A Naturalistic Version of Intelligent Design

As some naturalistic biologists, and naturalists in other disciplines, have started to move away from the neo-Darwinian evolutionary view, and towards self-organization theory in biology as well as other alternatives, I thought I would just remind everybody that Intelligent Design is not inherently Theistic. Indeed, Intelligent Design has been defended by some Atheists, like Bradley Monton, as a plausible scientific hypothesis (though, of course, he defends it on the grounds that it is a legitimate scientific hypothesis and not, necessarily, a correct one). As Nagel calls for the laying to rest of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary naturalism as an utter and catastrophic failure with no promise for the future, I do not want to recommend that intelligent design be treated as the preferred theory (I do not believe in intelligent design, at least at the level of biological organization), but that it be treated as a theory.

What is it that Intelligent Design stipulates? It stipulates simply that when one observes specified complexity of a certain sort, the best empirical explanation of it is the intelligent implementation of some design. Say that the bacterial flagellum appears irreducibly complex (not, of course, because it is either logically or physically impossible to arise as a product of evolution, but because it is astronomically unlikely that it arise thus). Say that it is an example of specified complexity. Now, ID theory stipulates that the best explanation for the bacterial flagellum is intelligent design. Perhaps in the future ID won’t or wouldn’t be the best explanation (that is, after all, always how scientific hypotheses work), but the contention of the ID theorist need not be that ID theory will always henceforth be the preferred scientific theory, but only that it is the preferred one in light of the evidence available at present.

People will often say clumsy things at this point, such as that if we posit ID as an explanation, then we need some explanation of the designer. This is obviously wrong, though. First, as William Lane Craig has rightly pointed out, when putting forth a scientific hypothesis as an explanation, one doesn’t need to have an explanation of the explanation. Indeed, if one did, then one would be immediately caught in an infinite regress of explanations and no scientific hypothesis would be legitimate. However, to drive the point home, I suspect that we can show naturalists who object thus that they are being childish. They would, presumably, have no cause for quibble if the agency responsible for the intelligent designing were itself a naturalistic entity, which itself could be explained by appealing to naturalistic hypotheses, with absolutely no whiff of an appeal to any supernatural causal agency. Consider, then, the following account:

A universe is born. A few billion years down the road, life appears on a planet, having arisen by evolutionary means alone. Maybe a few million years later the life on that planet is intelligent and, inspired by a technological imperative and an ideal of scientific progress, becomes technologically advanced. Maybe another half a million years goes by before life on this planet begins colonizing other planets and exploring the galaxy in which it resides. At some point, once the novelty of claiming a planet as private property wears off, perhaps the interstellar society of biologists chooses to claim a number of planets for scientific experimentation and scientific advancement. Perhaps they aim to create life on these planets, or on at least one of them. Perhaps they decide to speed the process of evolution by implementing certain designs in nature using extremely advanced remote technology. Perhaps on this planet of theirs, life appears, and, in time develops it’s own scientific investigation into nature. Perhaps these somewhat artificially engineered lifeforms come to believe in the theory of evolution, but something looks rather funny – there seem to be signs of irreducible complexity which are difficult at best to explain. Some on that planet propose that perhaps the best explanation for any observation of specified complexity exemplified by supposedly irreducibly complex biological organisms is that they have been intelligently designed. Argument ensues.

In our cute counterfactual hypothetical we see that not only would the intelligent design theorists be correct, but there would be a perfectly acceptable naturalistic explanation of intelligent design (or at least, if it is not perfectly acceptable, it’s lack of acceptability has nothing to do with naturalism in particular). If somebody argues that this implies that a species more advanced than us evolved before us by natural evolutionary pathways, and that there wouldn’t be enough time for this, we can just help ourselves to other hypotheticals, like that the interstellar society of biologists have access to time machines, and come from a far distant future time. Note again that it doesn’t matter what the explanation of intelligent design actually is; the point is merely to obviate that intelligent design does not posit anything supernatural. It posits only that the best empirical explanation for specified complexity is intelligent design. One could accept that in principle without any trouble if they were, say, scientific anti-realists and naturalists. In order to give an explanation in science, one does not need an explanation of the explanation. So, the question should be, is intelligent design a good scientific hypothesis – it cannot be indicted as a non-scientific hypothesis on the grounds that it posits a supernatural explanation. It doesn’t. It only posits that some things are best explained by appealing to intelligent design, and says absolutely nothing about what kind of designer implemented this design, or, indeed, whether there even is a designer (if one is far-gone enough an anti-realist there seems nothing absurd in holding ID theory in tandem with holding that there is no intelligent designer, and indeed perhaps some naturalists could just maintain that ID is a brute fact without a cause – or even argue that the cause cannot be found in science and since science is either omniscient or at least covers the whole of what one can have any justified belief in, no intelligent designer need be invoked). Maybe this naturalistic version of intelligent design looks watered down, reduced and depressing, but that’s just because, on naturalism, everything looks watered down, reduced and depressing!

If we are today faced with a case of specified complexity, and we recognize that it is mathematically much more likely that the specimen under observation has been intelligently designed than not, then perhaps we should hypothesize Intelligent Design, even while being content to say that we know absolutely nothing about the cause of the intelligent design. For all we know it could be human beings from the future causing the appearance of intelligent design! It doesn’t matter, and that’s the point – intelligent design cannot be anathematized on the grounds that it violates the principle of methodological naturalism.

[Edit: In the first book to which I have linked above, on self-organization theory, it says in the preface that “we wish to emphasize one more important idea at the start of this book: Much of the complexity of self-organized structures seen in biology arises because the rules governing the interactions among the components of biological systems have evolved through natural selection.” Perhaps this source here would have been a better reference.]

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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17 Responses to A Naturalistic Version of Intelligent Design

  1. I’m with Bradley Monton in rejecting methodological naturalism, which means I would accept prayer experiments as evidence for a God-like thing. I wouldn’t recommend his book, not because I think he makes glaring errors, but because there wasn’t much philosophy of science in it.
    “If science really is permanently committed to methodological naturalism – the philosophical position that restricts all explanations in science to naturalistic explanations – it follows that the aim of science is not generating true theories. Instead, the aim of science would be something like: generating the best theories that can be formulated subject to the restriction that the theories are naturalistic. More and more evidence could come in suggesting that a supernatural being exists, but scientific theories wouldn’t be allowed to acknowledge that possibility.” — Bradley Monton
    Anyone that says science deals with the natural (circularly, the natural is what’s dealt with by science) would be begging the question against the non-methodological naturalist. They need an independent criteria.

    The problem with Irreducible Complexity is that it assumes that certain traits always performed the same function. For example, insect wings were used as thermoregulators but their function switched to allow them to fly. Now, if you remove the wing they can’t fly anymore so it’s irreducibly complex.

    Sober talks about the wine bottle problem of IC. If you poke a hole at the bottom of the wine bottle, it loses it’s function. If you poke a hole at the top, then it doesn’t. Fully redundant systems can be IC depending on how you divide the pieces up. Does IC imply that redundant systems–like two kidneys–would be evidence against a designer? Plausibly, an omniscient designer would give us multiply redundant systems. Maybe IC can be used for an argument for a designer, but against an omniscient designer?

    As Elliott Sober points out, IC impiles a supernatural designer.
    1. If a system found in nature is irreducibly complex, then it was caused to exist by an intelligent designer.
    2. Some of the minds found in nature are irreducibly complex.
    (The mind is possibly IC, because it’s composed of perception, memory, beliefs, desires, intentions; and if you take any piece out, you the mind loses its function.)
    3. Therefore some of the minds found in nature were caused to exist by an intelligent designer.
    4. Any mind in nature that designs and builds an irreducibly complex system is itself irreducibly complex.
    5. If the universe is finitely old and if cause precedes effect, then at least one of the minds found in nature was not created by any mind found in nature.
    6. The universe is finitely old.
    7. In nature, causes precede their effects.
    (If backwards causation is allowed, then there could be an allowable infinite regress.)
    8. Therefore, there exists a supernatural intelligent designer.

    • Premise 1 isn’t obviously true. Maybe there are teleological causes, substances with substantial forms – that, in fact, seems more plausible to me.

      “The problem with Irreducible Complexity is that it assumes that certain traits always performed the same function.”

      That’s incorrect, or at least it’s overly simplistic (the Kenneth Miller kind of answer). The real trouble is that something which is irreducibly complex has no evolutionary pathway which is set out in simple steps plausibly achievable by a succession of small steps we regard as mutations. Irreducible Complexity is the claim that some organism has no such pathway.

      • IC proponents want to say premise 1 is true, or–at the very least–it’s very probable that it is true. If so, the argument follows mutatis mutandis.

        “The real trouble is that something which is irreducibly complex has no evolutionary pathway which is set out in simple steps plausibly achievable by a succession of small steps we regard as mutations.”

        I’m not sure what you mean here without going back into my criticism. What is the the simple steps supposed to be achieving? Presumably an adaptive function. So how does Behe et al know that the function for the T3SS in the flagella didn’t switch?

        This leads to another of my criticisms of ID. One might say that ID can be falsified when it is verified that T3SS had an alternate function, which was arrived at by small steps; and, until that’s found IC wins. This isn’t scientific in the Popperian risky sense. (Not that I’m with Popper.) This type of falsification is equivalent to verification, because you need to verify everything. An example of this is the proposition “there exists a gold cube with sides of 1 million miles long.” In order to falsify that, we need to verify every nook and cranny of the universe.

      • ID can be falsified, but notice that it isn’t just postulated, but rather is postulated only as an empirically preferable explanation of the appearance of design than either necessity or chance. It is proposed precisely in order to explain something, and defenders of ID propose that ID does a better job of explaining the empirical observations than neo-Darwinian evolution.

        You’re right, the ID theorist does want to maintain premise 1, but ID theory does not commit one to the first premise necessarily, and even if it did it wouldn’t commit one to any particular description of the intelligent designer. Sober’s argument doesn’t look very impressive to me because it does too much with too little. For example, if most intelligent design theorists are Christians, and if most Christians believe the mind is immaterial and simple, then, probably, most ID theorists believe the mind is unevolved simply because it isn’t identical to the brain. Moreover, look at premise 7 – even if causes precede their effects in time, and the universe is finitely old, does that entail that there can be no infinite regress of causes? Clearly not. Any segment of time, like any line segment, can be divided infinitely. Therefore, if a cause and effect need only be successive, then even with a finitely old universe you may, at any one time, have infinitely many cause-effect couples. If one argues that there must be a finite set of causes and effects, then one risks a more immediate slip right into Theism anyways (for, presumably, the universe will need a cause, unless there are at least some effects without causes, and if there are some effects without causes, why not intelligent design without intelligent designers?).

        Now, concerning what qualifies as irreducibly complex – the point I was making is that Miller’s mousetrap response is just a slick dismissal. Behe has challenged him in debate before directly on the point, asking if Miller really thought that the Bacterial Flagellum could have evolved via an evolutionary pathway where the ‘viral’ syringe comes before it. Miller admits that he doesn’t think that’s at all plausible, and retorts that it doesn’t matter, since his example shows us that it still may be physically possible that a pathway may be found in the future. Behe has rightly maintained that stipulating that there is a pathway without being able to point it out is just to assert a naturalism of the gaps. It doesn’t do any explanatory work, it just saves face, and the problem hasn’t disappeared. The fact is (Behe maintains) that there just IS no physically plausible evolutionary pathway by which the Bacterial Flagellum may have evolved.

  2. keithnoback says:

    Can you induce a causal form?

    • I’m not sure what your question means.

      • keithnoback says:

        Do you think we can know anything about design via induction, I mean without equivocating function with purpose (as in assuming that equilibrium and homeostasis are the same thing, for example) ? Along the same lines, isn’t the mousetrap response to Behe more a reductio of Behe’s argument (that the explanation for the structure must lie within itself, because the structure has a purpose, rather than just a function) than a stand-alone argument?

      • It has been a few years since I was really interested in the ID debate, so I may be a bit rusty on the details. However, as I understand Kenneth Miller’s Mousetrap response, it isn’t (supposed to be) a reductio per se. Rather, it’s supposed to show that Behe presumes that the evolutionary pathway must have been of a certain type (namely, that the motor must have evolved from a simple motor to a complex motor), and Behe doesn’t, in his original argument, address the hypothesis that something entirely different from a motor evolved first, and then a motor evolved from it with the addition of fewer parts than the addition of all the parts sufficient for even a simple motor. At least as I take it, the mousetrap argument was an argument trying to demonstrate that Behe had not made a definite case against a naturalistic evolutionary pathway by simply demonstrating that there’s very plausibly no pathway from a simpler motor to the Bacterial Flagellum. However, possibilities are rather cheaply purchased. As I said previously, when Behe directly asked Miller if he thought that this is how the Bacterial Flagellum evolved, Miller responds by asserting almost certainly not. Miller’s whole point was to show that a pathway may still be available, and we just haven’t found it yet because we haven’t been looking in the right places. To date, however, no hypothesized pathway has shown any promise or has gained any consensus, so Behe’s puzzle hasn’t been solved – the alternatives just haven’t been as utterly exhausted as Behe made it seem.

        As for whether we can infer design inductively, I am not sure. As I say, I am not a proponent of ID theory, so I’m not committed to all the things an ID theorist would be. Stephen Meyer convinced me that there’s no reason in principle this can’t be done (unless methodological naturalism must in principle be obeyed in science). I’m not sure if that’s what you’re asking though. You say “do you think we can know anything about design via induction” and there are a few ways to take that question. For instance, you might mean to ask whether, given a large enough sampling of cases of design, we can inductively argue that design consists of such-and-such characteristics. That just is what Dembski says, of course, arguing that we are justified inductively when we explain specified complexity as being yet another case of design. However, whatever you mean to ask must have some connection to this concern about equivocating. Perhaps you can take another go at asking the question?

      • keithnoback says:

        Thanks. I should go re-read that exchange as well, but I won’t let that stop me from speaking off the cuff. My understanding was that Behe was making an argument in principle for irreducibility of the flagellum, not just that it was unlikely for such a structure to arise from intermediate structures. The mousetrap analogy had been used to illustrate such a claim and Miller simply took it apart to demonstrate the problems with that sort of argument for irreducibility in principle. Maybe Miller was wrong about what Behe was claiming, or maybe I’ve got it wrong, but that’s my recollection.
        For the second part, I asking if you think we can even specify the cases without assigning purpose to a structure up front. Isn’t that always a retrospective attribution on our part?

      • “My understanding was that Behe was making an argument in principle for irreducibility of the flagellum, not just that it was unlikely for such a structure to arise from intermediate structures.”

        This is actually precisely where I have a bone to pick with Behe’s ethics of discourse. I have never heard him directly answer the question of whether it is logically possible, and if so whether it is physically possible, for the Bacterial Flagellum to have arisen naturally. As best as I can make out, though, Behe would not dare say either that it is not logically possible, or even that it is not physically possible, that the Bacterial Flagellum arise naturally without any ‘intelligent design’. Perhaps he would argue that this is so unlikely as to deserve being treated as an impossibility, but he doesn’t do himself any favors by never saying that explicitly. However, Behe’s argument should compel him to say just that. He should argue that the Bacterial Flagellum arising naturally, without intelligent design, by the means of chance alone given a mechanism of natural selection and ‘random mutation’, is calculably ‘impossible’ (if we accept some standard demarcation of impossibility used in probability theory). Perhaps he’s afraid of the math, since he isn’t a mathematician. I don’t know. However, Behe’s argument is supposed to be that the Bacterial Flagellum cannot in principle have ‘physically-possibly’ arisen by evolution via natural selection and random mutation (where ‘physically-possible’ is defined by some probabilistic demarcation like 1 in 10 to the 50th power, or something). The best explanation of it, then, is intelligent design (I’m being lazy here, since there’s more to the argument than to turn straight from the failure of one model to the preference of another, but one can just insert all the arguments for ID here, and nothing special need be added). So, Behe’s argument isn’t strictly supposed to be that it isn’t even physically possible, in the logician’s sense, for the Bacterial Flagellum to have evolved, but that this is such a hopelessly bad explanation, to which ID offers a comparably better solution, that one can move from the implausibility of the evolution of a Bacterial Flagellum to the alternative hypothesis that it was intelligently designed.

        As to your question, I’m not entirely sure. I think that Kant was right to say that 1) we would never be able to recognize and distinguish biological organisms from other aggregates or matter unless we conceived of them teleologically, and 2) that at least some things of which we cannot conceive except teleologically have a teleological nature in fact, and not just in thought. Now I’m oversimplifying Kant (but then, don’t we all), but the point I’m trying to make by referring to him is that there are good arguments for thinking that, due to the constitution of our cognitive faculties, we simply could never do biological science if we didn’t ‘perceive’ teleology in nature. Moreover, I’m inclined to think, as you may already have gleaned from some of my comments, that there really is teleology in nature (mind independently). In order to make a case for this, though, I would probably have to give an entire exposition of the second half of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, and I am neither qualified nor motivated to do that at this time (hope you’ll forgive me that).

  3. “defenders of ID propose that ID does a better job of explaining the empirical observations than neo-Darwinian evolution.”
    A lot has been said on this by Sober and Dawes. http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2010/05/dawes-on-theism-and-explanation-index.html
    In short, ideally we want independent evidence of the intentions of the designer. Take Dennett’s laying hen, Penkingese dog, barn swallow, and cheetah. Without access to the intentions of the designer, we couldn’t infer that the former 3 were aritifically selected/designed, while the latter was natural. As Dawes says, in order for theistic explanation to qualify as a potential explanation, we need (1) a divine intention (ideally independentally testable), and (2) show that this universe is the optimal outcome of that divine intention. And, even if the explanation meets that criteria, we should still remain skeptical because theistic explanation doesn’t have explanatory virtues.

    “Any segment of time, like any line segment, can be divided infinitely.”
    Presumably we’re talking about the IC of biology that we’re familiar with. I think we can be charitable and dismiss that possibility at smaller than Planck time.

    “…is just to assert a naturalism of the gaps.”
    That seems better than God of the gaps, given that supernatural scientific explanations have a poor track record compared to natural explanations. Why can’t Miller simply deny that TT3S is IC on the account that we are not omniscient to all the functional histories of every system?

    • “Ideally we want independent evidence of the intentions of the designer.”
      Even if we were to lack that additional explanation (namely, explanation of the intentions of the designer), that would not be to indict ID theory as a scientific theory. We may also want a plausible story of the origin of life to supplement evolutionary theory, but not having it does nothing to disqualify evolutionary theory. In order to put forward an explanation we don’t need an explanation of the explanation.

      “As Dawes says, in order for theistic explanation to qualify as a potential explanation, we need (1) a divine intention (ideally independently testable), and (2) show that this universe is the optimal outcome of that divine intention.”

      First of all, the whole point of my post was to demonstrate that ID theory is not a theistic explanation. Second of all, we do not need either of those other elements in order to posit God as an explanation. For example, suppose we’re out to explain the existence of the universe (or the world, understood as the aggregate of beings which do not contain within themselves the reason of their existence), and the best explanation of this fact is that God exists (and created the world). Do we need the first element for this explanation to be acceptable? Nope. Perhaps we have some such account (the Christian does, for example, even if the Muslim doesn’t), but whether we do or not does not factor into the validity of the explanation that God exists and is the cause of the existence of the universe and/or the world. Do we need the second element? Certainly not in the sense of being able to demonstrate either that this world is the best possible world, or even the best feasible world, given some end or ‘goal’ for which it was created. These ingredients for validity are just postulated, the need for them is simply asserted, but there is no good argument for them as far as I can see. Moreover, I reiterate again the central point, even if these two elements were necessary for the validity of a theistic explanation, ID isn’t a theistic explanation. Also, Theism exemplifies many explanatory virtues such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, it accords with our background knowledge (here I include universal human intuitions), it is simple, etc. Significantly, it posits at least one less brute fact than naturalism does in principle.

      ““Any segment of time, like any line segment, can be divided infinitely.”
      Presumably we’re talking about the IC of biology that we’re familiar with. I think we can be charitable and dismiss that possibility at smaller than Planck time.”

      Fair enough, and I suppose if time travel is out-of-the-question then this is a fair point.

      “That seems better than God of the gaps, given that supernatural scientific explanations have a poor track record compared to natural explanations.”

      I’m not so sure that Naturalism has done so much better that it is legitimate to simply posit a naturalism of the gaps. After all, Theism’s bad track record is the track record according to the Naturalist, and Naturalism’s track record isn’t exactly pristine either (consider for example the naturalistic hypothesis that the universe did not begin to exist – it was, after all, naturalists who mocked the theory by calling it ‘the big bang’ – that hypothesis, like this one, does not logically entail that God exists, though it might make it more likely, and even if it did logically entail God’s existence, the theory would not itself need be submitted as a theistic hypothesis). Moreover, the problem with positing either one in the ‘gaps’ is that it throws us off the path of open inquiry and investigation – maybe the solution is something we would not have expected until we had rid ourselves of preconceived notions of what either a naturalistic or theistic explanation would be likely to look like.

      “Why can’t Miller simply deny that TT3S is IC on the account that we are not omniscient to all the functional histories of every system?”

      Well, of course he can. I have no trouble with that. In fact, this is precisely what he does. I have no problem with that. The trouble is that it is calculated to be exasperatingly improbable. However, I don’t even really have a problem with that. I, unlike you, actually am sympathetic to methodological naturalism. I think that we should be van Fraassien anti-realists with respect to science, and we should accept a scientific theory as not only empirically adequate, but also literally true, if it accords well with our background knowledge in a much wider sense than scientific background knowledge (if we have good epistemological reasons, for example). So, we should be comfortable saying that some scientific theory X is to be construed literally, and accepted as the most empirically adequate scientific explanation available, and that, with respect to wider considerations than are involved in the deliberations of the scientific discipline qua scientific discipline, X can be believed false in matter of fact.

      • “In order to put forward an explanation we don’t need an explanation of the explanation.”
        I agree on that, and so does Dawes on page 16 of “Theism and Explanation”. The idea is that it doesn’t even get started as an explanation without an intention. We’re not asking for the explanation of how a divine being has intentions.

        “First of all, the whole point of my post was to demonstrate that ID theory is not a theistic explanation.”
        Ok, but I was replying to:
        “defenders of ID propose that ID does a better job of explaining the empirical observations than neo-Darwinian evolution.”
        This Sober/Dawes’ argument is in response to a posteriori arguments for God, not a priori arguments.

        “These ingredients for validity are just postulated, the need for them is simply asserted, but there is no good argument for them as far as I can see.”
        I supplied an argument for (1) with the Dennett example, and (2) argues not that God must act optimally, but that we have no epistemic justification for believing in an optimal God, unless the observation is optimal. For further arguments you need to read the book.

        “I’m not so sure that Naturalism has done so much better”
        In the Lakatosian sense, do you think ID will be a productive research program compared to naturalistic theories?

        “Moreover, the problem with positing either one in the ‘gaps’ is that it throws us off the path of open inquiry and investigation”
        That’s one reason not to be a methodological naturalist.

        “The trouble is that it is calculated to be exasperatingly improbable.”
        Not sure how you can compare that probability with a designer whose intentions we don’t know and whose abilities we don’t know. It seems inscrutable; hence can’t be constrastively tested in Sober’s sense.

      • “The idea is that it doesn’t even get started as an explanation without an intention. We’re not asking for the explanation of how a divine being has intentions.”

        I guess I just disagree with that. One doesn’t need to stipulate the intentions of an intelligent designer in order to posit intelligent design, and for intelligent design to be explanatory. Suppose I did posit some intention, like that the intelligent designer wanted life to arise more quickly (imagine impatient members of the interstellar biological association), would that appease? I doubt it. If one doesn’t want to allow an inference to intelligent design without some stipulated intention of the intelligent designer, then one will probably also whine about any stipulated ‘intention’ being insufficiently plausible. How can such a person be pleased? Perhaps I should just reiterate that intelligent design doesn’t even need an intelligent designer in the strictest sense (anti-realists, pragmatists, and Naturalists who are comfortable with brute facts, may as well accept one without the other).

        “This Sober/Dawes’ argument is in response to a posteriori arguments for God, not a priori arguments.”
        I don’t follow your point here. I say ID isn’t Theistic, you agree. I say ID does a better job of explaining the empirical observations, and then you reply thus. I just don’t follow why you would respond by citing this Sober/Dawes argument here.

        “(2) argues not that God must act optimally, but that we have no epistemic justification for believing in an optimal God, unless the observation is optimal.”

        I think we may have epistemic reasons for believing in an ‘optimal’ God on grounds other than empirical observation, but putting that aside, if ‘optimal’ here means something like ‘efficient’ then we have no reason, theological or otherwise, to expect God to be ‘optimal’ anyways.

        “In the Lakatosian sense, do you think ID will be a productive research program compared to naturalistic theories?”

        I do not, but then I’m not on board with the ID theorists. The point is that they argue that ID is or can be that kind of productive research program, and that it is as such superior to naturalistic theories (meaning it’s research program(s) can or will or would be better than those of any naturalistic hypothesis). I note again, though, that ID is naturalistic, and not Theistic. At least it is no more Theistic than naturalistic.

        “That’s one reason not to be a methodological naturalist.”

        ha, what was clever. I’ll think about that.

        “Not sure how you can compare that probability with a designer whose intentions we don’t know and whose abilities we don’t know. It seems inscrutable; hence can’t be constrastively tested in Sober’s sense.”

        Evolutionary theory can’t be contrastively tested in Sober’s sense either, I take it. Against what would it be contrasted?

  4. “One doesn’t need to stipulate the intentions of an intelligent designer in order to posit intelligent design, and for intelligent design to be explanatory.”
    Ok, maybe it is some explanation, namely the explanation is intelligence designed it. Is there any distinction between some explanation and a sufficient explanation?

    Dawes classifies divine creation theories as personal/intentional explanations. It seems like design and intentions go hand in hand. I think the Dennett thought experiment illuminates that nicely. I think, it’s still possible to infer design without knowing the exact intentions, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have background knowledge of intentions. Page 11 of Sober’s “Design Argument” explains the idea. It’s too much to write here.

    “Suppose I did posit some intention, like that the intelligent designer wanted life to arise more quickly (imagine impatient members of the interstellar biological association), would that appease?”
    It would appease if we could use those intentions to make predictions. Say you think the designer gets mad at gay sex and likes to send tornadoes to towns with lots of gay sex; we can test that. (This would be in the context of an explanation worthy to be called scientific.)

    “Perhaps I should just reiterate that intelligent design doesn’t even need an intelligent designer in the strictest sense.”
    I don’t know what intelligent design means without intelligent design.

    “I don’t follow your point here. I say ID isn’t Theistic, you agree. ”
    Maybe we should clarify what ID is, because I’m thinking of the Discovery Institutes’ version. If ID is to include things like positing humans created computers, then that’s uninteresting. I think Discovery Institute ID has supernatural implications if you accept IC and a finite past. Sober/Dawes was in response to:
    “defenders of ID propose that ID does a better job of explaining the empirical observations than neo-Darwinian evolution.”
    If it follows that ID has supernatural implications then Dawes is relevant. If the explanation is an intelligent designer with unknown intentions designed the variety of species, then I don’t think it does a better job. How is the ID proponent going to explain the panda’s thumb better than evolution without positing intentions that are testable?

    “we have no reason, theological or otherwise, to expect God to be ‘optimal’ anyways.”
    You might infer God is tri-omni from a priori arguments, but in order to infer a tri-omni got from a posteriori observation (which is what this Dawes’ argument is attacking), it seems that at the very least we would need to see an optimal outcome of a divine intention.

    “Evolutionary theory can’t be contrastively tested in Sober’s sense either, I take it. Against what would it be contrasted?”
    Sober replies to this:
    “Contrastive testing occurs within evolutionary biology, not between evolutionary biology and something outside. To talk about testing evolutionary theory is a bit like talking about testing chemistry. Evolutionary biology, like chemistry, is a field or discipline that contains many theories; evolutionary biologists test evolutionary hypotheses against each other. ”
    To test theories contrastively, they have to make different predictions.

    • “Is there any distinction between some explanation and a sufficient explanation?”
      You mean sufficient for science? I’m not sure.

      “It would appease if we could use those intentions to make predictions.”

      Yeah, I’m not sure that all scientific theories need to make predictions. Maybe all we want from a scientific theory is a plausible explanation in some cases. However, I’m not sure of this point. Perhaps ID can make some predictions though (whatever they might be, I can see no reason in principle to think that it can’t in principle make any predictions of any kind).

      “I think Discovery Institute ID has supernatural implications if you accept IC and a finite past.”

      Big Bang cosmology also has supernatural implications. So does fine tuning. Plenty of things might have supernatural implications, including scientific theories, but that does nothing to make a scientific explanation invalid, Theistic or in any way non-naturalistic qua scientific explanation.

      “If it follows that ID has supernatural implications then Dawes is relevant.”
      I conceded that ID may have supernatural implications if one believes in a finite past and we leave no room for hypotheticals involving time travel. However, I shouldn’t have. How is the example in the post above not an example of an ID hypothesis without any supernatural consequences? An ID theorist can accept in principle that the mind/brain evolved, or that the first one(s) did. That’s unproblematic.

      “You might infer God is tri-omni from a priori arguments, but in order to infer a tri-omni got from a posteriori observation (which is what this Dawes’ argument is attacking), it seems that at the very least we would need to see an optimal outcome of a divine intention.”

      I don’t see why. Maybe you can lay this out for me. It seems to me that efficiency can only be valued on two grounds 1) because of it’s aesthetic quality, and 2) by a being with limited time and/or limited resources (Craig has noted the latter well). The aesthetic of efficiency may plausibly be sacrificed for the greater aesthetic of something inefficient, and maybe it’s not unreasonable to expect a being valuing aesthetics to strike a balance between optimality and inefficiency. However, God obviously does not have limited time or limited resources. I don’t see how one can argue, therefore, that he must be efficient (and that is the sense of ‘optimization’ you/we were just using.

      “To talk about testing evolutionary theory is a bit like talking about testing chemistry. Evolutionary biology, like chemistry, is a field or discipline that contains many theories; evolutionary biologists test evolutionary hypotheses against each other. ”
      To test theories contrastively, they have to make different predictions.”

      Well, what about a prediction about beneficial mutation frequencies? See here for example http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.ca/2013/04/design-evolution-and-many-worlds.html

      Also, for fun, see http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.ca/2013/04/what-if-intelligent-design-is.html

  5. “Yeah, I’m not sure that all scientific theories need to make predictions. ”
    It’s uncontroversial that the ability to predict novel facts is a huge bonus for a theory. If it can’t predict novel facts or even any facts, it needs to make up for it in other areas: like unifying knowledge, or reducing the unfamiliar to familiar. Btw, background knowledge is knowledge of things other than the thing to be explained. iow, you can’t included God in your background knowledge when you explain God.

    “I can see no reason in principle to think that it can’t in principle make any predictions of any kind.”
    I agree. First, ID theorists need to be more like Pat Robertson and predict Romney winning, tsunamis etc.

    “An ID theorist can accept in principle that the mind/brain evolved, or that the first one(s) did. That’s unproblematic.”
    If ID is the theory that some things are intelligently designed then everyone is an ID theorist. I think the hole in my lawn is intelligently designed because I know the intentions of squirrels that dig holes. This hardly seems like a theory worth discussing in that case. So let’s suppose that the theory is not about holes, but about some humans. How do you distinguish between the intelligently desinged humans and evolved humans?

    “The aesthetic of efficiency may plausibly be sacrificed for the greater aesthetic of something inefficient”
    If god’s intentions is in designing something beautiful, then why would he want to do that in a inefficient way? If you have a certain goal, what reason would you have to achieve that goal in a nonefficient way? But, more to the point, how can you infer tri-omni God from a posteriori observation of the universe? You’re saying we can’t rule it out, but I’m asking how can it be inferred from it.

    “Well, what about a prediction about beneficial mutation frequencies? ”
    i think on your view, God could have created or not created. Does that mean God would be compatible with every observation? If so, is God design theory capable of making predictions?

    “Thus, it seems, that those who claim that evolution is established should either hold that Intelligent Design is compatible with evolution or stop arguing that it is irrefutable.”
    In order to refute ID, we need omniscience, because the Discovery Institute’s ID is a theory that is open to every area of science, from cosmonogy and quantum mechanics (in principle) to biology.

    “If this response is right, then the evolutionary theorist who wants to claim that evolution is established while yet accepting 1 and 2 needs to hold that the rational priors of intelligent design are low. But are they?”
    I haven’t studied up on the debates between Bayesians and likelihoodists, but this is one reason Sober likes to use likelihoods–because of prior probabilities.

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