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

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Wed May 20 2009 - 14:36:28 EDT

  I'm glad you've joined the list. I've been off the list for most of the
last two months and the volume of posts is too great to catch up. But in
scanning through the posts, I noted some of yours and appreciate the
perspective you provide. As the executive director of the ASA, I tend not to
advocate any particlar view--perhaps an advocate of none and critic of all.
But having been responsible for all the science and technology work at IBM
Research for many years in my previous life, I am a very strong advocate of
"integrity in science" which is a commitment of the ASA. Working out what
that means is something to which we must continually strive.

 I would like to comment on one of your earlier posts. I confess I have not
read all subsequent posts of yours or others who may have responded, so I
apologize if this is somewhat repetitive.

You wrote:

> 1. ID says that we can establish at least the fact there is design, i.e.,
> that chance is not a sufficient explanation for certain biological
> phenomena. Do you reject this idea even in principle, or are you open to
> the possibility of design detection in this very limited sense? (Note:
> Being "open to the possibility" leaves you free to reject any particular
> argument put forward by design theorists, if you think it's weak. It
> requires only that you allow that such arguments might be valid, and
> therefore should not be rejected by TEs out of hand.)

In other words, you are asking "can science detect design?" I would suggest
this is an incomplete question. We must clarify what this means. I would
answer most definitely yes if we are referring to "design by agents or
methodologies for which we have some knowledge". However, I would say the
answer is no if we mean "design by agent(s) or methodologies for which we
have no other evidence."

Let me illustrate. Scientific methodology is very appropriately applied to
study whether certain Olduwan tools were made by hominids and for what
purpose. We can study methods of shaping stones and using them and we have
some degree of inference about what hominid capability might have been. We
can detect design in those stone tools. Many other examples can be cited.

However, the issue at hand seems to be whether we can justifiably detect
design when neither the agent nor the methodology are known or detected by
any other means. In this case we know no independent attributes of the agent
nor do we know any characteristic of the methodology. I would submit that we
cannot therefore detect this type of design, much less infer that such an
agent or such a methodology actually exists.

In the case of ID, the claim is often made that the characteristics of the
"information content" of a living cell are such that it must have been
designed by an unknown agent through unknown means. I do not find this to be
a scientifically defensible claim. The "information content" is not of the
Shannon type (caused by an intelligent agent) so it can only be of the
complexity type which is somehow configured by an intelligent agent. Yet the
argument hangs solely on the inability to find an alternative (natural)
explanation for this so-called "information content." But analogies between
DNA code and computer code do not justify an extrapolation to an unknown
agent. Specified complexity (and passing the three stages of the explanatory
filter) can only lead a scientist to say, at most, "we don't know."

In summary, science can detect design when the agent and the methodology are
sufficiently known by independent means. Otherwise the answer is no. Your
remaining items in that original post, all depend on the assumption of such
an abstract design being detected, and are therefore moot, at least from a
science perspective.


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Received on Wed May 20 14:36:57 2009

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