Theological Premises in Design Arguments?

I think everyone in the origins debate is loosing traction because most people are tired of endless arguments. Even Ken Hams’ 15 minutes of fame with Bill Nye was short lived. The problem is that the internal debate between ID, YEC, OEC, and TE/EC is circular, contentious and does not capture anyones imagination.

Most people agree we need a better way forward.

I think that better way forward is to leave the old debates behind, and make peace. Instead of advocating answers, let’s engage the big questions.


I hope you are right, Joshua.

In principle, someone like Mike Behe and someone like Francis Collins should have a lot in common. Both are Christians who accept common descent, including a primate origin of the human body. But tribal allegiances, professional and religious, have mostly prevented any exploration of those commonalities.

The average American middle-of-the-road Christian, who doesn’t eat, sleep, drink and breath origins arguments (i.e., isn’t part of the 1% of 1% of Americans who frequent blog sites where origins are debated) looks at Behe, looks at Collins, and sees pretty much the same basic views, and says, “So what are TE and ID fighting about? Why don’t all the TEs just grant that the results of evolution are designed, and all the ID folks grant that common descent isn’t a religious problem, so the two groups can join hands to fight against atheists like Dawkins and Coyne?”

To the American with only a mild interest in the fine details of the science and the theology, it looks as if a good number of people are fighting out of pride, or for strategic purposes, etc., rather than maintaining any really important principled distinctions.

I agree that the strategic wrangling needs to be abandoned, and the big questions engaged, with open minds.


Hmm, never in my posts did I imply that Einstein is the one behind Noether’s theorem. If somehow my posts can be read to imply as such then I apologize.

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This is a more difficult statement to assess, but I think the answer is still no.

As @swamidass mentioned, the Earth is not a closed system (it receives energy from the Sun). But then you might counter by extending your system from the Earth to the Earth and the Sun. Is God limited in his creation on Earth by the total energy of the Sun?

The answer is no. Fiddling with the initial conditions, God can make the Sun as big or as small as He wants. Further, the Earth could be placed at a place and time in which arbitrarily larger energy sources are present.


This is an interesting statement, Eddie. I think a lot of postmodernists would agree with you that the definition of science is merely a social construct. However, I would guess that most actual scientists would not agree that it is merely an arbitrary social construct - rather, it is based on more objective, social-independent inputs from nature and science that we have slowly gathered over the years. So even if it seems unfair that design is ruled out by definition in contemporary science, it is not an arbitrary decision.

Who gets to define science? We’ve touched on this topic before. Again, I reiterate my viewpoint that scientists get to define science (simply by practicing it), and philosophers get only to analyze that definition. Similarly, historians get to define history, and theologians get to define theology.


I understand your frustration at this seeming inconsistency. I think part of it is that fundamentally, arguments about ID and whether they work have a philosophical bent to it that many scientists are not trained to recognize. Thus we have scientists attempting to refute ID by arguing that nature has “bad design”, which in my opinion is equally as misguided and confusing as ID arguments. So your misgivings are somewhat justified.

That being said, the nature of ID arguments are such that they justifiably lend themselves to this two-minded rhetoric. Firstly, this is because ID advocates often do bring forth scientific arguments asserting that evolution cannot explain certain feature X. Such claims can be engaged with in purely scientific terms, by showing that evolution can indeed plausibly explain X.

Secondly, scientists in principle are not opposed to the term “design” (or any new term, for that manner) as long as it is defined in a rigorous and measurable manner, which would make it a legitimate scientific question. However, in practice it turns out that the definitions of ID proponents are not rigorous enough for most scientists, which is why, for example, even after a very technical discussion, Josh concludes in his dialogue with ID theorist Eric that Algorithmic Specified Complexity is ultimately still a negative argument - “if we cannot adequately model a pattern it must be the work of an intelligence.”

It is at this point that the scientist critic of ID points out that ID is not legitimate science because it can’t define its concepts rigorously, despite the layers of sophisticated information theory that frame it. Thus this two-tracked criticism of ID is justified because a huge part of the dialogue is probing precise definitions, which is done at least in part by first attempting to engage with ID concepts assuming they are legitimate science.


It’s not an arcane theological disagreement, as cases like Dover showed. The ID view of the world (at least at the time) included gradually pushing ID into the classroom. Even if the official ID scholars didn’t exactly intend it to be done that way, many of their lay supporters did just that. Now, some Christians agree with this sort of politics, some do not. Thus it’s not just a fine theological disagreement but a proxy for differing views of how Christianity should interact with culture. People who are ID or YEC tend to view the scientific establishment with suspicion (by the very nature of their views), and might also have doubts about other topics like climate change, for example. People who are TE tend to be more trusting of scientists. Of course such disagreements have massive implications in terms of politics.


I was talking about the differences between ID and TE. The Dover Trial was not about the differences between ID and TE, but about whether or not ID was legitimate in the science classroom.

Actually, not so. Discovery public policy statements from before the beginning of the trial show that Discovery was opposed to mandating (your “pushing”) ID in the science classrooms. The Dover board was _mandating ID (well, in the end, only a four-paragraph statement about the existence of ID), against Discovery’s stated policy, and Discovery’s advice. All of this is well-documented in contemporary statements. (Don’t bother mentioning the Wedge document, which was a much earlier document, and was only an internal discussion paper, not Discovery’s public policy on science education at the time of the Dover trial.)

I can’t speak for YECs, but the ID people who aren’t YEC are onside with about 95% of consensus science in all fields. They differ over claims that evolution is an undirected process that required no design at any point, or over the claim that macroevolution from bacterium to man is irrefutable fact, as opposed to inference. As for climate change, Discovery has never had any policy on climate change that I’m aware of, and it’s outside of its range of concerns. However, there is a difference between “denying climate change is occurring” and “denying that Michael Mann has correctly modelled climate change” or “denying that Western countries should destroy their economies to meet stricter emissions standards while China and India can pump out carbon dioxide as much as they like” – which is what the Kyoto accord allowed, and what many of the left-wing climate scientists were pushing, leaning on their authority as scientists (as if a Ph.D. in climatology qualified them to make judgments on complex questions of economics or global politics). These three very different propositions were as a political tactic deliberately confounded in the the rhetoric of many AGW defenders, and that was the sore point for me. But don’t get me going on climate change – you’ll regret it! :slight_smile:

Anyhow, you missed the main point of the passage you quoted. The point was that the average Christian in the pews sees that both Behe and Collins are Christians, both think God is Creator, and both accept macroevolution, but then sees BioLogos tearing down Behe in column after column. (It was before your time, I’m sure, but Behe was regularly savaged by a number of different BioLogos columnists, regular and guest, for a couple of years running, under the regime of Falk and Giberson.) So the average Christian wonders, why are the two camps not working together against Dawkins, Krauss, Coyne, etc.? Why are they tearing at each other over technical matters of the exact probability of multiple random mutations, etc., when there are far greater dragons to slay, e.g., that the number of Americans in the “atheist/agnostic/none” religious category is steadily rising?

I would bet that the average Christian in the pews who accepts evolution also believes that the evolutionary process was either supernaturally twigged or intelligently designed to produce God-desired incomes. So to them, all this infighting over nuances is ridiculous. Behe, Denton, Sternberg, Collins, Haarsma – why aren’t they fighting on the same team? That’s how it looks to religious moderates who don’t engage in internet debates on origins 24/7. The partisanship looks petty, ridiculous, and destructive to overall Christian goals. That’s what I was saying. I wasn’t defending ID against TE, or defending the Dover school board, or anything of the sort, just making a sociological comment on the difference between the way “origins geeks” look at these issues, and the way everyday Christians in the churches look at them.

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But already your distinction between “scientist” and “philosopher” dates only from the mid-nineteenth century – precisely the period when the anti-design prejudice hardened! And the relation between those two things isn’t accidental.

But do I expect the typical reductionist biologist to change his conception of science? Of course not; I’m not that socially naive. But I can continue to point that there are some certified biologists with wider, richer intellectual conceptions of both “nature” and “science,” whose books are well worth reading.

Why fight against atheists like Dawkins and Coyne? Why not join them? We are all for Dr. Collins work at NIH. Dawkins and Coyne are helping science education through TIES and NCSE. Dawkins’ Science and Reason society is for human rights in Islamic countries. There is a lot of secular groups working in the human fights areas that Christians should be working with. But in this polarized society it seems like it is the Fundamental and Evangelist Christians who are the impediments to the work of secular humanism.

Daniel is right. The millennials have moved on. It is the new generation of scientists who are making the advances that will extend and make better our lives. This origins question philosophical debate adds nothing to solving today’s problems with today’s science, reasoning and technology.

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Eddie, it is 2018, move on already. We need to work on Today’s problems with today’s science, reasoning, and human empathy.


I understand that. I’m aware that DI people claim that that Dover was never their intention in the first place. As I said in my original post, I’m referring more to the lay supporters of ID, not the scholars or official leaders - the “average Christian in the pews” you are talking about. And it’s true, I think, that the type of average Christian who tends to support ID tends to be more in favor of having it taught in the classroom (or other forms of creationism). Isn’t that how Dover happened in the first place?

Yes, Eddie, I’m referring not to the DI, but the average profile of people who are sympathetic to its claims. I would also say that people are not as simplistically pragmatic as you think! Among some Christian circles, unfortunately, there seems to be the presumption that “scientists are godless” or “scientists are trying to disprove God.” (I read an account from a professor at a Christian college somewhere who discovered such views among half of his freshmen students, but unable to dig it up right now.) Even if they claim to respect the scientific method, they distrust the community of scientists, who are admittedly more secular than the rest of the American population. This contributes a lot into determining whether you choose to be YEC/ID or TE. This explains why there are movies like God’s Not Dead, which some folks think is a fine movie, while others wince at it!

:smile: That’s clever! But you should know what I’m talking about. This is not something you can get out of by using technicalities. It is a sociological question, as you pointed out. Even if you point out that the distinction is ultimately circular, you can judge who is a scientist or philosopher by looking at the whole picture. Even if they dabble in design detection, are they also doing regular, non-controversial science that is accepted by the rest of the scientific community? Do they have other research projects and ideas as being discussed in the accepted scientific journals? And I would say that only some of the major ID proponents - perhaps Behe, Gauger, Sternberg, that I know of - can possibly qualify for that designation, if at all. In contrast, TEs like Collins are not defined by their being a TE - he is director of the NIH and led the HGP. There is no question that Collins is doing science. This is why it is way more credible to the outside world when Collins, as opposed to Meyer or even Behe, says that science does not disprove God.

This is why, even just from a purely sociological perspective, I believe that the ID camp lacks sufficient scientific clout to get to redefine scientific practice. Of course, you can argue that everyone lost their way in the mid-19th century and unfairly kicked out design arguments out of science. But I tend to believe that truth should win out in the long run - and in 150 years, scientists have become more successful in doing whatever they wanted to do (whether it includes detecting design or not), not less.


Oh, probably quite true. The Dover board couldn’t have cared two hoots about ID as such; their testimony showed they didn’t understand ID (or Darwin, for that matter). They only wanted to use the label ID to sneak some religion into science class. ID was for them a tool; the Pandas book was a creationist book relabelled as an ID book.

But of course, as I’ve already said, this whole culture-war battle is totally avoidable; biology is compulsory in ninth grade, and the evolution unit is only 2-3 weeks long. Simply move that evolution unit out of ninth grade into a non-compulsory upper-year biology course, and the culture-war battle over evolution in the schools ends immediately. No parents will give a hoot if evolution is taught in a biology class that is optional. And evolution could be taught in a much more sophisticated way in a higher grade, anyway. Millions upon millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money would be saved by ending legal battles; thousands upon thousands of hours of administrative time dealing with these issues would be a thing of the past. But of course, nobody thinks of anything that simple. Everyone seems to have a vested interested in continuing the war.

I agree with your second point, about the destructive polarization. But again, you are focusing on YEC and very conservative churches. I was talking about more mainstream Christian churches, where evolution isn’t considered the idea of the Devil. In such churches, the non-origins-geek would look at Behe-ID and Collins-TE and not see much difference. There is no reason why those two camps can’t work together on some issues. Yet to my knowledge, there has never been a public debate in the USA where Behe and Collins, or Denton and Haarsma, squared off against Coyne and PZ Myers. Why not?

I don’t have time to go into more detail, but always remember that when I talk about ID in a theoretical context, I’m not talking about the culture-war stuff, the behavior of Discovery columnists in ENV, etc. On a theoretical level, ID is neutral on “evolution” but argues for design. On a theoretical level, TE is firm on evolution, and agrees that God exists. If you use minimal definitions of ID and TE, they can be combined.

It’s only if you start adding additional requirements to either camp, that things get messed up. Some TEs say design isn’t detectable. But that isn’t inherent to the definition of TE; Asa Gray certainly didn’t hold it, nor did anyone else, until modern ASA-TE came along about 20 years ago. And the no-evolution requirement of YECs isn’t required by ID, either. So if you keep only the core ideas, you can combine ID and TE: God created the world; he created it through evolution; evolution is a designed process to achieve certain results; and some evidence of the design is found in nature.

The people who make the trouble are the people who insist on the non-essentials. The average middle-class churchgoer in a moderate Methodist church probably has no problem accepting a blend such as I’ve described above. But BioLogos and the YECs block out the possibility of blending, by their unnecessary stipulations.

I wasn’t using a technicality; I was making a deadly serious point to do with the history and philosophy of science.

Remember that I came to my conclusions about design in nature long before I ever heard of “ID” or BioLogos or the ASA etc. My thoughts on design, the nature of science, etc. are the result of years of serious academic study at the doctoral level and beyond in the areas of religion and science, philosophy of science, history of science (not to mention a crammed-full program of high school math and science and some university math and science as well) – all in a secular university setting. If I had never heard of ID, BioLogos, etc., I would still think the same things about nature, science, etc. So my “defense” of ID is completely separate from my defense of teleology in nature, the possibility of design inferences in science, etc.

Do ID folks have publications in science not related to ID? Yes. Behe has about 36 peer-reviewed articles on biochemistry (more, incidentally, than Applegate, Falk, Venema and Giberson combined, which makes it more than a little irritating when they preach to Behe on what “real science” requires – maybe if they had produced a little more real science themselves, their lectures would have more weight). Even Ken Miller admitted Behe’s biochemistry papers were up to standard. Sternberg has about a dozen papers on invertebrate anatomy and evolution. Gauger has some published papers even outside of BioComplexity, but I don’t know them offhand. I believe that Carolyn Crocker had several journal articles as well. I think Scott Minnich has many papers on knockout experiments. I know physicist David Snoke published an article with Behe, and I think he has several others in physics journals. Of course, John Sanford was a Cornell geneticist with something like 40 botanical patents, and many research papers. Granville Sewell has published papers, though in mathematics rather than natural science. Dembski, Marks, and others have many publications in computer science, engineering, probability theory, etc Even Wells and Meyer have at least one peer-reviewed paper each. Denton, in addition to his many books, published many articles in cancer genetics.

I admit that Collins is a more famous scientist than any of the ID people, and obviously this “rep” gives him a certain clout. But when you look at his “science does not disprove God” argument, it’s quite different from Behe’s. Collins does not show positive evidence for God from the arrangements of biological nature; Behe’s argument tries to show positive evidence for a designer (whom Behe believes to be God) from the arrangements of biological nature. Collins argues that the facts of living nature don’t disprove God; Behe argues that they actually point to (maybe not prove, but strongly point to) God. Collins’s understanding of biology leaves room for belief in God, but doesn’t provide any reason for believing in God (unless one has “the eyes of faith”), Behe’s understanding of biology gives reason (not proof, but at least reason) for believing in God (even if only as an abstract Designer). So actually, for a certain kind of reader – one not already convinced of God on revelational grounds (as Collins is) – Behe’s arguments are more helpful. They play the role that the arguments of Greek philosophers played for some early Christians, who were led from Greek philosophy to Biblical faith. I’m not saying Collins’s approach has no value, but it won’t work for everyone. That’s why it’s good to have more than one approach.

I wouldn’t want scientists to change their practice to please ID proponents. As I’ve already indicated, outside of ID, there has always been a tradition in science (suppressed after Darwin) of allowing design arguments. I see the ID folks as just one of a number of groups and individuals who are trying to broaden our conception of life, organisms, evolution, nature, and science. Some want to reintroduce design. Others want to reintroduce vitalism (in qualified form, e.g., Scott Turner who is not ID). Others want to reintroduce “Lamarckianism” (in a way, Shapiro, who is also not ID). I’m not insisting on any of these options. I just want scientists to be less intellectually narrow and provincial. The knee-jerk reaction of the biological establishment to anything outside of a blinkered, mechanical reductionism is not healthy. I highly recommend J. Scott Turner’s new book to you. It’s very good on the history of evolutionary thought, the history of vitalist ideas, the idea of homeostasis, and other matters which are important to understanding living things. And it’s accessible to non-biologists, for the most part.

I too, believe that truth will win out – where opinion is free, expression is free, and scientists of proven accomplishment aren’t banished to Siberia – or demonized as plotting a theocratic takeover of America – for considering forbidden theoretical options.

And now I must go. Thanks again.


Not true. The entire ninth grade biology is evolutionary science based. The entire year. Then in most high school advanced Biology and AP Biology is offered which is a second year course in evolutionary science.

See Ken Miller’s 2019 textbook that I posted.

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Those mainstream Christian Churches are evaporating, aging out. Won’t exist soon.

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This is no longer important in the increasingly secular society we live in now. There are real issues and problems to be solved and this isn’t one of them.

The average middle-class churchgoers in a moderate Methodist church died and was buried last week. The church is being converted to a restaurant/bar.


FFRF is fighting everyday to make sure that this don’t happen in the United States. :sunglasses:

It’s not required by ID, and as you pointed out, the majority of ID advocates accept some form of evolution or even common descent. But a lot of the rhetoric in ID is “anti-Darwinism”, which for the conservative Christian public translates to anti-evolutionism. We can see an example happening right here in this forum - see the views of Greg in Welcome Greg to the Forum. He seems to be a YEC but is also sympathetic to ID. I have met quite a number of Christians like Greg before. They form a substantial part of the support base for ID.

You are astute in pointing out that many of the regular Biologos columnists are not famous scientists either. I agree that the ID camp contains more qualified people than the YEC camp, for example. But in that context I was also referring to the legions of non-Christian scientists of various backgrounds that all reject ID.

If you read Collins carefully it’s clear why. Collins and Behe both share the same conclusion - that God exists, but they have very different, in fact opposing methods of how to argue that conclusion (or not argue, as you’ve pointed out for the case of Collins). Francis’ counter-arguments against Coyne would be mutually exclusive to Behe’s, so it would be very awkward for them to be on the same team. In fact Behe would be a liability to Collins in a debate against the New Atheists because they would keep emphasizing that Behe’s arguments are bad science, which Collins would agree with.

I get what you’re saying, as there are some examples of people (such as Anthony Flew) who abandoned strict atheism after reading design arguments. But I can also see this working both ways, especially if ID has such a bad rep among the scientific community. (Much worse rep than many other fringe ideas, partially also due to its past political entanglements.) It could discredit Christianity instead.

Thanks. I will keep it in my reading list.

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