Re: What does ID mean?

Paul A. Nelson (
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 15:22:28 -0500 (CDT)

Allan Harvey asked:

>1) Does the "scientifically detectable" part imply that there must be a
>"hand" in Howard van Till's terminology? Or would, for example,
>anthropic principles qualify as a scientifically detectable mark of the
>designer, in which case this definition could be compatible with van
>Till's "robust formational economy" principle? One gets the impression
>that most in the ID movement require "marks" that are more hand-like
>than anthropic principles are.

Can you specify some observational consequences which follow from
"anthropic principles" uniquely? [Meaning that a scientist who
rejected anthropic principles -- I'm not sure what those are,
exactly -- couldn't explain the observations.] Otherwise I can't
answer this question.

Allan also asked:

>2) Is the presence of these "marks" just a hypothesis advanced in the
>hope of doing better science, or is it a theological necessity? In
>other words, if it turns out that there are no scientifically
>detectable marks (for example, if the scientific theory of evolution
>[stripped of its philosophical extrapolations] is correct), would that
>negate Christianity? Or is Christian theology still sound if God
>created through evolutionary processes that left no "marks"? This
>question, which gets to the biggest concern many of us have about the
>ID movement, is what I was trying (with little success) to get Phil
>Johnson and/or Paul Nelson to answer a few weeks ago.

I think you and I understand "evolution" differently.

God does whatever He pleases. But as I have been taught evolution, and
as the theory is presented in textbooks and the scientific literature,
it is *grounded in* methodological naturalism. Thus the theory's
philosophical implications are not, in fact, "extrapolations," but are
embedded in its very foundation.

Further, methodological naturalism as a method of inquiry and
explanation does not stop politely at the church door. Take a look at
E.O. Wilson's latest book, for instance. If you cheat on your wife,
you're not sinning. There is no such thing as "sin." You're obeying a
genetic imperative, which may or may not be adaptive, depending on the

Here's a familiar dialogue.

Scientist: Evolution and Christianity are fully compatible, provided
one understands correctly what both assert.

Believer: That's a relief. I was worried that I was going to have
choose between them.

Scientist: Well, you don't. Faith and science are not in conflict.

Believer: Great. Listen, may I ask you a personal question?

Scientist: Sure.

Believer: Since faith and science are not in conflict...then, well,
you too must be a Christian.

Scientist: I'm not a Christian. Whatever gave you that idea?

Believer: (puzzled) But you just said...

Scientist: Oh, I don't see any grounds or need for faith, myself.
As far as that goes, I think the Bible is filled with
false statements. There is no such thing as "sin," for
instance. Given what we know about the evolution of human
behavior, how could there be? Morality evolved like every
other human trait. But if someone like yourself wants to
believe in a God, and can reconcile that belief with the
findings of modern science, who am I to object?

Believer: But the Bible makes unequivocal claims about human beings.

Scientist: If those claims contradict the findings of science,
then I'm sorry, but -- they're false.

Believer: But you just said that faith and science are not in

Scientist: That's right. Faith is essentially devoid of content.
Isn't that you believers always say? "I know God is
real because he lives in my heart," or "faith is a
gift and not a matter of evidence," stuff like that?
It is in principle impossible for such statements to
make any difference in science, because they're entirely
subjective. So they don't bother me.

Believer: That's not what I understood when you said "Evolution
and Christianity are fully compatible."

Scientist: Well, that's what I meant.

I've had close variants of this conversation with many evolutionary
biologists. Not one who assured me that evolution and Christianity were
compatible was himself a Christian. Isn't it telling that many of the
prominent scientists and educators who assure Christians that
they need not choose between "evolution" and their faith are not
themselves Christians, or even theists, but philosophical naturalists?

Eugenie, if you're reading this, you might jump in here. Let me put the
question to you. If evolution and Christianity can be reconciled, then
why aren't you a Christian?

Allan, I guess I'd need to know from you why E.O. Wilson should not
try to explain the origin of morality, and indeed religious behavior
itself, by natural selection. Because, right now, that is what he and
thousands of other scientists are doing. And they see no difference
between such investigations and determining the gene frequencies of
fruit flies.

Paul Nelson