Dispatches from the Creation Wars

ID and Theistic Evolution

There is an interesting exchange going on in the comments after my post on ID and Creationism. I want to move part of that conversation up to the top so it doesn’t get lost. In particular, I want to focus on an argument made by Jeremy Pierce, author of the Parableman blog. I want to focus on that argument because I think it cuts to the heart of several important questions involving ID and evolution. First, I want to establish what Jeremy is arguing by quoting him. In essence, he is arguing that ID is synonymous with theistic evolution. I first began to detect that this might be his position when he said:

Behe’s view is perfectly consistent with a closed universe. All he says is that a designer is somehow behind it, which is consistent with thinking the designer set up all the laws so that these unlikely events would all occur at once.

Then a bit later he followed that up by saying:

Behe’s way of conceiving of the design is not that these features were created by an act of special creation. He conceives of them coming to be by natural forces, just ones that you wouldn’t expect to come together in exactly the way they did unless some designer was guiding the natural forces in exactly the way theological determinists believe God to be guiding every natural process.

So in essence he is arguing that Behe’s position is that God set up the natural laws that govern the universe in such a way as to insure that, some time much later, they would come together to create life. I was a bit taken aback by this argument so I tried to make sure that I was reading him right and I replied by giving two possible ways to interpret his remarks and asking him which one he meant. I wrote:

1. God set up the natural forces originally in such a way to bring about unlikely events later at a particular time and place.

But this would be arguing that the way the universe was set up made the origin and evolution of life on earth inevitable and all simply a result of the interaction of purely natural forces. And this is wholly contrary to the ID argument that biochemical systems could not have evolved merely by the interaction of natural forces. Remember, the second step of Dembski’s explanatory filter is evaluating whether an event could take place by the interaction of law and chance. You seem to have Behe arguing that such systems did evolve due to the interaction of natural forces, but God set up those forces from the very beginning to make sure that would happen. And that’s actually much closer to Van Till’s position of the “fully gifted creation” than it is to the ID position.

Unless you really mean:

2. God set up the natural forces, but then intervened to violate them and bend them when necessary to make sure that these systems would come together, either by directly inserting code into the DNA that could not have evolved on its own or by making sure that improbable collections of amino acids or proteins came together when they otherwise would not have to form the complex biochemical systems that, allegedly, could not have formed through natural processes.

You don’t make clear which of these you are endorsing, or which of them you think Behe is endorsing. I think his position is #2, not #1. If it’s #1, then it’s really the same as Van Till’s “fully gifted creation” perspective, which is decidely anti-ID. If you mean the first option, this is indistinguishable from theistic evolution and it renders all of the anti-evolution arguments from Behe and the other IDers completely irrelevant.1. God set up the natural forces originally in such a way to bring about unlikely events later at a particular time and place.

But this would be arguing that the way the universe was set up made the origin and evolution of life on earth inevitable and all simply a result of the interaction of purely natural forces. And this is wholly contrary to the ID argument that biochemical systems could not have evolved merely by the interaction of natural forces. Remember, the second step of Dembski’s explanatory filter is evaluating whether an event could take place by the interaction of law and chance. You seem to have Behe arguing that such systems did evolve due to the interaction of natural forces, but God set up those forces from the very beginning to make sure that would happen. And that’s actually much closer to Van Till’s position of the “fully gifted creation” than it is to the ID position.

And his reply confirmed that it is option #1 that he is arguing for:

As for Behe, I don’t think frontloading requires bending the laws of nature if the frontloading isn’t in the genes themselves but in the laws of nature and how the laws would determine everything else to come out…My point isn’t about Behe’s actual postulation of what the mechanism is. It’s that the general view he presents (whose details are to some degree left open) is perfectly consistent with saying that the efficient causes of evolutionary development were exactly what contemporary evolutionary theory says but that that’s not enough to explain the unlikelihood of those efficient causes coming together in the way they did unless the natural laws from the beginning of the universe were chosen so that exactly this result would occur. That view can accept everything Behe says, as far as I know, and it can also accept everything Ken Miller, for example, would say about the efficient causes of evolutionary processes…

It (ID) doesn’t say that these things couldn’t have evolved, just that it’s very unlikely without having been designed to evolve. This is true of Behe and Dembski. It’s an inductive argument, not a deductive argument, and inductive arguments cannot have a conclusion that something is impossible, just that it’s very unlikely. I agree with you that this position is close to Van Till’s, but that just shows that his opposition to ID misunderstands the argument, because the argument is perfectly consistent with his own view.

(Your second version is not what I’m saying. The ID arguments are consistent with that view, but that’s not the one important to me. Everyone can see that that’s consistent with ID. Most ID people do seem to endorse that if they endorse either view. What people seem to have problems seeing is that the first view also is consistent with the ID argument.)…

What ID arguments claim is that the way things are is unlikely given mere naturalism but much more likely (indeed, on the view I was discussing inevitable) given a very particular plan of God’s providence ensuring certain outcomes. But that doesn’t mean they’re inevitable given naturalism, just inevitable given that things were set up initially the way they were.

Okay, I think we’ve got a good handle on Jeremy’s position here, and I’m glad that he is honest enough to say that Behe does not, in fact, take this position. The only specific postulation that Behe gave of how front-loading might be done, if I recall correctly (it has been some time since I read his book), is that God might have front-loaded the genes for future adaptations and innovations into the first cell. And as I noted in a previous comment, this is an untenable claim because, as any geneticist can tell you, unexpressed genes will mutate without constraint and all function will be lost in a very short period of time. But that’s not terribly relevant at this point.

What Jeremy is arguing for here is not ID, as defined by every prominent ID advocate, but is theistic evolution. In particular, he is arguing for a version of the strong anthropic principle, the idea that the universe was created with the physical laws necessary for life to begin and evolve. And while I personally have no problem whatsoever with this argument – as a deist, it’s fine by me – I think it is entirely contrary to ID for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that virtually all of the people whose work defines ID bluntly deny that theistic evolution is compatible with ID. But we don’t even need to make that argument because it can easily be demonstrated that if Jeremy’s position was compatible with ID, it would render virtually all of the ID arguments moot.

He admits that his position is close to my friend Howard Van Till’s position, which he calls the fully gifted creation position, but that position is clearly in favor of theistic evolution, not ID. That position says what Jeremy is saying, that God set up the physical laws of the universe in such a way as to bring about life, perhaps even intelligent life, at some point. But Howard rejects ID completely and has said repeatedly that ID advocates are taking the odd position that God created the world with all of the necessary attributes to sustain life (what Howard refers to as the robust formational economy), but did so poor a job of it that he had to continually intervene to make sure it worked.

Jeremy claims that this is because Howard misunderstands the true ID position, but that is clearly false. If in fact the true ID position was essentially the same as Howard’s theistic evolutionist position, then why have none of the ID advocates pointed out that Howard is arguing against a fasle conception of ID? He has had long exchanges back and forth with Dembski and many others, and at no time did any of them say, “Howard, you’ve got it all wrong. Your position is the same as ours. ID only says that God set up the initial conditions, not that he had to do anything at all later on to make sure life came about.” No, they argued with Howard and took the contrary position. Indeed, Dembski makes it very plain that not only is ID not consistent with Howard’s theistic evolution position, but that it is ID’s biggest challenge:

Howard Van Till’s review of my book No Free Lunch exemplifies perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design’s most implacable foe. Not only does theistic evolution sign off on the naturalism that pervades so much of contemporary science, but it justifies that naturalism theologically — as though it were unworthy of God to create by any means other than an evolutionary process that carefully conceals God’s tracks.

None of the major ID arguments can be made compatible with this type of theistic evolution, even Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity. Remember, his argument relies upon it being incredibly improbable for so many components to come together all at once through natural processes. But natural processes can only mean under current natural laws, and if one is going to argue that those laws were designed in order to make such events inevitable, or even probable, as Jeremy does above, then it renders the premise of Behe’s argument completely false. The source of those natural laws and processes is a separate question. Behe says that under the natural laws as they exist now, it’s impossible for a complex biochemical system to form; Jeremy (and Van Till) say that those natural laws were designed intentionally to allow or even to guarantee that such systems could form. Behe’s argument clearly requires intervention in the natural processes from outside, while their position only requires that the processes be set up initially so that no such intervention is needed.

Likewise, Dembski’s explanatory filter is also incompatible with this conception (and Dembski himself has said so). In order to make the design inference, one must first rule out chance, necessity (which means natural law) or the interaction of the two. But if those natural laws were set up initially in order to allow, or mandate, the origin and evolution of life, then no such inference is possible. You cannot say that a given outcome is too improbable to have come about as a result of the interaction of chance and natural law and argue that natural law was designed in order to facilitate that outcome. This is clearly a contradiction because if the latter is true, then any conclusion of improbability would be false.

In addition, Jeremy’s position renders all of the anti-evolution arguments within ID utterly pointless. Their argument is that it is impossible for evolution to explain (fill in the blank) through the interaction of the natural laws and chance, but the theistic evolution position that Jeremy is arguing for would take the opposite position – of course evolution can account for those things because God designed the natural laws to facilitate the evolution of life in all its forms. Either way, this position is clearly contrary to ID as defined by every single ID advocate in existence. Jeremy is not advocating ID, he is advocating theistic evolution. Which is fine by me, I’ll even agree with him. But it renders the entire ID movement, every argument and the position of every ID advocate, superfluous. And that’s fine by me too.

Comments

  1. #1 plunge
    April 26, 2006

    Behe falls into the pattern previously described: when challenged directly on this or that major element of evolutionary history he’ll defer by asserting the negative. He’s not a YEC. He’s not against common descent.

    But in practice, he can’t seem to help himself in finding every specific element or piece of evidence for these things unconvincing. Or fishy friend Tikky is one recent example. If one has no problem with common descent, then the idea that Tikky is ancestral (whether directly or cousinly) to tetrapods is uncontroversial and its features pretty obviously fitting precisely into the basic pattern of common descent. And yet the response to the find from Behe was not particularly distinguishable from even the more intelligent YEC’s (i.e. those who are bit more careful than Hovind or Ham in the sorts of obviously ridiculously things they’ll say).

  2. #2 Matthew
    April 26, 2006

    I’ve never heard of a theistic evolutionist claim that their beliefs are anything more than philosophical, let alone that they can prove it with science. Also Pierce’s theistic evolution argument seems to make it sound as if the natural laws necessitated the development of life, even human life, on Earth. I think that as we learn more about conditions on Earth at the time that life developed, it becomes more difficult to make this argument as conditions were brutal and life easily could have been destroyed before it got off the ground (and actually might have done so a few times before the last time stuck). At best, I think, theistic evolutionists can say that God/whoever front loaded enough so that the development of some type of life was possible.

  3. #3 Jeremy Pierce
    April 26, 2006

    I am not arguing that ID is synonymous with theistic evolution. I am arguing that the two are consistent.

    I’d like to see some evidence that the bulk of those who argue for ID think ID is inconsistent with evolution. I’m 100% convinced at this point that they don’t think that. My reasoning here is mainly that I believe what they report as their own position.

    By the way, I haven’t endorsed any position here except the meta-position that ID is consistent with evolution.

    The quote from Dembski seems to me to take issue not with the closed universe but with the naturalism of Van Till. In particular, it emphasizes that there are no signs of design, which Dembski thinks we should expect if the universe is designed. Van Till wants a designer who hides that fact, as far as Dembski is concerned. So that is indeed a position contrary to ID. But you can hold the view I was putting forth and agree with Dembski on that. In fact, that’s what I think Van Till ought to say. He just doesn’t.

    The view I was sketching is not merely the strong anthropic principle. That just sets up the conditions necessary for allowing evolution to occur. What is needed to satisfy the ID argument is something much more particular, which would be laws that determine exactly how specific events will occur that will lead to the exact conditions for the origin of the cell, conditions that are unlikely without a designer. This indeed is an ID argument, because it’s claiming that the chances are too low for us to get the exact laws that would guarantee the exact parts necessary for the cell to exist all appearing at the same time under the right conditions. The conclusion is then that a designer would be necesssary to explain such laws. This basically Behe’s argument about the cell put into terms that are fully consistent with natural causes (efficient causes anyway) of evolution, and it does indeed require a designer. This view doesn’t defeat the argument. It motivates the same conclusion from the same surprising fact but in a different way.

    As for evolution, you’re right in a sense and wrong in a sense. This position says evolution can explain it in terms of efficient causes, but at a more fundamental level we should be surprised that those particular efficient causes would come about if there were not some purpose for them to come about, and that requires a final cause of a designer. So evolution doesn’t provide that kind of explanation. It’s not an argument against evolution, but it’s an argument against the sufficiency of evolution as an explanation of the scientifically discovered facts. As I read Behe, this is completely in the spirit of his argument even if he would give the details a little differently, and it’s not really at all in the spirit of Van Till, who doesn’t seem to me to recognize this position as even possible.

    Matthew, you’re failing to distinguish between two kinds of probability, as I’ve noted in the other post with someone else. One is the likelihood of life arising given the sort of way we should expect things to go without a divine final cause. That’s really low. The other is the likelihood of life arising given a divine plan of providence that intended for life to arise. That’s 100%. I don’t see how someone couldn’t maintain both theses, and then the first one explains why ID arguments would at least have a running chance, while it doesn’t abandon the idea of absolute divine sovereignty that’s necessary to explain the chance occurence of the right conditions for life, and so on.

  4. #4 Chance
    April 26, 2006

    The only problem I have with the theistic evolution standpoint is it seems to really limit God’s power. The entire ‘setting the stage’, when the stage leads to something in his own image type idea seems ponderous and rather, well, silly. Especially since the entire concept of a ‘creator’ of supreme intelligence simply begs the question of how that being evolved or appeared. It simply doesn’t make sense. It’s just creating more and more questions.

    I would imagine such a being must sit around wondering who ‘fine tuned’ whatever place they live is so they can exist there. It’s turtles all the way down.

    Waiting 4.6 billion years to see your ‘product’ isn’t exactly impressive. Although it is a universe and not a volkswagon.
    :-)

  5. #5 Anuminous
    April 26, 2006

    It seems to me you could make an IDesque theistic evolution argument by adding an initial state. If God set up the laws of the universe, then configured the Big Bang in such a way as to place all the pieces in all the right places like a trick pool shot on an unfathomable scale, all these ideas could be reconciled.

    This does not, of course, satisfy ID people because it would be indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. I was raised Mormon (I got better, thank you), and as such I attended a religious instruction class before school during high school. As part of this class I did a presentation on this idea, and the unkind reaction of my generally extremely mild mannered teacher (who was not an ID advocate, by the way, but a fairly run of the mill fundamentalist) which started me wondering about the dangers of dogmatic thought and eventually led me to my current, well, anuminous state.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    April 26, 2006

    Jeremy Pierce wrote:

    I’d like to see some evidence that the bulk of those who argue for ID think ID is inconsistent with evolution. I’m 100% convinced at this point that they don’t think that. My reasoning here is mainly that I believe what they report as their own position.

    Okay, let’s turn this around: provide us with some evidence that ID advocates believe their ideas are consistent with theistic evolution or with the claim that God merely set up the natural laws and the initial conditions in such a way as to make the evolution of life, or intelligent life, or complex life (pick whatever level of specificity you want), either likely or inevitable. That is precisely the position that Van Till takes, yet all of the ID advocates who have engaged with him have said very plainly that they do not accept his argument. I don’t know of a single ID advocate, at least of any prominence, who takes the position you’re taking.

    The quote from Dembski seems to me to take issue not with the closed universe but with the naturalism of Van Till. In particular, it emphasizes that there are no signs of design, which Dembski thinks we should expect if the universe is designed. Van Till wants a designer who hides that fact, as far as Dembski is concerned. So that is indeed a position contrary to ID. But you can hold the view I was putting forth and agree with Dembski on that.

    No, I don’t think so. The only distinction between Van Till’s “naturalism” and “atheistic naturalism” is that he believes that the natural laws and initial conditions were set up by God. After that point, he rejects intervention. Van Till would agree that the natural laws themselves are evidence of design, that they were indeed designed by God. He does not reject the notion that evidence can point to God, he rejects the notion that there is a necessity for direct intervention by God in the biological realm that would leave evidence behind that would distinguish it in some way from other natural objects that are all equally “created” in his mind. Howard argues that there is no way to distinguish objects which are created directly and objects which are created indirectly, through the operation of the normal laws and initial conditions that the creator set up. His position is not that there is no evidence of design, it’s that there is no evidence that could distinguish direct design from indirect design. And Dembski rejects his position because he is arguing for direct design, no matter how much he denies that in other forums. It’s the only way his argument against Van Till is in any way coherent.

    The view I was sketching is not merely the strong anthropic principle. That just sets up the conditions necessary for allowing evolution to occur. What is needed to satisfy the ID argument is something much more particular, which would be laws that determine exactly how specific events will occur that will lead to the exact conditions for the origin of the cell, conditions that are unlikely without a designer. This indeed is an ID argument, because it’s claiming that the chances are too low for us to get the exact laws that would guarantee the exact parts necessary for the cell to exist all appearing at the same time under the right conditions. The conclusion is then that a designer would be necesssary to explain such laws.

    But that is the strong anthropic principle, in one of its many forms. There are many ways to state the SAP. Some claim that the natural laws were designed to allow life to exist, others say they were designed to allow intelligent life to exist, some say “complex life”, and some say that they were designed to make life, in one of those forms, inevitable. It’s just a question of how specifically you want to phrase it. But if those natural laws and initial conditions were set up in order to make the origin life (or the cell, or complex life, or intelligent life, or whatever level of specificity you want to place on it) either likely or inevitable, then it makes all of the arguments against evolution from IDers totally pointless. Their response shouldn’t be, “Evolution can’t possibly do that”. Their response should be, “Of course evolution can do that, the laws and the initial conditions were set up precisely so that it could do so.” But that is not the position that any ID advocate takes, ever. ID only “consistent” with ID if you define ID in the broadest possible manner (“A designer did something somewhere at some time to make life possible”). But again, that position totally negates all of the actual arguments made by ID advocates in favor of ID.

    This basically Behe’s argument about the cell put into terms that are fully consistent with natural causes (efficient causes anyway) of evolution, and it does indeed require a designer. This view doesn’t defeat the argument. It motivates the same conclusion from the same surprising fact but in a different way.

    But Behe doesn’t make the argument that the particular natural laws and initial conditions that allow evolution to create IC systems demands a designer; he makes the argument that evolution cannot create such systems in the world we live in now – a world guided by those natural laws. If those natural laws were designed to make the origin of the cell likely or inevitable, his argument falls apart completely. And again, the only possible solution that he has offered to the IC problem is not a fully gifted creation, but the direct intervention of God to plant DNA in the original cell that coded for innovations millions of years in the future.

    This position says evolution can explain it in terms of efficient causes, but at a more fundamental level we should be surprised that those particular efficient causes would come about if there were not some purpose for them to come about, and that requires a final cause of a designer. So evolution doesn’t provide that kind of explanation. It’s not an argument against evolution, but it’s an argument against the sufficiency of evolution as an explanation of the scientifically discovered facts. As I read Behe, this is completely in the spirit of his argument even if he would give the details a little differently, and it’s not really at all in the spirit of Van Till, who doesn’t seem to me to recognize this position as even possible.

    I’m sorry, I’m just baffled by this argument. The argument you made is virtually synonymous with Van Till’s position, and it’s a position that Behe has explicitly rejected. Yet you think it’s “in the spirit” of Behe and not Van Till.

  7. #7 Ken Brown
    April 26, 2006

    Ed (or Jeremy),
    Have you read The Privileged Planet? I have and found it a refreshing reprive from the anti-evolutionism of most ID. Any thoughts on how it fits with Van Till’s views (which I haven’t read)?

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    April 26, 2006

    Ken Brown wrote:

    Have you read The Privileged Planet? I have and found it a refreshing reprive from the anti-evolutionism of most ID. Any thoughts on how it fits with Van Till’s views (which I haven’t read)?

    I haven’t read it, no. My understanding is that it makes the argument solely for cosmological ID, which I doubt Howard would object to at all.

  9. #9 Sastra
    April 26, 2006

    I’m not surprised at the confusion between ID and Theistic Evolution. Look at the Discovery Institute’s own definition:

    “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.”

    It seems to me there’s a bit of a schizoid conflict between those “features of the universe” and the features “of living things.” If the design is set in at the level of the universe, that’s a different kettle of fish than claiming that God’s design is discovered through evidence of direct intervention in biochemical systems. There’s also the part claiming natural selection must be “undirected.” Undirected at what level? Any theist can admit that an event can be a natural event, but still somehow “willed” at a vaguely-defined metaphysical level.

    As has been noted elsewhere:
    “The fact that the laws of the universe are perfect for life is evidence for a Designer. The fact that the laws of the universe can’t produce life is evidence for a Designer.”

  10. #10 RBH
    April 26, 2006

    An awful lot of words are wasted up there, when Behe made his position crystal clear: The Intelligent Designer Formerly Known as God intervenes occasionally, suspending natural laws to glue tails on bacteria. From A Puff of Smoke:

    At Hillsdale, after his public lecture, I challenged Behe in a small-group discussion to give us a positive statement of exactly how the “Intelligent Designer” creates bacterial flagella. As usual, he was evasive. But I didn’t let him get away. And finally, he answered: “In a puff of smoke!” A physicist in our group asked, “Do you mean that the Intelligent Designer suspends the laws of physics through working a miracle?” And Behe answered: “Yes.”.

  11. #11 Andrew Wade
    April 26, 2006

    Anuminous,

    This does not, of course, satisfy ID people because it would be indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution.

    Except that, if you have deterministic physics and sufficiently (very, very!) fine control over the initial conditions (initial microstate), you can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics[1] and perform miracles. This of course still wouldn’t satisfy ID people because it’s not the way a human being would go about doing miracles, and their God is very human-like. Similarly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with “waiting 4.6 billion years to see your ‘product’” (as Chance put it), but it’s not the sort of thing a God made in man’s image would do. It’s not surprising that an old Earth/universe is not popular in some corners.

    [1] Red Herring Alert: Creating the human genome (some 3 billion base pairs) at room temperature requires some 3*10^9 * 300K kT ln 4 = 1.7 * 10^-11 Joules (about 4 quadrillionths of a dietary calorie (kilocalorie)). The Second Law of Thermodynamics really doesn’t pose a problem for Darwin’s theory.

  12. #12 Anuminous
    April 26, 2006

    Andrew,

    I can’t say it is a position I take seriously at this point, but as a fifteen year old trying to come to grips with conflicts between my upbringing and my observations of the world, it made a lot of sense.

    As I think about it some more, once you are positing miracles (in which group I would include the scenario I described above — that is one hell of a trick shot after all) pretty much anything goes, but ID advocates do not have that available to them. They want to maintain their secular illusion, so no theistic anyting can be allowed.

  13. #13 plunge
    April 26, 2006

    Sastra, you mentioned something worth repeating: the cosmological and biological ideas seem to be in direct contradiction at times, but apparently without anyone in the movement caring (perhaps because the conclusion is more important than any of the particulars). First there must have been a designer because the nature of the universe is so hospitable to life, and then there must have been a designer because the nature of the universe is so UNhospitable to life. But they can’t BOTH be meaningful signs of design.

  14. #14 macht
    April 27, 2006

    Del Ratzsch’s “Design, Chance, and Theistic Evolution” is helpful in sorting out how compatible theistic evolution is with ID. Here is a relevant quote:

    “Theistic evolution and design theory need not be in disagreeement over some kinds of design in some loci. On the face of it, nothing whatever in theistic evolution requires that its advocates refuse to admit that phenomena in nature be results of deliberate, foresighted, active intent or that such phenomena exhibit evidences of such design. Theistic evolutionists can readily incorporate design that tracks back (continuously) to primordial conditions or to the ultimate structuring of natural laws and principles.

    Theistic evolutionists thus apparently cannot make use of – indeed must reject – the design arguments and evidences most popular among creationists and many other design theorists, those being arguments resting upon degrees of improbability and specific types of complexity purporting to show the inability of nature and natural processes to produce the phenomena in question from prior natural conditions – that is, proposed indications of counterflow. According to a consistent theistic evolution, nothing wholly within, say, the biological realm exhibits counterflow, although such things may exhibit design. And here again is evidence that our typical clues to designedness – counterflow – are irrelevant to some key types of supernatural design.”

    (Counterflow, for Ratzsch, refers to what would have happened had nature operated freely. This need not be a “violation” of any natural laws – for example, the building of the Hoover dam exhibited a lot of counterflow (it wouldn’t be there if nature operated “freely”) but didn’t violate any natural laws.)

    In the quote above, I take Ratzsch to be making a point very similar to what Jeremy has been saying. Even though theistic evolutionists must reject many of the ID arguments, it is still consistent with ID. That is, there doesn’t seem to be anything that would prevent a theistic evolutionist from recognizing that something shows the “marks” or evidences of design. Instead, what theistic evolution rejects are certain means (i.e., direct) to get to that design.

    Ratzsch even goes on to point out that another problem that arises between IDists and theistic evolutionists is that theistic evolutionists tend to not allow nomic discontinuity to be a part of science while IDists tend to say it is a permissible part of science. This, to me, is what Dembski was critiquing about Van Till’s position. (As Ed says, Van Till “rejects intervention” after creation.) I do think, though, that Dembski ignores design that doesn’t have discontinuities. Actually, I just remembered that in Ratzsch’s critique of Dembski’s explanatory filter in Nature, Design, and Science he points out that Dembski’s filter wouldn’t recognize design that did have a “continuous” natural history. IOW, I think Dembski is often too “narrow” when he talks about design.

  15. #15 Ginger Yellow
    April 27, 2006

    (Counterflow, for Ratzsch, refers to what would have happened had nature operated freely. This need not be a “violation” of any natural laws – for example, the building of the Hoover dam exhibited a lot of counterflow (it wouldn’t be there if nature operated “freely”) but didn’t violate any natural laws.)

    While I see what he’s getting at in a broader sense, I have to quibble with this definition of “nature acting freely”. According to evolutionary theory, mankind and its activities are part of nature acting freely. And if you create some kind of exception for man, where do you draw the line? What about a beaver dam? Why is that different from the Hoover dam? Was homo erectus part of nature acting freely? Homo neanderthalis? If not, why not?

  16. #16 Jeremy Pierce
    April 27, 2006

    Van Till would agree that the natural laws themselves are evidence of design, that they were indeed designed by God. He does not reject the notion that evidence can point to God, he rejects the notion that there is a necessity for direct intervention by God in the biological realm that would leave evidence behind that would distinguish it in some way from other natural objects that are all equally “created” in his mind.

    Then I rest my case. You’ve made it for me. That is most clearly an intelligent design argument. You seem to object that this is using the term in its broadest sense, but that’s exactly my point. You seem to want to restrict the term artificially to include only the kind of argument that involves special creation either of whole species at once or special creation of specific steps in the evolutionary process. Either view is intelligent design, but so is the view I’ve been sketching that you say is Van Till’s view. My main claim that you seem so resistant to is that Behe’s general argument, despite his preferred way of cashing out his view, is consistent with that sort of perspective. Van Till refuses to see this, and Behe resists it in terms of his own view, but I think it’s true despite their resistance to it.

    Macht seems to me to have it right. I’ve been making the same point as Del Ratzsch.

  17. #17 Ginger Yellow
    April 27, 2006

    But Jeremy that absolutely is not Intelligent Design as a unified concept. It’s arguably cosmological ID, and it’s certainly creationism – the basic idea that life and/or the universe was created. But Intelligent Design as understood by the people behind the movement – Behe, Dembski, Wells etc – strongly incorporates and indeed focuses on biological ID. And the basic tenet of biological ID, the idea that informs the various strands such as IC and SCI, is that given the natural laws as we understand them, it’s vastly unlikely that life would have emerged and that its present diversity would have occurred. Just because a position is consistent with the idea that there was an intelligent designer doesn’t make it consistent with Intelligent Design as a concept.

  18. #18 Jeff Hebert
    April 27, 2006

    Jeremy said:

    You seem to want to restrict the term artificially to include only the kind of argument that involves special creation either of whole species at once or special creation of specific steps in the evolutionary process.

    It’s not Ed “artificially” restricting the term, he’s just pointing out that every member of the Discovery Institue, including the two leading proponents of what is commonly labeled “The ID Movement”, so defines it. He’s pointing out that your position, Jeremy, is Theistic Evolution, not ID as it’s defined by most of the rest of the world. You’re responding by saying essentially that ID is just a subset of TE, which is fine for you but you’re not using it the same way everyone else is.

    The Discovery Institute’s position is more narrow than yours and it’s not trivial to distinguish between the two. For practical purposes, in the real word TE is not equal to ID any more than Christianity is equal to Catholicism. One is a subset of the other, but they are not equal. You are conflating the two, claiming the name of the subset (ID) and marking it as the superset (TE), but what Ed is trying to point out to you is that the most vocal and prominent ID proponents vociferously deny that position.

  19. #19 mark
    April 27, 2006

    When you get down to it, it seems like basically an argument that God can have designed everything to look the way it does for his own inscrutable reasons. Where is the evidence that makes any of it science? Even more basically, I think it comes to “Humans were designed (one way or another) by God, so we’re special to God, therefore we are in some sense immortal, because otherwise we just die, and I don’t want to die.”

  20. #20 Caveman
    April 27, 2006

    (First time poster, but longtime reader and big fan of Ed’s blog)
    I’m having a hard time understanding how VanTill’s position (as it is described here) is really theistic at all. If god created the universe and the natural laws, then sat back and watched it go, how does that not qualify as deism? Can anyone provide pointers to VanTill’s writings or postings here?

  21. #21 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    macht-

    I think the quote from Ratzsch only supports my position. When he says that theistic evolutionists “can readily incorporate design that tracks back (continuously) to primordial conditions or to the ultimate structuring of natural laws and principles”, he’s speaking of exactly the kind of design that Jeremy is speaking of, and that Van Till is speaking of. In that perspective, everything in the universe is equally and in same sense “designed”. This establishes the first part of my argument, that what Jeremy is talking about is theistic evolution, not ID. The second part of my argument, that if ID merely meant theistic evolution in this sense it would render all of the arguments offered for ID totally meaningless, is supported by the second part of Ratzsch’s statment:

    Theistic evolutionists thus apparently cannot make use of – indeed must reject – the design arguments and evidences most popular among creationists and many other design theorists, those being arguments resting upon degrees of improbability and specific types of complexity purporting to show the inability of nature and natural processes to produce the phenomena in question from prior natural conditions…

    There is a very real distinction between ID, which requires direct intervention specifically because, the argument goes, nature is not sufficent to bring about biochemical complexity, and theistic evolution in the sense that Jeremy and Van Till mean it, which says that nature is absolutely sufficent to bring about biochemical complexity because God designed nature to make sure it would. These are very different ideas. If the second one is true, the first one is false, and vice versa.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    Jeremy Pierce wrote:

    Then I rest my case. You’ve made it for me. That is most clearly an intelligent design argument. You seem to object that this is using the term in its broadest sense, but that’s exactly my point. You seem to want to restrict the term artificially to include only the kind of argument that involves special creation either of whole species at once or special creation of specific steps in the evolutionary process. Either view is intelligent design, but so is the view I’ve been sketching that you say is Van Till’s view.

    Absolutely not. You seem to want to steal the ID label from those who originated it and who use it to mean an interventionist model of creation and apply it to your own idea, which clearly conflicts with their position. ID is not just a vague concept, it’s a movement made up of people with specific arguments. And your position is in very clear conflict with all of those people and with the arguments that they make. If you are right, then all of Behe’s arguments about improbability and the insufficency of nature to produce biochemical complexity are false. If you are right, then all of Dembski’s arguments about the insufficency of natural forces to create specified complexity are false. If you are right, then all of the ID movement’s voluminous arguments against evolution are false. Your position falsifies every argument they make; thus, it is absurd and confusing to insist on giving it the same label when we already have a perfectly good label for your position – theistic evolution. Giving two opposing ideas the same label can only serve to confuse, not to illuminate.

  23. #23 Andrew Wade
    April 27, 2006

    As I think about it some more, once you are positing miracles (in which group I would include the scenario I described above — that is one hell of a trick shot after all) pretty much anything goes …

    Yup. And that’s a fatal weakness. If this hypothetical god has that much control over the initial conditions he could have created the universe last Thursday and could have arranged it so that the sun turns into a cube tomorrow. (Or arranged it so that photons will scatter in the atmosphere tomorrow in exactly the right way to make the sun look like a cube to all observers)[1]. By itself the “trick shot” hypothesis is worse than useless. Christians of course have various postulates about God that would tend to rule out such things as Last Thursdayism or a cubical sun tomorrow. But as you say they’re not available to ID advocates trying to maintain an illusion of secularism.

    [1] This is assuming a deteministic (“billiard ball”) universe and sufficient computing power to pick the right initial conditions. This is probably an all or nothing thing; if you can’t control/pick the inital microstate of the sun with sufficient precision to turn it into a cube tomorrow, chaos theory suggests that photons from the sun would have thrown off the more interesting “trick shots” on Earth by now too.

  24. #24 macht
    April 27, 2006

    “I think the quote from Ratzsch only supports my position.”

    I wasn’t really trying to say you were wrong other than the fact that I think you have a very narrow view of design is. That you think theistic evolution and ID are “two opposing ideas” suggests to me that I’m right since more broadly ID and theistic evolution aren’t opposed at all. Yes, some of ID’s “lower level” theories may be opposed to each other but this happens in every area of science. This was Ratzsch’s point. (It might be helpful to consider Kepler and Newton. They both were heliocentrists but their theories about the movement of the planets were vastly different from each other’s. Yet nobody would complain about calling both of them heliocentrists because, well, that’s what they were.)

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    macht-

    But as I explained to Jeremy above, ID already has a definition, given it by those who created both the term and the movement. What you term “lower level” arguments are the entire subset of arguments offered by all of the advocates of ID in favor of ID. Every single argument requires an interventionist God, not the non-interventionism of Jeremy or Howard’s position. We already have a perfectly good term for that position, theistic evolution. And that conception is explicitly rejected by all of the major ID advocates. So what good is it to insist on using the same label for two conflicting ideas when we already have well understood labels for the two separate positions as it is?

  26. #26 macht
    April 27, 2006

    I’m not insisting on using the same label for each. I think theistic evolution is a fine label for distinguishing what differences there are between it and other types of ID. What I’m suggesting is what Ratzsch suggested. Namely, that “[t]heistic evolution and design theory need not be in disagreeement…”

    I’ll even say that Van Till’s position, IMO, does seem to be in conflict with ID. A main feature of the ID position is that purpose or plan or some similar idea can be a legitimate part of science. From what I’ve read of Van Till (his views on categorical complementarity, etc.), he seems to suggest that he doesn’t think those things are legitimate parts of science. Again, it is this type of thing that Dembski seemed to have a problem with. But these views on how science works aren’t a necessary component of theistic evolution.

  27. #27 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    macht-

    Again, I only think this works if you completely ignore all of the arguments made by ID advocates and broaden out the definition of ID to just “some designer did something sometime”. But that’s not the position that any ID advocate takes, so it makes no sense to apply the same label to two contradictory sets of ideas.

  28. #28 macht
    April 27, 2006

    “But that’s not the position that any ID advocate takes…”

    Sure it is. Almost every ID advocate takes that position. It’s just that various ID advocates have different answers to it. Just like there could be various answers to how heliocentrism works or evolution works. What you just said is the point I was trying to make – that you are thinking about ID too narrowly, that you need to broaden your definition.

  29. #29 Jeff Hebert
    April 27, 2006

    Sure it is. Almost every ID advocate takes that position. It’s just that various ID advocates have different answers to it. Just like there could be various answers to how heliocentrism works or evolution works. What you just said is the point I was trying to make – that you are thinking about ID too narrowly, that you need to broaden your definition.

    This is true in exactly the same way that it is true that if the Pope would just broaden his definition of Catholicism, he’d be a Methodist.

    You don’t get to pick and choose how the ID advocates — specifically, the Discovery Institute — define themselves. They have that privilege. And according to their definition — not yours or Eds or mine — they are not Theistic Evolutionists. You’re just espousing a version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

  30. #30 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    And I think you’re thinking of it too broadly. The fact that every ID advocate I know of says the same thing strongly suggests that I’m right. What you are trying to do is bring theistic evolution under the ID label, but you can’t do that without negating all of the actual arguments that ID advocates make and redefining it away from what those who originated and built the idea and the movement believe.

  31. #31 Sastra
    April 27, 2006

    If theistic evolution is brought under the ID label, then teaching ID in the schools doesn’t sound like such a scary thing. I mean, gosh, all we’re saying is that some people think some sort of designer had something to do with it, some where, in some way. What’s so wrong with that? It doesn’t challenge science. So surely it can be *mentioned* in a science class.

    Ok. So we’re all agreed that we can have Intelligent Design in the schools. Issue over. Now it’s just quibbling over the small stuff — like maybe how various advocates might interpret it.

    I think I’ve figured out what comes after “teach the controversy” bombs.

  32. #32 Jeremy Pierce
    April 27, 2006

    Deism is not primarily about how (or if) God causes things. It’s primarily about whether God revealed anything through special revelation. Deists tend to minimize God’s role in events other than setting up the initial conditions and thus don’t see the setting up of those conditions as part of a plan of providence that what specific events will later happen. I can’t see Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine using the kind of language Leibniz, Malebranche, or others who held the sort of view I’m sketching used in response to the problem of evil. Voltaire particularly objected to Leibniz’s work on the problem of evil for exactly the reason that his deism led him to reject divine providence. He didn’t think God could care about the sort of thing Leibniz insisted God cares about. Yet Leibniz clearly held that God chose this exact world in all its details as the best possible world, with the laws of nature guaranteeing that it would result in exactly what has resulted.

  33. #33 Jeremy Pierce
    April 27, 2006

    I decided to get out Mere Creation. Here are some of the key themes from Dembski’s introduction. He first distinguishes between “mere creation”, by which he means theism, and “undirected natural causes”, by which he means naturalism without any directedness whatsoever. In this distinction, Van Till clearly is on the theistic side of the fence. He then explains that the history of design arguments as a basis for belief in God is simply to argue for some sort of designer-creator. There’s nothing here so far about how God designed and whether it requires the suspension of natural laws at certain points. When that issue comes up, he clearly places people who answer no on his side rather than on the naturalistic side.

    He even lists two groups of people who are on his side in this debate: “One advocate of creation thinks it is essential that God intervene in the causal structure of the world. Another thinks it essential that God not upset the causal structure of the world.”

    He goes on to explain how he thinks unifying these groups against naturalism with intelligent design arguments is the goal of the book. Naturalism, as he defines it, is the view that undirected causes within nature explain everything. The view I was sketching says there are no undirected causes, never mind any that explain anything. On naturalism, there’s no sign of God’s handiwork (though he is willing to extend the term to include a divinely caused world with no signs of design).

    I think part of the problem is his use of the term ‘self-contained’. The careful reader will see that he distinguishes between a self-contained world with divine intent and recognizably designed features and a self-contained world without those, i.e. naturalism. He then speaks of God “interacting with the world” in a way that might include Van Till’s sort of view, i.e. a world closed in the sense of no efficient causes outside the deterministic order set up at the beginning, as long as the signs of design are present in the universe. A noticeably designed but causally close universe is not, as he is using the term, self-contained.

    When he finally indicates what ID is about, he says it’s about denying undirected natural causes and affirming intelligent causes. It’s not about distinguishing between natural and supernatural causes, which is how you’ve been treating the ID movement. He’s distingushing between those who allow final causes and those who insist that naturalistic efficient causes are the only explanation. He says ID doesn’t presuppose miracles. It’s compatible with evolution, because it’s merely about whether there are signs of intelligence in the causes, not about how those causes came about.

    He does say that ID is incompatible with a view commonly referred to as theistic evolution, but when he makes it clear what he means he’s not talking about people who take the view I’m sketching. The view he’s calling theistic evolution that he says ID is incompatible with is the view that natural causes are undirected. He’s thinking of people like Ken Miller. If Van Till takes the sort of view I’ve been sketching, then Dembski would have no problem with that as far as this introduction goes.

  34. #34 pimothy
    April 27, 2006

    Dembski argues that ID allows for both intervention and front loading. In fact Dembski’s argument of conservation of CSI does not distinguish when CSI is injected.
    Mike Gene is someone who moved the design event outwards to an initial condition. Personally, I believe the Big Bang to be an exquisite place, just inside the Planck time limit so it remains undetectable to us.

    Front loading is covered by the Design Inference but Dembski seems to be no fan of such a solution. To solve how information is imparted by God, Demsbki made the scientific error of suggesting an infinite wavelength channel, which also has zero bandwith and zero energy. The latter one is why Dembski proposed it, the former one shows that no information can be transmitted via such a channel. Physics may not be Dembski’s strongest point.

    There is an interesting paper by Murray I believe who argues that if ID cannot distinguish between stacking the deck (front loading) or intervention, and he argues that ID can’t then ID cannot add much scientific relevance to the mix.
    Found the reference: Michael J. Murray, NATURAL PROVIDENCE (OR DESIGN TROUBLE) Faith and Philosophy

    Recent work in Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) reopens a number of questions concerning God’s providence over nature. Friends of IDT claim that their “explanatory filter” allows us to detect design empirically and that this provides a way to make appeal to supernatural design in properly scientific explanations while at the same time undercutting methodological naturalism. I argue here that the explanatory filter is fatally flawed, and that detection of detection of design would not undercut methodological naturalism in any case. Friends of IDT fail to see this because they adopt a Newtonian conception of natural providence, while failing even to consider a preferable Leibnizian conception.

    In his paper he argues

    The claim here is that designed events can be caused by either intervention or deck-staking-plus-nomic-regularity (or something more complex if indeterminacy is relevant; see note 12 for more on this). If all we have access to is apparently designed outcomes, we cannot distinguish between those that result via “law” (deck-stacking) and those that result from “design” (intervention). Thus, we cannot engage in the project suggested by IDT advocates after all, namely, setting aside methodological naturalism and letting the explanatory chips fall where they may. The explanatory chips can’t discriminate between these competitors.

    Interesting approach.

  35. #35 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    Jeremy Pierce wrote:

    I decided to get out Mere Creation. Here are some of the key themes from Dembski’s introduction. He first distinguishes between “mere creation”, by which he means theism, and “undirected natural causes”, by which he means naturalism without any directedness whatsoever. In this distinction, Van Till clearly is on the theistic side of the fence.

    Of course Van Till is on the theistic side of the fence. No one doubts that, so this assertion is utterly pointless. But I think we’ve hit on the problem here: you think that the distinction between ID and not-ID is the same as the distinction between theism and atheism. That simply is not the case, as the existence of lots of anti-ID theists easily demonstrates.

    He then explains that the history of design arguments as a basis for belief in God is simply to argue for some sort of designer-creator. There’s nothing here so far about how God designed and whether it requires the suspension of natural laws at certain points. When that issue comes up, he clearly places people who answer no on his side rather than on the naturalistic side.

    Because he’s discussing the distinction between theism and atheism. But Dembski also claims that ID is not about the existence of God at all, which means that the distinction between ID and not-ID cannot be the theism/atheism line. It doesn’t matter what he said in Mere Creation about theism and atheism; it matters that the arguments he and every other ID advocate makes for ID are not consistent with the position that God set up the natural laws and the initial conditions to make life probable or inevitable. It has been explained why they are incompatible repeatedly and you keep ignoring that reasoning and finding some other basis for your assertion. Do you realize how bizarre it is to be claiming that Dembski thinks Van Till’s position is compatible with ID when he has written multiple essays explicitly denying that Van Till’s position is compatible with ID?

    He then speaks of God “interacting with the world” in a way that might include Van Till’s sort of view, i.e. a world closed in the sense of no efficient causes outside the deterministic order set up at the beginning, as long as the signs of design are present in the universe. A noticeably designed but causally close universe is not, as he is using the term, self-contained.

    But – for what seems like the hundredth time – then someone needs to explain what possible purpose is served by his arguments against evolution and his entire probability position if ID could also mean that the natural laws, rather than making life wildly improbable, make it likely or even inevitable. You’re claiming that ID can mean two contradictory things at the same time, that it can mean that the natural laws operate in such a way as to make the origin and evolution of life wildly improbable and that it can mean that the natural laws operate in such a way as to make the origin and evolution of life likely or even inevitable. The only thing that adding God in to that equation does is delineate the line between theism and atheism, and that simply can’t be the dividing line between ID and not-ID. It doesn’t matter whether you think you’ve come up with an interpretation of Dembski’s words that might make them compatible; they aren’t logically compatible and Dembski himself explicitly says so.

    When he finally indicates what ID is about, he says it’s about denying undirected natural causes and affirming intelligent causes. It’s not about distinguishing between natural and supernatural causes, which is how you’ve been treating the ID movement. He’s distingushing between those who allow final causes and those who insist that naturalistic efficient causes are the only explanation.

    Then doesn’t that completely destroy his sometimes-claim that the designer could be a space alien? Aliens are not a “final cause”.

    He does say that ID is incompatible with a view commonly referred to as theistic evolution, but when he makes it clear what he means he’s not talking about people who take the view I’m sketching. The view he’s calling theistic evolution that he says ID is incompatible with is the view that natural causes are undirected. He’s thinking of people like Ken Miller. If Van Till takes the sort of view I’ve been sketching, then Dembski would have no problem with that as far as this introduction goes.

    Except that Dembski has explicitly said, multiple times, that he does have a problem with Van Till’s position. This is just getting weird. Dembski says the sky is blue and you say, “I’ve read some of his work and I think he might really mean that the sky is green, at least for some possible meanings of the word ‘green’.” You cannot claim that Dembski would be okay with a position he specifically says he’s not okay with, for crying out loud.

  36. #36 Ginger Yellow
    April 27, 2006

    Ed, in the words of countless British soap characters: “Leave it, he’s not worth it.” Jeremy’s is just a more sophistic and sophisticated version of the standard ID bait and switch – when trying to persuade someone that ID is plausible, use the vague and general “the universe/life was designed” definition, but when trying to persuade someone it’s scientific, use one or more of the specific “IC therefore not evolution therefore designer” or “SCI therefore not evolution therefore designer” arguments.

  37. #37 macht
    April 27, 2006

    Ginger Yellow, that’s a really strange comment given that Jeremy hasn’t tried to argue that ID is plausible or scientific. All he is saying is that ID and theistic evolution aren’t incompatible.

    Although this discussion is getting kind of old since it’s basically coming down to an argument over a label.

    The fact is, thought, that if you think that certain features of the universe display marks or signs of design, purpose, plan, etc. and you come to this conclusion by looking at nature as opposed to reading some religious text, then you accept a design argument. And this is perfectly compatible with theistic evolution.

  38. #38 macht
    April 27, 2006

    And by “thought” I mean “though.”

  39. #39 Ginger Yellow
    April 27, 2006

    Ginger Yellow, that’s a really strange comment given that Jeremy hasn’t tried to argue that ID is plausible or scientific. All he is saying is that ID and theistic evolution aren’t incompatible.

    And he’s doing it by saying a) the vague and general definition of ID is compatible with theistic evolution (of course it is – that’s pretty much a tautology), and b) ID as proposed by Behe/Dembski et al is the vague and general definition of ID (it clearly isn’t, but is rather the “scientific” version of ID) and is therefore compatible with theistic evolution. That’s the bait and switch.

    The fact is, thought, that if you think that certain features of the universe display marks or signs of design, purpose, plan, etc. and you come to this conclusion by looking at nature as opposed to reading some religious text, then you accept a design argument. And this is perfectly compatible with theistic evolution.

    A design argument is compatible with theistic evolution. But not the Discovery Institute’s design arguments, as they explicitly say themselves and Jeremy insists on ignoring.

  40. #40 Jeremy Pierce
    April 27, 2006

    No, it’s not about theism vs. atheism. The whole point of the introduction was to show that it’s about “undirected natural causes” vs. “intelligent causes”. He states quite plainly that someone could theoretically hold that the intelligent cause is not God (and therefore is not a theist), though people haven’t been doing that so far. But that means it’s not equivalent to theism. He also states quite plainly that one can be a theist and consider there to be only undirected natural causes, as Ken Miller clearly does. Miller is not an ID person on Dembski’s account, but Van Till as you’ve presented him is an ID person on Dembski’s account. Van Till as you’ve presented him believes there to be intelligent causes, and that’s all Dembski is really concerned about in figuring out who belongs under the ID umbrella. The position you’re assigning to Van Till is included in that.

    But from the quote above, I don’t think Van Till holds that position, or I don’t think Dembski thinks he holds it anyway. Dembski’s problem with Van Till is that he thinks Van Till’s position means the natural order “carefully conceals God’s tracks”. Since Dembski in the introduction I just read carefully distinguishes between the kind of theistic evolution that does this (Ken Miller) and the kind that doesn’t (the kind I’ve been outlining), it would surprise me to see him attributing to Van Till the position of theistic evolution that he sees as opposed to ID because it “carefully conceals God’s tracks” unless he thought Van Till was in the Miller category.

    In the Dembski essay you linked to, he makes it clear that his opposition to Van Till is exactly for these reasons. Van Till thinks in a process sort of way that God is working out purposes in the world through natural causes, which Dembski in the introduction I just read is not opposed to, but his problem with it in the essay you linked to is that none of this requires intelligence. Anything that happens in the world is compatible with divine guidance, and therefore nothing is distinctively divine about it. If there were something observably divine about it, as Dembski thinks the ID arguments require, then he’d be fine with it, even if it had everything front-loaded. The problem isn’t with the front-loading. The problem is with disguising something that might as well be undirected natural causes as intelligent causes, when there’s nothing about them that requires thinking of them as intelligent. That, he says, is incompatible with intelligent design, but that’s not the view I’ve been talking about here.

    In the same essay that you linked to, Dembski says that he doesn’t think ID requires miracles in the sense of counterfactual substitution (i.e. violations of the laws of nature). That’s in fact the opposite of what you’ve been saying about him. You’ve been saying that he takes ID to require this sort of miracle, something the front-loader can’t have. But he very plainly says that he thinks the two are compatible in the very essay you’re trying to use to support your interpretation of him.

    He then goes on to say what I’ve been saying about improbability vs. impossibility. All ID arguments claim is that these events are naturally improbably and that they shouldn’t be expected to occur if unguided natural causes are all there are. That doesn’t require supernatural miracles in the sense of breaking the laws of nature. Natural laws are compatible with the formation of the flagellum. It’s just that so many other configurations are possible that you wouldn’t expect it, so there must be a mind in some way responsible. This argument is fully compatible with front-loading, which is Dembski’s point.

    You’re claiming that ID can mean two contradictory things at the same time, that it can mean that the natural laws operate in such a way as to make the origin and evolution of life wildly improbable and that it can mean that the natural laws operate in such a way as to make the origin and evolution of life likely or even inevitable.

    If you’re right, then it applies to any inductive argument that seeks to explain a surprising event by hypothesizing something according to which it wouldn’t be all that surprising. If we see the coincidental murder in a distinctive manner of five different people simultaneously but in five different places, that should surprise us. We shouldn’t expect five people to do something so similar. At least we shouldn’t expect that unlikely result if there wasn’t some sort of collusion between them, and then the theory of collusion makes it very likely that the result we’ve observed has happened. This is how inductive explanation works.

    In intelligent design, we see a surprising result, something that (according to the argument) appears to be irreducibly complex, the sort of thing that possibly could arise with unguided natural causes but shouldn’t be expected. It cries out for explanation, and the explanation is that an intelligent mind is behind it. So something unlikely according to one set of data (our original information) is made likely by the hypothesis. The hypothesis makes it very likely, but that doesn’t invalidate that it looks very unlikely without the hypothesis.

    The same thing is true of the front-loading ID hypothesis. The event looks very unlikely given unguided natural causes. Once you have the front-loading ID hypothesis with determinism, then you have an inevitable event. But that doesn’t invalidate the argument, because the argument isn’t claiming that the event isn’t inevitable. It isn’t claiming that the event really is unlikely. It’s simply claiming that the event is unlikely given unguided natural causes.

    Then doesn’t that completely destroy his sometimes-claim that the designer could be a space alien? Aliens are not a “final cause”.

    You have to keep the different ID hypotheses separate. One hypothesis is Dembski’s preferred non-frontloaded miracle hypothesis. Another is the frontloading ID proposal I’ve been outlining. A third is the alien hypothesis. It doesn’t make any sense to say that the second approach rules out aliens and then to conclude that ID therefore does. Just because the second approach rules out aliens, you can’t conclude that ID does.

    Alien causes would be guided anyway. It would also be interventionist in the immediate sense. They would efficiently cause certain events in the development of life on earth, ones that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. There’s still a final cause, because they’re intelligent minds intending something for a purpose.

  41. #41 Foggg
    April 27, 2006

    Excepts from Howard Van Till’s response (submitted 18 October, 2002) to William Dembski’s remarks, “Naturalism’s Argument from Invincible Ignorance,” on ISCID Forums.

    In his response to my paper Dembski revealed a great deal of animosity toward what he assumes to be my religious position and assigned to it numerous labels, including “theistic evolution,” “process theology,” “naturalistic theism,” “metaphysical naturalism,” and even unqualified “naturalism.”
    Although I made no argument in the essay for or against the concept commonly called “theistic evolution,” Dembski declares that my essay “exemplifies perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design’s most implacable foe.”
    What I did find essential was to differentiate among several forms of naturalism that differ substantially in their theological connotations, differences that Dembski explicitly chose to neglect, thereby affirming my evaluation of the way in which ID advocates categorically dismiss all forms of naturalism without due regard for the substantive differences among them.
    Dembski also characterizes me as one who has become “steeped in process theology,” a characterization that seems carefully crafted to alert those faithful theists who stand in “the Judeo-Christian tradition” that my theological commitments should now be held in suspicion. In the essay, however, I made no arguments based on the tenets of process theology. My one reference to process theologian David Ray Griffin was simply to note that I found his distinctions among vastly differing forms of naturalism helpful.
    Dembski vigorously objects to the suggestion that ID entails miracles. His objection is based on the fine distinction between events that are naturally impossible and those that are merely exceptionally improbable. Dembski asserts that “miracles or supernatural interventions in the classical sense” belong in the category “counterfactual substitutions” — occasions in which some naturally possible outcome is, by divine action, replaced by a naturally impossible one. Dembski argues that the designer’s form-conferring action that results in the formation of biotic structures like the bacterial flagellum is not, in the strict sense, a naturally impossible outcome, only an extraordinarily improbable one.
    I offer two comments in response:
    (1) I do not for a moment believe that theologians are agreed that all divine acts traditionally taken to constitute “miracles or supernatural interventions” can be placed in Dembski’s narrowly defined category of “counterfactual substitutions.”
    (2) The thrust of Dembski’s appeal to the bacterial flagellum is to argue that it could not possibly have been formed by natural processes alone. He argues explicitly that the probability that the flagellum formed as the outcome of natural processes is so astoundingly low that the ID hypothesis (that the flagellum was formed in a way that required the form-conferring action of an unidentified and unembodied choice-making agent) is the only viable explanation. Consequently, for Dembski to hang his rejection of the label “miracle or supernatural intervention” for this action on the delicate distinction between “naturally impossible” and “possible but so astoundingly improbable as to conclusively preclude natural formation” strikes me as the rhetorical equivalent of attempting to hang a 300-pound painting on the wall with a tailor’s pin.

  42. #42 Jeremy Pierce
    April 27, 2006

    I think what Van Till is missing in the last point is that Dembski often uses the term ‘natural processes alone’ to mean unguided natural processes, as opposed to natural processes period. You can’t infer miracles in the sense of supernatural intervention in time unless you take Dembski to be using ‘natural processes alone’ to mean natural processes without miracles, but everything I’ve seen by him so far makes me think that’s an uncharitable interpretation. So Van Till is just getting him wrong.

    It may be that Dembski is getting Van Till wrong as well, but I’m not sure. I am sure that Van Till is getting Dembski wrong.

  43. #43 Ed Brayton
    April 27, 2006

    I’ve frankly grown tired of this sophistry, Jeremy. If Dembski thinks that Van Till’s position is consistent with ID, then he should say that. But he doesn’t; he says the opposite, that Van Till’s position is opposed to ID. And it is. And no matter how many times Dembski claims that his arguments don’t require intervention, the logic of his arguments still demands that it does. If the natural laws were designed to make life inevitable, then it is absurd to argue that life could not come into being in accord with natural law. And that is Dembski’s position. And Behe’s. All of them explicitly deny that theistic evolution is consistent with ID. And you’re simply engaging in sophistry to change the definitions of both in order to make them sound compatible. It doesn’t work, no matter how often you repeat the same nonsense.

  44. #44 pimothy
    April 27, 2006

    In intelligent design, we see a surprising result, something that (according to the argument) appears to be irreducibly complex, the sort of thing that possibly could arise with unguided natural causes but shouldn’t be expected. It cries out for explanation, and the explanation is that an intelligent mind is behind it.

    This is a jump of logic, IC means that it cannot be explained by Darwinian causes. If you want to extend it to unguided natural causes, then you have eliminated natural selection because it is definitely a guided force in the sense that it maintains functions.
    It cries out for an explanation but saying that an intelligent mind is behind it needs more than the surprising nature of the system. After all such a hypothesis cannot even compete with the Null hypothesis of “we don’t know”. ID is vacuous in that it calls something which we don’t understand how it came about ‘designed’ and then suggests that this requires an intelligent designer. First of all the step of inferring design is problematic, let alone the second step that design requires an intelligent mind.

    When will ID stop from making such leaps in logic? All ID is saying that at present science cannot explain sufficiently a particular system, and it argues that thus this gap should be seen as evidence of design without any hypothesis of its own.
    That’s vacuity…

  45. #45 ctw
    April 27, 2006

    from comments on his website, I understand that mr pierce will argue the contrary, but to me the problem is quite obvious: demski is – as are the other ID activists – a dedicated christian, ie, his “god” is big-time interventionist. as presented here (my first exposure to the concept), theistic evolution appears to assume a non-interventionist “god”. obviously, demski et al can’t buy into that, so they are in an intellectual box – as objective proponents of the abstract concept of ID, they should accept theistic evolution as a possible view of how an intelligent designer might have acted; but emotionally, they can’t because it eliminates the interventionist god of their ID socio-political movement. and so the argument goes round and round.

    this was all pretty interesting for a while, but as mr brayton observes, ultimately these debates always become intolerably tedious because the religiously committed aren’t ultimately interested in objective exploration of an ambiguous issue, just in supporting their a priori commitment to an unambiguous “truth”.

  46. #46 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    Until today, Ed, I thought you to be a stand-out among the anti-ID crowd, someone who actually looked to the arguments and made careful distinctions, something that most of the people who frequent Pharyngula and Panda’s Thumb are simply incapable of. Now I see that instead of responding to arguments, you deliver insults and repeat claims that have already been addressed, so I guess you’re really no different.

    When it’s clear that what you were saying doesn’t match up with the actual words of the person you’re talking about, you continue to make the same claim that Macht and I have already shown to rely on a misinterpretation without explaining how what we’ve said gets Dembski wrong. You just assert that he says these things that I then look at and find that he’s not saying what you claim. If you looked at what he says he means by terms like ‘theistic evolution’ and ‘natural causes alone’, you would see that what you are saying would make no sense. Well, I’m done talking to a brick wall. I’ll follow Plato’s advice and spend my time talking with people who will follow an argument where it leads rather than seek to say whatever will lead to a preestablished conclusion.

  47. #47 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    Pimothy, I have no idea why you’re changing the subject. None of this was about how good the ID arguments. I haven’t been defending any ID arguments as good arguments.

    Ctw, your conspiracy theory is pretty funny. It doesn’t match up with anything about me, however. I am the one here who is trying to follow where the argument leads. I examine some arguments that I don’t endorse to see what views they are compatible with, and I argue that a view that I don’t endorse is compatible with those arguments. I clearly have nothing at stake in this. I don’t myself hold the interventionist view of Behe and Dembski, and I also don’t hold the front-loading view I’ve been exploring here. I don’t anywhere indicate that I agree with these arguments, and I’ve never publicly defended them as good arguments. I haven’t declared them bad, but that’s because I consider myself unqualified to evaluate the science that they use as a premise. Therefore, I simply have no horse in this race. Your psychological profile of me simply doesn’t fit.

  48. #48 ctw
    April 28, 2006

    mr pierce -

    all I meant to imply with respect to you is that you would probably fault me in considering demski’s (and others’) religious posture as a source of likely bias in their arguments (per 4/25 post on your web site). I didn’t mean to (and don’t think I did) suggest any “conspiracy theory”, unless you are referring to the DI’s socio-political program, which I suppose could be considered such if one doesn’t require secrecy for a “conspiracy” – intentionally or not, their objectives are quite obvious.

    and my final snark was neither intended to be a “psychological profile” nor even aimed at you, a seemingly sincere would-be interpreter of some proponents of the ID socio-political program. it was an expression of frustration with the ID crowd’s deceptive bobbing and weaving. eg, consider the demski quote above re Van Till’s review of No Free Lunch. it would be nice had he said simply and honestly “theistic evolution presents a problem for the ID program because it leaves no role for an interventionist god” instead of submerging that (to me) clear message in obfuscating gibberish.

  49. #49 Jeff Hebert
    April 28, 2006

    Jeremy,

    I gotta say, as someone else without a horse in this race, that your portrait of Ed is much more applicable to your posts in this thread than his. You seem to keep insisting on reading something into Dembski et. al’s positions that is simply doesn’t seem to be there. You ignore what the principals wrote in favor of your own ideas about what you think they ought to think, then ignore it when Ed points it out, then get huffy and accuse him of being obtuse. This entire exercise has been most bizarre.

    I feel like we’re in a freshman Shakespeare class, arguing about what he really meant about a given passage. But we have a big advantage over those freshmen — we can go ask the man directly. So since you seem to be wanting to interpret his words differently than what they seem to plainly state, I’d recommend you do just that — go ask him. He’s got a blog, send him an e-mail or post and find out if your interpretation of his view is indeed correct.

  50. #50 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    I was referring primarily to your last paragraph. My religious views do not affect my evaluation of the consistency of two positions I do not hold. Brian Leiter made the same accusation against me, and as far as I can tell it’s just coming from the temptation to want to dismiss an argument without argument. It doesn’t fit in my case, because I don’t agree with either view. Now you’re saying you weren’t referring to me, but it sure looks like a psychological explanation of why I keep saying what I’m saying that puzzles you so much. Otherwise I can’t see why you’re applying it to this debate as tedious.

    As for Dembski, it’s not obfuscating gibberish. That’s my biggest problem with these claims of sophistry, bait-and-switch, and all the other a priori conspiracy theory assumptions of deliberate and deceptive motives to hide the truth about something. That sort of assumption, with no argument, is just completely immoral and flat-out inconsistent with a motive of seeking the truth. It’s extremely common among anti-ID people, and I didn’t expect to see it here when I read some of Ed’s stuff, since he seemed at first to be concerned about careful distinctions and not misrepresenting people (as least more concerned than most of the anti-ID political movement). But now I’m seeing that even here there’s an assumption from the outset that this is all politically motivated, that no one cares about the truth, that these people don’t really believe what they’re saying.

    But there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Dembski uses the terms he uses. He doesn’t want to keep writing out “unguided natural causes” because it’s awkward, wordy, and boring to keep using the same phrase. So he uses alternative formulations that he considers synonymous. One of them is “natural causes alone”. He talks about interventionist intelligent causes, when he really means intelligent causes that intervene in time or are front-loaded as preemptive intervention, and his larger context makes it clear that that’s what he means.

    He could be clearer. I’ll admit that. But there’s a perfectly reasonable and charitable interpretation that doesn’t commit him to the kind of ridiculous inconsistencies that Ed is attributing to him. He’s fully defined what he means in several places, so it’s not all that hard to figure out what he means. I did it just by reading that introduction and then reading his whole review of Van Till and looking very carefully at his exact words. I agree that he could be clearer, and that’s what’s confusing Ed. He sees ‘natural causes alone’ and interprets it as natural causes in the sense of non-interventionist rather than natural caauses in the sense of unguided causes. But Dembski has been explained what he means by that phrase.

    Maybe this just comes more easily to me because they train us to do this sort of careful reading in a philosophy Ph.D. program, and I don’t think I should blame people for misunderstanding Dembski. Still, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say what I’m saying, and calling it sophistry is just an insult, especially when I’ve explained my interpretation and why I think it’s the best interpretation of the actual things Dembski has said that have been put forth as evidence of a position that I don’t see him holding.

  51. #51 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    Jeff, that’s not how it looks to me. I read Dembski, and I don’t see what Ed sees there. He gives a direct quote, and it seems to me that he’s taking it in a way that’s just contrary to what Dembski has been saying all along. My interpretation of Dembski comes right out of what he says. I started off reading that introduction to see if what Ed was saying was true, but I didn’t see it there. I saw the exact opposite position being stated very carefully with clear distinctions. I then went to the Van Till review, and I saw the same position I saw in the introduction. Ed hasn’t presented any quote at all that clearly indicates the reverse or clearly shows an inconsistency with the considered position that Dembski has been defending all along.

  52. #52 Ed Brayton
    April 28, 2006

    Jeff is right, this looks a lot like projection on Jeremy’s part. But I’m perfectly content to let the readers judge for themselves.

  53. #53 Jeff Hebert
    April 28, 2006

    Jeremy,

    You’re clearly not agreeing with anyone else here, so please do what I suggested — go ask Dembski on his blog. You and Ed don’t agree on what the words mean, so the only way to clear it up is for you to go to your source.

    My favorite part of your post, which actually made me laugh out loud, was this:

    Maybe this just comes more easily to me because they train us to do this sort of careful reading in a philosophy Ph.D. program, and I don’t think I should blame people for misunderstanding Dembski.

    It’s very generous of you to not blame us uneducated dullards for lacking your exceptional philosophy Ph.D. training. We, the unwashed masses, should be thankful that you were willing to show us how simply reading an introduction to a book and an essay can, with the brilliant light of Ph.D. training, be shown to mean the exact opposite of what a plain English reading of them might show. I, sir, am in awe.

  54. #54 Rilke's Granddaughter
    April 28, 2006

    Jeremy, what part of van Till’s citation of Dembski:

    “Dembski declares that my essay “exemplifies perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design’s most implacable foe.”

    Did you find difficult to understand? Dembski explicitly said that ID and theistic evolution are opposed. Right there. Black and white.

    What part do you find confusing? The black? Or the white?

  55. #55 ctw
    April 28, 2006

    “it sure looks like a psychological explanation of why I keep saying what I’m saying”

    when I wrote that I had no idea what your religious views were. I clicked to your website, looked at the post titles to see if anything was of interest, skimmed the referenced post and returned. only subsequently did I poke around the personal stuff.

    “My religious views do not affect my evaluation of the consistency of two positions I do not hold”

    of course they do, just as they permeate every relevant thought you have – and just as irreligious views affect the relevant thoughts of the irreligious. that’s the source of my “tedious debate” snark, which was about the general pro/con ID debate, not the specific brayton-pierce debate. of course, because I’m on the irreligious side it was biased against the opposition, but hey – we’re all subject to such asymmetries. I find positions on relevant issues are pretty predictable once you know someone’s religious posture. I often pursue blog commenters’ weblinks, almost always, if they have expressed certain positions it turns out they are religiously committed. of course, the is no doubt true of the irreligious, but being uninterested in something doesn’t typically motivate one to tout that disinterest on a website, so I have no similar “data” for them. I do know that all my close friends are irreligious and we have nearly isomorphic world views.

    on a (possibly) more substantive issue, it occurs to me that mr brayton’s argument about the high/low probability inconsistency may not be as clear-cut as he suggests. as I understand it, he is essentially arguing that an evolution result can be random and have low probability or deterministic and have high probability, but not both. but my impression is that in the real world (as opposed to the mathematical modeling world) “random” is a somewhat fuzzy concept; what we really mean by “that’s a random event” is that “repeated instances of that event have characteristics that conform to some probabilistic model”. well, think about computer-generated random numbers (at least circa 1990s, the last I had any exposure to how it is done) – they appear random to the external observer but are absolutely deterministic. I’m not capable of assessing whether this is analogous to the evolution probability issue, but maybe some other reader is.

  56. #56 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    Jeff, it doesn’t take any elitism to see that training someone to read texts carefully and charitably leads to a more careful reading of texts and a more charitable putting together of their views. But again you’d rather just insult me than read carefully and charitably what I say.

    What I said is that despite a little bit more training at this I don’t think you should be absolutely unable to see what the text plainly says. My mentioning this wasn’t my statement. It was a qualifier to my statement about what my specialized training in philosophical interpretation shouldn’t be taken to be.

    It’s false that no one agrees with me. Macht agrees with me that the view I’m sketching is fully consistent with ID as Dembski conceives of ID. He agrees that your interpetation of Dembski’s language about intervention and natural causes is completely wrong. He agrees with me that Dembski disagrees with Van Till but for reasons completely other than the ones you give. He seems to agree that the view I’m sketching isn’t quite Van Till’s view, as you say it is. It’s true that the few people who have commented here besides me and him have taken Ed’s view here, but even by the fallacious head-counting method of determining who is right that’s not a strong majority when it’s something like three people who have given actual arguments for Ed’s interpretation (including Ed) and two who have given actual arguments for mine (including me).

    Rilke’s Granddaughter: Yes, as I said, Dembski uses the term ‘theistic evolution’ in two different ways. If you’d actually read what I wrote about the introduction I summarized, you would know that. He very clearly says at the outset of his discussion of theistic evolution that theistic evolution is perfectly consistent with ID as long as it involves intelligent causes (which he distinguishes from supernatural causes, because they can be intelligent but natural). He then goes on to say that theistic evolution as most people use it does not involve intelligent causes, and then he restricts his discussion to that view, which he says is not consistent with ID. When he’s being careful, he makes this distinction and says views like the one I’m describing are consistent with ID. When he’s speaking of the kind that’s not consistent with ID, he says it’s not.

    ctw: No, my religious views do not affect what I think about views I disagree with that I think happen to be consistent. They don’t. If you were me and you knew how I think, you might be able to make such a disturbing claim, but you’re not me and don’t know how I think. I can entertain views that I don’t hold, and I can compare them with other views I don’t hold to see if the two are consistent. I do this sort of thing all the time in philosophy, because that’s one of the key tasks of a philosopher, to see which views could fit together regardless of whether you like the views. I think all sorts of views are consistent that I would never hold, and therefore my personal beliefs about which views are true simply never enter the discussion. Consistency and truth are not the same thing.

    I think you would be very surprised about which positions I actually hold, because I don’t fit any readily available mold. I’m conservative on many things but often anger conservatives. I’m a Christian, but I hold many views that are unpopular among contemporary Christians. I’m an evangelical, but I disagree with leading evangelicals on many issues. My views on race don’t fit well with any mainstream position. My views on things like the Terri Schiavo case last year aren’t going to be welcomed by most conservatives or liberals.

  57. #57 pimothy
    April 28, 2006

    Jeremy wrote

    By the way, I haven’t endorsed any position here except the meta-position that ID is consistent with evolution.

    The position that regularity and chance can explain the evolution of life leads to a rejection of the ID design inference. Of course this position can still be considered ‘compatible’ with ID but it does not logically follow from ID.

    As is the case with so many of Dembski’s ‘arguments’ there is now apparant versus actual theism, just like there is apparant versus actual CSI, design and you name it….

    Jeremy again

    The problem is with disguising something that might as well be undirected natural causes as intelligent causes, when there’s nothing about them that requires thinking of them as intelligent. That, he says, is incompatible with intelligent design, but that’s not the view I’ve been talking about here.
    Apparant theism

    The same thing is true of the front-loading ID hypothesis. The event looks very unlikely given unguided natural causes. Once you have the front-loading ID hypothesis with determinism, then you have an inevitable event. But that doesn’t invalidate the argument, because the argument isn’t claiming that the event isn’t inevitable. It isn’t claiming that the event really is unlikely. It’s simply claiming that the event is unlikely given unguided natural causes.

    Actual theism

    Other than the initial conditions, it was our ignorance that led us to believe that the event was unlikely. In other words, it was a false positive since once we knew that there was an ‘initial condition’ and natural processes, we can explain fully and naturally the events that unfolded and hence an ID inference is logically blocked.
    So now ID has pushed back the supernatural to an initial condition without any guidance as to how the initial condition required supernatural guidance. In order to argue that the initial condition required ID, the IDist has to show that there are no natural conditions that could possibly give rise to the initial condition. Since the IDist also accepts that natural processes can fully explain how a particular system arose from initial conditions, these same initial conditions cannot be argued logically to be ‘requiring design’.
    Remember that ID infers design by elimination of natural processes and chance and that any time such natural processes can explain how a system arose from given initial conditions, the system cannot be inferred to have been designed. If the argument is that the initial conditions were intelligently caused then it is up to the IDist to show that there is any logical argument to support this and that it is not similarly our ignorance which leads us to such a conclusion.
    In other words, I argue that there is no way for ID to distinguish between intelligently caused and naturally caused initial conditions and thus that apparant and actual theism all collapse to initial conditions followed by natural processes and that the nature of the initical conditions remains a ‘mystery’.
    In addition I argue that since ID cannot distinguish between front loading and intervention, that ID cannot be seen as a replacement or addition to methodological naturalism. In other words ID is scientifically vacuous (Murray)

  58. #58 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    By the way, the substance of the introduction to Mere Creation seems to be here. I’m not sure it’s the same exact thing, but much of it seems to be the same text, perhaps ordered differently and with some additions and/or subtractions.

    Note this paragraph:

    Nor can it be said that design theory endorses progressive creation. Progressive creation holds that God intervened at various points in natural history, creating new kinds, as it were, from scratch. Progressive creation can accommodate a considerable degree of evolutionary change once a given kind is in place. According to this view the creation of a given kind induces an evolutionary envelope within which considerable, but not unlimited, variation is possible.

    Then there’s this:

    The design theorists’ beef is not with evolutionary change per se, but with the claim by Darwinists that all such change is driven by purely naturalistic processes which are devoid of purpose. [emphasis mine]

    Then when he treats theistic evolution, he makes it clear that he’s talking about purposeless process that are somehow supposed to be purposeful at the same time. The view I was sketching does not do that. His objection is that you can’t tell that God created the world, whereas on the view I was sketching you can. His whole discussion of Occam’s Razor shows that the views he has in mind as theistic evolution are the views where God isn’t doing any explanatory work. The view I was sketching has God doing the same explanatory work that the intervention-in-time model has God doing, work that you wouldn’t expect to be done by purposeless natural causes (according to the ID argument, which the view I was sketching endorses).

    If Dembski is getting something wrong here, it’s that he is using the term ‘theistic evolution’ too broadly. The view he’s describing is inconsistent with ID, but there’s a view that might be described as theistic evolution that is not, and he acknowledges that in the introduction to Mere Creation. He doesn’t happen to mention that in this version. That doesn’t mean he thinks the view I was sketching is inconsistent with ID. It means it doesn’t fall under what he’s here calling theistic evolution.

  59. #59 pimothy
    April 28, 2006

    Dembski on theistic evolution:

    The answer to this question is quite simple: Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution. As far as design theorists are concerned, theistic evolution is American evangelicalism’s ill-conceived accommodation to Darwinism. What theistic evolution does is take the Darwinian picture of the biological world and baptize it, identifying this picture with the way God created life. When boiled down to its scientific content, theistic evolution is no different from atheistic evolution, accepting as it does only purposeless, naturalistic, material processes for the origin and development of life.

    Note that Dembski does not distinguish between any kind of theistic evolution.

    Dembski continues

    As far as design theorists are concerned, theistic evolution is an oxymoron, something like “purposeful purposelessness.” If God purposely created life through the means proposed by Darwin, then God’s purpose was to make it seem as though life was created without any purpose. According to the Darwinian picture, the natural world provides no clue that a purposeful God created life. For all we can tell, our appearance on planet earth is an accident. If it were all to happen again, we wouldn’t be here. No, the heavens do not declare the glory of God, and no, God’s invisible attributes are not clearly seen from God’s creation. This is the upshot of theistic evolution as the design theorists construe it.

    God still designed but because natural processes explain it all, it provides no clues that a purposeful God created liufe. this is the upshot of theistic evolution as the design theorists construe it

    Worse for Jeremy Dembski shows why frontloading is not a solution

    Design theorists find the “theism” in theistic evolution superfluous. Theistic evolution at best includes God as an unnecessary rider in an otherwise purely naturalistic account of life. As such, theistic evolution violates Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor is a regulative principle for how scientists are supposed to do their science. According to this principle, superfluous entities are to be rigorously excised from science. Thus, since God is an unnecessary rider in our understanding of the natural world, theistic evolution ought to dispense with all talk of God outright and get rid of the useless adjective “theistic.”

    Occam’s razor will effectively remove the superfluous requirement of a God at the time of the initial condition.

    As van Till also has pointed out, Dembski’s design inference does not necessarily require an interventionist.

    According to Dembski, however, intelligent design action does not necessarily entail a suspension or overriding of natural laws.

    When humans, for instance, act as [embodied] intelligent agents, there is no reason to think that any natural law is broken. Likewise, should an unembodied designer act to bring about a bacterial flagellum, there is no reason prima facie to suppose that this designer did not act consistently with natural laws. It is, for instance, a logical possibility that the design in the bacterial flagellum was front-loaded into the universe at the Big Bang and subsequently expressed itself in the course of natural history as a miniature outboard motor on the back of E. coli.NFL, p. 326.

    So while it is a logical possibility, Dembski seems to object to the front loading concept because such a position does not necessitate a deity and in fact makes the deity scientifically superfluous.
    Dembski tries to explain how the designer could have meddled with the universe without any energy exchange however such infinite wavelength ideas while zero energy also have zero bandwidth….
    Dembski’s position to reject the logical plausibility of front loading as being relevant is understandable from a theological perspective but from a scientific perspective his position towards theism is illogical. Of course any front loading hypothesis will have the same problem outlined by Dembski namely Occam’s razor would make the designer superfluous.

  60. #60 pimothy
    April 28, 2006

    Man this is contrived logic

    If Dembski is getting something wrong here, it’s that he is using the term ‘theistic evolution’ too broadly. The view he’s describing is inconsistent with ID, but there’s a view that might be described as theistic evolution that is not, and he acknowledges that in the introduction to Mere Creation. He doesn’t happen to mention that in this version. That doesn’t mean he thinks the view I was sketching is inconsistent with ID. It means it doesn’t fall under what he’s here calling theistic evolution.

    Dembski is getting it wrong here… although he did not mention Jeremy’s version at all, he may still have considered it a theistic view consistent with ID but well, he did not say it thus…

  61. #61 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    pimothy:

    So now ID has pushed back the supernatural to an initial condition without any guidance as to how the initial condition required supernatural guidance. In order to argue that the initial condition required ID, the IDist has to show that there are no natural conditions that could possibly give rise to the initial condition.

    No, we’ve now got a fine-tuning argument. Out of all the possible sets of natural laws that there might have been, we go the ones with this surprising result. It doesn’t have to show that no natural conditions would have given rise to the surprising result, just that we shouldn’t think it likely given a naturalistic origin of the initial conditions. Keep in mind that no ID advocate thinks anything requires design logically. This is an inductive argument, and you’re trying to make it a deductively valid argument, which no inductive inference to the best explanation ever pretends to be.

    Whether ID can distinguish between intelligently caused design and merely naturally caused apparent design is not something I’m going to get into. That’s an issue of whether the argument is a good argument, not an issue of whether it’s consistent with the view I was sketching.

    But your last point is just false. ID doesn’t in itself distinguish between two views of how the design might have come about. This isn’t an issue of whether you can’t distinguish between the views. The views are very different. It’s just that the design that would be detected shouldn’t tell you which is true. The ID advocate would then need to do some philosophical arguing to figure out which design hypothesis you would prefer.

    But what’s key is that not being able to show which design hypothesis follows from the argument does not lead to the result you give. It does not lead to being unable to distinguish between an intelligent cause and a merely natural cause. The very point Dembski is making is that if ID arguments are good then that’s what you can distinguish. It assumes the arguments are good, which I’m not getting into here because it’s a separate issue. But given that the argument is good, what you should find unlikely is naturalistic causes that are not intelligent. The fact that you wouldn’t then know which kinds of intelligent causes they are (i.e. aliens, frontloading from God, miraculous intervention in time) does not invalidate the distinction between intelligent causes and merely natural causes. You’re just presenting a non sequitur.

    As for your second comment, he did mention it thus. That part isn’t in the online version, as I said, but he explicitly mentions the sort of front-loading view I have in mind in the version in the Mere Creation book.

    By the way, there’s no email address for Dembski on his blog.

  62. #62 pimothy
    April 28, 2006

    As Pennock observes

    Dembski’s theistic science begins and ends with a Biblical assumption, read under a particular hermeneutic. He writes: “If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.” (Dembski, 1999a, p. 206) IDCs’ theistic science is inherently sectarian, but Dembski tries to assure us that privileging this specific Christian view is epistemically beneficial rather than harmful.

    Dembski’s position towards theism is theologically motivated, linking ID once again the Creation(ism). Under these assumptions, indeed one may reject theism since it is scientifically and logically compatible with atheism.

  63. #63 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    pimothy: I somehow missed a comment in the middle there. When Dembski is talking about theistic evolution, I see nothing about front-loading. You’re reading that into it. What he objects to is not front-loading but the inability for us to tell by studying the world that it had anything to do with God. Front-loading just isn’t the issue. If there’s no way to tell that God had anything to do with it, then God is a free-rider in the theory, and Occam’s Razor might as well shave him off. If there is a way to tell that God had anything to do with it, which the front-loading view I was discussing does have, then Occam’s Razor has nothing to do. God does do explanatory work, and he won’t get shaved off the theory. So the very passage you’re quoting makes the point I’ve been making.

  64. #64 pimothy
    April 28, 2006

    If there is a way to tell that God had anything to do with it, which the front-loading view I was discussing does have, then Occam’s Razor has nothing to do. God does do explanatory work, and he won’t get shaved off the theory. So the very passage you’re quoting makes the point I’ve been making.

    You presume that the front loading view will give you a way to tell that God had anything to do with it but as Dembski points out Occam rejects such an additional requirement. In fact, your argument that natural processes fully explain the evolution of the system from an initial condition means that there is no design inference. If your argument is that God can still be detected at the initial condition then you have a front loading position just like Dembski described and you have to show why Occam does not apply. In fact, given the front loading scenario there is NO scientific way to distinguish between a ‘guided’ and ‘unguided’ scenario, and thus the additional ‘designer’ would seem superfluous. For Christians, theology will direct them to accepting the designer’s presence, to those who hold no religious beliefs, they nned not make such assumptions.

  65. #65 Jeremy Pierce
    April 28, 2006

    I’m not presuming there would be a way to tell, because I’m not presuming that ID arguments are any good, and that’s the crucial step that ID opponents need not grant. But if ID arguments are good arguments, then it’s an open question whether the front-loading view is correct.

    What Dembski says is that Occam’s Razor shaves off any components of the theory that aren’t necessary for doing any explaining. On the common view called theistic evolution, where there are no intelligent causes of any sort but just natural causes that are unguided, Occam’s Razor gives reason for removing God, who does no explaining. That’s Dembski’s point. On the theistic evolution picture that I’ve been discussing, Occam’s Razor simply doesn’t apply. If God is still doing some explaining because of the irreducible complexity in the world that could occur only with front-loading of design, interventionist miracles, or something like alien designers, then God is serving as an exoplanation. That’s why Occam’s Razor doesn’t apply.

    Now what you’re asking me to do is to explain why the ID arguments would be good arguments, but that’s what I won’t do. I’m not arguing for their being good arguments. I’m arguing that if they’re good arguments then this front-loading view is a genuine option. As far as I can tell, your claim that the front-loading scenario gives no way to distinguish between design and not-design really just amounts to the same claim that the interventionist miracles show no way to distinguish between design and not-design. If it’s more than that, I don’t see the argument, so you’re going to have to be more clear. But either argument is simply about whether ID arguments are good arguments. I haven’t been arguing for that. I’ve simply been assuming for the sake of argument that they are good arguments and that you can distinguish between design and not-design. That’s how to tell if two views are consistent. You assume they’re both true and see if there’s a contradiction. In this case there isn’t.

  66. #66 pimothy
    April 29, 2006

    Now what you’re asking me to do is to explain why the ID arguments would be good arguments, but that’s what I won’t do. I’m not arguing for their being good arguments. I’m arguing that if they’re good arguments then this front-loading view is a genuine option.

    Since everything from the initial moment is indistinguishable from natural regularities and chance, the design inference cannot be used. So either Jeremy argues, without any evidence, that the initial condition can still be detected to have been supernatural, WIthout this, as Dembski so clearly argues, ID using the argument of front loading loses to Occam’s razor.

    Jeremy then continues to show that he does not understand the meaning of ID

    If God is still doing some explaining because of the irreducible complexity in the world that could occur only with front-loading of design, interventionist miracles, or something like alien designers, then God is serving as an exoplanation. That’s why Occam’s Razor doesn’t apply.

    As Dembski has already stated, IC which can be explained via natural forces (front loading) and an initial condition loses due to Occam. What Jeremy fails to understand is that IC systems are not reliable indicators of design. If Jeremy is arguing that IFF ID can formulate a way to succesfully detect the frontloading by a Deity then his front loading would be different from the theistic front loading of people like van Till. So far Jeremy however has failed to show that ID has proposed a way to distinguish between front loading with and without an intelligent designer. In fact, Dembski suggests that front loading would lose to Occam and that is whether or not such a designer is essential because front loading ID cannot resolve this issue.
    After all this arguing Jeremy’s ‘argument’ has been reduced to IFF ID arguments are good arguments and that IFF you can distinguish between design and non-design then you may be able to detect an essential designer in a front loading scenario. As Dembski already suggests, however ID cannot resolve this issue for a front loading scenario.
    Apparant and actual front loading is yet again an unresolvable scenario for ID arguments much like apparant and actual IC, apparant and actual complex specified information (CSI) and apparant and actual design. In all cases, the lack of any tools to distinguish between the two, makes ID scientifically vacuous and a supernatural entity superfluous.
    Theistic postions still require the front loading to have happened by supernatural entities.

    Dembski argues

    A world in which natural capacities can provide no empirical evidence of anything other than chance and necessity and additionally can do all of nature’s design work is not a world in which intelligent design holds.

    Intelligent Design can still hold in such a world however, but such solution is not Dembski’s preferred one. His recent work about ‘conservation of information’ shows clearly a move towards front loading where the issue of who/what transfered the initial information is left unsolved. Intervention or front loading are both compatible with ID, the issue of whether or not front loading required a designer or not remains unresolved.

  67. #67 pimothy
    April 29, 2006

    Irreducible Complexity and the Flagellum: Somewhat off topic but an interesting development. Nick Matzke announced a recent paper and asks how his hypothesis for the evolution of the bacterial flagella is holding up.

    Link

    The paper is titled “Evolutionary links between FliH/YscL-like proteins from bacterial type III secretion systems and second-stalk components of the FoF1 and vacuolar ATPases” by Mark J. Pallen, Christopher M. Bailey and Scott A. Beatson and published in Protein Science (2006), 15:935-941.

    Compare this to the ID hypothesis… Oops I forgot there is none…

  68. #68 pimothy
    April 30, 2006

    Another example showing that Dembski is no fan of ID follows from his claim that ID ‘predicts’ that Junk DNA has function. We all know the creationist history of this argument and yet IFF front loading were seen as a realistic ID argument by Dembski, he could not have made this claim. Remember that from the initial condition, evolutionary processes will take over. The presence of Junk DNA would therefor be theoretically similar to the present explanations and hypotheses. The idea that Junk DNA has function has no roots in ID unless it relies on the premise of a Christian God and even then the argument has no predictive value since creationists argue on one hand that God designed all life and that thus design was initially perfect, leading to the conclusion of no ‘junk DNA’ or Junk DNA will have function. Or they argue that Junk DNA can be explained by the Fall, leading to a deterioration of the genome.
    Since ID provides no logical link between its scientific premises and its prediction about Junk DNA, the conclusion is inescapable, its prediction is guided by theology not science.

  69. #69 pimothy
    April 30, 2006

    Fan of ID should be fan of front loading

  70. #70 Henry Neufeld
    May 1, 2006

    Since my trackback doesn’t seem to have worked, I wanted to call attention to my post Is Theistic Evolution a Bad Term?. While I find it necessary to use it from time to time, I think it tends to confuse the discussion.

  71. #71 Ed Brayton
    May 1, 2006

    I agree with your essay completely, Henry. It would be nice if we could just get rid of the term completely. Since the theory of evolution says precisely the same thing about the existence of God (i.e. nothing whatsoever) as the germ theory of disease or the theory of gravity, it’s technically a pointless term – we wouldn’t think to refer to anyone as a theistic gravitationist. It would be refreshing if those on both sides – yes, I’m talking to some of the militant atheists as well as the creationists – would recognize that a scientific theory merely explains a particular set of data. Evolution is not a worldview or a “theory of everything”. It explains the natural history of life on earth and nothing else. It doesn’t tell us how to live a meaningful life, nor does it try. It doesn’t answer the essential mystery of the origin of existence itself, nor does it try.

  72. #72 Jeremy Pierce
    May 1, 2006

    Pimothy, you claim that there is no way to distinguish between frontloaded intelligent causes and frontloaded non-intelligent causes. I can give a clear example. If natural causes had led to the creation of something that looked like Mt. Rushmore, and we knew it was caused by natural causes, we might think those natural causes were guided in some way by an intelligence that knew what these four famous figures in American history looked like. I can offer two accounts of how these natural causes came about. One is that something now intervened and controlled the natural causes of wind and weathering. The other is that they were frontloaded. Either way it appears to be designed. Someone can then offer an ID argument and then be agnostic about whether it’s frontloaded or interventionist in the sense of interfering with how things would naturally have gone.

    Now what you want to say to this case is that the frontloading hypothesis rules out God from the outset. How? We have to grant for the sake of argument that the evidence points to a designer to see if ID is consistent with front-loading. So we have an argument for a designer. We don’t know yet which method the designer used, but we’ve got the conclusion already. Then you come in and tell me that Occam’s Razor rules out God if frontloading took place. How? Occam’s Razor is irrelevant if there’s data to be explained. You need some explanation of why it was frontloaded the way it was, and you don’t have that if you use Occam’s Razor to get rid of God from the view. If this piece of evidence does lead to a designer, then you get a designer no matter which way the designer would have caused the evidence to be what it was. This is so regardless of whether you call the supernaturally-caused laws natural.

    Now there’s a separate question, and that’s whether design can be detected. If not, then ID arguments are bad arguments. So what? That means the arguments are bad. It doesn’t mean the arguments are inconsistent with front-loading. What you need to show is the following claim:

    1. If ID arguments are good arguments, then front-loading of guided causes is impossible.

    What you have tried to show is:

    2. Because ID arguments are not good arguments, front-loading of guided causes is impossible.

    But that doesn’t show anything at all about the truth or falsity of 1. I’m happy to concede 2. It doesn’t touch my point. I haven’t endorsed ID arguments to begin with. But you can’t show that what I’m saying is wrong by arguing for 2.

    I’m not sure why you say that after all this arguing my argument has been “reduced” to the very thing I was every trying to argue to begin with.

    Finally, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, since you haven’t been paying attention. The only place where Dembski brings in Occam’s Razor is where he’s talking about views where design is undetectable. He doesn’t say it has to be undetectable to be front-loaded. He says theistic evolutionists tend to say it’s not detectable, and thus they don’t accept ID. But that doesn’t mean the view is in principle incompatible. Show me somewhere where he uses Occam’s Razor outside that context, because the one place anyone pointed me to was assuming no detectable front-loading and not just assuming front-loading in general. You keep bringing this in, but it’s irrelevant to the view we’ve been discussing.

  73. #73 pimothy
    May 3, 2006

    Jeremy: Pimothy, you claim that there is no way to distinguish between frontloaded intelligent causes and frontloaded non-intelligent causes.

    Perhaps you misunderstood. I claim that ID’s design inference cannot distinguish between the two. ID often confuses the matters by switching between the rather limited design inference approach and how science more commonly detects design.

    Jeremy: What you have tried to show is:

    2. Because ID arguments are not good arguments, front-loading of guided causes is impossible.

    Not at all. You misunderstand my argument. ID arguments are not good arguments, front loading is always a logical possibility but scientifically one cannot address the issue of front loading by guided causes. In other words, ID fails to support any hopes for your ideas.

  74. #74 Jeremy Pierce
    May 13, 2006

    But that’s just saying that ID arguments are inconclusive arguments. I haven’t denied that.