Re: Critique of ID & No Free Lunch

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Thu Sep 12 2002 - 09:40:18 EDT

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    >From: "Josh Bembenek" <>

    > Howard-
    > I second Preston's reading and would add that to me this is why
    > Dembski brings up quibbling, etc.

    OK, fair enough. Given your and Preston's comments in support of Dembski's
    protest, I will reevaluate my criticism that was based on a reading
    evidently not intended by Dembski. It does now seem clear that he wishes to
    allow for the possibility (with high probability also?) that the flagellum
    is not the only component of the E. coli bacterium that needed to be
    actualized with the aid of form-conferring intervention by an unnamed and
    unembodied intelligent (choice-making) agent called the "Intelligent

    Here, then, is the situation that Dembski apparently would have us
    visualize: The Intelligent Designer of the universe designed (in the modern
    sense of mindfully conceptualized) intestinal bacteria in such a way that
    only some components of this biotic system could be actualized by natural
    means. In order to actualize other components, however (including the
    flagellum), the Intelligent Designer had to perform additional
    form-conferring actions (but not the kind that would qualify as a miracle)
    to make flagella appear as propulsion systems of these intestinal bacteria.
    By this means we discover that there really is an Intelligent Designer and
    that all forms of naturalism (including naturalistic theism) are to be

    > I would like to ask some
    > questions; if ID is a scientific pursuit as they claim, and if they
    > are willing to fade away as soon as mechanistic details are ironed
    > out as they claim, why all the sharp criticism at this point?

    1. I do not at all believe that the ID movement is purely, or primarily, a
    scientific pursuit.

    2. I see no evidence whatsoever that they are willing to "fade away" in
    response to solid scientific and/or theological and/or philosophical

    3. The only kind of scientific account that is acknowledged by ID advocates
    as having the potential for changing their mind on any of their claims is a
    completely detailed and "causally specific" blow-by-molecular-blow account
    of exactly how (and probably when) some particular biotic system came to be
    assembled by purely natural means. Appeals to circumstantial evidence or
    plausibility arguments are likely to be denigrated as nothing more than
    "just so stories." By setting the standard for refutation so unreasonably
    high, they can always declare their position still logically possible. The
    ordinary pattern of scientific judgment that must be performed in the
    absence of full knowledge regarding every relevant detail is replaced by an
    unrealistic demand for what is effectively omniscience.

    > It seems to me like the debate is an exercise in rhetoric without
    > further evidence either way. We don't have enough data to answer
    > IC once and for all, just hand-waving speculations which may or may
    > not be right.

    Scientific argumentation favoring the merit of some theory in the absence of
    full and detailed knowledge does not necessarily deserve your dismissive
    label, "hand-waving speculation." I'm sure you could provide many examples
    from your own scientific work in which such argumentation would be
    considered substantive and clever, even if it represented less than

    > Not having enough evidence shouldn't justify one
    > position over another. Until the evidence arrives why not let them
    > make their arguments and keep the door open (not that they'll stop
    > anyway?)

    I am happy to have them make their cases with due respect for the difference
    between proof and tentative conclusion. I am, however, nauseously weary of
    their frequent claims to have irrefutable and final proof that something
    could not possibly have been assembled without the aid of form-conferring
    intervention by an unnamed and unembodied choice-making agent (without that
    agent being divine or in the business of performing miracles). The religious
    motivation of most ID advocates is well known. In that context, gross
    overstatements of certainty and proof serve only to amplify the judgment by
    anti-religious critics that the rhetoric of religious folk is mostly
    balderdash. If ID claims were presented with the same modesty that ID
    advocates demand of normal science, I would relax a bit.

    > In other articles I have seen Dembski argue that the ID movement
    > is fully compatible with a view that design was front-loaded into the first
    > cause and all things played themselves out from that point. Do you not feel
    > that this is the case, why or why not? The view of front-loaded design
    > seems, if I am not mistaken, to be your main concept of creation, what if ID
    > could lead to results that eventually provide support for your own view
    > (i.e. for the same formational history that you see, without the adequacy of
    > blind chance and strict maximal naturalistic processes)?

    As far as I'm concerned, ID's use of the term "front-loading" carries too
    much baggage. It has a distinctly deterministic ring that would seem to
    eliminate much of the contingency that we see in natural processes. I do not
    equate ID's term "front loading" with the concept of a creation gifted with
    a "robust formational economy." I cannot imagine that ID would ever "provide
    support for my view" because of its insistence on the need for
    form-conferring interventions to compensate for what the creation cannot do
    by the use of its own resources and capabilities.

    > If nothing else,
    > it seems to me that ID will spur evolutionists on to make more rigorous
    > arguments and flesh out real science from the assumptions that underlie it
    > currently. Even if ID is wrong, I think they will ultimately provide
    > science with a service of motivation and focus on a problem that previously
    > not many would have considered very important.

    I would applaud this positive result of the ID movement.

    [skip a section re Behe; I need to understand his current position better.]

    > What is your ultimate goal in your criticism of their work, because
    > it doesn't appear that you have offered a general solution but rather
    > attempt to, as Dembski points out, stifle their inquiry?

    I have no intention to stifle their inquiry, only to provide them with the
    criticism that their theories need. My principal concern is to require 1)
    that they be more candid in stating their theological and philosophical
    presuppositions, and 2) that they be more open and candid about their
    religious agenda, 3) that they get out of the habit of giving key terms
    (intelligent design, chance hypothesis, Darwinism, Darwinian mechanism,
    complexity, specification, ....) unorthodox definitions that tend to confuse
    the discussion (read carefully the first half of my E. coli paper), and 4)
    that they display the same modesty for their own claims that they demand of
    normal science.

    I hope this helps you understand what I am doing, and why.

    Howard Van Till

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