Re: Dembski and Nelson at MIT and Tufts

Howard J. Van Till (
Fri, 2 Apr 1999 14:14:22 -0500

In reply to my post on the need to define "intelligent design," Bert Massie

"Certainly you jest. This is not mathematics. Would it be so nice that
neat little definitions could be generated. Philosophical arguements do
not have that nature and the view that nothing can be learned because we
can never well state definitions is not an acceptable result either."

My response:

No, Bert, I do not jest here. Suppose that a person were to say to you, "I
have empirical evidence that species X or biotic subsystem Y was gzorply
muffnordled." I presume that your first response would (rightly) be, "What
does it mean to be (or have been) 'gzorply muffnordled'? Until you define
that term, I have no idea how to evaluate your claim."

My point has long been that the meaning of the term 'intelligent design' is
*not* at all self-evident. Different persons have very different operative
definitions, and some persons use the term to mean quite different things
at different times. Until the key terms are defined, substantive evaluation
of important claims cannot be done, whether in philosophy or mathematics.

Bert went on to say that ""Intelligent design" does not tell us what agent
did it only that naturalism alone cannot get the job done."

My response:

1. Please note that I did not ask for the specific identity of the agent,
just an indication of the _type_ of agent and _category_ of action. That
should make the task a bit more reasonable.

2. Since I wholly reject the comprehensive worldview commonly known as
'naturalism,' I suspect that Bert and I may well agree that "naturalism
alone cannot get the job done."

But my question is, What specific "job" are we here talking about? The
_mental_ work of conceptualizing a universe that is capable of making the
process of evolutionary development possible? The uniquely _creative_
work of giving being to such a remarkably gifted universe? The _manual_
work of imposing form on materials not sufficiently gifted to actualize
specific novel species or biotic subsystems? My plea is for greater
specificity and clarity regarding the issues being discussed.

Bert also said, "OR, you can accept the irreducible complexity because of
its overwhelming factual basis and posit that there is some unknown law of
physics that casues it to happen. Oh ye of a lot of faith. Or, you can
posit an infinity of universes but we just cannot see them."


1. I find the term "law of physics" far too restricting. Laws do not cause
anything. Things/materials/beings with capabilities bring about outcomes.
We sometimes find it possible to write "laws" that describe those
capabilities, or their relationship to relevant properties, or the
processes that they make possible, but those laws don't cause anything to

My question, as a Christian, is: How richly did God gift the creation with
formational capabilities? When a Christian says that something like
macroevolution is impossible, he/she is in effect saying that God did not
sufficiently gift the creation with formational capabilities to make biotic
evolution possible. This has long struck me as a very awkward irony:
Christians arguing for a universe (a creation) less gifted than the
universe as envisioned by the preachers of naturalism (who can't even point
to a source for that giftedness).

2. With you, Bert, I find the positing of an infinity of universes quite
unsatisfactory. We're on the same team here, OK?


Howard Van Till