Re: Snoke's response

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sat Aug 13 2005 - 12:18:23 EDT

Thank you, Dr. Randy Isaac. This is one of the more thoughtful brief messages I’ve read on this discourse (Creation/Evolution/ID/etc.) lately. I wasn’t at your annual meeting, but have found value nonetheless in the conversations held on the ASA list. I hope my writing here in response to your response to David Snoke doesn’t distract from the general or specific topic of this thread.


You wrote:

“Whether and how design by a non-natural being can be detected is the central debate, followed by the implications of such detection or the lack thereof.” – R. Isaac


Yes, I agree this is a central issue. Not the meaning of detection, so to speak, but the detection of meaning. I wonder though, can’t God be humbly considered both natural and non-natural at the same time? What I mean is, when people speak about ‘the nature of’ God, aren’t they limiting themselves to a naturalistic view of religion? Likewise, if human beings are simply ‘natural beings,’ then everything we say, think, feel or do can be measured, observed, heard, tasted or experimented upon as if we are ‘only natural’ and thus limited to a naturalistic paradigm. Somewhere in the equation doesn’t the non-theism or anti-theism of biological science, or even simply of Darwinian evolution, have to be called to account?


Over the past three years I have questioned several leaders of the IDM(ovement) directly and each has avoided answering me on the issue you raised in your response to Dr. Snoke.


Question: What is the difference between human-made and non-human-made things in regard to ‘intelligent design theory’?


“There is a fundamental difference between information that humans or other organisms intentionally transmit through some physical embodiment and the inherent information in a DNA or RNA sequence.” – R. Isaac


This distinction is likewise easy to illustrate in the words of IDM spokespersons that often make use of analogies to Mt. Rushmore, a mousetrap, archaeology or architecture, which have no direct relevance to biological science. Yet they refuse to say where the line is (or lines are) to be drawn between human ‘design’ and non-human ‘design.’


“[W]e can recognize designs by humans and by extrapolation can ‘scientifically’ determine whether some object was a design from nature or from humans. True, there's quite a gray zone.” – R. Isaac


This I find to be an interesting remark about scientific determination. Yes, I would agree there’s quite a grey zone here. It speaks to ‘the nature of’ science, to what constitutes natural science, social science, cosmological science, humanitarian science, historical science and other kinds of sciences and their particular or general methods. Perhaps this is just cause for your warning to Dr. Snoke that he may be wandering “outside the realm of science.” After all, science doesn’t determine meaning in our lives in the same way that theology and/or philosophy do.


This is also, however, why W. Dembski claims to be a revolutionary; that ‘design’ theory is a revolution for science and ultimately ‘the bridge between science and theology.’ I happen to disagree with him (and his crew) and don’t think his views are as revolutionary or far-reaching as he claims. But my interdisciplinary scientific interests are also different from his; neither am I am trained in theology or probability theory and neither was my father a biologist.


I wonder if ‘outside the realm of science’ is always a necessarily bad (or lesser) thing or if (perhaps when) it can be combined collaboratively with philosophy and theology to support our faith, rather than subverting it through something truly deterministic like physical reductionism?


“In a sense, you might say that all of creation is an example of the result of a non-natural intelligent designer but then we may simply be arguing from our presuppositions and close to circular reasoning.” – R. Isaac


As above, I’m confused with what is meant by ‘non-natural.’ Circular reasoning does indeed seem to be an unfortunate staple of ID rhetoric, something I have traced quite closely for the past few years. I would suggest we always argue from our presuppositions, though whether we expound them into a theory that tries to prove our beliefs or which ultimately somehow supports them through ideas, suspicions, habits or even inferences, is something else entirely. Most ID promoters still wish not to identify the designer (read: Designer) of the designs they say are scientifically verifiable, which in my mind makes their ‘theory’ rather suspect. Sherlock Holmes, who detected those who commit crimes, not just how the crimes happened, would likely agree.


In summary, it seems the academy can support certain approaches to Science and what can be empirically studied, and not other things, including methods and theories. However, it is noteworthy that there are in fact theological faculties in some universities in the US, while in other parts of the world theology is completely separated from scientific experimentation and speculation. Theology in a university setting is rather foreign territory in some national or regional educational systems. In such a case, theology can then be present among scientists even when it is absent.


With warm regards for your continued fruitful dialogue,


G. Arago

Randy Isaac <> wrote:Randy's response to Dave's response:
I appreciate your thoughtful response because I believe it helps us pinpoint the essence of the debate about ID and highlights where we should be having the debate rather than much of the swirling controversy around us. The key issue is the detectability of design. Whether and how design by a non-natural being can be detected is the central debate, followed by the implications of such detection or the lack thereof.
In essence, I believe there is no credible, scientifically defensible way to articulate what to expect to see because that is how God does things. In hindsight, we might say that something is consistent with what we know about God, but to have the confidence that we know how He works is going a bit too far. If we were to pursue that path, then why would your idea of "how God does things" be any more valid than my idea? Say I happen to have the idea that "how God does things" is entirely by mathematically describable methods and so I expect sooner or later to be able to discover those algorithms. Can I prove that my idea is better (or worse) than your idea of how God does things? I believe this is a dangerous path theologically and certainly not scientific.

ID may well be at the level of a "grand paradigm" but I fear that it may well be a fundamentally flawed paradigm and may be detracting us from the real message of creation. At least I think our dialog is starting to focus on the right issues.


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Received on Sat Aug 13 12:21:18 2005

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