Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Does Intelligent Design Make Testable Predictions? Part 2

Could ID predict this scenario? If it happened would the explanatory filter fail to detect ID?

In the first part of this series I expressed doubt about Intelligent Design’s ability to make hard predictions; after all, ID covers a large range of opinions from Sir John Polkinghorne’s fruitful evolutionism to Beyond our Ken Ham’s mature creation, a creation created “just like that” 6000 years ago. It seems that ID can be used to underwrite so many creation scenarios that its predictive content is seriously compromised. I say this as an ID creationist myself, so I am not saying it from an anti-ID stance. In fact I say it because I am anxious to make all due allowance for the problems of prediction that arise naturally from an ontology that starts with the assumption of some complex presumably self-explaining entity whose nature is very alien to human kind; hardly a sound basis for successful prediction - and we thought predicting human behaviour was difficult enough. So perhaps the lack of predictability in ID is less a bug than it is an expected feature of the ontology it posits. Let’s face it, ID is going to struggle to be hard science.

So where does this leave the predictions in Uncommon Descent’s post here? Well, ID does become a harder science if, as seems to be the case in the community UD represents, ID is de-facto anti-evolutionism. A de-facto anti-evolutionism is liable to contradict certain evolutionary scenarios and will presumably impact expected biological and paleontological observations. But even if we assume an anti-evolutionary position that still leaves us with an open ended range of ID candidates running from Old Earth Creationism to fundamentalist views like that of Beyond our Ken Ham. Anti-evolutionists, then, will claim that they know what hasn’t happened, but they have no consensus on what has happened and consequently they are going to be vague about just what they expect the fossil record to reveal; all they know is that it’s not going to reveal evolution, at least as currently understood. Nevertheless, when ID slips over into anti-evolutionism it at least appears to be saying something with a little more content than “God did it – somehow”.

Anyway, without further ado here are the first four predictions in UD’s list, each followed by my own comment. I was hoping to get through all predictions in one post, but as there are a total of 14 predictions it looks as though it’s going to be a long hot summer.

ID Prediction 01: ID predicts that the Universe had a beginning.

My Comment: I can’t see why this follows. In his book “The Intelligent Universe” Sir Fred Hoyle moots the idea that life is intelligently designed and yet as a lifelong supporter of Steady State Theory he obviously didn’t think his version of ID implied a universe with a beginning. Neither do I see this as a prediction of ID in its most abstracted form. However, I agree that it is a prediction of mainstream Christian Theism; but Christian theism isn’t ID in its most abstracted form.

ID Prediction 02: ID predicts an increase (and not a decrease), as science progresses, in the number of finely-tuned parameters pertinent to the laws and constants of physics.

My Comment: I have a feeling that this prediction arises out of a misconception I have occasionally seen on UD that physical laws can’t carry information: The naive argument runs as follows: Laws equate to “necessity” and therefore the patterns they generate have a probability of 1. A probability of 1 entails zero information. The upshot is that many anti-evolutionists cannot see how the patterns implied by physical laws can be a receptacle of information. The only kind of information they recognize, then, are configurations that appear to have been patched in “by hand” rather than generated by physical laws. Moreover, Dembski’s explanatory filter, although valid in circumstances within the cosmic context, has the unfortunate side effect of making it look as though Law and Disorder causes obviate the need for Intelligent Design; the filter doesn’t readily raise the question of the Intelligent origin of Law and Disorder but instead invokes a regress whereby Law and Disorder generates Law and Disorder.

All in all this amounts to a double whammy against the efficacy of physical laws, for not only do they appear to be information-less, but the all important explanatory filter fails to explicitly acknowledge that laws themselves may be intelligently contrived. Thus, on UD there is tendency for only “hand patched” information to register on their radar as having ID origins. Hence in UD’s view the greater the level of overt hand patching the firmer the case for ID. Anti-evolutionists, then, expect more hand patched configuring rather than less. In my view high levels of “hand patching” does not necessarily follow from ID. If it really is possible to generate life using law and disorder, then given the level of Intelligence envisaged by ID creationists it follows that that intelligence is well able choose an elegant set of laws with a minimum of adjustable variables. Whether elegant laws can actually generate information I have considered on the following web pages:


However, I must add a disclaimer: None of this necessarily means that Physical Law is the means by which  a creative intelligence has introduced information into our world. The UDers may be right and life isn’t a product of law and disorder, but has, in fact, been directly patched in by Divine Intelligence in the form of a second creative dispensation – this is why I like to keep tabs on UD in case they come up with something; they just might. Unlike some people who call them “IDiots” I do have respect for their abilities.

ID prediction 03: ID predicts the presence of specified complexity in living systems.

My Comment: For something to have “specified complexity” two conditions must be met. Firstly, the object must be complex in configuration – this rules out highly ordered configurations like crystalline periodicities. Secondly, the object must be highly improbable - this rules out highly disordered configurations because high disorder, by virtue of its overwhelming representation in the space of possibilities, is, assuming equal a-priori probabilities, very probable. Hence objects with specified complexity are objects that are both complex and at the same time members of a very improbable class. In absolute terms it is clear that organic structures fulfill both these conditions – they are complex and yet ordered enough to be very far removed from absolute disorder. So in one sense the above “prediction” is less a prediction than it is a manifestly obvious feature of life. I must emphasise, however, that I have just said “in absolute terms” – that is, a la Fred Hoyle’s Junkyard Jumbo “explosion” where it is assumed that each and every possible configuration of elements is equally possible thus entailing an absolutely minute probability of a Jumbo Jet forming during an explosion.

But if as evolutionists are implying life is a product of the “self organization” implicit in the laws of physics, then in terms of conditional probabilities the probability of life is much greater than it would be in absolute terms. The probability of life conditioned on the Laws of Physics can be represented as Prob(Life|Laws of Physics). Evolutionists are effectively telling us that the value of Prob(Life|Laws of Physics) is great enough for there to be a realistic chance of the formation of life in the history of the universe. Thus, the “specified complexity” of life, given the Laws of Physics, is correspondingly reduced. Now, as far as the UD community is concerned, specified complexity is used to detect Intelligent Design; it is used in the explanatory filter to decide whether a configuration is a product of intelligence or law and disorder. The trouble is, as I have pointed out above, the explanatory filter does not explicitly acknowledge the present of intelligence if a configuration can be explained, with a reasonable probability, as the outcome of law and disorder. Hence, if Prob(Life|Laws of Physics) is sufficiently high UDers are liable to lose sight of a cosmic intelligence behind the universe. Consequently, they favour the view that Prob(Life|Laws of Physics) is extremely low, which is the mathematical way of expressing their strong anti-evolutionist line; that is, they maintain that the laws of physics are not a sufficient condition for life thus entailing the high specified complexity of organic structures even given the laws of physics.

In order to convert the conditional probability Prob(Life|Laws of Physics) into the absolute probability Prob(Life), we need to know Prob(Laws of Physics). Trouble is, we haven’t got a clue what this value is and in fact we have little idea how to calculate it, if indeed it is an intelligible concept. In spite of some speculations about how physical laws might change across a multiverse no quantification is currently possible because there is no known Law and Disorder regime that generates law and disorder regimes. However, we can perhaps get an inkling of an answer to this question if we remind ourselves of an important mathematical abstraction: Namely, of all possible platonic patterns of behavior the ordered behavior described by the laws of physics is clearly an extreme rarity. Hence on this basis, and assuming equal a-priori probabilities, Prob(Laws of Physics) looks to be very low. This implies that even if Prob(Life|Laws of Physics) is relatively high, then the absolute probability of life, Prob(Life), is very low. So as far as specified complexity is concerned life has a very low absolute probability whether or not it is implicit in the laws of physics. That means that the above UD “prediction” has more the character of a logical truism in as much as it is true whether we are evolutionists or not. Therefore this “prediction” does not necessarily express an anti-evolutionist view.

ID prediction 04: ID predicts that, as scientific research progresses, biological complexity will be seen to increase over time, and information will have a more and more central role in the governing of life’s operations.

My comment: By “increase over time” I think the author actually means human research time. If so then this seems a rather trivial prediction given that as far the extent of our knowledge about organisms is concerned the only way is up!
But I’m going to use this opportunity as an excuse to talk about an increase in organic complexity over paleontological time; a prediction that is not peculiar to anti-evolutionist ID but also follows if Prob(Life|Laws of Physics) has realistic values - that is, evolution itself predicts an increase in biological complexity over time. Let me explain.
It is clear that not all biological organisms are of equal complexity. Here I am not so much talking about configurational complexity but the more abstract computational complexity measured by computation time. For example, it is fairly self evident that metazoans must be preceded by precursor structures; very likely single cell organisms. Single cell organisms in turn will be preceded by basic chemical constituents. In short any organic structure is preceded by a minimum number of precursor conditions that follow in a strict stratified sequence. This stratified sequence forms a kind “critical path” in the manufacture of the structure. The longer this path, the more computationally complex the structure is because the minimum time needed to arrive at the structure  is an increasing function of this sequence length.
If evolution is a kind of diffusion motion through configuration space then the precursor structures will necessarily be reached first. This diffusion motion causes a slow population growth in organic configuration space where the stratification sequence ensures that the “lower levels” will be populated before the “higher levels”. Thus it follows that biological complexity will be seen to increase over time. One way to think about this result is thermodynamically: The Earth is in a kind of morphological disequilibrium; as time increases the shuffling of happenstance entail a kind of diffusion motion which ensures the progressive population of morphological slots over time. Those morphological slots that require a sequence of morphological stages to be followed before they are arrived at will be populated later rather than sooner. The result is that biological complexity, computationally speaking, increases over time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Religious Control Freaks

Inquisitors Attempt to Gag Freedom of Speech at NN&N
Who is Trying to Censor My Post on NN&N? "Answers in Genesis" or The Mysterious XXX Brotherhood? It's looking like the latter at the moment.

A rabidly fundamentalist article has appeared on the Christian Web site Network Norwich and Norfolk (NN&N) . The article is by an Answers in Genesis rep and consists of  the usual off the peg quip theology, backed up with spiritual threats implying Divine disleasure if the YEC view isn't believed. I posted a rebuttle, but unfortunately my main comment kept getting deleted by an anonymous "gremlin" user of the site who is presumbly  not at all pleased with my contribution. I in turn keep reposting it. To help things a long a little I'm posting my NN&N comments here so that I can use them as reference material if needs be: The gremlin will attempt to influence the site wallahs at NN&N in order to get my stuff deleted permanently. It is a classic fundamentalist ploy to attempt to gag the opposition rather than engage it in reason.

My apologies but the following won't be very meaningful unless you have followed NN&N; I'm just using my blog to as web space.


The “hermeneutic” that this YEC author refers to does not lead to easy or infallible interpretations as he should himself be well aware of. Moreover meta-statements made by an author clarifying meaning must themselves be interpreted by the interpreter. Thus we ourselves are always, repeat always, the weak link that stops us short of claiming to have an infallible grasp of God’s Word. This then ought to prevent us making audacious claims about a particular interpretation of scripture. 

Re: The Historical Hermeneutic: This is particularly difficult to apply given that the contemporary mindset is certainly not identical to that of the Biblical writers. For example, it is unlikely that the early Biblical writers had any concept of the Earth as a globe and certainly not a spinning globe; their world view would be very geocentric. It is no surprise then that Answers in Genesis have clashed with Christian Geocentrists over the meaning of scripture. A sharp clash between AiG’s Danny Falkner and the Geocentrist scientist Gerardus Bouw can be seen here:


It is quite likely that the Greek concept of a spherical Earth didn’t figure much in the consciousness or interests of the Biblical writers and so perhaps it is not surprising that the Flat Earth society has, in times past, claimed their views to be based on “God’s Word”. See here:


Let us also recall in this connection the Witness Lee Brotherhood, who have made frequent recent visits to NN&N’s web pages. They follow the teaching of G.H. Pember’s Gap theory interpretation of Genesis 1 – an idea which I think you will find is strongly opposed by AiG. The Witness Lee Brotherhood believe that a Gap interpretation is all part of God’s “recovery” modus operandi. For them the concept of recovery is very much bound up with the end time restoration of the church as a brotherhood that blends into a spiritual elite. The Witness Lee brotherhood isn’t some uber-unorthodox cult: Their scriptural interpretations are largely mainstream evangelical although some idiosyncrasies such as the “recovery” doctrine do set them apart and guess what, they would likely view AiG as part of the unblended Christian “Babylon”.

One thing is clear; whether we are talking about AiG, Christian Geocentrists, Christian Flat-Earthers, the Recovery Brotherhood, or numerous other exclusive and devout religious sects, all are very pious, very vehement and utterly convinced that they are “taking God at his Word”. In fact I have even heard of some fundamentalist ultras who are dissatisfied with AiG’s compromise of mixing scripture with science. For them Sola Scriptura really means Sola Scriptura and they would rather drop all scientific dabblings (Something which is actually impossible to do) and they regard scientific creationists like AiG to “have fallen into the trap of being Greeks looking for Wisdom. and trying to compete wisdom v wisdom.”  The overall effect of this plethora of conflicting claims by those who “take God at his Word” is to evacuate its apparent meaningfulness.

When I was first converted to Christianity I was given the YEC hard sell, a hard sell that carefully juxtaposed YEC philosophy with the phrases we can see in the above article such as: “Putting words into Gods mouth”, “Applying your opinion to scripture”, “Compromising God’s word”, “God means what he says”, “ignoring God’s word”, “believing atheistic systems” and threats of what might happen on Judgment day if you don’t take God at his word etc etc. All this was scary and intimidating and naturally enough focused the mind of the religious novice on his judgment before God if he didn’t consent to YEC. The truism that the reader inevitably supplies a fallible interpretation is paid lip service to; in practice man’s interpretations become identified to God’s truth; in practice man’s interpretations sneak past critical analysis and somehow appear to directly emerge from scripture without an act of interpretation; they thereby attempt to place themselves beyond critical scrutiny by claiming to have God’s direct authority.

To cut a long story short: As my faith, confidence and knowledge grew not only did I find YEC science wanting and their use of scripture suspect, I also became very disturbed by their implicitly threatening language which looked like an attempt to apply spiritual duress. Around the same time I had started researching the cults and the similarities were alarming. On a sectarian/cult scale of 1 to 10 I would put AiG at around 6+.

I see that same strident and intimidating tones from the author of the above article that I saw many years ago; the same threatening spiritual pretensions that implicitly masquerade as “God’s Word”. It’s sectarian and it’s cult like. Above all it’s all too conceitedly human; even fanatical. To think I was nearly rushed into speaking like that myself. Frankly I find the whole thing revolting. 

NOTE: We must also be very mindful of RichardL’s excellent point about the genus of Biblical literature.

…...following on from these comments I would like to add that the "historical hermeneutic" has several related problematical issues/questions: 

a) Historical context may be humanly unrecoverable. “Plain readings” are not necessarily the rule.

b) Translation/copying issues raise questions over the whereabouts of the “original word”.

c) Given that we are dealing with a Divine Omni-Agency, there is a measure of inscrutability as to how God might use his word: Conceivably he is well able to use the resources of a contemporary context (rather than the original context) to invest his word with new meanings in order to achieve his purposes.

d) Does the historical hermeneutic have the relevant Biblical meta-statements justifying its usage?

e) It is very likely that the general reader looks at the Bible unaware of the gulf in meanings that could exist by virtue of the separation of his context from the context of the writer. It is quite likely that general reader uses an informal “on the hoof” hermeneutic that often leads to meanings very differently from the original writer: Can such informal interpretations be detected and should they be rejected or accepted? 

f) Use of the Holy Spirit’s name to underwrite a proprietary interpretation of the text begs the question.

There are other issues, but that will do for now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Choice is Yours

Now here''s a guy who believes in freedom of choice: "My way or the damned way" 

13/05/2011: After posting the above cartoon I was reminded of this post by Arni Zachariassen; the quote below taken from the post shows why. Caution! You're about to enter  "Beyond our Ken Ham's"  false dichotomy zone.

But if you repeatedly tell people that there’s only one way of doing Christianity and any deviation from that norm is compromise and a start down the slippery slope to abortion-loving, homosexual-marrying monkey atheism – well, you’re setting people up for the fall. Because any responsible higher education will relativise any theological position (that’s what higher education does), especially one the is founded upon science-denial, philosophical naivety and theological exclusivism. And if someone’s been told enough times that they have to choose between either that or the complete renunciation of the Christian faith? Let’s just say that the likelihood for apostasy is a lot higher.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Middlebrow Atheism. Part 5 (Final Part)

If you don't seek you may not find

This is the final part of my “Middlebrow Atheism” series. The other parts can be found as follows:


Video Item 08: That some theists require an extra miracle for the creation of life is an admission that the cosmos isn’t fine tuned enough.

My Comments: This criticism really applies to anti-evolutionists who believe that a second “creative dispensation” is required on top of physics. Although I have reservations about conventional evolutionary theory I personally prefer the “one creative dispensation” view. One issue I have with the two dispensations view is that it is liable to disconnect living things from their cosmic stage: The dimensions and parameters of the cosmos become details incidental to the organic dispensation. At least in standard evolutionary theory the existence of life is logically bound up with the wider cosmos. But even if standard evolution is wrong my guess is that whatever the history of life’s development may be, that history is intimately connected to the cosmos; life is some function of cosmic dimensions and cosmic parameters; for then the cosmos no longer seems a "waste of space" but a necessary accessory to life. (Robert Sheldon is an example of a anti-evolutionist who has some intriguingly radical theories on panspermia that do at least connect life’s history to cosmic conditions)

Video Item 09: Life is a happy by product of an environment rather than the environment being designed for life. For example, is the atmosphere designed for sky diving? Was the wind designed for wind surfing?

My Comments: This one comes under the heading of what Sir John Polkinghorne aptly describes as the “fruitfulness” of God’s creation. Given the particular physical regime that governs our cosmos, this then implies a configuration space consisting of all that is possible within the constraints of that regime. This configuration space is a static platonic object and the layout of the configurations in this space determines whether the “shufflings of happenstance” (Another phrase I have picked up from Polkinghorne) is conducive to the Polkinghorne’s “fruitfulness”. For example, clearly “technological configuration space” is so arranged as to allow the quantum of human intelligence, (which I represent by “i”), to traverse it successfully; for human intelligence is not great enough to jump the huge gap between the stone age and the jet age in one generation, but it can jump the smaller gaps between the islands of functionality in “technological configuration space” as evidenced by the succession of artifacts in technological history that have lead up to the development of jet aircraft. A jet aircraft is the result of a long historical development of many technological innovations that have occurred in a piecemeal fashion; a product of the shuffling of human happenstance. It is the arrangement of artifacts in technological configuration space that allows human intelligence to traverse it in small technological leaps. Those artifacts are arranged in configuration space in a way that allows the quantum of human intelligence, i, to migrate from one innovation to the next. If this wasn’t so then the making a jet aircraft would be as improbable as Fred Hoyle’s Junkyard Jumbo. So, in answer to video I regard the wind surfing and sky diving as part of the built-in technological fruitfulness of our physical regime, a fruitfulness that also includes wind turbines, and flying. My conjecture is that a randomly selected physical regime would be unlikely to possess this fruitfulness, and thus we are likely to be talking here of something with a high “specified complexity”.

However, whether or not the configuration space of living structures can also be fruitfully traversed by the random shufflings of happenstance is a moot point.

Video Item 10: Science investigates researches, explains and tests hypotheses. There is no comparable testing and investigation available for the God hypothesis. With contemporary Cosmological theory there is the possibility for real data and some chance of testing these theories unlike for God. Where is the derivation for God? Where’s the chance to test this hypothesis? Religion gives up and says “a magic man did it”

My Comments. As I have made clear already in this series, the hard sciences (physics in particular) use a pair of explanatory object types that I refer to as “Law and Disorder”. “Laws” are functions subject to the Church-Turing Thesis in that they are pattern generating functions that can be rendered computationally. “Disorder” are patterns that yield to statistical description. In the video Alan Guth says he has no idea why the laws of physics are what they are. That’s no surprise to me: There is, I believe, a fundamental reason why Guth must say this: For without getting into a “Turtles all the way down” regress where Law and Disorder explanation gets stuck in a kind of self referential loop, physics naturally comes to an end once full description has been achieved (i.e. a “Theory of Everything” as it is called). If we are going to ask why the laws of physics work, then that question, as far as physics is concerned, is meaningless. A science of the mathematically elemental can provide no deeper answer “why” than in the giving of an exhaustive descriptive account of the status quo. (If indeed such is actually possible)

Given the huge number of possible patterns that can exist it is clear that there is a very large class of pattern that are too ordered to be amenable to statistical treatment, and yet too complex to be rendered with mathematical functions in a realistic time using serial computation. There is, therefore, a large class of patterns that are in principle intractable to “Law and Disorder” science. Potentially, then, there are objects out there that are not tractable to science as we currently understand it. If such exist in our reality they would not be amenable to derivation and testing. Thus, contrary to the suggestion of the video scientific intractability is no reason to rule them out: Because something doesn’t yield to research, derivation and testing is not sufficient condition for its nonexistence. All we can do is thank our lucky bunny (I don’t know what atheists thank; “bunny” is all I could come up with) that so much of our world is apparently amenable to our finite science.

But an “in principle” scientific intractability is compounded by practical intractability. Given that our world is mathematically chaotic and subject to random quantum perturbations means that even if we assume Law and Disorder offers a full description of the world it yet remains beyond our practical powers to describe much of that world with anything other than ex post facto narrative. Further compounding the tractability problems of science is the fact that data is, humanly speaking, irretrievably lost in the mists of time. Thus the inaccessibility and complex contingency of history is open to the same criticisms the video levels against theism: In history there is little in the way of derivation and testing that parallels the theories of the hard physical sciences. In many cases there is no possibility of real data and a chance of a theory being testable. In between stumbling on the occasional fortuitously surviving text or archeological artifact, history remains dependent on the experienced historian’s imagination to fill in the gaps for us.

The video’s beguiling arguments are nearly as devastating to history as they are to God. It is naive to think that one can approach God, (or history for that matter) in the manner that one might approach the elemental Law and Disorder objects of the hard sciences. If anything God’s complexity and inaccessibility makes for a far more scientifically intractable object than even history. If God was subject to Law and Disorder research it wouldn’t be God; the object would be far too elemental for that. This, of course, doesn’t mean there is such an object as God; but if there is a God, the unimaginative mindset of the video producers, whose theology only seems to extend as far as "a magic man", obstructs any chance of seeking him let alone of finding him.

From one mankind he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:26-27

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Is 55:6

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Alien, Very Alien, Intelligent Design

Interesting is this post on Uncommon Descent which manifests a phenomenon I have become very familiar with; namely, anti-evolutionists attempting to form a cartel with atheist evolutionists on the basis of their mutual belief that “Darwinism” gives God his redundancy notice . “I don’t need that hypothesis” as the saying goes; as if God is a "Law & Disorder" hypothesis. 

In fact, the anti-evolutionists may go as far as to express admiration and respect for atheists who candidly spell out the “materialistic” conclusions of “Darwinism”. I suspect the respect is one way, although I have sneaky suspicion that the new wave atheists don’t mind at all when theists also caricature evolution as a mindless process based on chance. In this article on  the Christian web site Network Norwich and Norfolk James Knight notes that many new wave atheists started their life as Christians, thus hinting at some link between gnu atheism and Christianity. I added a comment to his article noting the apparent cartel forming behavior I have already mentioned and proposed that this may have something to do with the link. The cartel is used by fundamentalists to apply spiritual duress on Christian evolutionists: As James Knight says:

Yes we see a peculiar defense of fundamentalism take place, where, in order to dismiss theistic evolution they (the fundamentalists) put on a new-wave atheist's mask and quote their usual sound-bytes in the hope that theistic evolutionists will begin to stink of ‘Darwinism’, and qualify to the point of ex-communication.


It is an irony that one reason I can’t get evolutionary theory off my desk is precisely because of intelligent design. The engineering behind life is, within a little, not far from our intellectual reach. In contrast, evolution demands computational problems to be resolved that are way beyond both our intellects and our current computational technology. Above all, the problems of implementing an evolutionary system are all but impossible to resolve in realistic time via a purely stochastic system.

However, I'll grant that evolution cuts across many standard theological expectations: In the UD post I've linked to we find Denyse O’Leary saying:

Christian Darwinists struggle to convince Christians to jettison deeply held beliefs in order to embrace Darwin.

If evolution, or something similar to it, is the fruitful process that has generated the configurations of life then the “specified complexity” of its necessary preconditions are beyond human computation. The prerequisites of evolution, then, are evidence that we are dealing with a very alien form of intelligence. As the Good Book says (Is 55: 8-9)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Just how alien is clear from the context of the above verses  (Is 55: 6-7)

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Free pardons for all who turn….” violates the mindset of the “God will pay them back” mentality that pervades so much of man’s theology.

As I have said before: I have a reserved view of evolution, but we should not reject evolution for the wrong reasons: ID alone is not good enough reason for rejecting it, especially as we are dealing with such an alien intelligence.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Does Intelligent Design Creationism Make Testable Scientific Predictions? Part 1

ID has the potential for too many googlies to be a hard science.

This post on Uncommon Descent (UD) is entitled “Does ID Make Testable Scientific Predictions?”. The post provides a list of ID predictions.

Before I look at this list in detail in part 2 here are some general comments:

Strictly speaking the phrase “Intelligent Design Creationism” covers a multitude of sins (the gnu atheists would certainly think of them as sins!). For example, Sir John Polkinghorne calls himself an Intelligent Design creationist, but Sir John is an evolutionist and in his view Divine intelligence is needed to set up and run a physical regime whose evolutionary fruitfulness is a sign of God’s providence.

I would also classify myself as an “Intelligent Design Creationist”, at least in the sense that Sir John understands it; for if evolution is to work, (i.e. it is fruitful) it must be resourced by the selection of some remarkable preconditions, effectively giving it the “specified complexity” that some ID theorists talk about. In other words evolution would require a considerable level of intelligence to contrive. However, I must admit to having some reservations about evolutionary theory and I respect the criticisms of evolution by some of the correspondents one finds on UD. But having said that I must say that I have not yet been able to get the concept of evolution off my “examination bench” and eliminate it from the enquiry.

On UD itself we find a very wide range of opinion on how life arose; views expressed run from Old Earth theistic evolution through evolution with an “intelligent assist”, to the occasional YEC contributor. The balance of opinion on UD may be skewed toward Old Earth, but most commentators are rabidly anti-evolution. This vehement anti-evolutionism is probably down to the polarizing effects of what has turned out to be a very acrimonious debate, even between fellow theists. An outcome of that polarization is that the phrase “Intelligent Design” now has the de-facto meaning of “anti-evolution”, the unspoken innuendo being that theistic evolutionists don’t accept intelligent design!

It is for this reason that people like John Polkinghorne and Biologos are unwilling to identify themselves with the so-called “ID” community that UD stands for. They may even be unwilling to use the phrase “Intelligent Design” to describe themselves. Meanings matter and today “ID” means “anti-evolution” and in the minds of Biologos it probably also means “anti-science”. Just as polarization has made it look as though theistic evolutionists are anti-ID, UD has been made to look like part of an “anti-science” community. Thus, as theistic evolutionists stand accused of promoting religious heresy, UD stands accused of promoting scientific heresy. In truth, neither charge stands, in my opinion.

Occasionally one reads a post on UD that bemoans the poor relations between the Biologos and UD, especially as it is clear that in the final analysis they must both support ID creationism in the truest sense of the words. The fault is on both sides: UD has some vociferous anti-evolutionist correspondents who caricature evolution as a blind, mindless process derisively referring to Biologos as compromising “Darwinists”. Biologos, who probably have some measure of kudos in the scientific establishment, don’t want to risk their scientific credibility by parleying with UD, who they probably look down on with haughty superiority as guilty of hobnobbing with superstitious anti-science rubes. The division between the communities respectively represented by Biologos and UD is down to passion and polarization and not a fundamental disagreement in the essential core belief in ID

The following preamble indicates that polarization has resulted in a distortion of the meaning of the phrase “Intelligent Design Creationism” and shifted its meaning toward anti-evolutionism and the fundamentalist end of the religious spectrum. This in turn has obscured the fact that “ID creationism”, in its truest sense, covers the full spectrum from Christian evolutionists to YECs.

Now, why do I say all this? What’s it got to do with ID predictions? This: What it shows is that as far as making predictions is concerned ID has got its work cut out: For if ID belief covers the full range from establishment evolutionists to Young Earth Creationism one can legitimately query if belief in ID materially effects one’s expectation about how the cosmos should look. In short, it seems that it is extremely difficult to make any predictions at all from an ID position. Naturally, if the world is designed by intelligence then it is clear that we are dealing with a very abstracted non-embodied intelligence and therefore in one sense a very alien intelligence whose purposes and works are likely to have a large measure of inscrutability. I say this as a supporter of ID.

For myself I much prefer the a softer, fuzzier, less hard science view of ID: ID is a philosophical, theological and perhaps even mythological/metaphorical backdrop structure with which one attempts to understand and make sense of the most general features of the world. Its main utility is less prediction than it is "joining the dots" of what we already know, with particular regard to origins (For reasons I have given in my “Middlebrow Atheism” series it is clear that standard science has no chance of making any ultimate human sense of origins) At the core of ID is the concept of a complex entity whose alien intelligence is unlikely to lend itself to the making of hard predictions. However, the question of whether UD have actually succeeded in making some predictions will have wait for part 2 of this post. I rather think you will find what UD call “ID predictions” are in actual fact “anti-evolutionist” expectations rather than ID predictions per se.