Re: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Jun 25 2009 - 13:14:54 EDT

Gregory (with an aside to Ted):

I agree with you (and Ted) that I represent a "minority view" among ID proponents. As I see it, ID proponents are of three types:

1. ID is a theory of origins, competing with Darwinism.
2. ID is an a-historical theory of design detection, and competes with Darwinism only on the question of chance versus design, not on the question of the detailed mechanisms by which species have evolved, and it has nothing to say about how, when, where, by whom, etc. design became embodied in living forms.
3. ID is a murky in-between (i.e., in between positions 1 and 2).

I think that the frustration expressed by Ted Davis is quite justified, i.e., a few oddballs like myself insist that the intellectually valuable core of ID is limited to #2 (design detection, refutation of chance, etc.), whereas the public image of ID is more like a blurry blending of design-detection-as-science and creation-versus-evolution-as-theory-of-origins. Ted wants to ask, as someone used to ask on a TV game show, "Will the real ID please stand up?"

I think that the blurriness is perhaps in some cases cultivated, but I think in other cases it is because ID is in the process of redefining itself. Many of its founders clearly had a historical conception of origins in mind, and many still do; many of its Church supporters do as well. Yet both within the ID movement in the narrow sense of the original group (e.g., Behe) and outside of it (e.g., people like Sternberg), we find less interest in the historical question than in the mathematical and formal questions. And among many of the agnostic, "techie" types who have embraced ID in blog posts and so on, there is much less interest in trying to harmonize design with Biblical stories, and much more interest in uncovering the hidden plan of organic life.

Of course, the purely a-historical interest in design can, if one is interested in the historical question, be integrated into a historical account, e.g., Denton's naturalistic account, or Thomas Aquinas's non-naturalistic account, or Calvin's non-naturalistic account. But design need not be integrated into such historical accounts. It can be, for example, integrated into a non-historical account of an eternal universe, as in Aristotle. Or design can be studied for its own sake, as a way of thinking God's thoughts after him. I think that all of these approaches are legitimate stances for an ID proponent to take.

Congratulations on passing your pre-defence.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  To: ; Cameron Wybrow
  Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 10:02 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

        With a bit more time in the next week or so, let me try to catch up or at least tune back into a few things that have come up recently on this ListServe. This post responds to Camero, Scharzwald and Dave Siemens from this thread, with reference also to Mike Gene.


        Cameron Wybrow wrote:

        “I part company with some ID theorists (but not all) in saying that ID is not about God's grand plan or how divine action works. ID is about design detection. ID is -- when it understands itself properly -- not a historical theory at all, not an "origins" theory in the traditional sense at all. It is concerned with "origins" only in the sense that a design requires intelligence, and therefore in the sense that intelligence must have at some point been input into nature. In that sense, it is the negative counterpart to what I am calling Darwinism -- the view that living forms can be explained entirely without reference to intelligence. The difference is this: Darwinism *must* provide a detailed historical account of origins in order to establish its case; ID only has to demonstrate the presence of design -- not give an account of how the design got there -- in order to establish its case.”


        On the one hand, if ID (sometimes I refer to it as i+d, to distinguish it from the ‘capitalizing’ question, which implies Divinity or Supernatural ‘Intelligence’ and ‘Design’) *is*about detection, then of issue is how important ‘detecting’ is for ‘doing science.’ On the other hand, if TE (or Darwinism, in its atheist or pseudo-religious forms) *is not* about ‘detection’ then it cannot be speak to ID’s ‘scientific methods’ of ‘detecting’ things such as information patterns. So it becomes commonplace for TEs and IDs to speak past each other and share little common ground.


        If ID is not a historical theory, then its explanatory power is limited by the absence of this dimension. Without the ‘who,’ ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions, the story ID is proposing in natural sciences seems much weaker than Darwin’s. Darwin dismissed the ‘who’ question, which ID reintroduces by speaking of an ‘intelligence’ which must seemingly be embodied in or be described using the language of ‘personality’ or ‘personhood’ – i.e. the person who designs, takes part in the historical designing, without which there would be ‘no design’ and no story to of ‘design’ to ‘detect.’


        The issue also seems to be clouded by speaking of ‘science as a process’ (e.g. David Hull) such that the topic of origins is either marginalised to the periphery or centralised to the core of the discussion. I.e. the focus on ‘origins science’ is spoken about regularly by Stephen Meyer. So to say that there is no ‘origins theory’ in the IDM would be difficult to support. The origin is the intelligence/Intelligence, which cannot be reduced to a naturalistic or materialistic reading of the cosmos or of human history.


        Btw, what do you mean by an “origins theory in the traditional sense”? I wonder if there is a ‘traditional sense’ and if so, ‘which science’ or ‘whose science’ has thus far defined ‘it’…


        “ID's goal is more limited than TE's” – Cameron


        It would perhaps be helpful if this were spelled out more clearly. It would give those TEs who are vigorously anti-ID pause to consider that self-limitation is indeed an important issue. For example, when people say that i+d theories simply *must* give an account of the ‘age of the earth’ they are asking ID to do more than IDists are asking of themselves. In other words, they are not speaking about ID on its own terms; they are imposing an external expectation which may not apply or disqualify the ‘theory’ from being internally coherent.


        From what I know of ‘intelligent design’ theories, I tend to agree that “ID’s goal is more limited than TE’s.” However, there are also the extravagant claims by some IDists, in culture war fashion, perhaps from being raised in a climate of ‘evolution VS. creation’ in America, that intelligent design is *THE BRIDGE* between science and theology, such as was the title of Dembski’s 1999 book Intelligent Design. So it is understandable, if not always fair, that anti-IDists point out the seemingly limitless application of the ID proposition/hypothesis/theory/etc.


        “I have never insisted that ID be called "science".” – Cameron


        This is a special view of ‘intelligent design’ that differs from the majority of IDM leaders who absolutely insist that ID *is* worthy of being called a ‘science.’ It has become a ‘demarcation game’ wherein philosophers of science are better at establishing what *is* and *isn’t* science than are the natural scientists themselves. One reply to such a position is that TEs don’t insist that TE is ‘science’ either. They suggest that it is ‘theology plus science,’ or rather a philosophical presupposition that enables the accommodation of theology with science (or vice versa). They believe they are following the evidence where it leads.


        On the other hand, they don’t seem as proficient as IDists do in terms of things like information theory and pattern recognition, which are both considered as legitimate topics in contemporary natural sciences. TE is still part of an ‘older conversation’ about the place of ‘evolutionary theories’ in today’s scientific and academic landscape. I believe that TEs generally suffer from the need to be updated with a more avant garde language (which may or may not be partly defined by the information age). The problem is that ‘intelligent design’ smacks too much of ‘creationism’ (even though it’s chosen terms and sources differ greatly from the ‘old creationism’) with its insistence on ‘implications’ and highlighting the ‘scientificity’ of ‘origins of life’ studies . The ID conversation, i.e. the controversy that it has become and which we are participating, is also happening in a political landscape which embraces polarities; in a pre-dominantly Buddhist or Hindu country, there would be little soil for discussion about ‘intelligent design’ due to the harmonising tendencies of those religions.


        “As far as TEs go, I still can't help but feel Darwin himself is becoming irrelevant - valid as evolution is fundamentally in my eyes, and as near-sainted his status is with New Atheists.” – Schwarzwald


        Interesting comment! I’d sure appreciate examples of this and imagine that Cameron would too. TEs don’t seem to be giving much ground about Darwin’s contribution to the history of natural sciences (and they largely ignore, let me repeat largely ignore his contribution to human-social sciences), in the sense that they have found no *name* worthy of replacing him. Doing so would help both to expose some of the serious errors that Darwin made (see the reluctance on the ASA ListServe a few months back to acknowledge ‘Darwin’s Errors’ – American Biology Teacher 2008) and to remove (or at least to lower in rank) that particular appeal to authority from the New Atheists who bank on things such as ‘Darwin Day.’ Or perhaps you meant something quite different? Darwin himself is ‘becoming irrelevant’ – how so?


        “Philosophy, metaphysics and otherwise have to come into play - and science alone is not going to settle the issue.”- Schwarzwald


        With this we are fully agreed. There is a great problem in the ‘science alone’ mentality. One of the helpful things of the ‘science and religion’ discourse/theme/topic is to seek areas of overlap, or to ‘get outside of one’s limited sphere’. On the other hand, philosophy serves as an integrative or interpretive force, which many involved in ‘science and religion’ underestimate. Do you have a suggestion, Schwarzwald, of how to involve philosophy more directly in the conversation? Would an increase in teaching philosophy of science offer one means of improvement?


        Finally, returning to a point made by Dave Siemens:

        “To think of God as man writ large is surely to produce an idol.”


        This is the point that Steve Fuller, who defends ‘intelligent design’ as ‘scientific’ or as a ‘scientific contribution’ (under a certain definition of ‘science’), charges the IDM with; he says they are anthropomorphising God. As you say, ID seems to regularly use a ‘man writ large’ view of what a ‘designer/Designer’ might, by implication, be (e.g. in referring to a mousetrap, Easter Island or Mt. Rushmore as examples of ‘design’). This is the same problem that Mike Gene faces, it seems to me, when he talks about ‘scientific’ things, without involving both philosophy *and* theology, respectively. At other times, and more often now, he is speaking about theological topics, as for example in the viewpoint ‘because of us.’ If he were to distinguish how his view is not ‘anthropomorhphic’ but rather ‘anthropic’, it would be more consistent with the historical canon of theology as a scientific/scholarly and academic discipline.


        Or so it seems from here,



        p.s. successfully passed my dissertation pre-defence and now in Finland for some days, en route back to N.A.’s west coast (hurrah!)

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Received on Thu Jun 25 13:16:03 2009

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