Re: The Case for a Designer
- From: "Perplexed in Peoria" <jimmenegay@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2007 06:47:03 GMT
"Rubystars" <windstorm_100@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message news:1174170485.764526.192420@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
... I also believe that the
universe we live in was designed. However, the difference
between us is that I consider recognition of 'evidence of design' to
be subjective. It is my position that you can not
demonstrate design of natural phenomena objectively in a scientific
Ah! So, as I suspected, our debate is going to come down to questions
of methodology. Too bad, in a way, since it might cut down on our
readership. I've noticed that many people are bored by procedural
debates. They say, "Just give me the evidence, and give me the arguments,
and I'll make my own decisions as to what evidence is relevant and what
arguments are convincing. Don't try to hem me in with some so-called
'objective' criteria for filtering and for reasoning. I will make my
own decision based on my own 'subjective' methods."
I am glad that you and I seem to be in agreement that methodology is
important. But I am puzzled. Apparently you reached your belief that
the universe is designed 'subjectively'. And presumably you have some
confidence that your subjective methods are reliable. But you seem to
be taking the position that 'subjective' methods, even if reliable, have
no place in science. (I realize that I am 'putting words in your mouth'
here, so feel free to spit them out and replace them with your own
I suppose we could debate about what 'science' really means, but I would
prefer to debate about what it *should* mean. And it is my position that
science should incorporate any reliable mode of analyzing objective evidence,
whether the mode of analysis is objective or subjective. Science is a
growing thing. If a new way of analyzing data appears, and this way of
doing the analysis is reliable, well then I say lets use it! There is no
need to be bound by tradition in science. Use whatever works!
Take many of the fine tuning arguments that are
put forth so eloquently by OECs (Old Earth Creationists) such as Hugh
Ross. He argues, for example, that the placement and
orbit of the gas giants are important contributors to make life
possible on earth. Someone who believes in God will attribute
this to God's plan, of course. However, there's nothing about this or
any other fine tuning arguments that demand a certain
conclusion. While the orbit and placement of the gas giants, as well
as many other factors that he and others describe, may
be necessary or beneficial to the existence of life as we know it on
earth, interpreting these as design leaves the realm of
Yes. I am not impressed with those fine tuning arguments which point out
how Earth is special, either. Because if Earth hadn't turned out 'just
right', there are plenty of other planets in the universe where we might
That is why my argument focuses on how the universe itself is special. As
far as we know, there is only one universe, and it had to be just right or we
wouldn't be here. And if you postulate lots of universes to choose among,
each with its own physical constants, then it seems to me that you are
leaving empirical science far behind and violating Occam's razor far worse
than someone postulating a single simple supernatural Being.
Methodological naturalism, regardless of a scientist's personal
beliefs, is essential to science. A scientist must seek
natural explanations for natural phenomena. Reaching outside of nature
is a 'short cut' that plugs easy answers into
difficult questions and has no real validity within a scientific
context. To abandon methodological naturalism is to abandon
science itself. All answers could then be "God did it" or "(Insert
supernatural or mysterious force here) did it." This kind
of reasoning doesn't serve the purpose of pursuing greater knowledge.
Well, I hope I am not seen as suggesting "God did it" according to whim.
I agree that natural explanations are better, if they succeed in explaining
the facts. But if natural explanations don't do the job, then I say it is
time to try out some supernatural explanations. Of course, we shouldn't stop
trying for a natural one, if one can be found. And it is unlikely that there
will be any shortage of people who will keep trying.
It may seem that I am trying to make science more like theology, but what
I am really trying to do is to make theology more like science. The great
strength of science is that it can admit its mistakes - it can learn from
new ideas and new data. Theology, far too often seeks to establish itself
as an infallible purveyor of timeless truths. It isn't, and can't be, as
the history of religion itself shows. So I am not particularly frightened
by the prospect that I might someday have to take back one of my "God
did it"s and admit that no, that one turns out to be a side effect of the
Einstein/Pauli/Hawking principle. Why should I be frightened by that?
Scientists take that risk all the time. Actually, I should welcome the
risk because it means that I might someday learn something about the Deity
that I didn't know, or unlearn some misconception about Him which I had.
It doesn't work when a farmer blames witchcraft for his cattle getting
sick. It may seem reasonable to such a farmer to blame
the supernatural for the event and he may be able to come up with
various evidences which could be 'interpreted' to be
consistent with what he was taught about spells and such. That doesn't
mean that his conclusion is scientific or that his
cattle didn't get sick of natural causes such as microbe pathogens. He
interpreted this event to be 'designed' but that does
not mean that it was. He took the easy way out by plugging in
'witchcraft/design' rather than doing the work necessary to
discover the microbes or other causes of the cattle's sickness more
It is not just religion that makes that kind of mistake. You should
read up on Semmelweis, and the reception his ideas got from the scientific
establishment of his day.
But it seems to me that a religion that is afraid to make mistakes will see
as little progress as would a science that is afraid to make mistakes.
While it is fine to believe and infer from nature (subjectively) that
the universe and life itself was created and designed
by God, it is not something you can demonstrate objectively. You can
certainly build a case for why it is reasonable to
interpret the data a certain way, but just because something is
reasonable does not make it scientific. 'Intelligent Design'
is fine as philosophy, but can not rightly make a claim to be
scientific. ID may even be 'logical', but that again, does not
equate to its being scientific.
ID advocates may make a good case that interpreting patterns as ID is
reasonable or logical, but an ID advocate who can
demonstrate that it is scientific seems nonexistent. If ID advocates
wish for such a philosophy to be taught as science, then
they must demonstrate that it is science rather than just a subjective
way of viewing nature.
Some ID advocates make admission to public schools part of their agenda.
I don't. I am more interested in getting into the better journals and into
the general flow of scientific discourse. When ID shows some successes, then
it will find its way into the schools as a matter of course.
Methodological naturalism (which can be defined as not reaching beyond
nature or the physical universe for explanations to
natural or physical phenomena) is not equivalent to philosophical
naturalism, which is more akin to atheism. The first is
essential to science, and the second is not. A scientist must act as
if they were an atheist when conducting science, to
avoid plugging the 'supernatural' into holes in knowledge, but science
does not require them to actually be an atheist.
I agree about the distinction, and I have no complaints about the way
theistic scientists are treated by their atheist colleagues. Everyone
seems to be quite sensible about it (with a few exceptions, like Harris
and Dawkins). But my claim is that science can work even better if it
relaxes the requirement of methodological naturalism. We seem to be in
agreement that Design is a fact. Wouldn't it be nice if it could also
be recognized as a *scientific* fact, or at least as a scientific hypothesis
still considered a viable candidate in the 'arena'?
And it is not just a case of having our own pet supernatural hypothesis
treated with more respect. Lots of people give credence to all kinds of
hypotheses involving the supernatural, ranging from ESP and astrology to
astral projection and other new-age nonsense. And they lose respect for
science when science refuses even to consider the subject. Science should
make the effort to admit everyone into the 'arena', even if many of them
must inevitably depart defeated.
<snipped for brevity>
So today, man exists, a creature whose existence is permitted by natural law
but is in no way predestined by natural law. A creature who is quite possibly
"in the image and likeness" of the Creator. A creature with a personality
rooted in physical nature, but which might conceivably be rootable in some other
substance, if properly transfered. A creature with whom the Creator might
You had said that natural laws were never violated, yet the Creator
intervened. Should I take that to mean that such
interventions involved working through natural laws? If so, are you
inferring design based on the results of those processes?
Yes and yes.
How do you determine whether such inferences are subjective or
I don't like the use of the words 'objective' and 'subjective' in this
context. I would say that logical inferences should be guided by the
rules of logic, and statistical inferences should be guided by the rules
of statistics. My inferences regarding the Designer were mostly of the
form of statistical inferences, so those are the rules that should apply.
Now here is the place where I have to admit that my idea (of permitting
hypotheses involving the supernatural and teleology into science) becomes
a bit problematic. Statistics provides all kinds of mathematical tools
- things like 'significance numbers' and 'likelihood ratios' - for evaluating
the quality of a statistical inference. But none of them work very reliably
for the kind of inferences I am making. So I have to admit that I just don't
know (quantitatively) how good my reasoning really is. The science of
statistics just can't assess these kinds of ideas yet. There are rumors that
a guy named Bill Dembski is working on a book that will apply information
theory to this kind of problem, but we will have to wait and see how that
You seem to hold to the position that all of this existed for the
benefit of producing humanity. It seems impossible to make
a scientific case for such a thing when there are so many other
successful species on this planet. Intelligence isn't the
only way to win in the evolution game. Look at grasses for example.
The vast savvanahs of Africa wouldn't be filled with
lions and antelope if it weren't for the successful grasses which grow
there, and the grasses don't have a single neuron.
Oh, I'm not singling out man because he is so successful. I am singling
him out because his evolutionary history seems so extraordinarily out of
the ordinary. Something weird seems to be involved.
They seek a naturalistic explanatory principle to supplement Darwinism. I am
here arguing that, while the search for additional explanatory principles is
well motivated and may even be fruitful, these people are unwise in artificially
limiting the search to only possible naturalistic principles. They should also
remain open to the possibility of a supernatural explanation.
If you open the door to such explanations, then how can any research
anywhere be done from now on?
What if in exploring the composition of the layers of the earth, this
kind of thing was allowed?
Scientist 1: What is the earth like below the crust? Let's do some
research and find out!
Scientist 2: Hell
Scientist 1: Shouldn't we drill a hole, or something? I mean,
shouldn't we be looking for a natural explanation before we
just plug that answer in?
Scientist 2: No, we don't have to do that anymore, remember? We've
already got an answer. We don't need methodological
Or maybe another scenario:
Mother of missing child to police: "Did your investigation turn up
anything about who kidnapped my child?"
Policeman: "Our forensics team had some hairs to look at, but they
just figured they fell from a fairy, so that's who they
concluded took your child."
Mother: "They didn't do any kind of analysis on them?"
Policeman: "It fits the description of fairy hair, and since the
scientific method changed, it's ok for them to reach into
the supernatural for answers now."
Surely that's not the kind of thing you had in mind, in either case. I
don't think you agree with such nonsense. Can you
determine when it's scientific to allow for supernatural explanations
and when it's downright ridiculous? How can you draw
the line without being completely arbitrary?
I said I wanted to open the door to supernatural explanations. That doesn't
mean that they should always win. If science remains rational, I would
expect that they would usually lose. In fact, most naturalistic explanations
lose as well. An explanation should win only if it explains the facts better
than any of the alternatives. And even then, the victory is tentative and
precarious. It lasts only until a better explanation comes along.
1. A Creator probably exists, by the First Cause argument. Of course, the
Creator is not necessarily a Designer, except in the sense of choosing the
laws of nature and setting the initial conditions. He might have just set
things going and then refrained from further intervention.
Why do you consider this to be a scientific conclusion that a Creator
probably exists? While I believe in a Creator, I don't
claim that I can demonstrate my beliefs objectively.
Well, I haven't really drawn any conclusions about the nature of the Creator
yet, at this stage of the argument. He could be completely inanimate or
completely abstract - a little known law of physics, perhaps, rather than
a person. Since the First Cause argument tells us so little about the nature
of the Creator, I consider it pretty innocuous. Even an atheist shouldn't
object - yet.
2. However, we notice that the universe and its laws are suitable for life -
they permit its existence. Hence, we should at least suspect that the Creator
had a purpose in creating.
Notice that it is only at this stage that I say anything about the Creator's
nature. I introduce the hypothesis that He is a Being with a will. Possibly
a person, at least in the nature of an animal.
It is still a pretty weak inference. Not conclusive evidence, but evidence that
adds to the balance.
If life is here at all, it needs to be in a suitable environment. A
puddle conforms to the hole that it is in, but that does
not mean that the hole was designed for the puddle. The evolutionary
principles which allow life to be so well adapted to the
environment its currently in may have led to different outcomes if the
circumstances were different. It is a large logical
leap to go from the universe being suitable for life straight to that
implying a purpose for the universe.
I agree. And even if the idea that there is a purpose is accepted, there
is still the question as to whether I have identified the right purpose.
For instance, maybe the real purpose is a universe with stars. And while
universes supporting life are uncommon among all possible universes, they
are much more common among universes with stars. So the inference is pretty
weak at this stage. To say just how weak, we would have to get into the
3. But even given a hospitable universe, the origin of life is not inevitable.
In fact, it is damned unlikely. Especially complex evolvable life like that
which exists on Earth. Complexity at the molecular system level. I claim
that a naturalistic abiogenesis leading to something like the genetic code
and the translation of genes into proteins is practically an impossibility.
There must have been guidance - i.e. intelligent intervention - for this to
have occurred. Recall that the quasi-teleological process of Darwinian evolution
was not available for 'guiding' life's origin. Darwinism only applies after
life is already here.
What is usually considered life involves cells. Genetic material was
around before it became enclosed in cells, and would
have had its own forms of evolution. One evidence for this is that
there are naturally occurring strands of RNA and DNA
without cells now, as found in viruses. The genetic material itself
had simpler precursors. RNA is thought to have preceded
DNA, and there are other nucleotides which may have preceded both.
Cells gave strands of DNA more stability and protection.
Well, that is the RNA-first idea. It is the leading idea on naturalistic
abiogenesis today, but there are some real problems with it. See this,
Maybe some better ideas will come along in the future, but for now I'm sticking
with my claim that it is damned unlikely. Francis Crick wrote to the effect
that an honest man would say it would almost take a miracle.
While it is possible that IC systems CAN arise by Darwinian evolution, in a
just-so-story involving 'scaffolding' that is later removed, it is by no
means clear that they WILL evolve. Yet they DID evolve, repeatedly. I
interpret this as evidence of design - that is, of intervention for a purpose.
You can subjectively interpret all you want, just don't call it
Call it what it is, belief, philosophy, or religion.
Well, the guy who is pushing the IC idea is a scientist. Tell him it is
philosophy rather than science. But, in any case, I am going to drop
the IC argument from my case. Upon further thought, I have decided it
Was this unique outburst a result of chance? This seems
unlikely to me since it was precisely in the lineage leading to ourselves.
It was most likely the result of yet another intervention by the Designer.
If you're referring to the Cambrian explosion, then it wasn't just in
our own lineage but included phyla that are extinct, as
well as many other extant phyla besides our own. Your leap to "this
was designed" seems unjustified if you are claiming this
Well, yes, it does involve animal lineages besides our own. So my argument
suggests that perhaps the Designer is not as omniscient (or more precisely,
prescient) as He is often thought to be. He set many animal lineages in
motion intending to later select the most promising for further work. I
want to make it very clear that this is not an excercise in apologetics in
defense of some revealed religion. We should be willing to go whereever the
evidence leads us.
There had been change before, even rapid change. But never (at least
since the Cambrian) had
there been so many rapid changes in a single lineage.
A while back there was a news story about how some of Darwin's finches
in the Galapagos had evolved again. Apparently, the
group had developed a smaller beak within two decades:
I'm sure you can also find plenty of evidence of rapid evolution among
antibiotic resistant bacterial strains as well.
There have also been dramatic changes within other lineages, such as
theropods to birds, or land mammals to whales. I'm not
sure that matching a rapid rate with dramatic change is all that
important considering that either can be found in other
lineages and there is no reason to think that the combination of the
two is unique to humans.
How much change has to occur within a geologically rapid span of time
for you to consider it comparable? Even if the human
lineage had the greatest change within the shortest amount of time of
any lineage, it would not necessarily imply design,
because if the rates of evolution and drama of changes are variable,
then one lineage has to have the optimum combination of
the two. If the human lineage were gone, then the second fastest would
be able to claim the title.
Good point. I can't claim that humans are special (in the eye of the
Designer) simply because they are first in intelligence or first in
rate of evolution. As you point out, there is always someone in first
place. But it seems to me that humans are so far out in first place that
it looks suspicious. If, as you suggest, the human lineage were removed
from consideration, would the new first-place species have such a commanding
lead? If so, then my argument falls apart. If not, then there is something
which needs to be explained, whether by natural or by supernatural means.
And this evolution seems
to have had the effect of bringing into existence a species with a consciousness,
reasoning ability, and will which are in some ways similar to those of the
Creator. A species with whom the Creator can communicate. This could not
have been the result of chance. It must have resulted from intervention -
intervention with a purpose.
Natural selection is not 'by chance' but is selective. It's a passive
selection though, not an active one. Some species fare
better with more brain power, and some are more successful without it.
It depends on the selection pressures upon the
I understand that. And I accept that Darwinian evolution explains most
responses to most selection pressures. It may be that it also is the mechanism
which explains how we responded to our selection pressures. I am just saying
that there must have been something very special about the selection pressures
that happened to be applied to us, because the result was so extraordinary.
There is a pattern here. I have listed six candidate interventions which are
consistent with the pattern. (There may be others which are less obvious.)
Hmmm. I guess I am down to four now, since I have dropped number 4 and number
1 shouldn't really be counted.
Each has to be assessed and criticized on its own to determine whether or not
the 'coincidence' is plausible as a result of chance. But the inference of
design flows from the pattern itself, rather than from any single element of
Humans are really good at finding patterns, even when there are no
patterns. While there may very well be one here, you have
not demonstrated its existence beyond subjective opinion or religious
I have to agree. We really need to apply some kind of statistical test for
significance. I just don't know how that can be done with this kind of data
and this kind of hypothesis.
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