution stance. It is grounded purely in reason because the very phrase, theistic evolution, involves a self-contradiction. The current theory of evolution (neo-darwinian, or the modern synthesis), as part of the theory, denies any place for God, Design, Agency, Purpose, etc… The theistic evolutionist, as far as I know, says well, evolution could be true, but God did it. But evolution says God didn’t do it. So it seems to me that the proponent of theistic evolution is saying, in effect, that God did it (the theistic part) by not doing it (the evolution part). If they want to claim that God did it with evolutionary mechanisms (‘natural selection’ and genetic mutation, roughly) then they need to realize (maybe they do) and be clear about the equivocal use of the word evolution. Plus how would one tell the difference if God did it or didn’t do it in that way? I’m not saying that makes it false, I’m just saying it seems like it would be impossible to tell.

    This is one of the many things I like about the argument from information. It kills any naturalistic story, one that must rely on physics only, of evolution. So if the modern synthesis gives way to evo-devo or some other nonsense (literally non-sense) “our” work is still finished. Until “they” can show how language (and thus information) can be explained in terms of quarks, leptons, and the four fundamental forces, I think the discussion is pretty much over.

    p.s. Thanks for the link. Listening now.

  78. above,

    I just finished listening to Perry’s presentation and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I have added anything to the information angle (see too, Werner Gitt, “In the Beginning Was Information” and J.C. Sanford “Genetic Entropy & The Mystery of the Genome, for two) (how does one italicize out here??) it is the insight about WHY this (that one needs a mind for information) is true. And that is because physics can’t account for codes, or as I generally say, language. This is why, I believe, we never need have the debate about the “odds” of chance creating information. As soon as we start playing that game (I played it for years) we’ve given away the farm, er, language, and allowed them to start the argument in the middle, not at the beginning. I did a presentation on this subject to a Christian apologetics group last year. Maybe I can put a link to that on my “blog” if you would care to listen to it.

    Something else that bugs me about the modern synthesis is that it doesn’t even begin to explain, or claim to explain, what MUST be explained, and that is information. Darwin and his “descendants” spend all of their time inventing “just so” stories about how physical structures evolved. (I’ll post one in which Dawkins explains wings. It’s laugh out loud funny but he is serious.) So what? It’s not the physical structures that need to be explained. It’s the information encoded in the genome that needs explanation. Any explanation of how birds developed wings or fish have scales is completely irrelevant. This a huge hole in darwinism that needs to have trucks driven through it on a regular basis. :-)

  79. above@ 76

    @tgpeeler

    You have provided a very fascinating argument in my opinion that compelled me to throw your blog on my fav’s list.

    Yes, he has but, like any other argument, it should be examined critically.

    For example @ 70 he writes:

    The first thing we (always) have to do is define the terms. I will use the Merriam-Webster online site (www.merriam-webster.com) for all definitions. This is the use of the first principle of Identity. A thing is what it is. I will use the terms as they are defined. Any equivocal use of the terms invalidates an argument – whether you or I do it.

    Dictionaries are a good place to start for definitions but that is all.

    Lexicographers compile lists of past and present usages of words. One problem they face, however, is condensing often complex and ill-defined fields of research into a few sentences at best. Information is one of those areas. Tgpeeler provides the Merriam-Webster versions but we also know from a previous post by William Dembski that Seth Shostak compiled a list of upwards of 40 distinct technical definitions of information and complexity. There is a great deal of confusion and equivocation about which version of information is being discussed here

    As an experiment, what you could do is compare the Merriam-Webster definitions of say ‘information’ and ‘naturalism’ with the entries for those same terms in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    Also, at @ 71 he writes:

    The ultimate authority in matters of truth is Reason. Try to argue with that and you will see why I say it. Facts are facts but we will never see facts that contradict reason. I believe that, ultimately, there is only one way to know anything and that is by the application of reason to evidence

    Reason, like its formal cousin logic, or mathematics or a computer are all means of manipulating data according to a set of rules. But they are all prone to the same flaw – in computer terms ‘garbage in/garbage out’. It is possible to construct a perfectly valid argument that leads you flawlessly to a nonsensical conclusion. In other words, reason is powerless unless you have reliable data to reason about.

    If we define truth as the extent to which our models or explanations correspond with what we observe, the the test must be empirical. If the conclusions of our reasoning are at variance with what we observe then there is most probably a flaw in our reasoning. What is actually there is the test not what we argue should be there.

    @ 72 he writes:

    If we frame the argument in terms of information rather than design, per se, it is crystal clear that physics plus time can never create information.

    Dendrochronologists can obtain information about the climate in which a tree has grown by studying the rings in its trunk. Geologists can infer much about the distant history of the Earth from the study of rock strata. Meteorologists forecast weather and describe climate from observations of things like temperature and barometric pressure. None of that information was put there by anyone as far as we know. It is all the result of physical processes acting over time.

    Again, this raises the question of the nature of information. Is it a property of the system we are observing or of the models we construct to represent those systems in our minds. Is the red color of a rose a property of the flower itself or the way our minds represent the narrow band of light wavelengths reflected by the petals?

    @ 73 he writes:

    Evolution as a “natural process” is a far cry from evolution as a theory that explicitly says that God did not do it.

    Evolution refers to the process of changes that we observe happening to living things now and which we infer also happened to them in the past. The theory of evolution offers an explanation of how those changes came about through natural processes over time. It does not require the existence of a god but neither does it exclude the possibility. Whatever some of its proponents believe personally, the theory itself is silent about the existence of God.

    There is no obvious conflict between deistic beliefs and the theory of evolution since there is nothing in the nature of God, as usually understood, which would prevent Him from using evolution as a part of His creation if He so chose.

    There is perceived to be conflict between some tenets of theistic belief and the theory, although it should be noted that there is disagreement amongst theists about the nature and extent of God’s direct intervention in the world.

    The problem for theists is where there is a conflict between what they believe and what science reports, how do they resolve it. If they insist that their beliefs take precedence over anything else then that is their choice but they cannot claim to be acting scientifically or even reasonably. On the other hand, if they give science priority then they are not being true to their faith.

  80. OK. Here it is. Don’t be drinking anything while you read it. Notice that not only does the “explanation” not have a thing to do with science but that it is completely irrelevant.

    From Richard Dawkins’ book “The Blind Watchmaker,” page 89.

    “What use is half a wing? How did wings get their start? Many animals leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small animal, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints. From here, there is a continuous series of gradations to gliding wings, and hence to flapping wings. Obviously there are distances that could not have been jumped by the earliest animals with proto-wings. Equally obviously, for any degree of smallness or crudeness of ancestral air-catching surfaces, there must be some distance, however short, which can be jumped with the flap and which cannot be jumped without the flap.

    Or, if prototype wingflaps worked to break the animal’s fall, you cannot say ‘Below a certain size the flaps would have been of no use at all.’ Once again, it doesn’t matter how small and un-winglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it h, such that an animal would just break its neck if it fell from that height, but would just survive if it fell from a slightly lower height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface’s ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight that improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural selection will then favour slight, prototype wingflaps. When these small wingflaps have become the norm, the critical height h will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on, until we have proper wings.”

    Well, there you have it. Just substitute eyes, brains, legs, livers, etc… and you have your explanation. I would be embarrassed to write something like that. But the reviewers thought it great stuff. Here’s a sampling of the reviews…

    “The best general account of evolution that I have read in recent years.” Edward O. Wilson (a Harvard professor and considered to be a distinguished academic.)
    Edward O. Wilson awarded 2007 Catalonia International Prize (November 20, 2007)
    Yale honors E. O. Wilson with Verrill Medal (Harvard University Gazette, October 17, 2007)

    “Winner of the Royal Society of Literature’s Heinemann Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award”

    “As readable and vigorous defense of Darwinism a has been published since 1859.” – The Economist

    “Brilliant exposition, tightly argued but kept readable…” blah blah blah… London Times

    “Beautifully and superbly written…” blah blah blah Los Angeles Times

    “… In The Blind Watchmaker I was repeatedly astonished at the clarity with which Dawkins sees the problems… … has not lost his sense of wonder at the natural world as he has gained intellectual understanding of it… I wish I could write like that.” John Maynard Smith, New Scientist. A bit of his CV follows…
    In 1991 he was awarded the Balzan Prize of Italy. In 1995 he was awarded the Linnean Medal by The Linnean Society and in 1999 he was awarded the Crafoord Prize jointly with Ernst Mayr and George C. Williams. In 2001 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize. In his honour, the European Society for Evolutionary Biology has an award for extraordinary young evolutionary biology researchers named The John Maynard Smith Prize.

    “A lovely book, original and lively, it expounds the ins and outs of evolution with enthusiastic clarity, answering, at every point, the cavemen of creationism.” Isaac Asimov

    “… But the more important reason for reading Dawkins’s (sic) book is that this is his answer, in clear and often insightful terms, to the opponents of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory.” Douglas J. Futumaya (sic), Natural History.
    Futuyma is the author of the widely used textbook Evolutionary Biology and Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution, an introduction to the creation-evolution controversy. His most recent textbook,Evolution, was published early in 2005 as an introductory textbook for undergraduates. Futuyma is also the co-author with M. Slatkin of “Coevolution”.
    Futuyma has been president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, and of the American Society of Naturalists. He was the editor of Evolution and the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics.
    He was awarded the Sewall Wright Award from the American Society of Naturalists, has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and was a Fulbright Fellow in Australia. He was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States on 25 April 2006.
    Along with his talents regarding evolution, Futuyma is also a respected field biologist.

  81. Me: The problem with that, from a thomist perspective, is that Aquinas firmly established that everything is designed long ago. For a thomist to embrace IDs “design detection” would be a huge leap backwards!

    StephenB: For those who know calculus, long division is huge leap backwards. Does that mean that math teachers who know calculus should refuse to teach long division on the grounds that the latter is not as elegant as the former?

    It all depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want to find out what 639258 divided by 197 equals, long division is fine. If you want to generate a curve that represents an infinite series of changes, long division will not get you there.

    The Thomist, with five solid proofs of God in hand, has no reason to embrace ID as “design detection”. At best, from a Thomistic perspective, ID would be “miracle detection” – the empirical case that God had to suspend the laws of nature to create life.

  82. —Chucky Darwin: “The Thomist, with five solid proofs of God in hand, has no reason to embrace ID as “design detection”. At best, from a Thomistic perspective, ID would be “miracle detection” – the empirical case that God had to suspend the laws of nature to create life.”

    As a Thomist, I have argued on this very site that the existence of God can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt through the use of unaided reason and without science. On the other hand, I have also argued that ID can prove the existence of a designer by using the appropriate methodology. The two arguments go well together and serve very well to knock down the opposite extremes of rationalism [knowledge by intellect only] and radical empiricism [knowledge by sense experience only], both of which are enemies of Thomistic realism.

    I, for one, do not accept the proposition that I am a second class Thomist because I disagree with those who arrogate unto themselves the role of neo-Thomist gatekeeper. Quite the contrary, I think I have the better of the argument and I can point to a number of Thomists who agree with me. Consult, for example, “The Evidential Power of Beauty,” By Thomist Father Thomas Dubay.

    I am not buying the anti-ID routine of F. Beckwith, E. Feser, and Ed Oakes, especially since all of these men have demonstrated to me that they do not understand Intelligent Design well enough to even comment on it. I question the competency of any neo-Thomist who cannot apply his philosophy in the real world and who refuses to respond to those who ask them to provide the relevant quotes from Thomas himself.

  83. StephenB @ 82

    “As a Thomist, I have argued on this very site that the existence of God can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt through the use of unaided reason and without science. ”

    I guess that makes me a Thomist, too (at least to that extent). I suppose I’ll have to find out what all the fuss is now. What will my Protestant friends say? Probably nothing as I’m sure they know less about him than I do… I guess it’s time to actually read The Summa of the Summa, edited by P. Kreeft. It’s been sitting on my desk for two years. That should be good for starters, anyway.

    p.s. Thomistic realism sounds suspiciously like something I’d completely agree with. I’ll start tonight. :-)

  84. tg: Interestingly, Normal Geisler, the great non-Catholic philosopher, is also a Thomist.

  85. Tgpeeler,

    I see what you’re saying about Theistic evolution. My stance is a little different however in the sense that for me evolutionary theory is simply agnostic. In other words, I simply look at the science and not the conflated philosophy (and there is plenty of it) materialists/atheists try to impose upon the theory. I simply refuse to grant them the right. For me evolutionary theory is simply a story about the variation we see in living things that is still a work in progress. I must say however that I still think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially as they pertain to the actual mechanisms of evolution and the interpretation of the evidence.
    I do however, completely agree with you that neo-darwinism does not provide an explanation for the origin of information (as far as I know) and seems to take that for granted, which is rather odd.

    I followed some of your other discussions on the dawkins forum and did not see any coherent argument against your position nor did I see anything of that sort when the discussion was conducted on the arn.org forum. The only objection I’ve seen is a semantic one pertaining to the definition of information (and I think we have analytic philosophy to “thank” for that :-P ). Seversky in his response seems to have pointed to that objection as well. But is semantics really the issue here?
    I have been trying to play the devil’s advocate in my mind to try and find problems with your argument from information because like I said I find the argument very fascinating. The only 2 things I could come up with are (1) the definition of information [which doesn’t do all that much to undermine the argument] (2) the nature of information (as seversky pointed out). Is it a construct of the mind or an explicit property of what we assume is “external reality” [I am leaning towards the opinion that it is intrinsically linked to the mind].

  86. Part 2:

    By the way, on the arn.org discussion thread of your argument, there was another gentleman with the name jefscott, that had some very interesting things to say. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.He had some very interesting criticisms of materialistic ideology.

    I see exactly what you mean about dawkins. His explanation sounds more like a just-so story than anything else. It’s more like “creating” data to support a presupposition than making inferences derived from the data. But it’s dawkins, what do you expect? The guy who says that if he can teach evolution to everyone, he will make them all into atheists. I am surprised he is still tolerated by scientists seeing how he has tarnished the aleged objectivity of the scientific endeavor, reducing it to something akin to political affiliation.

    Not all the literature of evo is like that of course, but a significant amount of it is just-so stories. I often find it very frustrating having to read through it, ‘cause I feel a lot of the assertions are half-truths some not even that. It’s just unfortunate that there is so much politics involved in this. I would honestly like to see ID proponents and evolutionists work together as opposed to against each other. But the scientific establishment is also to blame. When you have eugenie scott say things like, free speech is great and all but it has not place in science… then what do you expect? :-/

  87. Above-

    Information is linked to mind, however its central importance to biology (and it’s not that we imagine information being utilized in biology, it is real and has been there before any human was around to think about it) is proof that it is an “explicit property” of external reality.

  88. StephenB

    I took six courses at Dr. Geisler’s seminary (SES – he’s not there any more) for some time and he was my first professor. No wonder. :-)

    p.s. Dr. Geisler got me interested in apologetics in the spring of 2002 or 2003, I forget. I heard him speak in Houston and he literally set my mind on fire. I’ve been reading like a maniac ever since. I quit attending SES when it finally occurred to me that I could read faster than they could talk. :-) We still see each other whenever he speaks in Houston and we correspond from time to time. He’s an amazing guy with an even more amazing story.

  89. Phaedros

    I see what you mean and I am inclined to agree except for one thing. When we speak of this alleged “external reality” do we not use our mind to decipher/understand it?

    I’m not endorsing a solipsist approach or some post-modern relativism, what I am getting at is whether or not this thing we call “external reality” is as objective as we sometimes think it is. What I am getting at is the intricate connection between mind and what we call the external world, which in my opinion cannot be ignored in any epistemological endeavor.

  90. above @ 85

    Thanks for your comments. I hope to take one more shot at Seversky (figuratively, of course – heh) and information this evening. From my point of view his objection about what information “is” rings hollow for he seems to be able to use it to communicate with me perfectly well. Maybe he’s from the Bill Clinton school of English and would argue about what “is” is… More later…

  91. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

    Here’s a 5 part video of Stephen Meyer in discussion with RC Sproul. I think it’s in part 3 or 4 where they discuss epistemology and even Anthony Flew.

  92. above @ 85 again

    “For me evolutionary theory is simply a story about the variation we see in living things that is still a work in progress.”

    It’s the “for me” part of your statement that gives me pause. I understand what you are saying but the word “evolution” as used in these kinds of arguments has a pretty specific meaning. It includes common descent, natural selection, genetic variation, no design and therefore no designer. To say that things “evolve” in the way you use the word is completely different than if Dawkins or Scott use the word. So to use it in any other way is equivocal (unless that is pointed out up front). My point is that no matter what version of the naturalist story comes next and even forever after that, they are all NECESSARILY false for the same reason. Thanks again.

  93. tgpeeler @88:

    About thirty years ago, as I was completing my undergraduate work at a large urban university, I noticed a little blurb inviting students to witness a debate between Dr. Normal Geisler and a local philosophy professor who will remain nameless. The central question read as follows: “Is Christianity Credible.”

    Entering the lecture hall and expecting maybe fifty people or so, I was floored when I discovered that the entire building was filled to overflowing. I suspect that the audience numbered a thousand or more, consisting largely of curious students and a number of nihilistic professors who had come to witness their hero, the philosophy professor, do a number on the “Christian fundamentalist.” Since it was a forming period in my life, I was playing close attention to both players, especially that formidable looking, well respected skeptic wielding a copy of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” and pondering his presentation with the look of one who was about to fill the room with his superhuman intelligence.

    Then the debate began. Geisler, who obviously understood his subject matter inside and out, went through an entire summary of Christian apologetics in twenty minutes, starting with Thomas’ five proofs, complete with richly conceived metaphors and analogies, and finishing with an equally impressive and compelling account of the Old Testament prophecies that had become manifest in New Testament history and the almost impossible odds of anything like that happening by chance. After thirty years, I still remember his examples and word pictures.

    His opponent, apparently aware of the brilliance of what he had just heard, hoped to neutralize the preceding points, striving valiantly to explain Kant in twenty minutes. He went on and on about how the mind creates, classifies, and finalizes universals and that we can’t really know much about the real world or the kind of reality that Dr. Geisler had just explained with such eloquence. But it was of no avail. Indeed, I remember thinking at the time, “Good grief, is that all they’ve got.” What was so comical was his continual lifting up of Kant’s book, waving it over his head, and pleading with his listeners to believe that the answers were really in there—as if he had not had more than enough opportunity to make the case himself.

    What was most entertaining of all, though, was the reaction of the nihilist professors in the audience. Incredibly, not one challenged the substance of what had been said or even bothered asking a relevant question. Quite the contrary, many of them were (I am not exaggerating) shrieking, wailing, and fuming at Dr. Geisler, insisting that he didn’t really mean what he was saying and that he knew he was being dishonest. I still remember one female sociology professor, twisted and bulging in a full face frown, as she spewed out her mindless accusations. She was angry that her students had been mislead, but she didn’t have a clue about how that might be so.

    That was one of my earlier clues that most of these so-called halls of higher learning in the United States are really more like slave dungeons where young skulls full of mush go to get their brains washed and dry cleaned.

  94. @StephenB

    I can say I’ve had very similar experiences with atheists and nihilists. The main thrust of their argument comes not from empirical support or logic but an underlying cynicism and extreme skepticism. What I eventually realized is that once you turn these tactics againsts them, their ideology collapses like a house of cards… In the case of the nihilist though, none of that is even needed… The ideology collapses by its own merit (or lack thereof) as it is self-refuting and incoherent.

  95. 95

    above,

    “The main thrust of their argument comes not from empirical support or logic but an underlying cynicism and extreme skepticism.”

    I do not know how long you’ve lurked at UD, but if it has not been long, then you could not possibly know how apt your comment was. Those that come to UD to argue design must be among the most imaginative cynics in the world, they are professionals not at logic – but at a brand of transparent and selective hyper-skepticism which simply knows no end.

    They take an ideological stance which cannot be allowed to give ground to either science or reason, and then they project that fault onto the proponents of design.

    It is a comedy.

  96. Phaedros @ 91

    Thanks for the link. Whole new world.

  97. Upright BiPed-

    “I do not know how long you’ve lurked at UD, but if it has not been long, then you could not possibly know how apt your comment was. Those that come to UD to argue design must be among the most imaginative cynics in the world, they are professionals not at logic – but at a brand of transparent and selective hyper-skepticism which simply knows no end.”

    We can thank Carl Sagan and Dawkins for that. Ultimately it’s lazy reason or Sophistry really.

  98. @ Upright BiPed

    I’ve been reading UC for about a month or so and found the discourse here very interesting and the conduct of the members very respectful so I decided to start posting.

    What I described above is my experience dealing with militant atheists/materialists and reading their literature. It’s rather sad I’d say.

    @Phaedros

    Thanks for the video. It’s very relevant to the ideas we were discussing earlier.

  99. Seversky, I am bummed. I just lost about a thousand word reply to your post @ 79. It will have to wait for tomorrow now. That will teach me to throw away the Word Doc before the post makes it.

  100. StephenB @98

    Thanks for the memory. I think people argue with him at their peril. He never had a book in his house until he was out of high school. Now he’s written 50 or 60. I need to email him and let him know he’s being fondly remembered.

  101. Seversky @ 79

    “Dictionaries are a good place to start for definitions but that is all.

    Lexicographers compile lists of past and present usages of words. One problem they face, however, is condensing often complex and ill-defined fields of research into a few sentences at best. Information is one of those areas. Tgpeeler provides the Merriam-Webster versions but we also know from a previous post by William Dembski that Seth Shostak compiled a list of upwards of 40 distinct technical definitions of information and complexity. There is a great deal of confusion and equivocation about which version of information is being discussed here.”

    I beg to differ. Information is not one of “those areas” of equivocation or confusion. I know, and everyone else knows, exactly how I am using the term “information.” The idea of information is indeed a rich and complex one in the sense that there are many different technical definitions that can be used in different circumstances. That is precisely why I use a generic, dictionary definition of the word. It’s general enough to include ALL of the technical definitions under its umbrella. I don’t see how it could be any broader or inclusive than what I put in my post. There is no equivocation going on here, unlike in your post in which there are two examples. One you may be innocent of, the other you are at best careless and sloppy in your thinking but I’ll get to those later. In any case, I do not use the term “information” in one way in one premise and another way in another premise or the conclusion. That is equivocation. The fact that different people use the word in slightly different ways in different fields is irrelevant to the argument I make. But because I am sensitive to your “information issues” I will make the argument without reference to information at all and it will still destroy naturalism. heh heh. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me much sooner. Dense, I guess.

    “Reason, like its formal cousin logic, or mathematics or a computer are all means of manipulating data according to a set of rules. But they are all prone to the same flaw – in computer terms ‘garbage in/garbage out’. It is possible to construct a perfectly valid argument that leads you flawlessly to a nonsensical conclusion. In other words, reason is powerless unless you have reliable data to reason about.”

    This is partly true. You are only talking about valid arguments and in this you are correct. An argument can be valid but if the premises are false the conclusion will be false, too. But that’s not what I’m talking about or what I’ve done. My argument is valid, that is, properly constructed. And the premises are true, that is the argument is sound. Therefore, the conclusion is necessarily true. So what I am going to do, again tonight because I want you to see this, is construct my argument one more time and explain every little detail of it as I go along. I am going to use a modus tollens form of argument. It is valid. That means if the premises are true then the conclusion is necessarily true. It goes like this. If P is true, then Q will be true. But Q is not true. (~Q) Therefore, P is not true. (~P) Let me illustrate with a simple example before I redo mine again.

    If it pours down rain for hours and the sidewalks are not covered (If P), the sidewalks will be wet. (Then Q) The sidewalks are not wet. (~Q) So it did not rain. (~P)

    You can see that this is necessarily true. The argument is constructed properly (is valid) and the premises are true (is sound) so the conclusion necessarily follows.

    Now there is an invalid form of argument called affirming the consequent and I want to illustrate it because people in science make this mistake all the time without realizing (maybe) what they are doing. It goes like this.

    If it pours down rain for hours and the sidewalks are not covered (If P), the sidewalks will be wet (Then Q). The sidewalks are wet. (P) Therefore, it rained. (Q)

    Notice that the conclusion doesn’t NECESSARILY FOLLOW (the argument is NOT valid) even if the premises are true. Why? Because maybe the sprinklers made the sidewalks wet instead of the rain. It COULD BE true that it rained but it’s not NECESSARILY true that it rained. Do you see this? “Scientists” who should know better make this kind of argument all the time. If evolution is true then we would expect to see fossil x at strata y. (for example) We do see fossil x at strata y therefore evolution is true. This commits the same fallacy. In fact, there could be another reason for those fossils being where they are.

    With that brief background in modus tollens, we can now look at my argument with fresh eyes.

    If naturalism is true (if P), then the laws of physics can be used to explain everything, including language (then Q). This is true by definition. This is what naturalism IS and language, after all, is certainly part of the set of “everything.”) But physics cannot explain language. (~Q) (I will back this up below.) Therefore, naturalism is not true. (~P) In fact, if physics can’t explain language then not only is naturalism not true it’s not even possible for it to be true. It’s NECESSARILY false.

    Before I explain why physics (or “natural processes” as you say in your post – same thing) can’t explain language let me tell you how to defeat this argument. There are two and only two ways. You can attack the structure of the argument. You can claim it’s not valid. But it is valid so that option is gone. Second, you can attack the truth of either premise. But the first premise is true by definition. So that leaves the second premise (Physics can’t explain language.) as the only target left. In other words, if you can’t PROVE that physics (or “natural processes”) CAN account for or explain language, then the argument stands and naturalism is necessarily false.

    Now here’s why physics (natural processes) cannot account for language. A language, BY DEFINITION, in the most general form, is a set of symbols and a rules governing the use of those symbols. So the problem for the naturalist is plain for everyone to see. Physics has nothing to say about symbols or rules. In fact, the laws of physics (I’m going to stop saying “natural processes”) are expressed in the language of mathematics. This is something that I don’t have time for tonight but it has astonished physicists and mathematicians for decades, if not centuries, if not millennia. What breathes the “fire” into the equations? How is it that a string of mathematical symbols can express a fundamental truth about the universe? But I digress. So, the laws of physics, which describe matter and energy and their interaction, HAVE NOTHING TO SAY, EVER, about why “cat” means a certain kind of mammal and why “act” means to do something, something done, or a segment of a play. Clearly there is something else at play here and it is information, which is encoded by said language, about which, physics has nothing to say. Nor will it ever have anything to say because information is immaterial and physics is about the material world. This is so, so simple and easy and it is so, so devastating to the naturalist world view. The game is over. We win. Rather, the truth wins. As it always does in the end.

  102. Seversky @ 79 continued…

    “If we define truth as the extent to which our models or explanations correspond with what we observe, the the test must be empirical. If the conclusions of our reasoning are at variance with what we observe then there is most probably a flaw in our reasoning. What is actually there is the test not what we argue should be there.”

    I have no real problem with this. In fact, you have precisely described the problem with evolutionary theory!! The conclusions of the theory are at great variance with what “we” see. (The fossil record for example. Zero transitional forms.) But in the case of evolution, the flawed reasoning is held onto with a (literally) death grip. Let’s have some more fun with modus tollens. If evolution were true (If P), then we would see transitional fossils (Then Q). But we don’t see ANY transitional fossils (~Q). Therefore, evolution is not true (~P). See how easy this is once you get the hang of it? God I love modus tollens.

    p.s. I tried this on my wife one night. It went like this. Her: “Honey, wouldn’t you rather be doing chores (or something) rather than watching golf?” Me: let me explain modus tollens to you, Sweetie. If I wanted to be doing chores (If P), then I’d be doing chores (Then Q). But I’m not doing chores (~Q). Therefore I don’t want to be doing chores (~P). She didn’t think it was nearly as funny as I did. I wonder why?? As it turns out, amateurs, and I’m one, should not try this at home. :-)

    “Dendrochronologists can obtain information about the climate in which a tree has grown by studying the rings in its trunk. Geologists can infer much about the distant history of the Earth from the study of rock strata. Meteorologists forecast weather and describe climate from observations of things like temperature and barometric pressure. None of that information was put there by anyone as far as we know. It is all the result of physical processes acting over time.”

    Let me point out the huge error here. You are conflating tree rings and rocks and weather with information. The tree rings and the weather and the rocks do indeed result from physical processes over time. However, those physical processes ARE NOT THE INFORMATION. The information was derived or produced by the scientist ABOUT the trees, rocks, and weather. Big difference.

    “Again, this raises the question of the nature of information. Is it a property of the system we are observing or of the models we construct to represent those systems in our minds. Is the red color of a rose a property of the flower itself or the way our minds represent the narrow band of light wavelengths reflected by the petals?”

    This is probably a technical conversation for another time about the metaphysics of properties. I don’t have the time or the expertise, to be honest, to really go into that off the top of my head. But it’s irrelevant anyway so it doesn’t matter. If you’ll recall, I took information out of the argument so I’ll be cavalier about this and say: Who cares? :-)

    “Evolution refers to the process of changes that we observe happening to living things now and which we infer also happened to them in the past. The theory of evolution offers an explanation of how those changes came about through natural processes over time. It does not require the existence of a god but neither does it exclude the possibility. Whatever some of its proponents believe personally, the theory itself is silent about the existence of God.”

    Please read what you wrote carefully. In one sentence you say “evolution offers an explanation of how those changes came about through natural processes over time.” This is true. NATURAL processes. i.e. Physics. But then you say it doesn’t exclude the possibility of God. Say what? If God isn’t physics then you have just contradicted yourself. Probably just careless.

    “There is no obvious conflict between deistic beliefs and the theory of evolution since there is nothing in the nature of God, as usually understood, which would prevent Him from using evolution as a part of His creation if He so chose.”

    Aah. Equivocation rears its ugly head once again. The “theory of evolution” says “natural processes ONLY.” So when God “does it” guess what? It’s no longer natural processes ONLY. In one short paragraph you managed to use the term evolution in two completely different ways.

    “There is perceived to be conflict between some tenets of theistic belief and the theory, although it should be noted that there is disagreement amongst theists about the nature and extent of God’s direct intervention in the world.”

    This is, of course, true. But I don’t see the relevance, actually. If you’ve been keeping up there is disagreement among theists (and Christians – can you say Catholic and Protestant?) about a lot of things. :-)

    “The problem for theists is where there is a conflict between what they believe and what science reports, how do they resolve it. If they insist that their beliefs take precedence over anything else then that is their choice but they cannot claim to be acting scientifically or even reasonably. On the other hand, if they give science priority then they are not being true to their faith.”

    There is no problem for theists or Christians (me) when there is a conflict between what science reports and what “I believe” (I assume you mean the Bible). Here’s how it works out. If general revelation (what you would call science) conflicts with special revelation (what I would call the Bible) THEN, since God cannot contradict Himself (because part of His essence is REASON), there is either a misunderstanding on the part of science or a misinterpretation of scripture. And this merely requires further investigation. For example, there is a huge disagreement with “old universe” Christians (like me) who think the universe is probably about 13.7 billion years old and “young earth creationists” who think the earth/universe was created about 10,000 years ago. Both positions are possible so the determination is who has the better data? (This is just me, now.) If pressed, I would say I think in this case that science has the better evidence and that most likely the Biblical interpretation of 6 literal days in Genesis is incorrect. In other words, in this case I’ll guess that science has the answer and that the days of Genesis 1 and 2 are not literal days. (See Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe for details.) In either case, it’s not something that I’d die for. The universe is as old as it is and whatever that is, well that’s what it is. But it’s not devastating to my world view that the universe is billions of years old. If I find out someday that I was wrong about this, well, no big deal.

    One last thing regarding being true to my “faith.” I suspect you are using that term as it is often used today. That is, to believe something without evidence or reason or cause. This is why I have come to hate the word. “Faith” in the New Testament means one of two things. It’s an act of the will. To trust that something is true based on reason and evidence. Or it means a body of doctrine believed. In this sense, the faith of physics today is the atomic theory of matter. It’s what physicists believe based on reason and evidence. So my “faith” is never in conflict with truth because my “faith” is to relentlessly search out the truth. That is, how things really are. And if John 1:1 is true and Jesus is “the Word” the logos, then that explains a lot of things and it behooves me to pay attention to Him. If he isn’t, of course, well then, he’s not and he can safely be ignored. But it would be a very bad thing to get that wrong, man. We all need to make the right call on that, whatever it is. Being the natural born coward that I am, I have investigated this very, very carefully and I sincerely recommend that you do, too. I’m sure you are about a million times smarter than me so just look for the truth. You’ll find it. Now I can go to bed. :-)

    Her: Honey, don’t you want to come to bed? Me: If I wanted to be … nah, better not. Yes, Dear! Be right there!!

  103. Sev, I mean “please read carefully what you wrote.” There’s always one more error…

  104. Gaah. Another one. Re. the Genesis old vs. young discussion, I didn’t mean to say the “Biblical” interpretation since that’s what’s being interpreted. I meant to say a literal interpretation. In other words, it seems reasonable to me that given the preponderance of the evidence for the age of the universe that probably that is more reliable than a modern and literal interpretation of an ancient language. Just saying… Hugh Ross has written extensively on this and I think very credibly.

  105. @tgpeeler

    Once again I find myself in agreement with you sir.

    You said:

    my “faith” is never in conflict with truth because my “faith” is to relentlessly search out the truth.

    That is what I refer to as Faith (capitalized) and is in my opinion a perfect representation of what truly lies at the heart of Christianity.

  106. above

    I guess great minds think alike! ha ha ha. Maybe yours is but mine… :-)

    John 14:6 tells us who the Truth is. It all fits.

  107. StephenB @ 93

    “He went on and on about how the mind creates, classifies, and finalizes universals and that we can’t really know much about the real world or the kind of reality that Dr. Geisler had just explained with such eloquence.”

    This is one of the glaring contradictions in Kant’s thinking. To claim to not be able to know about the “real” world is to make a claim to know about the “real” world. Kant says we can know the phenomenal world but not the noumenal world. If that is true, then how does he know the difference?? If we can’t know anything about the noumenal world then how is he aware of it? What nonsense. It’s a shame that so much philosophy is divorced from reason.

  108. re myself at 101. I just looked at the illustrative modus tollens midway through post 101 and realized that I mixed up my Ps and Qs :-) on the conclusion. I said:

    “If it pours down rain for hours and the sidewalks are not covered (If P), the sidewalks will be wet (Then Q). The sidewalks are wet. (P) Therefore, it rained. (Q)”

    It SHOULD say: The sidewalks are wet. (Q) Therefore it rained. (P)

    Regrets for any confusion…

  109. —tgpeeler: “To claim to not be able to know about the “real” world is to make a claim to know about the “real” world. Kant says we can know the phenomenal world but not the noumenal world. If that is true, then how does he know the difference?? If we can’t know anything about the noumenal world then how is he aware of it? What nonsense. It’s a shame that so much philosophy is divorced from reason.”

    Exactly right. If Kant had not been able to sell the noumenal world as unknowable, Darwin would never have been able to sell design as an “illusion.” The corruption of philosophy always precedes and informs the corruption of science.

    By the way, you would have enjoyed some of last years dialogues. When I confronted Darwinists with the non-negotiable principles of right reason, they claimed that [a] those principles do not apply to the real world or [b] I was just making them up. Seriously. In other words, they unwittingly confessed that they do not accept reason as a standard for debate or for interpreting evidence. Its on the record.

  110. StephenB, the thing that constantly amazes me about this is the lack of understanding of how important TRUTH is or not even caring about WHAT IS TRUE. I am supremely interested in that if only for selfish reasons. I have discovered after long and painful experience that my best interests have never been served by me believing BS. I don’t really care, per se, WHAT the truth is, I only want to know WHAT IT IS so I can act accordingly. Why people hang on and hang on to obviously false positions is just mystifying. Pretending that reality is one way when it is another has never really worked out for me.

    I hope to see a reply from Seversky if only because that will give me the opportunity to thank him for pushing me on “information,” for two reasons. First I think my reply to his objection is improved and second because I think the argument is even stronger with “language” as the consequent rather than information. Who can argue with what a language is? It will be interesting to see what he says about it.

    Regarding the “illusion” of design, I couldn’t agree more. If there is NO DESIGN in the universe, well then there isn’t. But if there isn’t, how in the hell do we know about its illusion??!!! GAAAH. It makes me nuts(er).

    I raised some naturalist ire on one long string of posts that went about 400 long. I think it may have even been on U.D. I said that in my experience naturalists weren’t willing to make any intellectual commitments, to be intellectually honest. The reaction was immediate and hostile. For another 300-350 posts I kept pestering, to no avail. Even after I called them out they wouldn’t acknowledge any first principles. But you and I are the irrational ones. Right…

  111. Wm.Dembski:ID’s critique of naturalism and Darwinism should not be viewed as offering a metaphysics of nature but rather as a subversive strategy for unseating naturalism/Darwinism on their own terms. …

    ID is willing, arguendo, to consider nature as mechanical and then show that the mechanical principles by which nature is said to operate are incomplete and point to external sources of information … This is not to presuppose mechanism in the strong sense of regarding it as true. It is simply to grant it for the sake of argument — an argument that is culturally significant and that needs to be prosecuted.

    Exactly.

    And while I am not really an IDist … nor an overly-educated professor of philosophy, being merely a lowly computer programmer … I have understood this from the time I first heard of ID, back in 2000/2001.

    And, since one must talk to one’s audience in its own language, I believe it to be the far better mode of argumentation that going on about how much better A-T is than materialism. The materialists aren’t listening the claim, and don’t care that it may be true, that A-T works better than materialism — so long (longer, more than likely) as they are allowed to pretend that materialism “works,” they will cling to it. The only workable strategies for getting *any* materialists to abandon materialism are those which continuously hit them in the face with the absurdity of it … and that means speaking in *their* language.

  112. @stephenB You said:

    “Exactly right. If Kant had not been able to sell the noumenal world as unknowable, Darwin would never have been able to sell design as an “illusion.” The corruption of philosophy always precedes and informs the corruption of science.”

    That is a very interesting idea. Do you mind elaborating a little one that to help me make the connection between the two a little more clear in my mind?

    Thanks

  113. @ ilion You said:

    “The only workable strategies for getting *any* materialists to abandon materialism are those which continuously hit them in the face with the absurdity of it … and that means speaking in *their* language”

    To be honest, I’m not sure if that is even possible seeing how materialism is the religion of the modern age.

    What I would suggest instead is exposing materialism and its abhorrent reality to the public for what it truly is. In addition one would need to redefine the nature of the debate to indicate what is truly at stake here. The age old false dichotomy of religion vs science needs to go. The true core of the issue is Materialism vs non-materialism

  114. Where is Seversky??

  115. tgpeeler @ 101

    That is precisely why I use a generic, dictionary definition of the word. It’s general enough to include ALL of the technical definitions under its umbrella. I don’t see how it could be any broader or inclusive than what I put in my post.

    As Michael Behe found at the Dover trial, you should be wary of broad definitions.

    If you write a definition broad enough to encompass the many technical meanings of ‘information’ then how are we to know which applies in a given situation? Unless you are careful to specify which you are intending then you are, indeed, open to the charge of equivocation. For example, the teleosemantic information we are exchanging in these posts is different from that of Shannon or Kolmogorov/Chaitin because the latter are not concerned with meaning.

    Neither is it the same as what is alleged to exist in the human genome for example. But talking about ‘information’ in our DNA could mislead people who are not aware of the different meanings into thinking that they are the same thing, that DNA contains a ‘message’ written by some intelligent designer, which is not the case.

    Now there is an invalid form of argument called affirming the consequent and I want to illustrate it because people in science make this mistake all the time without realizing (maybe) what they are doing. It goes like this.

    If it pours down rain for hours and the sidewalks are not covered (If P), the sidewalks will be wet (Then Q). The sidewalks are wet. (P) Therefore, it rained. (Q)

    Notice that the conclusion doesn’t NECESSARILY FOLLOW (the argument is NOT valid) even if the premises are true. Why? Because maybe the sprinklers made the sidewalks wet instead of the rain. It COULD BE true that it rained but it’s not NECESSARILY true that it rained. Do you see this? “Scientists” who should know better make this kind of argument all the time. If evolution is true then we would expect to see fossil x at strata y. (for example) We do see fossil x at strata y therefore evolution is true. This commits the same fallacy. In fact, there could be another reason for those fossils being where they are.

    If your charge is that some scientists can make an explanation sound more certain than it actually is, then I would agree. Scientists are only human and they can be carried away by enthusiasm for their pet hypotheses and theories – and for funding for them – like anyone else. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the more zealous followers of the various faiths are prone to the same flaw. The other thing to bear in mind is that, if you are getting some of your information about science through the popular media, journalists have been known to exaggerate the certainty of a new hypothesis in the interests of a more dramatic report.

    My observation is that, when pressed, scientists are well aware of the provisional nature of their explanations. For example, if you were to ask the researchers who used the theory of evolution to predict where to find the Tiktaalik fossils, I am sure they they would not claim that the discovery proved evolution true beyond all doubt. They are well aware that, if the prediction had failed, it would count against the theory but not necessarily prove it false – although critics of evolution like yourself would no doubt have seized upon it as doing just that. Equally , I am sure that they are well aware that their successful prediction is more evidence that counts in favor of the theory but does not prove it true in all respects beyond all doubt.

    If naturalism is true (if P), then the laws of physics can be used to explain everything, including language (then Q). This is true by definition. This is what naturalism IS and language, after all, is certainly part of the set of “everything.”) But physics cannot explain language. (~Q) (I will back this up below.) Therefore, naturalism is not true. (~P) In fact, if physics can’t explain language then not only is naturalism not true it’s not even possible for it to be true. It’s NECESSARILY false.

    Here we have a good example of an argument that is valid but where the conclusion is not necessarily true because the premises are shaky.

    As you say, if naturalism is true then we should be able to construct a reductive explanation of a phenomenon like language by a chain of cause-and-effect linking the fundamental “laws” of physics to the phenomenon itself.

    Second, you can attack the truth of either premise. But the first premise is true by definition. So that leaves the second premise (Physics can’t explain language.) as the only target left. In other words, if you can’t PROVE that physics (or “natural processes”) CAN account for or explain language, then the argument stands and naturalism is necessarily false.

    Your argument would stand if and only if we expose your hidden assumption which is that all the laws of physics are known now. Yet plainly we do not know all those laws.

    First, although physical theory points to the Universe beginning in the Big Bang around 13.75bn years ago, there is no theory that explains why or how the Big Bang itself occurred or what happened immediately after. Basically, for that we have nothing.

    Second, suppose we had been able to observe that ballooning sphere of blisteringly-hot, incandescent plasma – without being instantly vaporized – could we have predicted all that followed based on what we know now? I doubt it, although it would be useful to hear from someone with a better knowledge of physics than mine.

    Third, supposing we had come back later when things had settled down a bit. The Universe would be filled with clouds of undifferentiated hydrogen, shaped by the nuclear forces and acted on by gravity, all of which had ‘condensed’ out of the plasma as it cooled. Observing that, based on current knowledge and thinking, could we have predicted the Universe we observe now, including complex objects like ourselves? Was everything we see now somehow latent in that primordial and undescribed singularity or was it injected later from outside? Again, we simply don’t know.

    So, the laws of physics, which describe matter and energy and their interaction, HAVE NOTHING TO SAY, EVER, about why “cat” means a certain kind of mammal and why “act” means to do something, something done, or a segment of a play. Clearly there is something else at play here and it is information, which is encoded by said language, about which, physics has nothing to say. Nor will it ever have anything to say because information is immaterial and physics is about the material world. This is so, so simple and easy and it is so, so devastating to the naturalist world view. The game is over. We win. Rather, the truth wins. As it always does in the end.

    Like Mark Twain’s obituary, your claims about the death of naturalism are “greatly exaggerated”.

    If a time ever comes when we can say with total confidence that we have a complete physical description of how the Universe works – a Theory of Everything – and if we find that we are unable to account for the emergence of language using that theory, then and only then will your argument stand.

    The flaw that undermines all attacks on naturalism of this kind is the unwarranted assumption that we know all there is to know about the basic physics of the Universe. But, as I argued above, this simply isn’t true. It might be that we find there is something like a vast, unimaginable intelligence behind it all; we might be all living in a giant Matrix-like simulation. We just don’t know yet.

    What we can say is that our science, based on the procedures and assumptions of methodological naturalism, has served us well so far in terms of exploring and explaining and exploiting what we see around us. It is not blind to the fact there is still a lot we don’t know. It does not preclude the existence of a god of some sort. It’s just that there has been no need, so far, to invoke one to explain something.

  116. tgpeeler @ 102

    But in the case of evolution, the flawed reasoning is held onto with a (literally) death grip. Let’s have some more fun with modus tollens. If evolution were true (If P), then we would see transitional fossils (Then Q). But we don’t see ANY transitional fossils (~Q). Therefore, evolution is not true

    Of course you can have a great deal of fun with logic. Just like you can use a computer to play a Star Wars video game or a simulation of a spaceship that could fly men to Mars and back. One would be a fantasy, one would be based on established facts and theories. One would be fun, one would be of practical use to science. I leave you to guess which. In that context, referring to the claim about the lack of transitional fossils, whoever told you that is just flat out wrong.

    Let me point out the huge error here. You are conflating tree rings and rocks and weather with information. The tree rings and the weather and the rocks do indeed result from physical processes over time. However, those physical processes ARE NOT THE INFORMATION. The information was derived or produced by the scientist ABOUT the trees, rocks, and weather. Big difference.

    ID proponents attack evolutionary theory on the grounds that our genes contain information and that information could not have got there by natural processes. My argument is that information is what intelligent agents like ourselves derive from our observations of natural phenomena, it is not necessarily a property of the phenomena themselves. I cited tree-rings and weather as examples of that claim. We can extract information from such systems without ID proponents claiming it must have been put there by some intelligent designer.

    Please read what you wrote carefully. In one sentence you say “evolution offers an explanation of how those changes came about through natural processes over time.” This is true. NATURAL processes. i.e. Physics. But then you say it doesn’t exclude the possibility of God. Say what? If God isn’t physics then you have just contradicted yourself. Probably just careless.

    No, it is just pointing out that science cannot exclude the theistic claim that God created the Universe as we see it, which includes the process of evolution, then, having “lit the blue touch paper”, stepped well back to watch the fireworks.

    One last thing regarding being true to my “faith.” I suspect you are using that term as it is often used today. That is, to believe something without evidence or reason or cause. This is why I have come to hate the word. “Faith” in the New Testament means one of two things. It’s an act of the will. To trust that something is true based on reason and evidence. Or it means a body of doctrine believed.

    I use “faith”, like you, to mean either a “body of doctrine” believed, which is more or less equivalent to a religion, or unevidenced belief. The impression from the New Testament is that God places great store in faith in the latter sense. Doubting Thomas is held up as someone who, while not a bad person, failed to live up to that ideal whereas, for agnostics and atheists, he is so much of an ideal he should be their patron saint – if they believed in such things.

  117. 117

    intelligent design theory is an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature observed by biologists is genuine design (the product of an organizing intelligence) or is simply the product of chance and mechanical natural laws.

    -John G. West, Discovery Institute
    http://www.discovery.org/a/1329

  118. Seversky @ 115

    “If you write a definition broad enough to encompass the many technical meanings of ‘information’ then how are we to know which applies in a given situation? Unless you are careful to specify which you are intending then you are, indeed, open to the charge of equivocation. For example, the teleosemantic information we are exchanging in these posts is different from that of Shannon or Kolmogorov/Chaitin because the latter are not concerned with meaning.”

    I still don’t grant the point as I am not talking about information equivocally within the argument but seeing that it hangs you up that’s why I backed off. As it turns out, I don’t even need to refer to information at all, really. Even so, all kinds of information require language.

    “Your argument would stand if and only if we expose your hidden assumption which is that all the laws of physics are known now. Yet plainly we do not know all those laws.”

    This is true, that there is no theory of everything yet. The one that will unite quantum physics and gravity. However, this doesn’t mean the premise is not necessarily true. In principle, the laws of physics, natural laws, however you want to say it, deal with the physical world. That’s the definition. But information is not physical. It’s encoded into a physical substrate but it’s not physical itself. It’s a category error to say that anything in physics will ever be able to account for the symbols and rules of a language because that’s just not what physics is about. If you change the definition of physics to include reference to the abstract world then the entire naturalistic enterprise seems doomed to me every bit as certainly as it is doomed by the failure to account for language. The key to all of this is language. How is something abstract expressed in the physical world? By language.

    “First, although physical theory points to the Universe beginning in the Big Bang around 13.75bn years ago, there is no theory that explains why or how the Big Bang itself occurred or what happened immediately after. Basically, for that we have nothing.”

    Again I agree that there is no theory that explains why or how the BB occurred. But there are valid deductive arguments that predict a “Big Banger” as well as the BB itself. Or at least that the universe would have a beginning. And, as always, empirical evidence conforms to the conclusions of reason.

    “Second, suppose we had been able to observe that ballooning sphere of blisteringly-hot, incandescent plasma – without being instantly vaporized – could we have predicted all that followed based on what we know now? I doubt it, although it would be useful to hear from someone with a better knowledge of physics than mine.”

    OK… But I don’t see the “so what” that we couldn’t predict how things have turned out solely by extrapolating from initial conditions and physical laws. I’m saying that’s true but I don’t know what conclusions you would draw from that.

    “Was everything we see now somehow latent in that primordial and undescribed singularity or was it injected later from outside? Again, we simply don’t know.Was everything we see now somehow latent in that primordial and undescribed singularity or was it injected later from outside? Again, we simply don’t know.”

    It’s not a matter of “simply” not knowing. It’s also a matter of completely rejecting out of hand any argument that opposes the naturalist world view, because it, well, opposes the naturalist world view.

    “Like Mark Twain’s obituary, your claims about the death of naturalism are “greatly exaggerated”.”

    We’ll see. Place your bets. We’ll all find out some day.

    “If a time ever comes when we can say with total confidence that we have a complete physical description of how the Universe works – a Theory of Everything – and if we find that we are unable to account for the emergence of language using that theory, then and only then will your argument stand.”

    I still think you miss the fundamental point. You’re making a category error. The material is the material and the abstract is the abstract, and the rules which govern the material will never, can never, by definition, govern the abstract. I don’t care what PHYSICAL theories are developed, they will never explain information because information is abstract.

    “What we can say is that our science, based on the procedures and assumptions of methodological naturalism, has served us well so far in terms of exploring and explaining and exploiting what we see around us. It is not blind to the fact there is still a lot we don’t know. It does not preclude the existence of a god of some sort. It’s just that there has been no need, so far, to invoke one to explain something.”

    While I applaud healthy skepticism on anyone’s part there comes a time when people need to face up to reality and recognize logical errors. Anybody who thinks about things for just a minute realizes that there is still a lot that we don’t know and probably will never know. It’s called the problem of being human. We should all get over that. In the meantime, we should recognize the absolute authority of (right) reason in matters of truth.

    This is why naturalism fails. It’s irrational. It’s unreasonable. It can’t begin to explain the things that must be explained. It can’t account for consciousness, life, design, purpose, agency, language, information, morality, in other words, just about anything that really matters to human beings. The typical move of the naturalist is to deny the existence of those things, since they can’t possibly ever explain them (check out eliminative materialism to see the lengths to which people will go to avoid facing up to the obvious facts of our existence). Most of those things I just mentioned can be denied without obvious contradiction but language and information cannot since to deny the existence of language and information, that they have real ontological status, is to USE the very things they deny exist. It’s an obvious self-contradiction and therefore obviously false.

    If you don’t see the need to invoke God to explain anything, then go ahead and tell me about why killing 6 million Jews, say, is wrong, morally WRONG, in terms of the naturalist world view. Or tell me why teaching ID as an alternative to evolutionary theory is evil. :-) You will quickly see that you cannot and you will then end up telling me that there is no real moral law. Prove me wrong.

    Explain to me how, in concept, in a finite universe, a thing can ever account for itself. Tell me how a universe containing, roughly, 10^21 stars, just popped into existence. If life only comes from life, i.e. cells only come from other cells, as cell theory says, then explain the origin of the first cell. You intimate that as science progresses, gaps in knowledge shrink. I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. In fact, I think the more science helps us understand about the material world the more intractable things get. More later…

  119. @tgpeeler

    -”You intimate that as science progresses, gaps in knowledge shrink. I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. In fact, I think the more science helps us understand about the material world the more intractable things get.”

    That is correct. The notion that scientific discovery fills gaps and one day the gaps will all be filled is rather illusory. Discovery is great and I am not one to deny it, but what people often forget is that while science sometimes does close certain gaps it also opens up new and bigger ones.

    Simply put, one needs to look at two things. How many questions we have in totality and how many of those we have answered. Assume at time T0 we have 100 questions, 50 of which have been answered via the use of the scientific enterprise. Now at time T1, after a few scientific paradigm shifts (say 50-100 years later) we find ourselves with 600 questions, 200 of which have been answered.

    In absolute terms we can say that we know four times as much as we did before (assuming collective knowledge) but in relation to the now broader spectrum of questions/issues we have only succesfully answered 200/600.

    So comparatively speaking we went from knowing the answers to 50% of our total number questions, to now only knowing 33% of the answers to our total number questions.

  120. What “above” said. Thanks for spelling it out. :-)

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