Re: Design as Concept, Sign, and Production

Allan Harvey (
Fri, 09 Apr 1999 12:43:25 -0600

I agree with Howard Van Till that this was a helpful contribution. One
point that may be worth clarifying, with regard to the "Sign" aspect:

At 12:37 PM 4/6/99 -0600, William A. Dembski wrote:
>The next question about design is whether it also constitutes a sign.
>Design in this sense denotes what it is about intelligently produced
>objects that enables us to tell that they actually are intelligently
>produced. When intelligent agents act (and however they act, whether
>through direct intervention or through a fully gifted creation), they leave
>behind a characteristic trademark or signature. The scholastics used to
>refer to the "vestiges in creation." The Latin vestigium means footprint.
>It was thought that God, though not directly present to our senses, had
>nonetheless left his "footprints" throughout creation. Hugh Ross has
>referred to the "fingerprint of God." It is design in this sense--as a
>trademark, signature, vestige, or fingerprint--that the various criteria
>for identifying intelligently caused objects are meant to recognize (cf.
>Behe's irreducible complexity, my specified complexity, Schützenberger's
>functional complexity). I would say that if there is one defining feature
>of the intelligent design movement, it is that it takes design as a sign.

I think we must clarify whether, for the ID movement, the sorts of
"signs" they are proposing are theologically necessary, or just a bonus.
In other words:
1) Would the absence of such "footprints" in a particular area entail the
absence of God in that area?
2) Is the truth of theism contingent on Dembski et al. being able to find
these footprints?

I would hope the answer is "no" (in recognition of God's ability to work
through his sovereignty over "natural" processes). "Yes" answers would
not only deny the doctrine of providence, but would also be
apologetically unwise.

Yet the problem I see is that, when the ID movement is translated to the
church via people like Phil Johnson, what comes across is perceived as
"Yes" answers to those questions. The idea that it is only the heroic
work of Behe and Johnson that is finding room for God and making it
possible for a thinking person to be a theist. Could we get some
statement from the ID movement (or at least from Bill Dembski
individually) that the truth of theism does not depend on these signs,
and that it is wrong to take a view that God's activities only really
"count" if they leave footprints?

Perhaps I could get Bill Dembski to agree to a statement that Phil
Johnson refused to endorse a while back:

"While I believe the evidence does not support the theory of evolution,
and while it has been abused as a tool by those pushing an atheist
agenda, the Christian faith does not suffer if it turns out that
evolution is true. God can create however He chooses, and is not
diminished if His work in creation was through 'natural' processes."

Could you endorse that statement? If not, what part do you disagree
with, and why? And would you be willing to say this publicly to prevent
people from misinterpreting the work of the ID movement?

| Dr. Allan H. Harvey | |
| Physical and Chemical Properties Division | "Don't blame the |
| National Institute of Standards & Technology | government for what I |
| 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80303 | say, or vice versa." |