Groothuis’ "Christian Apologetics" ch. 14: Evidence for Intelligent Design

Rounding out the chs11-14 series dealing with God’s roll in creation, the goal of this chapter of Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics is to give a positive case for Intelligent Design, as well as answering objections to it.  The section “ID and the Nature of the Designer” reminds me of the “Pantheism and Design” section from chapter 12, so I’ll refer back to that.  Also, the section on origin/operation science reminds me of macro-/microevolution from chapter 13, so I mention them together.  There is more relevant info. in ch.13’s introduction explaining why those aren’t the only two times I will be referring back to chapters 11-13.

Evidence for Intelligent Design

True quote:  “Darwinists often brush aside criticisms by claiming that even if their theory betrays some weaknesses (which, of course, will be worked out in time) it wins by default, since no other theory has replaced it.  Thus, in order to discredit Darwinism (1) Darwinism must be brought into question by the evidence, and (2) another scientific model must be put in its place.  The second condition is not necessary to bring Darwinism into question, however, because this condition biases the case for Darwinism unfairly.  In a court of law an attorney must merely exonerate his client in order for the client to be cleared of a crime.  The attorney does not, in addition, need to find the real culprit.  …Nagel rejects Darwinism…even though he does not offer an alternative theory.” (pp.297-298)  However:  “…the case against Darwinism is strengthened considerably when an alternative better explains the evidence.  That is exactly what ID seeks to accomplish.” (p. 298)

Richard Dawkins (saw this in the God and Evolution book)–admits biology is “the study of living things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” (298).  Francis Crick:  “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

Origin Science vs. Operation Science

Origin science deals with singularities that cannot be tested in a lab, instead using forensic/historic reasoning based on presently available evidence:  beginning of the universe, life, species… Macroevolution (“arrival” in ch.13) and Intelligent Design are origin science.

–There should be evidence to support claims about the visibility of design in nature.

Operation science deals with ongoing processes of nature that are repeatable and observable:  chemical reactions, embryology…  Microevolution (“survival” in ch.13) is operation science.

“Intelligent design proponents do not claim that a Designer contravenes the ongoing processes of nature in such a way as to make the study of regularities impossible, as theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller has charged.  Rather, ID argues that key features of the regularly functioning natural world are best explained by the influence of design at some state in the past.” (300)

Five Objections to Intelligent Design

1.  Heads I win; tails you lose.

It’s a combination of #2/#4 below (one prong–ID is masked religion, not science), with evidence against ID (contradictory prong–because if ID is merely a religious belief, and religious beliefs are truly in a different NOMA, there can be no evidence against it–science cannot defeat non-science).  NOMA is not mentioned in this area of the book.

2.  Methodological/philosophical naturalism/materialism (see ch.13) only–design is a science-stopper.

This is the first prong above, as well as the 4th point below (a bit redundant).  Instead of begging the question by demanding science give materialistic explanations, we should be open to following wherever the evidence leads and demand science give the ‘best’ explanations (“for natural phenomena through empirical observation and rational theorizing”).

The science-stopper objection fails for at least 4 reasons, which I’m turning into letters:

a.  Western science proceeded very well with a theistic metaphysic before Darwin.
b.  ID does not interfere with the ongoing operations of nature (operation science)–but see 3 below (Behe).
c.  Christian ID affirms a rational, orderly God, not a chaotic, capricious one.
d.  The design inference is used outside biology.  “The search for intelligent causes–or the design inference–is alive and well in many areas of science outside biology, such as archaeology, cryptography and the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI).  Intelligent design extends this design inference into biology.” (p. 302)  This harkens back to ch.12’s mention of some of the other places intelligence is not considered a religious conclusion: “[Dembski’s] method of detecting intelligent causes is already accepted in several areas of science, namely, archaeology, forensic science, intellectual property law, insurance claims investigation, cryptography, random number generation and the search for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI).  Intelligent design (ID) simply employs these methods of detecting or falsifying design and applies them to the natural sciences as well.” (p. 244–from chapter 12)

3.  Intelligent causes are not testable and cannot make predictions.

The “not testable” objection was already answered in the origin/operation science section.  The “predictions objection” is answered by realizing that the singularities of origin science cannot be predicted, though I’m not absolutely positive a secular scientist would take that as granted.  I’m pretty sure they want a natural explanation of the conditions which, in every possible world, would produce a universe.  But…can that be tested?  And, if it can’t be tested–how can you be sure the predictions it makes are true?  So…perhaps Dr. Groothuis was right in the first place–origin science cannot make predictions.  It is only about “explaining past events historically according to the best evidence and reasoning available.” (p. 303)

Still–“ID does make certain testable empirical claims and predictions, and seeks out certain kinds of evidence.”  (So…it sounds like the methods of origin science are not so distinct from operations science…there can be overlap, right?)

Those who don’t believe in common ancestry (not Michael Behe–why not? –does that change 2b?) predict:

a) the evidence for it in the fossil records will be lacking
b) basic kinds of life are not subject to indefinite change
c) human behavior cannot be explained by the behavior of lower animals
d) vestigial organs will be found to be not-so (Dembski predicted in 1998 that junk DNA would be shown to be not-junk, and see ch.13).

I would like to know more about Behe’s position and if it changes anything said in this chapter about origin vs. operation.  Does the charge that “God monkeys with the regularities” apply to Behe’s position?  What sort of “testable empirical claims and predictions” and what evidence does Behe seek out?  Does Behe’s view escape the charges brought against TE? It would seem Dr. Groothuis does at least agree with Behe on “irreducible complexity” below.

4.  ID proponents appeal to religious, not scientific, authorities.

“Thomas Nagel, David Berlinksi and others who have questioned Darwinism or considered the possibility of design appeal to no religious authority to advance their critique.” (303)  The same is true of those in the ID movement, regardless of their particular religion or lack of religion.

There are no scientists, supernaturalists or naturalists, exempt from worldview bias.

It doesn’t matter the worldview of the person who makes the claim–what matters is if there is evidence to back it up.

5.  Darwinism is well-established, so ID is moot.

“…scientific criticisms of Darwinism have persisted ever since Darwin published his theory in 1859.  Darwinism has never held the unquestioned allegiance of the entire scientific community, as do the theories of heliocentrism and plate tectonics today.” (304)

Plate tectonics overthrew cylindrical column theory of mountain formation in four decades.  There are many other examples of accepted theories being overthrown by better theories.

From my notes on Norris’ Epistemology, Postscript I:

1. Phlogiston and the luminiferous ether are out for different reasons:
a. phlogiston never referred to anything, and was replaced by Lavoisier’s oxygen-based theory of combustion
b. the luminiferous ether referred to what is now more adequately called the electro-magnetic field
2. Aristotle’s concept of bodies falling to find their ‘natural place’ is replaced by gravity
3. Mass, molecule, atom and electron–all have undergone some rethinking.

Michael Behe and Molecular Machines

1.  Molecular machines evidence specified complexity (Dembski’s contingent, complex, specified from ch.12).

2.  Specified complexity can’t be explained by chance or necessity (natural law)–or combo.
3.  Intelligent agency explains specified complexity.
4.  Intelligent agency explains molecular machines.

Behe argues that certain molecular machines could not have gradually evolved, because if you took away one of their interworking parts, they would stop working.  This is a kind of specified complexity called “irreducible complexity”–as opposed to “cumulative complexity” (like a city that won’t stop functioning if you destroy one house).  

a.  Darwinian mechanisms can account for cumulative, but not irreducible, complexity (…but humans build houses and cities…so cumulative complexity is neither evidence of purely natural causes, nor evidence of intelligent causes…right?).  “Natural selection can only choose systems that are already working.” (306)  

b.  Not mentioned until page 311, the co-option theory of systems being gradually assembled by co-opting tools from other systems for new purposes–doesn’t answer irreducible complexity, because before co-opting the tool, the irreducibly complex system can’t function in order to adopt it.  Kenneth Miller argues that the evidence that the same tools are found in different systems is evidence for Darwinism and against irreducible complexity, but “Behe never claimed that each part of an irreducible complex system must have no other function elsewhere in the living world.” (311–and see homology section from chapter 13)

The mousetrap as an example of irreducible complexity is explained.

The bacterial flagellum as an example of irreducible complexity is explained and compared to an outboard motor.

Darwin’s famous quote is presented as either allowing a possible refutation (a key characteristic of a falsifiable theory), or as insulation from criticism that trades on question-begging that merely assumes a naturalistic explanation without providing a credible alternative (not falsifiable).  “Possibility is not the same as credibility.” (309)  Intelligent design at least ‘allows’ for such a possibility.  It is falsifiable.  Dr. Groothuis says falsifiability’s importance is a matter of debate in the philosophy of science–I wasn’t aware of that.  “Nevertheless, a heavily empirical science such as biology should be open to the possibility of counter-evidence overturning a well-received theory, as long as that evidence fits into a plausible alternative model.” (310-311)  BUT instead you get quotes like this:  “We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity; but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” (310) !!!  That is from Franklin Harold’s The Way of the Cell.

The only alternative is instantaneous equilibrium at the molecular level.  In No Free Lunch, Dembski showed the odds of that “fall below the ‘universal probability bound'” (311) and so are virtually impossible to overcome.  Behe breaks the rule of methodological naturalism (see ch.13), but, to be consistent, if methodological naturalism is to be applied to design inference in biology, it should be applied to design inference in all other areas, including archaeology, forensic science, intellectual property law, insurance claims investigation, cryptography, the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI), and random number generation–and all intelligent beings should be considered supernatural. 

DNA:  A Language Indicating Design

1.  DNA contains genetic assembly instructions in the form of language.
2.  This genetic information is an example of specified complexity (contingent, complex, specified).
3.  Specified complexity can’t be explained by chance or necessity (natural law)–or combo.
4.  Intelligent agency explains specified complexity.
5.  Intelligent agency explains the language contained in DNA.

This reminds me of this really cool video I saw a while back:  Science Matters:  Biology as Literature:  Learning to Read the Molecular Book of Life.  The language parts are in 8:45-12:55.

DNA is like the Rosetta Stone.  It bears the marks of intelligence.

“…like machines invented by humans to deal efficiently with the macroscopic world, these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts.” (Bruce Alberts, critic of ID) (313)

“…machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.  Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.” (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden) (316)

“DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” (Bill Gates, The Road Ahead) (316)

“Neither Dawkins nor Gates…infer that a computer could be explained on the basis of chance and natural law.  Yet they…claim that genetic information, in its specified complexity, does not require an intelligent cause to explain it.” (316)

The design inference is not an argument from ignorance, but is based on 1) what we know about DNA’s complexity, and 2) what we know about design detection.

“On the other hand, naturalist attempts to explain the information-rich, information-bearing aspects of DNA must appeal to unknown and unverified natural processes–a kind of naturalism (chance and/or necessity) of the gaps.” (316)

(Life from non-life)
(or…information from non-information)

Natural selection cannot act on nonliving matter, since it cannot reproduce itself.  (Can’t remember what all Dawkins said about this in “The Selfish Gene”.)

Urey and Miller’s attempt to show that life (amino acids) could develop from non-life (methane, ammonia, hydrogen, water) in a natural environment:
a. assumes that the earth’s atmosphere lacked oxygen
b. is now widely rejected
c. an amino acid is a million miles away from a protein
d. should have been listed as an “icon of evolution” in the last chapter

The “RNA world theory” presupposes, instead of explaining the origin of, biological information–or “how the base pairs in a hypothetical self-replicating RNA molecule might be ordered in the right sequence to allow for replication.” (318)

“If information cannot be reduced to material components, then material components cannot explain the existence of information.” (319)  George C. Williams: “While we can speak of physical objects as having ‘mass and charge and length and width,’ information cannot be so described.  ‘Likewise, matter doesn’t have bytes.’  This leads him to conclude that ‘matter and information [are] two separate domains of existence…’  Gitt draws out the implication as a theorem:  ‘There is no known law of nature, no known process and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter.'” (315)

Here is my thinking on this right now.  Only an intelligence can form a word, but when we find words too small for humans to write–it isn’t an intelligence forming the words?  And they aren’t just random, nonsense words.  They are words that make all living things–many parts of which are irreducibly complex.

If DNA is required in order to build an organism, but an organism’s existence is required in order for DNA to be ‘about’ something–which came first?  If building plans are required to build a skyscraper, but the skyscraper itself has to at least be a real idea in order for plans about it to be drawn up so that  the actual skyscraper can be constructed–which came first, the drawn up plans (DNA)…or the idea behind them?  DNA cannot be reverse-enginered plans an organism stores about itself after the fact, because the organism wouldn’t exist without DNA.  So it seems like all this information must have started out as an idea.  No matter how simple the organism.

Murray Eden (MIT mathematician) argued the emergence of life from non-life is statistically impossible.  20 amino acids and not enough time to assemble them by chance.

The chance thesis has been abandoned.  Some speculate life originated by natural law(s), but a) no known law explains specified complexity, b) Polanyi showed DNA can only occur via “contingent conventions that specify meaning, not the simple repetitions wrought by laws” (320)  Languages and codes do not occur by chemical reactions, in other words–they require authors.

Rather than affirming ID, Yockey thinks of life as an axiom–but ancient earth was prebiotic.

Life from Space

Rather than affirming a supernatural creator, Crick believed in directed panspermia–that life was seeded on earth by aliens.  But a) aliens don’t have time to become advanced and travel here from as far away as they are, if they exist, b) are not aliens “alive” — all living matter requires explanation.

In undirected panspermia, a guiding intelligence is lacking and the odds are even less in life’s favor.

Biomimicry:  Nature as Model for Technology

Check out all the great photos you will find when you click on the word “Biomimicry” directly above.  

1.  Scientists are mimicking natural mechanisms to improve human design plans.
2.  Mechanisms superior to human design plans must be plans that are superior in design.
3.  Such mechanisms are designed or they would not be candidates for imitation by technologies.

Seems like 2 and 3 are identical.

An Old Objection:  Design Flaws

The argument is that if we can improve on nature, it is not optimal, and is not designed, but evolved.
a) Gould’s orchid has a retooled mechanism for getting pollen from insects.  Why shouldn’t God work in patters?  Gould’s objection is merely aesthetic.
b) Gould’s panda’s thumb is not fully opposable.  He uses this as scientific evidence against what he perceives as non-science, despite crafting the NOMA, thereby granting ID legitimacy.  He presumes to know what is the best design/function.  Many apparently suboptimal systems are actually optimal, and Dr. Groothuis chalks up the rest as resulting from the Fall–I prefer to stick with his other answers.

ID and the Nature of the Designer

Aliens are ruled out because life can’t develop and travel that far, that fast, new species cannot emerge from one species, and aliens themselves need explanation (if they exist).

Pantheism is ruled out because its God is impersonal (not a person?  not a designer) and monistic (no creator-created duality).  From ch.12:  Pantheism fails to explain design, because 1) the knower is not the known, 2) the universe is not a necessary being, 3) designing is done by a person, and 4) no rational argument can explain the presumably ineffable.

Polytheism is ruled out by the Razor.

Panentheism (God/universe are co-eternal and the universe is part of God) is ruled out by ex nihilo arguments.

Deism is ruled out by the arguments for Christian Theism.

The nature of the Designer is personal, creative, and distinct from what is designed.

(discussion index)

About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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