RE: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Mon Apr 27 2009 - 10:50:48 EDT

I wished people would make it clear when speaking of "detecting design" whether one is saying that the design is detected by the machinery I use to collect data from Nature or by me as a person who can also "detect" the world around me.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
Sent: Sunday, April 26, 2009 3:21 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

Dr. Campbell:

Many of the things you have said in your post I agree with. I will focus
only on the parts that I disagree with, or where it is not clear whether or
not we agree or disagree.

1. You are right that ID sometimes limits itself to the claim that it is a
legitimate question whether or not chance is sufficient. Dembski has said
that ID claims not that design must be detectable, but that it may be
detectable. And I agree with this more limited formulation, because it is
not dogmatic. Dogmatic IDists say "design must be detectable"; dogmatic
TEists say "design cannot be detectable". I prefer "design may be
detectable". That makes it an empirical and rational question, as opposed
to one settled in advance by some a priori dictate.

2. However, in practice, the sort of person who is attracted to ID is the
sort of person who is already suspicious of the powers attributed to chance
in neo-Darwinian thinking. So the tendency is to argue that chance is not
up to the job that has been assigned to it. Hence my theoretically
inaccurate but practically accurate statement about ID. While the theory
does not demand the belief that chance is not adequate, its proponents tend
to formulate it as if it made that assertion.

3. In fact this is a useful formulation, because the assertion "chance is
not adequate" makes ID in principle testable, whereas the formulation
"chance may or may not be adequate" is not a testable hypothesis, any more
than "God may or may not be directly involved in guiding evolution" (a
"safe" statement which many TEs here appear to assert) is a testable
hypothesis. For a hypothesis to be testable, it must assert something that
could be right or wrong, not a "maybe" which covers all bases. So if ID
proponents say "it may be that chance is not adequate to form a bacterial
flagellum", there is nothing science can do with the statement, whereas if
ID says that chance definitely is not adequate to form a bacterial
flagellum, one can conceive of an experiment (such as one suggested by Behe)
by which neo-Darwinians could falsify the claim. (E.g., imagine a tank
containing non-flagellar bacteria with nutrition situated so as to give
motility a strong selective advantage, in which millions of generations of
bacteria are then bred. If a fully-developed flagellum appears, then ID --
at least ID of the interventionist variety -- is falsified.)

4. My comment about chance and design was made as a general metaphysical
statement. I'm a scholar with a great deal of training in ancient thought,
philosophy, theology, and intellectual history. I maintain that the
fundamental metaphysical question is design vs. chance, and that all other
questions pale in importance beside it. I think that TE often obscures
this. I am grateful that the current Pope does not obscure it. The merit
of both ID and Dawkins-evolutionism is that they do not obscure it. From
someone with my training, the Lucretian affinities of neo-Darwinism are
painfully obvious, and the Platonist and Aristotelian affinities of ID are
equally obvious. (Of course, this says nothing about "evolution" per se.
"Evolution", even evolution from molecules to man, is integratable within a
Platonist/Aristotelian framework, which is why a rational thinker like Behe
can completely accept evolution. But "Darwinism" is not integratable within
a Platonist/Aristotelian framework.)

5. Behe does not claim that science can give any information about God. He
has said umpteen times -- though almost no one on this list appears willing
to read what he actually writes -- that science can detect only the design,
and that the identification of the designer with any God, let alone the God
of Christian tradition, is an inference of faith.

6. Further, even if Behe *did* claim directly that science could prove the
existence of God (as Creator, not as Son or Holy Spirit), he would not be
out of line with a long-standing tradition within Christianity of natural
theology. Most of the "biggies" in the history of Chrstian thought either
endorsed or permit a limited natural theology. The Barthians are in a
minority, and the anti-natural-theology gang are mostly post-Enlightenment
Christians with marked tendencies toward pure fideism. But I get the strong
impression that very few people here have read much pre-modern theology, or
know very much about the history of Christian thought at all. (I know that
Ted and George are exceptions, but I am not sure how many other exceptions
there are.)

7. I agree with you entirely that Ken Miller is vague theologically. Also
philosophically. He is a good popular science writer, and his exposition of
neo-Darwinism, like Dawkins's, is an accurate portrayal of Darwin's general
intentions. But in theology and philosophy, he's a dilettante, as are
fellow TEs Francis Collins and Francis Ayala. Not one of them has any
thoughts on large metaphysical issues that any scholar or philosopher would
find worth talking about, except as examples of metaphysical confusion for
the instruction of undergraduate students.

8. You say that "historical evidence" supports the existence of God, and
you say that by that you mean mainly the Bible. Well, if that's the case,
then you must have an opinion on whether the "wondrous" events recorded in
the Bible actually happened. If they did not happen, how is the Bible, in
your view, evidence for the existence of God? (And by the way, I am *not*
arguing that wondrous events are the only possible evidence for the
existence of God -- I am just following up on your comment.) And if those
wondrous events did happen, then either you have to contrive a
"naturalistic" explanation for them (which appears to be the tendency of
many on this list), or you have to admit that God at some points intervened
to break the normal causal nexus. And if he broke the nexus to raise Jesus
from the dead, or to cause a virgin female to produce a male offspring,
there is no reason he could not have done so to create life from non-life,
or to generate the Cambrian explosion. In other words, you can have no
*theological* object to direct divine intervention within the process of
evolution. (Whether such intervention is *required* is of course another
question.) And this means that you should not join in (and I am not saying
that you have joined in) on the chorus of voices within TE who say that ID
is heretical or unorthodox merely because it *allows for the possibility of*
miraculous interventions in the evolutionary process.

9. I agree with you entirely about the possibility of front-loaded,
designed, evolution. However, I also keep open the possibility of
interventionist evolution, i.e., that God may have, at some points, or
perhaps even constantly (maybe even under cover of quantum indeterminism, I
will say, to please George and Ted), guided the process. If front-loading,
which at this point is sheer speculation, should someday be disproved as a
possible explanation, the only two remaining alternatives would be direct
guidance and chance. And chance is in my view preposterous, for reasons
which I am quite competent to argue myself, but which are well-put by
Michael Denton, Michael Behe, and William Dembski, in books which not enough
people here have read. What I find astounding is how few TEs will say,
outright, without all kinds of evasive language, that chance without
guidance (including front-loading, which is just long-distance guidance) is
insufficient to explain the cardiovascular system or the human brain.
Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Aquinas, Origen, Abelard, Thomas More, Erasmus --
the Who's Who of classical Christian theology -- would have agreed without a
moment's hesitation. The current Pope agrees as well. Yet TEs put up
resistance. The question is why.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, April 24, 2009 10:32 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] ID/Miracles/Design (Behe vs. Behe)

>> Your objection regarding the term "Darwinian" is a verbal technicality,
>> Dave; my point remains the same if you change it to "neo-Darwinian
>> means",
>> or if you add in any number of newer "mechanisms" which are currently
>> mooted
>> around (drift, etc.), and call it "neo-neo-Darwinian means". All of them
>> are chance mechanisms, ultimately, when all the fancy language is
>> stripped
>> away. The task of neo-neo-Darwinism, then, is to prove that chance can
>> produce integrated complex systems. Behe's argument is that it can't. He
>> may be right, or he may be wrong, but there is no point in obfuscating
>> the
>> issue. The choice is, and always has been (since the days of the ancient
>> Greeks) "by design or by chance".
> No; this confounds two definitions of "chance", as do many
> antievolutionary and atheistic to deistic claims. The assorted
> mechanisms underlying evolution that biology can study include several
> that have an element of unpredictability (from a human perspective).
> This includes things that are random in the mathematical sense, i.e.,
> best modeled by a probabilistic model (such as whether a particular
> mutation will occur and whether it will become established in a
> population), things that have some other mathematical pattern but are
> not humanly predictable (such as mathematically chaotic events-ones
> with a well-defined formula that is so sensitive to precise starting
> conditions or disturbances that real-world calculation of long-term
> outcomes is impossible without omniscience, or ones without adequately
> precise predictive models). However, other components of evolution
> are very non-random (such as selection).
> However, the presence of such aspects tells us nothing about things
> being "chance" or "random" in the metaphysical sense of unguided or
> purposeless. Science can't test that. Biblically, God is sovereign
> over such things and knows their outcome (of course, details of this
> are debated along the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum). The fact that
> there are "random" aspects of evolution in scientifically measurable
> senses fails to tell us anything about God's involvement. Science
> does not detect a direction or purpose in evolution, but neither does
> history detect a direction or purpose in human events. In hindsight
> and being theologically informed, we can sometimes see God's purposes
> in events. We can always assume that His purposes are being achieved,
> whether we see them or not (Romans 8 "all things work together...",
> etc.).
> A particularly illustrative example here comes from the Cambrian
> radiation. Gould overestimated the magnitude of variation in it and
> saw this as evidence of metaphysical chance. Similar overestimates
> of the magnitude (probably ultimately if not directly deriving from
> Gould; they are commonplace in biology textbooks, etc.) are invoked by
> some ID advocates as evidence of a gap in evolution. In both cases,
> previously held philosophical assumptions are claimed to be supported
> from the scientific data that doesn't actually tell us something one
> way or another.
> It's true that a fundamental choice in interpreting the world is
> between metaphysical chance versus some sort of ultimate purpose.
> However, the ultimate fundamental choice is between faith in Jesus and
> anything else. The theologies of Wells and Dawkins both lead to
> eternal perdition.
>> The problem with TE (at least in most of its formulations) is that it is
>> simply unclear about the extent of the complexity-building powers it
>> allows
>> to chance. To read TE writers, the cause of mutations etc. is sort of
>> chance, and sort of God's action, and sort of neither, and sort of
>> both --
>> that's what TE sounds like, to an outsider seeking theoretical clarity.
>> It
>> sounds vague.
> There are a variety of views, related to the Arminian-Calvinist
> spectrum as well as questions about exactly how God interacts with the
> universe. How loosely one applies the T part of TE also is key here.
> If you include more deistic or heterodox approaches such as process
> theology or Dowd as well as more orthodox approaches under the "TE"
> heading, then the range of formulations will be wide. Additionally,
> TE suffers from the fact that its advocates tend to have more of a
> science than a theology background (not that ID or creation science
> doesn't have similar theology deficiencies-the average theologian
> probably recognizes that there are plenty of much more important
> theological issues), and some prominent advocates such as Ken Miller
> seem rather vague theologically. On the other hand, there are several
> TE sources that are much clearer on such issues, and the problem may
> lie with the reader coming in assuming that evolution=atheism (as YEC,
> ID, and militant atheism like to assert) and trying to force TE into
> that erroneous framework.
>> ID, on the other hand, is razor-sharp in clarity on that point. It draws
>> a
>> line in the sand. It says that chance is simply not sufficient. It says
>> that there must be an input of intelligence. The input might be before
>> the
>> Big Bang, with no further inputs necessary (front-loaded naturalistic
>> evolution). It might be at one or more points after that (intervention,
>> quantum-concealed or otherwise). ID does not specify. But it says that
>> the
>> input is necessary.
> Not exactly-there is a wide range of things more or less under the ID
> heading, and Denton or Raelians would give a different spin than Behe,
> who in turn differs a lot from the Johnson-Wells-popular version of
> things. Additionally, ID advocates sometimes claim that chance is not
> sufficient and sometimes the more limited claim that it's worth
> investigating whether chance is sufficient.
>> Tell me, Dave: do you believe that chance mechanisms -- include the whole
>> passel of them if you want -- could, *utterly unguided by God or some
>> other
>> intelligence*, turn atoms into Adam, molecules into Mendel, bacteria into
>> Bohr? And if you do believe that, why do you bring God into the picture
>> at
>> all? And if you don't believe that, how does your view differ
>> substantially
>> from Behe's, except in jargon?
> I'm not the Dave you asked, but here is my answer:
> Every single event is guided by God. Mechanisms unguided by God do
> not exist. In other words, on the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum, I'm
> predestined to be at the Calvinist end of things.
> However, this implies that science will have no way to detect God's
> presence, because there are no counterexamples. Science examines
> God's ordinary ways of running things and is usually incompetent when
> it comes to theological questions.
> The reason I bring God into the picture is theological. Both
> historical evidence (primarily the Bible) and personal experience
> support His existence, and Christianity seems to me to be the best way
> I have encountered to make sense of everything.
> The major differences with Behe are first, that science is not a good
> place to look for information about God (note that this is a
> disagreement with Dawkins as well, and in many ways Dawkins et al.
> have an ID-like approach). Second, I do not see any evidence that God
> cannot achieve atoms to Adam, etc. without miraculous intervention.
> As noted before on the list, Behe has also said that intervention is
> not necessary, but he seems to claim that it happened, and he has not
> distanced himself from the popular ID claims that it is necessary. I
> do not see any solid evidence that the process by which God created
> our physical bodies involved anything qualitatively different from the
> ordinary patterns that we call natural laws. I can't see any solid
> evidence regarding how God gave us our spiritual aspects-it could be
> emergent, basically front loading, or more intervention-style. I
> don't think that God could not intervene miraculously, just that
> there's neither a theological need nor a lack in natural laws that
> would require it nor good scientific evidence of a gap in evolution.
> Basically, I could classify myself as a "probably entirely
> front-loaded" ID advocate as far as evolution is concerned if it were
> not that ID is primarily marketed as antievolutionary with a bunch of
> lousy arguments.
> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Mon Apr 27 10:51:29 2009

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