What Every Rational Person Should Know About ID

By Paul E. Murray
Vice-President, Texas Citizens for Science
Austin, Texas
2008 September 25

 

Comments and responses to
"What Every Christian Should Know About Intelligent Design"
by William Dembski

The Bible and Modern Science Conference
of the Center For Christian Apologetics
Houston, Texas
2008 August 23
[Transcription by Paul Murray from a recording]

 

On August 23, 2008, Dr. William Dembski, noted professor, fellow of the Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design proponent gave a speech at a workshop put on by the Center for Christian Apologetics in Houston, Texas. The title of this speech was "What Every Christian Should Know About Intelligent Design". The entire transcript of this talk is available by email request to Paul Murray.

 

I always begin any analysis or peer review by pointing out the positives. Dr. Dembski is an excellent speaker, both entertaining and engaging. He was also gracious enough to entertain a few questions from me after his talk, and seemed very open and approachable.

 

It is there my praise must end, because the content of his talk was flawed in reasoning, contained false analogies, logical fallacies, circular reasoning, and in some cases, intellectual dishonesty. Given his knowledge and breadth of experience in this debate, I found it incomprehensible that he would continue to make arguments that have been thoroughly discredited.

 

The mark of a real scientist is they are willing to abandon discredited ideas and spend their time searching for new and better problems on which to spend their time. Dembski continues to promote ideas without scientific basis, and does so by redefining what is meant by science and so he can intentionally obscure well-understood lines between science and religion. This practice is both unscientific and un-Christian.

 

I began writing this as a paper, pulling quotes from the transcript and commenting on them. It quickly became apparent that, given the sheer volume of comments I wanted to make, it would be easier to intersperse them throughout. Therefore, I have indented Dembski's transcribed text of his talk. Any comments by me in brackets [] are of the nature of the transcription. They denote passages which are undecipherable and could not be clearly transcribed, words added to clarify meaning in written form, or indications of actual language by [sic]. Everything else is transcribed as-is to the best of my ability using limited equipment. Some pauses or misspoken words are removed to improve readability, but my strategy was to lean towards verbatim transcription unless it proved distracting to read. Likewise, all punctuation is my own.

 

Paul Shockley introduces William Dembski

[Speaker's Introduction (incomplete, beginning cut off):]

George Orwell once said that, "We have now sunk to the depth where the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." The restatement of the obvious is one way to describe the empirical work of contemporary Intelligent Design theorists; moreover, one Intelligent Design scholar who has performed that duty very well—restating the obvious—one whose name is now common in philosophy of science is Doctor William Dembski.

 

Dr. Dembski is a research professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Chicago and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also has earned degrees in statistics, theology and psychology. He has written numerous scholarly articles and is the author of the critically acclaimed The Design Inference; Intelligent Design; No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence, and The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design. He is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Now more than likely this is not the first time you have been introduced to him. If you recently saw the popular documentary Expelled, which exposes suppression of academic freedom in institutions of higher learning, Dr. Dembski was one of the people interviewed by Ben Stein. And so it's our great privilege to end our plenary sessions with Dr. Dembski.

 

[William Dembski:]

Thank you, it's nice to be here with you. I want to—the title of this talk is "What Every Christian Should Know about Intelligent Design", and I think the way I want to cash it out is in terms of five words: evolution, creation, design, science, and nature. And to start the ball rolling let me talk about evolution a little bit.

 

About six years ago, I was asked to be part of a debate at the America Museum of Natural History (this is the big natural history museum in Manhattan, in New York City). When I got the request to take part in the debate, the debate title as it was given was "Blind Evolution or Intelligent Design?" (question mark). Blind Evolution or Intelligent Design? (question mark). And you know, as with most debates, there’s a question, which then will be debated, there will be pro and con. When I showed up at the auditorium in which the debate was to be held, there were program guides being handed out. And when I looked at the program, the title of the debate had been changed for some reason: "Evolution or Intelligent Design?" (question mark). I don't think the organizers meant any deception, in fact, I think they did us a service because what they did, in effect, was identify blind evolution with evolution, and indeed that's what is meant by it [evolution].

 

Well, when evolutionists talk about evolution, they do not mean intelligent evolution, a process that is guided by an intelligence to achieve some end. Francisco Ayala, probably the most widely published evolutionist this side of the Atlantic is at UC Irvine (former Catholic priest), [who] with Theodore Dobzhansky has said that Darwin's greatest achievement was to show that the functional organization of living things could be brought about without the need for a creator or a designing intelligence. And so, that was his achievement. Its not that God doesn't exist, but that God (as far as the evolutionary process is concerned) need not exist. Okay? And so that's the—that's the selling point; that we can get, basically, all the goodies that we attributed in the past to intelligence without the need for intelligence. That would be a great thing if you could get Shakespeare's works without Shakespeare, right? You could write a computer program or something that would just give you all these wonderful works of literature. Well, I think that'—so that's the impulse—that in this sense we might say that evolution is the ultimate free lunch and could work—if it could be made to work it would be quite a marvelous thing. I think that what we're now finding out though is that there is no free lunch in [undecipherable] evolution is more rapid [?] than we might call it.

 

[EVOLUTION]

 

So the question, though, then is really what is this theory of evolution? Let's—let's talk about that a little bit just to be clear on it. Because often I think we get hung up —especially if we take the Bible seriously—you know, it seems we don't have much support for the idea of organisms transforming into other organisms; we see the ideas that God created things according to their kinds, that things stayed pretty close to type; you know, our common experience when organisms reproduce, yes there's some variation, but it's "life begets life"—you don't find a slug giving birth to a mouse or something like that, you know, it's all very close together.

This is a very old argument, one that is often described as a "banana tree turning into a dog". Darwinian evolution has never claimed that one species gives birth to another. Since Dembski knows what Darwinian evolution actually claims, it begs the question as to either his intentions or how well-informed he is.

So, what—so, I think we often get hung up on the idea that there's this transformation over time (of organisms). Now that—that is one pillar of Darwin's theory, and it's called common descent and universal common ancestry; the idea that all organisms trace their lineage back to their last universal common ancestor.

 

Which would mean then that you, the bacteria in your gut and insects in this room, all living things are really cousins somewhat and trace their ancestry back to some great great great great grandparent which was some (presumably) some bacteria. It's like we're all cousins, but you know—you might have a third cousin once removed—well in this case you might be a billionth cousin five hundred million removed from a slug or something like that. So that's—that is the view.

The following point about theism is noteworthy because it will reemerge at the very end of the talk:

Now, I think biblically, it's hard to square yourself with that, but by itself, I would say that's not a problem for generic theism. I mean, God, presumably, could choose to create any way he wanted. I'm not there; I doubt that many of you are there in that view—but if that's how God created—if God moved in this process and a certain time you have suddenly there's a—maybe it's a massive evolutionary change at one point where primates evolve into human beings, that God puts in them spirit and all this—you know, that's still compatible with some form of design or purpose in this, okay? I mean, that's not flying in the face of theistic belief.

At the end of the talk, Demsbki revisits this point, only with the opposite sentiment. Dembski is referring to theistic evolution, a doctrine held by the Catholic Church which basically says all of modern science and all Christian doctrine are completely compatible with each other, assuming one does not attempt to read the Bible literally. For Biblical literalists, Protestant fundamentalists and YECs of all stripes, this is a major stumbling block as Demsbki notes.

That's not when Richard Dawkins says Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, it's not the claim of common descent that made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist; what did is the second pillar of Darwin's theory. So we look...

 

A Darwinist says there is this great chain, this tree of life where all organisms trace back to a, presumably some bacterium, several hundred, several billion years ago, but the question then is well, how did that happen, because as I said in our experience we don't see organisms vastly changing, you know, from one generation to the next; organisms seem to stay largely the same. So what could drive that process from a single-celled organism to a multi-celled organism like yourself? You know, what could do that? Well that's the second pillar—and that's, I would say, the more important claim of Darwinism—that it is a blind material process [undecipherable], namely, natural selection acting on random variation. So what is that?

 

Well, the idea is that organisms, when they reproduce, they change. That is, there are going to be slight variations. If you have an organism—organisms that reproduce exact copies, replicas, there could be no evolutionary change, because from one generation to the next you'd just have identical copies. Okay, so there's got to be some variation. Now if there are variations, presumably some of those variations might conduce to help an organism survive and reproduce better than its siblings, okay? Those that had some sort of advantage would go on to survive and reproduce, those that didn't would get weeded out of the population. There's also a competition for scarce resources, also, organisms can't just reproduce without some being weeded out.

 

Take—there's a microplasma bacteria, for instance, that reproduces it's life cycles every twenty minutes. Over a three day time period, that bacterium ['s population] doubled, doubled, and doubled every twenty minutes; within three days, you'd have the biomass of that bacterium, of the offspring of that bacterium would exceed the mass of the earth. So that's how quickly it would go. I think Albert Einstein when asked what was the most powerful force in the universe said it was compound interest [audience chuckle]. All this compounding, this exponential growth will happen, you know, it's there in the organisms, so there's going to be this—this constraint, and natural selection is what's going to weed things out.

 

Now, the thing this, put that way, natural selection doesn't tell you anything about what is going to be selected, or given, taken out, and treated as an advantage. You might say, well, getting faster should be an advantage; well, in world of banana peels where going fast would cause you to slip and break your neck—that may not be an advantage, okay? So, just what is going to constitute "fitness", the theory really doesn't tell you. In fact, you've got to look and see after the fact. But the point, though, it's that process—it's really trial and error tinkering. You've got some random change happens, and it's not forward-looking, it's not purposeful; it's not that some change happens in an offspring where the idea is, "Oh, this is going to help in the future, this is going to weed somebody [out]". It's all just a random change without any correlation to future benefit, and then natural selection likewise is not thinking gee, you know, this feature of the organism isn't going to help me right now, think maybe there's some sort of light sensitivity [in] this skin (we talked this, about how the eye might have evolved), but you know, right now, we don't have any neural circuitry to take advantage of that, but let me keep that light sensitivity, and I'll try to develop some neural circuitry, then I'll coordinate them in a hundred or a thousand generations, you know.

If you are at all familiar with the evolution debate, you will recognize the importance of the evolution of the mammal's eye as a central component of the "irreducible complexity" argument popularized by Michael Behe. IDologues, of course, love to use Darwin's quote from "On the Origin of Species" where he questions how something as complex as an eye could evolve by natural selection. They always omit the following paragraph where Darwin points out several examples of different eyes in nature and lays out a possible evolutionary path. Darwin himself dispensed with this argument 150 years ago. I am positive that Dembski himself has read this paragraph, so why then does this example keep coming up? How is it that a man who can claim malfeasance and conspiracy at the highest levels of academia is himself engaging in such a ridiculous argument?

Natural selection doesn't work that way; it's an instant gratification mechanism which says, "What's going to help me right now to survive and reproduce?"

I disagree that natural selection is a mechanism of "instant gratification". Natural selection is not a wasteful process, but I take issue with the use of the word "instant". Even in modern human history, we have seen ecosystems change, species go extinct and new ones arise when outside pressures in the environment change; adaptations that were once beneficial could became a detriment under changing conditions. There is simply no way to know this ahead of time, as Dembski clearly states. This conclusion does not follow from natural selection itself. He goes on:

So it's thoroughly non-teleological.

 

This is real problem for theistic evolutionists when they come into this game because they want to take the science of evolution as it is and then say, "And God did it that way". But if they say, "God did it that way", it's basically God set up the conditions in which this evolutionary process takes place, but the process itself says nothing about any sort of intelligence behind it.

Here, Dembski commits the error of confusing scientific cause with a religious question about ultimate cause. Given that ID proponents often try to be coy about who the designer is and say nothing about the intelligence behind the design, I'm not even sure what point Dembski is trying to make here other than to take another stab at theistic evolution. Natural selection is non-teleological (teleology=argument from design), but this is a non-sequitur because it is not related to the problem Dembski poses.

 

All sciences say nothing about any kind of supernatural intelligence, not just evolutionary biology. Science gives us ways to understand natural processes in the natural world based on observing (not coincidentally) nature. Did God set cause every single particle in the universe to form and move according to his will? Did he just create the universe and let the experiment run? Is there a God? Is there no God? These are all metaphysical questions about ultimate cause that are quite separate from (and unrelated to) science. In fact, one may be a theist, deist, pantheist, religious agnostic, or atheist and completely accept all of science. Science is, by definition, agnostic about any questions that lie outside its boundaries, so it can't tell you anything about religion unless a religion makes a specific claim about the natural world.

 

Here, Demsbki's strategy is clear; by blurring the line between science and religion, he is creating a false dichotomy which says, in effect, "If you think you can have science and religion coexist, you're wrong, and therefore your views of both are also wrong".

And so, I think that's why you have people like Dawkins saying that Darwin made it possible to an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Will Provine, historian in biology at Cornell will say that evolution is the greatest engine for atheism ever provides [sic] because it gives you a purely materialistic creation story. Yes, you can always as a veneer put a theistic (if I mix my metaphor) spin on it, you know, but that's over and above; it's not something you're getting from the science. The science is telling you nothing about any sort of intelligence or agency operating in the evolutionary process.

And yet, later in this talk, Dembski will claim that ID theory makes no claim about nor tries to tell you anything about the ultimate cause (intelligence or "source of information") behind the design and that's okay—but if evolution doesn't tell you anything about the cause of life, that's a problem. This is hypocritical on its face.

And so, that's disconcerting, I think, especially if you take Genesis and the Scriptures seriously, but if, you now, if God is real, you would think that God would give some evidence of having done something in the physical world. After all, I mean, traditional Christian theism has always taught that Creation is a reflection—is designed to reflect God's work. And so if our science is not telling us anything, that should—that should cause some concern.

Why? If you accept the idea that God is somehow reflected in the design of nature, why does it have to appear in ways that humans perceive it? The argument goes that God designed things in such a way that man, through his intellect, would be eventually able to perceive his Grand Design. Of course, this is circular reasoning. It also leads to another contradiction we'll explore later.

So we've got a theory that really seems to allow no place for (I think Kurt used the quote from Lewontin) "no divine foot in the door". And so we've got a theory that has no real place for [God]—Darwin himself said he'd give nothing for his theory if it required miraculous intervention in any one place.

This quote is used/abused by creationists who want to portray science as anti-religious. (Kurt T. Wise of the CCA has used this quote on a number of occasions).  In truth, NO theory of science allows a "divine foot in the door" otherwise it's simply not science. "God did it" is not a valid scientific explanation for any scientific problem. Once you allow "God did it" as an explanation, the need for further inquiry stops, the process of science ends, and the hope for any future knowledge dies along with it. Of course, Wise and his cohorts get around this by drawing a false distinction between "empirical" and "origins" science, which is meant to separate sciences of "actual observations" from "indirect" or "inferred" observations about past or distant phenomena.

 

In truth, ALL sciences are proximal. ALL measurements and observations are indirect, and all scientists accept that we must rely on objective indirect evidence that might be separate from our own experience.  We attempt to explain what we observe by creating models that have some predictive power. We build the best models we can with the understanding that our knowledge is incomplete and imperfect. This is the quest for "proof without certainty" as Ashley Montagu wrote; this is science.

So I think now—I think it's important to see also why the evolutionist is so dead set against the Intelligent Design position. They really think it's an entirely disreputable position.

I agree with Dembski on this point; ID is disreputable at best. The following thought experiment by Demsbki is an example of false analogy and another self-contradiction:

From our vantage, you know, the evolutionary theory has real problems, but I think a way to appreciate what's going on in evolutionary theory is to think of the following little thought experiment.

 

Imagine that you're on the Mall in Washington, D.C., the big area; Martin Luther King [Jr.] gave his "I Have a Dream" speech there. So you got a million people there—a million people standing, and everybody has a coin, their coin in his hand/her hand, and we're gonna play a game. We're going to flip a coin, and everybody flips a coin, if they get heads they remain standing, tails they sit down. And we keep doing that. Well, what happens? Well first round, about half [the] people will sit down. Next round, about another half of those standing will sit down. So, first round, 500,000, then 250,000, then 125,000, 62,500 and so on. So we just keep going. We run the numbers, and on average after about twenty coins tosses, one person is going to be left standing. Now, when notice that one person standing, you go to that person and say, "You know, this is really amazing. You're just a terrific coin tosser. What's—what's your secret?" And how many of you have flipped a coin twenty times in a row and it's come up heads? That's a remarkable event, right? Well, I think likewise the evolutionist says look, you know, we see life, we see us, you know, all these nifty organisms, we see ourselves, and yes, you know, we think it's remarkable but we're just fooled by this. You know, if only you really understanding the underlying process—if you understand the underlying process of the coin toss at the Mall in Washington, D.C., you'll understand that somebody's bound to come up with twenty heads in row. Likewise, you're bound to see organisms like us come up given enough time and given the process of natural selection acting on random variations and various other [undecipherable] mechanisms that are there.

 

Now, that's their attitude; I mean, in a sense, it's like design is just utterly superfluous, it's not necessary. You know, you can talk about the skill of this coin tosser but it had nothing to with it; well likewise, design had nothing to do with this process. That's the view of a materialistic scientist. Now, I think where—where the design people would come in and say well, you know it's one thing to get 20 hits in a row where it's an expected outcome from a certain stochastic or chance-driven process. Well what if we saw a hundred hits in a row? What if we saw a thousand hits in a row, you know? And so, the question is—I mean, evolution is a chance-based mechanism. It's not pure chance, okay, there's natural selection is [sic] constraining you, but it is chance-based, and we can have some chance-based mechanisms. What—what is within the reach of those chance-based mechanisms and what's outside the reach? And that's the sort of question, then, that Intelligent Design is asking.

This is a simplified version of Dembski's "specified complexity" argument on how probable an event is based on statistics of random vs. non-random causes. The argument states if the probability of a known event X has a low probability of occurring at random, it is therefore more probable that a non-random process will cause X. Dembksi makes the leap that non-random must mean "intelligently designed", but that's not even the biggest problem with this argument.

 

As Dembski already admitted earlier in this talk, natural selection is not a process that can be judged in terms of prediction; one never knows what changes will make an animal more or less fit until some selective pressure is applied in the future. One only understands the evolutionary path in hindsight. The logic of Dembski's argument says that in order to first measure the probability, we MUST know the outcome, and therefore violates his own premise by assuming that any biological form was specified as a "final" outcome. This is known as "begging the question", where one assumes what he/she is trying to prove is true.

 

Put another way: the probability that homo sapiens evolved in their current form is remarkably—even impossibly—small, IF one is to look at it in terms of a specified final outcome; natural selection says we cannot. If we could re-run the evolution experiment of the last three billion years as many times, you'd probably never get homo sapiens exactly as we are today, but something would evolve, and the chance that some form of life would still be here after three billion years would be pretty good.

 

If we were to make an honest comparison of the coin toss experiment to natural selection, the real experiment is that someone would flip a coin twenty times in a row. Since the final outcome isn't an a priori constraint, the actual probability of flipping a coin twenty times is one-to-one, not one million-to-one.

[DESIGN]

 

So, I've given you the first word—evolution—okay, we said there were five words: evolution, design, creation, science and nature. So, let's talk a little bit then about Intelligent Design and what it's bringing to the party.

Let me give you this definition of intelligent design, and it's really the going definition. We define it as follows: the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence; [repeats for clarification] the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence.

When did pareidolia become an accepted field of scientific inquiry? If I see a figure of Jesus in an oil stain or the devil's face in the clouds of the World Trade Center rubble, does this not also indicate a pattern in nature that might be explained by intelligence?

 

If this is the best definition for ID that exists, I suggest they rename ID to "biological apophenia".

So, what we're looking at are patterns and are there some things about the patterns we see in nature that would point us to intelligence? You're driving through southwest South Dakota, you see this rock formation that looks like Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and you say, "Wow, that's just amazing what, you know, give wind and erosion enough time and here we get these, these presidents. Well, no, you don't say that right? Because you know that those sorts of material forces don't have the capacity to bring something like that about. You'd rather say that there was an eccentric artist that probably spent the greater part of his life chiseling and dynamiting portions of that mountain. And that's what's convincing to people; that's the conclusion that you'd draw. Even if you didn't know that Gutzon Borglum spent the greater part of his life—you didn't know the name—you were an alien that came to this planet and knew something about American presidents and human faces, you'd be able to figure it (that one) out.

 

So, it's—so, there are patterns that we can see that will point us to intelligence. Well likewise, when you look at certain patterns in biology, they point us to intelligence. And I think it's important to stress here that this is not an argument from ignorance. I think often were caricatured as saying, you know, it's just too complex—that's the tagline in the, among the media these days, you know: "Intelligent Design says that there's something in biology that are just too complex, so they must have been created by God, by a miracle or something like that", you know. But that's not what we're saying, okay. What are we saying?

 

Okay. That there's certain features of biological systems that exhibit marks of engineering—that, that we need to be engineers to understand them, they give signs of having been engineered. We know of no material process that is able to bring about those features, okay? And as a consequence, you know—and we do know that engineering principles and engineers can bring about systems like this. Therefore, it's reasonable to think that there's actual engineering there.

Here Dembski hits the outer wall of the NASCAR racetrack of circular reasoning. We see patterns in nature, we perceive them to be the result of the same sort of engineering that we humans do because that seems like a decent analog, so therefore it must be engineered; Q.E.D. Dembski may accuse Darwinian evolutionists of getting a free lunch, but this is the ultimate example of having your cake and eating it, too. It's an argument from human egoism. Are humans god-like engineers, or is God a fallibly human-like designer? God is all-powerful, his mind is beyond that of human comprehension, and his thought is far beyond any human comprehension... except in this single case where ID proponents happen to think that human engineering analogs are close enough to God's that it proves his existence. How convenient! Not only does this argument elevate humans to the level of God (surely this must be blasphemous to some ID proponents), it's also a case of special pleading.

So, that's—that's the sort of argument we're making. It's not an argument from ignorance, it's an argument from knowledge. It's precisely because of what we know about the causal probabilities [possibly "properties"] of engineers and intelligence that we say we're seeing the same sorts of things that we've created (through our own ingenuity) in living cells; therefore, it's reasonable to think that those are designed. If we didn't know about the engineering features—if we were like Darwin and thought that a cell was a blob of jello enclosed by a membrane—then we might think that life came about according to your processes. Notice how the argument from ignorance works there. I mean, prior to Darwin, it was accepted that life was the product of intelligence. And Darwin comes along and says, "Hey, things are simple, it could have just come about by natural forces," precisely because he knew so little, because microscopy of his day told him so little about the inside of the cell, he, from the argument of ignorance, rejected design. So it's an interesting inversion.

During the course of this workshop, I sat through an hour on why Darwin caused the Holocaust and another hour on all the "evidence" for why the Earth is only 6,000 years old. I write this so you have some context to understand what it means when I write that the previous line was the dumbest thing I heard that day. Are Kepler's laws the product of the argument form ignorance since he didn't have Newton's understanding of calculus?

 

According to Dembski, all scientists who are limited to the best scientific knowledge of their own time period all make arguments from ignorance because the future will provide more data—all scientists, that is, except for him and the ones with time machines, I suppose.

So here we find that, in fact, our best knowledge is telling us that we argue from design. Now we can ramp that up with this whole method of design detection I've developed, there are particular biological systems we can look at—the challenge for Intelligent Design, by the way, is not to show that every aspect of biology is designed. Richard Dawkins opens his book "The Blind Watchmaker" by saying, "Biology is the study of complicated things that given the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." But then he spends the next 300 pages arguing that it is merely the appearance of purpose.

 

Now, if I'm going to rebut that, what do we have to show? Do we have to show that every aspect of biology is designed? No; the negation of that is to show that there are some aspects of biology that are designed. So if we could go inside the cell, though, and show, for instance, that the protein synthesis mechanism inside the cell is designed—well, if an aspect of something is designed, the thing in which its contained is also designed. So if your protein synthesis mechanism is designed, that means your cells are designed, that means that you are designed. Now there maybe features of you that are properly ascribed to accidents of natural history, you know, maybe that's some viral DNA that's gotten into your genome, their bacterial DNA, now but that doesn't undercut the design. I mean, there's a lot of viral quote-unquote DNA that gets into your Windows operating system, you know, you gotta do various things to clean it up, and yet we think that there is intelligence at Microsoft and that gave us these operating systems and these systems. I was talking to my good friend Bob Marks who is also in "Expelled" and he told me that back when he was in Seattle he said there were more lawyers working for Microsoft than actual software engineers. So, I guess there's intelligence there, but the nature of that intelligence is itself suspect.

 

[CREATION]

 

Okay. So that's intelligent design. Now, what about—how does that then relate to creation or creationism? And I think here we need to be very clear, because there is some intersection, but there is also—there are also some differences.

 

First off, I think "creation"—I mean, as a Christian, you are, you believe, hold to a doctrine of creation. Now "doctrine of creation"—what does that commit you to? It's that there is a source of being to the world. Now, what happens in Genesis? God gives "being" to the world and then organizes it. God speaks the world into existence, gives existence, and then organizes, makes distinctions, you know, draws—makes the separation of light and dark, separation of water, separation of heaven and earth, you know; different creatures are formed. So, there's—so the design really speaks only to the organizational aspect of preexisting stuff, it does not speak to where the stuff came from [sic]. So a carpenter is a designer, okay, but a carpenter is not a creator in the sense of giving being to the very materials that the carpenter gives arrangement to [sic].

I will revisit this comment a bit later, but it's important to note here the argument that Dembski uses. ID as a theory implies a designer, but that's a separate issue. It becomes important later, so we continue:

And I think that's an important distinction because in a sense, the design argument (or design inference) never gets us to creation; because what we do, I mean, we're looking, as scientists—we're looking around the room, we're looking at objects, looking at patterns in those objects—these are finite material objects—and we're saying are there patterns there that would point us to intelligence? Well, you know, we're not asking about the source of where that material came from in the first place, okay? And so that's—I think it's an important distinction. One way to drive it home is there's a joke (it seemed like it was more current to me a few years ago than it did now), but it's:

 

Scientists come to God and they say, "We can do it. We can do everything you can do."

 

God says, "Oh, that's interesting. Can you show me—show me what you mean by that?"

 

[Scientists]: "Well, we can make humans!"

 

[God]: "Okay, well how do you do this?"

 

[Scientists]: "Well first you take some dust in your hand, and you're about ready to go..."

 

And God says, "Okay, but get your own dust."

 

[laughs from audience]

 

So, where do you get the stuff that can then be arranged? And that's a question, really, science cannot answer, because science always presupposes a causal material backdrop against which then it has [undecipherable] its theorems. So that's, I think, what creation gives you, it's the source of being of the world.

 

Now, a doctrine—or rather, creationism seems to go somewhat further than that. It doesn't just get you a doctrine of creation, but it usually gives you some particular interpretation of scripture and then there's a conscious move to harmonize an interpretation of scripture with the science of the day. That—I think it's an interesting enterprise, it's not something that Intelligent Design is committed to, okay? In sense, there is, for instance, a controversy between old earth and young earth creationists about how to properly interpret Genesis; Intelligent Design really takes no sides on that, and you have young-earth and old-earth creationists who are part of the Intelligent Design community. In a sense, what Intelligent Design says is that the design problem doesn't go away if you give [it] thousands or billions of years. It's still there—a billion years doesn't buy you much—it doesn't help chance accomplish what the "chance worshippers" of Darwin and others hope that it will accomplish. So it's not committing you to a doctrine of creation, and in fact, there are many people and groups now who are finding Intelligent Design congenial but who are not Christians or even theists in a traditional sense. I spoke at a [sic] Oxford Center for Hindu Studies about five years ago, and they were all taken with Intelligent Design; they had no problem with it, okay, but they're not Christian theists.

This previous line becomes important during the wrap-up, as does the remark about theistic evolution noted earlier, when Dembski decries any religious view that doesn't accept the Bible literally as he does.

Now, I think just about anybody who sees some sort of underlying purposiveness [sic] to reality—most religious views do, you know? Why are you here? "Oh just going along. It's a meaningless world, there's no meaning to anything." That's pretty thin soup on which to build a religious faith, you know? Try to get adherence, you know, to that! I mean, the adherence that we have in this sort of post-modern realism is as a reaction against Christianity and against our Christian heritage. But you know, but most religious traditions, it seems, are inclined towards some form of Intelligent Design; they're—they would at least open to it.

Here are two points worth addressing in the previous passage. First, this is just an insulting and disingenuous attempt to say that any metaphysical view which does not accord with Dembski's must therefore remove all meaning from life, the universe and everything. This is simply ignorant.

 

Second, the comment about "most religious traditions" finding an accord with ID will later be revealed to be disingenuous. We continue on:

So, Intelligent Design is not creationism and yet insofar as creationism wants to make arguments for it being rational to believe in a creator, Intelligent Design certainly helps. It means there's an intelligence behind the world, you know, and the next question involves who or what would that intelligence be, you know? And as a Christian, you know, there's a ready answer. So it's the—the God that created the world.

It is refreshing to me that an ID proponent is willing to admit that the Christian god is the designer.

[SCIENCE]

 

So—okay, so we've got evolution, Intelligent Design, creation and creationism—let's talk a little bit about science. So, is it [intelligent design] science? Well, you know, I'd ask is creation or creationism science? I think creationism, there can be elements of it that are scientific, but it does seem to commit you also to certain religious viewpoints, especially if you're committed to establishing a particular understanding of scripture and trying to back it up or assure it's harmonious with a certain scientific view, I think you're going to have a hard time (especially in this legal climate) to argue that it's science, or at least pure science. There may be elements of science that you're [undecipherable].

I would be very interested to know what parts of creation (a religious idea based in metaphysics) are scientific (a discipline based on epistemology, logic, and methodological naturalism). This is post-modern nonsense; you cannot have a meaningful debate about science and religion if you insist on constantly redefining the terms as you see fit during the course of a conversation.

But what about Intelligent Design? You know, is it scientific? Well, especially if you were at my last talk, I think often it's put as though you've got this designer—this spooky designer that's somehow getting in there and miraculously making things, materials out of nothing, putting, bringing about organisms and things like that. But, as I was arguing at the 2 o'clock lecture, you know, we can think of this as there are material processes have limited powers of self-organization, they require information to be properly organized. We see this in all sorts of contexts; I mean, this computer, for instance, the chips in it—they didn't just spontaneously assemble. That silicon and all the materials there—they had to be organized. Once it's organized, they can perform a certain function, and that organization did not come from the silicon, much as ink and paper also don't have the power to organize themselves into meaningful text. And so, that information has to come from elsewhere. Now, it may come from elsewhere in the universe; now, you can ask where did that come from? Well, maybe it came from someplace else, and so on, and so on, and so on, but ultimately, you're going to argue that it comes from a mind, from an intelligence. So, what are we talking about then? We're talking about a science of information transfer. Now, information—that is science! That's—isn't that right Bob, I mean, that's what engineers do? Yes, a thumb's up, so…Bob is a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor—world-class people in this area. [Dembski is referring to Robert J. Marks II, professor at Baylor and colleague in the "Evolutionary Informatics Lab"]

So it is science. I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that it isn't.

I will make the argument that it is not, and I find no difficulty in doing so later. We continue:

Let me ask you one other thing. What about Darwinian evolution? Is it science? [nearby chuckles]. You know, there is—I don't want to say that Darwin got nothing right, I mean, you know, if you look at, for instance, antibiotic resistance in bacteria or insecticide resistance in insects, that does seem to follow a Darwinian pattern. Insects will be exposed to insecticide; there are some that are going to be resistant, and then over time those that are more resistant are reproducing and the population will develop a resistance to that insecticide; so that seems to hold, but that's not the interesting or grand claim of evolutionary theory, [which] is how did you get those insects in the first place? Supposed to happen from a single cell evolving into this multi-celled insect. And that, I would say—there is no empirical support for that. You don't even have to qualify that with, "I would say there's no"—there isn't any! It's just not there, okay? So, insofar as these people are claiming that this is scientific—a scientific theory—the grand evolutionary story—I would say it's a completely unsupported claim and therefore it's not scientific.

So, the fossil record, paleontology, historical geology, geochronology, evolutionary and molecular biology, cellular biology, genetics—none of these fields, with hundreds and thousands of practitioners, publishing data and peer-reviewing each others' works in legitimate scientific journals for the last 150 years—none of that constitutes any empirical evidence for evolution? Really?

So, you know, there's all this talk about mandating Intelligent Design, should be it mandated, perhaps it should be mandated that evolution not be taught; at least, not those sorts of grand claims because it's not scientific. And there is evidence for intelligence and information producing in [undecipherable] system. There is no evidence for these undirected, unguided material processes doing the same.

And here we see Great Truth Number One about IDologues. This is not "teach the controversy", nor "teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution"; this is not even "equal time"; this is intellectual fascism attempting to eradicate any ideas that disagree with one group's religious ideology.

Okay, so that's the science. You know, let me also say one other thing, [be]cause often it's said, well, you know, but if you have—okay, if you call it an information source, you know, okay, you're just get away [undecipherable] it's not really God, or a designer, an "information source", but, you know, how is that information source the subject of science, okay? I mean, you haven't—that it seems to be an immaterial entity and science studies material entities, it looks at natural causes. So we've often heard that sort of line.

 

Question: science only studies natural causes; is that a scientific claim? What sign of evidence shows you that that's what science only studies? It sounds like a—a kind of an arbitrary rule about how we're supposed to do science. You know, we get—I think we have this sense, sometimes (at least, it's present to us) that there is the scientific method. Percy Brigdman, Nobel Laureate physicist said the scientific method, insofar that it is a method is doing gymnastics of the mind, no-holds-barred. We're trying to understand the truth about nature, and we don't want to shackle our minds and our powers of inquiry with some artificial restraints which prevent us from knowing the truth about nature. That's what these sorts of assumptions—naturalistic assumptions—do. And there's nothing that says that in order to explain something, we need to explain the thing that's doing the explaining, you know. Explain to me the "Jupiter Symphony". Well, Mozart, this great musical genius, composed that symphony, probably just all in his head and then wrote it down. [Undecipherable] Okay, but you haven't explained Mozart. Where did Mozart come from, you know? Well, you know, all explanations end at some point, you know, and Intelligent Design is not asking for an ultimate explanation, it's a proximate explanation. You're asking for, "Was there design involved?" Where did the designer come from? Well, it's an interesting question, but that's not—you don't have to answer that question for design still to do some useful explanatory work. You don't put those requirements in other areas of science and inquiry; why should you do it here?

 

Evolutionary theory of all forms (from Darwin to modern evolution) makes no claim about the origin of life, the origin of the Earth, or the materials from which all things in the universe exist. It's a theory about biological diversity on this planet. It, like all theories, does not answer all questions about all things. Dembski invokes this precept to defend the compartmentalization of ID theory from the identity of the designer.

This is hypocritical for two reasons. First, Dembski posited a universe without a creator was devoid of meaning, then implied that because evolution said nothing about creation, it was an incomplete theory. Therefore, ID should be, in his view, a weak and incomplete theory since it makes no claims about the designer.

 

Second, the idea that ID theory does not have to provide any information about the nature of the designer is self-contradicting. If scientists were to agree that some piece of evidence in biology that was objectively proved to be designed, the very fact of its existence would be information about the designer. Archaeologists do this all the time when excavating ancient buildings or looking at primitive tools and artwork of long-dead cultures; engineers reverse-engineer devices. ID proponents again try to have it both ways.

 

But if the designer is the Christian god who is a supernatural force for whom the laws of the universe do not apply, how does one then tell what evidence in nature is supernatural and what evidence is natural? If you accept the ridiculous notion Dembski later proposes—that science should include room for supernatural forces—there is no way to test for or observe "supernatural" forces based on observation of the natural world.

 

There is no objective, empirical evidence for God's engineering or existence that can ever be demonstrated by any methodology, unless he happens to show up and write the paper up for "Nature" himself. Therefore, ID theory could never reveal the information it claims to seek. Not only is it an argument from ignorance and incredulity, it's a house of cards.

 

Adding insult to injury, it gets even worse for Christian ID proponents when they try to separate the "science" from the "religion" and get coy about who the designer is. This is antithetical for IDologues because if one ever did find incontrovertible evidence in the natural world for a designer, the science would force you to look for a natural designer in the natural word, not God. Oops.

[NATURE]

 

Okay, and I suppose the final thing is nature, because I think there's an assumption throughout these dicussions as though nature is this purely material entity properly explained by purely material causes. And that's itself an assumption that's not scientifically based. The nature of nature is not something that we discover by scientific, empirical inquiry.

If we are to create models of natural phenomena based on observations of nature (this is what science does), then the nature of nature IS something that we can attempt to quantify through objective, empirical inquiry. Dembski is trying to imply that religious discovery (or self-dicsovery) is the same as scientific discovery.  Both are valid pursuits, but only one should be taught in a science class.

I mean, in a sense, it's—there's a whole metaphysics that comes along with that.

Actually, there is no metaphysics that comes with science. Using the modern definitions that of the terms "science" and "metaphysics", metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that makes no claims about any specific science. "Natural philosophy" was used 400 years ago to mean what today we call "science". Modern ID proponents often confuse this with "philosophical naturalism", and Dembski and Wise both conflate this with "methodological naturalism"; each term is distinct and they are not synonymous. It is important to establish what is meant by terms like metaphysics, science, and philosophy if they are going to be the subject of debate. An audience not familiar with these concepts will be easily confused—and fooled—by these tactics.

And in fact, I mean, what we're finding out with Intelligent Design controversy, the materialists, they are finding ways to resist Intelligent Design by assuming that our universe is one an infinite number of alternative universes. The argument is that all this fine-tuning, all the features of the universe that make it life-permitting—they're so improbable that if our known material universe is the only universe, then it couldn't have happened by chance. So let's posit there are all these other universes out there, and this universe is just the lucky lottery in all these universes. And so just as you, if you won a lottery, would be surprised, overwhelmed by having one it, yet given all the other people that were playing, you know, somebody was bound to win it, and you just happened to be it. Well likewise, this universe just happened to be the lucky one, and we're here, we think we're lucky. We are, but most universes are unlucky and there's nobody there to observe how unlucky they were and so that's not a problem. [laughs]

Inflationary cosmology and multiple universe theories are not theories about evolution, nor are they on equal scientific footing (apologies to any astrophysicists out there) to evolution. Ideas such as these are on the cutting edge of science and are yet to be embraced as part of the core sciences.

 

Evolution, by contrast, is a well-accepted theory that is at the core of all modern biological science, with volumes of empirical evidence and well-established predictive powers. Of course, the average YEC non-scientist probably doesn't know this distinction, and so Dembski once again crosses philosophical wires to make a convoluted argument.

I kid you not—this is state-of-the-art thinking among physicists. I worked with Alan Guth when he presented his inflationary cosmology the first time at a seminar at Stanford, and we're reading this and Lenny Susskind, a physicist there, turned to Alan Guth and his first reaction was, "It's amazing what they pay us to do"—that was his response. So, the nature of nature, I mean, it's not something that's just decided by scientific inquiry. I mean, I think science can point us in a direction, Intelligent Design is telling us there's intelligence behind things; and so I think it's point us to an intelligence behind things, but you know, if you monkey enough with the metaphysics, you can get rid of design—you know, just get yourselves multiple, multiple universes and, you know, you can do it, you know. But it seems to me if that—if you think God is disreputable, this is far more, you know.

Here we get to the real punch line, and Great Truth Number Two about ID and a few other astonishing revelations:

[CONCLUSION]

 

So, well, let me wrap things up. I suppose [a] question: why is this debate important? What's riding on it? And to talk about that a little bit, I want to tell you a story (and this is by way of wrap-up). About thirty years ago now, I was street witnessing on the streets of Chicago with some friends, and I was around Clark and Fullerton (mid-town area if you know the city), and I got to talking to two young men who were in their early twenties, and we were talking to them about the [undecipherable] of Christ. And initially they were just mocking us, ridiculing us, and they were drunk. And then after a while it turned somber and they started crying. It turns out that they had been Wheaton College students, they had graduated and gone to one of the liberal seminaries at the University of Chicago—around the University of Chicago there are about seven seminaries there—and they had lost their faith, and what they kept saying, over and over again is, "We wish we could believe the way you do but we can't anymore. We wish we could believe the way you do but we can't anymore."

 

Now what had they learned at seminary? Well I would say they learned two things very quickly: one, the Bible is not reliable, that it's a hodge-podge of various sources, usually put together by people who were not there within the events described. The miracles in the Bible could not have taken place. Well why couldn't they have taken place? Well, for another reason: because science has disproven the Bible because science has shown us that the world is constituted in such a way that miracles, God, things that are described in the Bible could not take place. So it's this materialistic view—view of science and nature—which precludes the Bible from not having any traction [sic].

 

You know, I think this is the great challenge of evolutionary theory, and this is the great promise of Intelligent Design. The challenge that evolutionary [theory] has given us a different creation story, that it's dispensed with God. [undecipherable] It's that this is all there is. It's that God—we've been shown how it all could have happened without the need for a creative intelligence. Okay, and then the promise of Intelligent Design is to reverse that, to show, no, without intelligence, this cannot happen; that the world is radically dependent on the need for an information source that organizes things; that the world is not, left to itself, does not have the power to bring about all the complexity [undecipherable], and that it does need an intelligence.

 

So let me tell you—since this is a theological discussion or context in which we're talking—let me say something then, because I've reflected on this—what I think the underlying motivation is for all this. I mean, it is (I will put it to you) a pelagiaism. Now that may not be a common word for many of you, but Pelagius was a heretic in the time of Augustine and he taught that basically God had given us everything we needed to procure our own salvation; there's no need for grace, okay? God's basically told us, "This is what you're supposed to do, and you just do it", okay? I think that's the impulse here at the scientific level. That the world's been given everything it needs to bring about all that it needs (and this is in terms of biology [und]), and then there's no radical dependence on God. And so it's an effort to get away from God. That's the impulse. And Intelligent Design is putting, sort of, Darwinists' feet to the fire and saying that it's just not in matter to organize itself in the ways that they claim.

Here comes Great Truth Number Two about ID:

And so, I think it's a big challenge to the scientific establishment, and it's very radical in the true sense of the word radical (going down to the roots), and it's much-needed. I think if this society is going to have any hope (I think it is), this is going to have play a big role in this because world view starts with the creation story; you mess that up, you've messed up everything down the line. What does a world view have? It's got a creation story, it's got [undecipherable] why we have problems, it offers a solution.

A materialistic solution, a materialistic predicament, this is not—you cannot build a sound public policy—one that respects Christianity—on that basis. Because, I mean, according to a materialistic creation story, our problem is that we spent most of our evolutionary past as hunter-gatherers that poorly adapts us to our current technological environment, our problems need to be fixed in terms of some sort of cognitive emotional therapy, with drugs, our genetics has damaged us along the way, and then the solution is that we are treated as a machine and we have to be fixed as machines. Well the problem is sin and rebellion against God, and then it's the grace of God and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that saves us—that's a very different solution.

 

I think Intelligent Design opens the way to that. Intelligent Design is friendly to Christian theism in a way that evolutionary theory is not; evolutionary theory has consistently proven itself hostile.

So, here we have it: ID seeks to resolve a false dichotomy between a meaningless, godless material universe and one designed by God with goodness, purpose, morality, rainbows and fluffy white kittens.

Perhaps my favorite statement is the following about theistic evolution:

I think, probably, some of the most dangerous people that we encounter right now are the theistic evolutionists that are telling us it's not a problem to combine the two.

At the beginning of his talk, Dembski said that you don't have to interpret the Bible literally in order to be an ID proponent, and the tent was big enough for young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists and theistic evolutionists of all stripes. But, if you don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, you are a dangerous person. There you have it: Pope John Paul II, Ken Miller—you are wolves in sheep's clothing. But if you're willing to get under the banner of ID so we can get our foot in the door, come on over, you evil, dangerous heathens, you!

So it's, this—there is a lot riding on this. You ask yourself, why is the evolution issue, I mean the things that are now coming from that—infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics [are] back—I mean, all these things are back on the table. Why is that? Well, I put it to you that [undecipherable]. So there's a lot riding on this for our culture.

I could not summarize this better. There IS a lot riding on this debate, but not merely for a small culture of fundamentalist Christians who wish to eradicate any views not consistent with their own; this is about our society as a whole which should respect all religions and beliefs, and teaches our children to understand the difference between science and religion while respecting both. ID achieves none of these, and encourages fear and animosity towards any who do not subscribe to its tenets.

 

Religion is a personal choice about personal metaphysical beliefs. Science is about what we can objectively glean about our universe using the best methods we can devise. We must understand and respect both if our society is to achieve something better for the next generation; otherwise we're just monkeys throwing bones at the moon.


Paul Murray, txDOTpaulmATgmailDOTcom (send comments or corrections here)
Texas Citizens for Science, tcsATtexscienceDOTcom (substitute @ for AT and . for DOT to email)
Last updated: 2008 September 25