Room for Discussing Design in Evolution?

This is a good point @Michael_Callen… And the issue is further made worse by terribly inaccurate and often irresponsible communication to the public.
For example arguments such as “bad design” in life disproving a creator. I don’t see scientists flagging such arguments as pseudo scientific or against the rules…

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Um. I do. I’m regularly telling people that the “bad design” arguments are not good arguments against creation. Instead of decrying the current situation, why not play to win? Just learn the rules and start using them to your advantage. When atheists use science to make theological claims, push back on them. It really is not that complex.

It is the point that I’ve made several times. Science is silent on theological questions. So just make that clear, and most of the problems go away. Look, even @patrick and I agree on this. Just learn the rules and ask everyone to play fair. Even if they flout the rules, you are right, and are going to look good in the end. You can really win if you play to win. You don’t have to be a victim.


Its definitely a good strategy… However, lay people are not the people to do it. Bad design arguments should be in the same class as intelligent design arguments based on what i understand. Yet the pushback from the Scientific establishment on the latter is obvious and unmissable, I honestly cant say the same about the former. This leads to a perception of bias. Whats the point of rules if they are not applied uniformly?
You cant be expecting lay people to correct scientists on whether they are following rules or not! There is a limitation to how much that can be done.
It has to come from inside the establishment. If this happens more often, then trust for science as truly neutral will automatically grow.

As a lay person, I do point out that Scientists who make such claims are not doing so based on any scientific evidence. I also am forced to point out that, such claims are made because of an inherent theological/philosophical bias among the scientists who make said claims.

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Once again this gets back to history. No one is holding education board hearings to insert bad design arguments into school curriculums. If they did, the pushback might grow.

It is not that hard. Most people do not know the rules. You do. You are learning how to use them. That is a winning strategy. Teach more people.

I agree with this, and is the reasons why even most atheist scientists agree. Most atheists agree that science is greater than atheism. Just like Christians sometimes need outside help to keep from overstating their position, also atheists need the same. Just learn how to be a respectful and legitimate check, and you will win.

Just get good at doing that, and affirming common ground, and you will win every time. It is fun to win, right?


I think the other issue is that ID arguments often have “questionable” science behind them, that is often disputed by mainstream science. For example, I see mathematical errors in the information arguments.

The bad design arguments are bad theology, but they are not always bad science. Honestly though, they can have bad science in them too. Though this is a question for another day.


I’m wondering if you ever see good arguments from the ID side. This apart from math errors and questionable arguments. Are there times where you read something and say to yourself, “That’s a good point… we don’t have a good answer for that one.”

I’ve read you saying that evolution does not provide all of the answers (at least to your satisfaction.) I would imagine that, being a scientist, you must speculate as to where those answers lie from a scientific perspective. Would you elaborate on how you respond when you encounter a perceived inability for evolution to provide a solution for a certain dilemma?

Yes I have seen good arguments, but then they usually go wrong. Usually in two ways:

  1. Extending the good argument with bad arguments, very frequently poorly applied mathematical analysis that I just cannot unsee.

  2. Adding an argument that “this is science too!” to a compelling case outside of science.

Remember I ultimately agree that God created everything. I’m just opposed to bad arguments for creation. If there was more discipline in making a rock solid but limited case, outside of science, ID could have done well. Too often it seems like a throw everything to see what sticks strategy. That makes it difficult to even agree when they have something right. Though I do try.

Well, evolution does not tell us if racism is wrong. It cannot see or name injustice. Everyone knows this. Science does not give us resources to end injustice. The only way to think that science gives us all the answers is to blind ourselves to the most important things.

None of us want you to agree with bad arguments, else this would be a miserable place. I struggle with understanding how ID could make a case outside of science. What value would this have if they were to do so? In other words, what is the difference between theology and what you propose, understanding that we already have theology.

I think, then, that I may have misunderstood you when you wrote on this topic. Do you think that evolution has the explanatory power (ability) to explain all of the diversity of life that we observe? When you said that it cannot explain everything, I was thinking that you were referring to yet unresolved issues within science. Here, by mentioning racism, you (in my opinion) have stepped outside of hard science and are dealing in philosophy.

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Exactly. If evidence comes forward that completely falsifies evolution then we are back to square one, which is “we don’t know”. Where science is concerned, the default position is not “God does it”. Some would argue that the default position in science is “nature does it”, but that is too simple of a picture IMHO. What science defines as natural is mehcanisms that operate in our universe and produce measurable changes in our universe. In this case, humans are natural. If God resides within the universe and causes change in our universe then God is natural as defined in science, at least in my estimation.

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I think it’s necessary to differentiate between two apparently similar statements: “Science studies only physical phenomena,” and “Science is the study of physical phenomena.”

By its self-imposed limitations, science does not study the whole of physical reality, but only patterns of regularity within it, made into abstractions in order to predict other similar events.

Quite apart from the strength or weakness of design arguments, design is about contingency: to design a trombone and to design a constitution are very different things, though executed by, potentially, the same human mind. It is therefore quite possible - if not inevitable - for divine design to be opaque to scientific examination.

If it can be mathematicized, it is no longer design that is being considered, but something else (such as what there is in common between the design of a trombone and the design of a constitution once one ignores the artifacts themselves).

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Thanks. This is very helpful. I feel that your position on this issue allows for a degree of conversation that would be appreciated by folks on all sides. I appreciate that.

As a point of clarification, my personal belief is that God resides outside of the universe, necessarily, because the universe is finite. However, he is able to operate within the universe.

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C S Lewis had some interesting things to say on the origins, and descent into vagueness, of the word “nature”, which I summarised in the second part of this post..

On the “location” of God, the Bible itself has some subtle thoughts. When Solomon dedicates the Temple, the glory of God descends upon it visibly. yet Solomon’s commissioning prayer is careful to say that he has built a place for God’s “Name” to dwell, for you can’t build a house for God, as even the highest heavens can’t contain him.

The implication was that, though heaven was conceived as God’s dwelling place even more than the temple (with its strict holiness regulations) was, he was always known to be infinite and unmeasurable. It’s not so much that he is outside the universe, but that “place” has no meaning for God - a characteristic only shared, apparently, by quantum particles.

There is therefore no reason why God should not act within nature - nor even why “nature” might not be a description of what God does regularly. But making something happen doesn’t make you a part of it, or we’d all be part of the Internet.


Thank you @jongarvey… I think I read this seven times and still have some questions.

How do “design” and “randomness” fit into this definition? I suppose that one is to discern patterns of regularity vs. randomness (irregularity?) and apply each accordingly.

I don’t understand this. Are you able to explain?


I think that we agree, though your explanation is much better than mine. Clearly this is a theological discussion. I believe that God spoke the universe (matter, space, time, physical properties) into creation many billion years ago. I believe that one day it will “roll up, like a scroll” (collapse, possibly.) As such, I believe that God is “outside” in that he transcends this universe.

If we are in an aquarium and we are the fish, he’s able to interact with us, but he is not a fish and doesn’t have to reside in the aquarium, but that he chooses to interact with us on a regular basis.

Hard to answer this (it wasn’t the point I was making!) without defining how one is using “design” and “randomness”.

The second (“randomness”) is easier: if we take a proper scientific definition in the sense of “unprediuctable” or “of unknown cause” (ie, treat “randomness” as “ignorance”), then science does not study randomness… except that en masse, such random events form statistical patterns that can be studied scientifically and methematically - that was Maxwell’s great breakthrough.

It’s literally a textbook case of contingencies being abstracted in order to predict similar events.

“Design” turns out to be a weasel word, as the thread has shown. Theologically, the very presence of order is a hallmark of design (as Thomas Aquinas argued), and so the laws themselves are designed.

Taken of individual things, such as species of life, then contingency rules: we are looking at something unique as being possibly designed, and by analogy with human design, innovation and individuality is usually a mark of design: a ball might be accidental, but a Ferrari isn’t.

Incidentally, one indicator that the laws are designed might be that they themselves are, ultimately, contingent - hence the interest in the fine-tuning of cosmological constants. The laws act everywhere in a general way, but are hard to explain themselves (a huge thread on BioLogos abouyt that currently - “Where do physical laws come from.”

What I’m getting at here is that samne cointrast between repeatable pattern and contingency. To study design scientifically is to abstract it to some kind of pronicples, ideally mathematical. This is what ID people like Bill Dembski have attempted to do, without persuading the world - ultimately, perhaps, because it remains true that randomness and design produce similar statistical signatures, ie they are highly contingent.

So just as “randomness” can only be handles scientifically via statistics (which turns randomness into an abstracted pattern, hiding its randomness, ie its actual causes), in the same way one would expect any mathematical principles potentially to be found in design to transform the contingency of design into just another statistical pattern.

So I’m coming round to thinking that other, non scientific, human epistemologies must tackle the question of design.

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I’m not understanding what your 2nd version adds to the first.

To whom or about what is your comment directed?

39 posts were split to a new topic: Does a Watch Prove Design?