The D-word

The storm rages (or fizzles) on. Intelligent design is creationism in disguise, theistic evolution is true but one cannot prove it by detecting design, and naturalistic evolution is still the ad-populum argument for atheism.

But what is design (the D-word) really? And can we argue that it is creationism in disguise?

There are of course a few definitions for design, but it seems to be appropriate in these discussions to define it as someone or something, with a predetermined outcome in mind, put forth some specifications for what that outcome should look like. As an engineer myself, I used to do that all the time…calculate and draw up designs from a statement of work, or, to use a military term, a required operational capability. But there had to be a starting point, some idea of where we wanted to go before we could add the numbers etc. Building and testing what was designed was a whole other mess.

I’m not always impressed with ID (Intelligent Design) being labeled as “creationism”. As a creationist, I don’t think it goes far enough. It kind of hinges on the edge of being useful. Because the one thing that evolution proposes that ID doesn’t, is a mechanism by which what we see (and what we are) has come to be. I can design things all day long, but without an artisan to put those designs into a working physical form, those designs are completely useless. One can see why there are supporters of theistic evolution, however flawed that compromise might be.

I guess one could argue that detecting design is a useful exercise, and may disprove one of the assumptions of the naturalistic movement, that of ontological naturalism…or does it? In efforts to keep ID immune from accusations that it is nothing but thinly disguised creationism, it has been proposed that a designer might be aliens. Which of course begs the question, where did the aliens come from? And in the absence of evidence, it is a similar commitment to that of a creator God. In other words, we are no closer to solving the ontological dilemma.I will add that the same holds true for the naturalistic atheist side, a belief in a multiverse is equally without proof.

In the end, we know very little. Do I think that the universe was designed? Sure. Do I think we can detect that it was designed? Sure. Do I think that we are all the result of a mindless random process? Most assuredly not. Do I have an alternative process by which we came to be? Sure, but it sure as heck isn’t scientific by current standards.

See, the problem is that something had to kick it all off. Something had to come from nothing, somewhere in the past, regardless of what position you hold. Time cannot be eternal past. Is the argument then how things developed from the first coming into existence until now, billions of years later, or is it the first appearance of existence, or both? We have options…

  1. Something came from nothing. No go, because, nothing, well, means nothing.
  2. Something came from something. What is/was the second something?
  3. God created the universe from nothing. And here we have to stop and ask about mechanism. Because although one can design things with an outcome in mind, without hands and materials it is meaningless.

And this is where I feel that the current discussion ends. We simply don’t know. Design theory sure as heck ain’t gonna tell us. Non theistic evolution grinds to a halt pre-life. We simply cannot comprehend how something can come from nothing. Our whole life revolves around cause and effect.

As a creationist I of course believe that God created it all. He said it and it came to pass, instantly. God’s perspective of course is a lot different. He did not design with an outcome in mind. The outcome was there at the same time as the design, as God eternal is outside of our time dimension. God did not first put out a statement of work, and then calculated a drew the whole universe out, and then called up His Heavenly artisans to chop, hammer and fit together the whole universe. No, it was all complete in both design and existence at the same time. Of course, being subject to the temporal world, we perceive it a lot differently.

So while I believe that ID is useful to expose the limitations of non-theistic evolutionary mechanisms, it does not go far enough in trying to determine how design became existence.


9 responses to “The D-word

  1. “So while I believe that ID is useful to expose the limitations of non-theistic evolutionary mechanisms, it does not go far enough in trying to determine how design became existence.”

    Far enough? It doesn’t go there at all. In fact, it refuses to go there. As William Dembski said (and repeated several times later): “You’re asking me to play a game: ‘Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.’ ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.” (ISCID, 9/18/2002). Phillip Johnson, the godfather of ID, said “This isn’t really, and never has been a debate about science. It’s about religion and philosophy.” (“Witnesses for the Prosecution,” World Magazine, November 30, 1996, Volume 11, Number 28, p. 18).

    ID has not and will never try to determine how design became existence. You’re welcome to try it yourself, however. A slam-dunk Nobel prize awaits if you succeed.

  2. Hi Olorin. Thanks for the comment, and I don’t think that we disagree that much.

    I’m not so sure that ID totally refuses to go there, as Dembski has also said that ID can accommodate all manners of mechanism. It’s rather that discussions about mechanisms falls outside the normal scope of ID, hence my statement that it does not go far enough.

    But what rings a bit hollow for me is that ID criticizes naturalistic evolutionary mechanisms all the time as being incapable of producing irreducibly complex systems, but then offers no alternative. Surely if you eliminate a mechanism you may want to offer something to replace it? Don’t get me wrong, I like the work that ID does, but I would like to see it go a bit further, maybe into Intelligent Development or something similar.

    Some have proposed teleology as an alternative, a “front loaded” gene pool which then develops according to evolution-like processes, but excludes the enormous probability problems of evolutionary mechanisms. No Nobel prize there just yet…but promising research I think.

  3. Dembski may have said that ID accommodates mechanism, but he and every other IDer sedulously refuse to suggest a mechanism—any mechanism. My cynical opinion as to why, is that ID is really religious[1], and that any mechanism would place limits on God — which is theologically unacceptable.

    My major quarrel with ID is not that it is wrong–or that it is not even wrong—but that it offers no guides to research, no avenues for further explanation, no ways to develop practical applications.[2] If the answer to every question is “God did it,” then what have you learned? As the astophysicists say, a theory that explains everything explains nothing.

    [1] See Kitzmiller decision. Also, “The conceptual soundness of the [ID] theory can in the end only be located in Christ.” (William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science & Theology (InterVarsity Press 1999), p. 210)

    [2] Even the ‘predicitions’ that ID claims to make require assumptionms not in the theory. For example, that ‘junk DNA” have a purpose requires the assumption of good design. But, confronted with obvious poor designs, they claim that the designs need not be good. You can’t have it both ways, guys.

  4. Olorin,

    The very terms “good design” and “poor design” assume design, ie. you can’t have poor design without having design to begin with. Thus atheists like the “Rational Response Squad” offer self-refuting arguments, for instance, when their men express surprise over the poor design of their own nipples. (They assume that nipples are designed for a purpose, or else such an objection would never occur to them.)

    But a bigger question arises from your statement regarding “avenues for further explanation”. This assumes that nature is uniform, and that the future will behave like the past. Obviously, radical empiricism cannot prove either, and thus science itself is undermined. Thus a world without God can offer no avenues to explain anything, since God’s creative powers and providence are necessary preconditions for predictability.

  5. Inferring but not dictating design would not stop science from achieving its goal to understand our natural world.

    The charge is that ID is that religiously based. But limiting ourselves to natural reactions or processes and saying that nature is all there is philosophically based. Science has been abducted by naturalists and they have closed the doors to any thinking outside their box. It causes many problems especially in the fields of origins of life. It’s pretty clear, that natural explanations cannot explain everything. One way to think outside the box is say that there is more or was more operating at the start of life.

    ID is already being used a number of areas of science such as archeology, anthropology, forensics and SETI , and it hasn’t hurt science. Even though the designer is not a supernatural agent, but intelligent humans, the principles involved in studying these areas of science can be applied to the study of supernatural ID.

    Design doesn’t say who the designer was. Now does design have religious implications? Yes, but does it have religious presuppositions? No.. Design just says that something looks designed. We already do this in anthropology (stone tools), forensics, and the like.

  6. “Even though the designer is not a supernatural agent, but intelligent humans, the principles involved in studying these areas of science can be applied to the study of supernatural ID.”

    Ok, gman. o ahead and apply those principles to supernatural ID. Nobody else, in or out of the ID movement, has done it, or even proposed a plan for how to do it. You can be the first to try. Good luck.

  7. Puritan lad said “But a bigger question arises from your statement regarding “avenues for further explanation”. This assumes that nature is uniform, and that the future will behave like the past. Obviously, radical empiricism cannot prove either, and thus science itself is undermined.”

    You’re absolutely right. If astronomy does not assume that nature is uniform, then it has no basis for assuming that the sun will come up tomorrow morning. Try planning your life on the assumption that nature is not uniform and cannot be prdicted. I think you will understand the usefulness of this assumption rather quickly.

  8. Olorin,

    The usefulness of this assumption doesn’t justify the assumption. Rather it shows just one area where all men know God. Thus God is the precondition for “avenues for further explanation”, rather than an obstacle. Without God, we have a random, chaotic universe with no way to justify science, or any universal laws for that matter.

  9. Olorin,

    Darwinian evolution needs miracles for it’s claim too. As an example, because of the obvious problems with abiogenesis is, at best, a myth of modern science. At worst, abiogenesis is the lie we tell ourselves so we can pretend to know more about the origin of life than we actually do; we are fooling ourselves. Macroevolution falls into this category too. It has never been proven either, thus a miracle…

    According to biochemist George Wald all we need is time. What we regard as impossible on the basis of human experience is meaningless here. Given so much time the “impossible” becomes the possible, the possible probable, and the probably virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles.

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