Debating Darwin and Design

A Dialogue between Two Christians

After a ridiculously and abnormally large blogging void (three months!), I have awoken from my slumber and written a response to Francis to continue our ongoing debate on intelligent design, creationism, and science. We have now decided to post our responses as they are individually written as opposed to waiting till they are both written and posting them in twos. This will allow the discussion to flow a lot more and we will attempt to keep the dialogue going at a more regular pace. I look forward to Francis’s forthcoming remarks…

1.

Is Intelligent Design science or ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo’?

Joshua Gidney – Second Response

28th January, 2012

In response to Francis’ comments, I first would like to clarify something I wrote. In my previous response I wrote that intelligent design ‘isn’t even a form of creationism in any theistic sense.’1 By this, I mean that ID theory does not rely on any theological premises, as Creationism does. ID is an inference from certain features in living systems and the cosmos whereas Creationism is based on a certain interpretation of the book of Genesis. William Dembski notes that ‘…the design theorists’ critique of Darwinism begins with Darwinism’s failure as an empirically adequate scientific theory, and not with its supposed incompatibility with some system of religious belief.’2

Although Francis has agreed that ID and Creationism are not the same thing, he still wants to argue that it is a form of creationism. The only way he can argue for this claim is to appeal to the religious beliefs of several key design theorists and to point to the supposed theistic implications of ID theory. Both of these attempts seriously fail.

Francis points out that ‘…Johnson, Dembski, Behe and Meyer—are all Christians. They all, presumably, believe the intelligent designer to be the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, despite their insistence that this is not inferred from the detection of design.’3 This astute observation has been raised several times by Francis and is usually thrown up by critics in a tone that sounds as if they’ve just uncovered a dark and dirty secret, as if the design theorists mentioned have a hidden religious agenda. First of all, no presumption is necessary. Theistic design theorists have always been honest and clear about what they believe is the best metaphysical interpretation of design inferences in nature. They are also honest when they insist that God is not inferred strictly by design detection. In Behe’s response to the Dover Trial he writes that ‘…I have repeatedly affirmed that I think the designer is God… that that personal affirmation goes beyond the scientific evidence, and is not part of my scientific programme.’4 Behe believes, as I do, that one can conclude the designing intelligence is God only when one brings in certain philosophical arguments and independent reasons. Meyer rightly points out that ‘there is an obvious distinction between what advocates of the theory…think about the identity of the designing intelligence…and what the theory of intelligent design itself affirms.’ 5 Francis fails to make the distinction between what ID as a theory claims, and the theological beliefs of particular ID theorists.

If Francis wants to show that ID is a form of creationism by pointing out supposed religious motives and beliefs of many Design theorist, or implications of ID theory, then this puts him in a dilemma. I will use the Big bang theory as an analogy. The Belgian astronomer and physicist Georges Lemaître was a committed Catholic priest who is credited as being the founder of the Big Bang theory.6  Does the fact that Lemaître believed in God (or thought that God is the best explanation of his theory), mean that Big Bang theory is a form of creationism or that this excludes Big Bang theory as a legitimate science? Similarly, as Behe rightly points out ‘To many the notion of the Big bang was loaded with overtones of a supernatural event…nonetheless, despite its religious implications, the big bang theory was a scientific theory that flowed naturally from observable data…’ 7Every scientific theory has wider, extra-scientific implications. Whether or not they are theistic or atheistic, is entirely irrelevant to the science itself.

What of the motivations and metaphysical beliefs of Darwinists? Over and over, most of the key proponents of the Neo‐Darwinian synthesis claim that it makes an atheistic worldview more plausible. Francis Crick, the co‐discover of the DNA double helix, affirmed that ‘his distaste for religion was one of his prime motives in the work that led to the sensational 1953 discovery.’8 Does this invalidate his scientific achievement? No, it obviously doesn’t. This selective appeal to religious implications and motives is fallacious and beside the point.

What Francis, along with Denis Alexander, really wants to do is to force ID advocates into a corner by trying to show that design in nature requires a creator ‘What design theory identifies, therefore, is not a designer but, rather, a creator…’ 9 This is, to borrow a delightful phrase from Francis, ‘semantic squirming’. I shall respond to this point in three ways. Unfortunately this attempt fails due to his usage of a definition of design that ID theorists don’t use and thus erects a straw man. Firstly, this criticism is not one that affects ID theory, as it is a purely philosophical one. He’s trying to identify the designer and he is perfectly free to do so, but he is stepping outside of the science. Secondly this is a misrepresentation, or a misunderstanding of ID. William Dembski writes ‘intelligent design is…not the study of intelligent causes per se but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes. As a result intelligent design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles…’10 Thirdly, a key distinction needs to be made between designers and creators. To illustrate this point I can do no better than to quote Dembski at length:

‘…Creation is always about the source of being of the world. Design is about arrangements of… materials that point to an intelligence. Creation and design are therefore quite different. One can have creation without design and design without creation… It is logically possible that God created a world that provides no evidence of his handiwork. By contrast, it is logically possible that the world is full of signs of intelligence but was not created. This was the ancient Stoic view, in which the world was eternal and uncreated, and yet a rational principle pervaded the world and produced marks of intelligence in it… Creation asks for an ultimate resting place of explanation – the source of being of the world. Design, by contrast, inquires not into the ultimate source of matter and energy but into the cause of their present arrangements, particularly those entities, large and small, that exhibit signs of intelligence…’11

Francis proceeds to comment on what he sees to be a theologically undesirable picture of God that ID paints but I will not comment on this yet, as we will treat this as a separate topic in the future.

Again, I want to correct Francis on his ‘comment in passing’ about the credentials of ID theorists. ID is a scientific theory that, like many other theories, requires interdisciplinary research and thus there are academics with different areas of expertise. Francis is making the mistake of thinking that ID only applies to biology, but it does not. As I have already pointed out, the key ID theorists have the relevant qualifications with respect to the aspects of ID they have primarily been responsible for advancing. As I also pointed out, Johnson is not the founder of ID theory.  It would be more accurate to call him the Godfather of ID. Johnson’s contribution to the debate was primarily his insight that Neo-Darwinism is mainly based upon naturalistic presuppositions rather than the actual empirical evidence. Johnson was indeed a layman but he did his homework and inspired a whole movement to question Darwinism. He helped clear the ground for ID to flourish. It is also important to recognise that Johnson neither came up with the term ‘intelligent design’, or the theory and concept of ID. ID ideas in fact go way back to the ancient Greeks.12 It is clearly false to say that ID theory was ‘founded, primarily, by a lawyer.’13 Perhaps the movement, but not the theory. The theory has been developed and formalised by scientists with credentials just as good as any evolutionary biologist.

In responding to Francis, I chose only to respond to a couple of his key points. There are many comments that he made that I have not touched yet and so there is a lot more that can be said. However, I hope the reader can see that the arguments I have addressed do not stand up to scrutiny and thus should be rejected.

References

  1. Joshua Gidney. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (2). 2nd Response: http://philosopherjosh.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-2/
  2. William A. Dembski. What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design. Available at: http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_theologn.htm
  3. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (2). 2nd Response. Available at: http://musingsofscience.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-2/
  4. Michael Behe. Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District. http://www.discovery.org/f/697
  5. Stephen C. Meyer. Signature In The Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. (New York: HarperCollins. 2009). p.447.
  6. Important Scientists: Georges Lamaitre (1894 – 1966). Available at: http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/scientists_lemaitre.html
  7. Michael J. Behe. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. (New York: Free Press. 2006).p. 244
  8. Roger Highfield. Do our genes reveal the hand of God? Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3306329/Do-our-genes-reveal-the-hand-of-God.html
  9. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (2): Francis Smallwood-Second response. op cit.
  10. William A. Dembski . Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design. (Downers Grove: IVP. 1996). p. 17.
  11. William A. Dembski. ‘An Information-Theoretic Design Argument’, in Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland (ed.’s), To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), p. 78-7.
  12. 12.   Jonathan Witt. A brief history of the scientific theory of intelligent design. Available at: http://www.discovery.org/a/3207
  13. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (2): Francis Smallwood-Second response. op cit.

 

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