intelligent –design Creationism

Posted: October 10, 2006 in Intelligent Design

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In this month’s ‘Scientific American’ Magazine, there is an article by professional sceptic Michael Shermer subtitled ‘Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution’.It seems strange that Shermer should put Christians and conservatives together as if every Conservative is a Christian and every Christian a conservative-if only people would fit into our neat little boxes –life would be so much simpler.

Using stereotypes within the context of a debate is one way to cloud the issue and avoid the facts,leading over time to entrenchment and no way forward. Why would anyone want to avoid the facts? Progress is not served.

Shermer writes:

The watchmaker God of intelligent-design creationism is delimited to being a garage tinkerer piecing together life out of available parts This God is just a genetic engineer slightly more advanced than we are’.

I cannot find any reason why he would write this, I have been a Christian for over 20 years and I have never come upon anyone who thinks God made us from available parts like a kind of scrapheap challenge for the Divine.God is the author of all that exists –with the exception of nothing.

Where is God delimited within the precepts of either intelligent design or creationism?Intelligent design states one thing only –that design can be detected as a cause like chance and contingency. Detecting design as a cause says nothing and can say nothing about the designer .

The limited definition of ID makes it appealing to those of various faiths and those with none. Although the majority of adherents to ID have a faith.To say adherents have a faith is risking  stereotyping.

Creationism however, generally holds to the literal truth of the Biblical account of our origins –again nowhere in the Bible is God described as borrowing or not borrowing from other parts.Shermer perhaps is thinking about homology and morphological similarities between species.One other observation from Shermer is his use of the term ‘intelligent –design Creationism’, it seems he’s confused or he’s constrained by stereotypes .Its a common tactic to see the detection of design in nature as creationism. Not all proponents of ID support creationism.

Terms can be used in a political, psychological and sociological manner, in the same way as many tabloid newspaper headlines, provide propaganda for the ruling philosophical ideology.Stereotypes demonise opponents, associate one group with another.The primary source for Creationists is the Bible, science is a subservient secondary source (subservience does not imply contradiction) –therefore opponents of ID theory, characterise Id theorists as not interested in science either. ID is not science or has no rational component. Guilty by association.

However ID limits itself to methodical naturalism,where as creationism has no obligation to do so. When these tactics of propaganda are used it shows how unsophisticated the argument is.

Stephen Meyer writing in the telegraph said

…ID is not based on religion, but on scientific discoveries and our experience of cause and effect, the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. Unlike creationism, ID is an inference from biological data.Even so, ID may provide support for theistic belief. But that is not grounds for dismissing it. Those who do, confuse the evidence for the theory with its possible implications. Many astrophysicists initially rejected the Big Bang theory because it seemed to point the need for a transcendent cause of the matter, space and time. But science eventually accepted it because the evidence strongly supports it.’

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Comments
  1. marco says:

    Evidence for ID? The world is still waiting. Continental drift and plate tectonics were dismissed when first proposed. They gained acceptance through accumulating enough evidence. The originators of these ideas didn’t hire a PR firm to gain admittance to the public school curriculum. They didn’t pressure lawmakers to pass laws to “teach the controversy”. ID has no timeline, no coherent mechanism and no predictive power. It is not science until they do science. Until then it remains a political and social movement.

  2. themaiden says:

    Mike, Hello Again.

    I’m not thrilled with Shermer’s article either, perhaps for reasons different from yours. However, I would defend, in a limited way, the idea that God is delimited within the precepts of intelligent design and/or creationism. Well, at least I think I can tell you where he got the idea.

    But first, you are right too, in a very big way. There isn’t anything limiting of God embedded in creationism or in ID. However, there are several lines of reasoning employed by creationists/IDists on an almost kneejerk basis that can lead one to the idea that God is a tinkerer. For example, if asked why a strech of DNA can be traced backward in time through species after species, or if asked why different species share so much genetic material given that they were divinely and individually created, the typical response is that “God decided to reuse bits and pieces rather than reinvent the wheel.” It isn’t hard to see how close this response is to saying that God made us “from available parts like a kind of scrapheap challenge for the Divine.”

  3. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi Marco –thanks for visiting,
    Thanks for dropping by the blog again Themaiden.

    Marco I agree that ultimately, finally you cannot have science that is not available to be tested.
    Without eventual testing you end up with pseudo science, a possible current example is string theory. There is a distinction to be made between empirical research and theoretical research, the process from theoretical concept to tested empirical research takes time, sometimes a long time.
    Albert Szent-Gyorgi said:’ Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought’.
    In regard to ID there’s no doubt the resolution needs to increased through research.
    Eugenie Scott who possibly needs no introduction has said:
    ‘I congratulate Steve Meyer and his colleagues because they are at least attempting to come up with some sort of positive arguments for intelligent design. My personal opinion and that of most others is that they haven’t succeeded They may yet. If they do succeed, then they have a right to be taught (in the public school science classroom).’
    What theory has a timeline? This is not a business plan.
    I believe ID is science even at this early stage in its development-As Dr Behe states ‘Science in its broadest sense is an unrestricted search for the truth’.
    Because the data is being examined through a different set of eyes namely the filter of ID then new data will be generated.
    Is it for the Science community to proclaim on what is science, couldn’t that be seen as a sociological method of censorship, ID is based on physical data and inference –sounds like science to me.
    Themaiden I agree with you,
    the tinkering God can be seen in homologies and gene motifs.
    It reminds me of the latest ‘Horizon’ program on BBC TV entitled ‘Chimps are people too’ the premise was based on the fact that Chimps share a genetic similarity with us of 99.4% .
    The focus was on similarity only –it was biased. No one said well 0.6% of 30,000 are 180 genes which are transcribed in two different directions involving feedback loops and posttranslational influences and cascades; it is quite probable that many of the other genes are used in different ways. Also how do we have a measure of similarity, I think we are genetically 50% similar to bananas?!?
    My point is that homologies do not necessarily point to a Scrapheap styled God; there is more to the story.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  4. marco says:

    Howdy Mike,

    ID would have to explain more than the theory it is trying to supplant. What I mean by a time line is the inablility if ID to explain the historical observations of the fossil record. Whatever your feeling about common descent it is obvious there have been major changes through time. Despite the Discovery Institute’s protestations to the contrary I don’t believe you can posit design without knowing something about how and especially when something was “designed”. It seems to me that you would need to have multiple design events that closely mimic the accepted evolutionary timeline to account for the fossil record. That seems rather useless to me. An unknown designer using an unknown mechanism to create an unknown lifeform at an unknown time does not have the makings of a coherent scientific theory.

    marco

  5. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi Marco,
    I m not too sure that ID has to explain the fossil record- I’ll leave that to Darwinian evolution, of course the Darwinian explanation will depend on your stance, either a gradualist or a saltationist – described by Dawkins thus:
    “Saltationists believe that large-scale mutations that render living things dramatically different from their progenitors — called “macromutations” — can cause “major jumps in evolution” The saltationist point of view is a reaction to the lack of intermediates in the fossil record.
    Literally all ID does is state that design is inferred and seek to solidify that inference with evidence.
    Borrowing from ResearchID.org:
    ‘Intelligent design seeks to find natural objects that contain the same final conditions, or physical histories, as objects that science knows were intelligently designed, based upon our observation of intelligent agency in the natural world.’
    I’m not too sure I understand what ID has to explain when its only stated premise is that design in nature can be detected and accounts for the complexity that molecular biology has uncovered.
    In terms of common descent I’m undecided, I certainly think the issue is more complex than the polemic we are offered so far either we were descendants of each other or we weren’t.
    You said:’…don’t believe you can posit design without knowing something about how and especially when something was “designed”.’
    Detecting design does not require information about how something was design or when. For instance the ubiquitous flint arrowheads that are everywhere where I live in the UK -it is accepted that the shape denotes design and function because the edges of these arrowheads are razor sharp, however I not aware if anyone can tell if that arrow head was made yesterday or 10,000 years ago.
    You said:
    ‘An unknown designer using an unknown mechanism to create an unknown life form at an unknown time does not have the makings of a coherent scientific theory.’
    Not knowing the full story –that a theory seeks to describe should not stop the theory from going ahead –afterall the Big Bang continues in full health as a theory yet no one knows what the first cause of the singularity was.
    Thanks for your comments Marco
    Cheers,
    Mike

  6. John says:

    “I cannot find any reason why he would write this, I have been a Christian for over 20 years and I have never come upon anyone who thinks God made us from available parts like a kind of scrapheap challenge for the Divine.”

    But that’s the only rational conclusion you can reach when you look deeply into the NATURE of biological complexity. Most proteins are clearly mishmashes of domains. The same parts get reused in truly amazing ways. An omnipotent designer would never be limited in this way.

    But to see this, you have to get way down deep in the data. If the inference of design is so obvious, why do the two actual scientists (meaning ones who have produced original work on their own) who embrace ID work on bacterial motility and histones, systems that are clearly, in any informed biological sense, really simple?

    Why aren’t people in signal transduction or vertebrate embryology embracing ID? They deal with orders of magnitude greater complexity than Behe ever did. If complexity is the convincer, why do those who deal with the highest levels of complexity not embrace ID?

  7. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi John,
    Thanks for dropping by.
    I agree with you parts are reused, as I said further up in my comment to themaiden.
    You said: ‘An omnipotent designer would never be limited in this way.’
    This of course is a theological argument, I wouldn’t presume to say what an omnipotent God would or wouldn’t do.
    While I am no theologian, I do believe the Judeao-Christian consensus considers, while God is omnipotent, he has limited himself voluntarily by his promises. So omnipotent character doesn’t necessarily mean omnipotent in practice.
    There are always several ways to view issues, for instance Carl Sagan saw Earth as an irrelevant pale blue dot in a vast limitless cosmos –indicating our insignificance. The other way of seeing Earths status is through our apparent unique character as demonstrated by the fact that so far intelligent life and habitable locations seems rare, our location is highly specified for our habitation.
    So this rarity highlights our unique and precious status.
    The same could be true of our scrapeheap design, reusing parts and yet producing the diversity in function and design we see, could indicate a master craftsman.
    Placing more spin on the issue –it could be construed that Gods methods are more visible through reusing parts –yet another way God demonstrates his character through Nature?
    John you said:
    ‘Why aren’t people in signal transduction or vertebrate embryology embracing ID? They deal with orders of magnitude greater complexity than Behe ever did. If complexity is the convincer, why do those who deal with the highest levels of complexity not embrace ID?’
    Firstly, how do you know what people in a specific field think about ID? I haven’t seen any surveys of vertebrate embryologists or those researching signal transduction regarding ID.
    Secondly, unless engaged in this debate, most people just immerse themselves in research and it’s enough to keep up with developments.
    Thirdly, ID is more than ‘its complex so God dun it!’
    ID seeks characterise design and then look to if those characteristics are found in nature.
    It is a dissatisfaction with the notion of: Random mutation + Natural selection + time = observed complexity.
    Plus the increasing complexity, coordination and interrelationship of parts, information fidelity to name a few characteristics that have emerged since Darwin penned the ‘Origin of species’
    I am like you amazed that people do not embrace ID when the orders of complexity and design that are present in the cell for instance are revealed.
    I guess dominating –over arching ideas, like propaganda are difficult to acknowledge never mind stand against?
    Cheers John,
    Mike

  8. John says:

    Mike, you wrote:
    “This of course is a theological argument, I wouldn’t presume to say what an omnipotent God would or wouldn’t do.”

    No, it’s not a theological argument. It’s a statement about the mechanism by which biological diversity has been generated, whether it be by RM+NS, drift, etc. or by design.

    Your dodge won’t work.

    “While I am no theologian, I do believe the Judeao-Christian consensus considers, while God is omnipotent, he has limited himself voluntarily by his promises.”

    What promises did He make about complex, multidomain proteins?

    “The other way of seeing Earths status is through our apparent unique character as demonstrated by the fact that so far intelligent life and habitable locations seems rare, our location is highly specified for our habitation.”

    Isn’t that a perfectly circular argument?

    “So this rarity highlights our unique and precious status.
    The same could be true of our scrapeheap design, reusing parts and yet producing the diversity in function and design we see, could indicate a master craftsman.”

    But there really isn’t a lot of diversity in function and design. You don’t see that, because you have no interest in looking at actual biology.

    “Placing more spin on the issue –it could be construed that Gods methods are more visible through reusing parts –yet another way God demonstrates his character through Nature?”

    God is a skinflint Scotsman?

    “Firstly, how do you know what people in a specific field think about ID?”

    Because I know people in those fields.

    “I haven’t seen any surveys of vertebrate embryologists or those researching signal transduction regarding ID.”

    Why wouldn’t a survey of the scientific literature in those fields be sufficient?

    “Secondly, unless engaged in this debate, most people just immerse themselves in research and it’s enough to keep up with developments.”

    Ah, you made my point for me. You don’t keep up with developments in those fields, do you?

    If the debate doesn’t have anything to do with developments (i.e., new data), can it possibly be a scientific one?

    “Thirdly, ID is more than ‘its complex so God dun it!’”

    That’s all it looks like to me. Why haven’t any ID proponents used an ID hypothesis to produce a single new datum in the decades it’s been around?

    “ID seeks characterise design and then look to if those characteristics are found in nature.”

    Then it’s not science. Look up at the beginning, Mike–you REFUSED to characterize the design of complex, multidomain proteins. You bailed and called it a theological matter.

    “It is a dissatisfaction with the notion of: Random mutation + Natural selection + time = observed complexity.”

    As modern evolutionary theory is much more than that, I’d agree with you, but call you on your misrepresentation.

    What do you think of drift, for example?

    “Plus the increasing complexity, coordination and interrelationship of parts, information fidelity to name a few characteristics that have emerged since Darwin penned the ‘Origin of species’”

    Why don’t the people who work on those things embrace ID? Why did Mike Behe STOP doing science when he embraced ID?

    “I am like you amazed that people do not embrace ID when the orders of complexity and design that are present in the cell for instance are revealed.”

    But you don’t want to look at the NATURE of the complexity, Mike. Your evasiveness speaks volumes.

    “I guess dominating –over arching ideas, like propaganda are difficult to acknowledge never mind stand against?”

    Not in science! Overturning dogma is the route to fame.

  9. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi John,
    Thanks for your post and observations.
    You said:
    ‘No, it’s not a theological argument. It’s a statement about the mechanism by which biological diversity has been generated, whether it be by RM+NS, drift, etc. or by design.’
    Since theology is the study of God any thoughts about how God might act have to be within the bounds of theology not exclusively, but certainly within that sphere of study.
    Secondly I’m not denying RM + NS or genetic drift –I’m also not denying design as an answer to the information content and complexity we see.
    John I’m NOT trying to dodge anything, I’m trying to understand the origin and nature of complexity that molecular biology since the 50’s is uncovering. A complexity that lead Francis Crick to conclude that life could not have evolved by chance and dumb luck and so he proposed the panspermia theory.
    You said:
    ‘”While I am no theologian, I do believe the Judeao-Christian consensus considers, while God is omnipotent, he has limited himself voluntarily by his promises.”
    What promises did He make about complex, multidomain proteins?’

    What I was trying to explain was that while God was omnipotent he was limiting himself according to the Judaeo-Christian belief through his promises –promises found within the Bible.
    Your original point, as I read it, was that God wouldn’t reuse parts, as he is omnipotent. I’m saying that omnipotent in ability doesn’t mean necessarily omnipotent in practice.
    He has limited himself voluntarily, not just through promises but how he has acted through history, according the Biblical account.
    As far as I am aware God didn’t make any specific promises about Protein domains or genetic motifs–no promises means no limitations, all methods are available including those we see.
    You said:
    ‘But there really isn’t a lot of diversity in function and design. You don’t see that, because you have no interest in looking at actual biology.’
    John I disagree (although it depends on what you mean by ‘a lot’); there is diversity within species nether mind between species. I grant you that some functions are common, as most organisms have the same type of jobs to be done, this all depends at what resolution this is looked at. For instance my liver and the flame cell of H.Microstoma are vastly different but have a similar function.
    You have no way of knowing what I am interested in looking at.
    You said:’ God is a skinflint Scotsman?’
    God may be vastly more than a skinflint Scotsman –but he did make the skinflint Scotsman.
    John you said:’ Firstly, how do you know what people in a specific field think about ID? Because I know people in those fields. I haven’t seen any surveys of vertebrate embryologists or those researching signal transduction regarding ID. Why wouldn’t a survey of the scientific literature in those fields be sufficient?’
    John, you may know more people than I do in a specific filed of molecular biology, the areas that I studied were Parasitology and neurology (at postgraduate level) .who I do and do not know will not alter the debate. This doesn’t threaten the theory of intelligent design –historically arguments from authority have a chequered history.

    John you said:
    ’What do you think of drift, for example?’
    Well I have no problem with it after all it explains inbreeding within small populations. And how Genetic populations ebb and flow from generation to generation. Whenever there is a new type of mutation it has a great chance to be lost due to genetic drift. Only if the mutation is dominant and has a very distinct benefit does selection have any reasonable chance to rescue any given new mutation from random elimination via drift.
    John you said:’ But you don’t want to look at the NATURE of the complexity, Mike. Your evasiveness speaks volumes.’
    I have this blog John to have this important debate, to refine my ideas –I’m not too sure I can be accused of being evasive?
    John you said:’ …Overturning dogma is the route to fame.
    No fame is not what we should be after, truth is the goal, anyway dogmas are not overturned they are replaced!
    Sorry I can’t reply to every comment, Time…as the Talking heads used to sing..Has beaten us.
    Cheers,
    Mike

    The stereotype of a fully rational and objective ‘scientific method,’ with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots, is self-serving mythology.” Stephen Jay Gould, “In the Mind of the Beholder,” Natural History 103 (February 1994): 14, 14-23.

  10. edarrell says:

    Why would anyone who understands biology embrace ID? Sure, there are orders of complexity that Darwin did not imagine. But none of them suggest that the complexity cannot be understood to arise from natural processes.

    Complexity alone doesn’t speak to non-natural ID — only complexity that can’t develop naturally could do that.

    And, while we’re at it, please remember that complexity usually is an attribute of poor design. Better designed things are more simple, not more complex. Don’t confuse God with Rube Goldberg.

  11. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi edarrell,
    thanks for your comments.
    You said:’Why would anyone who understands biology embrace ID?’
    Simply because Blind chance/dumb luck doesn’t cut it for me.It doesn’t explain the Origin of Life,it doesn’t explain the information explosion at the burgess shale,it doesn’t explain the lack of intermediate fossil forms, for instance where are Hallucigenia sparsa’s intermediate forms?Where did it come from and where did it go ?
    If we find that livings things can do more than we thought,which is the case(witness Darwins jelly cell as exhibit A) does this mean it is more likely that they came about by natural means independent of design?
    My experience tells me no.
    I know of nothing at all that has anywhere near as much information content,has as much functional complexity and specification as we see in living systems,that has arrived through chance.
    You said:’…that complexity usually is an attribute of poor design. Better designed things are more simple, not more complex. Don’t confuse God with Rube Goldberg.’
    I agree with you,By the way I haven’t mentioned God or rube Goldberg,if Rube had a beard I might have confused the two.
    I tend to think the Complexity we see is neccessary for the range of responses an organism must make in order to survive, for instance the number of SOS type error correction systems seen in Bacteria.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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