Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Lying Liars Lies

Casey Luskin's lips are moving again.

This time he is claiming that Intelligent Design Creationism is not merely a negative argument and accusing Ken Miller of "misrepresenting" (i.e. lying about) its nature. I'll summarize his "positive" arguments (with the sources he gives: Michael Behe, Scott Minnich and Stephen Meyer:

"[W]e recognize design by the purposeful arrangement of parts" and "parts appear arranged to serve a purpose" (Behe); "irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role ... we regard it as an inference to the best explanation, given what we know about the powers of intelligent (sic) as opposed to strictly natural or material causes" (Minnich and Meyer); and "experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source from a mind or personal agent" (Meyer). (Emphasis added)
In addition, Luskin assets: "ID proponents have made it clear that ID appeals to an intelligent cause, and necessarily not to a supernatural one."

Let's take a closer look at these. What is a "purposeful" arrangement of parts? What about the arrangements of the parts of a water molecule? Water is a highly unique "system" in our world with a number of properties that are not found in most substances. It exists in three different states (gaseous, liquid and solid) within a very narrow range of temperatures; it expands when both heated and cooled; it is a near universal solvent; and it is absolutely necessary for all living things. Moreover, it is irreducibly complex. Remove any part of the molecule and it is no longer water and does not serve the "purpose" of sustaining life. But does observational experience demonstrate that intelligent design or engineering invariably plays a role in water formation? Thus, we have a ubiquitous example of an irreducibly complex part of our world that needs no intelligent design or engineering to explain it (unless, of course, everything must be explained by design, in which case design is no "explanation" at all).

Furthermore, all these arguments boil down to an argument from analogy: we see things we know are designed have some traits, therefore everything with similar traits must be designed. As we have already seen, the analogy breaks down because it depends on a subjective determination of "purpose." Furthermore, it is nothing but warmed-over William Paley, who was refuted before he even wrote his more honestly entitled book, Natural Theology, because the analogy of living things to human designs is not nearly close enough to be persuasive. Even as we start to "engineer" life, it will be based on our learning about what life already was, which has never resembled what we have engineered before.

As to the claim that ID is not appealing necessarily to a supernatural agent, not only is Wilkins' epistemological hat in serious danger, but if there is a potentially natural "Designer," why does Casey (and Of Pandas and People before him) then assert that the nature and abilities of the intelligent agent is unanswerable by science must be left to religion and philosophy?

That last part is the final nail in the coffin of ID as science. Even when science does make an inference to the best explanation (which has its own philosophical problems), the last thing science does is then throw up its hands and say that's all we can do. When Darwin made an inference to the best explanation he fully expected the scientific community to go on testing it relentlessly, as he himself kept doing. (Allen MacNeill has a nice example of this in the way we have gone on testing the hypothesis that whales evolved from Artiodactyls, with no end of testing in sight.)

The fact that ID advocates try to protect their "inference" from further testing is more than enough reason to say that it is not science. That's why they have to try to change the definition of science in support of a "broadly theistic understanding of nature." The failure of its "positive" evidence to bear the scientific weight of the claims made for it renders the whole of ID nothing more than an attempt to use empiric facts about the world (such as the complexity of the blood clotting cascade) as a negative argument against evolution.

All the smoke and mirrors in the world cannot hide that fact.

What sort of thing is "intelligently designed", and what sort of thing is not?

When does (or did) "intelligent design" take place, and when did it stop?

Who, Where, Why, and How?

In a little more detail:

Does "intelligent design" result in a new individual, or an organ (or function), or a whole lineage of individuals, or space/time plus matter and energy, or a functioning ecological system, or What?

Did "intelligent design" take place over a short period of time some thousands of years ago, or over an extended time some hundreds of millions of years ago, or is it still taking place today, - When?

Does "intelligent design" make use of previously existing material, within the limitations of natural regularities and the laws of physics and chemistry, or is it "ex nihilo" ("from nothing"), or How?

Is there some reason that humans were "intelligently designed" to be so much more like chimps and other apes than they are like insects or octopuses? Why is there a "tree of life"? Why are there no mermaids, rocs, or intelligent potatoes?

Is there anyone in the "intelligent design" movement who is the least bit interested in questions like these, or interested in anything other than convincing school children and politicians?

Tom S.
unless, of course, everything must be explained by design, in which case design is no "explanation" at all

I can't remember exactly when, but in a thread at UD a while back, Dembski was again asserting that "evolutionary information" can only be purchased by it being added from sources outside of an organism (or however IDers usually express that). When asked if the environment wouldn't be one of those sources, Dembski retorted a not so rhetorical: and who made the environment, then?

So, design IS everything.
As far as "design is everything", I can understand that a creationist would be compelled to say that everything is created.

But there are two reservations on that.

The one is that it need apply only to real things. Imaginary beings, like a unicorn or a four-sided triangle, are exempt.

The other is that it need not apply to abstract entities, concepts, or collectives, like a "kind", And I would suggest that as long as each individual human is a creature of God, there is no necessity that the species Homo sapiens be a creature of God.

Yet I am not aware of anything, imaginary, abstract, or impossible, that has been suggested as an example of not being designed.

Come to think of it, aren't the imaginary, abstract, and impossible most clearly intelligently designed?
It's real individuals that are the most problematic in that category.

Tom S.
IDers such as Meyers and Luskin are on very weak grounds when they assert that an inference to the best explanation can support claims of supernatural design. Peter Lipton, the late Cambridge philosopher who most fully developed this particular inference and wrote the minor classic "Inference to the Best Explanation" is quite clear on the distinction between inferring human design and supernatural design.

You may see Lipton's response to the question "Is it scientifically conceivable that the existence of a designer and of things having come about purposefully as opposed to randomly could ever be deduced from available or putative evidence?" at
There is an amusing bit in a set of 10 questions Jonathan Wells has come up with to confuse students (and, he hopes, teachers) that PZ is dealing with:

The rules of science are not written in stone. They have been negotiated over many centuries as science (formerly called "natural philosophy") has tried to understand the natural world. These rules have changed in the past and they will change in the future. Right now much of the scientific community is bewitched by a view of science called methodological naturalism, which says that science may only offer naturalistic explanations. Science seeks to understand nature. If intelligent causes operate in nature, then methodological naturalism must not be used to rule them out.

But wait a minute! Isn't intelligence in humans and other animals a naturalistic explanation of events? When we hunt a murderer do we call the means and motives of the murder "supernatural"? If not, then the natural "designer" ID does not rule out would be a naturalistic explanation not ruled out by methodological naturalism. So where are the research programs by IDers to find the naturalistic designer? The DI's slip is showing by assuming that intelligence of the "designer" is non-natural.
Hawks commented

I can't remember exactly when, but in a thread at UD a while back, Dembski was again asserting that "evolutionary information" can only be purchased by it being added from sources outside of an organism (or however IDers usually express that). When asked if the environment wouldn't be one of those sources, Dembski retorted a not so rhetorical: and who made the environment, then?

See here at Good Math, Bad Math for a recent discussion of that claim of Dembski's.
Good points John, especially about the water molecule. Did the designer design everything? Is each snowflake individually designed? When you look at an individual grain of sand, was it designed? When you look at a blade of grass, does it say “made by God?” The laws of chemistry can hold together a water molecule without God?

Why is there only evidence of “God” in the complex? If it were not for a few biologists that found that the inter-working of a cell had a motorboat, we might not have discovered God at all. I guess the designer did not want to be discovered.

Did the designer design some things, and the rest happened by laws of geology and biology, and yes *cough* evolution?
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