Reply to Kramer review o

John W. Burgeson (
05 Oct 95 22:13:28 EDT

History: Jeff Kramer wrote a review of RITB & posted it in section 5 (Science &
of Compuserve's Religious Issues Forum. With his permission, I reposted it here;
Paul Nelson wrote a rebuttal. Here is Jeff's reply to that rebuttal.

It is not my intent to continue this cross-posting; Jeff has fairly stated the
he has with Phil's book. I hope some useful dialog can ensue. People here on the
evolution reflector are invited to join us on Compuserve. There are some very
sharp thinkers there! (And a few bozos, too, as Jim Bell can attest to! <G>

John W. Burgeson
Sysop on Compuserve
IBM Corporation (retired)

Subj: Reply to Kramer review o Section: Science & Religion
To: JW Burgeson <SL5 14>, 73531,1501 Tuesday, October 03, 1995 1:42:05
From: Jeff Kramer (TFT), 75242,2067 #24240


Thanks for relaying Professor Nelson's response. It is always gratifying
for us lowly Boilermakers when we can attract notice from the lords of learning
in their gothic towers at the University of Chicago.
OK, enough _politesse_. :-)
Anyone who read Nelson's response without first reading my review would
probably come away with some strange misapprehensions about what I had said.
He opens by stating:

>>Kramer errs, however, in opposing "supernatural" to "natural." Take a case
>>he mentions, the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. O.J. isn't sitting in that
>>California courtroom because he's charged with "supernatural" acts.

I did not, of course, imply that O.J. was charged with any supernatural
acts, nor did I charge that Phillip Johnson wanted to re-introduce "spectral
evidence" as a legitimate concept in law, or even that Johnson's position
ultimately implied such. (Nor do I think Nelson was trying to imply that I
did: it's just that by trying to make a segue from my point to his, he does
leave that impression.) I brought up the trial only as an analogy to illustrate
the point that Johnson seems oblivious to the distinction between a *method, or
system*, on the one hand, and a *conclusion, or judgment* on the other: or at
least he seems to think he can overturn methodological naturalism (a system for
assessing evidence) simply by presenting the "contrasting position" of "theistic
realism" (which is not a system at all, but simply a conclusion or judgment that
God in fact "did it"). This cannot be done, I pointed out, any more than trial
by jury, with its Constitutional guarantees and limitations (a system for
assessing evidence) can be overturned simply by presenting the "contrasting
position" of "OJ-realism" (which is not a system at all, but simply a conclusion
or judgment that OJ in fact did it). To replace a system, rather, you need to
propose an alternative system and convince us that your system will be more
efficient *overall*, not just that it will reach a proper verdict in the one
case you choose to focus on.
My criticism of Johnson here is that he has not offered us even the
beginning of such an alternative system, and Nelson makes no attempt to rebut
that criticism. What he does seem to be offering here is his own response
to MN's defenders, which is a very different one than Johnson's:

> It's fascinating to me that the t[alk].o[rigins]. crowd simply has no category
for agency as a
> genuine type of causation. They carve up the world into natural causes and
miracles, and
> seem completely blind that agency -- intelligent causation -- is not ipso
> "miraculous".... Suppose the engineers go out to learn why a bridge fell.
They begin with
> natural causes (e.g., metal fatigue), and exhaust those. In the course of
> investigation, however, they discover certain patterns of evidence that lead
them to think
> the bridge was sabotaged. It fell because someone intended it to fall. That's
a real
> possibility. But, on returning to report their findings, they're told,
"nonsense...there must
> be a natural explanation. Keep looking! Don't come to us with these magical
> hypotheses." Would we blame the engineers for scratching their heads?

The argument thus seems to be:
1) Scientists (like the engineers above) consider intelligent agency all
the time;
2) Intelligent agency is not a natural cause;
C) Therefore it is not the case that scientists only consider natural
causes, and therefore it is the biological establishment which is being
arbitrary in refusing to consider intelligent agency (design) as the cause of

I think that when this argument is put in formal terms, Premise 2 fairly
jumps out and demands an objection. Certainly I (and all philosophical
naturalists I know) would classify the intentions, desires, and goal-directed
actions of sentient beings like ourselves as part of the natural world. In the
case of Nelson's engineer/detective, the intentional act of sabotage is a
perfectly natural (in both senses) explanation, given certain facts. Sabotage
is in principle observable, and has often been observed. The traces of sabotage
form patterns which are to a large extent quantifiable and repeatable. (If they
were not, neither engineers nor jurors would have any confidence in relying on
them.) It is those standards, roughly speaking, which form the criteria for
methodological naturalism as I understand it.
Now it is possible that there is some theory of intelligent design which
could meet these standards. It is logically possible, for example, that life on
earth developed through artificial selection by aliens of superior intelligence,
and that once we become aware of their modus operandi we will see signs of it on
earth. But that is obviously not the point of Johnson's argument, nor are
school-board fights being waged throughout the country over the exclusion of
such a possibility from the biology texts. What the creationists are fighting
for is not recognition of the possibility of some such "intelligent design," or
of intelligent design at all in the abstract, but recognition of the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: whose modus operandi is (so far as we can tell)
utterly inaccessible to scientific investigation. Johnson himself makes it
clear that so far as he is concerned, methodological naturalism stands or falls
on the question of whether "the God of *Christian theism and the Bible* is
unreal" (48; emphasis added), not on whether intelligent agency in general is
It is obviously true, as Nelson states, that "the human sciences
(history, psychology, economics) take agency into account in their reasoning,"
but they do so within naturalistic bounds: sticking to what is observable,
quantifiable, repeatable. I make that very distinction in my review.
Economists certainly consider (for example) whether the strategic decisions of
legislatures or boardrooms contribute to economic success. What they do not do
is consider whether the decisions of the ruler of the universe contributed to
it. And --as I argue in the review -- even if such considerations are *not* to
be ruled out of scientific bounds from the start, in order to make a genuine
contribution to knowledge "providentialists" have to offer at least some hint at
the purposes of the creator in rewarding the Japanese, and the methods
employed. (Was it the move from dictatorship from democracy? If so, why haven't
the Philippines been similarly rewarded? Did He artificially raise the IQs of
the CEOs of Sony and Honda? There seems no evidence of that.)
The same is true of creationist biology, or "intelligent design" theory.
No matter how loose the "entrace requirements" become, science is still going to
demand -- common sense is still going to demand -- that a theory worthy of the
name provide explanations for the phenomena within its purview, and not just
proclamations. Perhaps an "intelligent design" theory *could* explain the
pattern of the fossil record, or the existence of vestigial organs, or the
genetic similarities between man and chimpanzee, or answer Gould's question of
why a rat runs, a dolphin swims, a bat flies, and a man writes, with a limb of
the same basic design. But so far, all we have heard is the iterated
proclamation "God did it that way for His own purposes." And that's never going
to be the stuff of science.