Theological Premises in Design Arguments?

I have yet to see a design argument that does not include theological premises. Every one I have looked at is burdened with theological premises.


Examples, please, Joshua, from the books I mentioned, with page numbers indicating where the theological premises are inserted into the scientific discussion in such a way as to be essential to the argument for design?

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Do you know what a tacit premise is? Or an unstated presupposition? Do you know how to identify them?

You are adept at identifying tacit assumption when scrutinizing TE/EC, so I imagine you can do the same when scrutinizing ID. I can also give you quotes too, there has been some egregious slips too where the presuppositions are stated explicitly, even though they are usually implicit.

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Yes, having read many of the key books by the major philosophers in the history of Western thought, I think I have a pretty good idea of what a tacit premise is.

Would you care to identify the “tacit premises” in the books I mentioned, with page numbers showing where the adoption of such premises is crucial to the design arguments being made at those points?

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Try this first @eddie?

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The antecedent of “this” is unclear to me, so I don’t know what you are asking me.

Are you asking me to look for tacit theological premises in ID books?

If so, why is the onus on me? I’m not the one who made the claim that such premises are there.

In any case, I haven’t found any tacit theological premises in the ID books that I mentioned. If you have found any, you can point them out.

Yup that’s it.

Asking you to think about ID critically alongside me, so this isn’t adversarial.

“Thinking about ID critically” is very broad. We were discussing a very narrow specific claim, i.e, that ID argument is filled with tacit theological premises. I’m quite willing to “think critically” about this question. But the starting-point has to be why you asserted the claim in the first place. What tacit theological premises have you found in ID arguments, and where are some sample passages where I can see these tacit theological premises in action? I’m unaware of any.

Of course ID people have theological opinions, commitments, biases, etc., as do most people. But my original remark to George was that these aren’t made use of in their arguments for design. I named three books (I could have named many more) in which I had seen no theological premises used to come to the design conclusion. Behe is Roman Catholic and doesn’t conceal it, but there isn’t a shred of Roman Catholic teaching in his arguments for irreducible complexity in Darwin’s Black Box. And there is nothing specifically Southern Baptist about Dembski’s mathematical arguments in No Free Lunch. Even more general Christian assumptions such as the Apostle’s Creed or the Trinity aren’t relied upon in ID arguments, as far as I can see. But if you have seen hidden religious premises that their arguments depend on, you are free to point them out to me. All I ask is that you give me particular passages from particular ID books, so I can look them up, and try to follow your argument.

And that is where I disagree, and I’m inviting you to look at this non-adversarially with me.

How can I look at it with you, when you haven’t yet given me a single text to look at?

This is an awfully long preamble to a discussion, Joshua. Can’t we get to the substance? I’ve already indicated that I’m willing to consider with an open mind any possibilities of tacit theological premises. So where do you see these premises?

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Look at the paper referenced here. Winston Ewert: The Dependency Graph of Life

Do you see any important theological claims implied, though not directly stated?

This is a long and technical paper, out of my normal field of study, and it would take me at least an hour to read the paper carefully. You are suggesting to me that if I read it carefully, I would find important theological claims implied?

Well, that might be, but I don’t have an hour to read the paper now – I’m desperately trying to get ready for a course I have to teach that starts in a few days. That is why I invited you to select some ID writings that I already know fairly well, and can find my way around in easily – not one published only a month ago that I never laid eyes on until tonight!

A superficial skim of the article reveals no occurrences of the words “God”, “Bible”, “Christianity”, “Incarnation”, “Trinity”, “Redemption”, etc. Nor do there appear to be any references to theologians or Bible verses. There could of course be theological claims in there somewhere. But it would save a great deal of time if you would simply point out a few pages on which you think theological claims are implied, and the phrases on those pages that ring alarm bells for you, so that I know what you are driving at. Otherwise, you are going to have to wait a few weeks for my reply – and even after I find time to read the thing carefully, I may come up blank, and we may be no further ahead. So why not speed things along and tell me where you think the implicit theology is? If I think you are right, I’ll admit it.

And please note your original claim:

You were suggesting that design arguments all throughout ID literature include theological premises. So even if you can show that Ewert’s article has theological premises, you are still a long way from establishing your larger claim. I could concede, if you showed me evidence, that Ewert’s article contained such premises, but that would not be adequate to justify your broad claim. Eventually, you would have to go over the ID writings I mentioned, and show me where the theology was.

I"m saying if you skim it for less than 5 minutes it should be obvious the theological premise.

I still am suggesting this. Though I entirely agree with you that they are not usually explicit. There is no reference to the Bible or theological terms.

Not really. All I have to do is show you some examples of what I mean, and then you can try providing an example that does not fit that pattern.

I did that. I saw no theology at all. I saw a dry technical article of a scientific character. I have actually read many articles in BioComplexity over the years, and this one struck me as no different from the others in this respect. Maybe on a close reading I might start to see some implicit theological content.

I think you are eventually going to have to abandon this this “I’ve got something in the palm of my hand, and you have to guess what it is” approach – which is certainly not the approach we use in academic discussions in humanities or theology – and simply state what you think the theological premise is, and where it can be found.

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So, one premise, is that God designed us (and all life) in a manner similar to how humans design things.

This premise may or may not be correct, that is beside the point. We can talk about that later, after we establish the existence of the premise first.

Moreover, I entirely agree that he makes no reference to God in the paper, just “design.” I agree. God is a separate question not considered by ID. Outside his ID work @Winston_Ewert would agree that the Intelligent Designer is God, and that it is God’s way of designing that is being discussed in his paper. For that reason, a theological premise underlying his work is that God designed us in a manner that is meaningfully (even quantitatively!) similar to how humans write software code.

This is a theological premise which may or may not be true. It is certainly theological, and it is also tacit. It is not explicitly mentioned in his paper, but it is implied.

Could it be stated that Winston is making a theological interpretation to a scientific claim outside the paper but not inside?

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Almost. I’m not sure he is “making” the interpretation in any public way, though I think we can be certain that this is his personal view. He is a Christian, who personally means God when he discusses the Intelligent Designer of life. That does not make his claims any more or less valid, and they are not actually established yet.

I would say, more precisely, he is has a theological premise not stated in his paper that is none the less visible in his paper.

I think we are using the word “premise” differently.

I read Winston’s article as an attempt to build up a design model, in contrast with the standard non-design approach. I see him as asking: “How would nested hierarchies etc. be explained on a design model?”

In other words, he doesn’t ask his readers to take for granted that a designing God, or even a designer of any kind, exists. He merely invites them to consider whether, if such a designer existed, the facts (nested hierarchies, etc.) could be adequately explained.

So I would not call “God designed us and all life in a manner similar to how human beings design things” a premise of his article.

By premise, I mean what is meant in logic, i.e, something taken for granted or admitted as an uncontestable fact in a particular argument. For example, in the classical model:

Major Premise: All Men Are Mortal.
Minor Premise: Socrates is a Man.
Conclusion: Socrates is Mortal.

In the argument, the major premise is taken for granted, and then the minor premise is admitted as factual, and then the conclusion is drawn.

Where does Winston ask all his readers to grant, as a starting point, that God exists, and designed all life in the way that humans design things? If he doesn’t insist that his readers grant that, then I wouldn’t call it a “premise”. I’d call it “a possibility to be entertained for the purpose of presenting an alternative explanation of nested hierarchies etc.”

If Winston can show – and I’m not saying he does show – that nested hierarchies or any other feature of living things can be explained equally well on the hypothesis of design as on the hypothesis of blind searches conducted by variation, mutation, etc. – then he shows that the design hypothesis is plausible. I don’t see how that amounts to laying down the idea of a designing God as a premise.

We may be simply disagreeing over vocabulary here.

Let me give an example, to make clear what I mean: If someone showed tomorrow that the entire story of Jesus was a fraud, that no such person as Jesus ever existed, then Christianity would be utterly falsified. But in that case, not one line of biochemical or probability theory argument in Darwin’s Black Box or No Free Lunch would have to be changed. At no point is accepting the truth of Christianity required of the reader by Dembski or Behe; no step in their arguments stands or falls on the truth or falsehood of Christianity. The truth of Christianity is not a premise in the ID arguments of Behe and Dembski. In fact, not even the existence of a Designer is a premise; rather, it’s a conclusion.

Again, I suspect the problem is differing uses of the word “premise.”

That is likely. Whatever we call it, the “notion” that God’s design is similar enough to human design is a theological “notion”. That “notion” deserves engagement, scrutiny, defense, and critique. There are several more “notions” like this that are implicitly everywhere in ID, and occasionally explicit.

Some of them I might agree with, but others I disagree. It would be valuable to list them out and find the right term for them, so we can discuss them.


OK, now I have one example of what you were talking about. It would have been more efficient if you had just stated it earlier. :slight_smile:

I haven’t read Winston’s article closely, so I won’t agree or disagree regarding what Winston implies about God’s design vs. human design. But it would be easy enough for you to invite him here to discuss that very question: “Does your article imply a close similarity between divine and human design?”

Regarding the others I mentioned, it seems to me that their basic argument is that unguided causes have only limited creative capacity, and that blind search, even polished by natural selection, is not credible as an explanation of all biological complexity; hence, the design inference is warranted. I don’t really see how any assumption about the nature of God is needed here. The full characterization of source of the design is not really part of the argument. The question whether the Designer has a mind exactly like ours or only in some respects like ours is not one the ID folks think they need to settle.

So the question is, even if ID folks, in their private religious thoughts as Christians, assume something about the nature of God’s mind, does that assumption come into their arguments in such a way that their arguments for design depend on their characterization of God’s mind?

If you think that is the case, that would leave it as your task – or the task of anyone who thinks ID arguments require theological assumptions – to show exactly where in the arguments the theological content is being smuggled in. And you are of course welcome to do that.

If ID folks argued from the top down, i.e., if they started from the assumption that God has a mind exactly like ours, and then reasoned that therefore his design must be detectable, and from there reasoned that the methods we use to detect design in human cases will definitely reveal what God was thinking, and from there moved on to consider the bacterial flagellum etc. – I would be more concerned. But since they argue from the bottom up, starting from facts of nature, i.e., “unguided forces and processes have never been known to produce such integrated complexity–therefore some design was involved–therefore some sort of designing mind is implied, and such a mind might well be the God spoken of in religious traditions”, I’m less concerned.

That’s all the time I can spend on this one – must get back to my lecture preparation.