“God does not play design!”

February 13, 2015 § 30 Comments

In the comments of the post below I compared the putative theistic personalism of “intelligent design” to the putative anti-realism of quantum mechanics.  Perhaps, we might propose, AT critics of ID are just insisting that “God does not play dice!”

But it isn’t as if Einstein could have coherently characterized quantum mechanics itself as intrinsically misguided, to wit:

“[X] is implicitly committed to metaphysical anti-realism, and is therefore a misguided attempt to make sense of reality.”

Replace X with “quantum mechanics” and it is a ludicrous statement. Replace X with “the Copenhagen interpretation” and it is at least arguable. The latter implicitly and explicitly makes much more concrete and specific metaphysical commitments than the former.

“[X] is implicitly committed to theistic personalism*, and is therefore a misguided attempt to make sense of reality.”

Replace X with “the design inference in Darwin’s Black Box” and it is a ludicrous statement (whatever one thinks of the design inference as an empirical matter or theistic personalism as a theological matter). Replace X with “Dembski’s interpretation” or “Torley’s interpretation” and perhaps it isn’t (emphasis on ‘perhaps’: I haven’t read all of the back and forth because it frankly is not relevant to my own interests).

* This could as easily be “a mechanistic conception of nature” rather than “theistic personalism”.

§ 30 Responses to “God does not play design!”

  • Zippy says:

    I briefly considered “God does not play rice” as the post title just to continue the theme, and I might have even included a Chinese joke; but this is probably a better ‘stand alone’ post title.

  • wdydfae says:

    “God does not play device”?

    Actually, the titles have been really good in this run. “Rice” might have pushed it too much into meta.

    I can’t take much of a position on any of this since it’s over my head, but I have been going through an article by another AT thinker to try to get some reference points: Christopher Morrissey in “Epigenetic Evolution of the Immaterial Intellect on the Originary Scene” (print only) in a collection called The Orignary Hypothesis. (This was my first exposure to AT objections to ID.)

    He is writing here within a field that is not well known and not directly relevant to questions under discussion here, but his AT credentials and resolutely anti-ID stance merit notice, particularly because in this case he sees the Neo-Darwinian synthesis itself as highly consonant with an AT perspective. I’m not sharing this to throw gasoline on the fire; I just thought it was interesting. I’m typing it out because it’s not accessible online (emphases in original):

    “In terms of causality, the neo-Darwinian account of evolution is a scientific achievement of such magnitude that its vindication of nature’s incredible dynamism presents a long-overdue challenge to the philosophical prejudices of mechanism and materialism. These prejudices, which have accompanied the rise and success of modern science since Galileo, arise from a habit of mind that focuses solely on what the metaphysical tradition calls efficient and material causes. With evolution, formal and final causes once again come into full view for modern science, because efficient and material causes are no longer sufficient to account for the observed dynamism of the universe. Because the universe is now seen as dynamically evolving (and not a billiard table of interacting static types writ large), the full range of causal factors must be discussed in interpreting the empirical data. Something beyond mechanism and mathematics is required to account for the observed evolutionary reality of mind-independent being. As John Deely has carefully and painstakingly argued, the neo-Darwinian account of evolution is ‘a return to the [classical] conception of science as reasoned facts, distinct from and superordinate to mathematical facts.'” (77)

    Later: “. . . neo-Darwinism has succeeded in bringing (if only implicitly, i.e., empirically still non-philosophically) to the forefront of scientific consciousness all of the traditionally recognized types of causality.” (78)

    Later still: “Metaphysics, as conceived by Aristotle, addresses itself in a special way to questions of causality by distinguishing these various types {referring to previous quote} of causality. The debate over evolution and “intelligent design” is, as Robert T. Miller has pointed out, not really a debate about science and religion but really an argument over metaphysical questions of causality: ‘The truth is that Intelligent Design is metaphysics.'” (79)

    This is fascinating to me now because 1) I am not used to thinking of the Neo-Darwinist paradigm as an overturning of mechanism and materialism, 2) the AT position might have some fundamental affinity with Neo-Darwinism (a wild jump for me to say that, because my sample size is just one here) and AT might be predisposed to see ID as mechanistic and materialist.

    My brain hurts.

  • Zippy says:


    …the AT position might have some fundamental affinity with Neo-Darwinism…

    I think it is straightforwardly true, for at least two ‘cultural’ reasons, that Aristotleans would tend to be reluctant to admit to watchmaker-style tinkering in the origins of life – even if the empirical evidence for such tinkering was irrefutable.

    First, because their tradition arises out of a time when spontaneous generation of life was thought to be common. Von Leeuwenhoek is ultimately a much more earth-shaking figure to the Aristotlean tradition than Darwin. The picture painted by the latter actually confirms their prejudices of unaided nature giving rise to living things in an easy-peasy, commonplace, natural process.

    Second, Aristotleans draw a hard distinction between artifacts and natural objects, insisting that the former, as an a priori matter of metaphysics, do not and cannot have substantial forms. Anything which ‘blurs’ this distinction – even, you know, actual real things which blur this distinction e.g. genetic engineering – are going to meet with some unease.

    I’d be fine with it if the AT guys would confine their remarks to metaphysical interpretation of a design inference (as opposed to its facticity and empirical determination of its facticity), and I think they’ve added something useful to the discussion there.

    But that confinement isn’t what has happened, and that leads to the impression – and I still don’t know if it is a correct impression, since I am not the AT expert here – that there is something wrong with AT metaphysics in itself. If AT metaphysics really is incompatible with a microbiological design inference (e.g. Behe) that makes it empirically falsifiable (not necessarily falsified in fact, but definitely falsifiable in principle — that is, this conclusion is independent of the validity of Behe’s conclusions).

    So once again I am left (as someone who does not understand AT metaphysics as well as the authors making the arguments) to conclude that either they are overreaching in their criticisms of ID, or (their version of) AT metaphysics unravels.

  • wdydfae says:

    That’s helpful and lets me see what I should have gotten with your initial posts on this. I do remember Behe taking apart the self-organizing systems of complexity theory with the hard facts of biochemistry–memorable because I had drunk deep of the chaos/complexity craze at that time.

    Zippy, where are you with all the levels and kinds of causality emphasized in the AT perspective? (Not that I can even keep them straight at this point.) Are these real and necessary things, useful rules of thumb that are too much fetishized, or what?

  • Lydia says:

    Frankly, IMO it is absurd for Thomists and/or Aristotelians to think of neo-Darwinism as their friend. Here is why (again IMO): It makes much more sense on an Aristotelian view to see dogs as having a different essence from bacteria or even from cats. In fact, it should be astonishing to any Aristotelian or neo-Aristotelian to think anything else. Hence, the idea that the species “dog” even *could* metaphysically arise over time by purely natural processes from single-celled organisms ought to be anathema to an Aristotelian of any stripe. One really has to monkey with the categories to get the idea that the substantial form of “dog” is implicit somehow in the substantial form of “non-dog,” especially of some much simpler organism.

    My own strong suspicion (which people who know a lot more about Thomas than I have confirmed) is that St. Thomas himself was probably a straightforward special creationist about species, and this would fit extremely well with his Aristotelianism. God’s direct action would be necessary to bring into being all those new substantial forms and unite them with matter.

    It seems to me to have been extremely opportunistic for some self-styled Thomists (really, not so much Ed Feser himself as others) to imply that neo-Darwinism can make a happy marriage with their philosophy and theology.

  • Lydia says:

    So in other words, I think an AT guy should be a special creationist though for quite different reasons from ID reasons. Such a person might still dislike ID arguments for the reasons Zippy gives, but he probably should be an even more hard-line special creationist than many ID writers are, for his own metaphysical reasons.

  • Zippy says:


    …where are you with all the levels and kinds of causality emphasized in the AT perspective?

    It make sense to me, generally speaking. “Cause” is one of those very basic things about which we almost cannot talk: any ‘definition’ I give would be inadequate, but it means something like ‘whatever brings something into Being’. There are obviously various senses of this: what causes things to exist at all, what causes this to exist rather than that, what causes this merely potential to be realized in this really actual, etc.

    That last one is about efficient causes, and is where modern science does all of its work. This is broken down unreflectively by most modern people into what might be roughly called chance and necessity or randomness and law, and the ID project is to show that these are insufficient to explain forensically, in terms of efficient causes, how a world of only prokaryotes became the world we see today. ID further points out that there is another kind of efficient cause so ubiquitous in our world that we cannot avoid seeing it: agency; and that explanatorily, agency is capable of explaining what chance and necessity cannot explain alone.

    This rubs the AT folks the wrong way (as best I can tell) because of their strict division between natural objects and artifacts. I have begun to think of this division as a kind of ‘artistry of the gaps’. I’ve made the point before that God is God of epistemic gaps and non-gaps alike, and I think Man is a part of nature. In short, I am not sure that the artistry/cultivation distinction can be maintained, so I am not convinced that (e.g.) a loaf of bread does not have a substantial form while a cob of GMO corn with ‘produced by Monsanto’ written into its genetic code does have a substantial form.

    But by this point I’ve waded into waters I don’t fully grasp, though not for lack of effort. (Well, not entirely for lack of effort: laziness and a tendency to lose interest when there are too many promissory notes to cash out really does explain some of my own failings). I’ve tried to cash this out by reading (e.g.) Oderberg, but I can’t even get to engagement of the central issues there — see my “I’m too sexy …” post for where I start to get stuck.

  • DeNhilist says:

    Though Bhuddha never spoke a word after enlightenment, he did say once, that since he died, he now knew that the universe never began, nor would ever end.

    Science is slowly catching up to the Mystics –


  • wdydfae says:

    Thanks, Zippy. Quite useful.

    That last one is about efficient causes, and is where modern science does all of its work. This is broken down unreflectively by most modern people into what might be roughly called chance and necessity or randomness and law, and the ID project is to show that these are insufficient to explain forensically, in terms of efficient causes, how a world of only prokaryotes became the world we see today. ID further points out that there is another kind of efficient cause so ubiquitous in our world that we cannot avoid seeing it: agency; and that explanatorily, agency is capable of explaining what chance and necessity cannot explain alone.

    I think Daniel Dennet (who also dwelt much on Aristotle’s levels of causality in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, or maybe his own variants) broke down the efficient causes using the baseball meme: “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” (Evolutionary tinkering, God/law, chance), (Or would “Evers” be a final cause?)

    I predict (leaving the specific AT issues and rushing in where angels fear to tread) ID is not going to succeed because it will be impossible to distinguish agency from non-agency. To me, the whole universe screams design. (A lot of ID affiliated literature has contributed to that for me, though by no means only that literature.) Yet I don’t see how science can turn that into a hypothesis with which to “do science” (though we can use science very well to appreciate God). Basically, science already is uncovering agency (inadvertently, indirectly) just by looking at the natural world in a rigorous fashion, and the more it looks the more it uncovers, but specifically looking for agency is not necessarily going to disclose it, and may have the opposite effect. It’s like those miracles that aren’t technically miracles: for instance, in answer to prayer, lightning strikes a tree which falls across a road and stops traffic and clears traffic on the other side so that the ambulance can get to the hospital and the woman–whose husband has been fervently praying for deliverance from the traffic jam–can survive a very difficult childbirth and give birth to a beautiful baby girl. These are all “natural causes.” (Or in the present terms, agency expressed through seeming non-agency.) So it almost comes down to a question of finding just “miracles” in nature (incredible, improbable things that happen through “natural” “causes”) or miracle-miracles in nature (beyond natural explanation, like approved Lourdes miracles). In the former case, ID wouldn’t help (would it?), because it is all naturally explicable, as far as it goes. In the latter case . . . this would import too many assumptions or expectations about how nature unfolds through miracle-miracles (or in present terms, unambiguous agency: super-duper agency?). Or to put it another way, wouldn’t ID by definition be searching for Lourdes level instances of agency in nature?

    Having gone out on that limb, I’m sure numerous errors will be revealed and I’ll fall crashing into the underbrush below. But it’s been heady experience for these brief minutes!

  • Zippy says:

    Here Ed Feser clarifies his contentions about art versus cultivation in a fairly recent post:

    … the distinction Aristotle is getting at here is really the distinction between substantial form and accidental form, and whether something came about through human interference or not is at the end of the day a secondary issue. For there are man-made things that have substantial forms and are thus “natural” in the relevant sense (e.g. new breeds of dog, water synthesized in a lab) and there are things that are not man-made but rather the result of natural processes that are nevertheless not “natural” in the relevant sense but have only an accidental rather than substantial form (e.g. a random pile of stones or dirt, qua pile, that has formed at the bottom of a hill). The usual cases of things with merely accidental forms are man-made, though, so that we tend (wrongly) to regard the man-made as per se “unnatural,” and the usual cases of objects that occur apart from human action are “natural” in the sense of having a substantial form, so that we tend (wrongly) to assimilate what is “natural” in the sense of occurring apart from human action to what is “natural” in the sense of having a substantial form or intrinsic principle of operation.

    Whatever one thinks of the distinction between art and cultivation, it is simple enough to reframe the ID design inference in a way such that the AT objection collapses and goes away.

    Suppose a living thing is found and examined, and it is determined that it is statistically impossible for this living thing to have occurred in unaided nature: it simply must be the result of genetic engineering. Think of an apple tree which produces apples with “GMO Red Delicious by Motts” embedded in the DNA of the apple. Or a tree that produces chairs. Or a bacteria that eats oil spills.

    The ID guys observe this ‘signature in the cell’ and conclude probabilistically that the (efficient) causes of the apple tree must include the actions of an intelligent agent.

    Again, where’s the AT beef, other than that the ID guys didn’t go out of their way to learn everything about AT metaphysics before studying microbiology and pre-frame the design inference – its facticity as deduced from empirical observation – in such a way as to avoid getting AT knickers in a twist?

    Whose job is it to interpret factual claims through the lens of AT metaphysics? Is that the job of empirical fact finders, or is it the job of AT metaphysicians?

    ID (whatever one thinks of its veracity or plausibility) is first and foremost a factual claim: a claim that the observed properties of life cannot be explained by chance and the laws of physics, and therefore must be the result of intelligent agency. When confronted with this factual claim, AT metaphysicians have two choices. They can dispute the factual claim, or they can go to work explaining how the factual claim is explicable through the lens of AT metaphysics. The AT critics of ID have done neither of these two.

    At first I thought they were disputing the factual claim. That can’t be the case though, because if it were the case they would be admitting the empirical falsifiability of their metaphysics.

    And they certainly have not attempted to explain the empirical factual claim through the lens of AT metaphysics.

    So my conclusion is that they’ve spent years of attack dog articles avoiding the central issue and changing the subject.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “Whose job is it to interpret factual claims through the lens of AT metaphysics? Is that the job of empirical fact finders, or is it the job of AT metaphysicians?”

    A great question, whose form (and intent) applies to every discussion wherein definitions about empirical observations are bandied, instead of those observations. It’s all about the taxonomy (which, I remind, is merely a human construct and not TRVTH): “This is yet another example that doesn’t actually fit our schema. Hmm. Welp, I prefer our schema to reality, so reality will just have to be adjusted.”

  • Lydia says:

    wdydfae, I think what you have said about lightning, ambulances, etc., is interesting, but I’m a little surprised that you would compare it to the ID arguments. If you look at the incredible machinery of the cell, does that really seem to “scream design” in anything like *the same way* that an anecdote one might tell about a cleared traffic jam at the right moment? To my mind, it does not. Or here’s a good example:

    Now, the funny thing is that in some ways we can be more forthright in comboxes than some ID people themselves actually are. Behe himself compasses land and sea to say that he isn’t necessarily talking about miracles and that God could have “front-loaded” everything he’s describing. But I think we all know that the *interest* of this lies in the idea that some Agent had to do something “beyond the order of nature” in the origin of these biological entities.

    Speaking for myself, I think the evidence of the biological machinery is *far* stronger for what one might call “actual and deliberate agent involvement” than those sorts of interesting coincidence situations, much as I enjoy hearing about those. For one thing, as you say, in those events “those are all natural causes.” But do we really know that when the first kinesin appeared on the scene, those were all natural causes? Do we have *reason* to believe that, as we could say that we do in the case of clearing the traffic jam? I think the answers there are definitely “no” and that actual agent involvement (whether by a miracle or by some sub-divine but very powerful and knowledgeable agent) is a better explanation.

  • Lydia says:

    I apologize if I seemed to be implying that Michael Behe is being “not forthright” in putting forward front-loading as a possible theory. I believe that he is sincere in doing so. However, I think that it is a strained theory and that he is trying too hard, harder than he should, in putting it forward, to accommodate those who have a mere metaphysical distaste for miracles.

  • Lydia says:

    wdydfae, as far as scientific usefulness, one thing you might think of is the unraveling of the “junk DNA” hypothesis. Very interesting to see how that has played out. That is an area where new empirical evidence is coming in right now where non-design and design point at least somewhat in different directions. As Paul Nelson (an ID speaker) has pointed out, it is scientifically *extremely* poor methodology to call something in biology “junk,” yet that is what the neo-Darwinian establishment has been doing for decades, and now they are having to roll it back (though with a very bad grace). And they were doing it because of their commitments concerning the origin of species.

  • wdydfae says:

    Thanks, Lydia
    For background, I’ve mentioned on another recent thread that I used to follow ID sympathetically and am very familiar with Behe’s book and most of the issues you are referring to. (I knew the junk DNA idea was scrapped, though I’d be very surprised to hear that it was because of ID theory that it was scrapped. I think that was a “sciences marches on” development–correct me if I’m wrong–which would support my intuition that the best support for design in nature will be got by letting science move along and try to NOT find design in nature.)

    I also mentioned in other threads some of my problems with the ID movement, though I also mentioned that I still like a lot of the material (in particular Behe, Stephen Meyer’s writing, Hugh Ross’ cosmic fine tuning arguments, and especially Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny.). And finally, I mentioned that I have no problem with IDers pursuing ID as a scientific hypothesis, though I see the road as a very hard and uncertain one for a number of reasons, and I personally would not like to see Christians get too invested in it, because unlike amazing science-based apologetics that really can increase wonder and strengthen faith, actually doing this as a scientific hypothesis to “do science” is a whole different ball game. (Hugh Ross understands it this way too, or at least he did last time I checked, and, though never hesitant to engage faith with lots and lots of science, was quite hesitant about ID as a scientific hypothesis and I think he never really got on board with that–though again I’m out of date here.)

    These two statement may look the same but they are vastly different:
    1) There is massive evidence for design in nature. (I agree)
    2) Design in nature is a great scientific hypothesis. (I am highly doubtful)

    My point about “miracles” was actually the same one you are making, I think, though we are taking it different directions. The first type of “miracle” I gave, which you reprise, is a providential chain of causation that can be explained naturally at each step. That is not actually technically a “miracle”, which has to be naturally inexplicable–no natural explanation possible, which is another way of saying agency was involved, making it analogous (but certainly not identical) to the quest ID. At Lourdes a miracle has to go through quite a gauntlet to be approved, and a lot of experts called in tasked specifically to do what they can to disprove it.

    So it is that latter case and not the first that I thought was analogous to the ID project (or actually I thought that, and wondered out loud if it was so). My concern was, how are they going to tell what is natural (analogous to the first type of “miracle” which is not actually a miracle) and what is by agency (the second type). The “front loading” idea (which I actually like) would intensify this problem, I think. How can you tell what is “natural cause” or “agency” if nature’s been front loaded from the beginning. (This was always my emerging sneaking suspicion in the days I was following ID.)

    I hope that’s clearer and sorry if I didn’t get it across right before.

    I want to dwell on the Lourdes analogy a little more, though. The experts at Lourdes are tasked with proving there was NO miracle. If they fail, the ecclesiastic authorities can approve the miracle, if they so judge. (I think this is a very healthy back and forth of faith and skepticism.) Is this analogous to ID, or not. (now I’m really wondering)? Zippy is saying, all the ID wants to do is rule out natural causes and from there make the inference to agency (Zippy’s word, which frankly I like a whole lot better than “intelligent” or “design”). Now, my question is, but the experts at Lourdes are not trying to prove a miracle but disprove a miracle. They are not following “miracle theory” but “no miracle theory.”

  • Zippy says:

    I know you were addressing Lydia, but I think we are on very close to the same page. All I would add is that highly motivated and intelligent evolutionary theorists have been attempting what you suggest since Darwin. The way I read Behe, he is basically pointing out that they have failed, not once or twice but repeatedly and relentlessly for centuries; and he goes on to infer that this is because their “basket” of efficient causes for empirical events ignores an efficient cause that whacks us all over the head repeatedly every day: agency.

  • Zippy says:

    Behe of course goes on to theorize about and describe with a quantitative model exactly why evolutionary theorists have failed: that’s what “Edge” is about. Whatever one thinks of his particular efforts in that respect, almost all of the criticism – including the self-immolation from the AT camp – completely misses the point.

  • Lydia says:

    wdydfae, I’ll give you my opinion FWIW concerning the junk DNA revolution: I think there are cross-currents in science and that Darwinism has been a real science-stopper in this area. The only reason that it has not *actually* stopped science entirely in this area is because practical considerations such as the desire to get grants and make interesting-sounding discoveries have fortunately (even fortuitously) been stronger in the opposite direction. (Also the hope of finding disease cures.)

    However, there is still a real danger of the Darwinist paradigm stifling this research. If you follow sites like Evolution News and Views and Uncommon Descent, you will see that there is a huge amount of spin going on in the evolutionary science community to downplay both the facts and the implications of the continual discovery of more functions for junk DNA. And they (the evolutionary theorists) are pretty annoyed that the information about so-called “junk DNA” is getting out without their being able to control the branding, the spin, the narrative as much as they would like.

    I think you can see that all of that is Not Good for scientific progress. So more openness to ID *would be good* for the scientific community in that it would break down that kind of stultification.

    Concerning ruling out non-miraculous causes vs. arguing _for_ design, that has been a dispute within the ID community itself. When I was more personally in contact with various ID thinkers, I argued _vigorously_ for a comparative approach as opposed to a “ruling out” approach. Bill Dembski is using something known as neo-Fisherian probability and has argued for “ruling out” non-design causes, but I think this is mistaken.

    Ironically, *at the same time*, Steve Meyer and even Dembski himself have categorized the argument as an “inference to the best explanation.” This is contradictory. If it is an inference to the best explanation it is not a purely eliminative inference but a positive inference. They have, in my view, not tried hard enough to address that contradiction at the theoretical level of philosophy of science.

    Regardless of all of these meta-theory questions, I believe that the purely _empirical_ evidence speaks for itself–very loudly, in fact.

    Another point that may be relevant here: To a large extent I believe that working scientists are “borrowing” ID concepts all the time. For example, reverse engineering is *extremely* important in scientific research. So in a sense ID is proving its usefulness and fruitfulness in the lab constantly, but the minute you point out to a scientist that, by using reverse engineering, he’s treating this as an intelligently designed entity, he will usually clam up or pledge his allegiance to Darwinism. It’s a kind of schizophrenia in the scientific community, and recognizing it can help to open our eyes to the on-the-ground fruitfulness of treating biological entities as intelligently designed.

  • Lydia says:

    wdydfae, since I know you have read the ID literature, you probably already know this, but it may be relevant to the present discussion: Whenever self-styled ID theorists talk about who they are and what they’re doing, they always specify that they are interested in *detectible* design. So in that sense any front-loading hypothesis is a kind of fifth wheel and is not intended to make an epistemic difference or cause an epistemic problem. The idea is that they wouldn’t discuss it if it weren’t epistemically accessible, if it were really hidden. They are only interested in cases that, they want to argue, really do look like the deliberate result of agency. I’m not font of front-loading myself and think it could create some metaphysical difficulties if one really thought it happened, but I can see how it could be irrelevant epistemically. E.g. If God front-loaded a 747 to appear suddenly out of a junk yard, it would look like it appeared out of nowhere anyway.

  • Zippy says:


    …the experts at Lourdes are not trying to prove a miracle but disprove a miracle. They are not following “miracle theory” but “no miracle theory.”

    In fact their approach does not rule out one or the other a priori. If it did, it would be impossible to ever reach the conclusion that an authenticated miracle occurred.

    The ID approach (however well or poorly carried out by particular individuals with their particular flaws) proposes agency authentication. Contrary approaches rule out agency a priori, no matter what the evidence says.

  • wdydfae says:

    I appreciate the discussion, which I admit I took off topic from the opening post and the series, which is about AT/ID. And I notice a lot of grammatical howlers and typos in my comments now, too.

    Lydia, I think it’s appropriate for ID affiliated people to do some throat clearing and “umm . . . excuse me?” when findings like invalidating junk DNA come out, but I still want to insist that this is not “the ID hypothesis at work,” but rather the best current working science proceeding ahead by looking at natural causes as rigorously as possible, and (inadvertently) doing quite a lot to validate agency. The same goes for the other examples, like reverse engineering. All agency-friendly scientific thinkers have to do here in a sense is a lawn chair approach, waiting for the great science to come out, and just point to it and say, “Well, look at that! What do you know.” OK, I don’t want to trivialize it, but maybe the point is clear. This is (was?)Hugh Ross’ approach, by the way. He didn’t want a science make-over. He thought science was working great to deliver agency-friendly conclusions. (And Ross was a bible thumping Evangelical progressive creationist.) It is relevant but not overwhelmingly determinative that neo-Darwinists might be spinning the non-junk DNA findings. (I wonder what the other side on that is, though; when I hung out on ID boards, the neo-Darwinist scientists–and I don’t mean the screeching atheist kids–often seemed to hold up their end pretty darn well). That all of this incredible data on molecular machines used (mostly effectively) by ID proponents comes out of working science sans ID theory suggests that, if there the neo-Darwinist paradigm is quashing or damping science leading to agency-friendly conclusions, they are not being successful.

    Again, I am struck by the difference between using current scientific evidence to reveal evidence of agency (good!) and adopting a research paradigm to actively pursue agency (looks like trouble). Need I point out how radical a proposal the latter is? To me this is like saying, “Bullocks to this bleedin’ rugby game. It’s too bloody limiting! Let’s play bleedin’ Quidditch!” All I can think is, someone’s going to get hurt.

    I guess I should like the “only detectable design” approach of ID that you outline as it seems to answer some of my objections, but my immediate impression is that this is messy, ad hoc, and probably already assuming too much about what would be detectable and what not. And then, rather than giving more evidence for design, everything that is not “detectable” is in a sense, by default, handed over to the materialists/reductionists: “OK, you guys can have all that non-detectable stuff, but you can’t touch the bacterial flagellum.” I hardly see this as a triumph for agency-friendly science. However, you could legitimately say that with these fresh misgivings I am contradicting myself and just being a contrarian. You might have a point.

    Maybe more later. Thanks again.

  • wdydfae says:

    Zippy, on the Lourdes investigation analogy

    In fact their approach does not rule out one or the other a priori. If it did, it would be impossible to ever reach the conclusion that an authenticated miracle occurred.

    That is a valid correction. I might push the analogy a little further. It is not the job of the investigators to reach either conclusion. It is only their job to explore all natural explanations and either succeed or come up blank. The final determination is not theirs; it is a religious conclusion. Perhaps this is a concession to Gould’s “non overlapping magisteria” but it’s not wrong just because Gould said it.

    The ID approach (however well or poorly carried out by particular individuals with their particular flaws) proposes agency authentication. Contrary approaches rule out agency a priori, no matter what the evidence says.

    Yeah, that sounds right. But again, I can propose a counter-corrective. I would say rather that contrary approaches (let’s ignore extreme, rigid, doctrinaire materialists for the moment) do not exactly “rule out agency a priori no matter what the evidence says” but pursue non-agency to the limit that the evidence allows.

  • wdydfae says:


    However, you could legitimately say that with these fresh misgivings I am contradicting myself and just being a contrarian. You might have a point.

    You might also conclude I’m being a “concern troll” on this subject, which is not something I actively set out to do but something I may have fallen into. Sometimes I ask myself that question in these exchanges.

  • Zippy says:


    It is only their job to explore all natural explanations and either succeed or come up blank.

    The assumption seems to be that there can never be positive evidence of agency, only negative evidence. Projecting that assumption onto the data a priori exhibits less objectivity than refraining from projecting that assumption onto the data.

    We would never impose that kind of metaphysical presupposition onto everyday forensic investigation, to wit “we can only consider it likely to be murder if death by natural causes is absolutely impossible”.

    Methodological naturalism is irrational, biased, and unscientific.

  • Lydia says:

    wdydfae, how about, instead of “adopting a research paradigm to actively pursue agency,” one adopts a research paradigm that is *completely open* to agency as an explanation? That seems to me a _ton_ more healthy than what we currently have in terms of the biological establishment in the US and Europe. And it definitely isn’t changing to a different game. After all, the _claim_ is that science is pursuing the _truth_ about where this stuff came from and trying to tell _true_ stories about origins, etc., so…Yeah, if that’s the game, or even one aspect of the game, then presumably we actually want them to be open to what may very well turn out to be the true explanation!

    You were saying that it looks like the neo-Darwinists aren’t being successful at suppressing evidence for agency. Well, not entirely successful. The truth finds ways of getting out. But they’re being successful in ruining a lot of people’s careers if they won’t say shibboleth, thus putting a huge strain on the scientific integrity of a lot of people and corrupting them into being less than honest about the data, and that matters. And they are being successful in warping a ginormous amount of research time and money towards dead-end research projects based on naturalistic assumptions, so that should matter. And they are, using question-begging assumptions, producing a lot of questionable science and touting it as “settled results,” particularly in areas directly related to human origins, and that *really* should matter, because it’s confusing a lot of Christians. For example, the claims that science has “told us” that there “could not” have been an historical Adam, which, please forgive my language, are complete BS. And they’re being successful at planting in the minds of millions of school children and college students a false belief that “science tells us” by “overwhelming evidence” something that science doesn’t really tell us by anything remotely like “overwhelming evidence.” And it’s about some pretty important stuff, like where we ourselves came from biologically. So that matters.

    You see what I mean. For design to become accepted as a possible explanation in the mainstream scientific establishment would be a good thing because it would mean open-mindedness and more scientific honesty in these areas.

  • wdydfae says:

    Well, now we are getting into the more substantial of my problems with ID. I put these things aside in an earlier thread because the discussion was limited simply to the question of the viability of the ID hypothesis in itself (without the culture wars related stuff), and I was already taking things off topic from the AT focus.

    And if I have been worried about being a “concern troll” thus far, now I’m worried about being just a plain ole troll. So, I think the best thing to do is just paste in a paragraph from (I think) my first ID comment here, which was two or three posts back, and after a final statement, just leave it at that.

    At one point I spent a lot of time on ID material and discussion venues and, though initially sympathetic, I ended up objecting to it on other grounds (than Thomistic ones). I finally thought it was an ill-conceived venture and nothing good would come of it. ID and its proponents mix up three things, I think. 1) ID as an actual scientific hypothesis (might work; they should quietly work on it if they think it’s viable, and see what they can find out; but since they don’t know yet, they should cut the hype). 2) Science\Philosophy based apologetics (can done very effectively without ID, which muddies the waters). 3) cultural and intellectual renewal (may or may not be possible, but if it is, ID doesn’t help–again, just muddies the waters). The more time I spent on ID venues the more hopelessly tangled these three impulses seemed to me.

    If your comment reflects the current state of the ID discussion, than I feel I don’t have to revise my opinion from 10 or so years ago. It looks like the same old tangle to me. This is where I am:

    1) ID as scientific hypothesis (wild, radical, possibly reckless idea)
    2) ID as Christian apologetics (bad idea)
    3) ID as culture wars fodder (really, really bad idea)

    I think we hit the “agree to disagree” stage and will not alter or inform each others’ views on this.

  • Lydia says:

    Hmm, I’m sorry to hear that. I am generally very much a “splitter” rather than a “lumper” myself, so I really am surprised to hear that I’ve given the impression of hopelessly entangling anything. In all of the instances that I gave, what I was trying to point out was that current biology is unscientific and closed-minded in particular ways that involve locking out design as an hypothesis about the origins of entities, while pretending to pronounce authoritatively on the empirical question of the origins of those entities. I was trying to point out various ways in which science qua science would be improved by more open-mindedness on this point. You can call that “culture war” stuff if you like. I call it better science.

    And if you are concerned about the _integrity_ of science, then the way that these naturalistic assumptions have warped and harmed that scientific integrity in the pursuit of truth should also be of concern to you.

    If it bothers you that I also pointed out that there is in some particular instances a special _importance_ to these issues (though heaven knows, those on both sides of the issues seem to think that, not only on one side!), then perhaps you can restrict your contemplation to the sheerly _scientific_ interest of the question of where man came from or, for that matter, where bacteria, creatures with blood-clotting cascades, or other biological entities came from. After all, scientists and a heck of a lot of other people seem to think those are interesting questions, right? And we want to know the true answer about it, right, not waste our time on ludicrously false answers, right?

  • Lydia says:

    I’m also rather surprised that you were so put off by my comment’s alleged “culture war” ramifications as not perhaps to notice that I had directly answered your concern about making it a project to assume and actively look for design. My proposed alternative is, rather, having that as an option in our toolkit, an hypothesis which scientists are open to consider when making origins claims. Origins science is, after all, _a_ branch of science, and one that a lot of people put a lot of time into. Your previous options had only, as far as I understood, been something like sitting back and letting present science go on its merry way, on the one hand, maybe noting quietly if it happens to come up with something supportive of design, but making no attempt to bring design into science more globally, and, on the other hand, “adopting a research paradigm to actively pursue agency.” I still think my tertium quid is something you should take seriously.

  • wdydfae says:

    Thanks, Lydia, and sorry if I gave a bide vibe. I will give your latest comments close, serious attention but will probably not discuss ID anymore. I’ve had these or similar conversations before, many times (which does not mean that they are not worthy conversations but that I’m not sure how much I can get from them, or give to them).

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You are currently reading “God does not play design!” at Zippy Catholic.