Telic Thoughts, ISCID, & Research Intelligent Design

I was pleased to find a recent post on Uncommon Descent that provides links to a few dead ID blogs and websites that have been archived. One is Telic Thoughts which in my view was one of the best ID blogs out there. It was extremely diverse and thorough. It had authors who came from a fairly orthodox ID viewpoint as well as some who took more novel approaches to the subject. It’s great to have access again to the posts and discussions on there.

Another linked website is ISCID which was a very fertile web space devoted to publishing online papers that discuss various aspects of ID

The third link is to a website called Research Intelligent Design. I hadn’t come across this page before and haven’t yet had time to explore much of it. But at first glance it looks like there is a wealth of valuable information on it, related to ID.

Like I said, it’s great to have access to these pages and I will definitely be trawling through the archives at Telic Thoughts in particular.

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Quote of the Month: Robin Collins on why design isn’t part of science

So things have been a little quiet here over the past six months. Life has an irritating way of screwing things up and preventing me doing things like this. And it doesn’t help that I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to procrastination. My head has been occupied with adapting to a new job and various changes at home. Anyway, I’m intending on getting back into writing. This post is just a brief one to get the ball rolling. There’s more to come soon.

The other day I was reading a paper by Christian philosopher Robin Collins (the fine-tuning chap). In the paper Collins elaborates on his concept of ‘methodological theism‘ and has some interesting things to say about ID. In his own work Collins argues for design using physics and cosmology. He accepts design, but has various friendly criticisms of ID and its relationship to science. Here’s one of his problems:

…the major problem I see with ID’s claim that we should include the hypothesis of a transcendent or generic designer as part of science is that it is not what I have called scientifically tractable. Typically, when scientists propose an explanation of some set of phenomena, that explanation can be filled in using other branches of science. For example, consider the big bang theory. The postulated “fireball” that resulted in our current universe provides a detailed explanation of such things as the microwave background radiation and the abundance of elements because we can use current particle physics to elaborate this fireball’s internal dynamics. If its internal workings were forever beyond the realm of current science to investigate, it is doubtful such an hypothesis would be of much scientific interest. Ditto for the theory of evolution and other scientific theories.

Insofar as the hypothesis of ID invokes a transcendent or generic designer, it lacks this characteristic. One cannot use current science to elaborate the internal dynamics of a transcendent or generic designer (though one might for a specific sort of non-transcendent designer, such as an extraterrestrial intelligence). Yet, lacking this characteristic is no small matter, since it is what allows scientific hypotheses to provide detailed explanations and predictions, and it gives scientists something to work with. It is not sufficient for advocates of ID to reply that intelligent design is the best explanation of various features of the natural world: many theists argue that God is the best explanation of the big bang and the laws of nature and many platonists argue that the existence of an immaterial realm of mathematical truths is the best explanation of the success of mathematics in science, but clearly this is insufficient to make the God hypothesis or platonic hypothesis part of science. So, whether or not one wants to consider ID as part of science, this significant and relevant difference between it and regular scientific hypotheses should be acknowledged.

So, what do you make of Collins objection? Note that he isn’t claiming ID is false, but merely that it can’t be considered to be a part of science.

My initial thoughts are to say that it isn’t true that the data ID seeks to explain can’t be illuminated by categories that are already found in science. As ID theorists have pointed out many times, intelligence is already a part of various sciences. We invoke it to explain data in all sorts of areas. We can utilise our firm knowledge of how design processes operate, what marks are often left behind by intelligent forces, and make various predictions based on that. Collins recognises that ID doesn’t necessitate supernatural design and can just appeal to generic intelligence, and also admits that non-transcendent, extra-terrestrial design hypotheses don’t face this problem. But ID does in fact allow such hypotheses and so to my mind Collins objection falls.

What do you think?

The Evolution of a Protein Transport Machine: Fazale Rana on Irreducible Complexity

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe’s groundbreaking work on intelligent design. This month, the documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines was made available online. It’s remarkably well made and is certainly required viewing for anyone interested in this topic. Behe’s ideas have been knocking around for more than 20 years now, and much has changed in the time that has passed. Revolutionary presents Behe’s argument in an updated and fresh form. In light of this focus on Behe’s work on design, I thought it would be fitting to write an article on irreducible complexity.

For the past few months, biochemist and old-earth creationist Dr.Fazale Rana has been posting ‘Question of the Week’ videos on his Facebook page (the videos are also available on YouTube), where he discusses various science and faith questions. Rana primarily focuses on topics surrounding the biological origins debate. I have followed much of his work in the past, primarily because he comes at the design debate from a different perspective. Though he does accept intelligent design, he doesn’t always agree with the way most ID theorists advance their arguments. Interestingly, one of his primary disagreements is with Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity and in one of his more recent videos he discussed the question ‘Is irreducible complexity a good argument for design?’.(1)

In the video, Rana begins by helpfully laying out some basic definitions and talks about how Behe’s work influenced him in the past. He then goes into a discussion about some of the usual responses ID critics use against Behe’s argument (co-option etc.). I was half expecting Dr. Rana to stop there and come down on the side of the critics, but I was pleasantly surprised. Rana recognises that the co-option response (at least with respect to the Type Three Secretory System) is completely misguided, and, as Behe and others have to point out continuously, it doesn’t begin to appropriately tackle this nagging biological perplexity. However, Dr. Rana brings up another example. In talking about his past enthusiasm for the argument he notes:

But all that changed for me in 2009 when a team of researchers from Australia and the UK published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where they were looking at the evolutionary origin of what’s called the TIM23 protein import machine. This is an irreducibly complex protein transporter that is embedded in the inner membrane of mitochondria, that plays a role in mitochondria biogenesis, transporting proteins from the cytoplasm of the cell into the lumen of the mitochondria.(2)

You can read the full paper that Rana is referring to here.

Rana goes into a little more detail on the irreducible complexity of the mitochondrial machine that is in question, claiming that we can show experimentally that if one protein is removed from this complex, it will cease to function. For him, by demonstrating a plausible co-option scenario for the Darwinian development of this system, this paper essentially disproved Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity, though he does qualify the conclusions of the paper:

This work could be interpreted from a design framework where you could just simply argue that the similarity between the TIM A and TIM B, and the proteins that are part of the TIM 23 complex, is essentially a reflection of the modular design of biochemical systems, where you have components that can be pieced together in a variety of different ways to produce a number of different types of functional systems. Or you could view them as part of an archetypal design that a creator used to build different types of machines.(3)

Despite this, he thinks that the paper shows that irreducible complexity is a claim that can no longer be made because the researchers demonstrated a plausible stepwise pathway. Though he recognises that they hadn’t fleshed out all the details, and that it doesn’t definitively prove that the system emerged in the way they argue, to him they did succeed in presenting a plausible pathway.

Concerns About the Paper

Before moving on to some of Rana’s other points , I want to take a look at his reservations about irreducible complexity. I happen to disagree with his conclusions here, sensibly tentative though they are. Though the paper is now quite old (published in 2009), I did read the paper at the time and the media hype surrounding it. Various science news outlets picked up on it (4), asserting with smug triumphalism, intelligent design’s ignominious demise (yet again).

The main thing I’d like to do in this article is to draw attention to the other side of the argument. As I quoted above, though Rana charitably notes that the results of the paper in question can, conceivably, be interpreted in a design framework, I felt he wasn’t doing justice to the way various ID proponents have responded to the paper. Shortly after the paper was published, there were several noteworthy comments from various ID proponents, which cast serious doubt over the success of the paper in question. Here I will breifly outline some of them.

The first response was from Behe himself, though unfortunately he was predictably refused a ‘letters to the editor’ response to the paper. He subsequently posted his thoughts at Evolution News. Behe essentially points out that ‘the claims made in the paper far surpassed the data, and distinctions between such basic ideas as “reducible” versus “irreducible” and “Darwinian” versus “non-Darwinian” were pretty much ignored.'(5) The first questions to consider is whether the system is irreducibly complex or reducibly complex. And whether anyone claimed the system is in fact irreducibly complex in the first place. The authors of the paper, Clements et al, clearly think they are demonstrating that a previously postulated irreducibly complex system, is actually reducible. Yay for Darwin. They write:

Molecular machines have been described as being of irreducible complexity. But could a single component of the machine function in the absence of the others to provide even inefficient protein transport? Although searches of genomes have not found a species of eukaryote in which the LivH/Tim 23 type channel is present in the absence of Tim44 and Tim14 subunits, equivalent studies on the TOM complex in the outer mitochondrial membrane have provided just such proof of principle.(6)

However, Behe responds:

The authors intend to show that Darwinian processes can account for a reducibly complex molecular machine. Yet, even if successful, that would not show that such processes could account for irreducibly complex machines, which Clements et al cite as the chief difficulty for Darwinism raised by intelligent design proponents like myself. Irreducibly complex molecular systems, such as the bacterial flagellum or intracellular transport system, plainly cannot sustain their primary function if a critical mechanical part is removed. (2-4) Like a mousetrap without a spring, they would be broken. Here the authors first postulate (they do not demonstrate) an amino acid transporter that fortuitously also transports proteins inefficiently. They subsequently attempt to show how the efficiency might be improved. A scenario for increasing the efficiency of a pre-existing, reducible function, however, says little about developing a novel, irreducible function.(7)

Clearly, contrary to the assertion of the authors, and by extension Dr Rana, Behe argues that the mitochondrial machine is not irreducibly complex. More importantly, as Casey Luskin points out in his response ‘No ID proponent has ever claimed that this particular system is irreducibly complex, making this a straw man attack.'(8) Of course, the system still could be one that meets the standard criteria of an IC system, even if Behe and others never focussed on it, showing that there are plausible Darwinian pathways to such systems. Rana claimed that it had been experimentally confirmed that if one part is removed, the system crashes, but he neglected to elaborate on the details. If we look at the paper itself, we find no detailed support of this claim. Behe mentions a few other points, which you can read in the response, but concludes that:

…if these are the best “refutations” that leading journals such as PNAS and Science can produce in more than a decade, then the concept of irreducible complexity is in very fine shape indeed.(9)

To my mind, Behe’s response was a little brief, yet he managed to cast a few serious doubts about the paper. Aside from Behe’s comments, a more thorough and devastating rebuttal came from Casey Luskin. As mentioned, Luskin argues that the paper is a straw man, due to the fact that ID theorists haven’t claimed this system is irreducibly complex (10). Even apart from that, there are more serious problems with the arguments in the paper. One of the main problems with it, is their flippant and vague understanding of the IC challenge. Luskin references the work of philosopher Angus Menuge, who sharpened the challenge by laying out several necessary steps that an argument against IC must make. They are reproduced below:

For a working flagellum to be built by exaptation, the five following conditions would all have to be met:

C1: Availability. Among the parts available for recruitment to form the flagellum, there would need to be ones capable of performing the highly specialized tasks of paddle, rotor, and motor, even though all of these items serve some other function or no function.

C2: Synchronization. The availability of these parts would have to be synchronized so that at some point, either individually or in combination, they are all available at the same time.

C3: Localization. The selected parts must all be made available at the same ‘construction site,’ perhaps not simultaneously but certainly at the time they are needed.

C4: Coordination. The parts must be coordinated in just the right way: even if all of the parts of a flagellum are available at the right time, it is clear that the majority of ways of assembling them will be non-functional or irrelevant.

C5: Interface compatibility. The parts must be mutually compatible, that is, ‘well-matched’ and capable of properly ‘interacting’: even if a paddle, rotor, and motor are put together in the right order, they also need to interface correctly. (11)

Like most critics of Behe’s argument, Clements et al, only attempt to address C1 and as one can clearly see, this barely even scratches the surface of the problem. Luskin goes into quite some detail on other problems with the paper, such as the suspiciously easy appeal to ‘preadaption’, often using teleological language. You can read Luskin’s full response here.

The final response I’ll point to is one by Brian Thomas at The Institute For Creation Research. Despite the fact that I disagree with his theological stance, in the article he makes some legitimate points. Thomas criticises the reasoning of the authors and their preadaptation hypothesis:

…the very label “preadaptation” counters the authors’ claims. The idea admits that not-yet-evolved “proto-machines” are not subject to Darwinian selection of adaptations. Preadaptation is observed nowhere; it is a devised assumption “in keeping with Darwinian evolution.” The fact that non-functioning “machine parts” are invisible to Darwinian selection is exactly what design theorists have observed.(12)

There were two other responses made to the paper which are worth reading. One was by Clive Hayden at Uncommon Descent here, and Cornelius Hunter at his blog here.

In my view, the responses to the paper I have outlined provide some strong counter arguments to the claims made in the paper, removing Fazale Rana’s reason for having doubts about irreducible complexity.

Is Irreducible Complexity a Negative Argument?

Coming back to Rana’s video, there were some other comments he made that I’ll briefly touch on. One of Rana’s criticisms of Behe’s argument is that it’s framed in purely negative terms, and so risks a kind of “god of the gaps” reasoning. He sees the standard design argument this way:

The way in which, I believe Michael Behe, framed the argument…is in negative terms. That is evolution cannot explain the emergence of irreducibly complex systems, therefore these systems must be the product of a designer.(13)

I was disappointed to hear this comment made by Rana because it’s one of the weakest objections and the most common misunderstanding about the formal structure of design theory. I’m not going to bother responding in great detail to this claim, since it has been thoroughly dealt with in other publications. A good response to the god of the gaps charge can be found here. In short, as atheist Bradley Monton argues:

…I maintain that Behe’s irreducible complexity argument is not a God-of-the-gaps argument at all. Behe is not saying that we don’t know (or can’t know) how irreducibly complex systems like the bacterial flagellum could plausibly arise naturalistically. Instead, Behe is giving positive reasons that the sequence of events that would have to happen for irreducibly complex systems like the bacterial flagellum to arise via an undesigned process is an improbable sequence, and hence the design hypothesis should be taken seriously.(14)

Behe himself points out that:

…irreducibly complex systems such as mousetraps and flagella serve both as negative arguments against gradualistic explanations like Darwin’s and as positive arguments for design. The negative argument is that such interactive systems resist explanation by the tiny steps that a Darwinian path would be expected to take [because direct routes are impossible and indirect routes unlikely]. The positive argument is that their parts appear arranged to serve a purpose, which is exactly how we detect design.(15)

Rana complains that Behe and others don’t appeal to the positive designed qualities of biological systems, such as the information bearing properties, optimisation, and analogs to designed objects by humans. I find this a bizarre claim to make coming from anyone who has done even a cursory reading of Behe’s work, because even back in 1996, Behe’s argument appealed to all the things Rana accuses it of lacking.

One further point to make about Rana’s ‘god of the gaps’ charge is that ID doesn’t necessarily posit a god. It posits intelligence. The most one could accuse ID of doing is arguing for an ‘intelligence of the gaps’. This is not a problem if those gaps are features that positively require an appeal to intelligence. Rana worries that by doing this, one is backing into a vulnerable position, where all it takes is for someone to demonstrate one plausible Darwinian pathway, and the argument lies in tatters. That may be the case for particular molecular systems, but on the other hand, all it takes for naturalistic accounts to be falsified, is one single demonstration of a true irreducibly complex system. Famously, Darwin himself recognised this.(16) Essentially, Rana makes a straw man argument against the standard challenge from irreducible complexity, alleging that it makes a purely negative claim against evolution, but ID proponents have been crystal clear about the positive aspect of their theory, and so I conclude that Rana’s concerns here are misplaced.

Conclusion

Rana goes on to argue very strongly for design and I agree with all his comments about the richness of the design hypothesis. It’s just that he believes he is making a different type of argument to Behe’s and the rest of the standard ID model, when in fact he is merely making the same claims as standard ID theory. I’ll end this article by saying that I genuinely appreciate Rana’s work and his powerful case for biological design, I just think his reasons for rejecting Behe’s irreducible complexity challenge and his problems with the formal structure of the argument are very weak.

The dispute over irreducible complexity continues. What I aimed to do in this article was to address some of Rana’s concerns, especially surrounding this particular 2009 paper. Much more work has and is being done (17), and Behe’s provocative ideas continue to be written about in the philosophical and scientific literature.(18) As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, to get a clear and contemporary presentation of Behe’s ideas, I highly recommend giving Revolutionary a watch.

References

  1. Reasons to Believe (2017) Question of the Week: Aug 21, 2017 Is irreducible complexity a good argument for design?. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcqzL4pLMe0
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Websites such as Softpedia, Wiredand ID critic Jack Scanlan picked up on the publication.
  5. Michael Behe, Reducible Versus Irreducible Systems and Darwinian Versus Non-Darwinian Processes, Evolution News (2009), Available at: https://evolutionnews.org/2009/09/reducible_versus_irreducible_s/
  6. Clements A, et al. (2009) The reducible complexity of a mitochondrial molecular machine. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA doi/10.1073/pnas.0908264106.
  7. Behe, op cit.
  8. Casey Luskin, PNAS Authors Resort to Teleological Language in Failed Attempt to Explain Evolution of Irreducible Complexity, Evolution News (2009), Available at: https://evolutionnews.org/2009/09/pnas_knocks_down_straw_man/
  9. Behe, op cit.
  10. In Luskin’s article Molecular Machines in the Cell, he lists various molecular systems, some of which have been argued by scientists to be irreducibly complex. However, Luskin puts TIM and TOM systems in the category of machines ‘that may be irreducibly complex, but have not been studied in enough detail yet by biochemists to make a conclusive argument.’
  11. Angus Menuge, Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), p.104-105.
  12. Brian Thomas, Preadaptation: A Blow to Irreducible Complexity?, Acts & Facts (2009), 38 (11): 15.
  13. Reasons to Believe, op cit.
  14. Bradley Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press, 2009), p.115.
  15. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press (2006), p.263-264.
  16. Darwin wrote ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.’ (Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, (1872), 6th edition, (New York University Press, 1988), p. 154.
  17. For some of the most up-to-date work on mitochondrial transport systems I recommend reading Origin and Evolutionary Alteration of the Mitochondrial Import System in Eukaryotic Lineages.
  18. Many critics believe ID to be a dead theory. However Behe’s ideas, 20 years on, are still being studied to this day: Digital Irreducible Complexity: A Survey of Irreducible Complexity in Computer Simulations, A New View of Irreducible Complexity, The Argument from Irreducible Complexity, Michael Behe’s Challenge — Past, Present, and Future, Three Flagellum Updates Amplify Behe’s Challenge to Darwinism from Irreducible Complexity.

Critic’s Corner: Sahotra Sarkar

Sahotra Sarkar is a philosopher of science and conservation biologist at The University of Texas at Austin. He specialises in history and philosophy of science, most of his work being focused on physics and biology. 

As a critic of intelligent design and creationism, Sarkar is not as well known as people like Ken Miller and Barbara Forrest. Having said that, in my view Sarkar is one of the few good critics. Even though I think his case against ID isn’t successful, it is sophisticated and carefully argued. I think because Sarkar isn’t particularly well known in general, there has been little interaction with his work (I hope to fill this gap at some point as I think his work is well worth responding to). Here is the material related to Sarkar and ID:

Homepage

http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~philsci/sarkar/main.html

Books

Doubting Darwin?: Creationist Designs on Evolution

Papers & Articles

Sober on Intelligent Design

The Science Question in Intelligent Design

Decoding “coding’-information and DNA

Fine-Tuned Deception

“Intelligent Design” Creationism Is An Immoral Fraud

Book Review: Science v. Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution

Book Review: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

Sarkar’s blog posts on ID

Responses

Debate with Paul Nelson (Discussion paper for Sarkar/Nelson Debate on Evolution and Intelligent Design)

In the Face of an Aspiring Baboon: A Response to Sahotra Sarkar’s Review of Science vs. Religion?

Review: Doubting Darwin?

Not So Innocent: Methodology and Metaphysics of Evolution 

Evolutionary Revisionist Sahotra Sarkar Fine-Tunes Recent History

Why Can’t Intelligent Design Critics in Synthese Accurately Represent Their Opponents?

Sarkar’s Review of My Book, and Dougherty’s Defence-Bradley Monton

Response to Sarkar’s Review of ‘Seeking God in Science’-Trent Dougherty

Quote of the Month: H. Allen Orr on Darwin’s Failure to explain the Origin of Species

“He [Darwin] recognized that he asked his readers to believe both that most evolution is due to natural selection and that sterility of hybrids routinely evolves. Indeed, Darwin spent an entire chapter of the Origin of Species trying to explain away this paradox, but his attempt was less than overwhelmingly successful. Hence the common (and correct) charge that the Origin of Species neglected to explain the origin of species.”

-H. Allen Orr (“Dobzhansky, Bateson, and the Genetics of Speciation” – Genetics Society of America) 

Orr’s comment here echoes the pioneering Dutch geneticist, Hugo De Vries, when he famously stated that ‘natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.'(1) In more modern times, we hear similar admissions from evolutionary biologists like Andreas Wagner in his book Arrival of the Fittest, claiming that Darwin left evolution’s greatest puzzle unexplained. These claims are of course historical rather than about the current state of evolutionary biology. With regard to modern evolutionary theory we are repeatedly assured that Darwin’s theory and its many and various extensions have most things covered nowadays. That is another question altogether, but as it happens, I see little evidence that, even now, the ‘arrival of the fittest’ has been adequately explained under the reigning naturalistic framework.

As to the historical claim about Darwin’s lack of success, I have no desire to exaggerate or  on the other hand downplay his achievements beyond what the evidence really shows us. It’s important to be honest. It is however a breath of fresh air to have these rather more subdued assessments of Darwin’s work rather than the highly suspect pronouncements made by most avid Darwinists, who tell us that Darwin gave us a sufficiently detailed and unassailable naturalistic account of biological change. He did no such thing.

What do you think?

References

  1. Glenn Branch, Whence “Arrival of the Fittest”?, Available at: https://ncse.com/blog/2015/05/whence-arrival-fittest-0016357

Design & the Problem of Intelligibility 

Disputes over ID are often fruitless, not least because most critics (and often many advocates), of the theory, devote an inordinate amount of time to addressing socio-political issues and the mere categorisation of ID. Critics guilty of this offence seem … Continue reading

Peter S. Williams on Intelligent Design

Peter S. Williams is a philosopher I respect very highly. Being a Christian, most of his work falls within the realm of Christian apologetics, however, Williams is also an intelligent design proponent and has produced some valuable work on philosophy of science and intelligent design theory. In other articles, I would like to look at some of his specific writings in more depth. For now, I wanted to round up his work on ID. Here it is:

Peer Reviewed Papers

The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement: A Critical Review,” Philosophia Christi (Vol. 9, Issue 2, 2007). Also available @http://epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=54

Atheists Against Darwinism

 

Articles

Christianity, Space & Aliens

Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism

The Definitional Critique of Intelligent Design Theory: Lessons from the Demise of Logical Positivism

Design and the Humean Touchstone

Designed or Desinoid: Dawkins, Science & the Purpose of Life

Focus on Intelligent Design: Some Advice on Avoiding Journalistic Embarrassment

Intelligent Design, Aesthetics and Design Arguments

Intelligent Design Theory – An Overview

If SETI is Science and UFOlogy Is Not, Which Is Intelligent Design Theory?

Playing Both Sides of the Pond: British and American Belief in Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design

A Rough Guide to Creation & Evolution

Theistic Evolution & Intelligent Design in Dialogue

‘What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?’ – Comparing Dawkins’ Blind Faith to Flew’s evidence

A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory by Lawrence M. Krauss

The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design: A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion

On the Side of the Angels: Review of Richard Dawkins’ A Devil’s Chaplain

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Undermining Richard Norman on “Why Science Undermines Religion

The War on Science: How Horizon Got Intelligent Design Wrong

A Response to Edward Turner’s Review of A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism

A Response to Edward Turner’s Review of I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning: A Response to Nihilism

Dawkins Ad Hominem – Misrepresented Again?

Intelligent Designs on Science

‘Is Peter S. Williams a liar for God?’  One fallible human responds to another’s critique of ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism’

Reviewing the Reviewers – Pigliucci et al on “Darwin’s Rottweiler & the public understanding of science”

God Questions – a dialogue-Carl Stecher and Peter S. Williams (Cosmological and Design Arguments)

 

Book Chapters

Peter has written about intelligent design in further detail in several of his books:

-In chapters 8 and 9 in I Wish I Could Believe in Meaning: A Response to Nihilism.

-In chapters 6 and 7 in A Faithful Guide to Philosophy: A Christian Introduction to the Love of Wisdom.

 

Videos

Peter S. Williams and AC Grayling Debate Fine-tuning

Peter S. Williams vs. Peter Hearty on ID

Faithful Guide To Philosophy 6: Paley, Hume & Design (Teleology I)

Faithful Guide To Philosophy 7: Intelligent Design (Teleology II)

Podcast Episodes

Thinking Through Creation & Evolution

Introduction to Intelligent Design Theory

A Rough Guide to Creation

Introduction to Intelligent Design Theory (2)

How Atheists Defend Intelligent Design Theory

 

Blog Posts

Peter often writes about ID on his excellent blog, ID Plus.

 

Evolution 2.0 vs Intelligent Design: A Preliminary Response to Perry Marshall

A few days ago I was listening to an episode of Unbelieveable?, the fantastic radio debate show and podcast at Premier Christian Radio. The episode was a fairly recent one between Stephen Meyer and Perry Marshall. Marshall is the author of Evolution 2.0 and writes at his blog Cosmic Fingerprints. I’ve read some of his work and he makes some interesting points, though I find myself disagreeing on many issues. Essentially, his contention is that biological complexity is best explained not by conventional evolutionary theory or standard ID, but by the mechanisms proposed by those promoting the ‘Third Way‘ and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. For him, the explanation for biological complexity lies within the cell itself because cells are essentially intelligent agents, capable of doing their own design work. I plan to examine Marshall’s work in more detail in the future but for now I want to briefly comment on one of his more recent blog posts where he reflects on his discussion with Stephen Meyer. The post in question featured a comment from another listener followed by Marshall’s own thoughts on the debate and Meyer’s approach. Here’s what he says:

The Discovery Institute people are NOT happy with my view of biology, where the intelligence resides in the cells. They consider that heresy.(1)

It’s not that ID theorists are unhappy with Marshall’s view. I wouldn’t say that Marshall’s view is necessarily incompatible with ID. I’ve noticed in most of his work that he takes a very narrow view of what ID is and tries to turn it into something that it’s not. The reason why Meyer and others don’t think much of ‘Evolution 2.0’ is that it doesn’t go far enough, and thus fails to explain biological complexity. It may well be the case that cells have some form of intelligence, and Meyer doesn’t outright reject this view, but that doesn’t explain the origin of information. This was pointed out by one commenter who wrote:

Nowhere did he reject the notion of cellular intelligence as an explanatory tool in biology. His point was that a) its scope and power is as yet unproven and b) at best it pushes back the design question one step. Cellular intelligence cannot explain the origin of cellular intelligence.(2)

As others have argued, it leaves us with an unsolved chicken and egg problem. Marshall responded by saying that Meyer rejected the ability of cellular intelligence to produce macro-evolution. Even if he did, his primary point was that it doesn’t explain the type of information in the cell. Marshall himself agrees with this and writes ‘So the larger question is: Where do codes come from in the first place?’.(3) This is the same question ID theorists have been asking for decades, and they answer that question with ‘intelligence’. Marshall worries that Meyer is arguing that ‘the emergence of life on earth is a series of miraculous events that cannot be observed or reproduced by scientists.'(4) The problem is, observability and repeatability aren’t the be-all and end-all of science. Any event that happened in the distant past cannot be observed, so we can only make inferences. What design proponents claim is that the complexity in the cell cannot be reproduced naturalistically or without reference to intelligent causation. But like observability, naturalism isn’t an essential part of science. Meyer may think that there are miraculous, ontic discontinuities in life’s history, but let’s not confuse Meyer’s personal views about the implementation of design with design simpliciter. More importantly, I don’t think is a fair representation of what he thinks.

A Gap in Marshall’s Reasoning

For Marshall, ID can only be a theological, ultimate explanation for the biological world. He’s unwilling to posit intelligence beyond the natural world itself because according to him that would mean using ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning. This is one of the points that he insists on despite continual correction. He writes in response to one commenter that ‘Meyer claimed to NOT be making a God-of-Gaps argument when in fact he was doing precisely that.'(5) In a more detailed comment on his commentary of the debate with Meyer he says:

“The Cambrian explosion wasn’t caused by naturalistic evolution, it was caused by Intelligent Design” or “Origin of life was an act of Intelligent Design” are by definition God-of-Gaps arguments…

The Discovery Institute can claim it’s not a God argument, and instead say it’s an information and intelligence argument, but at the end of the day, if it’s not from the innate capacity of the cell or some process we can model, observe and describe, then it’s supernatural. Just because intelligence is “inference to the best explanation” doesn’t make it not a God-of-Gaps argument. It’s still God-of-Gaps.

…despite Meyer’s insistence to the contrary, Intelligent Design is still God of the gaps.(6)

Marshall is completely off the mark here. It certainly isn’t, logically speaking, a stark choice between the options he lays out. A gaps argument is a negative one, yet an inference to the best explanation is by definition a positive argument. This is a basic logical point, yet he fails to grasp it. All ID appeals to is intelligence. It would be absurd for someone to object to an inference to design, after observing Mount Rushmore, by responding ‘that’s just an intelligence of the gaps, we must be able to account for it in terms of wind and erosion’. The ‘gaps’ objection is as much an illogical one to what ID theorists are arguing as it is in the Mount Rushmore example. ID doesn’t require God of the gaps thinking, because it doesn’t even posit God. Though most design theorists do think the designer is God, that is not a conclusion forced by ID itself. And the fact is that there are also some supporters who don’t identify the intelligence with a deity. Marshall merely continues to assert that ID is ‘God of the gaps’ argument, yet he provides no support for this claim. I’d like to see Marshall take a more open and charitable view to what design theorists actually think instead of forcing it into the tiny box he wants it to be in.

At bottom, I think Marshall’s error lies in his simplistic philosophy of science. He claims ‘A scientist must discover natural processes using the scientific method.’.(3) He might be surprised to learn that amongst scientists and philosophers, there is no agreement on what ‘the scientific method’ is. No one has yet solved the vexing demarcation problem. What we can say is that there are various reliable methods we use to elucidate the natural world and we often use terms such as ‘testibility’, ‘falsifiability’, ‘observation’, ‘experiment’, ‘repeatable’, ‘prediction’, and ’empirical’ to describe scientific conduct. The problem is that no one can agree on whether science must have all these attributes, or whether some are more necessary than others. As soon as we try to describe a black and white ‘scientific method’ we run into serious problems. Related to Marshall’s view of science is his insistence on methodological naturalism. This is an area that has been debated over and over in discussions about design. Again this is a disagreement about scientific methodology and many believe methodological naturalism to be highly dubious as a necessary requirement for science.

Old-Earth Creationism?

Marshall goes on to write that:

What this debate shows is that Intelligent Design a la Discovery Institute is actually Old Earth Creationism. Also, my debates with Stephen Meyer have also made it clear to me that a large number of Discovery Institute supporters are actually Young Earth Creationists.(7)

This is a serious misrepresentation of their position. If he has read much ID material, he can’t have understood it properly. The Discovery Institute define ID this way:

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.(8)

Of course, one might claim that how one defines a view could be different to what it actually is in practice, but conceptually speaking, there is nothing in this definition that necessitates Old Earth Creationism. ID could only be a form of creationism if it refers to a deity in its definition. ID is an inclusive view that has a minimalistic commitment to design in nature. As a result, it can be supported by any view that allows design as a possibility. This could include Young and Old Earth Creationism but it could also include views that hold to an intrinsic teleology, which could be compatible with various non-theistic worldviews.

The commenter Marshall was responding to wrote ‘I always thought that, in principle, the concept of ID accepted any form of intelligent cause, not just the God answer.'(9) As far as I know, no design proponent has ever argued on scientific grounds that only God can be the intelligence in question. ID is compatible with any view of intelligent causation. If a design theorist does object to non-theistic interpretations of ID, that would be on theological and philosophical grounds.

Marshall’s misunderstandings about ID can be seen all too clearly in another post he wrote, comparing neo-Darwinism, ID, and his ‘Evolution 2.0’ (which he lumps in with ‘the third way’ and the extended synthesis). He puts these differing views in a chart to illustrate where the differences lie. Unfortunately it presents a very simplistic picture and again misrepresents ID’s stance on various areas. Below I have reproduced part of his chart, singling out his comments on design (10):

(Intelligent Design)

Origin of Life: Created by an Intelligent Designer

Speed: Instantaneous events of intervention

Sources of Novelty: Insertion of information by outside agent

Scientific Status: Supported by inference; not possible to experimentally demonstrate; rejects methodological naturalism

Implications for Humanity: Man is a special creation

Implications for Science & Technology: Scientists can study designs, but not the design process

Causality: Top-down

Implications for Spirituality: Most commonly associated with evangelical Christianity

As you can see, there are various problems with this chart. The first thing to point out is that the three views outlined in his original chart aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m sure Marshall will know this, but it’s important to realise that ID is broad enough to accommodate many of the insights made by neo-Darwinism and the extended evolutionary synthesis (if one could even make such a stark distinction). All the ID position is committed to is the view that though the various mechanisms proposed might explain much of the biological realm, they fail when it comes to explaining the features that design theorists have identified. As to some of the specific points shown above, Marshall seems to think that ID is committed to some sort of external intervention as opposed to gradualism and also that it must view humans as being specially created. This isn’t correct. ID isn’t committed to non-gradualism, interventionism, or special creation. William Dembski writes that:

Intelligent design does not require organisms to emerge suddenly or to be specially created from scratch by the intervention of a designing intelligence. To be sure, intelligent design is compatible with the creationist idea of organisms being created from scratch. But it is also perfectly compatible with the evolutionist idea of new organisms arising from old by a gradual accrual of change. What separates intelligent design from naturalistic evolution is not whether organisms evolved or the extent to which they evolved but what was responsible for their evolution.(11)

More recently I listened to another discussion Marshall had. This time it was with ID theorist Jonathan McLatchie on his Apologetics Academy. This was interesting because it made clearer some of Marshall’s thoughts. I was pleased to see Jonathan and a couple of others put many of the points I have addressed here to him. It is clear that when pushed, Marshall was prepared to acknowledge some of the subtleties of ID theory and he did at times make a distinction between interventionist ID and other versions. However, he must make these distinctions in his written work if he is to represent ID accurately, and I haven’t seen any retractions on his blog yet. Frustratingly, though the ‘God of the gaps’ objection and his dubious philosophy of science were robustly questioned by others in the discussion, he continued to fail to grasp these points. He admitted himself several times that he has a predisposed theological bias towards naturalistic explanations in science. And that’s that. There isn’t much you can do with such an unreasonably recalcitrant bias toward naturalism.

In summary then, a preliminary analysis of some of Marshall’s work shows that there are some serious problems with his take on intelligent design and his broader thesis of ‘Evolution 2.0’. As I said at the beginning of this article, I’d like to take a closer look at Marshall’s work, in particular his book and other writings. This isn’t intended as a comprehensive refutation of his work, for there is much in Marshall’s thinking that an ID proponent can agree with. However it is clear that his notion of ‘Evolution 2.0’ perhaps isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and he needs to seriously revise his understanding of intelligent design. Marshall writes, ‘I do not believe that I have misrepresented ID in any way, shape or form. I understand ID very very well.'(12) I beg to differ. As one can see from this cursory analysis, Marshall understands very little about ID.



References

  1. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/intelligent-design-creationism/
  2. ibid.
  3. Perry Marshall, Truth or Market Share? Intelligent Design vs. Evolution 2.0, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/id-vs-evolution/
  4. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.
  5. ibid.
  6. Perry Marshall, Stephen Meyer Debates Perry Marshall – Intelligent Design vs. Evolution 2.0, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/stephen-meyer-debate/
  7. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.
  8. Discovery Institute, Frequently Asked Questions, Available at: http://www.discovery.org/id/faqs/
  9. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.
  10. Perry Marshall, Darwinism vs. ID vs. Evolution 2.0, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/chart/
  11. William Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (InterVarsity Press, 2004), p.179
  12. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.

Peter S. Williams & Denis Alexander’s Dialogue on Intelligent Design

In this post, I wanted to draw attention to a particular written dialogue between ID advocate/philosopher Peter S. Williams and biologist/ID critic, Denis Alexander. Both Williams and Alexander are committed Christians (Williams being one of the UK’s foremost Christian philosophers and Alexander being the director of the Faraday Institute for Religion and Science), so in terms of their broader worldviews, they have much in common. Denis Alexander is a Christian neo-Darwinist, which would put his views pretty much in line with the Biologos crowd (in fact he is one of the bloggers at Biologos). Alexander has critiqued various aspects of ID in many publications¹

Back in 2006, Alexander had an article published on the website Bethinking.org called Creation and Evolution?. In it he discusses theistic evolution, creationism, and ID. Subsequently, Peter S. Williams penned an interesting piece in the form of a hypothetical dialogue called Theistic Evolution & Intelligent Design in Dialogue. There are several characters in the dialogue who are coming from various perspectives in the origins debate. This article was written as some form of response to Alexander’s initial article. In response to this, Alexander wrote Designs on Science, an open letter to the characters in Peter Williams’ dialogue, which neatly summarizes some of Alexander’s criticisms of ID. Finally, in response to Alexander, Peter Williams wrote Intelligent Designs on Science: A Surreply to Denis Alexander. This was the concluding part of their dialogue.

It is well worth reading through the dialogue from start to finish. Both authors engage in a polite and cordial fashion throughout, and much ground is covered in great depth. In particular, Williams’ concluding response is very lengthy (25.000 words with almost 300 footnotes) and very well researched, and to my mind constitutes a devastating refutation of Alexander’s objections to design. In addition to this, Williams presents a strong positive case for ID. Of course, Williams doesn’t answer everything that Alexander has written on ID but he deals with the most salient points.

In future, I shall be writing my own response to some of Denis Alexander’s more recent publications on intelligent design.

  1.  Denis Alexander has critiqued ID extensively in books such as Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?The Language of Genetics: An IntroductionRescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain TodayBeyond Belief: Science, Faith and Ethical ChallengesRebuilding the Matrix: Science And Faith In The 21St Century. On top of these, he has published many articles on the topic including Is Intelligent Design Biblical?Intelligent design is not scienceA Critique of Intelligent DesignA Response to Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

 

Critic’s Corner: Elliott Sober

Elliott Sober is a highly respected professor of philosphy at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His main fields of interest are philosophy of science and philosophy of biology.

Sober has interacted quite a bit with ID theorists, and has published several interesting papers and books advancing his take on ID and evolution. To my mind he is a very thoughtful critic, whose responses to ID present quite a strong challenge. That being said, I think design advocates have also done a good job at replying to Sober’s criticisms. Sober’s output is pretty vast so in this post I have only link to his published works related to evolution and ID:

Books by Sober

Papers/Articles

(Sober’s papers directly related to ID can be found at the bottom of his page)

Selected Papers

Intelligent Design, Irreducible Complexity, and Minds-A Reply to John Beaudoin

Popper’s Shifting Appraisal of Evolutionary Theory-(with Mehmet Elgin

Media

Lectures and Interviews

Youtube Playlist

(Podcast Episodes)

Think Atheist: Episode 43

Elliott Sober on Darwin’s Theory

Darwin or Design with Jason Rennie

 

Responses

(Books)

William Dembski responds to Sober in:

-No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Roman & Littlefield, 2002) in chapter 2: Another Way to Detect Design?

-The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Inter-Varsity Press, 2004) at various points.

Bradley Monton Responds to Sober on p.42-46 of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press, 2009)

David Reuben Stone responds to Sober in The Loftus Delusion: Why Atheism Fails and Messianic Israelism Prevails (2010) in chapter one ‘Intelligent Design and Modus Tollens’.

 

(Papers & Articles)

A Critique of the Rejection of Intelligent Design as a Scientific Hypothesis by Elliott Sober from His Book Evidence and EvolutionJames LeMaster

Testability of Intelligent Design Argument in the Perspective of Quantitative Methodology-Chong Ho Yu

Firing Squads and Fine Tuning: Sober on the Design Argument-Jonathan Weisberg

Sober on Intelligent Design and the Intelligent Designer-John Beaudoin 

Another Way to Detect Design? A Preliminary Reply-William Dembski

Another Way to Detect Design? Lecture Notes-William Dembski

Elliott Sober’s Independent Evidence Requirement for Design– William Dembski

If Not Natural Selection?(A review of Steven Hecht Orzack and Elliott Sober, eds., Adaptationism and Optimality)William A. Dembski

Sober’s “Progenic Fallacy”-William Dembski

Elliott Sober, Alvin Plantinga and the Design Argument-Graham Veale & David Glass

A Critique of Elliott Sober’s Goals and Abilities Objection to the Design Argument-Daniel Lim

On the Logic of Evolution and the Vanity of Scientism-Thomas E. Elliott

Observation Selection Effects and the Fine-Tuning Argument for Cosmic Design
Jonathan Lipps

Epistemology, Miracles, and the God Who Speaks-Lydia McGrew

Historical Inquiry-Lydia McGrew

Testability, Likelihoods, and Design -Lydia McGrew

Elliot Sober: Just Don’t Call the Designer “God” (Part 1/Part 2)-Sean D. Pitman

Empiricism and Intelligent Design I: Three Empiricist Challenges-Sebastian Lutz

On Likelihoodism and Intelligent Design-Sebastian Lutz

On Elliott Sober’s Challenge for Biological Design Arguments-Troy Nunley

Fossils, Fishnets, Fine­tuning…and Flaws in Sober’s Defense of Common Ancestry-Troy Nunley

Fishnets, Firing Squads, and Fine-Tuning (Again): How Likelihood Arguments Undermine Elliot Sober’s Weak Anthropic Principles-Troy Nunley

Where the Design Argument Goes Wrong: Auxiliary Assumptions and UnificationMaarten Boudry & Bert Leuridan

Thomas Nagel vs. His Critics: Has Neo-Darwinian Evolution Failed, and Can Teleological Naturalism Take its Place?-Vincent Torley 

Sober and Irreducible Complexity-Dave S

Deconstructing Sober-Dave S

“No Designer Worth His Salt”? At the University of Chicago, Gregory Radick Critiques the Theology of Darwinism

Sober Analysis-Logan Gage

What is Wrong with Sober’s Attack on ID? (Part 1/Part 2/Part 3/Part 4)-Casey Luskin

Cornelius Hunter’s Blogposts on Sober

Getting Sober About Survival (Part 1/Part 2/Part 3)-Michael Sudduth

Probabilistic Modus Tollens and the Design Argument-Alan Rhoda

Nagel and his critics, Part III-Edward Feser

The “Achilles’ Heel” of the Design Argument?

Sober Continued

Sober, Arbuthnot and Fisher

Elliott Sober: Confusing Religion and Philosophy-Jeremy Pierce

Sober on ID being Inherently Supernatural-Bradley Monton