Re: Critique of ID & No Free Lunch

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Thu Oct 03 2002 - 10:08:41 EDT

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    >From: "Josh Bembenek" <>

    Sorry for the long delay in responding. I was out of the country for a
    couple of weeks. Now it's time to catch up on correspondence. Here are some
    responses to selected portions of your September 14 inquiry.

    > --How much of the E. coli bacterium do you believe was actualized without
    > the form-conferring intervention of God?

    Using the term "form-conferring intervention" as the label for a divine act
    that interrupts, overpowers or supercedes creaturely action, my answer is,
    "all of it."

    > Is the
    > fully-gifted creation devoid of God's design and form-conferring action?

    If "design" means "intentional conceptualization," then the fully-gifted
    creation is permeated with design. If, however, "designed" means "actualized
    by means of form-conferring intervention" (see preceding comment) then the
    fully-gifted creation was not designed (in the ID sense).

    Much confusion could have been avoided if the ID movement had chosen its
    terminology differently. In the confusing jargon of ID, to be "intelligently
    designed" is to be "formed in a way that requires, in addition to some
    natural processes, occasional acts of form-conferring intervention by an
    unidentified and unembodied choice-making agent."

    > Is it only the intervening that you have quarrel with? How is God's
    > intervention in the initial conditions different than his intervention
    > downstream? I would appreciate your elaboration on this point.

    I think a case can be made that the act of choosing the character of the
    creation to which God gives being is distinctly different from any act of
    form-conferring intervention. The first does not entail an overpowering or
    superceding of the action of a creation that already had some particular
    character. The second, what you call "intervention downstream," entails the
    coercive interruption of the flow of natural actions in a creation whose
    character was already in place.

    > "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)÷"
    > --Do you not agree with this specific component of the concept?

    Yes., but I would probably use the term "Creator-God" in place of
    "Intelligent Designer." :)

    > "÷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."
    > --But it seems to me that you would also add that the flagella did not
    > arrive without design from God, just that somehow it was "installed" in the
    > creation at initial Time.

    Once again, problems arise because of the confusion in the meaning of the
    word "design." I would say that the potentiality for a bacterial flagellum
    and all of the creaturely resources and capabilities needed for its
    actualization in time were both conceptualized by God and included in the
    character of the creation from the outset.

    > Why does the ID argument necessitate anything
    > other than Design (Vs. timing of design implementation?) If freedom were
    > allowed for timing of design implementation would you be more satisfied?

    Once again, problems arise because of the confusion in the meaning of the
    word "design." Is it a mind-like act of intentional conceptualization, or a
    hand-like act of imposing form?

    > --It seems to me that the basic difference with naturalistic theism is the
    > question of design implementation. Or is the fully-gifted creation not
    > designed?

    Once again, problems arise because of the confusion in the meaning of the
    word "design." See previous comments on this. The theme should be clear by

    <skip a bit>

    > ,,, to quote an extremely insightful passage from your essay in "Three
    > Views"
    > "žDoes the universe contain the Žright stuffŪ for making full evolutionary
    > development possible, or are certain key capabilities lacking? The first
    > thing to remind ourselves of is that it is humanly impossible to prove, in
    > the strict logical sense, either a yes or no answer... We will have to
    > settle for an informed judgement. (p.193)"
    > Until then it would appear that their informed judgement simply differs from
    > yours.

    Yes, I think that's a fair way to state it. That's why I have tried to be
    candid in stating my position as an informed judgment

    One of my long-standing requests is the ID advocates follow the same
    practice and avoid the repetition of overblown claims of having generated an
    airtight "proof" that there are extant "natural" objects that had to be
    formed by the non-natural action called "intelligent design"
    (form-conferring intervention by an unidentified and unembodied
    choice-making agent).

    <skip a bit>

    > (HVT statement) "I am happy to have them (ID advocates) 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."
    > --Point taken.


    > My principal concern is to require 1)that they be more candid in stating
    > their theological and philosophical presuppositions
    > --Which opens them even more to attacks by lay media and the like to label
    > them as religious fanatics dismissed on those grounds alone. I see no real
    > problem with their lack of association with their beliefs in trying to
    > advance the concept of ID.

    But if worldview concerns form the core of the movement, why not challenge
    other worldviews openly and with candor? Would that not build respect?

    > 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)
    > --When I read their material I do not get the same confusion you present.
    > It is clear that in most cases they are dealing with maximal naturalism in
    > their work, and most would not confuse this issue because many are not
    > familiar with your system of beliefs (as I understand it.) It is my feeling
    > that their vocabulary is more commonly understood, but then I entered this
    > whole debate after reading The Black Box, and The Blind Watchmaker. Black
    > and white seemed very appropriate for naturalism at the time.

    I suppose my experience was somewhat different. I saw people like Phil
    Johnson loading the term "naturalism" with all of the connotations of
    maximal naturalism (without acknowledging there were substantially different
    kinds of naturalism) and then referring to people like myself as "theistic
    naturalists." That rhetorical strategy was offensive.

    > 4) That they display the same modesty for their own claims that they demand
    > of normal science.
    > --Since our educational system does not display this type of modesty and one
    > of their goals is to combat the system, I would not demand this. I am a
    > product of the immodest teaching in academia and I would testify that it
    > directly hampered my spiritual life as a result. I find no conflict with
    > their attempts to correct the immodest way students are taught at
    > universities, etc. Assuming that many suffer spiritual loss by the bias of
    > academic education, how would you go about changing that and implementing a
    > system that honours our creator in the classroom instead of scoffing at Him?

    Point out bias where it is evident and demand that such bias be removed form
    the classroom. What my 4) excludes is the simple replacement of one bias
    with another. Committing the same error as the adversary does not constitute
    a correction.

    Thanks, Josh, for your thoughtful engagement of these questions.

    Howard Van Till

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