The Bad Design Argument

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #41

On that they are on solid ground.

On this, however, they do not have valid arguments.

The scientific arguemrns are inconclusive either way. Though nature certainlybleaves us with the correct impression that God created us all.

(Jon Garvey) #42

Oh, it works, does it? :grinning:

Yup - I’ve dealt with it on at least a couple of occasions, here and, earlier, here.

Summarising is no substitute for following the argument, but to imagine possible worlds in which things might happen, and then create the one that does exactly what you want, is what we all do every day, and call it “design”.


A command from God as ‘an enabling’? Iow, to be empowered by a command to act? To design? To give birth?

Can one act with ‘bad designs’ or ‘wrong designs’ in mind or heart (the act of bad, wrong or mis-designing)? Can one otoh participate actively in good designing? How to distinguish these ‘scientifically’ or even ‘theologically’? Do they not involve any human intentionality, is that the key? Just biology, geology, cosmology…?

This one splits the IDC (perhaps time to stop calling it a ‘movement’ anymore) also because there is no ‘scientific’ way to measure or verify the instantiation of designing as a process if the designer of a given process is unidentifiable within the theory. If the good design/bad design (or even just Design as a Dogma) is added on theologically as somehow above and beyond human in the complexity/simplicity scale of life then one has left the realm of science within which ‘the conversation’ is supposed to be taking place. If that is the case, and one is free to argue against it, nevertheless where are we left to go from there? Can’t go out, but no one’s allowed in either.

Perhaps that is one of the problems with the IDC; they have been mis-designing their ideology to fit an audience that has with time by now passed them by (or just diverted their attention to other things, such as national politics). That, or the core argument and strategy that they designed in the 90s in Seattle with largely political Christian support & which became, thanks indeed as with all things to the Glory of God, a ‘movement,’ has now petered to a relative trickle (along with the repeated gonging of a Klingholder). Either way, the John West directed films aren’t going to save the dead-end path of the IDC anymore than the Journal of Memetics (d. 2005) is going to be resurrected by 2018+ morons touting evolutionary cultural studies.

BioLogos is obviously rising rapidly in comparison to Uncommon Descent forum, has likely far surpassed in participant numbers. Otherwise, the missions of the Discovery Institute and the BioLogos Foundation both differ so much and are all the while similar at the same time (check out their newsletters & donation appeals side by side!) that there is no need for them to antagonise each other. They are just keeping a conversation going nowadays that is already had, rather than adding novelty with a now philosophically blunt axe that gauges more than it persuades.

If you disagree, and are indeed persuaded by leaders of the IDC, then I am gladly willing to explain in a friendly but stern while occasionally funny manner why it is clear their ideology is now lost, as well as to all IDists like @Agauger, and including other sympathisers of ID here. Be welcome to defend ‘Intelligent Design’ as a strictly scientific theory if we can agree first on terms.

As to the curious reference of camels and humps, please do show us “the trick of actually doing it” beyond the domains of Discovery Institute & BioLogos Foundation thinking to something concretely identifiable by name. There is indeed a significant majority of people imho who won’t stand in or with either of those 2 vociferous organisations, though they feel no need to publicly speak against them and are rather waiting for some kind of resolution. Carving a space of open dialogue about that would build a mantle of more than just words that we would surely be blessed here to witness.

(Jon Garvey) #44

Here, then, we have a programmer, teleologically writing an algorithm that will produce the “life forms” at the time dictated by the algorithm. Added to that, we have a second teleological agent, the child, working freely within the parametric constraints of the programmer. In this case the outcome is, in effect, chosen by the child within the information set by the programmer, “If A, then print…”

The analogy in creation is that of a God who doesn’t mind the outcomes of agent-choice within a range of possibilities. He can’t (with this program) determine the exact outcomes after such free choices.

(Mark M Moore) #45

Well that is in the right ball-park except that a smart enough programmer can find a way to lead all the choices where he wants them in the end even if the way they got there varies. In addition, God is both programmer and user here. He is using His own code.

A caveat to that, but we get into the mysteries of the Trinity which I have not put to paper yet, is that at a certain point the “child” could be God the Son with a different perspective (but same nature) than He had as LOGOS.

(Jon Garvey) #46

If we limit free will to humans, there are several billion wills involved - so we seem to be back with the God who is constantly involved, which is the classical God of universal providence. The regular laws would just be the background against which he does interesting things.

Do cats have free will? Not in the sense of rational choice. But all animals make choices, especially those higher up the scale (but see Sy Garte’s latest blog), unless like Descartes one sees them as mere automata. If those choices are not strictly determined, then the “tinkerings” needed may approximate to the number of creatures and their daily decisions!

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #47

I totally agree. I hope we can find that way forward.


Yep. The basis of the Bad Design argument has deep roots. And those ideas are still held by many today (e.g. scd’s comment above).

The argument doesn’t work against ‘generic’ design, only against a very specific case which still appeals to many.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #49

There is a very repetitive quality to the debate.

I hope you’ve found some of the stuff we’ve been adding to be new. I was surprised that it was not championed by BioLogos.

She has a point @jongarvey. Instead of echoing of the language of ID, maybe we need a new way forward. Maybe help us with that on the ID front?

Except, as we have made clear, that type of design would be totally undetectable by science, and therefore would be useless to ID. So let’s not mix this up. ID is about defining scientifically detectable design. So showing how God could have designed, in a way that is not scientifically detectable, is not ID. It does defeat atheist arguments against design, but it does not make design a scientific theory.

This has been my point all along. God created us all; He designed us. Science, however, is blind to divine design.

(Jon Garvey) #50

You misunderstand me, Joshua. You asked me about Molinism, and my reply is that Molinism is nothing to do with chance, but simply is design. It has nothing to do with ID, and everything to do with the limited range of possible causes in the world - necessity, chance, design. God is under no necessity to create, and Molinism does not rescue ontological chance.


Is this the game you’re alluding to? Spore: “Someone had guided them at every turn, and that someone is You.”

(Mark M Moore) #52

Yes, that’s it @auntyevology !


Cool! :tada: Yeah, I’ve never played it. Others told me about it and I did a bit of research. One can watch videos following the choices that players make during course of the game as their creature ‘evolves/develops’ (or as they evolve/develop their creature, etc.). Ah, there’s the rub in the English language! :disappointed_relieved:

A demo of the game might make a good lesson at a certain age of school, if framed the right way pedagogically. What is or is not bad or good design; evolved or developed in the game? Then your arguments for this ‘guidance’ can be properly contextualised. Game design is a well-developed & active field of study. Play, well that is something else too (just ask a serious video gamer about ‘bad design’ - that’ll be a conversation!).

(Mark M Moore) #54

Yep because that is clearly intelligent design and creationism.

(George) #55

Is there any reason why you and I can’t have a long and happy association with the idea you describe in the text I quote for this posting?

The phrase, “All animals make choices”, is not exactly a problem resolver.

(George) #56

But @jongarvey

Didn’t you say this only a few hours ago?


Maybe the thing to do is to contrast this statement with what you argue FOR, yes?

(Jon Garvey) #57

I’m happy to agree on this post, but then your following one seems to upset the agreement again. Let’s see if we can resolve it.

My point is that occasional nudges (such as “special” occasions like the origin of life, the human mind, the KT asteroid etc) turn out in the light of the contingency of free choice to be insufficient for “frontloading” of laws to stay on course. In the light of human choices, at any rate, we’re talking more about a constant interaction between God and the world.

The animals I added to the mix simply to suggest it’s not purely a problem related to the presence of man - animals have far more limited choices than us, but there are an awful lot of them, and they were doing interestimng things throughout the world’s history.

My own position to contrast with the quote of your last post is that God is an active God, who governs his creation (as regards time) moment by moment - though of course, as regards eternity in one single act - that’s above our pay grade. In other words, nature is God’s instrument for activity in the world - it is what he does.

He provides a background of faithfulness and regularity which we call “laws”, and a foreground of creativity, wise government and - most importantly - loving care by his contingent choices, and where appropriate through and in response to the contingent choices of created beings.

Expanding the first category, ie regularity, there need be no less direct divine involvement, and certainly no less control, in the regularities of nature, but that regularity determines only of the broader picture. It’s just as you or I may always have breakfast at a certain time, by our direct action and choice, in order to provide stability to our day; or alternatively, we may set up some “secondary cause” to do regular tasks (a timer clock on the heating, for example).

Calling that regular occurrence a “law” gives no information whatsoever about how directly the person who makes the law is acting. Nor does it prevent the “lawmaker” from having breakfast at a different time occasionally, or manually overriding the heating timer. In God’s case, faithfulness is the key - we can rely on gravity, or the seasons - but life is still full of surprises.

What is more significant is not that we, or God, may alter our habits if we need to, but that the regularities in our lives are only the background to the really creative stuff we do: staff meetings are always at 10pm, but the agendas are always different.

Or, as a musician, I may get a drummer to set up a regular rhythm, and endlessly vary the improvisation or the melodies I play against it. And even in the latter case, I prefer to procure a live drummer to programming a drum machine, clever though they are.

Maybe this should be plugged into the “bad design” argument to stay on topic. However God creates - whether he should so so (against my scenario) entirely through regular laws, or entirely by personal action, or any combination - then it achieves his purposes. His purposes, however, are worked out within a perishable world, and that involves
(a) “design constraints” (for some reason jerry-built barnacles come to mind - mass production v overengineering applies to crustaceans as much as our products).
(b) The possibility that fallible secondary causes are involved after creation (such as Sy Garte’s organismal intelligence)
(c ) Everything’s subject to corruption, so that genes break, animals fall over etc.

Therefore we don’t expect to see some impossible perfection in this world - yet what is amazing is how much optimisation we do see, which I would attribute more to the ongoing wisdom and care of God than to the amazing powers of variation and natural selection/


Could you please clarify what the ‘that’ is that you are referring to? Does it relate to the evolved/developed distinction? Do you mean playing Spore is clearly a creationist or intelligent design kinda thing? I’m afraid I’m missing your meaning there.

(Mark M Moore) #59

I mean that that the resulting creatures in the game are the result of an “intelligent designer” (the player) making choices and intervening to produce a creature that the game’s “autopilot” might never come up with on its own.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #60

Except in the game, you can put it on auto pilot, and essentially end up with an identical solution in the end, with some inconsequential differences. Take two games. Run one with a person guiding everything. Then run another one in autopilot. There is no way to determine at the end which one was guided and which one was not. Sure, intelligent guidance was in one, but not the other. However, you cannot tell in the end if it was on autopilot or not.