Re: [asa] On ID, TE, and culture wars

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri May 04 2007 - 13:27:26 EDT

I think there's a good deal of truth in what Ted says. In principle, ID as a scientific research program could be separated from ID as a "movement," & most of my criticisms have been directed toward the latter. However -

1) "In principle" is one thing but the actual history is another. I may be corrected on this, but my memory is that Johnson was cranking up his anti-naturalism rhetoric well before any of the claims of Behe or Dembski became prominent, & that "movement" was ready to glom onto specific ID ideas pretty much when they emerged from the womb. ID as a scientific research program alone has never really existed. It has always been marked by Johnson-like cultural confrontation.

2) The major things that I have always focused on in criticizing ID are:

a) The failure of the movement's spokespersons to be straightforward about their theological agenda. OTOH there's Dembski saying that ID is just the Logos doctrine of the Gospel of John in the language of information theory, but when theological questions or challenges are raised, the response is "There's no theology here. We're just scientists and philosophers." (I'm speaking of ID leaders. Most of the spear bearers apparently think that there isn't any theology involved but at least the collection I encountered in my brief stay on UcD seems pretty gullible & willing to believe whatever Dembski or O'Leary tells them.)

b) When one starts looking at the theology that is implicit in ID claims, it isn't very good.

3) I don't want to give the impression that my criticisms of ID are only theological. I focus on that 1st because it doesn't get enough attention & 2d because molecular biology isn't my scientific specialty. But I think there is plenty wrong with ID scientifically. For 1 thing, the jump from the claim that at a particular time certain processes haven't been explained in terms of natural processes to the claim that they can't be so explained is unjustified. Things like the bacterial flagellum should have been described not as "irreducibly complex" but as "not-yet-reducibly complex." The fact that Behe et al resist evidence that some steps of things like the blood clotting cascade, the flagellum or the immune system can be explained in terms of natural processes is quite significant.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>; "James Mahaffy" <>
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2007 9:23 AM
Subject: [asa] On ID, TE, and culture wars

>I don't share George's low view of ID myself. Despite the politics of the
> movement, which I detest (and which definitely prevent me from identifying
> too closely with ID), I find several ID ideas interesting and worth talking
> about. I lean theologically more toward George than toward most IDs (that
> is, what I know about the "unofficial" theology of most IDs), but not
> entirely in that direction, and I don't think that God is obliged entirely
> to "hide" himself in the creation. At the same time, I share Polkinghorne's
> view that "The world is not full of items stamped 'made by God' -- the
> creator is more subtle than that -- but there are two locations where
> general hints of the divine presence might be expected to be seen most
> clearly." One of those is cosmic history, the other our own conciousness.
> As P likes to say, when the astronomer peers into her telescope, she needs
> to remember that the most complex object in the universe is six inches
> behind the eyepiece.
> The biggest problem with ID, as I see it, is the inability to separate ID
> from the politics of the "culture wars." It isn't hard to find leading ID
> advocates linking these inseparably. (I won't back that up here, but it's a
> piece of cake to do so.) So, for those who find the ideas themselves
> interesting and worth considering, but who reject the cultural warfare that
> the ideas are explicitly said to be linked to, what are we to do?
> Furthermore, what are we to make of ourselves, those of us who believe that
> an inference to purpose/design in the universe is larger than science alone,
> that it depends also on metaphysics/theology? I know quite a few Christians
> in the sciences who believe that one can in fact make design inferences from
> nature, but not independently of theodicy and prior conceptions of who the
> designer actually is? Are we ID adocates, or not? I find the general
> thrust of ID persuasive myself--the universe and its parts really are too
> complex in specified ways to have been the product of "blind chance," as
> Christians and others have called it for centuries. But, I also hesitate to
> claim "proof" of this from the mere absence of presently known specific
> mechanisms that could have produced such complex objects.
> So--does this make me an adherent of ID? To the best of my knowledge, no,
> b/c of my belief about the importance of metaphysics and theology in drawing
> design inferences. On the other hand, what of my sympathies toward the
> larger picture and my support for a modest natural theology? Does this make
> me an ID or just the kind of TE that IDs seem not to appreciate?
> The bottom line, for me, is that I believe what I believe, without regard
> to the categories we sometimes quite artificially impose on people and their
> ideas/beliefs. IMO, the culture wars seem to require "proofs" to support a
> particular agenda and to oppose the equally shrill claims of Dawkins and
> company. In culture wars, those who sit in the middle of the road tend to
> end up as roadkill. I suggest that drivers are often responsible for what
> they hit, particularly if it doesn't just jump in front of you around the
> next bend in the road. A little more delicacy in navigation might leave
> some more of the truth alive.
> Ted
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Received on Fri May 4 13:28:56 2007

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