Re: [asa] Fw: November Newsletter from Reasonable Faith

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Nov 13 2009 - 14:36:17 EST

Ted, for what it's worth, I'll say that this particular statement of Dembski
goes beyond the minimalist definition of ID he employs elsewhere. The
normal ID line is that the scientific aspect of ID is that aspect which
detects (or tries to detect) design, and that once the design is detected
the scientific function of ID has been discharged. After design has been
detected, questions about who the designer is, what the designer's motives
were, etc., come into play. But here Dembski seems to be saying that ID
requires the action of a particular kind of designer, i.e., an unevolved
intelligence. He thus conflates, under the definition of ID, the narrow
definition that ID usually uses with some extra-scientific reasoning which
is not supposed to be part of ID.

The way ID is supposed to work is this: You study something, say, the
bacterium, and after a great deal of measurement, calculation, reflection,
etc., you decide (let's say) that the bacterium is a designed entity. Now
the science part has ended. Now, the scientist can ask: "Who designed
this? Who executed the design? Why was this thing created? And so on.
Under the first question, the scientist (with his philosopher's or
theologian's or citizen's hat on, not his scientist's hat) might say, "Well,
earth could have been seeded with bacteria created by alien biochemists from
Antares." Another might say: "That just pushes the problem back; where did
those aliens come from?" And the first might say: "That's not my problem.
I'm only explaining the origin of the bacteria we have on the Earth." And
the second might retort: "Yes, but there must have been a first race of
aliens, and it couldn't have sprung from bacteria seeded by earlier aliens.
So the first bacteria must have been designed by an intelligence that itself
was unevolved." And so the two scientists could have nice little
philosophical conversation. The first scientist might well end up admitting
that it is an *implication* of ID that somewhere along the line there must
have been an unevolved intelligence. But that is an implication of ID, not
part of the definition of ID or a working assumption that ID needs to

If you see a pattern that is as striking as, say, the text of the King James
Bible, you don't need to assume that God wrote it; for all you know, King
James wrote it; or Thomas Cranmer. What you do know is that it was
designed. Further discussion might show that King James didn't write it,
because he wasn't smart enough, or that Thomas Cranmer didn't write it,
because he was already dead, or whatever, but one thing you know for sure is
that it wasn't written by ants who walked through spilled ink across some
leaves of paper. ID claims to eliminate chance in relation to certain
biological systems in the way that we eliminate ants walking across paper as
an explanation of the King James Bible. Whether it can do this or not is
another matter; I'm only discussing the definition.

Thus, while Dembski's thinking may be ultimately correct, he shouldn't, in
my opinion, have expressed the idea in the way that he did. He shouldn't
have expressed the conclusion about "unevolved intelligences" as part of the
*definition* of ID. The conclusion about "unevolved intelligences" doesn't
follow from the biological data. It follows from general reasoning, after
the inference (from the biological data to a designer of life *on earth*)
has been made.

Similarly, I don't like the phrase "more than ordinary natural causes",
because it is ambiguous. If "intelligence" is not allowed as a "natural
cause", then I would agree with it; but supposed that intelligence was built
into nature from the beginning, by "front-loading"? Then the unfolding of
that intelligence would follow "ordinary natural causes". How do we know
that "ordinary natural causes" don't possess an immanent intelligence of
that sort? The statement is unclear, because it seems to suggest that
"miracles" are necessary. It doesn't quite say that, but it's ambiguous.
So again, I wouldn't have put it that way.

Of course, it's possible to argue that front-loading cannot work, and
therefore that interventions of some kind must have occurred in order for
design to be implemented. It may be that Dembski believes that -- I don't
claim to know what he believes. Certainly some other famous ID people
appear to believe that. But the inference that unevolved intelligences or
miracles or interventions or anything of the sort were needed, however
legitimate, are not what are meant by "design inferences" in ID understood
as a scientific activity. The outer limit of science (for ID) is the
indication of design, without reference to natural or unnatural causes,
evolved or unevolved intelligences, front-loading or intervention. A theory
of design detection is not a theory of causation.

I think that from time to time ID writers have conflated a theory of design
with a theory of causation, and this confuses both their enemies and their
friends. On this list, I've tried to stick with ID as a theory of design
rather than a theory of causation. I've still not been able to make this
clear to some. But in any case, that's how I view ID. And I think that's
how Dembski usually seems to view ID, at least in his theoretical works,
such as *No Free Lunch*.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>; "Schwarzwald" <>
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 2:54 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Fw: November Newsletter from Reasonable Faith

>>>> Schwarzwald <> 11/12/2009 2:37 PM >>> writes:
> I'd also disagree with this oft-repeated claim that ID's argument is "if
> Darwinian evolution didn't do it then God did it!" I see this claimed
> again
> and again, again and again I ask for proof of this claim coming from Behe,
> or Dembski, or even the dreaded DI in general.. and again and again it's
> never forthcoming.
> ***
> Ted announces that it's now forthcoming.... TRUMPETS, PLEASE!!
> I quote from the opening paragraph of the general introduction to
> "Debating Design," ed. Dembski and Ruse, written by the editors--and
> therefore (presumably reflecting Bill's views).
> "ID is the hypothesis that in order to explain life it is necessary to
> suppose the action of an unevolved intelligence. One simply cannot
> explain organisms, those living and those long gone, by reference to
> normal natural causes or material mechanisms..."
> There follows an explicit statement that "it is not necessarily the case
> that a commitment to ID implies a commitment to a personal God or indeed
> to any God that would be acceptable to the world's major religions. The
> claim is simply that there must be something more than ordinary natural
> causes or material mechanisms, and moreover, that something must be
> intelligent and capable of bringing about organisms."
> I say, Schwarzwald, that despite the disclaimer, the opening sentences
> *are* tantamount to the claim that evolution didn't do it and that
> therefore God did it. Honestly and fairly, now, everyone: who in the
> known universe believes that an "unevolved intelligence" is not something
> an awfully lot like the "God" of monotheism. I'll put it this way: if
> that "unevolved intelligence" ain't "God," then God needs to find out who
> that man behind the curtain really is.
> Ted
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Received on Fri Nov 13 14:37:48 2009

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