Tim's comments on What if Evolution is Compatible with Design After All?

It would be very handy if Dr. Kojonen would mention and describe some of these “laws of form”. It would in fact be handy if he would mention biological examples to illustrate, and thereby clarify, any of his vague claims. But that is apparently not his style.



Sorry to hear you found that patronizing! I was hoping that some counter-criticism could help slightly improve the quality of the feedback here, not just regarding my work, but also any other scholar. But it seems this attempt failed once again.

And I actually did notice that you wrote those before getting access to the book! It just does not make a difference in my view. If I had written a public critique of someone’s argument and only got access to their book later (for some weird reason - typically I would read the book before criticizing), one of the first things I would do is to check if the author takes my criticism into account. If they did, I would see it as my responsibility to publicly revise my previous critique, in the interest of fair representation. Even if I did not find their response convincing, I would write something along the lines of “to his credit, Tim himself develops this same critique, and then responds to it as follows”. Usually my goal would be to try to summarize an argument in terms that (hopefully) the author themselves can recognize, and then offer the critique after that. But it’s ok if your goals are different - and I also do not have that much more time to spend on this discussion anyway.

I guess many of the posters here see me as a theologian intruding on the territory of science, and so see it as their responsibility to defend science against such intrusions. Maybe that explains the hostile tone of much of the discussion, and the lack of interest in reading the material. Hostile to the extent that even the clarification of cross-discipline terminological confusion can be interpreted as a creationist tactic, and high quality philosophy articles are called akin to output of the postmodernism generator :slight_smile: . However, it seems clear that evaluating the issue of the compatibility of evolution and design is not limited to just biology, but is actually mainly a philosophical and theological issue, while it does require engagement with science. And in those realms I do have relevant training and publications, whereas most biologists are non-experts.


I can understand this wish - but unfortunately the focus of this article was on the philosophy and theology, with only some references illustrating the science. I’ve given a few more references in this thread, and Tim has also mentioned some names of the people I cite. Hopefully we can get an article focusing just on the science in the future, but we will see. The dismissal of philosophical articles is sad to see, however. Claims about lack of evidence for design, the poor quality of design as an explanation, and the idea of evolution as overturning biological design arguments are also philosophical in nature, after all. So we do need to do serious philosophical work to evaluate them.

John made a very simple, straightforward request, that is in addition highly relevant to making this a more productive discussion.

I am having a very difficult time understanding why you couldn’t just answer him. But rather than explain why you didn’t answer, I think everyone here would prefer that you simply did answer. Is that unreasonable?

No. We see you as a person who has written an article rife with errors and unsupported assertions and who has swallowed the many lies and misrepresentations of ID proponents without taking the minimal efforts that would be expected of a scholar to determine whether the ID claims were actually defensible. And who, moreover, has so far shown no ability or inclination to respond meaningfully to valid criticisms.

You still have the opportunity to change that, of course.



What’s the valid criticisms that I missed, or the rife errors in the article? I have not seen such yet in the comments so far - except for the criticism that perhaps an article focusing on science would have been more interesting for many in this crowd.

What would be your definition of “minimal efforts that would be expected of a scholar to determine whether the ID claims were actually defensible”, and what’s your basis for concluding that I have not done that?

Perhaps you could elaborate on these in the main thread, so that we do not split the discussion too much. I should try to keep out of this one, I guess.

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Then you probably should have said so.

Then you probably shouldn’t have explicitly told us to look at Glass (and Wahlberg) for your argument:

For readers who just want to understand the basic argument, the papers by David Glass9 (Ulster University) and Mats Wahlberg10 (Umeå University) provide good commentary on the structure of the argument. Glass’ paper focuses on the issue of conjunctive explanations, whereas Wahlberg focuses on the philosophy of religion and the problem of evil. Zachary Ardern’s introduction also provides a good overview of the discussion.11

I would also point out that the fact you spent somewhere in excess of two and a half thousand words without actually articulating your own argument would seem both excessive and confusing:

I might not even have bothered reading Glass’s article at all, if I hadn’t posted about its existence in response to John. I likewise found your essay to be less-than-informative, and tend to make ‘signal-to-noise’ evaluations on whether to read further. Glass added a further five to six thousand words. Now I’m apparently expected to read an entire 234-page book? No thank you.

You also appear to misunderstand the episodic nature of a forum thread. We don’t tend to go back and heavily revise old posts. If we think that we have something more to add, then we would post a follow-up. However, I wasn’t even looking for that section – I simply stumbled upon it while looking for something else (I can’t now remember what), read it, found it neither compelling, nor particularly interesting, so I went back to what I was looking for.

Finally, I would point out that I’m not some university post-doc paid to read books like yours. This is on my own time, and their is no compulsion on me to spend any significant time preparing a response to an articulation of your argument that appeared simply longer and more convoluted without being appreciably better.

No, I would suggest that your problem is that you have come to this forum, with a preponderance of biologists, to talk about a claim related to the core theory in biology, but failed in your essay to engage the biological aspects of your claim, and appear to have had minimal engagement with biology beyond what ID has exposed you to.


You said that biologists “talk about” what you termed “laws of form”, but seem unable to provide either the ‘terminology’ that biologists themselves use to describe it, or to describe the meaning of this term to biologists. This merits very well-earned skepticism.

I would also ask that, if we are indeed dealing with “cross-discipline terminological confusion”, what discipline uses the term “laws of form”, and can you please provide us with some examples of its use?

I would suggest that in order to make such an ‘evaluation’, you first need an accurate appreciation of what evolution is, which (i) is a purely scientific issue, and (ii) is NOT something that can be gained via a group of anti-evolution polemicists, such as the Intelligent Design movement.

Then you have woefully misread your audience. [For the avoidance of doubt, by “your audience”, I meant an audience made up of a preponderance of biologists.]

The “names” I’ve mentioned aren’t anything close to sufficient to allow a reader to discern what you mean by “laws of form” – particularly as the ones I’ve read give no indication of proposing any biological law at all!

Lacking any apparent scientific grounding for your philosophising, it is hardly surprising. It renders your claims untethered.


The Intelligent Design movement has no existence except in reference to (and opposition to) the scientific field of Evolutionary Biology. This can be seen from (i) the frequency of their books having “Darwin” or “Evolution” in their title, and (ii) the fact that the majority of their arguments are arguments against the sufficiency of evolution to explain the observed biodiversity.

It is the idea of design that is attempting to overturn 160 years of scientific research on evolution, not the other way around.

Therefore all this is primarily an argument about science. And, as I have said before, you cannot have an argument about science without first accurately characterising the science you are arguing about. Which nobody here appears to think you have done.

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I cannot believe you actually wrote this.

Imagine someone wrote a scholarly article in which he cited Holocaust deniers and Flat-Earthers as primary sources. Moreover, he treated them as legitimate scholarly sources and, while mentioning some of the people who have corrected their lies and misrepresentations, dismissed the latter as mere “critics.”

Would you say such a person had made the effort that one should expect of a scholar to determine whether the claims made by the Holocaust deniers and Flat-Earthers were legitimate? I wouldn’t.


The design argument long predates the ID movement though, and the argument as I’ve defended it does not need to overturn any science - I thought this at least would have been clearly stated in the articles you’ve read? I am happy to agree that accurately characterizing science is important, but so far I am puzzled at what the mischaracterization would be.

The focus on the term “laws of form” might explain it is one of the few claims of mischaracterization proposed. I did not use this term in the PS article, since I figured it would need further explanation, but it was used by David Glass and in my book, so it’s understandable that people are interested. I will add a short further explanation to the main thread. I suspect John wanted a more extensive explanation than this though, since what I write is, I think, already apparent from the previous comments in the thread. That will have to wait for the future.

I wish you had answered the questions! For me it makes no difference to the legitimacy of arguments whether someone is called a “critic” or not. It should be clearly indicated what is the mainstream position though, and peer reviewed scholarly publications should be given more weight. I don’t know if you noticed, but in the book the assumption actually is that mainstream evolutionary biology is correct, and that ID’s critique of evolutionary explanations is wrong. I do treat ID proponents’ arguments respectfully though, and I do reference the results of some of their peer reviewed publications, like Axe’s frequency of functional proteins and Denton’s arguments for structuralism in Nature and the Journal of Theoretical Biology. I also reference responses to both arguments.

That’s your mistake right there.

And did you miss the criticisms made here of that paper? If so, I suggest you look thru the discussion and respond as you see fit.

I’ve read that, and if I recall the contents of that discussion correctly, I make some of the same points on generalizability and evolvability in the book. I also point to other estimates with different results than Axe. However, I did not critically evaluate Axe’s methodology deeper than that in the book - happy to leave that to the scientists. Nothing in the book depends on Axe’s estimate anyway, so there was no need to go in depth on that paper.

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Why include it at all?

The point of asking about the science was precisely to clarify the philosophical claims, because I simply don’t understand what your thesis is. It perhaps is clearly stated somewhere in your book, which I have no access to, but it hasn’t been clearly stated in your article or in either of the articles by others you appeal to for explanation. It’s possible that I’m just too stupid to comprehend, but shouldn’t you then try extra hard to help me?

I wanted an explanation, period, with examples that clarify the meaning. It should be clear from all the previous comments that what you write is by no means clear. Or perhaps everyone else is, like me, too stupid to comprehend a clearly stated claim.

I quote this purely for the irony.


Part of the point of that section is to discuss ways in which some responses to ID arguments (in defense of mainstream evolutionary explanations) reveal something about the preconditions of evolution, even seem to point to a kind of fine tuning. I could not argue this without citing ID arguments and the responses to them. Plus, although I realize that peer review is not a guarantee of quality, Axe’s paper is nevertheless a much discussed peer reviewed paper focused on the topic at hand - I do not want to dismiss such studies lightly, without even citing them. I would rather just counter them with other peer reviewed studies.

Is it? How often is it discussed by anyone other than ID propagandists and those trying to counter the claims of those propaganidists?

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The discussion between ID proponents and counter-proponents is what I was referring to - it has made the paper pretty famous with people who are interested in design arguments.

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I don’t think anonymous non-academic atheists are, precisely, his audience. He is speaking to philosophers and theologians.


I didn’t state that it didn’t. However “the design argument” had been largely moribund since the time of William Paley’s time until the IDM dusted it off when they launched their movement, with expolcitly anti-evolution polemics such as Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and Darwin on Trial.

No it merely “need[s]” for the acceptance of ID arguments that are regarded as discredited by the scientific community.

Your argument for your “conjunctive explanation” relies on the insufficiency of evolution alone.

For this purported insufficiency you rely on ID’s discredited arguments.

Therefore without those discredited arguments, your own argument folds like a house of cards.

Then you clearly weren’t reading what I had written:

A quick look at your book’s table of contents would reveal your entire Section 4.2 as an obvious example (subsections being “The Conservation of Information”, “Irreducible Complexity” and “Protein Evolution”, for those who don’t have it to hand).

Given that you failed to explicate your argument in your “PS article”, but instead directed us to Glass for it, then yes it almost certainly was going to come up.

The fact that you are claiming that “biologists increasingly talk of” something, when no biologist here seems to have any idea of what you are talking about, is problematical in the extreme.

I will note that you have failed to answer my question:

If you cannot even explain what it is that “biologists increasingly talk of” to a biologist, then I would suggest that your entire “Laws of Form and Convergence” section likewise collapses like a house of cards.

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In responding to @John_Harshman, Kojonan writes:

I find this to be a problematic argument. A reductio ad absurdum relies on showing that the opposite scenario leads to absurdity or contradiction. This is not clear here.

Firstly, your claimed “absurdity” itself relies upon an absurd hypothetical.

Secondly, your hypothetical does not in fact rule out non-divine explanations, such as a hallucination, or a very high-tech trickster – so it fails to demonstrate that that, even if we accept your absurd hypothetical, the result is an absurdity.

Finally, even if we accept it is an absurdity, this would only require a minor alteration to the contention:

… to read:

God explains anything equally well and equally poorly, except for something that only the existence of God could possibly explain (acknowledging that it may be impossible to specify such a thing, even hypothetically).

It is however unclear that this caveat has any real world implications, so it can probably be omitted for the purpose of brevity.


On further reflection, it occurs to me that a tighter formulation might be:

An explanation that explains anything equally well is inferior to any other possible explanation. (With the corollary that the explains-anything explanation should only be accepted if all other explanations are irrefutably impossible.)

This of course leaves out the possibility that you have more than one explains-everything explanation. Reformulating for this case:

All explanations that explains anything equally well is inferior to any other possible explanation. (However, if all other explanations are impossible, we are now in a quandary as to which explains-anything explanation to accept.)

I would hasten to add that both of these formulations are equivalent to @John_Harshman’s in real life situations, the reformulation is merely to nail down avoidance of the reductio ad absurdum accusation.

Further Addendum:

On still further reflection John’s formulation does not in fact fall into the reductio ad absurdum trap. He does not state that an explanation that “explains anything equally well” is an invalid explanation, merely a ‘poor’ explanation – and you would still accept a poor explanation, by default, if it was the only possible explanation you have left. At best my reformulations merely make this (perhaps) clearer.