Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Apr 23 2009 - 06:33:53 EDT

Hello, Dave!

The content to ID is that life possesses informational properties that cannot be accidental. Thus, Darwin was wrong. (Not necessarily about the fact of evolution, but about its mechanism.) To say that Darwin is wrong is not trivial, and a theory which purports to show that Darwin is wrong is not "essentially empty". Maybe incorrect, but certainly not empty.

The validity of front-loading is a separate question. My point was that, logically speaking, ID is as compatible with naturalistic front-loading as it is with miraculous interventions. Thus, intelligent design, properly formulated, has no special theoretical association with "miracles". If you want to argue that front-loading is not feasible, well, that is an argument that should be had between you and the front-loaders. It will necessarily get into nitty-gritty details of genetics and so on. I am neither a geneticist nor a molecular biologist. Perhaps you are; I don't know your background.

I am told by experts that life science does not as yet know what the vast majority of the DNA is there for. At one point many biologists swore on their grandmother's graves that it was mostly "junk", since large amounts of "junk" were a logical prediction on Darwinian premises. The discovery of uses for some of the "junk" led to great embarrassment, and many biologists have repented in sackcloth and ashes for jumping to that premature conclusion. So we have to be careful not to utter decrees about what all of the apparently excess DNA is doing there. It is at least possible that the excess was initially set aside, as it were, for future use. And it is possible that the original excess contained all the information necessary to augment or diminish itself in size, in the appropriate contexts.

I consider front-loading to be an unproved speculative possibility rather than a scientific theory proper, compatible with the facts of science as we have them but nowhere near proved by science, and not yet at the stage where it can be tested. But in this it's no different from Darwinism, which is compatible with the fossil record but nowhere near being able to explain any major change in detail. The Darwinian grand narrative remains speculative, and has been accepted (despite its imprecision and vagueness and lack of quantification regarding detailed steps) purely because Darwinism, up to now, has been the only naturalistic narrative available. But the emergence of front-loading has provided a competitive naturalistic narrative, a narrative of necessity as opposed to a narrative of chance. Which narrative will win out in secular science remains to be seen. My money is on the narrative of necessity.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: D. F. Siemens, Jr.
  Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:26 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design

  As I read this, I gathered that there is no content to ID, for it is equally compatible with natural development, direct intervention and front loading. But this renders it essentially empty.

  Design involves a pattern which requires implementation. The structure could be brought about by front loading. Then the original creature or creatures would have to contain all the genes necessary for later implementations, which would proceed by shedding genes over time. This does not fit the billions of years of microbes before the supposed Cambrian explosion. The individual cells are too small to carry that many genes. Further, unless the majority of Cambrian creatures disappeared without a trace, there aren't enough of them to carry the vast load of essential genes into later ages. Thus we are forced to implement new designs by later interventions. We then have a choice: the interventions were by creatures vastly smarter than we by natural means we do not understand, or they were by the Creator by means other than what we understand as natural. This last is what I would call a miracle. It fits the biblical term /dunamis/. This may be obfuscated, of course, but I've tried to boil things down to essentials.
  Dave (ASA)

  On Wed, 22 Apr 2009 21:14:34 -0400 "Cameron Wybrow" <> writes:
    Thanks for your reply on Biblical miracles, George. I found it somewhat clarifying, and will get back to you on the subject later. For now, however, I will restrict myself to replying to just one point in your post. You wrote:

    "But even more relevant to the ID context you've noted is that the fundamental claim of the ID program is that some phenomena (bacterial flagellum, blood clotting cascade) must be miraculous. Of course that isn't the language ID proponents use, but when they say that those phenomena cannot be explained in terms of natural processes, & when one recognizes that the Intelligent Designer is a rather transparent disguise for God, then what is being spoken about is a classic definition of miracle. And when ordinary Christians believe these arguments, use them to support their faith and resist scientific arguments that those phenomena can be explained in terms of natural processes, we have a situation not unlike that in the Marcan text."

    This criticism of ID would be understandable a few years ago, when the ID people weren't being 100% clear about a number of things. I think the lowest point of ID fortunes in this area was the Dover trial, where some ID proponents gave, to my mind, some confusing testimony about naturalism and natural causes, which would justify the sort of criticism you offer here. (Of course, to be fair, it is hard to think straight in a courtroom situation where lawyers, who are interested in victory rather than truth, are controlling the line of questioning in an aggressive way. But nonetheless, some damage was done.)

    However, in recent years, ID has been correcting and refining itself, and I think your criticism is no longer applicable (as I think Keith Miller's criticism, made the other day, and to which I responded, is no longer applicable). I think that the whole business about "intelligent vs. natural" and "supernatural vs. natural" and "designed vs. natural" has become much better formulated now, as can be seen in Dembski's *No Free Lunch* and in Behe's second book, and in the work of non-DI people like Denton who think in design terms.

    In the new, polished formulation, ID is not a theory of historical origins but a theory of design detection. The argument from the flagellum is not an argument that one or more miracles must have historically intervened (between natural steps on either side) in order to create the flagellum; it is an argument that the flagellum is designed, rather than a product of chance, so that whatever the efficient-cause explanation of its production, its existence is an argument for a higher intelligence of some kind.

    So, for strict naturalists, the historical cause, i.e, the efficient cause of the flagellum, could be some form of front-loaded evolution, in which there is obviously some sort of intelligence at work, but no "miracles" in the sense of "interventions". On the other hand, for those who believe in divine interventions, the efficient cause of the flagellum might have been a blast of mysterious energy from God, that transformed a bacterium without a flagellum into one with a flagellum. There may be other possibilities as well. ID theory can't distinguish between the various historical possibilities, because it's powerless to detect anything but the design itself. So ID theory is compatible both with traditional notions of divine intervention and with modern notions of seamless naturalism. That leaves the field wide open for evolutionary biologists to try to explain the flagellum in terms of stepwise natural modifications, if they can. (Though so far they've come up with only one possible intermediate stage, which is nowhere near an adequate explanation.)

    So it's now clear that ID does not rule out naturalism per se, but of course there are different kinds of naturalism. Denton's necessitarian naturalism is explicitly different from Darwin's naturalism of chance. ID refutes, or purports to refute, the naturalism of chance. If ID is right, Darwin misconceived how nature works, but "evolution" is not thereby falsified or rejected.


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Received on Thu Apr 23 06:35:19 2009

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