Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (9) Fourth Response
Debating Darwin and Design
A dialogue between two Christians
Is Intelligent Design science or ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo’?
21st July 2014
Joshua Gidney – Fourth Response
I wish to begin this response by thanking Francis for his refreshingly substantive and engaging rebuttal. I believe that in his critique of ID, he has stepped up several levels since his previous response. This is not to say that he was an incompetent critic previous to his latest piece (though I think most of his arguments were not of a high standard), but that he has displayed humility and honesty in his developing views. I value Francis as a thoughtful critic and I believe he has some very interesting things to say on the topic.
How to effectively discuss ID
In my previous writings I have argued that disquisitions on ID are often fruitless, not least because most critics (and often advocates), of the theory, devote an inordinate amount of time to addressing socio-political issues and the mere categorisation of ID. Critics guilty of this offence seem to think that they can disprove it by showing that it falls outside of scientific conduct. This is completely wrong because, as I have argued, being unscientific is not the same as being false.
Francis and I have begun this discussion by attempting to categorise ID. However, I have come to think that ‘Perhaps we have gone about this discussion the wrong way round, choosing to debate the classification of ID before the merits of ID.’(1) Francis expressed the same concern when he wrote ‘it may be that we should have started with another question…’.(2)
In addition to this concern, Francis has identified what he sees as being a more serious problem. He notes that ‘in asking whether or not ID is science we are presupposing that we know what claims ID makes, which I shall argue we do not.’(3) It is certainly true that we were operating on the assumption that it is sufficiently intelligible. At the time this was not a foolish assumption to make because in my earlier responses I provided a few basic working definitions and Francis did not demand further clarification or detail. However, Francis is now claiming that this presupposition is false and has argued that we do not possess a satisfactory account of what ID is. Whether or not the fullest account one could provide, given enough time and space, would be satisfactory, I perhaps should have provided a more thorough account of the conceptual foundations earlier on in the discussion, which might have pre-empted the objection. Given that Francis had not demanded for more details, I thought it unnecessary to elaborate further. Now that he is demanding for a more detailed account, we must take an important step back and start by attempting to make sense of one. Ideally, then, after a sufficiently intelligible account is given and we know exactly what we are dealing with, we can then go on to discuss whether it tells us anything about the natural world that could be considered scientific and/or true.
Before I move on, I want to briefly correct something I wrote in my previous response. In thinking about the importance of where one begins a discussion of this nature, I foolishly expressed indifference. For the record, then, let me make clear that I think it is extremely important! To say ‘I don’t see that it really matters.’(4) is to ignore the wisdom Phillip Johnson expressed when he wrote:
In a lifetime of studying and participating in controversies, I have learned that the best way to approach a problem of any kind is usually not to talk or even think very much about the ultimate answer until I have made sure I am asking all the right questions in the right order.(5)
Regarding what questions we are asking, and in what order, I’m inclined to think that disputes regarding what category of intellectual inquiry the theory falls under, if it can indeed be categorised, should come last. If they come first there is a danger that all our time, energy, and thought may be exhausted on scientific squabbles and we miss the issue of central importance-what truth value does ID hold? (given that it is intelligible). Having said this, Francis and I are both in agreement with regard to the importance of a theory being classified as scientific or not, due to the many extra and intra-scientific implications this would have. Despite these caveats we will continue addressing the original question. Badly phrased though it is, and though it might have made more sense to begin with a different one, the question before us is merely the embarkation point of our inquiry and will not narrow our discourse.
Previously I listed seven lines of attack that ID critics tend to go for. For the most part, Francis agreed that (1) through (5) are not successful. For him, the more promising approaches to critiquing the scientific status of ID are (6) and (7). Throughout his response he developed several lines of critique related to those points. These can be summarised as follows:
1) The problem of intelligibility
2) The problem of methodological naturalism (MN)
3) The problem of testability
4) The problem of supernatural design
In addition to these, several other points are developed but I hope to address these in time. Nevertheless, the lines of argument outlined above represent the core of Francis criticisms of ID, as far as its scientific status is concerned. In the next few responses I will attempt to address all the points mentioned. In doing so, I shall argue that it is sufficiently intelligible, that it is eminently testable, that it doesn’t mandate supernatural design, and that if it does violate MN, it is irrelevant to its scientific status since science can do just fine without it. As to whether it is creationism or not, I shall show that the agnosticism Francis has chosen to adopt in response to this question rests on some fundamental misunderstandings of both creationism and ID. Though I hope to eventually cover all the points mentioned, in this response I have chosen to focus on ‘The problem of intelligibility’.
Since Francis has claimed that the ID’s lack of intelligibility is its most grave defect, I will devote the majority of this response to showing that the key concepts in ID theory can be rigorously defined. Although he believes that the claims ID theorists make are, for the most part, incoherent, I presume he thinks that he has understood them as far as they can be understood. However, I hope to show that a more detailed examination of the works of ID theorists will reveal that Francis misunderstands some important nuances.
The Problem of Intelligibility
Before tackling the scientific status of ID, we need an analytically sufficient account of what it is. Only then can we proceed to have a fruitful dialogue. Obviously, a discussion on ID must begin by an agreement of what it is. We must be able to define the concepts with sufficient precision and make clear what the theory claims. My main task, therefore, is to provide a clear account of the theoretical underpinnings of ID theory.
Central to Francis’ problem with ID is the claim that we lack knowledge of what is exactly. In line with critics such as Elliot Sober and Sahotra Sarkar, Francis claims that ID lacks the substance needed to properly asses it. According to him ‘The real problem with ID is its theoretical indigence.’(6) He argues that what is needed is a positive account of design and intelligence. The problem is ‘ID theorists have so far failed to provide such an account.’(7) Furthermore, when ID theorists have attempted to provide an account, they can’t do so without relying ‘upon dubious analogies and ideas inherited from the natural theological tradition.’(8) ID ‘theory’ is ‘saturated with negative argumentation…’(9), and displays a ‘striking paucity of positive argumentation.’(10) Essentially, it’s not even wrong.
Is it correct to claim that we lack knowledge of what ID is? Contrary to Francis’ claim that it is somehow unintelligible, the leading theoretician, William Dembski, claims that:
The fundamental claim of intelligent design is straight forward and easily intelligible: namely, there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence.(11)
In reaction to such a statement, Francis will argue that the notion of design and intelligence have not been elaborated on, so the fundamental claim made by ID theorists is basically meaningless. The problem is, design theorists have provided positive accounts of these concepts. The fact that theorists have provided positive accounts, and yet critics still demand them, suggests to me that one of the main problems here is not that theorists have neglected to precisify their theory, but that critics have failed to consult the relevant literature.
In science, or any other realm of systematic inquiry, if one wishes to learn about a particular set of theories or ideas, one merely has to find out if they have been stated and delineated in the literature and consult these works. Considering the thousands of pages of ink, in books and in papers, that have been spilled in an effort to outline the detailed theoretical underpinnings of ID, to argue that design is empty of any positive theory seems a very odd claim to make. This literature is not a collection of blank pages! Tellingly, in both Sarkar’s and Francis’ critique, little evidence is given that they have bothered to keep up to date with the literature clearly stating and defending its theoretical foundations. Detailed exposition and analysis of the theory can be found primarily in the works of William Dembski, in books such as The Design Inference, No Free Lunch and The Design Revolution. More telling is the fact that no mention is given of the primary ID text: The Design of Life. This book in particular lays out the theory in its most detailed and comprehensive form.(12) Though Sarkar does cite a few of these earlier texts, he shows no signs of grappling with the most recent developments in design theory. References to ID literature on Francis’ part is even more meagre. Having apparently neglected to consult the literature mentioned, it is unsurprising that they perceive a lack of substance in the theory. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Francis must waste his whole life studying pro-ID texts (I know he was much better and important things to do!). I am merely suggesting that one must at least take into account the most recent theoretical developments before proudly making the charge of theoretical inadequacy.
ID is a relatively young theory but has developed much since its unwelcome incipience. Modern design theory has been expounded in many popular science books, like those mentioned, but as Dembski says ‘The hard work of developing these ideas into a rigorous information-theoretic formalism for doing science really began only in 2005…’.(13) These more recent developments are laid out in several papers online under the rubric Mathematical Foundations of Intelligent Design.(14) Furthermore, this rigorous formalism has been taking place at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab at the hands of Dembski, Robert Marks, and Winston Ewert. As Dembski notes:
With the formation of Robert Marks’s Evolutionary Informatics Lab in June 2007…and work by him and me on the conservation of information…I think ID is finally in a position to challenge certain fundamental assumptions in the natural sciences about the nature and origin of information.(15)
He adds ‘I see evolutionary informatics as the scientific core of ID.’(16) Again, I wish to stress that most critics who make the charge of theoretical inadequacy, conveniently bypass these recent developments. No doubt, Francis may wish to claim that despite these allegedly rigorous, technical developments, theorists have surely made their core case in the standard, popular ID texts. Indeed they have. Nevertheless, as I have pointed out, the majority of these texts have not been taken into account in his assessment.
The issue, then, is not whether ID has been stated and delineated or not (it clearly has), but whether it has been delineated to the extent that it could be scientifically meaningful. I will argue that it certainly has. As to whether this will satisfy the critics, that is a concern of little importance. On this issue Dembski notes that:
Invariably I’ve found that the call to define intelligence by critics of intelligent design is not a call for clarification but a defensive move to relieve pressure from some aspect of the critic’s own worldview that intelligent design calls into question.(17)
This is not to say that this is the only reason behind the demand for clarification, and though Dembski makes it quite clear that clarity is important, he rightly sees it as often being a pedantic smokescreen:
While I agree that terms need to be defined as carefully as possible, the call for definition can itself become a subterfuge. Thus the call for definition can become a way of avoiding the challenge posed by an idea endlessly requiring further clarification of key terms. The later Wittgenstein certainly thought the call for definition was overrated. Indeed the finiteness of language itself implies that the call for definition must at some point either end or issue in circularity.(18)
With regard to Francis’ demand to provide a positive account of design and intelligence, I would agree that ‘there is no sense in debating theories about Intelligent Design and its inference, if we have no clear idea of what we mean with the word design.’(19) The same goes for the notion of ‘intelligence’. Demanding, however, that ID theorists provide an account that is uncontroversial, and satisfactory to everyone, is unreasonable. At the very least one can offer some possible accounts that are coherent and scientifically useful.
What is ID?
Intelligent design theory is many things. In the debate over this theory, one comes across a huge variety of opinions on what it is. So, what is it? Depending on which ID theorist you turn to, the theory may be stated slightly differently. Just as one can find various accounts of evolution, one can find various accounts of ID. Personally I prefer to speak in terms ‘theories of evolution’ and ‘theories of ID’, rather than ‘The’ theory. Even so, these various accounts of design theory do not contradict and at their core make the same basic claim. Although they make the same core claim, ‘it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than by unguided process.’(20), some versions differ in a few details. The prevailing and most referred to theory of ID is the one advanced primarily by William Dembski. Though Dembski has formulated a very particular method of design detection, there are other individuals who have tried to come up with alternative methods such as Del Ratzsch (21) and Timothy and Lydia McGrew (22). Given that I find these alternative accounts unconvincing, and agree, for the most part, with Dembski’s account, this is the version I shall stick to. The prevailing theory of ID, though primarily formalised by Dembski is not his alone. Theorists such as Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, and a whole host of others, are all converging on a coherent theory of design.
Intelligent design, to put it simply, ‘is the science that studies signs of intelligence.’(23) Dembski adds an important qualification that is relevant to some of Francis’ criticisms by noting that:
a sign is not the thing signified. Intelligent design does not try to get into the mind of the designer and figure out what a designer is thinking. Its focus is not a designer’s mind (the thing signified) but the artefact due to a designer’s mind (the sign).(24)
This being the case ‘As a scientific research program, intelligent design investigates the effects of intelligence and not intelligence as such.’(25) Garret J. DeWeese and JP Moreland put it well when they wrote ‘The central aspect to ID theory is the idea that the designedness of some things which are designed can be identified as such in scientifically acceptable ways.’(26) Again, note that all the emphasis is on design and not the intelligence said to be responsible for the design. Below I will offer a number of further secondary points that should be considered:
1) The broad definitions provided do not specify a particular method that can be used to recognise signs of intelligence. I have noted, various methods have been proposed that allow us to do this. As to which methods work, if any, that will be discussed another time.
2) It’s important to understand the purpose behind the term ‘intelligent design’. Jonathan Wells notes that:
Adding the word ‘‘intelligent’’ to ‘‘design’’ accomplishes two things. First, a design in the sense of mere pattern may be caused by natural forces (as waves cause ripple marks on a sandy beach) or even by an agent (as an absent-minded whittler causes knife marks on the end of a stick), yet not be a product of purpose. Adding ‘‘intelligent’’ to ‘‘design’’ makes it clear that the pattern in question results from the purposeful activity of a mind. Second, ‘‘intelligent’’ makes it clear that the design is not illusory, as Darwinists claim, but real.(27)
The pervasiveness of ‘design-talk’ in biology requires ID theorists to make clear that they are talking about a completely different conception of design. (28) A further important caveat to note is that ID theorists, in using the word ‘intelligent’, are understanding it to simply mean, an intelligent cause. This doesn’t necessarily mean the intelligence is clever, skilful, or masterful. It could be ‘one that acts stupidly’.(29)
3) Unsurprisingly there is confusion amongst some as to the applicability of ID. Is it only a theory about biology or can it be applied to physics and other fields? Bradley Monton points out that ‘most of the intelligent design discussion is on biological issues.’(30) In comparison, little is written on ID as applied to physics. Occasionally some theorists, in defining ID, imply that it is solely concerned with biology, however, in other places they do recognise that it can be applied to physics. Wells writes that ID ’can apply on two different levels. Design may be detectable in natural laws and the structure of the cosmos.’(31) Though it can just as well be applied in physics ‘…with intelligent design’s focus on biology, most of the discussion and controversy now centres on biology.’(32) The reasons for this imbalance is that whilst most ID proponents do think design can be inferred from the structure of the universe, design in biology is more scientifically tractable. In addition to this, Dembski finds that design inferred from fine-tuning to be unconvincing and difficult to justify.(33)
4) The final distinction that needs to be made, is, again, with regard to the applicability of ID. ID theorists rightly point out that ‘Many special sciences already fall under intelligent design, including archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI…’.(34) Does this entail that archaeology is ID? In a way, yes. But as Peter S. Williams wisely points out ‘We should distinguish, then, between intelligent design as a general approach to design detection (marrying empirical evidence with design detection criteria) and ‘intelligent design theory’ as a specific application of ID to the question of origins.’(35) Given that the special sciences listed are scientific:
Intelligent design is thus already part of science. Moreover, it employs well-defined methods for detecting intelligence. These methods together with their application constitute the theory of intelligent design [this is ID in the broad sense]. The question, therefore, is not whether intelligent design constitutes a genuine scientific theory but whether, as a scientific theory, it properly applies to biology [this is ID in the narrow sense].(36)
Design and Intelligence?
When asked what one can mean when talking about design, and the difficulty in defining it, ID proponent Mike Gene responded as follows:
I think when you’re dealing with large concepts it’s often hard…to come up with these succinct, rigorous definitions…if you ask a biologist ‘what is life?’…they will give you a list of characteristic features…When you get to concepts like ‘design’ and ‘intelligence’, you kind of run into the same problem.(37)
In saying this, Gene hit upon a point that can easily be missed. Attempting to come up with a non-controversial accounts of some of our most fundamental concepts in science is notoriously difficult. Biologists struggle to even come up with a satisfactory account of the very object of their study and ‘For as long as people have studied life they have struggled to define it. Even today, scientists have no satisfactory or universally accepted definition of life.’(38) Even in fields such as geometry, the fundamental concepts are undefined.(39) Again, with concepts like ‘design’ and ‘intelligence’, we may have difficulty coming up with uncontroversial accounts, but this is the same problem that faces us when we turn to things like life, love, mind and consciousness. Does this mean, therefore, that we cannot use these categories to gain substantive insights concerning the natural world? I submit that it does not. To argue otherwise is to adopt an unjustified hyper scepticism that critics of ID would not apply to other fields. The concepts in question can be thought of as primitive categories ‘much as force or energy are primitive notions within physics.’(40) What is important is that ‘We can say intelligible things about these notions and show how they can be usefully employed in certain contexts. But in defining them, we gain no substantive insight.’(41)
The concept of design seems easy to make sense of. We are all designers. We perceive designed objects and events everyday, and we can observe the process of design as it is taking place. Dembski writes:
How a designer gets from thought to thing is, at least in broad strokes, straightforward: (1) A designer conceives a purpose. (2) To accomplish that purpose, the designer forms a plan. (3) To execute the plan , the designer specifies building materials and assembly instructions. (4) Finally, the designer or some surrogate applies the assembly instructions to the building materials. What emerges is a designed object,…(42)
This is simply a possible outline of the process designers normally utilise to go about their business. Though the process of design can be laid out, the whole point behind ID theory is to lay out a reliable methodology we can use to detect the effects of intelligence, even when we lack knowledge of the objects causal history.
In looking at ways of talking about design, we must not confuse ourselves with the transitive verb ‘design’(the process or act of designing), with the product of the process of design (the designed object). Often these two senses of the word are conflated. Given this distinction, at its most basic level, design can be thought of simply as the ‘complement of regularity and chance…’.(43) Dembski points out that:
The principal characteristic of intelligent causation is directed contingency, or what we call choice. Whenever an intelligent cause acts, it chooses from a range of competing possibilities. This is true not just of humans, but of animals as well as extra-terrestrial intelligences.(44)
Michael Behe identifies design as being ‘the purposeful arrangement of parts.’(45) The definitions given are interesting and informative, but even standard dictionary definitions of design do the job. If one wanted a more specified idea of design, one could say that ‘Design is a process where a conscious agent subjectively represents in his own consciousness some form and then purposefully outputs that form, more or less efficiently, to some material object.’(46)
Even though we can make sense of the process of design, how do we detect when that process has been utilised without observing it taking place? Dembski has advanced a rigorous design detection criterion and argues that design is inferred through the concept of specified complexity. As Dembski says ‘specified complexity is a well-defined property that can be meaningfully affirmed or denied of events and objects in nature.’(47) Specified complexity can be defined as ‘The coincidence of conceptual and physical information where the conceptual information is both identifiable independently of the physical information and also complex.’(48) Francis is well aware of this but puzzlingly makes no mention of it in his critique. Specified complexity is one of the key pillars in ID theory and if he is to attack it, he must deal with this essential part of ID. The basic reasoning behind specified complexity as being a reliable indicator of design is that:
In cases where the underlying causal history is known, specified complexity does not occur without design. Specified complexity, therefore, provides inductive support not merely for inexplicability in terms of material mechanisms but also for explicability in terms of design.(49)
Having briefly examined the process of design, and how we can reliably detect it, we can now turn to the notion of intelligence. An important point to consider when theorising about design and intelligence, is that Dembski’s design inference ‘avoids committing itself to a doctrine of intelligent agency…’.(50) Dembski cautions that ‘it is useful to separate design from theories of intelligence and intelligent agency.’(51) By this he seems to mean that one needn’t have a fully worked out definition of ‘intelligence’ to have a theory of design. For our purposes it is sufficient to identify the key characteristics that are necessary for intelligence. Some regard intelligence as a real aspect of reality, albeit one that can be reduced to natural causes, and thus is a natural cause. Others believe intelligence is a real and irreducible aspect of reality that cannot be fully accounted for with reference to natural causes. Though there is much disagreement on the nature of intelligence, we can still appeal to it as an explanation.(52)
What can we say about ‘intelligence’? As it turns out, quite a bit. Intelligence can be thought of as ‘A type of cause, process, or principle that is able to find, select, adapt, and implement the means necessary to effectively bring about ends (or achieve goals or realize purposes). Because intelligence is about matching means to ends, it is inherently teleological.’(53) Casey Luskin identifies intelligence as being ‘the ability to think with will, forethought, and intentionality in order to achieve some predetermined goal it has conceived.’(54) Dembski further analyses intelligence as follows:
The very word intelligence derives from the Latin words “inter”(a preposition meaning “between”) and “lego”(a verb meaning to “choose” or “select”). Thus strictly speaking intelligence refers to the capacity to choose or select. Yet unlike natural selection, which operates without goals or purposes, ordinarily when we think of an intelligence as choosing or selecting, it is with a goal or purposes in mind. We could therefore define intelligence as the capacity for rational or purposive or deliberate or premeditated choice.(55)
I submit that these accounts are clear enough to allow us to say substantive things about intelligence. These minimal definitions can of course be enriched and supplemented.(56)
Another important question to ask is how intelligence operates. Dembski and Wells effectively elucidate the operation of intelligence in The Design of Life as follows:
We know from experience that when people design things (such as a car engine), they begin with a basic concept and adapt it to different ends. As much as possible, designers piggyback on existing patterns and concepts instead of starting from scratch. Our experience of how human intelligence works therefore provides insight into how a designing intelligence responsible for life might have worked.(57)
More importantly ‘When intelligent agents act, they leave behind a characteristic trademark or signature known as specified complexity.’(58)
Analogies, metaphors, and natural theology
At this point in our discussion, Francis may concede that ID has been made intelligible. However, he will object that its intelligibility can only be established at the expense of relying ‘on dubious analogies and our inheritance from the natural theological tradition.’(59) I don’t think this is the case. ID does not constitute a theory constructed of analogies and metaphor and ‘intelligent design‘s connections with natural theology are peripheral.’(60) A careful reading of my accounts of the concepts in ID will reveal that none of them need be limited to human or even embodied intelligence. Though it is true that the process of design is one only observed with embodied agents, at the same time the idea of an unembodied agent utilising this process is not self-evidently incoherent, thus we need not limit the concepts of design and intelligence to humans. Yes, we only have experience of embodied intelligent agents, but to say that the concept of intelligence becomes incoherent absent of embodiment is to beg the question and presuppose that mind and body are inseparable. Again, we can agree to disagree about the nature of intelligence and still utilise the notion of intelligent causes.
With regard to the structure of argument used with design inferences, in noting that ‘Whatever the similarities between human artefacts and biological systems, their causes are quite dissimilar.’(61), Francis exhibit’s an important misunderstanding about design reasoning. Arguing in this way is not to argue via analogies because ‘The signs of intelligence that occur in human artefacts…are isomorphic, for we find the exact same form of specified complexity in each.’(62) The design inference is more accurately characterised as an argument from identity.(63) ID theorist, Stephen Meyer similarly points out that:
the DNA-to-design argument does not have an analogical form. Instead, it constitutes an inference to the best explanation. Such arguments do not compare degrees of similarity between different effects, but instead compare the explanatory power of competing causes with respect to a single kind of effect.(64)
As well as ID not being built on analogy and metaphor, it also does not rely on its alleged natural theological inheritance. As to the claim that ID is equivalent to natural theology, Dembski shows this to be false by contrasting both fields:
If intelligent design were a form of natural theology, then intelligent design should be looking at certain features of the natural world and therewith drawing conclusions about some reality that extends beyond the natural world. Is intelligent design doing that? I submit that it is not. The fundamental idea that animates intelligent design is that events, objects, and structures in the world can exhibit features that reliably signal the effects of intelligence.(65)
Perhaps ID is not equivalent to natural theology then. Even so, it could have a subtler relationship with natural theology, showing that though it has differences it still cannot be independent of the natural theological spirit. Perhaps the tradition cannot be relinquished? Even this weaker claim is very tenuous. To say that ID theorists argue in the tradition of natural theology is to suggest that their aims are basically the same as the aims of the classic natural theologians. I have contended, though, that ‘its aims are substantially different from those of natural theology.’(66)
Considering that ID is not doing natural theology, as well as its goals and motivations being of a different order to those of the old natural theologians, perhaps it is true to say that ID nevertheless relies upon ‘ideas inherited from the natural theological tradition.’(67) In a footnote, Francis notes that the mode of reasoning utilised by Paley and Behe, to argue for design, are quite similar, pointing out that ‘there is an obvious filial relation between the two ideas.’(68), and claims that Behe’s arguments ’bear an obvious semblance to the arguments of Paley.’(69) This claim has some truth to it.(70) This being so, to show that one particular way of inferring design within ID theory appears to be just a formalised version of a more primitive argument within the natural theological tradition does not show that ID is dependent on natural theology to make its case. Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity is only similar to the empirical aspect of Paley’s argument, but Paley’s argument rests on much more than empirical observations. Paley’s primary concern was to argue ‘from a philosophical notion of “purposeful perfection,” not a mathematical form of specified complexity. His arguments for design were not rigorous like those of modern day design theorists, and had philosophical overtones related to Christian theism.'(71) ID theorists also hold to an entirely different conception of the natural world than Paley did:
Nature is a mixed bag. It is not William Paley’s happy world of everything in delicate harmony and balance. It is not the widely caricatured Darwinian world of nature red in tooth and claw. Nature contains evil design, jerry-built design, and exquisite design. Science needs to come to terms with design as such and not dismiss it in the name of dysteleology.(72)
Even if it were the case that ID relies on ideas found in the canons of natural theology, would that be a bad thing? I don’t think it would. All modern scientific and intellectual ideas have ancestries and inheritance from ideas that preceded them. Just as neo-Darwinism must rely on notions inherited from previous intellectual traditions, so must ID. It could even be argued, perhaps ironically, that neo-Darwinism and ID share a common ancestor since they both have many historical and intellectual connections to natural theology! Indeed some have argued that Darwin’s theory of evolution explicitly relies on theological ideas.(71) If ID is to be condemned for having theological roots, so much the worse for Darwinism.
Considering this analysis, then, it seems clear that ID is not ‘only a rehashing of the old argument from design.’(72) To rehash something is to present old material in a new form, without significant alteration. ID, though, is significantly different to the design argument and natural theology. Francis recognises that there are several difference between ID and natural theology but downplays these differences, making the two superficially appear the same. The argument from design ’shorn of its explicitly theological content, couched in information-theoretic terms and applied to biochemistry.’(73), alters it to an argument lacking everything that made it an argument from design in the first place. These are substantial differences. Furthermore, these differences are partly what allows ID to be a scientific theory and what distinguishes the argument from design as being a philosophical and theological enterprise. I would add also that ID’s lack of explicitly theological content is not because ID theorists are being coy and rhetorical, but because of an ‘intent to respect the limits of science and not attempt to address religious questions that go beyond what can be scientifically inferred from the empirical data.’(74) With regard to ID theory and design arguments being comfortable bedfellows, Dembski states that ‘The theory of design I envision is not an atavistic return to the design arguments of William Paley and the Bridgewater Treaties. William Paley was in no position to formulate the conceptual framework for design…’(75) I would point out also that simply being unable to formulate this conceptual framework for design is not the only difference. Dembski adds ‘Increased philosophical and scientific sophistication, however, is not alone in separating my approach to design from Paley’s. Paley’s approach was closely linked to his prior religious and metaphysical commitments. Mine is not.’(76)
In the course of this response I have attempted to provide positive accounts of the fundamental concepts in ID. ID can be made easily intelligible and contrary to Francis‘ claim ‘It seems clear that not only have ID proponents spent much time defining intelligence and exploring the behaviour of intelligent agents, but they have used such studies to formulate positive arguments for design.’(77) Though my exploration of these concepts has only scratched the surface and much more could be said, I think it is patently clear that the problem of intelligibility, as it turns out, is not a problem at all. In addition to this I have argued that ID can be made intelligible and can be argued without relying solely upon a analogy and natural theology. ID is much more than a Paley redux! Space has not permitted me to turn to the many additional criticisms Francis has levelled at ID. The beauty of this discussion format, though, is that we can focus on those in the future, since this dialogue has the advantage of having few of the limitations most discussions on ID have. I am very much looking forward to receiving a response from Francis, and continuing this exciting and important exploration.
(1) Joshua Gidney, Third response, ‘Debating Darwin and Design: science or creationism? (7)’, available at: http://musingsofscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-7-joshua-gidneys-third-response/.
(2) Francis Smallwood, Fourth response, ‘Debating Darwin and Design: science or creationism? (8)’, available at: http://musingsofscience.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-8-francis-smallwoods-fourth-response/.
(4) Gidney, op cit.
(5) Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), p.27.
(6) Smallwood, op cit.
(11) William Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), p.27.
(12) The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2008), is essentially a 3rd edition/sequel to the infamous textbook, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1989). Though there are a great number of books that examine various aspects of ID, The Design of life is the first text book that gathers together the various threads of argument into a coherent whole.
(13) An Interview with Dr. William A. Dembski, available at: http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1438.
(14) This collection of essays is due to be published soon, as a technical research monograph.
(15) Dembski, op cit.
(17) William Dembski, ‘Is intelligent design a form of natural theology?, Metanexus Institute, (2001), available at: http://designinference.com/documents/2001.03.ID_as_nat_theol.htm.
(19) gpuccio, ‘Defining Design’, available at: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/defining-design/.
(20) Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Washington DC: Regenery Publishing, Inc., 2006), p.7.
(21) In books such as Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), and Nature, Design and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (SUNY Press, 2001), Del Ratzsch argues that the activity of intelligence leaves ‘counterflow marks’. Marks which cannot be accounted for without reference to intelligence.
(22) Timothy McGrew argues for what he calls the ‘Realistic Bayesian model’ as the best way of rationally reconstructing design reasoning in ‘Toward a Rational Reconstruction of Design Inferences’, Philosophia Christi 7 (2005), 253-98, available at: commonsense atheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/McGrew-Towards-a-Rational-Reconstruction-of-Design-Inferences.pdf. Lydia McGrew argues for the same conclusion in ‘Testability, Likelihoods, and Design,’ Philo, 7 (1): 5-21, (2004), available at: http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/PhiloTestability.pdf.
(23) William Dembski, The Design Revolution, p.33.
(26) Garret J. DeWeese & J.P. Moreland, Philosophy made slightly less difficult, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), p.142.
(27) Wells, op cit., p.87.
(28) Since ‘design-talk’ relies on a non-standard definition of design, I am inclined to think it just confuses matters and that if biological systems aren’t really intelligently designed, then the biological community should be able to elucidate the biological world without high jacking terminology.
(29) Dembski, op cit., p.57.
(30) Bradley Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press, 2009), p.32.
(31) Wells, op cit., p.9.
(32) Dembski, op cit., p.71.
(33) A more detailed discussion of why Dembski finds this to be the case can be found in his interview with Robert Kuhn in the Closer to Truth series, at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAoED7C-A3M.
(34) William A. Dembski, ‘On the Scientific Status of Intelligent Design’, available at: www.designinference.com/documents/2002.03.kennedy_on_ID.htm.
(35) Peter S. Williams, ‘Intelligent Designs on Science: A Surreply to Denis Alexander’s Critique of Intelligent Design Theory’, available at: http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_designsonscience.htm#_ednref7.
(36) Dembski, op cit.
(37) Mike Gene, ‘What is Front Loading?’ available at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/darwin-or-design/id317032464?mt=2.
(38) Ferris Jabr, ‘Why Life Does Not Really Exist’, Scientific American (2013), available at: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/2013/12/02/why-life-does-not-really-exist/.
(39) ‘In geometry, definitions are formed using known words or terms to describe a new word. There are three words in geometry that are not formally defined. These three undefined terms are point, line and plane.’, available at: http://www.regentsprep.org/Regents/math/geometry/GG1/undefinedterms.htm.
(40) William Dembski, ‘Is intelligent design a form of natural theology?’.
(42) William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Langham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), p.xi.
(43) William Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p.36.
(44) William Dembski, ‘Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information‘, available at: http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_idtheory.htm.
(45) Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press (2006), p.193.
(46) gpuccio, op cit.
(47) William Dembski, The Design Revolution, p.115.
(48) William Dembski, No Free Lunch, p.141.
(49) William Dembski, The Design Revolution, p.99.
(50) William Dembski, The Design Inference, p.36.
(52) To illustrate this, Peter S. Williams poses the following thought experiment: ‘if there are two forensic scientists in a lab. One of whom believes in souls, and one of whom doesn’t. Do they have to resolve that dispute about the nature of intelligence, metaphysically speaking, before they can decide whether or not it was a murder? No…they can agree that there is something we call intelligence and we’ll leave the question of ‘what is the nature of that intelligence’, to the philosophers to argue about.’ (Peter S. Williams, Is Christianity Unscientific?, available at: http://www.damaris.org.uk/cm/podcasts/category/peterswilliams/?ps=140).
(53) William Dembski & Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2008), glossary.
(54) Casey Luskin, ‘Finding Intelligent Design in Nature’ in Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain the Key Issues, (Kregel, 2008). p.69-73.
(55) William Dembski, ‘Is intelligent design a form of natural theology?’.
(56) Dr Vincent Torley offers an extended examination of a more specified account of intelligence, in: ‘On the nature and detection of intelligence: A reply to RDFish’, available at: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/on-the-nature-and-detection-of-intelligence-a-reply-to-rdfish/.
(57) William Dembski & Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life, p.140.
(58) William Dembski & Sean McDowell, Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language (Harvest House Publishers, 2008), p.102.
(59) Smallwood, op cit.
(60) William Dembski, ‘Is intelligent design a form of natural theology?’.
(61) Smallwood, op cit.
(62) William Dembski, The Design Revolution, p.230.
(63) Peter S. Williams argues that ‘If some detail of the natural world …exhibits exactly the same property of complex specified information, then the standard inferential argument warrants positing exactly the same kind of cause: intelligent design.’(‘Intelligent Designs on Science: A Surreply to Denis Alexander’s Critique of Intelligent Design Theory’.).
(64) Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: Harper Collins, 2009). p.385.
(65) William Dembski, ‘Is intelligent design a form of natural theology?’.
(67) Smallwood, op cit.
(70) Many ID theorists appear to agree with Francis’ observation here. that More explicitly, Peter S. Williams argues that ‘Although he didn’t employ this precise terminology, Paley pointed out that a watch is irreducibly complex.’(‘Intelligent Design, Aesthetics and Design Arguments’, available at: http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_idaestheticsanddesignarguments.htm#_ednref148.
(71) ‘FAQ: Isn’t intelligent design just a rehash of William Paley’s design arguments refuted by Hume and Darwin?’, available at: http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1166
(72) William Dembski, No Free Lunch, p.xvi
(73) Stephen Dilley argues that ‘Darwin utilized positiva theology in order to help justify (and inform) descent with modification and to attack special creation.’, and that ‘theology served as a handmaiden and accomplice to Darwin’s science.’(‘Charles Darwin’s use of theology in the Origin of Species.’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 45, pp29-56, (2012), available at: http://theistic.net/papers/S.Dilley/Dilley-Brit.J.Hist.Sci_2011–1-28.pdf). ID theorist Paul Nelson argues that there is a ‘demonstrable role of theology in evolutionary explanation…’, in his essay ‘Jettison the Arguments, or the Rule? The Place of Darwinian Theological Themata in Evolutionary Reasoning’, available at: http://www.arn.org/docs/nelson/pn_jettison.htm.
(74) Smallwood, op cit.
(76) Casey Luskin, ‘Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why ID Doesn’t Identify the Designer (Part 2)’, available at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/11/principled_not_rhetorical_reas_1004427.html.
(77) William Dembski, No Free Lunch, p.xiv.
(79) Casey Luskin, ‘Why Can’t Intelligent Design Critics in Synthese Accurately Represent Their Opponents?’ available at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/01/why_cant_intelligent_design_cr042651.html.