Evolution and Intelligent Design: April 2006 Archives

In response to the claim that ID is just creationism (a slippery enough term as it is that can range from mere theism all the way to those who think Genesis 1 is a science textbook), I've been saying that ID is perfectly consistent with a closed universe of evolution, as long as the natural causes involved are not merely natural causes but are purposive, intelligent causes, and as long as those causes are detectable as intelligent causes. Most theistic evolutionists do not say that and therefore do not accept ID arguments. But someone who does should be welcome under the ID umbrella.

I looked at William Dembski's statements on this in my last post on the subject. I now turn to Phillip Johnson. Since this interview is one common place anti-ID folk have pointed to in order to argue that Johnson holds the opposite view, I've decided to use that as my source. Here is the first major quote relevant to this issue:

Theistic evolution is the same thing as atheistic evolution with a certain amount of God-talk. They don’t see any merit whatsoever in alleging that God left us some fingerprints on the evidence.

I think what's often going on is that ID opponents see him distancing himself from theistic evolution, and they then wrongly conclude that he's ruling out the sort of view with theistic evolution and signs of intelligent design together. But look closely about what he says about theistic evolution. He's not complaining about the view that everything was designed in such a way that evolution would happen but would reveal the signs of intelligent design. He's talking about the view that everything happened the way atheistic evolutionists say it did, i.e. God's fingerprints aren't on creation in order to have something to base an ID argument on. So he's not disagreeing with theistic evolution per se. He's disagreeing with theistic evolution as it's normally held. The usual theistic evolutionist does have a view that contradicts ID. The theistic evolutionist who insists that God left fingerprints that we can detect and then use as a basis for an ID argument is, of course, not inconsistent with ID, because it's the presence of those footprints that's all that the ID argument insists on.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars has been claiming that intelligent design is incompatible with the following sort of view:

God created the universe, having designed it from the outset to produce the kind of particular results God wanted, and there are signs of that creation, but it didn't involve intervention at a later time. Instead, it resulted from the natural laws God set up at the beginning that directed the universe toward the sort of thing that ID arguments are now concluding to be signs of God's design.

This was in response to my claim that ID arguments are consistent with this sort of view. The main thrust of his argument has been to affirm my claim that design arguments can result in such a view but to deny that the people who came up with the term 'intelligent design' wouldn't tolerate this. He says they consistently and repeatedly disallow this sort of view, saying that it wouldn't allow the kind of intelligent design arguments that they are giving. He says Howard Van Till holds exactly the view I was sketching, and they don't count Van Till among the ID people because of his holding this view. I think their statements about him are easily explained in terms of other things they disagree with him about, and Macht has done a good job explaining why in the comments on the post. But I think a positive case can be made that they deliberately do include the sort of view that Ed says Van Till holds. I decided to get out Mere Creation to see what William Dembski, one of the founders of the ID movement, had to say in his introduction to intelligent design arguments. What follows is an adaptation of a comment in the aforementioned discussion.

One of the most common arguments against intelligent design seems to me to confuse motivation with theoretical basis. In defense of the charge that ID is religious creationism, many opponents of ID point out that most people who support ID believe in a creator God for religious reasons. This happens to be true. Actually, they usually say that all who support ID believe in a creator God for religious reasons, and that's false. Antony Flew supports cosmological ID, and he isn't religious at all. There's a whole blog of ID proponents who are not advocating theism (I believe it's Telic Thoughts, but I couldn't find their statement on this if so). But it is true that most ID supporters are religious theists of some sort.

Here is the important distinction that those who give this argument cannot, or in some cases simply refuse to, see. Members of the Discovery Institute offer arguments for the existence of God. These are classic philosophical arguments that go back at least as far as Plato, who had no contact with Christian (Christianity didn't exist) or Jewish (no Jews were anywhere near him) monotheism. These arguments conclude that it seems likely that there must have been some designer for whatever particular phenomenon the argument is concerned with, e.g. the origin of the cell, the origin of some particular organ, the cosmological constants of the universe, etc. The Discovery Institute also happens to believe the designer that the argument's conclusion speaks of is the Christian God. They even admit that they have religious motives for wanting people to accept the argument. But the fallacy anti-ID people regularly engage in is to take that motivation to be the basis of the argument. It's simply not, and that kind of confusion would lead an introductory philosophy student to fail a critical thinking assignment.

God of the Gaps

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Joe Carter delineates several interpretations of "God of the gaps" and sorts through which one are legitimate interpretations of ID claims, which ones are theologically tolerable for Christian theists, and which ones are scientifically acceptable. It turns out to be more complicated than people usually take it to be. I have nothing to add. This is the kind of post I like to write myself.

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