Lunch With Bradley Monton, “Intelligent Design’s Unlikely Defender”

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This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Pennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin


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I just had lunch with Bradley Monton, the University of Colorado philosopher who has stepped up as “Intelligent Design’s Unlikely Defender.” He and his friend/colleague Robert Pasnau were on their way to the Poudre River in northern Colorado for a kayaking trip, I’m in Fort Collins for a conference, and the three of us met for lunch at an excellent Japanese restaurant in Old Town Fort Collins. The first thing I want to say is how gracious they both were as professional philosophers conversing with a much less learned amateur such as myself. The second thing to say is that it was just enjoyable to be with them: it would be easy to be friends with men like them.

We talked about Brad’s new book, Seeking God In Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, and the cultural controversies surrounding the ID debate. He argues that ID is a question worth pursuing. By doing so he has placed himself in the center of a storm. Though he doesn’t say he believes ID is true, he has been subjected to considerable pressure just for suggesting it’s worth working on—called “anti-intellectual” by other professors, for example, and repeatedly criticized by people who had not even read or heard what he actually says. I had one “burning question” for him related to this: what would he have done if I had worn my Michigan State University shirt to lunch? He laughed. (It’s not entirely an inside joke.) As far as I can tell he’s taking the pressure with a good sense of humor. Amazingly enough, he’s even willing to have his name associated with a “Thinking Christian” blogger!

I was curious how he came to choose atheism as his position, something he doesn’t explain in his book. I’ll leave it to him to make his reasons public if he ever wants to do that. Though our discussion was on the record in the sense that he was happy to have me write it up here, still some things we talked about are not really mine to pass along. Robert in turn asked me whether I thought the existence of God is provable. I said no, I don’t think it’s provable. Rather I believe (as I’ve written here before) that God provides strong internal assurance of his reality to believers, and that this assurance lines up strongly with external (philosophical, historical, and existential) evidences for God. Those things together give me very high confidence that God is real. I appreciated that they listened, and I hope I was giving them the same courtesy.

We didn’t get as much into the ID-related arguments he makes in the book as I would like to have done; that would have taken another hour or two. One point of discussion, though, was that in the book he discusses four “somewhat plausible arguments for Intelligent Design,” as he puts it: the fine-tuned universe, the Kalam cosmological argument (briefly defined here, though not in quite the same terms as in the book) the origin of life, and post-origin biological arguments for ID. He considers all of these to have probabilities at least somewhat greater than zero. I asked if he had ever put a probability number on their likelihood or plausibility. If they were all, say, 50% likely, and if their probabilities were all independent (which is an interesting question we did not try to resolve) then the probability that none of them is true is equal to 1/2 raised to the fourth power, or one in sixteen. Or, to say the same thing conversely, the probability that at least one of the design arguments is true, on those assumptions, is about 94%. But those were just numbers I used to illustrate the point I was making, and he did not commit to any estimate of the probabilities.

I won’t try to replay the whole lunch conversation. Brad and I certainly disagree on one extremely fundamental aspect of reality: the existence of God. (Robert did not explicitly state his position on that. nor what he believes about ID, except to say that his interest in ID comes mostly by way of his friendship with Brad.) Nevertheless I very strongly respect and appreciate Brad for taking a courageous stand in the current academic environment, for handling it as a search for truth rather than pushing ideologies, and for being a decent human being in the way he goes about doing it. I hope the three of us can get together again sometime for another good talk together.

I hope their kayaking trip works out, too, but it’s not looking good for them. It’s raining out, and I’m hearing thunder and seeing lightning out toward the mountains as I write this. Bradley Monton is already taking enough risks in his life by publishing on ID. I have a feeling he and Robert are smart enough to stay off a river during a thunderstorm.

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55 Responses to “ Lunch With Bradley Monton, “Intelligent Design’s Unlikely Defender” ”

  1. Hi Tom:

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood and am in need of some clarification. I find this point kind of troubling: “… the existence of God… I said no, I don’t think it’s provable. Rather I believe… that God provides strong internal assurance of his reality to believers, and that this assurance lines up strongly with external (philosophical, historical, and existential) evidences for God.”

    Dave nicely cited St. Paul (“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse”), and then there are the opening lines of Psalm 19 (“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”)

    Moreover, there are the praeambula fidei—the culmination of philosophy (to be exact, natural theology), i.e., the highest knowledge of God that is possible on philosophical grounds alone. The existence of God (more precisely of Being Itself) is a “piece” of knowledge accessible to human reason. Faith is something different: apart from a deep trust in who He is, such faith “knowledge” (including the Trinitarian nature of God, the Incarnation, etc.) is only obtainable through revelation. We can know through reason that God exists; we believe and trust in Who He is through revelation.

    In other words, we have much more than mere “evidence” for the existence of God. We can, in fact, know He exists. To hold that God’s existence can’t be proved is not only incorrect, but lends itself to usurpation by the NOMA crowd: it’s separate from “real” knowledge (wink, wink), so let the believers sit in their own corner because never shall these forms of knowledge overlap.

    Did I misconstrue what you were trying to say?

  2. Pretty cool meetup, Tom. Virtual reality meets actuality. Sounds like the meeting rose to the level of your Starbuck’s standard.

  3. @Holopupenko:
    As I replay the conversation, I recall saying that we do not require evidences to have knowledge of God, that he can and does give knowledge of his reality by other means, especially the work of the Holy Spirit; but that the evidences of his existence line up in accordance with that knowledge. That’s what I think I said, and (in a brief form) what I also meant to say here.

  4. Hi Holopupenko

    Dave nicely cited St. Paul (“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse”),…

    I’ll cite another verse here;

    “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

    For some people the standard of proof is beyond reasonable. I once thouht that if I had only been there to see the miracles I would never have doubts. Then I read the Bible and discovered that many of the people who witnessed the miracles still wouldn’t believe. In both the OT and NT there are examples of people willfully rejecting the grace of God. So proof beyond doubt is probably not available for the simple reason that we willfully reject the truth when it is offered – we may be without excuse, but that doesn’t mean we won’t pretend we have an excuse.

  5. Hi Tom G.

    Sounds like you had a great discussion with a man who is simply interested in pursuing the evidence wherever it may lead. It can be great fun to discuss the big questions in that setting.

  6. Hi Holopupenko

    Holopupenko = bare belly?

    Significance?

    (Am I the only one who finds selection of “Captcha” security words intriguing? They often appear generated to link together in pithy pseudo-phrases.)

  7. Dave:

    Good translation! You are correct. The standard Ukrainian reference is to the bare bellies of starving children. I use it, rather, to indicate that I am not invincible (there is an archangle Michael; I am not he), and that I have a soft (meaning unprotected) underbelly. If you can find the kink in the armor, go for it!

  8. Dave:

    You note: “… we willfully reject the truth when it is offered…”. Ahh, but remember: you’re dealing with folks who conveniently reject free will in order to free themselves from pursuing “inconvenient” truths. Funny (perhaps sad?) how humans can so easily and so intentionally delude themselves…

  9. The captchas seem to be drawn from posts/comments on this blog. They often make me chuckle.

  10. Hi Holopupenko

    Good translation! You are correct.

    Thanks, but I didn’t translate it, I Googled it, (it’s unusual enough to give an accurate search)and one of the hits gave me the translation. Quirky but interesting. 8^)

  11. Again, I don’t think that ID is actually useful as a movement. If it is used as a cloak for anti-evolutionary rhetoric, as many of its proponents do, then it exceeds the mantra that Monton is talking about. But if it somehow tries to encapsulate all the different beliefs of an intelligent designer, then it’s too broad for a theory. The bigger problem is that it’s used as both and could be either at any time. If the majority of academics are trying to discard ID’s less sensible form but Monton is trying to present ID’s more sensible form, then the two sides are just talking past each other, and invariably it will look like all ideas are being suppressed. Given these reasons, I don’t see why he needs to use the ID label. It would make as much sense to say theism’s unlikely defender from an atheist, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with. Some broad form of theism or God could very well turn out to be correct just because there’s so much we don’t understand. The ID issue, however, tends to go well beyond that.

  12. Tom,

    As I was reading through the post I copied this out to comment on (in a favorable way):

    Rather I believe… that God provides strong internal assurance of his reality to believers, and that this assurance lines up strongly with external (philosophical, historical, and existential) evidences for God. Those things together give me very high confidence that God is real.

    … and when I glanced down the comment list I see that it had already been commented on.

    Still, I’d like to say that I find this to be one of the best (and least rancorous) statements about faith I’ve come across.

  13. From Monton’s mention of Tom’s review of Monton’s book:

    More than once in my blogging I have offered ID antagonists a bit of tongue-in-cheek “strategy advice.” I tell them, “I’m going against my own best interests with this, but if you want to attack intelligent design, you really ought to quit aiming at the wrong targets. You attack it as creationism, but it isn’t that. You attack it as being an anti-science campaign, but it isn’t that, either. You attack it as a theocratic political ploy, and that’s not what it is, either. Here’s my advice: If you want to defeat ID for what it really is, maybe you should to attack it for what it really is: a scientific and philosophical approach to exploring origins.”

    Bradley Monton is not attacking intelligent design. He does ID proponents an obvious service by defining from a neutral perspective what ID really is, or at least what really matters about ID in the long run: not the cultural baggage that has been attached to it from various sources, but its genuine scientific and philosophical approach to exploring origins.

    If ID’s opponents pay attention to his book, he might do them even more of a service than what he is providing for proponents. He might actually help them to get on the right topic, to aim at the right target. The real question is not whether ID is a pseudo-science, whether it is a cultural subterfuge, or whether it is “The New Stealth Creationism,” as it has been called. Monton shows that none of these are what matters. They may have some passing rhetorical or political interest, but the real question, the one that counts, is this: Is intelligent design true?

  14. Hi Jacob

    If it is used as a cloak for anti-evolutionary rhetoric, as many of its proponents do, then it exceeds the mantra that Monton is talking about.

    ID is not a cloak for anti-evolutionary rhetoric it is the observation that evolution fails to adequately explain the origin and diversity of life. There is no doubt that we observe variation within ‘species’ (classes of organisms), but we have no demonstrable mechanism for developing new ‘species’ (classes of organisms). In other words, no one knows how to get from a bacteria to a biologist.

    But if it somehow tries to encapsulate all the different beliefs of an intelligent designer, then it’s too broad for a theory.

    ID, as a discipline, deliberately avoids speculatation about “who” or “what” the designer is. Those who subscribe to the concept of ID cover the spectrum from atheists, to pantheists, to theists, and individually affirm one or another metaphysic, but it is not a requirement of ID that one subscribe to any particular metaphysic.

    One need not be capable of reading heiroglyphs to comprehend that heiroglyphs constitute a ‘language’. Nor does one need to be an engineer to comprehend that structures such as pyramids are not ‘natural’ formations. Each is the product of forsight and intention, i.e. intelligent agency. That’s the short version of ID. It could include advanced aliens or God as the intelligent agent, but it isn’t unguided evolution.

  15. …but the real question, the one that counts, is this: Is intelligent design true?

    Actually, I think the real question is, What does Intelligent Design allow us to know? It seems to me that every piece of “knowledge” that ID imparts is, at best, a philosophical inference. As science, it offers us nothing that is on par with the weakest piece of knowledge we have gained from Evolutionary theory.

    If ID is going to taught as science (be considered relevantly “true”), then it needs to add to our empirical knowledge. It will not be meaningfully true (in the way that has made it part of the debate) until it does so.

    Today, despite all the attention, resources, and promise of worldly (and probably heavenly reward) there continues to be no working hypothesis for ID. The closest things are questionable deductive arguments that purport that life cannot originate through natural means, or that a step in evolution is so improbable as to be considered impossible. These are not arguments for ID’s truth; they are merely (flawed) deductive arguments against Evolution’s probability.

    I would ask ID proponents this: is Christianity true because Islam is false? I don’t believe you would say yes to that. So why does it seem that ID is judged to be true by a similar argument, especially one that needs to reload every time a new version of it is newly debunked?

    Until ID provides a hypothesis, a system for gaining knowledge through induction, then we don’t have anything to answer Tom’s question above.

    At least David E. (in his first comment at https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/07/intelligent-designs-atheisti-defender/ ) is putting his head around trying to figure out a way ID could be tested inductively. Until some its proponents, including the ones here, at least try and put something similar forward I can’t take very seriously your enthusiasm for what the ID can offer us as a science.

  16. Jacob:

    For the record, I, as a newly-minted associate professor of physics AND as a natural philosopher (Aristotelian-Thomistic) would agree with you that ID is not a science in the sense we today understand mondern empirical sciences. It is a particular strain of philosophical interpretation animated (to a certain extent) by a particular Scriptural interpretation. (No, I’m not going to unpack that now.) Does this mean we are automatically justified in dismissing ID out of hand? Of course not, for the philosophical interpretation/approach must be evaluated on its own merits… but the MESs can’t do that because they aren’t about validating philosophical interpretations.

    However, just as quickly (and perhaps more vociferously), for the same reasons I would condemn the unscientific, pseudo-philosophical rantings by the new atheists who think they’ve successfully used science to “prove” God doesn’t exist… or that He’s “very improbable.” Their approach is one of the worst misuses of the MESs (next to perhaps the Nazis and Soviets) in history that illicitly supports an ideological worldview. These guys are gravely deluding themselves.

    ID poses VERY interesting questions–as well it should, and it is to Prof. Monton’s credit that he’s attempting to hear what they say and follow their arguments. (Behe and Dembski are NOT denying descent with modification took place over long periods of time: what they are saying is that evolutionary theory alone is incapable of explaining the origin of life on earth.)

    Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, ID’s lasting contribution may not be as an MES but as spurring a deep rethink for the need to teach philosophy and, at least at a survey level, theology in public schools. Why not? These are very valid disciplines with very long histories in academia. (The much touted yet illictly imposed “Separation of Church and State” is a sad, whining little ruse to limit intellectual inquiry in the name of a secular agenda.) A good solid realist philosophical vision of the world could provide the much-needed tempering and sanity check to ridiculous unscientific interpretations of MES findings by untrained (err… philosophy inept) scientismists. At the same time philosophy and theology as academic disciplines would greatly benefit from the dedicated tenacity and contributions to our knowledge of the sensory-accessible world the MESs provide.

    Finally, I would urge you to let your hair down and take the time to view the “Thousand Questions” video Tom posted… and listen to what it’s saying. This video, in the realm of logic, is located almost completly in poetics–that part of logic that expresses the deepest, most important yet scientifically intangible aspects of our humanity. Our knowledge is not fully served by the certitude syllogisms, probable dialectics, or urgent rhetoric. We also need the beauty of poetics and the deep truths it reveals. Dawkins and Dennett and Harris and Hitchenson and Stenger, etc., are SOOOO retro in their thinking… and SOOO wrong.

  17. For the record, before it becomes a topic of dispute, Behe believes in common descent but believes that variation is not random but, rather, implicates design throughout, and perhaps instantiated at the inception of the physical universe.
    Dembski no longer believes in universal common descent.

    Neither concerns himself very much with OOL.

  18. Charlie:

    Thanks for that clarification… but I wonder, what does Dembski now believe (if not universal common descent), and on what does he base that belief? Is it possible to summarize his current view in 2-3 sentences?

  19. HI Holopupenko,
    I surely can’t.
    He used to say that he accepted the arguments and evidence for common descent but believed that the development of the human brain and language demonstrated a discontinuity that was best explained by design and not natural causation.
    He developed a theodicy that alluded to pre-human hominids prior to Eden, indicating at least physical descent.
    As far as I can recall, this is consistent with his latest statements:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/ayalas-potemkin-village-review-of-francisco-ayalas-darwins-gift/#comment-139047

    For the record: I personally don’t believe in common descent though I think there are lines of evidence that suggest considerable evolutionary change. At the same time, there are lines of evidence that suggest considerable discontinuity among organisms.

    Oops.
    He has completely rewritten his theodicy.
    http://www.designinference.com/documents/2009.05.end_of_xty.pdf
    I’ll give it a read and report back.
    Since his work publishing on ID in the past year with Robert Marks it seems, on the surface to me, that his confidence in various aspects of the evolutionary paradigm have diminished.

  20. Hi Charlie:

    Okay, thanks. I look forward to the “report”… although I hope you understand I’m not tasking you to do so.

    😉

    Anyway, if your characterization (“believed that the development of the human brain and language demonstrated a discontinuity that was best explained by design and not natural causation”) correctly reflect Dembski’s views, then I must strongly part company with him. Why? Because it’s the “NATURE of the beast” that defines what it is, its innate functions, changes, etc., etc… including capacity to evolve if the mechanisms are there.

    In other words, Dembski is incorrectly pitting the natures of living things (including the rational capacity of human beings) against design. There is no conflict there, although not having a solid understanding of natural philosophy might explain why he can’t see that.

    We have in the world various ontological kinds of creatures, i.e., viewed along the “axis” of ontology, the human is different in kind (not just in degree) from the brute animal. But viewed along the “axis” of material complexity, we are only different in degree from the brute animals. Neither of these axes conflicts with the other: ontological considerations view natures from the persepctive of their beingness; material considerations view natures from the perspective of the complexity of their makeup. Together, they form a wonderful picture of what life is about.

    But to pit one against the other is a non-starter… and both sides are guilty of it: (1) those who espouse irreducible complexity try to “extract” design from mere material considerations, and impose a particular non-scientific interpretation upon it in their attempts (in fact, complexity is seen along the material axis, design is revealed along the ontological axis); (2) those who decry ontological considerations try to do so from a scientistic perspective, and with such an a priori limitation, of course they can’t “see” design. And then these camps talks and cuss past each other. It’s an unfortunate and artificial battle that does much to keep the camps fighting rather than thinking.

  21. Hi Holopupenko,
    The posted theodicy makes nor reference to the age of the earth or common descent, although the book for which it is now an introduction does discuss the age of the earth. He has always been a defender of the old earth. I don’t know if this has changed in recent years, but I doubt it.

    Perhaps Dembski is lacking in his philosophical understanding, but Dembski holds a phD in Philosophy as well as Mathematics (BS in psychology and MS in stats).
    He has held positions teaching philosophy and history of science and is currently a professor of the philosophy of religion.

    I’m not with you on the idea of natures and their material instantiation.
    When Dembski accepted descent, provisionally, he did not argue that humans didn’t descend from apes, but that their abilities, language, morality and the reasoning mind, could not have arisen naturally by decent with modification.
    Would you agree with such a position?
    If we did descend from apes, how does a chimp nature become a human nature?

  22. Hi Charlie:

    Daniel Dennett has a Ph.D. in philosophy and teaches philosophy, but he in a sense is a traitor to his own discipline because he’s first of all animated by scientism–to which he then molds his “philosophy.” That’s very bad, and we know the kind of nonsense he puts out (including opposition to free will).

    No, I’m not equating Dembski to Dennett. What I am saying is that Dembski is not a “natural philosopher” in the traditional sense of that discipline. Natural philosophers must be able to weave together the MESs AND a realist philosophy to “see” both the ontological and MESs aspects of reality.

    Again, if your characterization of his position is correct (that [human] abilities, language, morality and the reasoning mind, could not have arisen naturally by decent with modification) that in no way precludes evolutionary development along the material (MES-accessible) “axis”, i.e., where there are no gaps, i.e., where there are only differences in degree. Natures don’t evolve or change or come into being along that axis–only complexity rises (or falls) along the material axis. (In this, your last question is correct.) But natures are “seen” along the ontological axis and CANNOT be altered immanently.

    Moreover, there’s quite a misreading of Aristotle–as if his understanding is philosophical essentialism pitted against evolutionary theory’s rejection of essences or natures. First, evolutionary theory can’t per se reject the concept of nature or essence–these are philosophical terms. Second, Aristotle was brighter than that: change is part and parcel of contingent beings. The “whatness” of something is used as a pronoun, and thus is seen in relation to other essences or natures. “Essence” is a noun, and therefore cannot willy-nilly be used interchangeably with “whatness”. The “what” in Aristotle refers to the “composite” (yuck, I hate that word) of matter and form. In other words, “essence” is absolute, “what” is relative. The fact that a living thing is changeable does not caputure the entirety of its beingness (its essence). Why? Because form is important to essence as well: it is inseparable from it. So, from this perspective of essence, the essences of the things the natural scientist studies ARE changeable.

    To restate: The fact that the material cause is part of the explanation of why natural things exist (we are made of matter, after all) means that natural things are essentially unfixed and changeable… even though this is not the whole of what we can say about them. BUT, natural things also “have” an unchangeable essence in so far as they are natural (“have” natures), which means inasmuch as natural things are changeable they must be “composites” of matter and form to explain their existence along with the efficient and final causes. Evolution takes coming into being for granted (rightly so: all contingent beings change), and so cannot “see” and has no use for unchangeable essences. Is that a threat to natures as created? Of course not!

    Do you see why the things terms signify are very important?

  23. Thanks again, Holopupenko,

    Again, if your characterization of his position is correct (that [human] abilities, language, morality and the reasoning mind, could not have arisen naturally by decent with modification) that in no way precludes evolutionary development along the material (MES-accessible) “axis”, i.e., where there are no gaps, i.e., where there are only differences in degree.

    This is why I wonder why you say Dembski is lacking some foundational knowledge and that you are parting ways with him. He is not saying that these abilities mean we didn’t descend physically from apes, but that these abilities represent a discontinuity with ape abilities and, thus, are not mere natural modifications from apes.
    His point here, at this point in his thinking, was that we could have evolved from apes, BUT, that these features did not.

    I am quite certain, though, that you are not claiming that an animal with an ape nature can give birth to an animal with a human nature. And in no number of generations could this happen, I presume? If so, you are still with Dembski, as far as I can tell.

    I’m sorry but much of your argument I just don’t follow. As I continue here I will do my best but I am sure to be butchering what you are trying to communicate.

    Natures don’t evolve or change or come into being along that axis–only complexity rises (or falls) along the material axis. (In this, your last question is correct.) But natures are “seen” along the ontological axis and CANNOT be altered immanently.

    I think we are together here. You seem to have left open the possibility of natures changing, but, by “not immanently” you are dismissing a naturalistic, internal or material cause … correct?

    In your fourth paragraph, however, are you saying that the “form” (is this the ideal, soul-like form? or the material realization of the form?) can chance, and, in relying upon it, so does the essence? By “essence” are you referring to “nature” from before, and does “nature” encompass the things we were discussing, like reason, language and morality?
    If so, are you saying that these CAN evolve due to the physical evolution of the body?
    I don’t think you are, but this is the best I can follow you.
    If you are, you do, indeed, depart from Dembski here.

  24. Perhaps you’ll find this useful.
    http://www.designinference.com/documents/2004.06.Human_Origins.pdf

    I think you can get his perspective form section 6 to the end.
    His summation:

    Hence, there may also be good reasons for thinking that a redesign process [adaptation from apes] didn’t produce humans and that, instead, humans were built them from the
    ground up (pun intended). Design theorists have yet to reach a consensus
    on these matters
    [ie., physical descent is irrelevant to the question]. Nevertheless, they have reached a consensus about the indispensability of intelligence in human origins. In particular, they argue that an evolutionary process unguided by intelligence cannot adequately account for the remarkable intellectual gifts of a William James Sidis or the remarkable moral goodness of a Mother Teresa.

    My bolds and [brackets].

  25. Tony,
    I answered your question about the potential benefits of ID in the other thread. My guess is you *can* think of some benefits but they rank lower than some minimum level you have arbitrarily set. Anything below that level isn’t worth pursuing in your mind.

    Do you take the same critical stance wrt current scientific pursuits? I asked this before, how would the discovery of another galaxy benefit empirical science?

  26. Charlie:

    Very good clarification–thank you. Here’s where I think you are exceptionally good: “You seem to have left open the possibility of natures changing, but, by “not immanently” you are dismissing a naturalistic, internal or material cause … correct?” YES! Brilliant! Ontological differences in kind can coexist with biological continuity (the phylogentic continuity of all species). The issue we humans face is explaining these two axes. One employs the MESs to deal with the phylogentic continuity; one employs natural philosophy to deal with the ontological in-kind differences. I’ll come back to this later when I try to explain (hopefully better this time!) where and why I part company with Dembski.

    To further emphasize the good point you make, I’ll give you two examples–one of which is a human artifact that must be compared analogously, not univocally.

    First, the mathematical complexity of Mount Everest is greater than the mathematical complexity of a single-cell organism… Yet, single-cell organisms are alive and Mount Everest is not. No degree of mathematical complexity is either a necessary or sufficient condition for life. Therefore, no definition of life in terms of mathematical complexity will ever capture the essence of what is to be alive. Not understanding this point and the principles behind it is like not understanding why even a million atheists in a room will never add up to the intelligence of one Einstein. Why? Because you can’t compare apples to oranges!

    Second, the U.S. Flag. Certainly the MESs can be used to describe all physical aspects of the flag: the colors, the material, the size, mass, etc., etc., etc. But can the MESs explain what the flag signifies and all concepts associated with it… like loyalty, bravery, freedom, justice, etc., etc., etc.? No way! Humans are able to use and understand words and objects that make reference to things that can never be experienced by the five primary senses… like justice, the virtues, substance, logic,… and angels as well as God. No video camera can film “the day after tomorrow,” and no brute animal has ever come even close to truly understanding the concept “the day after tomorrow.” Well then, how do we humans understand something that is “invisible” yet undeniably existing in some way, i.e., how do we understand the concept “the day after tomorrow”? then do we understand this term? We most certainly do NOT do it by associating the word with a set of sense-data. We do it because we reason abstractly: while all knowledge comes through the senses, not all knowledge is sensory knowledge.

    That’s critically important because, for among other reasons, we as humans are able to imbue what at first blush may appear to an alien to be merely disorganized ink stains on a page with (drum roll, please) meaning, i.e., those ink stains (or a flag for that matter) have their per accidens ontological status jump a gap (difference in kind) from the mere material to material “with” meaning. (God breathing into Adam the “breath of life” is remarkably similar to what I’m saying: He can take an ape and create a human, because it takes the act of creation to give rise to a nature… one cannot “make” (in terms of merely moving material around into a new arrangement) a nature. God creates natures, that then act out their inner, innate nature… even if it means being able to materially evolve.

    Now, the good and fair question is how can the immaterial affect the material to “animate” things? How is it that a design gives rise to an airplane? How can an immaterial intellect, no mater how powerful in its own realm, cause even the smallest bit of matter to move? Obviously, not by some sort of physical contact—at the pineal gland or any other location in the brain (no apologies to the disordered ideas of Descartes). Instead, the agent intellect causes bits of matter to be carriers of its intentions by a power analogous to the power of words. For example, the “beauty” of equations resides NOT only in their physical expressions on paper but their form (intentional) meaning. The equation exp(iπ) = –1 doesn’t actualize anything physical but does actualize the recognition of beauty in our minds. This equation really is beautiful as well as it really has meaning. Crudely put, God “makes things happen” in the world in a way distantly similar to how the beauty of Shakespearean sonnets can move one to tears.

    Here’s where I don’t believe I was clear in an earlier comment: YES, broadly speaking I agree with Dembski: the ontological discontinuity cannot be explained by the material alone. That’s not from where our parting arises. I’m suggesting Dembski either doesn’t have the tools (or is not using them) of natural philosophy to explain “the gaps.” In fact, I think it’s worse that that: Dembski employs the MESs in an almost MES-envy manner to try to explain the gaps, to explain the existence of rationality in us, to explain design, etc. Well, he can’t do that merely relying on the MESs: you do NOT infer the existence of a neutrino in the same way that you infer design. These are two very, very different things.

    Dembski, in a certain sense, walks right into a trap of his own making by walking onto the playing field of the MESs… and gets trounced (here’s where I have to agree with some of the complaints against ID coming from the loyal opposition). The trap is a terrible one because he wants to introduce ID into the science classroom when not only are the MESs not equipped with the tools to understand design. But as soon as it is admitted that only a rational entity (a nous) can reason from the knowledge provided through the senses by the MESs to the existence of design, then it is no longer science is it? It’s philosophy… but then there goes the whole ID project out the window.

    Now, since I’m an equal-opportunity gadfly, certainly no biology teacher can scientifically claim there is no God or that the origin of life on earth is fully explained by descent through modification: that discussion is better suited to a philosophy or theology classroom setting. But then, I come back full circle to my earlier point: why can’t philosophy and theology be taught–even if only at a survey level–in high schools? Case in point: step back and look at the approach taken by naturalists/atheists on this blog: they try to use science to explain everything (scientism–which is self-refuting) and they get awfully frustrated when the errors of their ways are demonstrated. I’m glad to take on all challengers in a discussion about physics… but I’m also happy to take on all atheists who rely exclusively on science to either explain or wave away as “irrelevant” or “non-existing” things not capturable by the MESs.

    That was pretty long-winded, wasn’t it…?

  27. SteveK:

    You ask, “how would the discovery of another galaxy benefit empirical science?” referring to Tony’s arbitrary narrowing of the field. Well, first of all, it wouldn’t benefit the MESs–it would benefit us. Second, as Aristotle said in the very first sentence of the Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know.” Knowledge is good for its own sake. However, like all things, it should not be turned into an idol. Third, “usefullness” is not a very “nice” characteristic for accepting the value of knowledge: knowledge of philosophy, for example, won’t directly help you build the space shuttle, but to therefore categorize philosophy as being “not useful” is bunk. Philosophy, because it serves our very natures (we are rational creatures), is extremely “beneficial”. Same thing applies to knowledge of the Scriptures: it may not be “beneficial” from the perspective of the secular world, but “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?”

  28. I agree Holo. Tony is hung up on this notion that the “knowledge” (his scare quotes, not mine) that ID would unearth is minimal at best because the real knowledge comes from evolutionary biology.

    I’m doubtful that ID as science will ever come to pass, but, hey, it might.

  29. ID as a science may not come to pass, but ID as a movement that forces people to think (at least those that want to think) will provide a great service.

  30. Dave –

    We already discussed the mechanisms of change here (https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/07/science-and-religion-reason-vs-authority/#comment-14814) and here, and you dropped every point. To reiterate: we have witnessed and documented small changes to the point where new subspecies and species have emerged. On top of that, there is no good science to suggest that there are divides that segregate large portions of organisms other than evolutionary divergence through time. If one species can evolve into another, then it can keep going into another and another and another, until it’s many classifications away from its original starting point. There are only such things as viable genomes, which are incremental. You have not given a single reason to think otherwise.

    Furthermore, I didn’t say what ID was. I said what many people use it as. And it’s pointless to deny that it’s primarily a Christian vehicle, not because it couldn’t be anything otherwise, but because of who is piloting it. Part of the reason it was struck down at Dover is that it tends to be funded or guided by mostly religious institutions (or, if the institutions themselves are not religious, those behind them are). Those in the DI have certainly used outright religious language in the past. Others have used ID as a shell for creationism.

    Holo –

    Part of the problem is that the vast majority of scientists, including the very best and brightest, will say that ID gets the science wrong when it does attempt it. There are very few ID arguments I’ve seen that haven’t lived off of some misunderstanding of the way things are. The rest are just arguments from incredulity, themselves living off of what we do not presently know.

    Evolutionary theory is dependent on but does not explain the origins of life. In other words, life descended from a kind of proto-life, but it’s not the actual theory that describes how it came about – that’s still being worked on. One can believe that life was seeded but then evolved from there, or one can believe that neither happened on their own or that both happened on their own. That’s what makes these arguments so hard to track. ID can range from young earth creationism to old earth creationism to some sort of intelligent selection to evolution with natural selection. I suppose that ID could even work in the cosmic sense. Francis Collins denies ID but seems to say that it’s still all contingent on God. Ken Miller uses natural selection to explain how a proper being could arise into which God instilled a soul. At the end, I think that evolutionary theory will still be standing with some necessary refinement, and the origins of life will be naturally explained. The question of God will not be answered here.

    Lastly, it does depend on the kind of God that atheists attempt to disprove. Many atheists would say that science can be used against the God of certain religions or religious claims but that it’s also a philosophical and theological argument. Then there’s the separate argument of the possibility of God – not an argument about his attributes or character, just that one exists. Either way, I haven’t actually seen an atheist who uses a mere scientific argument. The argument must exist on many different levels. Most importantly, it must not exist on a purely empirical plane but must address the claims of the supernatural directly. In other words, it should be an honest and open discussion of the supernatural that leads one away from it, if that’s the direction they choose to go, and not an a priori commitment to deny it outright.

  31. SteveK,

    I’m not sure I understand this:

    Do you take the same critical stance wrt current scientific pursuits? I asked this before, how would the discovery of another galaxy benefit empirical science?

    I don’t think asking for a hypothesis from a scientific theory is a critical stance. But, yes, I expect one from scientific theories. (Without that we’re only talking about ideas, albeit probably interesting ones.)

    The galaxy question I just don’t understand. Could you please explain what you’re driving at with that one?

  32. Tony,

    I was traveling all day yesterday (got home at 3:00 am this morning), so I’m catching up now. You wrote.

    Actually, I think the real question is, What does Intelligent Design allow us to know? It seems to me that every piece of “knowledge” that ID imparts is, at best, a philosophical inference. As science, it offers us nothing that is on par with the weakest piece of knowledge we have gained from Evolutionary theory.

    What do you mean, “at best, a philosophical inference”? What’s wrong with that? Do you recognize that your comment is itself a philosophical inference? Why does “as science…” rule your opinion of knowledge? And if philosophical inferences are of no value to you, I call on you to answer these questions without employing any.

    If ID is going to taught as science (be considered relevantly “true”), then it needs to add to our empirical knowledge.

    There you go equating science with “relevantly ‘true'” again. Could it be “true” (or even true without the scare quotes) without being 100% reliant on science as its foundation for its truth?

    Anyway, I don’t advocate for teaching ID as science. I advocate for studying and researching it as a matter of science and philosophy.

    Today, despite all the attention, resources, and promise of worldly (and probably heavenly reward) there continues to be no working hypothesis for ID.

    What kind of working hypothesis are you looking for? If you’re looking for some hypothesized mechanism by which the design would have been carried out (what did the designer do and how did the designer do it?), that would be contrary to the whole sense of what ID is saying. Even though theism is not entailed by ID, the possibility of a supernatural designer God means that ID must remain open to the possibility that there is no purely natural mechanism by which design was carried out. Therefore to hypothesize such a thing would be to hypothesize something that might be contradictory to ID. (Theists like myself would state it even more strongly like that, but I’m trying to represent ID in general here.)

    So again, what kind of hypothesis are you looking for? Something we could test and control for? That’s not the nature of historical sciences. Even evolution can’t boast that kind of hypothesis testing. The best evolution can do in the lab (i.e. with controls) is that certain kinds of genetic changes can happen. It can’t show that they did happen in history. (And it has failed miserably in the lab showing that significant new information can be produced via evolutionary means.)

    I would ask ID proponents this: is Christianity true because Islam is false?

    If Christianity and Islam were the only two players, the falsity of one would prove the truth of the other. In the matter of origins, either there was design, or there wasn’t. If it can be shown that the natural world as we see it could not have arisen apart from design, then design would be entailed.

    But that’s not how ID proponents are arguing anyway, at least not entirely. I won’t go into it here, but you might look up some of Stephen Meyer’s recent podcasts here.

  33. Jacob, you wrote,

    To reiterate: we have witnessed and documented small changes to the point where new subspecies and species have emerged.

    Fine. How about significantly new structures and functions?

    On top of that, there is no good science to suggest that there are divides that segregate large portions of organisms other than evolutionary divergence through time.

    Sure there is. The lack of any demonstrated ability by evolution to produce significantly new information in organisms is good evidence that there is a huge information divide there.

    And it’s pointless to deny that it’s primarily a Christian vehicle, not because it couldn’t be anything otherwise, but because of who is piloting it.

    The follow-up question to that is, so what?

    There are very few ID arguments I’ve seen that haven’t lived off of some misunderstanding of the way things are. The rest are just arguments from incredulity, themselves living off of what we do not presently know.

    The argument from information is immune to both of these criticisms. The argument from irreducible complexity can be attacked by the second of these criticisms, but it can also mount a defense (what we know about cell biology indicates a very low probability of it having arisen without intelligent involvement—that’s an argument from knowledge).

    That’s what makes these arguments so hard to track. ID can range from young earth creationism to old earth creationism to some sort of intelligent selection to evolution with natural selection. I suppose that ID could even work in the cosmic sense.

    So where’s the problem with that? Why does ID have to be one unitary statement? Why can’t it be a broad research program, being approached from multiple perspectives? It’s silly to suggest there’s something wrong with that. By the way, if all of the approaches fail but one, that’s still success for ID. The overall point of ID is (in one formulation, and may Bradley Monton forgive me for not following his more tightly defined version) that there are basic features of the natural world that are best explained by an intelligent process. It only takes one of those to establish ID’s general proposition.

    I haven’t actually seen an atheist who uses a mere scientific argument.

    That’s good. I agree. I have, however, seen ID opponents who want to treat ID as if it must be a mere scientific argument. There’s a thread at Telic Thoughts where that’s under discussion even today.

  34. This, I think, is the key passage:

    Rather I believe (as I’ve written here before) that God provides strong internal assurance of his reality to believers, and that this assurance lines up strongly with external (philosophical, historical, and existential) evidences for God.

    What’s the difference between “strong internal assurance” and cognitive bias?

    None that I can see. The point of most scientific practice is the elimination of bias. Yet the (allegedly) convincing part of Christianity is immune to scientific inquiry. In other words, Christianity is where the bias is.

    Where science aims to reduce bias, religion aims to amplify it.

    Of course, you already know my position on ID, so there’s little point in my expounding on it any further. I guess biologists can just keep searching for nuclear fawns, robot bunnies, and those frog factories we would expect to see if the world was designed.

  35. Little point in your return at all. Just lonely?

    Ooh! I get it. Now, if I return here to make a comment, I’m proclaiming that I’m a lonely man. Clever.

    I love you, too, Charlie.

  36. Hello doctor(logic)

    I guess biologists can just keep searching for nuclear fawns, robot bunnies, and those frog factories we would expect to see if the world was designed.

    You mean to say you haven’t figured it out yet? The frog factories are frogs! Just as bunny factories are bunnies, cell factories are cells, and human factories are humans. It is just this understanding of the mechanisms of life which has revealed the inadequacy of evolution to explain more than trivial changes in biology.

    The point of most scientific practice is the elimination of bias.

    There is a world of difference between scientific practice (observation and experimentation) and the way those obervations are interpreted. Evolutionary literature is filled with interpretive bias and vague promises that further investigation will ultimately reveal that all is in accord with the materialist paradigm, despite the abject failure of observation to confirm theory. I’ll spare the readers another reiteration of the numerous anti-teleological quotes.

  37. Dave,

    You mean to say you haven’t figured it out yet? The frog factories are frogs! Just as bunny factories are bunnies…

    And car factories are cars?

    Look, breeding is the only way evolution can make life. It’s not the only way to create life if design is allowed.

    No one’s saying that a designer couldn’t have designed life (and the history of life) to make it look like it evolved. The point is that there are vastly many more ways to design it, and so it is, all things being equal, extraordinarily unlikely that life is designed. At every step in the creation of life, a designer could alternate between breeding and manufacturing, evolution and traditional design, organic materials and non-organic, etc. Yet, as far as we have ever observed, every step of life appears evolved through common descent.

    If I deal cards off a deck – 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of clubs, is the deck shuffled or sorted? Yes, it might be shuffled, but the odds are 310 million to 1. We only have to find one card (species) that’s obviously shuffled (designed), but, as it stands, it would be irrational to believe the deck was shuffled given the first 5 cards off the deck.

    It is just this understanding of the mechanisms of life which has revealed the inadequacy of evolution to explain more than trivial changes in biology.

    No, it isn’t. Evolution predicts descent, common descent, common architecture, and common composition. That is what has been observed. In contrast, we see metal clocks, plastic clocks, electric clocks, gravity clocks, metal cars, fibreglass cars, and never have two clocks mated to get a third clock, and cars aren’t even distantly birth-related to clocks.

    While we may use evolutionary algorithms in rare cases where traditional design is problematic, we’re not limited to evolutionary algorithms. However, evolution is limited to evolutionary algorithms, and that’s why it predicts what we see rather than what we don’t.

    If you’re saying that evolutionary biology hasn’t yet explained everything, then I agree, but that’s not an argument for ID unless arguments from ignorance are in good standing with you.

    Evolutionary literature is filled with interpretive bias and vague promises that further investigation will ultimately reveal that all is in accord with the materialist paradigm, despite the abject failure of observation to confirm theory.

    Common descent? Yep.

    Common biology? Yep.

    Transitional fossils? Yep.

    DNA? DNA evidence for evolution? Yep.

    Not one of these things need to be here in a designed world.

    It’s ID that’s the abject failure. Evolutionary biology is a stunning success.

  38. dl, you wrote,

    Evolution predicts descent, common descent, common architecture, and common composition.

    But the question was,

    It is just this understanding of the mechanisms of life which has revealed the inadequacy of evolution to explain more than trivial changes in biology.

    None of your aforementioned predictions has anything to do with explaining more than trivial changes—at least not until a mechanism can be produced by which RV & NS through common descent can be shown actually to have the power to create the changes attributed to them. That power has been postulated, it has been assumed as necessary (by people with a priori anti-teleological convictions), it has been taken for granted, but it has never been demonstrated.

  39. Hi doctor(logic)

    No one’s saying that a designer couldn’t have designed life (and the history of life) to make it look like it evolved.

    Isn’t that the whole point of the ID debate? You say it looks like it evolved (an assertion with little empirical support) and ID says it looks designed (an assertion with at least as much empirical support as evolution).

    The point is that there are vastly many more ways to design it, and so it is, all things being equal, extraordinarily unlikely that life is designed.

    You could look here and below for the same discussion last week.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/07/science-and-religion-reason-vs-authority/#comment-14724

    At every step in the creation of life, a designer could alternate between breeding and manufacturing, evolution and traditional design, organic materials and non-organic, etc.

    Your point being….?

    Yet, as far as we have ever observed, every step of life appears evolved through common descent.

    Is doctor(logic) begging the question?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

  40. Tom,

    What do you mean, “at best, a philosophical inference”? What’s wrong with that?

    My comment was written from the perspective of one who views ID as a prospective scientific theory. I have no quibble (or interest) in ID as philosophy. But I apologize because my words were not sufficiently clear on this point.

    Why does “as science…” rule your opinion of knowledge? And if philosophical inferences are of no value to you, I call on you to answer these questions without employing any.

    As I said above, I was trying to talk about ID’s need to clear the minimum hurdle of scientific acceptance. In my opinion, it does not rise to the level of rain dancing in this regard. By that I mean that it is easy for me to imagine how to test rain dancing scientifically. (Test rain dance, see result. Repeat. Compare to control. Etc.) I don’t know how ID proponents imagine that ID is going to be hypothesized. I think that this is a persistent problem that should bother you, because you consistently talk about ID as being something that should be studied by science.

    There you go equating science with “relevantly ‘true’” again. Could it be “true” (or even true without the scare quotes) without being 100% reliant on science as its foundation for its truth?

    I used the quotes because you used the word “true” in your review. (I would not have chosen that word.) Again, and this is my fault for not being clear enough, I mean the word “relevant” in my comment to mean the extent that it pertained to scientific inquiry. This may be, as I read other comments here, because I mistake the term ID to mean a scientific movement; it appears that you, and others, consider it to be philosophy as well. (I really don’t have any interest, meaning I don’t take any side, in the issue of ID being true in a philosophical sense. My concern is with ID as science.)

    Anyway, I don’t advocate for teaching ID as science. I advocate for studying and researching it as a matter of science and philosophy.

    I am glad to hear that you do not advocate teaching ID as science. (As an aside, I think that I agree with more of the comments here in that regard that I thought I would – I think we’re all closer to agreeing what ID embodies than it sometimes appears.) And, believe it or not, I advocate researching ID as science. But that advocacy is contingent on a hypothesis.

    What kind of working hypothesis are you looking for? If you’re looking for some hypothesized mechanism by which the design would have been carried out (what did the designer do and how did the designer do it?), that would be contrary to the whole sense of what ID is saying. Even though theism is not entailed by ID, the possibility of a supernatural designer God means that ID must remain open to the possibility that there is no purely natural mechanism by which design was carried out. Therefore to hypothesize such a thing would be to hypothesize something that might be contradictory to ID. (Theists like myself would state it even more strongly like that, but I’m trying to represent ID in general here.)

    I believe that you and I part company here, because to my reading you are advocating that we treat ID’s philosophical inferences with the same certainty we reserve for the Modern Empirical Sciences. Sorry, but if you want that stamp of approval you have to go through the same channels as everything else.

    So again, what kind of hypothesis are you looking for? Something we could test and control for? That’s not the nature of historical sciences. Even evolution can’t boast that kind of hypothesis testing. The best evolution can do in the lab (i.e. with controls) is that certain kinds of genetic changes can happen. It can’t show that they did happen in history. (And it has failed miserably in the lab showing that significant new information can be produced via evolutionary means.)

    A lot to unpack here – we could spend one or two whole postings on this paragraph alone. I’d suggest that you consider doing that – offering Evolution or other theories as examples, and comparing where ID can conform and where it must diverge. I think the comparison might be illuminating for everybody.

    In the matter of origins, either there was design, or there wasn’t. If it can be shown that the natural world as we see it could not have arisen apart from design, then design would be entailed.

    No, you can’t prove a negative. This is a dead end for ID.

  41. “No, you can’t prove a negative.”

    Unproven and self-refuting negative claim.

    Science doesn’t require or produce “proofs”.

  42. Philosopher of the history of science and biology (Ph.D.) as well as geophysicist (and Discovery hack, of course) Stephen Meyer inSignature In The Cell, page 329:

    I knew that in order to establish a cause as the best explanation, the historical scientist must do more than establish that a proposed cause could have produced the effect in question. He must also provide “evidence that his candidate [cause] was present” and show via ” a thorough search” that there is an “absence of evidence” of “other possible causes.” In other words, in addition to meeting a “causal adequacy” condition, a best explanation must also meet a “causal existence” and/or “causal uniqueness condition”.

  43. Tom –

    I understand what you’re asking, but with information there is only change. In a way, any change is “new” because it wasn’t there before. I gave one example in the other thread about an experiment in which single-celled organisms went through a few key mutations and then began using citrate in a different way. Keep in mind, evolution suggests descent with modification. Each change is a modification from the previous state. Thus, each “new” thing is going to be modified from the old. There is one hypothesis on bird evolution that suggests bird digits evolved from dinosaur digits due to a few mutations and a frame shift (there is even a fossil that catches this in the act). I’m not sure of the state of this hypothesis, but it illustrates how evolution tends to work. Furthermore, genomes can be added to or deleted from. There are examples that suggest genes can be duplicated and modified (like antifreeze). Genes are like shifting sands, and there are all kinds of methods for change.

    You’d have to state the information argument directly (if it’s anything like the one in the “fine tuned cosmos” thread, then I mounted two arguments there). The argument of IC is interesting, but I question its efficacy for two reasons. 1) As I stated before, evolution is essentially descent with modification, which means that functions change over time. Old ones get hijacked to perform new functions. 2) Things always tend to be constituted in simpler ways. Like I was telling Dave, some organisms don’t need a brain to have nerves. Functions only seem irreducibly complex in retrospect because they’ve evolved an interdependent relationship.

    My knowledge of cell evolution is somewhat limited, but as I understand it, there is an ambiguous line between the chemical origins of life and a robust cell. The question is whether these building blocks and ancient cells could be sustained so that modern pieces could be built. There is one theory that abdicates a traditional reading of evolution in favor of some form of gene transfer (paper here). Cells wouldn’t have been complete as we understand them, missing parts that would seem important today, and they would be compromised, which means that perhaps there was a certain plateau, the modern cell, that needed to be reached before diversification and evolution could begin. Once the modern cell arose, it would take over. In addition, all cells today have obviously undergone billions of years of additional evolution, even the simplest ones.

    I’ll respond to the second half later, but for now I have to go.

  44. Tony,

    Thank your for your comment; it spurred my thinking in a way that led to my most recent blog post.

    I’m surprised by some things you say, though. This, for example:

    My comment was written from the perspective of one who views ID as a prospective scientific theory. I have no quibble (or interest) in ID as philosophy.

    You repeated the same point in different ways later in your comment. My surprise is best summarized by this question: what if ID as philosophy turns out to be true? As philosophy, is it separable from science? As science is it separable from philosophy? How could it be?

    I’m also surprised you say that ID does not “rise to the level of rain dancing,” in its ease of testability. You could as easily have said ID doesn’t rise to the level of a baking soda-vinegar volcano. At least in the way you presented it, rain dancing is about at the complexity level of an eighth grade science project. Not that eighth graders could recruit willing volunteers to rain dance, or that they could run enough tests to provide sufficient statistical power, but that those are the only complexities.

    But you must recognize there are levels and there are levels. There are levels of scientific testability, and levels of complexity. Baking soda-vinegar volcanoes and rain dancing are highly testable. BSV volcanoes have no complexity whatever (from an observational standpoint, at least). Rain dancing has considerably higher complexity from a social, cultural, and religious standpoint, but not from the standpoint of testing their effectiveness.

    In its level of testability, which is what you were pointing to, evolution does not rise to the level of rain dancing. Neither does Bell’s theorem. So I’m surprised you tried to make a point about that.

    I’m going to meld two quotes from your comment here:

    My comment was written from the perspective of one who views ID as a prospective scientific theory. I have no quibble (or interest) in ID as philosophy…. I don’t know how ID proponents imagine that ID is going to be hypothesized. I think that this is a persistent problem that should bother you, because you consistently talk about ID as being something that should be studied by science.

    You’re right on the second half of that. There is significant difficulty in defining ID’s scientific predictions in such a way that its results can be absolutely distinguished from those of evolutionary theory. This does bother me, and I think it bothers other ID proponents. It bothers them enough to work on it. Black-body radiation bothered Einstein.

    I’m not the scientist who will solve it; my role in this debate is to observe and discuss the swirl of philosophical, religious, cultural, and media-related surrounding it. When it is solved, if it is, it will be solved partly through good philosophical thinking about what intelligence is and what natural processes can be expected to accomplish. Philosophy and science are inseparable in this debate.

    I’m also surprised by this:

    to my reading you are advocating that we treat ID’s philosophical inferences with the same certainty we reserve for the Modern Empirical Sciences.

    What surprises me there is that your response seemed to have nothing to do with the point you were responding to: that I’m not sure what kind of hypothesis you’re asking ID to produce and do research on, but that there is a certain set of hypotheses that would be illegitimate to expect. I can’t figure out how your answer connects with the question in any way.

    No, you can’t prove a negative. This is a dead end for ID.

    Wrong.

    Yes, there are certain kinds of negatives you cannot prove. (“There is no teacup-shaped object anywhere in the universe except on earth.”)

    But there are negatives you certainly can prove. (“There is no possible sequence of chess plays that can result in seven same-colored pawns arranged in an L-shape, three on a side plus one at the corner in front of the rook.”)

    And there are negatives you can show to be extremely likely. (“There is no teacup-shaped satellite orbiting the sun exactly opposite to the earth.”)

    One branch of ID research is directed toward positive inferences (see esp. Stephen Meyer’s latest book—I haven’t read it, as Charlie apparently has, but I’ve heard enough discussion to know that’s what it’s about at least). One branch is devoted to the negative: showing that evolutionary explanations are either impossible, like the chess game, or highly unlikely, like the flying teacup.

  45. Jacob,

    I understand what you’re asking, but with information there is only change. In a way, any change is “new” because it wasn’t there before.

    Really? This is only change:

    as;dlkn34tkjnd df;klajneltn q;kfne; nqwefkjnpnapseonjqpoij :KLNE; asdklen;lknnu34rn14nv
    a;lskn qewjkng q35ijnasd.le asd;lkn4nalkn

    Do you see my point?

  46. If you mean that changes lead to deleterious gibberish, I gave a few examples of beneficial changes. Sometimes there only needs to be few changes to get to something different yet novel functionally. The opposite is to say that changes in genes can’t lead to more “fit” creatures, which obviously isn’t true. Each organism itself is however many increments of change away from another.

  47. Hi Holo,
    im having a difficulty understanding your reasoning,not because its necessarily faulty but because im not used to thinking philosophically.So excuse the simplistic questions.
    you said :

    ‘…..the mathematical complexity of Mount Everest is greater than the mathematical complexity of a single-cell organism… Yet, single-cell organisms are alive and Mount Everest is not. No degree of mathematical complexity is either a necessary or sufficient condition for life. Therefore, no definition of life in terms of mathematical complexity will ever capture the essence of what is to be alive. Not understanding this point and the principles behind it is like not understanding why even a million atheists in a room will never add up to the intelligence of one Einstein. Why? Because you can’t compare apples to oranges!’

    I agree that complexity does not equate to life.I would surgest that Dembski makes a distinction between the mountain and the single celled organism via the idea of specified complexity.That doesnt go far in explaining the essence of life but it does make a distinction between contingent and noncontingent entities,allowing the possibility of describing something as designed.

    ‘But as soon as it is admitted that only a rational entity (a nous) can reason from the knowledge provided through the senses by the MESs to the existence of design, then it is no longer science is it? It’s philosophy… but then there goes the whole ID project out the window.’

    Do you mean stating an object as designed, constitutes an exclusively philisophical statement ?
    Is n’t Science, at least in part about categorising the cause of things ?
    If a rational entity describes from the knowledge provided through the senses by the MESs to the existence of a necessary object is that science ?
    Can you clarify Im missing the point here somehow.

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