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?


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?


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

Quote of the Month: Cornelius Hunter on the Unfalsifiability of Evolution

This month’s quote is by ID proponent Cornelius Hunter. Hunter is the author at the blog Darwin’s God. I used this quote myself in my article ‘Jeffrey Koperski on Good and Bad Ways to Attack Intelligent design (Part 2): The ‘Good’ Ways’, and I have seen it used in ID literature quote often. This quote is taken from Arsenic-Based Biochemistry: Turning Poison Into Wine.

Being an evolutionist means there is no bad news. If new species appear abruptly in the fossil record, that just means evolution operates in spurts. If species then persist for eons with little modification, that just means evolution takes long breaks. If clever mechanisms are discovered in biology, that just means evolution is smarter than we imagined. If strikingly similar designs are found in distant species, that just means evolution repeats itself. If significant differences are found in allied species, that just means evolution sometimes introduces new designs rapidly. If no likely mechanism can be found for the large-scale change evolution requires, that just means evolution is mysterious. If adaptation responds to environmental signals, that just means evolution has more foresight than was thought. If major predictions of evolution are found to be false, that just means evolution is more complex than we thought.

I think that at face value, Hunter’s point is undeniably true. It seems that there is little that can be discovered that would overturn evolution. That’s not to say that evolution is entirely unfalsifiable, it just demonstrates that it’s extremely difficult to falsify. Perhaps one might respond by saying that the erratic data we often encounter is the result of many different factors and mechanisms that nature utilises. Nonetheless, this response seems very ad hoc and contrived to me.

I don’t think a theory necessarily need be falsifiable to be considered scientific or true. Some theories are more difficult to falsify than others (evolution being one of them). The way I see it, testability and verifiability are more essential. Having said that, a theory that is falsifiable and verifiable is stronger than one that is merely the latter. 

What do you think?

Quote of the Month: William Dembski on the Process of Design

Each month I’ll be selecting a quote that’s relevant to the ID debate. The quote I pick could be supportive or critical of ID. Accompanying each quote will be a few of my own thoughts, but ultimately I’d like it to be a chance to focus on it and get some thoughts from readers.

This week’s quote is taken from William Dembski’s 2002 book, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence. Here Dembski attempts to give us a general account of the design process, beginning from the designer’s initial end goal and ending with the designed object:

How a designer gets from thought to thing is, at least in broad strokes, straightforward: (1) A designer conceives a purpose. (2) To accomplish that purpose, the designer forms a plan. (3) To execute the plan , the designer specifies building materials and assembly instructions. (4) Finally, the designer or some surrogate applies the assembly instructions to the building materials. What emerges is a designed object,…

(William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Langham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), p.xi.)

Dembski notes that this process is uncontroversial in cases of human design at least, and that one of ID’s main objectives is to provide a criteria that we can use to infer design in cases where we lack knowledge of this design process, affectively using effect to cause reasoning.

What do readers think?

Are there additional steps that could be added to this?

And is this a good approximation of the process of design?

Does our knowledge of human design processes permit us to infer it in cases where we know that the designer wasn’t human?