Comments on Dembski essay

Howard J. Van Till (
Thu, 23 Apr 1998 12:56:41 -0400


I have read your essay, but my comments will be limited to the partcular
concern that I have been expressing on this listserve for some time.

Throughout the essay the term 'design' certainly does appear numerous
times. From the pespective of my original question [What does it mean to be
(or have been) 'intelligently designed?] one striking feature of the essay
is that the meaning of 'design' is presumed to be sufficiently obvious that
no definition is necessary.

If that was your presupposition, I HEARTILY DISAGREE. The term may have had
a common meaning in Paley's time (a meaning based on the artisan metaphor)
but today's generally presumed meaning is, I believe, quite different.
Given that shift in meaning that has occurred between Paley's time and
ours, and presuming that you wish to communicate with precision to your
audience, your usage of the Paleyan meaning must be clearly and candidly
spelled out.

If I try to infer the answer to my original question from your essay, here
is what I come up with. Please correct me where my first reading fails to
do justice to what your wrote with care.

1. 'Design' is an act performed by an 'intelligent agent.'

2. "Intelligent agents act by making a choice."

3. 'Design' includes the idea that the agent acts with intention and
purpose. It requires a consideration of teleology.

4. 'Designed' stands in contrast to such terms as 'undesigned,'
'accidental,' etc.

So far we have much in common. But there are other matters....

5. 'Design' represents a __type of causation__ that stands in contrast to
'undirected natural causes.'

6. Darwin associated the concept of 'design' with the idea of 'independent
creation,' that is independent, __form-imposing, artisan-like, acts__
occasionally performed by a divine creator.

7. Behe's project is to demonstrate empirical evidence for 'biological
design' or of "establishing the design of biochemical systems."

8. I noted a shift from general references to 'design' to the more specific
concept of 'intelligently caused objects.' Furthermore, you credit the
'intelligent design movement' with accomplishing a "breakthrough of
isolating and making precise the criteria for distinguishing these from
'unintelligently caused objects.'" Behe, for instance, is credited for
doing so in the case of biochemical systems. This distinction is, I take
it, the same as between 'designed' and 'undesigned.'

In this arena it becomes more evident that your unstated, but nonetheless
operative, definition of 'design' raises questions for me. Specifically, it
appears that you are presuming a Paleyan concept of design that includes,
in addition to the idea of thoughtful conceptualization for the
accomplishment of a purpose, an act of actualization in which an
'intelligent agent' imposes some new form or structure on materials that
are inherently incapable of actualizing that form by the exercise of their
own formational capabilities.

In other words, your working concept of 'intelligent design' includes both:
a) purposeful conceptualization (an act of mind) AND b) causing the
actualization of a new form by means that transcend the economy of 'natural
processes' (that is, by means of a form-imposing, artisan-type action).

Thus, as the term is employed by ID proponents, to be 'intelligently
designed' means to be both: a) purposefully conceptualized __AND__ b)
assembled, not by the exercise of formational capabilities given to atoms,
molecules, cells, etc., but rather by the direct action of an agent who
exercises power over these basic units.

Let me try to end this whole series of postings on ID with this final

There _is_ an operative defintion for ID, but it is not being clearly or
candidly expressed by its proponents. It is now time for these proponents
to be more open and candid with their audiences.

Howard Van Till