Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed Oct 14 2009 - 23:57:50 EDT

I'm glad we agree that design inferences can be rational.

Whether they are scientific depends on the definition of "scientific".

If "scientific" means not being allowed to use either supernatural causes or
design inferences, then of course, by definition, design inferences cannot
be scientific.

If "scientific" mean not being allowed to use supernatural causes, but being
allowed to use design inferences, where the evidence is strong enough and
the non-design alternatives are evidentially very weak, then design
inferences can be scientific.

My point has been that "methodological naturalism" rules out the appeal to
supernatural causes, but it doesn't automatically rule out arguments that a
certain system or organ or animal is designed.

Behe doesn't appeal to supernatural entities in order to establish his
design conclusions. He does not start from the premise: "A supernatural
being exists", and then use that in place of natural causes to explain

Rather, he starts from a position of agnosticism (not personal, but
professional) regarding the existence of supernatural beings. Then he asks:
How did this complex integrated system come into being? Then he looks at
the reigning view, which is that all such systems can be completely
explained by an appeal to Darwinian and allied processes. He finds this
view highly improbable, based on empirical data and mathematical
considerations. Then he considers the known fact that intelligence can
produce complex integrated systems. He weighs and balances, and comes up
with the rational conclusion that "some intelligence" is a more likely
candidate, either by itself or in conjunction with the evolutionary
processes identified by the biologists, than those processes by themselves.

I see no violation of "methodological naturalism" here. "Some intelligence"
may possibly exist, and if it is an embodied intelligence, e.g., if this
planet was seeded by alien biologists, there is no violation of
methodological naturalism. There may also be other bodily intelligences, as
yet unknown to us. That would not violate methodological naturalism,
either. Even if we suppose that the intelligence is a supernatural being,
that arguably still doesn't violate methodological naturalism, because
Behe's method isolated the intelligent design without reference to the
supernatural characteristics of the designer. It identified a design, and
from that inferred only an intelligent agent, not a divine one. The
determination that the intelligent agent was supernatural came via a
separate argument, not via the design inference itself.

Methodological naturalism means that science cannot say that the source of
the design was God. But Behe does not say, as a scientist, that the source
of the design was God. As a scientist, he says that the source of the
design was intelligence. And as a scientist, there he stops.

By all means, you can reject the legitimacy of inferring an intelligence
behind natural causes. You can say that science is not capable of making
such inferences. That is a position which some quite intelligent people
have taken. But to affirm that position is not the same thing as to affirm
that science is methodologically naturalistic. As Aquinas would put it, it
doesn't follow, simply from the meaning of the term "methodological
naturalism", that science cannot infer intelligent design. Or, as Kant
would put it, that is not a valid "analytic" conclusion. If you want to
prove that science cannot infer design, you need an argument; you cannot
just chant "methodological naturalism" like a mantra.

To summarize: Behe's method does not involve taking for granted the
existence of supernatural entities, and does not employ the notion of such
entities in the process of design detection. It therefore does not violate
methodological naturalism. If Behe's method is unscientific, it is
unscientific for other reasons.

I am not going to take up the question here whether "the design inference"
that Behe makes is truly scientific, or merely a philosophical or logical
inference. That is an argument worth having, but it isn't the argument I've
been addressing here. Here I've been addressing the false claim that design
inferences violate methodological naturalism and make use of supernatural
causes. Eugenie Scott and her gang have used this false claim to great
effect; it helped to get ID condemned by Judge Jones, and it spooks school
board trustees all over the nation, who don't want to get near "the
supernatural", and hence religion, in science class. What she doesn't want
the world to know is that from a strictly logical point of view, it's no
more "religious" to see design in the cardiovascular system than in the dam
of a beaver or the sculptures on Mt. Rushmore. That's because she isn't
content with preventing science teachers from telling students that the
designer is God; she wants to make sure that science teachers don't tell
students even that there *is* a design, because she doesn't want students,
freely using their own minds, to wonder whether the source of the design
might be God. And she wants to go further than that: she doesn't want
teachers engaging in criticism of neo-Darwinian and allied evolutionary
theories, because she doesn't want students, having seen the criticisms, to
have the opportunity to infer that there is in fact design. That's why her
organization blocks not only attempts to teach creationism, and not only
attempts to teach ID, but even attempts to point out the weaknesses in
evolutionary theory, the ones discussed by scientists themselves. She wants
to use high school science classes in such a way that they cut off even
thinking the thoughts that could lead to belief in God. That's a violation
of the spirit, if not also of the letter, of the First Amendment. How
people can fail to see that her deeper motives are both anti-religious and
entirely unconstitutional is beyond me.


----- Original Message -----
From: "John Walley" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; "asa" <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 6:50 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....

" Designed objects, if they exist, are not something outside of our
experience, up in some supernatural world; they reside in our empirical
world. Even if the source of their design lies outside of nature, the design
embodied in them does not. You still seem to me to be confusing
"supernatural intervention" and "design"."

No I think it is valid to say that we have no scientific basis for detecting
design outside of nature. You cannot say that supernaturally sourced design
does not exist outside of nature.

On one hand I can sympathize with this conclusion because I agree detecting
design at least within nature is obvious and intuitive, but once we consider
supernatural design then we have no basis on which to evaluate it. As I have
said many times, I am happy to admit this conclusion may be logical and
rational, but it is just not scientific. Granted the atheists take advantage
of this but I think we have to give them that. I dont believe God has given
us the abilty to know him scientifically, it is a much more subjective
knowing that resists us using it to "prove" Him to others. That is what you
are trying to do with your design argument.


----- Original Message ----
From: Cameron Wybrow <>
To: asa <>
Sent: Wed, October 14, 2009 3:08:03 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....


1. Behe came to his conclusions regarding ID *independently* of the YECs.
Why, then, should be NOT advocate them in the public square, merely because
the YECs happen to agree with him some points? Isn't that like NOT putting
up a Republican sign on your lawn, even though you support the Republicans,
because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh support them, and you want to distance
yourself from Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh? What am I supposed to do, put a
Democratic sign on my lawn, just to prove I have no truck or trade with
Republican extremists? Why should anyone refrain from arguing publically for
a conclusion he has come to, merely because some fools and/or repulsive
people have come to the same conclusion?

Here's another example: Why would you publically argue for the truth of
Christianity, since YECs also argue for the truth of Christianity, and you
think they've got it disastrously wrong and are an embarrassment to other
Christians? Wouldn't you be safer to become a Jew, to avoid being thought of
as "in bed" with YECs? No one could mistake you for a YEC if you abandoned
the church for the synagogue.

Of course, I anticipate your answer: "It's more important for me to identify
myself as a Christian than to distinguish myself from other kinds of
Christians." And you would be right to answer thus. But similarly, Behe
would say that it was more important for him to identify himself as an
anti-Darwinian than it is for him to distinguish himself at all costs from
other anti-Darwinians.

Behe disagrees with YEC, but his battle is not against YEC. His battle is
against Darwinians. Your problem with Behe is that you think his battle
should be against something else. But you're not him, and he's not you. I'm
not asking you to join him in his battle. I'm saying that you are being
illogical to expect him to battle your foes, when he doesn't hold your
views. I'm saying that you are being illogical in wishing that Behe would
behave more like Collins, because Behe doesn't agree with Collins about
Darwinian evolution and therefore it would make no sense for him to conduct
himself as Collins does. You might as well wish that that Michael Jackson
would dance more like Fred Astaire.

2. I honestly cannot follow your theoretical discussion of MN and I can't
take the time to untangle it. I did not speak of "knowing anything outside
of nature". Designed objects, if they exist, are not something outside of
our experience, up in some supernatural world; they reside in our empirical
world. Even if the source of their design lies outside of nature, the design
embodied in them does not. You still seem to me to be confusing
"supernatural intervention" and "design". ID does not try to prove that
particular events happened supernaturally. It tries to prove only that
certain things are designed.

3. Your reference to Plato is a very loose paraphrase of part of the
Republic. Plato is discussing the fate of the perfectly just man, and the
description is strikingly reminiscent of what happened to Jesus. Many
passages in Plato are reminiscent of Christian stories and themes.

4. I am not saying that anyone should "give up" a search for naturalistic
explanations of anything. I am saying that it should be allowable, within
science, for someone to render (if the evidence sustains it, I mean) a
*tentative* judgement in favour of design, e.g., it should be possible for a
scientist, speaking as a scientist, to utter a statement such as this:
"Based on the evidence gathered *so far*, after 80 years of trying to find
an explanation for the origin of life in terms of unguided chemical
mechanisms, the best conclusion we can come to is that such an origin is, if
not literally impossible, at least wildly implausible, and smacking of
wishful thinking on the part of the person who insists upon such an origin;
conversely, the integrated complexity that we see in even the simplest
living cell bears all the marks of structures and systems that, in our
experience, never come into existence without intelligent design. Thus, at
least at
 this moment in our understanding of nature, the *best* explanation is that
the first living organisms came into being, at least in part, through the
agency of some unknown intelligence."

Note immediately that I intend this as an example of the way in which
someone might argue for design; I am not offering it as a proof that life is
in fact designed.

Note also that this inference is tentative and revisable; that it uses the
word "best" rather than "true" to describe itself; that the words "in part"
admit the possibility of a contributory role of purely natural causes
alongside of or within the framework of design, and even the possibility
that the design is entirely dependent upon natural causes for its
realization; that the inference is based entirely on empirical evidence and
theoretical considerations; that it draws no support from faith, theology,
the Bible, or any other religious sources. I fail to see why anyone would
deny that this conclusion is a "scientific" conclusion (I don't mean by this
a true conclusion, but a conclusion that is scientific in form).

5. I have no idea what you are talking about re angst, and chips on
shoulders, especially in reference to Schwarzwald, who is the most
laid-back, least chip-on-my-shoulder sort of person among us. But if we are
to speak of chips on shoulders, I would say that there are quite a number of
people in this group who have a chip on their shoulder -- about YECs -- that
is as big as the rock of Gibraltar. The attitude towards YEC here borders on
the obsessive.

6. Your statements about how God would or would not reveal himself strike me
as entirely arbitrary. Other Christians, even other Protestants, have quite
different prior expectations of God. My advice is that Christians should not
tell God how he ought to make himself known to us, but should let him make
that decision on his own. As one of Einstein's colleagues said to him:
"Albert, stop telling God what to do!" I think that my biggest problem with
TEs, other than their uncritical acceptance of Darwinian explanations, is
their tendency to tell God what he must do, if he's to be the kind of God
that they deem worthy of worship. Fortunately, God does not really pay much
attention to such instructions from his creatures, and so it may well be
that he has rather uncooperatively left evidence for his existence in
nature. The possibility is at least worth investigating. ID people, who are
less interested in guessing what a God of a certain
 preferred kind would probably have done, and more interested in finding out
what the actual God has in fact done, spend their time undertaking just such
investigations. And I wouldn't say that they have found "proof" of God's
existence in nature, but I would say they have found very strong hints. And,
unlike Dawkins and Co., I can take a hint.


----- Original Message ----- From: "John Walley" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>; "asa" <>
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 9:34 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....


I can appreciate the difficulty of the decision that Behe needed to make
about Dover and his desire to defend the science and maybe only in hindsight
do we have the liberty of second guessing him on it and your perspective is
valuable in that regard. However I have little patience for anyone that
accepts YEC as bedfellows and I think that is already a flawed and doomed
strategy. Whether this was obvious before Dover or not is debatable but
hopefully it should be obvious now.

As far as MN, I heard the argument once that any characteristic of a
designer we may infer or any modus operandi he may have or any mind reading
we may do on him has to be outside of nature which I think is valid, so
therefore it would have to be outside on MN. I think "pitting design against
chance" falls into this trap. How can we know anything outside of nature and
how is that different than the atheists appealing to multiverses because
they can't find a naturalistic explanation for life in this one? This gets
back to my suggestion that we are running into theological constraints here.
We can only know in a scientific sense what we see in nature (MN) and God
doesn't lend himself to be known that way. Jesus wouldn't prove Himself to
the skeptics who asked Him to then and I don't think He will do it now. He
has intentionally hidden how He works in nature so therefore ID as a
scientific claim I think is overreaching and a fool's errand.

" But by your ground rules, we should keep banging our heads away, looking
for naturalistic explanations for the origin of life, for the next hundred
years, for the next thousand, even for the next million, and even if the
case for a naturalistic origin never gets any better than it is today,
indeed, even if gets worse, i.e., looks more and more improbable, *at no
point* should we ever concede, based on everything we know, that design is
the best *rational* (not religious) explanation."

Yes I agree we should keep looking for naturalistic explanations. What else
could we look for? Even if we "conceded" and threw up our hands and
completely gave up on finding any naturalistic solution and concluded that
you were right all along, it was designed, then what? What do we do
differently? I am not sure where this leads or why we would go there or why
ID pushes this? How do we look for God even if we believe He did it?
Wouldn't it be like looking for a naturalistic solution? Isn't that the only
way we could find it if it did exist?

As an aside I heard a quote once attributed to Plato that paraphrased went
to the effect of "If God did exist, the only way he could interact with us
would be to become a human, and even if he did do that, we would probably
kill him". Has anyone else heard that and can provide a source? If so that
is very profound and relevant here. Suppose God wanted to reveal Himself to
us through ID, how would He do it? Would it be through IC and bacterial
flagella and limitations of single point mutations in malaria or maybe some
other way? And then how would He show us he was the God of the Bible and not
Allah or some new age deity? I am not sure this aligns with how God reveals
Himself historically in scripture.

Granted Behe is a gentleman and I think I said as much and gave him credit
for that about his performance on the interview. A common theme though among
ID supporters is this angst about the atheists lying and getting away with
it and some latent frustration or outrage about a great injustice being
perpetrated on the culture that someone needs to counter, and sometimes by
any means necessary. You admitted yours in this email and Schwarzwald said
the same thing the other day. It is this unchecked chip on the shoulder
angst and drive to fight back and "even the score" that drew the parallel
with Ann Coulter, no off-color vulgarity or tastelessness intended.



To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Wed Oct 14 23:58:36 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Oct 14 2009 - 23:58:36 EDT