Re: [asa] Four myths about I.D.; four myths about T.E.

From: Loren Haarsma <>
Date: Mon Jul 07 2008 - 17:24:59 EDT

Subject: Re: [asa] Four myths about I.D.; four myths about T.E.

Reply to PvM, Rich Blinne, George Murphy, Moorad Alexanian, John Walley,
Randy Isaac:

   Regarding "I.D. is a science stopper": I think it's important to
distinguish (1) how I.D. often functions for many of its advocates, versus
(2) whether I.D. theory is by definition and in principle a "science

     Rich writes that some I.D. advocates have ignored and continue to
ignore some important scientific data pointing out how certain complex
systems could have evolved. I agree. Rich writes that the scientific
research paper output of some well-known I.D. advocates plummeted when
they started pursuing I.D. I agree. Rich and Pim and George write that
many I.D. advocates look at the gaps in our current scientific knowledge
regarding how complexity could have evolved, take a "God did it
(miraculously)" attitude, and stop looking for evolutionary explanations
long before the scientific data warrants such a stop. I strongly agree.
Pim writes that I.D. "equivocates on the concept of complexity" and mixes
up the concept of functional complexity (several interlocking pieces, each
required for the whole to function) with the concept of non-evolvability;
and by using the same term for both concepts I.D. seems to try to "slip
one past us" in claiming that functional complexity necessarily implies
non-evolvability. Oh boy, do I agree! Several of you write that the
scientific arguments which I.D. has put forward so far -- arguments which
attempt to show that certain complex things could not evolve -- have been
scientifically flawed arguments. I agree. Rich and Randy write that I.D.
has not provided a detailed theory with insights which help scientists
construct a more complete and accurate understanding of nature, positively
aiding in further investigations. I agree.

    All of the above criticisms have been made about I.D., and I have made
many of them myself. Some of these criticisms, I've made often enough so
as to annoy some I.D. advocates. So I agree that I.D. functions as a
science-stopper for many advocates.

    But in my experience, the argument that "I.D. is a science stopper" is
most often constructed in a different way. The most common argument in my
experience goes something like this: "Science is THE appropriate way to
study and explain the history and functioning of the natural world. The
approach of science is to say that everything that happens or happened in
the natural world has an explanation purely in terms of natural causes.
If you don't adopt that view, you're not doing science." In other words,
it's not merely that the search for natural cause-and-effect mechanisms is
tremendously useful in science. It's not merely that the search for
natural cause-and-effect is, in our judgment, the best strategy for
studying the remaining mysteries of biological history. No, the most
common argument I've seen that I.D. is a science-stopper is some version
of the argument that "naturalism = science = the only appropriate way to
study and understand the natural world." That's the one I want to argue

    I believe that it's reasonable for a scientist to look at the evidence
and say, "I think that first life, and certain types of biological
complexity such as the ribosome, will ultimately be shown to be
scientifically unexplainable in terms of all known natural mechanisms." I
also believe that it's reasonable for a Christian to say, "Based on what
the Bible says about God as creator, and based on what the Bible says
about God's actions in human history, I believe that while God could in
theory have exclusively used natural mechanisms, it seems much more
probable to me that God governed biological history by using a combination
of natural evolutionary processes plus miracles at various points to
create totally new life forms." I happen to disagree with both of those
assessments, but I believe they are reasonable opinions to hold.

     If both the scientific claim and the theological claim in the previous
paragraph are plausible, then we ought to ask ourselves, "Suppose they are
true? What would a proper scientific investigation of biological history
show us? And how would we properly conduct such an investigation?" I
think it's not too difficult to imagine how science could not only avoid
grinding to a halt but positively move forward in such a case. That's
what I tried to outline in my first post on this topic.

    That's why, in my first post, I frequently said that these "myths"
about I.D. may be true about some (or many) I.D. advocates, but are not
true of all I.D. advocates or intrinsically true about the I.D. position.

Pim wrote:
> Since ID is an argument from ignorance, the fact that some IDers have
> attempted to claim that it isn't should not be seen as a rejection or
> disproof of the simple fact.
> The foundation of ID is based on an eliminative approach which is
> unable to compete with 'we don't know'. ID may claim that it has
> attempted to go beyond this position of ignorance but until they are
> willing to constrain the designer, no progress will be made.

    While I often agree with your critiques of I.D.'s scientific arguments,
I don't think your descriptions do justice to I.D.'s philosophical side.
Calling ID "an argument from ignorance" is something I would reserve only
for those advocates who take a sort of "we don't currently have a
scientific explanation therefore God did it miraculously" attitude. When
you say "the foundation of ID is based on an eliminative approach" I think
you are doing justice to the scientific half of ID, namely, its attempts
to show that certain things could not evolve. However, on the
philosophical side, I think they offer some interesting and plausible
arguments to chew on. "If the chemical evolution of first life on early
earth is scientifically very improbable, it is plausible to believe than
an intelligent agent with some interests and purposes similar to our but
with greater power than us (e.g. greater natural power or supernatural
power) might seed early Earth with life?" "If the biological evolution of
certain complex biochemical machines is scientifically very improbable, it
is plausible to believe than an intelligent agent with some interests and
purposes similar to our but with greater power than us would act during
Earth's biological history to bring them about?" And finally --- here's
the one I think is the most interesting and most worth chewing on: "If
there turns out to be a pattern of many such scientifically improbable
developments, not only at first life but throughout Earth's biological
history, then is 'intelligent-agent causation' a far more reasonable
explanation than 'unknown natural mechanisms,' 'pure chance,' or 'multiple
universes' (even if the scientific data alone can't tell us much about the
agent in question -- other than that it has the ability to do genetic
engineering and act over billions of years)?"

     Even if you answer those philosophical questions differently than I.D.
advocates do, it seems to me their arguments are worthy of a little more
recognition and cogitation than they are typically given credit for in
most descriptions of I.D. written by critics.

     Still, I agree with you, Pim, that these philosophical arguments are
left stranded if I.D.'s scientific claims about non-evolvability prove
false (which I believe they ultimately will).

Randy Isaac wrote:
> 2. Creationism in disguise. There is indeed a distinct difference as
> you point out. But the effort to discredit common ancestry is
> typically anchored on a "it can also be explained by a common
> designer" basis (per Luskin and Gage in "Intelligent Design 101" for
> example) which is essentially arguing special creation or creation
> with the appearance of common ancestry in order to refute Francis
> Collins. In this respect there is a distinct similarity.

     Oh, I sure do agree with that.

Switching gears:

Moorad wrote:
> It is an extremely delicate balancing act to hold to the truth of the
> Christian faith and evolution. Only a few can truly pull it out. The
> rest will go either one way or the other.

John Walley wrote:
> I agree that in reality this is like walking a knife's edge. And it
> is directly due to all the polarizing from both the YEC and the
> Atheist camps. But it shouldn't be that way though.
> That is why I think our calling now for those that know is to show
> how we can achieve this balancing act and not allow ourselves to get
> forced to choose either side of the faulty dilemma.

     These things were actually written before my first post in this
thread, but they were one of several things which motivated me to write
that first post. So I want to respond to them here.

      I want to point out that I, and many "theistic evolutionists," find
TE nothing remotely like a balancing act or walking a knife's edge. For
me, all it took was
     (1) a little sound theological instruction in what scripture and
Christian tradition teach about God's sovereignty over all of the natural
     (2) a little instruction and reflection on how we think about God's
sovereignty in every other area where we study the natural world
scientifically without looking for evidence of miracles (e.g. solar system
dynamics, stellar evolution, organic chemistry, solid state physics,
meteorology, plate tectonics, developmental biology, epidemiology,
ecology, microevolution);
     (3) a little instruction on hermeneutics and ancient near east

     Fortunately, I got all of that growing up except for the ANE
cosmology, which I learned about in my 20's. Put it all together, and it
provides a wide plane for TEs to walk and play on --- one which takes joy
in scientific advances in evolutionary biology, allows a wide range of
views on philosophy of science, and quite a range of theologies coming
from Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Armenian,
Methodist, and other traditions.

     I'm a little more worried about the balancing acts of Christians who
argue against evolution.
     Theological: Saying that God MUST have performed miracles in pre-human
biological history (because otherwise the atheists have won this
territory) puts one on very dangerous theological ground. On the other
side, saying from the start that, theologically, God could have done it
either with or without miracles allows one at best very weak theological
arguments against evolution.
     Hermeneutical: Concordist interpretation arguments against evolution
face tremendous difficulties in light of the ancient near eastern
cosmologies assumed by many Old Testament passages (not just Genesis). On
the other side, non-concordist interpretation arguments against evolution
provide at best very weak support.
     Scientific: In light of the fact that the great majority of
scientists find anti-evolution arguments flawed and unconvincing, many
attack the integrity of all those scientists (both non-Christian and
Christian) by saying that the judgment of the majority is overly biased by
their worldviews (while implying that their own judgment is not so
biased). On the other side, a few say that they have not yet constructed
a scientifically sound anti-evolution argument that withstands sound
peer-reviewed critique, but they think they ultimately can construct such
an argument, so give them time to keep working on it -- a claim which
hardly provides any anti-evolution weight at all.
      Now, I know a number of Christians who argue against evolution who
walk these three balancing acts just fine. But I've read many more who
have veered way off on one or more of those lines. It does worry me some
times. That's my own impression. Maybe a critic of evolution will
convince me that these lines really aren't so narrow as I think.


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Received on Mon Jul 7 17:25:37 2008

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