Response to Howard Van Till and Allan Harvey

William A. Dembski (
Sat, 10 Apr 1999 19:11:09 -0600

Howard wrote:

>Bill, from your posting of April 6, I take it that the following would now
>be considered (by you, at least) to be an acceptable answer: (I will
>itemize the several components of the statement for the purpose of
>continuing analysis and commentary.)
>1. To be (or have been) 'intelligently designed' means to be (or have been)
>thoughtfully conceptualized by a mind (or Mind) for the accomplishment of a

This is fine.

>2. Applying this definition to questions regarding the character of
>particular physical structures, life forms, or biotic subsystems, the
>criteria for recognizing something as having been 'intelligently designed'
>would not entail any conclusions regarding the manner (mode) by which these
>structures, organisms, or subsystems came to be assembled (or otherwise
>produced) in the course of time.

There's a problem here. Granted, to say that something is throughtfully
conceptualized by a mind to accomplish a purpose does not entail any
conclusions regarding the manner (mode) of production. But once one talks
of criteria for recognizing design, mode of production does become
important. My criterion of specified complexity, I argue, precludes an
explanation that appeals solely to chance and necessity (i.e., natural
causes as understood by scientific naturalism). A criterion is a judgment,
and thus must needs distinguish between two things, in this case those
things that can be known on empirical grounds to be designed and those that
cannot. Criteria for recognizing design treat design as a sign, which is
different from design in the sense of merely being conceptualized. As a
criterion, design excludes certain modes of production (i.e., chance and
necessity) as being sufficient to account for some object in question.

>3. Supposing that adequate criteria could be developed, and supposing that
>particular structures, organisms, or biotic subsystems would be found to
>meet these criteria, questions regarding the mode of historical assembly
>(or production) of these structures or forms would have to be answered on
>the basis of additional and substantive criteria (perhaps including both
>scientific and theological/philosophical considerations).

This strikes me as unclear. Adequate criteria for detecting design would
distinguish between things we can on empirical grounds know to be designed
and things we can't. Once we have empirical grounds for knowing something
is designed, I'm not sure we need further criteria regarding the mode of
historical production. We may, but we may just be left with making
historical reconstructions, or the problem of answering the mode of
historical production question may just be intractable. Adequate criteria
for detecting design will enable us to rule out certain modes of historical
production (chance and necessity), but will leave open how the designer
produced the object in question.

>4. For example, the presence of evidence for 'intelligent design,' as
>defined above, would *not* by itself be sufficient to establish whether the
>mode of assembly (or production) either, a) necessarily *included* episodes
>of assembly by the form-imposing action of an extranatural agent, or b)
>necessarily *excluded* historical actualization by 'natural means,' that
>is, by the exercise of the creaturely capabilities characteristic of a
>'fully gifted Creation' that was from the outset equipped by its Creator
>with a 'robust formational economy.'

We're back to the "nature of nature" problem. If your fully gifted nature
is richer than the chance and necessity of the scientific naturalists and
is compatible with the possibility that there are features in nature which
in principle cannot be explained scientifically within the limits of
naturalistic science, then I would say fine. But if your fully gifted
nature is empirically equivalent to the nature of the scientific
naturalist, then I would say your view cannot properly be assimilated to
intelligent design.

In this vein let me respond to a comment by Allan Harvey, who wants to know
whether I subscribe to the following statement:

>"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."

I cannot subscribe to this statement. If by evolution we mean evolution
driven by naturalistic processes that give no empirical evidence of design,
then I disagree with this statement. Things do not "turn out" to be true or
false--either they are true or they are false. If evolution as Allan Harvey
describes it is true, then ID is false. If ID is true, the evolution as
Allan describes it is false (God-guided evolution where the guidance is
empirically evident would in this case fall under ID). I think it makes a
great deal of difference to our faith what we claim about nature and what
is true about nature. If ID is false, then it undercuts Christian faith. If
evolution that gives no empirical evidence of design is false, then it
undercuts Christian faith. Christ assumed human nature and thereby assumed
nature simpliciter. Consequently, if our view of nature is mistaken, then
so will be our Christology and theology. The Book of Nature and the Book of
Scripture both testify to God, and if we wrongly interpret either, we
wrongly interpret both. At least that's my view.

Bill Dembski