Re: Dembski's response to Van Till and Harvey

Howard J. Van Till (
Mon, 12 Apr 1999 10:01:42 -0400

To all who have chosen to follow this discussion on ID:

I have invested a fair amount of time crafting earlier postings because It
appeared that to me that there was a good chance of making some progress in
getting the proponents of ID to:

1) give a clear, candid and full statement of *their* operative definition of
what it means for something to be (or have been) 'intelligently designed,'

2) distinguish between (a) the mind-like action of "thoughtful
conceptualization for the accomplishment of a purpose," and (b) the
assembling (producing, actualizing, fabricating) of some structure (or
organism, or biotic subsystem) by a means that includes, as an essential
element, a hand-like action by which some novel form is imposed on materials
not capable of self-assembling or transforming into that form.

3) grant that the recognition of 2 (a) did not necessarily commit a person to
a conclusion that entailed 2 (b). [or not 2 (b)]

I'm not at all certain that my optimism was warranted.

For instance: I asked Bill Dembski,

>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 purpose.

Bill's reply: "This is fine."

HVT: However, it appears, Bill, that you do not take that as a _complete_
definition ow what it means to be 'intelligently designed,' but only one of
two components, right? Read on...

The second statement to which I invited Bill's response was:

>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.

Bill's reply: "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

HVT: No, Bill, it appears to me that the mode of production becomes important
only *after* two additional commitments have been made operative (even if kept
hidden from view): 1) that 'design' includes the idea of action by a
form-imposing agent, and 2) that the only criteria acceptable are those that
would satisfy the expectations of empirical science.

Bill continues: "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.

HVT: Question: Do the categories, "chance and necessity" actually exhaust the
scope of "natural causes as understood by scientific natualism"? I sincerely
doubt it. Perhaps the rhetoric of some preachers of naturalism would imply
that, and such rhetoric deserves crisp critique. However, even if the
metaphysics of naturalism does not provide sufficient warrant for it, the
preachers of naturalism do presume that the formational economy of the
universe (a universe that has no Source of existence) is sufficiently robust
(in spite of not having been purposefully conceptualized, apparently) to make
possible the actualization in time of all physical structures and life forms
that have ever existed.

The problem with naturalism is not that it holds a low view of the formational
economy of the universe (it would appear to be a higher view than that held by
all strains of episodic creationism), but rather that the metaphysics of
naturalism provides no sufficient basis for that high view.

I say, therefore, attack the insufficiencies of the naturalistic metaphysics,
not the concept of a robust formational economy. A Christian, holding the
universe to have been given its being by the Creator, has far more warrant for
favoring the robust formational economy principle than does a person committed
to naturalism. The Christian Creator is held to be the only and sufficient
Source of the entire 'being' of the universe, including its formational


Howard Van Till