Saturday, October 30, 2010

Does Intelligent Designer = Intelligent Intervenor?

Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Leh...              Image via Wikipedia
 “Those who worry about ‘interference’ should relax. The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of the natural laws.” (Behe, Edge of Evolution 232)
Last week I was hammered at an Intelligent Design-friendly Christian apologetics site for suggesting that information, language, and design complexity in nature point to intelligent agency, but they do not necessarily require that an agent actively intervened in natural processes at point(s) in time. I suggested that while natural processes as viewed by materialists and atheists could not account for life and species, natural processes created and sustained by an intelligent agent (especially an omnipotent creator, since I was arguing theologically at a Christian site) at least in principle could.

It was not a kick against direct agency, it was just leaving the door open to another possibility. (And it was securing a place for ID even if plausible law-based natural processes should be discovered that would adequately explain anomalies such as the origin of life or the Cambrian explosion.) I certainly didn't deny the possibility or even likelihood of direct agency.

But that didn't matter. I had offended the site's ID orthodoxy and the site went into attack-mode. I was accused of intellectual dishonesty. I was accused of disbelieving in miracles. It was demanded of me that I provide peer-reviewed science articles to back my claims (which was interesting because a sub-point I was making was the epistemological limits of science). Finally, I was flat-out accused of misrepresenting the claims of ID. One guy said I was flat-out wrong and he wasn't interested in anything further I had to say. So, there was a lot of heat. And the site administrator heartily endorsed this guy's comments.

I figure when the ref is in the other guy's corner, it's probably time to get out of the ring. So, I exited, stage right (to metaphor my mixes).

Because I had been pummelled, yet still thinking my point was well-reasoned, I started digging.  What I found was gratifying: the leading proponents of ID agree with me.

The first hint of this came during my debate at the ID-friendly site. I ran across this in a blogpost at Uncommon Descent entitled "Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature?"
Michael Behe, Michael Denton and Bill Dembski are all on record as saying that design is not in principle incompatible with a wholly naturalistic evolutionary process. Design theory does not require miracles. One can imagine, for example, a “front-loaded” evolutionary program which over time “outputs” the various species via wholly naturalistic means. But such a program would be intelligently designed, not driven by chance. Darwin, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. would still therefore be wrong. It is not “naturalistic means” per se that ID is against; it is naturalistic means conceived of in terms of blind natural laws combined with sheer chance. On this point, I would suggest that you read carefully Michael Denton’s work, *Nature’s Destiny*, which shows how one can logically combine naturalistic evolution, anti-Darwinism, and intelligent design. 
Next, I discovered an article by Bill Dembski which I hi-lited last week.
Intelligent design is not... an interventionist theory at all. Indeed, intelligent design is perfectly compatible with all the design in the world being front-loaded in the sense that all design was introduced at the beginning (say at the Big Bang) and then came to expression subsequently over the course of natural history much as a computer program's output becomes evident only when the program is run. 
Then, today, while listening to Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution I came across the money-quote shown at the top of this post. Intelligent design theory is compatible with the view that all of life was created by natural laws.  If you read it carefully Behe doesn't say he endorses this view, but that it is a live option; it's on the table.

What both Dembski and Behe say is that while the evidences of intelligent design do not (necessarily) require active intervention by an intelligent agent, they do require that we reject the materialistic, dumb-luck view of nature espoused by darwinism.

Which was the point I was making.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.

Update: This quote is relevant:

"A theory of design detection is quite different from a theory of design implementation."

ID is primarily a theory of design detection rather than design implementation.

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5 comments:

Alex said...

What if something completely different unfolds from the smae basic rules some place else?

Also: what about the dinosours? Was it a part of the big plan to make faulty species to completely disappear long before we even got here? Do you believe we were here all along?

Then theres the pests that don't have the good sense to go exinct. You know those monsters big and small that devour little girls occasionally? Was that all writen into the Cosmos too? If so was it writen so He could intervene to impress us with his power and compasssion?

RkBall said...

Joe said...

Alex:

The point is, as St Paul so patiently explained, we live, move and breath in Him. He is not separate from us nor we from Him. He has determined which energy shall be expressed as matter and which energy shall remain energy. He has determined the form of each atom and maintains each atom as it is. He has formed the visible from the invisible and given each living being its breath of life. He is not some long dead or long missing Being but rather the One who determines the course of everything in His creation. He has given us a glimpse of Himself through we who are made in His image.

Just as you or I use a tool of our creation for a time and then discard it when its time is complete so too God in His infinite wisdom created dinosaurs. He enjoyed their presence for as long as He determined and then He eliminated them as He determined that He would create something far greater. He determined that He would create many offspring and part of that process involved using tents of flesh that resemble hairless monkeys.

Said hairless tailless monkeys walk around on their hind limbs and use their over sized brains to try determine how the universe and all its splendor came to be. Some of the wise ones determine that there can only be one explanation and that was He who reveals Himself as I AM. Others whom I refer to as the foolish ones deny the I AM and come up with a cosmic accident that has no purpose, cause or effect. To the foolish the universe and all it holds is null, void and meaningless.

To the wise the universe is brilliantly designed and executed and shows the handiwork of its Creator. Now if you want to sit and pretend you are nothing more than the dust of some long extinct star and have no more relevance than a popcorn poof in a tornado then you go right ahead. As for me and my family we shall serve the Lord.

RkBall said...

Hi Alex,

You raise some interesting questions.

What if something completely different unfolds...

Not sure where you are going with this. If life is algorithmic, then there would be boundaries to what gets produced. Plus, God as an intelligent agent can intervene whenever he chooses to ensure the outcome he wants.

"Also: what about the dinosours? Was it a part of the big plan to make faulty species to completely disappear long before we even got here? Do you believe we were here all along?"

This sounds like an anthrocentric complaint -- if we are not here, what's the point?! The Scripture says that the heavens and the earth were created for God's pleasure. It pleased him to create dinosaurs. Hugh Ross hypothesizes that the eras of plants and animals prior to man served to provide lush deposits of oil and gas in the ground, which we are now reaping to our benefit and enjoyment. THink about that the next time you hop into your Lexus!

"Then theres the pests that don't have the good sense to go exinct. You know those monsters big and small that devour little girls occasionally? Was that all writen into the Cosmos too? If so was it writen so He could intervene to impress us with his power and compassion?"

This is your best point. Why didn't God create a serene creation full of only good things? This is the problem of evil, and it is the atheist's best argument against the existence of God. It's too big to fully address here. Let me just make a few quick points.

1. Intelligent design vs. perfect/imperfect intelligent design are two different issues. We create faulty designs, and designs that decay and wear out all the time, but nobody denies they were designed.

2. In your response, you seem to imply that some things are good, and some not good. But, where does this kind of idea come from. In order to view something a evil, or not-good, we must have an idea of what good is. But the idea of good in a godless, goodless universe is an absurd idea. So, we need to posit the existence of God to even contemplate your question.

3. Let me just say that the problem of good and evil is a huge one, and it takes up a large amount of Scripture. The Cole's notes/Cliff's notes version is: God is good; the devil is bad; man sided with evil against God, and all hell broke loose.

4. The Bible is the story of God taking back man from evil and promises a new heavens and new earth.

RkBall said...

Hi Alex,

You raise some interesting questions.

What if something completely different unfolds...

Not sure where you are going with this. If life is algorithmic, then there would be boundaries to what gets produced. Plus, God as an intelligent agent can intervene whenever he chooses to ensure the outcome he wants.

"Also: what about the dinosours? Was it a part of the big plan to make faulty species to completely disappear long before we even got here? Do you believe we were here all along?"

This sounds like an anthrocentric complaint -- if we are not here, what's the point?! The Scripture says that the heavens and the earth were created for God's pleasure. It pleased him to create dinosaurs. Hugh Ross hypothesizes that the eras of plants and animals prior to man served to provide lush deposits of oil and gas in the ground, which we are now reaping to our benefit and enjoyment. THink about that the next time you hop into your Lexus!

RkBall said...

"Then theres the pests that don't have the good sense to go exinct. You know those monsters big and small that devour little girls occasionally? Was that all writen into the Cosmos too? If so was it writen so He could intervene to impress us with his power and compassion?"

This is your best point. Why didn't God create a serene creation full of only good things? This is the problem of evil, and it is the atheist's best argument against the existence of God. It's too big to fully address here. Let me just make a few quick points.

1. Intelligent design vs. perfect/imperfect intelligent design are two different issues. We create faulty designs, and designs that decay and wear out all the time, but nobody denies they were designed.

2. In your response, you seem to imply that some things are good, and some not good. But, where does this kind of idea come from. In order to view something a evil, or not-good, we must have an idea of what good is. But the idea of good in a godless, goodless universe is an absurd idea. So, we need to posit the existence of God to even contemplate your question.

3. Let me just say that the problem of good and evil is a huge one, and it takes up a large amount of Scripture. The Cole's notes/Cliff's notes version is: God is good; the devil is bad; man sided with evil against God, and all hell broke loose.

4. The Bible is the story of God taking back man from evil and promises a new heavens and new earth.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"