Re: "Design up to Scratch?" (The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Roberts)

From: Josh Bembenek (
Date: Thu May 01 2003 - 12:51:44 EDT

  • Next message: John Burgeson: "Re: The Nature of Atheist - Christian dialogue"

    Combined Responses to Howard and George, due to similar discussion points:

    Howard: Correct. My point has been restricted to the importance of using
    key terms ("design," "complexity," specified," "chance," etc) in a
    consistent manner that everyone will understand. I have long challenged ID
    theorists to do so.

    -I think this is a useful cause for criticism, especially in light of
    atheists distortion of evolution as a disproof of theology. I sometimes
    feel that many here use these weaknesses of ID proponents' rhetorical
    strategy as arguments that negate their global premise. I do not agree with
    the latter approach.

    Howard: "Case in point: What is the operative meaning of "design" here? In
    most ID literature, especially Dembski recent works, it refers to
    non-natural action performed by an unembodied agent in the course of time
    (as in assembling the bacterial flagellum for the first time from atoms and
    molecules at hand)."

    George: "I would argue that natural processes are not only the
    "instruments" God uses (as in traditional models of primary & secondaty
    causation) but also (in Luther's phrase) the "masks of God, behind which he
    wishes to remain concealed and give us all things." If this the case, our
    scientific investigation of the world will find only the masks, not the face
    of God."

    -But in no way should everyone necessarily be limited to this explanation.
    Ultimately we may have some combination of cause "types" employed during
    creation. While many feel it unneccesary to appeal to direct action of God,
    I don't mind remaining open to such possibilities. I don't think God's
    actions should be fit into any box, because indeed, as George laid out
    (thanks for the extended quotation from Luther), His use of masks may mean
    that we will never understand it fully. Imagining how all things work out
    for His purpose, even when those "choose" to rebel (if that's possible as
    scripture tells us God hardened Pharoah's heart), is beyond me many times.
    If it is difficult to understand His activity during our own lives, it may
    be even more difficult to decipher His activity during creation, of which we
    were not a part.

    Howard: "But we have to know what generic kind of action the word "design"
    applies to. Inferring pre-planning by a Mind is radically different from
    inferring occasional form-conferring interventions by a Hand. Some
    proponents of ID want to use the same term for both, but I think it muddles
    the discussion hopelessly."

    George: "With all due respect, I'm not very interesting into forcing my
    understanding of the relationship between science & theology into Dembski's
    framework. _If_ phenomena can be understood in terms of natural processes
    obeying known physical laws without any appeal to God - well then, they can
    be, & thus provide no evidence for God. & thus the question of how God acts
    is crucial. As far as "All of us here agree that *somewhere* the filter
    should indicate a design inference" is concerned, "Gentlemen, include me
    out." My belief in divine activity in the world is based on revelation, not
    probability calculations &c - though the latter can be helpful, when viewed
    in the light of revelation, in gaining further understand of how God acts."

    Howard: "Wrong. Dembski's case for "ID" in the biological arena would fail
    if the RFEP holds. "ID" (as defined by Dembski) is necessary only if there
    are gaps in the universe's formational economy. "ID" action is posited to
    compensate for what the universe (by divine intention, presumably) fails to
    be capable of doing............... No, not if we use Dembski's meaning of
    "design inference." Dembski's Explanatory Filter is dedicated to the task of
    demonstrating the need for form-conferring interventions in the course of
    time, interventions that are made necessary by what the Creation cannot do.
    If the Creation was gifted from the outset with a robust formational
    economy, then there would be no "design inference" in the unconventional
    manner that Dembski uses the term "design."

    -These quotations highlight great reservations concerning the use of
    Dembski's filter for developing an argument about the existence of God. I'd
    like to make a few points before George folds his hand.

    1. I don't think anyone advocates the use of these probablistic arguments
    in the absence of revelation. However, the arguments can be developed
    without saying, "this approach is justified because of the bible or Jesus
    Christ," that is secondary.
    2. Our only use for such a filter does not have to be with making
    inferences that Dembski has dedicated them to. In my area of expertise,
    quantitation and detailed evidence is required to complete an argument. One
    cell out of a million that displays phenotype X under condition Y is not
    nearly as convincing as 90% of a million cells displaying phenotype X under
    same conditions. This is where I see the utility of the filter and the ID
    argument. We all agree with design, yet we differ strongly between "
    pre-planning by a Mind" (PPM) and " inferring occasional form-conferring
    interventions" (OFCI). (Pardon the hateful acronyms here.) Currently, we
    have people who have alot of faith in the creative ability of evolution and
    the RFE of the universe, and thus argue for PPM. Others see great trouble
    with the FE of the universe and suggest that God "must"/ "may have"
    (depending on the strength of their feeling towards biblical interpretation,
    evolution theory, Reverend Moon, etc.) employed OFCI in addition to/ instead
    of PPM (I don't see an either/ or here). How could we distinguish between
    the two in a more rigorous fashion? To me, a great way would be to
    quantitate the probability and causative effectiveness of various laws and
    creaturely capacities, to determine whether or not OFCI is required. With
    the appropriate calculations, somewhere along the line a probablistic
    analysis will reveal the necessity of mindful creative activiy of some sort-
    either PPM or OFCI. This analysis, if done properly could also distinguish
    between the effectiveness of natural laws operating alone, or the necessity
    of inquiring into a mask of God for event X. In either case, having such
    calculations supporting the view will only help the case. Making an
    argument without quantitative support is simply saying "per my personal
    judgement, this is the way phenomena X happened." This expresses itself in
    the argument such as "although it is next to impossible to build a protein
    that has biological function, God did not help the process because I see
    evolution as capable," or vice versa. Either way without calculations and
    rigourous analysis, it all boils down to how good you feel about the
    functionality and utility of evolutionary processes (in the absence of true
    knowledge), and people obviously have different feelings. This is my main
    motivation for "forcing" everything into Dembski's filter.


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