On Instantiation

On BioLogos I was challenged yesterday to describe in strictly biological obama-fishyterms how new information got into lifeforms during the Cambrian. There seems no particularly apposite reason for this personal challenge, apart from the inference that I have apparently “outed” myself as a doctrinaire IDist by buying a book by an ID author (as did several BioLogos writers in reviewing Stephen Meyer’s book, of course). But who knows the real reason? People committed to identifying one with some stereotype are to the academic study of ideologies what Joe McCarthy was to the discipline of political science. However, in point of fact the question, whilst entirely misconstruing the nature of information and its instantiation, is a useful one to address broadly, so I’ll skip the start of the Dembski series for another day or so to look at it.

Start from my viewpoint as a theistic evolutionist, and the BioLogos position that “evolution is the means God uses to create,” which is not unreasonable once clearly restricted to “new forms of life”. Let us suppose some specific intended outcome: again I’ll quote from BioLogos to say “God fully intended mankind.” We then have the formula:

God intends mankind -> God creates through evolution -> mankind exists.

thumbs_evolution-of-man-pollutionThroughout this process, teleology and form are central. To intend is to form an idea and a purpose, that is to design. To create is to confer form and function (by definition) to actualize that idea. And what constitutes mankind’s existence is nothing but his form, understood as the whole of his nature, structural and functional. That form can be usefully conceived as “in-form-ation” in the modern sense, so that just as that informational design of man was conceived in God’s mind, it is instantiated in material reality.

Notice that we have no need, from a theistic viewpoint, to ask any questions at all about the evolutionary process to say that God has designed mankind – as soon as the word “creation” is invoked in relation to man, man himself is the information represented in God’s intention. Logic 101. Accidents and downstream-errors aside (eg sin) God intended specifically what mankind actually is, and man was created by nothing other than God’s specific will, evolution being a mere instrument.

Point #2: Information is a non-material entity, and so it is even in principle impossible to describe its instantiation in terms of materialistic biology. It’s just a meaningless demand. This post is a direct parallel: believing that I wrote it, and reading it on your screen, you see the fact of the design and the intention before your eyes, though you can only guess at how my thoughts arrived on your screen. Even if you could watch me typing, you could only describe in physical terms how I typed various letters on a keyboard, and not how they came to make sense. Meaning comes only from your reading of the finished product (or at best, of sentences appearing as you look over my shoulder). But even with no idea whether I typed it, dictated it or wrote it longhand and handed it to my intelligent labrador to type up, you know it’s a post by Jon Garvey or a passable imitator thereof.

snoopy-freelance-writerIn fact, you would understand its meaning in English even if you found it in a wastebin with no name on it. You might say that does not parallel the ID claim to identify design in nature, but that’s not the challenge I was given and I see no reason to defend a position I don’t occupy (though I think there are some intriguing arguments for attributing teleology/design that we may get to later).

Let’s go back to the Cambrian (would that we could – it would be easier to write this!). What, biologically, would I expect to see in terms of instantiation of information? On the assumption that evolution was proceeding, I would expect to see phenotypes becoming modified by whatever processes evolution uses, whether those be restricted to the generally accepted ones of mutation, selection and drift, or the rather more interesting, teleological and probably saltational changes I expect to become more accepted in future years. And I would recognise that information in exactly the same way I recognise it in humans – by their overall form, and in the details of that form in terms of morphology, behaviour, genotype, epigenotype etc.

The unusual thing would probably be the rate at which those changes were happening, for everybody agrees that the principle of uniformity seems to have been suspended somewhat at that time. It might well be that God showed his hand by pulling off tricks that would stretch the credulity of the naturalist – genome duplications a-gogo, several thousand new orfan genes per generation or whatever. But for the most part what I would expect to see is a difference in the probability distributions of the various apparently random mechanisms like mutation. Mutation rates higher, higher fixation rates, more new genes from drifting sequences – that sort of thing.

And here I will jump the gun by drawing on Dembski the mathematical probability scholar, even though I thought to postpone it to another day. He has long believed that all randomness is simply orderly change whose patterns we haven’t understood yet, and I agree that is eminently plausible. The only random numbers we can generate artificially (apart from recording series of quantum events) are produced by mathematical algorithms – and so are definitionally non-random. When the criminals crack the pattern, a new algorithm has to be written. Even those quantum events, by showing a predictable probability distribution, reveal themselves to be ordered – and what other truly and finally stochastic processes are actually admitted in science?

indexIllustration: the flip of a coin decides the soccer kickoff randomly, right? No: a binary choice like a coin toss has a probability distribution, tending towards 50:50, set by the design of the coin and the accepted technique of the toss. By designing a rule of accepting the decision of just one toss, you have artificially randomized an ultimately determinist event.

Dembski points to an even more relevant example. Writing a post like this, in English, is an entirely intentional affair, though I have given no thought whatsoever to the frequency of the various letters. In that sense it’s a random English text. But a mindless program measuring the letter frequency, occurrency of diphthongs etc, could reliably output the conclusion that (given a designed semantic text) it was in English. It could identify any language in the same way. The “random” probability distribution of letters was, in fact, indicative of my conscious decision (admittedly from limited alternatives) to write a thoroughly designed text in my native English, itself the product of many human choices.

Dembski even suggests that all “chance” probability distributions reflect either God’s design of the universe or his customary ways of imparting information to it – and if we agree with the Bible’s teaching that God is sovereign over chance, why would that not be so? The alternative is that there is a god called “Randomness” outside God’s control, and how would it set its probability curves? And dualism isn’t Christianity, right? However, then, God might tweak things to produce the Cambrian Explosion, what one would see is in all likelihood just a modified set of random probability distributions.

I should add that this is making the assumption that God didn’t work miraculously, though the reasons why he would not don’t hold much water on close examination – usually the integrity and dignity of nature are invoked, but one doesn’t hear much about the water at Cana complaining that it was coerced into becoming wine! If it’s wrong for God to “coerce” a sponge into becoming a mollusc, I trust that as a good Christian you’ll never make a clam into a chowder again.

I think I’ve answered the challenge on BioLogos as far as one could, based on theological presuppositions and general scientific principles, without the benefit of a time machine. I don’t even think it was that difficult, or inordinately controversial if one has started from the TE principle that God created life-forms through evolution. I have, of course, avoided the false dichotomy between “natural” and “divine”, because it doesn’t really mean anything in a theistic universe – it’s a division belonging to deism and materialism.

But what about that question of proving design apart from theistic presuppositions? I’ve said before, and say again now, that in the end design cannot ever be unequivocally distinguished from randomness if your wordview predisposes you to prefer randomness. There is no guarantee that in reading this, you’re not reading a random string produced by machine noise (all such sequences having equal probability), even if your letter-distribution algorithm claims it’s in English.

The only criterion, in the end, is your human assessment of the plausibility that you would understand it as you do if there were no mind at my end. As IDist sociologist Steve Fuller said, we detect design because there is a genuine continuity between the Creator’s design and our own, since we are made in his image. Which is as good a self-contained grounds for confidence as the fact that we can do science because we reflect our Creator’s rationality and sense of beauty.

Inevitably, then, it would be a probablistic, rather than an empirically verifiable, judgement. Now to me, seeing probability curves distorted during the Cambrian (if that’s what happened), without some sign of an obvious material explanation, would put me in mind of the Creator’s word of power being pronounced rather differently from usual. A materialist would insist there were hidden variables requiring more research.

The harder case to explain would be the believer who insisted on hidden material variables, lest one posit a God of the gaps. But to me there are no gaps and never were – it’s God all the way down anyway. Isn’t that what Christianity is about? “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.”


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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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37 Responses to On Instantiation

  1. Avatar photo GD says:

    Hi Jon,

    Reading your column and the various opinions, especially those of Eddie at BioLogos, portrays an interesting notion of design and IDM within the wider context of “How God went about, and has, creating His creation….”

    I say interesting but also controversial (obviously). Theologically we can start with the obvious, e.g.

    Ps 5 Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.

    Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    Thus I would not agree that we can know what God thought let alone how he went about creating. I understand that ID does not explicitly claim this, nor you and Eddie. I agree that we can maintain a coherent view by coming from our conclusion that is grounded in our belief that God is the creator. I am also of the view that looking at the wonderful patterns (such as the bonding of carbon atoms in a diamond, and relating this to a beautiful diamond, and then how this adds to a larger form we would equate with beauty – my example in BioLogos) would be inspiring to mathematicians and scientists in general. Here we may argue that form has added to form, but only within our own outlook. The diamond was not designed necessarily for the purpose of enhancing the beauty of the woman used in this example, but we would all agree that it does enhance or add in our eyes.

    Likewise I can understand how people who deal with information theory, AI, and such, would view DNA and associated bio-entities as magnificent ways of dealing with what they understand as information. But would our ideas of design, information, and form enhance our understanding of what and how God does this or that?

    You say, “To intend is to form an idea and a purpose, that is to design. To create is to confer form and function (by definition) to actualize that idea.”

    The meaning of intend is within a temporal context – I or you would ‘have’ an intention, and this may then be associated with an action – this must be followed by a judgement on our part that the intent and act have actualised correctly – otherwise our judgement is that we have erred. This meaning of intent cannot be ascribed to the divine. I can add comments on the usual meaning of design, in that we would consider a series of ideas and possible outcomes before we would conclude that the design is to be such.

    I will conclude this lengthy discussion by saying; we would find it very difficult to coherently discuss how God thinks and does when we venture into scientific areas/discussions. This is especially difficult when we consider information and intelligence – in this respect id people are correct in avoiding discussion of a source for their idea of intelligent design.

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for commenting GD.

    Your points are general, but it maybe worth replying to/building from some specifics.

    My approach to both TE and ID basically is concerned with denials of your theological axioms. TE for example, at root, was to help the perplexed ask if evolutionary science is conformable to orthodox doctrine. But I soon saw that it was being used to exclude parts of creation from “the works of the Lord”, and to justify that exclusion by speculating on God’s motives beyond what is revealed. Hence I see the need to do work to help prevent the perplexed becoming the heterodox.

    What one can know of God’s thought is that, when one sees a man/dinosaur/DNA molecule one can say, “That exists, and so God made it wisely for his own high purpose.” To pretend to know that purpose is presumptuous, which is why science rightly gave up trying. But that doesn’t prevent one from noting and admiring, for example, obvious biological or ecological function as elements of that purpose, just as the cut diamond on Madame’s neck can safely be seen as encompassed in God’s foresight and provision for us. To my mind, as soon as you say, “God didn’t plan for jewellery – it’s just chance that we’ve discovered diamonds sparkle” you have acted even more presumptuously than the person who says, “God made diamonds for necklaces,” because at least the latter is an affirmation of God’s foresight, whereas the former denies it.

    ID began, similarly, as an attempt to dethrone the materialism that had institutionalised the total denial of Psalm 5 etc, and so to enable people to look beyond the material and, perhaps, find God (as per Acts 17.27): that is clear from Phillip Johnson’s writing way back. Using materialism’s own empirical tools to show its inadequacy was part of that, and perfectly legitimate, it seems to me, whether or not it is successful.

    Part of that was the attempt to demonstrate the fact (not the detail) of teleology. One thing I’ll try to bring out from Dembski is that this was never, amongst the leading IDists, an attempt to prove God scientifically, still less his ways, but to demonstrate teleology empirically (and largely probablistically). Dembski, for example, would be happy to be a co-belligerent with atheist Thomas Nagel in finding inherent teleology in evolutionary mechanisms. Why? Because teleology sits badly with materialism, and has always encouraged people towards a teleological first cause of that teleology.

    In the end it’s impossible to divorce the quest for intellectual truth entirely from the desire to help people find God. If one concludes as a mathematician or cyberneticist that the logic of information theory requires changes to evolutionary theory, then it’s right to argue for it, even if there are no deep implications. If those arguments have implications about scientific metaphysics – up to and including the primacy of information over matter, for example – then that too is as legitimate as were the early physicists efforts to dethrone Aristotle’s errors. And if those metaphysical changes feed back into theology by re-affirming the need for an informational first cause (John 1) then that too seems OK to me – and does no more to presume upon the hidden things of God than does the acceptance of Big Bang theory.

    “Intention” isn’t a word I’d personally choose to use of God, being quoted rather from BioLogos, but it isn’t really objectionable, since it is used of God in Scripture (of his purposing things that work out in time, such as the exploits of Joseph in Egypt) and can also, without much strain, be used Thomistically in the sense of logical, rather than temporal priority and causation. If God wills in eternity and it comes to pass in time, “intention”, “purpose”, “design” etc are all reasonable words to use analogically.

    Similarly, it is a red herring to object to the engineering implications of a word like “design”. Again Dembski has somewhat to say on that, especially to the objections of A-T people like Ed Feser hot under the collar about William Paley. One can accept the unity of organisms whilst dealing with their physical attributes mechanically – indeed one has to in medicine, treating the eye as an optical device in order, for example, to prescribe spectacles.

    To say, reverently, “How wonderfully God has designed the eye”, having in mind those physical attributes, only commits one to acknowledging God’s wisdom in moulding matter to such a purpose as seeing, and in no way entails that one sees God as problem-solving on a drawing board or CAD rather than in one global insight and speech-act (though some lesser ID commenters, as wedded to materialism as some TEs, insist on looking at God in that way). All talk of God is analogical, but Scripture isn’t afraid to use artisan-words, command-words, and so on, since it considers it right for us to think of God in that way, even whilst it preserves the ultimate inscrutability and ineffability of his ways even in creation.

    Lastly, I guess the problem with refusing to consider what I have called “instantiation” at all is that evolution, in its broadest sense, makes creation a continuous and ongoing process. If creation was a done deal in 4004BC, we can neither observe how forms came to be, nor comment on what “must” have happened. But if evolution is true, God is creating new forms as I write, and scientists are studying it in Lenski’s lab. What I wrote about in the Cambrian is not dissimilar to what is happening today, or what can be read in the recent fossil record or the genes of living varieties.

    So to consider how God is involved in this, even at the general metaphysical level of affirming concurrence rather than an independent nature, seems desirable if people, including Christian TEs and IDist are not to say, “Look – nature is doing it all, so God must be doing something else.”

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Hi Jon,

      Discussions of this type can cover such a large area that imo we can easily be talking past each other – I will persevere with the diamond analogy to, hopefully make my point clear on intention and purpose when we discuss such terms theologically.

      We both agree that a scientist’s description of a diamond, involving carbon atoms, brings additional information to us, and as theists, we would find it wonderful that the element carbon can display such extraordinary properties both in the biological world and the world in general. Materialists may have another outlook, but we can understand this and, instead, we note we do not share the materialist’s outlook, and instead our admiration and sense of awe re God’s creation deepens. Along comes an artesian, and now he brings something new to us – he works with the diamond, and to our amazement, crafts it into a marvellous object, as he cuts and polishes it into a dazzling diamond – an artist then comes along and constructs a piece of jewellery that is now considered a wonder by his community, and they place great monetary value to this.

      From this example, we can understand that we have new information, new appreciation, and a new artistic outlook – all derived from our carbon atoms. Do we now argue that we have uncovered an intention by God – we can, I agree, use language to express our feelings and beliefs in such a way, and we it is likely that we would refer to the splendour of diamonds within a cultural and not as something religious.

      Along come Madame, who wears the jewel made by the artist, and also other finery – this creates a sensation, and the economy of that community undergoes a transformation – and it all started when someone picked up a very hard object, someone examined it, someone else worked with it, and so on.

      Theologically, I cannot see how we would need to discuss God’s intention within the context of this example, although a religious community would discuss the events and the information they had accumulated, especially if they benefited authentically, culturally, and economically, from this new event. Theologically, we would say we had discovered new things (to us) in God’s creation and we had the intelligence and talent to act on this new discovery. It is difficult to talk of intent by God as specifically revealed in the act I have discussed. There is a but however: now regarding you example of Joseph, I think we would find that Joseph realised why the events took place, after they had occurred, and he then understood their meaning, and how God ensured the outcomes. In the same way, the community, after a couple of decades, may begin to understand if God was behind the discovery of diamonds, but for other reasons – if they could identify outcomes that were in accordance with the teaching of the faith.

      Joseph understood the promise by God to Abraham, and he put the events together, and understood why things had taken place; because he had faith and also was taught about God’s intention (if you like) regarding Abraham.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Fine GD – your point, it seems, is mainly about the inability to detect (divine) teleology in events only distantly connected to what one might call natural functions. With that I throughly agree – at the personal level I have many times advised patients and those I was pastoring *not* to say, “God must be teaching me A through these circumstances B.” No, I’ve replied – he’s teaching you whatever you in the event learn as you trust him in them, for his ways are higher than our ways.

        But you also (rightly in my view) draw the conclusion that the believing community sees God’s hand behind all these things (as in Joseph’s case), partly because if it weren’t, the momentous economic and political changes would be due, essentially, to luck – or to an unforeseen side effect of an artisan’s creativity, which amounts to the same thing.

        In my pastoral case, that last would be to say to the suffering, “Stuff happens – get over it. God isn’t involved, so it doesn’t mean anything.”

        So much in response to your post – but it reminds me of the whole issue of what is behind any events if God’s purposes aren’t. Did you see Cath Olic’s quotation from the Catholic source on evolution Gregory assigned him to read? That author (like a good number of TEs I’ve encountered) spoke of divine law giving order, and of chance (conceived as a power outside God’s guiding hand) creating spontaneous diversity – the concept of design being a “grave theological error”.

        Now forget the plausibility of that working. Even forget the anomaly of chance as radical randomness operating as some kind of power apart from God’s determining will. Much modern theology seems to stake its chips on this “chance”. But I ask, where is it, speaking scientifically? Do we have any examples in nature?

        A piece on BioLogos talked about God using Brownian motion to construct viruses – but surely scientifically that’s only the deterministic interactions of particles seen as a probability distribution for convenience – and that distribution predicts that viruses will reliably be able to use it. (I’m not sure if quantum events affect it, but if so they too have a predicatble probability distribution).

        Similarly the immune system example quoted on the current BioLogos column: it’s actually the equivalent of a sophisticated random-number generator, set in a highly organised system, whose immediate function/purpose is self-evident. It operates on some kind of biological algorithms, so is ultimately mathematically determined, not random.

        My point is that the theologians who have pinned their hopes on “randomness” as “freedom to self-design” (as opposed to “God’s use of means”) appear to be backing an entity (randomness) that is non-existent physically and abhorrent theologically.

        • Avatar photo GD says:

          Hi Jon,

          A couple of points; (a) I am fairly sure that Catholic and Orthodox scientists adopt the outlook that chance (as understood scientifically) serves God’s purpose, or is part of the creation as ordained by God (I think Heller has used very similar terms), and (b) my simple illustration was to show that we human beings can come across something entirely new, or something that is caused by our agency and intellect, and this does not introduce an abhorrent theological notion.

          Thus on the major point of our exchange, I remain interested in how we view nature (including information and ideas), and also anticipate that we will come up with new ideas and outlooks. This however cannot possibly cause me (or Orthodoxy) to modify my belief and outlook regarding God as creator of heaven and earth. Those who you feel may modify their belief under such circumstances are, I suggest, suffering from an inadequate understanding of the teachings of the Faith.

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

            GD – totally agree with your last paragraph.

            On “chance”, it’s all down to defining it adequately, which is necessary in a scientific context but isn’t usually done in any depth, though a great deal is hung from it. Some vague (but radical) sense of “undetermined” is generally meant, and from that comes the whole “undirected” thing on evolution.

            But to Aquinas, for example, his typical example of chance was the “surprising” coincidence of two fully determined events, like you meeting a long-lost friend in a shop. And he saw God as the governor of it, the analogy in that example being that he is the mutual friend who suggests to each separately that they should visit the shop.

            The general idea, then, was irregular, or surprising: not arbitrary or causeless, and emphatically not either “chancey” to God, nor a means of introducing originality, surprise or spontaneity into creation, except at the mundane level that what we don’t expect to happen has all kinds of lessons for us, nice and nasty.

            Dembski’s treatment of chance is one of the most interesting ideas in the book, not only rendering a coherent concept of it scientifically, but allowing one to see it in terms of a theistic approach to random (in the statistical sense) events.

            Let me give an analogy regarding evolution. Suppose you study a predator’s pouncing strategy: how often it jumps left, right, forward back etc to anticipate what the prey will do. You will find a probability distribution that’s a clue to its strategy. Sometimes the hunt is successful, sometimes not: but you don’t conclude that the pouncing is undirected – just that it’s not 100% correlated with kills (most predators have a relatively low “hit” rate.

            Now supposing organisms have some kind of inherent teleological governing what mutations they allow through error correction (as per Shapiro) – and/or suppose that some external teleological agent has some orederly way of choosing certain mutations.

            Once again, there will be a measurable probability distribution that appears “random” with respect to fitness, since not all changes are adaptive (you can’t reliably predict the purpose of the strategy, especially if God’s providential government is in mind). But you haven’t actually excluded teleological factors any more than you have in the case of the predator. It’s chance as far as you’re concerned – but law-driven, or choice-driven, as far as the universe or God is concerned.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


      I agree with you here regarding “intention.” There is nothing wrong with using the word “intend” with reference to God, as long as the word is understood analogically.

      If GD means that God, being in eternity rather than time, does not “intend” because “intend” suggests a future unknown outcome, then I know what he means, but all language about God needs to be put in “scare quotes” anyway.

      The Bible uses the language of the common man, not the language of metaphysicians. It is clear from Genesis 1 (Let there be … Let the the earth bring forth … ) that the Bible represents God as intending dry land, sun, moon, light, animals, man, etc. and that God’s intentions are carried out. How that cashes out in the metaphysical language of Boethius etc. is an academic question. The concrete question is whether the TE/EC leaders are willing to deny that God knows what he wants and gets it. Some of them seem to fudge on this question.

      I don’t think GD is as worried about what the TE/EC leaders are saying as you and I are, but I think we are right to be concerned.

  3. Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


    I object to the example of the diamond, in the context of ID. My objections fall under two points:

    1. In a crystalline structure such as a diamond, you have a strong *pattern*, and as Dembski has argued, mere *pattern* is not enough to infer intelligent design. Patterns can often be generated simply by natural laws, e.g., ice on a windowpane forms hexagonal patterns under certain conditions, because of the way the water molecules bond to each other, and carbon under certain conditions takes on the structure of diamond. No planning is required, given the laws themselves. No new information has to be input, beyond the laws themselves.

    In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe focuses on “the purposeful arrangement of parts.” We see this in an automobile, or a computer, or a television set; we see it also in the human eye, in the cardiovascular system, in a living cell. The arrangement of these parts is not something we would predict on the basis of natural laws alone. Here Behe’s engineering language and Dembski’s information-theory language overlap and support each other.

    2. In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe notes that not all arguments for design are of equal value, not even all of Paley’s. He says that many of the arguments made by Paley and others are highly subjective, based on someone’s personal idea of what is most fitting. He gives some examples of such weak design arguments, along the line of “we can tell that a wise God designed nature because the human nose looks so handsome and noble exactly where it is placed on the face.” We can extrapolate from his examples what he might say about the diamond necklace.

    If one argues that the great beauty of the diamond necklace on the woman’s neck indicates that the diamond must have been designed for such use, one is making a highly subjective judgment. After all, in some cultures, diamonds might be deemed ugly in comparison to rubies or sapphires, and all stones might be deemed ugly on a woman’s neck in comparison with a garland of flowers.

    But if someone notes that the parts of the human eye work together in very complex ways for the common end of vision, that person is noting something that is not merely subjective, but objective.

    ID arguments are of the latter type, not the former.

    TEs confuse this all the time. They keep saying that “science cannot deal with purpose or meaning” as a refutation of ID. But ID is not about “purpose and meaning,” and certainly not about the purposes of adorning women’s necks. ID is not about “purpose” in the subjective human sense at all. ID is about the purposeful, i.e., intentionally functional, arrangement of parts. This is a different sense of purpose from what the TEs are talking about.

    Behe would be the first to agree with the TEs that you can’t derive the purpose of the universe or the purpose of human life or the meaning of life from the arrangements of an eye or a flagellum. No ID proponent tries to do that. What they are trying to show is that the eye is not the product trial and error — that an intelligence lies behind its existence.

    So, in sum:

    1. Diamonds are patterned, but don’t display the purposeful arrangement of parts. Therefore ID proponents don’t argue that diamonds must have been designed, whereas they do argue that the living cell is designed.

    2. Arguments that diamonds must have been designed because of their human uses cannot be relied upon. They are based on personal judgments and preferences about the way things ought to be, rather than on objective relationships that exist in nature whether human beings prefer them or not.

    Note, finally, that though ID does not infer that diamonds *must* have been designed, ID is in fact compatible with the view that diamonds and everything in the universe, down to the laws and constants, were designed. But ID limits its arguments to what can be shown about the purposeful arrangement of parts in *some* cases. That is not a denial that there is purposeful arrangement in other cases. It is merely a recognition of the limits of information science and design inferences at our current state of knowledge.

    Again, one of the best ID books is Nature’s Destiny by Denton. Denton argues, more strongly than even Behe or Dembski, for purposeful arrangement (of parts, laws, constants, etc.) in nature, seeing it all over the place. But nowhere does he ever make arguments based on how noble human beings look because of where their eyes are placed, or how beautiful diamonds look on women, etc. The whole argument is based on objective relationships found in nature. This is why ID can claim to be “scientific” in the broad sense.

    • Avatar photo GD says:


      The central point regarding the diamond example is to show that something new can be added to the physical reality due to human agency, and this can have ramifications in many important areas of human existence, and by extension, to the content of the planetary system. I think Jon’s dealing of chance and newness, and my treatment, have been discussed and there is little to add to this.

      Regarding intelligence design, most of the pros and cons have been discussed ad nausea – the geometric patter in the diamond molecules is an objective fact, and you are comfortable with the notion of laws providing the required explanatory power/information in this instance.

      The argument of irreducibility has some merit if it can be shown that, for example, (A+a) gives rise to (B), and if (B-a) gives rise to A (the previous species) and A continues to function as A (that is the scientist has some way of showing what A was before B was formed by the addition of (a), than I would think that adds weight to the design by some extra-ordinary force or power. I am not aware of any experimentally definitive data on this, but I would be glad if you can provide such data. Perhaps with your interest in ID, you may offer some interesting insights based on any experimental data in support of ID.

      The notion of information in bio-entities is interesting, but imo it is at a very early stage and filled with speculation. As a chemist my attention was drawn to papers that see information in terms of thermodynamics, using entropy and enthalpy to discuss some DNA related events, with the implication that the Gibbs energy (derived from entropy and enthalpy information) may be ‘hard wired’ as information within DNA – though extremely speculative, the implication(s) may include a predetermined outcome in the biochemistry of such systems. Such a treatment of information in bio-entities, if shown to be valid, may have a profound impact on our understanding of the bio-world. It may be possible to argue for intentionality, and certainly a pre-determined aspect of life related biochemistry and perhaps the wider bio-sciences.

      I repeat – this is extraordinary speculation and it needs an enormous amount of research before we could seriously consider such notions. I think you should appreciate the ‘purposeful arrangement’ argument from this; indeed it may be stronger, and shown to be a determined outcome that conforms to the laws of science that TE and others are so fond of proclaiming.

      • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


        You wrote:

        “The argument of irreducibility has some merit if it can be shown that, for example, (A+a) gives rise to (B), and if (B-a) gives rise to A (the previous species) and A continues to function as A (that is the scientist has some way of showing what A was before B was formed by the addition of (a), than I would think that adds weight to the design by some extra-ordinary force or power.”

        I cannot follow this at all. I gave concrete examples — computers, cars, cardiovascular system, flagella; you respond in an abstract manner about As and Bs. I cannot visualize what you are talking about.

        Intelligent design asks us to look at the apparently purposeful arrangement of parts in organic forms. Take, for example, the coordination of parts in the human eye. The two obvious explanations for this arrangement are: (1) An intelligent being is responsible for this arrangement [whether by direct creation or by a planned evolutionary process aimed at producing the arrangement]; (2) No intelligent being was responsible for this arrangement; over billions of years, genetic accidents produced various arrangements, and by trial and error, with natural selection as the tool, the human eye came into being.

        You speak of “data.” Which of these two answers, in your view, is most supported by the “data”?

        Your stance is puzzling to me because, as far as I can tell — though I’ve never seen a clear yes or no answer — you do not believe that macroevolution happened. That is, you do not appear to believe that human beings are descended from some one-celled creature that lived 3 billion years ago. If this is right — if you do not think that macroevolution happened, how, in your view, did ferns and mushrooms and elephants and human beings arrive on this planet?

        If I had a clear sense of your view on this, I would find it much easier to interpret all your other statements about intelligent design, data, the limits of science, etc.

        • Avatar photo GD says:


          My position regarding Darwinian evolution differs from yours for a number of reasons. I always begin on any area of physical/natural science, from my particular point of view as a scientist, which separates settled science from speculation. I have no trouble with acknowledging any current paradigm in any area of natural science – this is how these sciences are done. Instead I look at the adequacy and usage of the paradigm.

          The Darwinian is inadequate imo for a number of reasons – the central point is that many of its proponents make vast/universal generalisations – yet this notion/outlook does not get a glance from, for example, chemistry. This makes it an exaggerated semantic outlook that is saturated with ideology and such matters, and good science can, and must, do without such things.

          I know this does not satisfy anyone in the TE/ID tents, but in an odd way, this also confirms my assessment of the current state of play.

          I think speculation is also part of science – so I am not troubled when I read (whenever such things appear momentary interesting) of various claims on evolution. I just had a look at a recent ‘leading edge’ paper dealing with epigenetics, in which very sophisticated modelling of populations was used to examine alleles and genotype and phenotype regarding predator and prey – the maths was as thorough as its gets. Yet the results were all about, ‘what if we assume this and that’, and they had only one real example (a rare blood disorder) and even this did not square up with their numerical modelling results – in other words, nothing that could resemble real data to compare, validate, or anything, was, or could be, provided for their modelling. This is just another example – nothing more- that shows how this field of Darwinian thinking is blithely ignoring real science and cannot separate speculation from settled science.

          So: (a) Darwinian evolution as a science touches on a small portion of natural science, yet some of its strident disciples insist it is universally valid – requires all other natural sciences to ‘bow to it’ – this is nothing but propaganda and I reject it. (b) it is the current paradigm in the bio-areas but from what I have seen it is a mixture of observation and speculation, (c) its impact on my theological outlook is minimal, and easily ‘swallowed up’ by the far more reliable notions presented by settled science.

          As you may guess from these remarks, ID is to me, an even less relevant as it seems to what to build on Darwinian thinking, but it seems to have its own ideologically sounding dimension. So at times I may indulge in my ‘mind game’ as an attempt to ‘make sense’, or to indulge in my speculation. This is a way of conversing and unless some theological/dogma teaching is part of the conversation, I do not get all that interested in either pro or cons for Darwinian outlooks.

          I suspect this may not make things more clear to you, but that is my general outlook on this matter Edward. The important topic is the wider area of faith and science, not faith and Darwin.

          • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


            I think that, at this stage in the conversation, a short and direct answer which nails down one clear point would be more helpful to be than a broad “position paper” of the sort you have provided above.

            My question was, “Do you think that macroevolution happened?”

            By “macroevolution” I mean the transformation from the first very simple life forms into all later life forms, including man.

            I am not asking you, at this point, how macroevolution happened, or what you think of various scientific explanations or methods, or whether you think some scientists are too sweeping or arrogant in their claims. I am asking only:

            Do you think that macroevolution happened?

            If you could answer that question, we might be able to get somewhere.

            • Avatar photo GD says:


              I have given you as clear an answer as I wish to – perhaps I need to remind you that I am a practising scientist and I only discuss specific scientific matters after I have reviewed the material and can come to a conclusion. So no, I am not inclined to give you answers you seem to need.

              On descent and such like, I have stated elsewhere that from what I can read in the literature, the thinking is (a) common universal ancestor leading to a ‘bush’ of species from which species have descended, (b) Darwin tree of life and common descent, and (b) a ‘forest’ of trees of life, presumably to account for the diversification of major species.

              I am not sure why you feel we can get somewhere – but I will put that to one side.

              • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


                You say that, because you are a scientist, you “only discuss specific scientific matters” after you have “reviewed the material and can come to a conclusion.” Yet you are plenty old enough to have thought long enough about evolution to have formed at least a tentative opinion on whether or not macroevolution happened. In fact, I have not yet met a scientist — and I have met many — who does not have an opinion on the reality of macroevolution, even scientists younger than you appear to be from your c.v. So it is not the fact that you are a scientist that is holding you back.

                Your own words indicate that you are making a personal choice here not to disclose your view. You have said that you do not wish to answer my question, that you are not inclined to answer my question. And since the question is fundamental to discussions not only of evolutionary mechanisms (it is pointless to discuss evolutionary mechanisms with someone whom one very strongly suspects not to believe in evolution at all) but also of the relationship of evolutionary to theory to the Christian doctrine of creation and to Christian theology generallly, your choice not to disclose where you are coming from is a choice to deliberately block productive discussion of the sort I wish to have. It is then impossible for us to have further conversation.

                If that is your choice, I will respect it by not questioning you further.

                The only parting remark I would make is that you cannot possibly hope to win anyone over to your position, when your position is cryptic, and deliberately so.

        • Avatar photo GD says:


          In the spirit of a positive dialogue, I will add some comments to my, as you say, abstract example. My intention is to seek something that fits in with the analogy of an engineered/designed artefact as consisting of parts – in this case, I am simplifying it by identifying a specific part “a” that can be identified with a specific function that (A+a) can perform (the ‘new’ artefact is B). Since we know how A functioned, and what ‘a” has added to A, and so that we know this additional part leads to the new functionality we observe as B, it should be possible to remove ‘a’ from B to restore it to the functionality we identified as A.

          I realise this sounds tortuous, but I am opening a conversation that seeks to identify a testable proposition that may support design inferences. From here perhaps it may be possible to discuss, within a testable regime, irreducible complexity.

          My intention is to see if we can identify an approach that enables tests to be performed for or against intelligence design as a scientific concept. In this case, identifying a part with functionality, and removing the part removes that functionality but restores the previous entity to its previous overall function.

          • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


            Thank you for trying to clarify. I now understand what you mean about moving from one functionality to the other, and back again. However — and not to seem ungrateful — this is not quite what I want to talk about.

            I am curious why you prefer abstract modelling such as the above to concrete cases. (In that, you actually are more like Lou than like me; his faith in neo-Darwinism is based almost entirely on his trust in abstract, mathematical, population-genetics models.) I’m more like the man from Missouri who has to be *shown* how the thing works via concrete examples.

            For example, we have the camera eye, and we have the bacterial flagellum, and we have hundreds of very complex cellular processes, all of which give a very strong appearance of being designed. Even Dawkins admits that all such things give a strong appearance of being designed. What do you think of such cases? Do they look designed to you?

            Do you think that the “default” scientific position should be that these things came into being *by accident*? And therefore that the onus is on ID people to prove that they were designed?

            • Avatar photo GD says:


              I do not look for a “default” position – I am an experimental and computer modelling/simulation scientist and thus my comments will reflect this.

              I have stated elsewhere that ‘design’ can mean anything that has form and function, and this is mainly applied to human artefacts. While bio-entities present form and function and as such one would be inclined to comprehend the bio-world in this way, the notion of design, complexity and emergence is controversial within the confines of the natural sciences. I cannot see, for example, anything that can be usefully added to our approach to shapes, structure, properties and thus functionality, besides symmetry, molecular structures, bulk properties and the ability to relate these to molecular characteristics, and so on.

              This does not mean that others may wish to develop notions of design complexity and such like – my comments on speculation should suffice.

              My interest (and at times displeasure) is when any scientific notions are migrated to theological matters and even ones purporting to impact on the teachings of the Christian faith. I raise the bar considerably in this area and do not suffer fools gladly, nor seek to indulge in non-orthodox discussions.

              On ID, as I have said before, I will prefer to wait and see how the scientific aspects of this outlook pan out – this is an indication of disinterest and not a position I wish to argue.

              • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


                I do not think that you or anyone can avoid a de facto “default” position. There are only two possibilities for the origin of the human eye: it was designed, or it was not designed. If you take the side of Lou and the Darwinians, then your default position is that it was not designed, and you put the onus is on those who think it was designed to prove this. If you take the side of traditional Christianity your default position will be that the eye is designed, and you will put the onus on people like Lou and Dawkins to show how it could have arisen without design.

                I do not accept as an excuse for your “neutrality” the fact that you are an experimental scientist. Even experimental scientists have inclinations toward one position or another. No one is 100% “objective.” You will have a de facto default position on the question I’m asking, but you are apparently unwilling to state it. That is your right. But if you are unwilling to state it, then you forfeit a debating position of your own, and are limited to making side comments on positions taken by others.

                On another point: I have not asked you to argue for or against ID. I have asked you (1) whether or not you think macroevolution happened; (2) whether you think that non-design explanations should be the “default” explanation for scientists. You have chosen to answer neither question. So be it.

                To come to your remarks about theology — which after all should be the main concern of the Hump — I am just as concerned about what is “orthodox” as you are. But it is very unclear to me what criteria you apply to determine what is and what is not orthodox. After a year of following your posts, I have no more precise sense of your theological position (beyond your formal denomination affiliation) than I have of your position on macroevolution. I wish you would be clearer in both areas.

                I have asked this because I find most of your writing cryptic. I cannot tell where many of your remarks are coming from, and I cannot relate them to positions in the current debate (since you rarely discuss any specific arguments of Behe, Dembski, Dawkins, Miller, Collins, etc.). It is very hard to know whether or not I agree with you when half the time I cannot tell what you mean or where your argument is going.

                My attempts to ask Socratic questions to establish very basic premises are clearly a failure. I guess I will have to give up.

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

            A few words on the “A+a” formulation from a biologically-orientated guy. Suppose “A” is a theropod and “b” = wings, and suppose the suggestion is that the wings evidence design in some way.

            The trouble is that on any supposition, eg that the wings came by some “supernatural” process on a background of “natural” evolution, or that natural evolution itself is guided or frontloaded or is teleological, or whatever, one couldn’t just add wings to a theropod and expect it to fly. there are integrated changes in skeleton, feathers, behaviour etc to be part of the package. And that’s why you can’t cut off a bird’s wings and graft on arms to get a dinosaur. The same, I guess, is true of ID icons like the flagellum.

            I don’t think that obviates the possibility of isolating an organ conceptually as some evidence of design. The underlying assumption is not that it was the only part designed, but that it’s an identifiable and conceptually separable item of study.

            In other words, it’s not being denied that an organism is (as in Aristotle) a single integrated “thing”, any more than it is when medical students study “the upper limb” using somewhat arbitrary boundaries.

            • Avatar photo GD says:

              Jon (and Edward),

              Some time ago, conversations at BioLogos touched on identity and how we can be certain that we can say, this is a bird, this is water, this is a human being. The crux of these discussions was that (a) we humans confer a distinct ‘isness’ to things, even though we know they are ‘complex’, or made up of other ‘things’ (be it from other atoms, molecules or parts). This would conform to your (Aristotle) integrated “thing”. It is this which enables us to hold meaningful discussions about the world, and I have suggested that it is derived from our sense of self as a distinct being – we may theologically argue this is similar to the ‘image of God, the spirit of man; we then confer an identity to things in the world.

              This is central to my understanding of us, and also the way we comprehend reality – be it the physical one, or human reality in this world.

              Now how do we (in a broader sense) manage to argue about ‘composite beings?’ By this I mean something designed from other parts. The question is not strictly speaking a scienctific one – but it has a lot to do with our understanding – so e.g. we can isolate, identify and characterise innumerable molecules, all made up of a few atoms. We can tell one human from another to an extraordinary degree, and if we loose our self-identity we would loose our sanity. We also identify endless species and biologists place them in a grand scheme.

              You and Edward may ask, how is this so? Does it not require some design or display a purpose, teleology, and is clearly shown as created kinds mentioned in the Bible?

              While theologically I would believe that this is due to the Creator, and cannot see why this should be controversial, I also cannot see why I may need to convince anyone of a position I hold. This is because I come to this outlook using my own faculties, reason and sense, and thus I expect other human beings may do so if they so wish. On theological matters, I have always spoken explicitly or implicitly of the doctrine of Grace – if I believe God’s purpose is displayed in the creation, this is due to God’s grace and mercy; thus it is impossible for me to speak of God without referring to revelation.

              THUS – faith and reason are in harmony.

              Does belief in God’s purpose automatically verify some idea about design and such like? NO, and I think you have said Dembski seems to understand this. I think you and Edward ought to also understand this.

              Naturally any idea(s) that becomes topical and interests people would be discussed and various opinions expressed. So what is new? I do not see two options, as Edward would have us think – the eye is designed or not – I would think it is obvious that focussing on an organ and claiming that either (a) we now know what God has done, and from that develop a theo-science, is wrong, or (b) we decide that in the absence of (a), materialists are right, and chance, random and such nonsense must by default be the explanation for the eye – this too is wacky.

              This outlook may be cryptic, may not excite those involved in the nonsensical culture war between creationist, TE and ID people – and I for one am glad for this.

              Since I have spent so much time outlining my thoughts (more as a ramble), I will say that I have looked at my notes that I have written over many years (as a necessary task for my poetry), and I have a few pages on science, laws of science, and how I think we as human beings seek to understand the physical world; I also noted that I had written very little on Darwinian evolution. Indeed these past two years I think I have spent more time dealing with good ol’ Darwin than all of my adult years – I think this may explain my (cryptic) position to Edward. Most of what I find interesting is in the recent work on genomics, because it is topical – everything else seems another version of what I recall from my undergraduate days – all huff and bluster, with exaggerated claims to scientific authority. Go figure??!!

            • Avatar photo GD says:


              I am not trying to avoid the A+a suggestion, but the questions Edward likes to make can be distracting, so I will quickly respond here.

              I agree with you in that “…. one couldn’t just add wings to a theropod and expect it to fly. there are integrated changes in skeleton, feathers, behaviour etc to be part of the package.”

              And here is imo the crux of the design in biology argument. No matter how we feel religiously, or if we think it intuitively appealing, any notion or concept of design in biology, to gain the status of a scientific theory or outlook, must be re-stated in a way that it may be subjected to scientific examination.

              I tried to illustrate a way, which clearly is impractical – we cannot cut of a limb and then hope that we have created the functional species that preceded that species which was fully functional minus the limb we have just removed – this is obviously absurd.

              Yet we are told that (as one part of the vast notion of Darwinian evolution) that changes over time lead one species (by what ever mechanism) to become another species. Then on top of this, we are provided with a design incorporated in some way with this.

              Apart from playing with bacteria (and virus) which by their very nature can undergo modifications – just how do we go about having a serious scientific discussion about species A, species A+a and why we would regard the latter as species B.

              A practicing biologist may have a rational for these difficulties, of she may simply regard them as irrelevant, naïve, or whatever – but I do not think either the chance and random school, or the design school, can directly address such questions/matters to the satisfaction of most scientist.

              • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

                GD – this is a division of the problem of “form”, which has been an issue, I find from my Chain of Being reading, since long before Darwin. The principle of plenitude, like gradualist evolution, supposed a continuum of forms: yet simultaneously there were clearly discrete species.

                Nevertheless, it must be possible to deal coherently with differences visible in the natural world (ie broadly scientifically, though current science may have to change its metaphysics to do so). And whether chance, design or special creation are supported, there’s always been a desire to explain those differences. The problem is not much different if one wonders why crows are like ravens but less like sparrows and even less like worms, or if one is trying to get a handle on the features of an organ like a wing that similar creatures either have, or not.

                The jury’s still out in evolution as to whether forms change gradually or suddenly (as in those epigenetic transformations in locusts or lizards).

                But I would contend that one doesn’t need, necessarily, a complete theory of change to examine the concept of design in terms of teleological function (perhaps excepting the idea of irreducible complexity, which is essentially to do with acquisition of new features).

                The wing is there for all to see, dissect or measure. If it’s impossible in principle to distinguish whether it is teleological or ateleological in nature, then there’s something wrong with the methodology.

                That said, as my new piece on Eddington suggests, science may be the wrong methodology for such questions – and the problem is that nowadays only science is given the right to examine them. If it’s philosophical, demarcation forbids the philosopher from claiming any authority in biology, even when biologists have no tools for answering the question.

  4. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    Let me defend GD’s example just a bit. Although the crystalline features of diamonds are owing to organised complexity, rather than specified complexity, they are still “epiphenoma” of basic laws that are surprising and, in themselves, indicators of fine-tuning, in the mould of Denton’s thinking. I think that as a chemist GD was setting that up as a simple example.

    Granted diamonds follow simple natural laws – but even the properties of those laws have strong design implications (even if life is a more graphic example).

    The rest of the discussion was about the exploitation of those properties by the human jeweller, and what that might or might not tell us about God’s original design intentions: did he factor in “use as jewellery”? Cue for a different discussion.

    But that said, you’re right to distinguish the concept of teleology as “How much can we say about God’s secret counsel?” from the more modest, and more tractable, question, “Can teleology be demonstrated formally above the level of strong human intuition?”

    Although that raises theological questions, it must be relevant for science, or else science cannot even discuss the human jeweller cutting the diamond. One might argue that our own experience covers that case, but what about the closely-related question of animal teleology? Since the “designer” of a hunting strategy, or a beaver dam, or a scorpion burrow is not like us, and cannot be interrogated, it must surely be important to investigate if goal-setting can be distinguished from mere algorithm-following.

    And if that is true for internal teleology in animal behaviour, why not in possible telelogical processes in evolution, as in Shapiro? And if that is admitted, even in itself it raises sufficient doubts about the adequacy of materialism to ask about God. But would there be no way, then, to distinguish inherent teleology form possible external teleology?

    So it seems to me that, your arguments apart, there is a continuous ladder from questions that science has no business avoiding (do beavers, or scorpions, or both, set goals in building?) to the more classical questions raised by ID.

    (This was written beofre GD posted his reply, so doesn’t reference it).

  5. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    Just a reply to your last point, on DNA’s possible determinism, or partial-determinism, from Gibbs free energy. As you say, it is highly speculative (and I’d have to say, dubious, given the strong case for semantic liberty in DNA made not only by information theorists like Yockey, but the whole theory of evolution based on near-infinite variation).

    But granted it were shown, what would be the right conclusion? It would show laws that were far from simple and, from their complexity and directedness towards the complexity of life, evidently teleological – the kind of laws Thomas Nagel believes to exist. In other words, they would do nothing except push the “design” question further back up the line to “front-loading” or “fine-tuning” rather than towards the opposite extreme, “instantaneous creation”. It would blur even more the dubious distinction between “natural” and “supernatural”: if your natural law turns out to be a complete algorithm for the evolution of life, does the term “natural” have any real content any more?

    Now if the scientific question were, “How did God create living things”, that investigation would be useful in suggesting that he frontloads more than we knew, at least in part .

    But if, as is the current case, the question is more “Is life designed or natural?” you’re no further forward than you are if you look at a butterfly and say, “I don’t know how God did it, but there’s no doubt he did.” It’s the actualized end, not the process, that is the biggest indicator of design.

    • Avatar photo GD says:


      Many of your points imo fall into a general category that I state as:

      (a) if I believe that God exists and I do this by utilising my faculties to conclude this a reasonably true belief, and as a statement of Faith based on my sense of self (and all that entails), it becomes obvious that God is the Creator, and I would (I suppose intuitively) view things as orderly, purposeful, meaningful etc., and all this naturally as they are actually presented to my sense and intelligence.

      (b) If however, a person does not believe God exists, it is reasonable for such a person to provide a worldview that conforms to his reason and intellect, and this could easily differ to varying degrees from (a).

      Both (a) and (b) are valid in that we as human beings choose and decide from our experiences and context, to be (a) or (b).

      What is incompatible imo with a reasonable outlook is to deny either (or both) (a) and (b) their right to decide such matters for themselves. This denial may be coerced violently, or it may be (as is the case these days) an ideological struggle that seeks to establish one outlook over the other – I refer to this as option (c) – I oppose in every way option (c).

      Having said that, I am beginning to think that many people may have a different understanding of speculation in science to mine. Most speculation in science is I think discarded – it is another way of scientists saying ‘I do not know, but I wish I did’. If we start with ‘I do not know’, and work up to, ‘I have a notion, but I wonder if it is valid in some way’, to ‘there is something to this, but how adequate is it’ … and so on, than my remarks about information and in-built aspects that provide almost unthinkable possibilities, may be seen in context.

      Expanding this to consider implications may excite my imagination (and perhaps others), but that is all I would make of that.

      Frankly I cannot think of anything else that would be relevant to this discussion. Perhaps design in the sense of ID may become a scientifically interesting idea, and may it may not. I am willing to wait.

  6. Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


    I defer to your choice to say neither/nor on the question of design / non-design. My classical rationality, shaped by the study of Plato and Aristotle, cannot grasp how you can hold such a position, but I will not press this. However, I do have a practical point to make, which you, as someone who (I believe) does not live in America may not fully appreciate.

    At the moment, in the USA it is de facto illegal, when the question of origins is raised, for a teacher to even *mention* the names of Behe, Dembski, etc., or the existence of a theory called “intelligent design.” But it is not de facto illegal for a teacher to state, *as an established scientific fact*, that man arose out of the bacteria or the scum of ponds by a series of random mutations filtered by natural selection. So the sort of neutrality you seem to be recommending is not found in the USA; political and cultural power, plus the courts, have taken one side very strongly.

    I would submit that until you have fully grasped this situation, and fully understood how it affects American Christians — especially Protestants but not only them — who take the Biblical account of origins seriously and as a central part of their religious faith, you will miss the significance of the debate.

    Speaking personally, when growing up I was a firm Darwinist. I moved away from Darwinism not due to the authority of revelation but because I came to think it was bad science and worse philosophy. What offends me intellectually about US court decisions is that they allow bad science and bad philosophy to be taught in the schools as scientific fact, while banning any challenge to this. What offends me religiously about US court decisions is that they take the side (effectively, not formally) of atheism, materialism, and reductionism, and discriminate against traditional orthodox Christian faith, and even against such limited theological views as Deism.

    If you were living in the USA, the sort of neutrality you seem to be advocating (which I still do not find clear, but leave that aside) would play right into the hands of the Darwinists, who have complete control over the school system. It might be neutral in your mind, but politically, it would serve the ends of Darwinism.

    I believe that the ID people are right to challenge the monopoly of Darwinism in the US public schools. Not that Biblical creationism should be taught in the schools — it shouldn’t be. But it should be permissible in the schools — including in science class — to raise the kinds of objections to Darwinian theory that Jon and I are raising, that Dembski and Behe are raising, that Shapiro and Newman have raised, that Jablonka and Margulis have raised, etc. And it isn’t permissible right now — it’s illegal. In the meantime, the Darwinians are permitted to teach that a blind and unguided process produced all species including man — provided they are careful enough not to say “blind” or “unguided” out loud. (But they don’t have to say it; they get that for free, because the definition of “natural causes” which they employ tacitly includes “blind and unguided,” and the students, the parents, and the public all know that, even as the courts turn a blind eye to it.)

    You need not reply if you are weary of my comments. However, this socio-political concern is not merely trivial. I believe that the most important component of a culture in the end is not its food or ethnic traditions or sport heroes or its economic policies or its political system, but its metaphysics — what it holds about ultimate matters. What is happening in the USA is ultimately a clash of two irreconcilable metaphysical views. The school system, with the support of the courts, has sided with one of those views, and the populace, the “folk” element as it were, is kicking back. It is unfortunate that the kickback often takes the form of a subliterate and subscientific creationism; nonetheless, I think the heart of the creationists is in the right place. They understand that “design versus chance” is a fundamental metaphysical issue and that Christians cannot be neutral on that issue.

    Perhaps this will help you to better understand the American situation — which by a ripple effect influences the rest of the English-speaking world. I think that your background, from what you have said, is southeast European, and this may cause you not to see dimensions of these debates which are more evident to those of us who have spent our lives in the Anglo-American reality. From where I sit, your neutrality, however well-intended, serves one side rather than the other. I impute no bad motivation to you in this matter, and mean no personal attack. I am simply describing what I see as the practical effect of your position.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      I feel your pain … and to some extent share it, bearing in mind that I probably discuss the issues on The Hump more with Americans than with my friends here. At the same time I feel my own ability to wander freely through the range of possibilities is partly because I’m in the UK where, even now, there is less of a culture war – particularly, I should say, in the churches, though the “establishment” is clearly in the hands of materialist interests. Day by day I’m under no pressure to conform or hide my opinions, because it really matters less here.

      One of the things I wonder at when I’m reading the views of those in the past like Eddington, Polanyi or Warfield – or even C S Lewis – is that they could afford to be nuanced in their critique of, or agreement with, the mainstream. Part of that, particularly regarding scientists like the first two, was to be able to act the part of dispassionate scientists by not committing to a view until they were fully persuaded by one: agnosticism in natural science (when you’re an observer rather than a researcher) is a virtue (it should be a virtue in social science, too, but we know it doesn’t necessarily follow!).

      So I actually commend GD for not allowing himself to be dragged into a particular viewpoint on origins, especially where those viewpoints are categorised by initials in capital letters… at the same time, I think the time is coming, if it’s not already here, when the balance of evidence will tip. It took me maybe forty years to decide finally where I stood on evolution, and I’m still open to persuasion now.

      As ever, the best contribution one can make to progress is to present good arguments, and draw attention to what has been obscured by those with dishonest agendas.

      • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

        Thanks for your moderate and sane comments, Jon.

        I agree that neither GD nor anyone else should be cajoled into joining a “camp” such as ID or TE/EC or Dawkinsian atheism. I don’t think, however, that it is unreasonable to ask GD (or anyone else) if he believes that macroevolution happened. My uncertainty of his view on that question has rendered half of his comments here (and 90% of his debates with Lou on BioLogos) unintelligible to me. Until I know whether his many objections to Lou and others are coming from a pro- or anti-evolution position, I simply cannot tell exactly what it is that he doesn’t like in the views that he is criticizing.

        It is of course possible that GD simply has not made up his mind, i.e., does not have an opinion whether or not macroevolution occurred. If so, it would be good if he would say just that: “I have not made up my mind whether or not macroevolution occurred.” At least that would give me something to go on, in interpreting all his other remarks. But he will not share even that much with me. However, it is of course his privilege to withhold any opinion that he has, so I will drop this line of inquiry.

        • Avatar photo GD says:

          Edward (and Jon)

          The interesting point to me e this exchange is to try and comprehend the puzzle expressed by Edward – I really think that outside a combinative mentality/culture, what I have said is just plain common sense, in regards the discussion on the harmony between faith and reason, esp the natural sciences. My theological views have been supported by direct and lengthy quotes from impeachable Patristic writings, and at times I have referred to people such as Calvin to show that on the subject of the Creator and His creation, Orthodoxy permeates all traditions.

          So Edward, I must confess I find your remarks more puzzling than you may imagine. Within the context of the US ‘war’ regarding ID and Darwin, I have stated that I am outside all of this, and that should be sufficient for you.

          As for not making up my mind – I think that is somewhat presumptuous of you Edward – I have stated with crystal clear clarity that I have not put the weight on Darwinian thinking that you may have, BECAUSE I have taken a far more conventional approach of examining ALL of the natural sciences that I am able to, and have concluded, within this context, that Darwinian thinking is a relatively insignificant part of all of the sciences – thus it does not make sense to me to hang my theological outlook only on Darwin – should the situation change and Darwin is pronounced king of all of the natural sciences (or perhaps all science and philosophy) than I may join you in you project to explain all theology within for or against Darwin.

          So, to summarise, I have made up my mind regarding Faith and Reason, including natural sciences, and I am somewhat astonished that you fail to grasp this.

          Jon, I guess you may be able to empathise with Edward and other evangelicals, especially if you have a closer and clearer understanding of the situation in the USA. This is good and perhaps it may help Edward – I confess that I am unable to provide with whatever Edward is seeking regarding evolution and ID.

          • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

            GD, I agree ENTIRELY with these two points of yours:

            1. Darwinian thinking is a relatively insignificant part of all of the sciences;

            2. It does not make sense to me to hang one’s theological outlook on Darwin.


            But of course, I have not asked you for a theological outlook hung upon Darwinian thinking. I have not even asked for your opinion on “Darwinian thinking.” I have not asked for your opinion on ID. I have not asked for your account of science and faith. I have asked only whether or not you think macroevolution happened — a question which is answerable entirely without reference to Darwin, Darwinian thinking, neo-Darwinism, ID, science and faith, etc.

            I do not mind if you don’t wish to answer my question, but please stop responding as if I have asked you some other question, or that my question is mysterious or difficult to understand. I think you know exactly what I am asking, but do not wish to answer it. And that is fine. But in that case, a long discourse on science and faith is unnecessary. All you have to say is, “I consider that a highly personal question, and I decline to answer it.” I will get the message. In fact, if that had been answer the very first time I posed the question, it would have saved the two of us a great deal of time.

            No hard feelings, my friend. Let’s move on, please.

            • Avatar photo GD says:


              This is becoming tiresome – I refer you to your original post, 2/10/2014, 2pm – there you commenced with a alck of understanding on the A+a suggestion, went to questions/lecture on ID, and as a continuation of this asked for my view on macroevolution. I (and most people I should think) would regard your so called simple question to relate to all of your previous remarks.

              So please show some clarity of thought in these exchanges, and for heavens sake stop this insufferable habit of … “all you have to say is ..”

              I have said what I wish to say – take it or leave it – but keep your ‘advice’ on what I have to say, to yourself.

              No hard feelings my friend, but perhaps a friendly tip …

          • Avatar photo GD says:

            I must still be asleep …. correction, instead of.. from impeachable Patristic writing…., that should read… from impeccable Patristic writings ….

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      see my response below

  7. Avatar photo GD says:


    “…. one doesn’t need, necessarily, a complete theory of change to examine the concept of design in terms of teleological function ..”

    Perhaps my remarks are not clear – functionality and the form (or distinct features) of species such as birds, dogs, cats, etc., an be observed and I agree with you that we do not need any theory to understand why birds fly, or why we all need food to sustain life, or why hunger is felt and the lion seeks his prey. From this perspective, function, purpose, teleology, is a sensible proposition.

    But the natural sciences go beyond this, by seeking to come up with generalisations that may have explicatory powers for all of the subject matter examined – thus for biology, all living things, from virus to elephants, need to ‘fit’ within this generalisation, which must explain why they get hungry and why shouldn’t the lion eat grass or bark, instead of seeking a juicy stake. A big ask, and one that has yet imo to be successfully achieved.

    This is one (and only one reason of many) we may feel more comfortable with Aristotle (and Aquinas – once we put the effort to understand them) than most biologists/evolutionists. You may notice that some of the latter are seeking a distinct philosophy of biology – this is because other schools of thought cannot serve their purpose. This is also an admission, albeit a ‘sneaky one’ that they recognise that Darwinian outlook(s) is insufficient and inadequate to sustain their current generalisations. These questions include such things as “what is a species?”, is “NS constrained?”, “just how do we scientifically verify universal common ancestry?”, just to mention a few. Darwinians may rejoice at this, as they think it demonstrates intellectual vigour and enquiring minds – me thinks they are fooling themselves – but there we go again.

    SO…. I come back to my (wearily) outlook – once the particular scientific idea has been pronounced settled, I simply regard it as inadequate without feeling a need to embark on a campaign of support of opposition.

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