re: Michael Palevitz

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2000 - 17:31:58 EST

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    On Mon, 31 Jan 2000 13:36:51 -0600, Susan Brassfield wrote:

    SB>Stephen quoting Dembski:
    >SJ>"Intelligent design is not scientific creationism cloaked in newer and more
    >>sophisticated terminology. Intelligent design makes far fewer commitments
    >>than scientific creationism, carries far less baggage and consequently has
    >>far less chance of going wrong.

    SB>of course, no one but the choir that he preaches to believes this to be the

    Whether those outside the ID movement believe that "Intelligent design is
    not scientific creationism" or otherwise is *irrelevant*.

    It is simply a *fact* that while some IDers are scientific creationists (in the
    sense of young-Earth Biblical literalists), many are not. Indeed, as stated
    before, some members of the ID movement are not even creationists and
    some are not even theists. This is simply a *fact* and if Susan wishes to
    continue to deny reality, then so be it. It is a great help to the fledgling
    ID movement if its opponents stay in denial mode!

    SB>Dembski continues:
    >SJ>Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid
    >>of religious commitments.
    >Intelligent design does not adhere in any way to the scientific method and
    >has a serious commitment to the supernatural. In fact "supernatural
    >intervention" is what "intelligent design" is code for. Since the
    >supernatural (being outside nature) cannot be scientificly verified it
    >can't be anything *but* religion. And, of course, outside creationist
    >circles, intelligent design is a big yawn. It doesn't lead to new knowledge
    >and doesn't explain anything.
    >>Unlike scientific creationism, intelligent design does not prejudge
    >>such questions as Who is the designer? or How does the designer go about
    >>designing and building things?" (Dembski W.A., "Intelligent Design", 1999,

    SB>that's only true if you don't look at who is excited about "intelligent
    >deisgn" and who isn't. All but a few people pushing intelligent design were
    >fundamentalist Christian creationists five minutes ago. To everyone else
    >it is utterly transparent creationism and no amount of asserting the
    >contrary will make it so.

    First, Susan uses the word "fundamentalist" way beyond its normal
    meaning. The online Websters dictionary defines "fundamentalism" as "a
    movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally
    interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching"
    ( Now Mike Behe is a leader in
    the ID movement but he is a Roman Catholic who accepts common

    "Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be
    equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism
    involves belief in an earth formed only about ten thousand years ago, an
    interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular. For the record, I have
    no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that
    physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all
    organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no
    particular reason to doubt it." (Behe M.J., "Darwin's Black Box", 1996,

    Second, Susan seems unable to understand that one can hold
    complementary beliefs at different levels. For example, one can be "a
    philosophical theist and a Christian" (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial",
    1993, p14). That is, one can argue for a general philosophical theism,
    without it being specifically Christian. One's philosophical theism provides
    support for one's Christianity, but it is not the same thing. A Jew or a
    Muslim would find ID supportive of his religion as well. This is such an
    elementary point, and has been repeated so often, that it tells us something
    about ID opponent's lack of sophistication in understanding ID. Again, that
    is to ID's *advantage* that it's opponents considtently underestimate it!

    >>AK>Palevitz misses the point. Behe isn't being coy or disingenuous.
    >SJ>If Palevitz (a professor of botany at the University of Georgia), is a
    >>scientific materialist-naturalist (which he seems to be), then it is not so
    >>much that he "misses the point", but that within his metaphysical framework
    >>he cannot possibly get the point. Because it is inconceivable to a scientific
    >>materialist-naturalist that there really could be a God who is real, Palevitz
    >>must assume that anyone who is seriously arguing for the actions of God in
    >>natural history *must* be effectively a scientific creationist in disguise!

    SB>you are making the assumption that since he is a scientist he MUST be an
    >atheist. And you reveal yourself by your choice of language. Don't you mean
    >Palevits doesn't believe that *any* of the gods are real? Only the middle
    >eastern religions have "a" god.

    Susan needs to read what I said more carefully, and not see what she
    *wants* to see. I said "*If* a scientific materialist-naturalist
    (which he seems to be)..." (my emphasis).

    >>>AK>He knows that science can't look for God. But science can make
    >>>observations about intellegence and create tests for it. He is making the
    >>>observation that certain mechanisms in life have unknown origins. The most
    >>>similar mechanisms with known origins were intellegently designed.
    >>>Therefore, it is not such an illogical leap to concider that these life
    >>>mechanisms were also designed..
    >SJ>If anything it is "illogical" to *deny* that "life mechanisms" could possibly
    >>be "designed"! Why should things *appear* to be designed, if they are not
    >>in fact designed?

    SB>to whom do they appear designed? That is the question.

    As I have pointed out many times before, even atheists like Dawkins and
    Crick admit that living things "appear designed":

    "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of
    having been designed for a purpose." (Dawkins R., "The Blind
    Watchmaker" 1991, p1).

    "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not
    designed, but rather evolved." (Crick F.H.C., "What Mad Pursuit", 1990,

    SB>If something is
    >designed it must appear designed to *everyone* from any religion. So far
    >things only "appear" to be designed to people with a religious axe to
    >grind. The appearance vanishes if someone adheres to a religion not founded
    >in the middle east or who is without a religion.

    This is refuted simply by the Dawkins and Crick examples above. In my
    own experience, I started out as an atheist, from an anti-Christian home,
    with no religious upbringing, and I was eventually forced to believe that
    there was a God, just from the evident design of nature. At the time I knew
    virtually nothing about Christianity and did not become a Christian until a
    couple of years later.

    >>AK>Perhaps the designer is an alien. Perhaps a type of organization of
    >>>energy that sustains intellegence but is unknown to us, however could
    >>>have evolved in a purely naturalistic universe, decided to play around with
    >>>carbon. Science fiction, speculation...of course. But the inference of
    >>>design in nature is not an unscientific observation and does not
    >>>automatically lead to the God depicted in the Bible..
    >SJ>Agreed. See Dembski above. ID is agnostic about the identity of the
    >>Designer. Another design theorist, Mike Behe points out that science does
    >>not need to know the identity of the designer, to know that something was

    SB>Uh . . . in that case, why is it that Dembski and Behe are such darlings of
    >the religious right? Why aren't they constantly invited to speak for UFO
    >societies? If ID is agnostic, why does the religious right want to have
    >anything to do with it? If not, why is it being misrepresented? Glenn
    >Morton noticed the dishonesty in this area and as a Christian it really
    >bothered him. I think it was the main reason he left the list.

    See above about ID supporting Christianity without entailing it.

    In any event, it is not quite correct that ID has the unqualified support of
    "the religious right". Powerful elements among the young-Earth
    creationists, for example, including Henry Morris and Ken Ham have
    attacked the ID movement for being "Neocreationism" (see Impact No.
    296, February 1998.

    SB>Stephen quoting Behe:
    >SJ>"How then will science "officially" treat the question of the identity of the
    >>designer? Will biochemistry textbooks have to be written with explicit
    >>statements that "God did it"? No. The question of the identity of the
    >>designer will simply be ignored by science. The history of science is replete
    >>with examples of basic-but-difficult questions being put on the back burner.
    >>For example, Newton declined to explain what caused gravity, Darwin
    >>offered no explanation for the origin of vision or life, Maxwell refused to
    >>specify a medium for light waves once the ether was debunked, and
    >>cosmologists in general have ignored the question of what caused the Big

    SB>What on earth is he talking about? Is he counting on his audience not
    >knowing that these things are under investigation? You *bet* science would
    >want to know the identity of the designer. Perhaps creationists would like
    >to dismiss that little detail. It would make this claptrap easier to sneak
    >into schools. But nobody is fooled, except those who want to be fooled. The
    >"god" question is a key feature of Intelligent design or Stephen, Johnson,
    >et al. would not give it a moment of their time.

    The fact that "science would want to know the identity of the designer" is
    *irrelevant*. Sciences like forensic science, archaeology, and SETI "would
    want to know the identity of the designer" of the evidently designed things
    they study, but if that information is not available, they do mot conclude
    they were mot designed.

    And no one is trying to fool anyone. Those IDers who are Christians are
    completely transparent that ID is important to them because it provides
    intellectual *support* for their Christianity. But the fact that the ID
    movement contains members of other religions like Judaism, the Moonies,
    and even agnostics, shows that ID is consistent that it does not *entail*

    SB>Behe continues:
    >SJ>Although the fact of design is easily seen in the biochemistry of the

    SB>by Behe and people with a religious reason to do so.

    See above quote by the *biochemist* Crick, the co-discoverer of the
    structure of DNA, about "Biologists" having to "constantly keep in mind
    that what they see was not designed"!

    >SJ>identifying the designer by scientific methods might be extremely

    SB>actually impossible. The "designer" is an article of faith, not fact.

    See above re forensic science, archaeology and SETI. That it is difficult,
    and even impossible, for them to identify the designer of the things they
    study, that does not prevent them from concluding scientifically that they
    were designed.

    >SJ>In the same way, Newton could easily observe gravity, but
    >>specifying its cause lay centuries in the future.

    SB>design is not the equivalent of gravity. Gravity can be demonstrated to the
    >satisfaction of people who do not adhere to any of the middle eastern

    The point was not demonstrating gravity, but specifying its precise cause.

    >SJ>I do think that Christian theists can build on basic ID to mount further,
    >>more specialised arguments for the existence of God, even the Christian
    >>Trinitarian God, but this is Natural Theology, and is beyond the scope of
    >>basic ID.

    SB>and beyond the scope of science. It is *religion.*

    Susan by her rigid "science" - "religion" dichotomy, understands neither
    historically. Whether she is aware of it or not (or likes it or not), there is a
    branch of theology called Natural Theology, which has been in existence
    for *centuries*, and out of which modern science came, which attempts to
    mount "specialised arguments for the existence of God, even the Christian
    Trinitarian God" from the facts of nature:

    "Thus in the Middle Ages two basic types of theology began to crystallize.
    On the one hand, there was natural theology according to which a genuine
    knowledge of God and of his relationships with the world could be attained
    by rational reflection on the nature of things without having to appeal to
    Christian teaching. And on the other hand, there was revealed theology
    which was concerned with what was disclosed to man by God through the
    revelation recorded in the Scriptures. Within these broad divisions there
    were various sub-divisions. There were men like Anselm (if our
    interpretation of him is correct) who accepted the latter but not the former.
    And there were men like Aquinas who accepted both. These two trends
    were already in process of formation in Augustine and Boethius . And in
    fact they are much older still. Revealed theology goes back to the biblical
    revelation, and natural theology back to the classical Greek philosophy of
    Plato and Aristotle. The really significant fact is that not only in the Middle
    Ages there were thinkers who were conscious of the two different
    approaches, but that from Aquinas onwards it became accepted in large
    sections of the church that natural theology with its secular philosophical
    arguments provided the intellectual basis of Christian faith." (Brown C.,
    "Philosophy and the Christian Faith", 1969, pp32-33).

    >>AK>It should not be dismissed by the scientific establishment purely
    >>>because theists will use it as evidence that God exists.
    >SJ>Agreed again. But it is precisely because they *are* "the scientific
    >>establishment" that design is "dismissed ... because theists will use it as
    >>evidence that God exists"!

    SB>why should "naturalists" care? Why should scientists care? If you want to
    >use the existence of gravity, hydrogen atoms or bermuda grass as proof that
    >gods--or a specific god--exists, why on earth would science care? Nah,
    >you've got to use this goofy argument "they don't want the gods to exist"
    >because ID isn't *science*.

    I didn't say "science" but "the scientific establishment". Science as an
    abstract entity does not "care" about anything. But *human beings* who
    are scientists, especially those in positions of cultural power and prestige,
    "care" very much about the "evidence that God exists"! That's why they
    spend so much time, energy and money on trying to dismiss the "evidence
    that God exists!


    "Because the old believers said that God came out of the sky, thereby
    connecting the Earth with events outside it, the new believers were obliged
    to say the opposite and to do so, as always, with intense conviction.
    Although the new believers had not a particle of evidence to support their
    statements on the matter, they asserted that the rabbit producing sludge
    (called soup to make it sound more palatable) was terrestrially located and
    that all chemical and biochemical transmogrifications of the sludge were
    terrestrially inspired. Because there was not a particle of evidence to
    support this view, new believers had to swallow it as an article of faith,
    otherwise they could not pass their examinations or secure a job or avoid
    the ridicule of their colleagues. So it came about from 1860 onward that
    new believers became in a sense mentally ill, or, more precisely, either you
    became mentally ill or you quitted the subject of biology, as I had done in
    my early teens. The trouble for young biologists was that, with everyone
    around them ill, it became impossible for them to think they were well
    unless they were ill, which again is a situation you can read all about in the
    columns of Nature." (Hoyle F., "Mathematics of Evolution", [1987], Acorn
    Enterprises: Memphis TN, 1999, pp3-4).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

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