Letter from Darrel Falk
|June 27, 2006||Posted by William Dembski under Intelligent Design|
Below is a letter to me by Darrel Falk, a biologist on the faculty at Point Loma Nazarene University. Darrel and I have known each other for several years, and even though our views on ID diverge, we respect each other. The letter here is in response to my recent blog entry at UD on Ken Miller and Francis CollinsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s possible openness to ID at the origin of life (go here). Note that Francis Collins wrote the foreword to DarrelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book Coming to Faith with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, a book for which I also wrote an endorsement (although I have my differences with the book, I think it is one we need to engage).
In giving me permission to post this letter, Darrel remarked, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have always greatly admired your sincerity. I have sensed a number of times how much you really want ID to be a true scientific force and not just a political force. Most recently this was clearly (and sincerely) evident in your statements in the Phillip Johnson Festschrift [i.e., DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Nemesis]. I believe you really have a vision that Intelligent Design should be of the highest quality biology. It is with that in mind that I hope you (and those who read your blog) will take my comments in the form of constructive criticism. I hope that people within the movement donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t become defensive, but will simply ask the question, Ã¢â‚¬ËœDoes Falk have a point worth considering?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â To this he added, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I personally hope that Intelligent Design will evolve into a force that partners with science rather than a force which opposes it. If it would do that, I believe its influence would live on in ways that extend beyond the positive things it has already done.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Here, then, is the letter (unedited; the ellipses were there in the original). IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve interspersed comments in backets using boldface.
I am responding to your blog entry of last evening in which you ask the question of whether people like Francis Collins and Ken Miller are ID as it relates to origin of life. The same question could be asked of many people who take the theistic evolution stance and who extend GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s involvement to all of creation: including myself, in Coming to Peace with Science, and the position espoused so eloquently by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett in Evolution from Creation to New Creation. There are many people who believe that God is not ever removed from creation, and thereby believe that the history of the creation of life is a manifestation of GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s design. Those people believe in intelligent design, but have significant concerns about elements of Intelligent Design.
[IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not convinced that having two versions of ID, one writ small and the other writ large with initial letters underscored is all that helpful. It seems that ID has now staked out a clear position, being defined as the study of patterns in nature, and especially in biology, that are best explained as the result of intelligence. Detectability of design is therefore built into this definition. The writ large version is now the standard version of ID. To write it in this peculiar way suggests that it is a strange or marginal version, which it is not. This way of writing it seems to me no different from putting scare quotes around the term. As for intelligent design writ small, it obviously conveys that there is some purpose behind any thing to which the term Ã¢â‚¬Å“intelligent designÃ¢â‚¬Â is applied. As a theological or metaphysical predicate, this usage is meaningful. But it seems to me no different from any number of other predicates that bespeak purpose. How is Ã¢â‚¬Å“X is intelligently designÃ¢â‚¬Â in the writ-small sense, any different from Ã¢â‚¬Å“X was intended,Ã¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“X was conceived by a mindÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“X is the product of a wise GodÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“X is the result of a telic processÃ¢â‚¬Â? Until intelligent design in the writ-small sense is given some definite scientific content, it seems to me that this alternate use of the term confuses rather than clarifies.]
Intelligent Design has had an important influence on science. Increasingly, I believe, the world of science has come to see that it reached outside of its bounds in a way that is espoused most clearly, I believe, by Michael Ruse (e.g. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My analysis is that we have no simple clash between religion and science but between two religions.Ã¢â‚¬Â The Evolution Creation Struggle, 2005). From this day onward, the scientific establishment is going to be much more careful about statements regarding life arising by Ã¢â‚¬Å“blind chance.Ã¢â‚¬Â Increasingly, thanks to Intelligent Design, the scientific establishment is becoming aware that many of its leading spokespersons moved from beyond science into a form of religion. This has been a most important correction to how the normal science (in the sense articulated by Thomas Kuhn) is done. Consider, for example, the closing words of The Plausibility of Life by Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The question of faith remainsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â Were it not for the ID movement, these leading scientists, writing one of the most important mainstream biology books of the past twenty-five years, would never have closed their book with such an admission. That shift in how normal science is done in evolutionary biology needed to occur and for that we who are believers (regardless of our perspective regarding the ID movement), all have you to thank.
[Thanks, Darrel, for highlighting IDÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s role in keeping science honest. As for the Kirschner and Gerhart book, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hold it in quite as high regard as you do. See the following UD blog entry where the book was briefly addressed: http://www.uncommondescent.com/index.php/archives/415. Their theory of facilitated variation depends on various modules of genes working in concert to radically change organisms. But whence organisms with such modules that facilitate their evolution? And what is the evidence that such modules, when appropriately modified, will induce macroevolutionary changes? It seems to me that Kirschner and Gerhart leave too many vital questions unanswered for their book to be a real contender as the key to a new general evolutionary biology.]
However, Intelligent Design does not stop there. It calls into question the basic rules by which science has operated for the last 150 years. It calls upon science to include in its hypotheses the existence of the supernatural. This is a call to redefine science and to make it into a discipline that includes not just a study of the natural, but the supernatural as well. It calls not just for a correction in how normal science is doneÃ¢â‚¬Â¦what it calls for is a paradigm shift (a la Thomas Kuhn) that would now include the search for divine activity using the tools of science. This makes belief in Intelligent Design a whole different ballgame than belief in intelligent design.
[I would agree that intelligent design writ large is a different ballgame from intelligent design writ small, but not because it fundamentally violates science. Rather, it is a different ball game because it genuinely is trying to make design a part of the natural sciences whereas intelligent design writ small is content to reside in the realm of theology and metaphysics. The conflation of ID with supernaturalism is inappropriate. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at issue is the nature of nature. Is nature the sort of place where telic organizing principles can operate? ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all ID requires. It does not require supernatural designers who operate outside nature. Intelligence can be a PERFECTLY NATURAL aspect of the physical world. Where ID runs into problems is with a materialistic and reductionist understanding of science. Such an understanding was never written in stone. It is historically contingent, and the ID community argues that there is no reason to retain it. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve addressed the fact that ID is not a supernaturalist theory in my book THE DESIGN REVOLUTION, devoting a chapter to it. You can also read about this in my expert witness rebuttal report to the Dover case here, section 2.3 on Ã¢â‚¬Å“methodological materialism.Ã¢â‚¬Â]
Now I come to my most important point. Intelligent Design makes the claim that irreducibly complex structures in biology lead to Ã¢â‚¬Å“the resulting realization that life was designed by an intelligence.Ã¢â‚¬Â (DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Black Box). At this point the movement begins to address the field of biology on its own terms. It searches the scientific literature and concludes, for example: Ã¢â‚¬Å“We can look high or we can look low, in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.Ã¢â‚¬Â (DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Black Box). Whether this was true ten years ago is certainly up for debate. However, a recent review of the origin of the immune system lists 160 articles in its bibliography (see Reconstructing Immune Phylogeny: New Perspectives, Nature Reviews/ Immunology 5:866-879, 2005). Despite this the Afterword of the tenth anniversary edition of DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Black Box concludes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The papers I cite here on the cilium, flagellum, blood clotting and immune systems are the best work by Darwinists on the origin of complex molecular machinery available since 1996 in the science literature.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Only one paper on the immune system was cited and none of the 160 papers discussed in the above review of the origin of the immune system were cited. Bill, that is not the way that good science has ever proceeded. In science, we give very careful analysis to the arguments of the other side. We discuss the papers, explaining what we agree with about them and what we think is still lackingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ and we do so in detail. However, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ignore them. ID is simply not proceeding a manner that is consistent with how good science is done.
[Darrel, good science also does not proceed by data dumping, simply citing lots and lots of papers, as though sheer numbers can establish an otherwise unsupported claim. BeheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s addressed your point in his response to the Dover trial (go here). At the trial, in parallel with your 160 journal articles, the ACLU attorney dumped in front of Behe 58 peer-reviewed publications, 9 books and several immunology textbook chapters on the evolution of the immune system. BeheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s main point in response was this: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Court here speaks of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœevidence for evolution.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Throughout the trial I carefully distinguished between the various meanings of the word Ã¢â‚¬Ëœevolution,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ and I made it abundantly clear that I was challenging DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposed mechanism of random mutation coupled to natural selection. Unfortunately, the Court here, as in many other places in its opinion, ignores the distinction between evolution and Darwinism. I said in my testimony that the studies may have been fine as far as they went, but that they certainly did not present detailed, rigorous explanations for the evolution of the immune system by random mutation and natural selection — if they had, that knowledge would be reflected in more recent studies that I had had a chance to read.Ã¢â‚¬Â Darrel, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a question or relevance and what these studies prove. Yes, there seems good evidence that the immune system evolved. But did it happen through an unguided materialistic process (e.g., the Darwinian mechanism)? Or is there evidence of design working through this evolutionary process?]
So do people like Francis Collins, Ken Miller and Simon Conway MorrisÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ some of the leading scientists in the world today (and they are believers!!) subscribe to intelligent design? Absolutely. However, Intelligent Design goes well beyond a belief in intelligent design. It has come to be synonymous with a call for the upheaval of scienceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. for a divorce between Christianity and science. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m all for a divorce if the call was coming from carefully laid out biological arguments from people who really understand biology. However, that is not the case.
[Darrel, the divorce we are talking about is between Christianity and an ideologically charged materialistic conception of science that stunts inquiry into the full range of causal powers that may be operating in nature. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a divorce between science falsely so-called and Christianity. Science without the metaphysical baggage of materialism is not being challenged. Nor is ID guaranteed to succeed once this baggage is jettisoned. It may be, once design is allowed on the playing field of science, that the evidence of biology will not demonsrate design — the methods of design detection that ID theorists have proposed do not guarantee that design will be found. As for your charge that ID proponents are not carefully laying out biological arguments and do not really understand the biology, this seems to me unfair and mistaken. Steve MeyerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2004 article titled Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic CategoriesÃ¢â‚¬Â in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was peer-reviewed. You can find it here. Meyer understands as well as anyone the application of information theory to genetics. His piece, it seems to me, is a counteraxample to your claim. And there are many such counterexamples.]
I wish that the Movement could shift gears now Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ that it would stop its anti-scientific rhetoric until (or unless) it has real scientific data to support its cause. Truth wins out in the end and I am absolutely convinced that mainstream science is simply discovering how God has worked in creation. The Plausibility of Life is a magnificent book for a believer to read, as is Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean Carroll. I wish we could celebrate and worship in the light of what they reveal about GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s creation Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ recognizing nonetheless that God has likely worked through processes so subtle that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll never be able to pull out that which God has done, independent of GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own natural laws, and be able to prove this supernatural activity to the world at large.
[No, the rhetoric, rather, is against a certain materialistic construal of science — see the last comment. It seems that you are happy for God to work undetected through material processes that give no evidence and exhibit no need of his activity. That may be the way God acts, but how could we know it? And how could be know whether God or some designing intelligence has acted detectably? You have your own predilections here, preferring a God a who works so subtlely that Ã¢â‚¬Å“weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll never be able to pull out that which God has done.Ã¢â‚¬Â In place of your wish, let me therefore offer another: I wish theistic evolutionists like you and Ken Miller and Francis Collins would shift gears now and stop dismissing the evidence of design in biology because you prefer a designer God who acts undetectably.]
Again, I want to thank you for the fact that you really have impacted the world of science in a way that will live on long after we have both moved on to a better place.
P.S. I recently expressed some of this in some talks I have given in Australia. If word gets back to you that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been hard on the ID movement, please know that my concerns are no different than those which I outline above.
[Yes, a contact in Australia informed of the hard line on ID that you took there — itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a small world after all. Thanks for your letter and for being willing to share it.]